Monday, April 20, 2009

Atheists oppress British Christians

Every Easter, with the media spotlight on religion, there's always a long line of apologists waiting in the wings to tell their tedious and often melodramatic story about how religion is great and noble, religious people are horribly oppressed by our tyrannical secular society, and that common, god-fearing Brits ought to rise up against these smug, vile atheist elites (BYOP - bring your own pitchforks). This piece by the Daily Mail does the hat trick and brings all three.

After an utterly uninteresting introduction and personal rumination, it finally cuts to the chase:
Like most educated people in Britain and Northern Europe (I was born in 1950), I have grown up in a culture that is overwhelmingly secular and anti-religious. The universities, broadcasters and media generally are not merely non-religious, they are positively anti.
As delicious as that may seem, I heartily doubt the truth of it. Christians in the US are always playing the same game, playing the victim and lamenting our "secular society" but the sad truth is that religion still plays a large role in society (and regrettably, our political policies) and that they disguise their privileged position as one of a downtrodden underdog to garner every drop of sympathy and support that they can get. And I shudder to imagine the rationale for the incessant painting of the secular voices as totalitarian overlords silencing the faithful (who inexplicably, manage to ceaselessly broadcast their tale of secular oppression from all the major media) .

But speaking of secular voices, the article holds nothing back to these atheist jerks (and noticeably fails to support exactly why they are jerks). In argumentum ad adjective fashion, it lamblasts Britain's atheists as "anti-God fanatics", "mockers", "scornful", "smug", "self-satisfied". The hatred just goes on and on, and I'm not entirely sure that it's the atheists who are the actual producers of it.

Apparently, Richard Dawkins thinks that religion is the source of all evil in the world (protip: just reading the titles of people's work isn't the same as knowing the arguments contained therein), Polly Toynbee spends her Sundays sneering at meek pew-sitters, and the tieless, foul-mouthed Jonathan Ross (who for some reason, is wearing a tie in the accompanying picture) is mean to Christians somehow.

Jeez. Even I'm starting to hate atheists!

An observant reader may remark, "Okay, we've had enough two minutes of hate, where's the case for faith?" Well, it turns out that part was mostly ditched in favor of hunting down pics of these vile atheists and the barrage of clever adjectives to demonize them with. It's there, sort of, but it's not really worth commenting on.
As a matter of fact, I am sure the opposite is the case and that materialist atheism is not merely an arid creed, but totally irrational.

Materialist atheism says we are just a collection of chemicals. It has no answer whatsoever to the question of how we should be capable of love or heroism or poetry if we are simply animated pieces of meat.

Take that, materialists!

I mean seriously, how could anything feel emotions or have deep thoughts if it's building blocks are just stupid cells? It's preposterous. It's like saying that a lovely painting could be "just" paint on a canvas or that the Eiffel Tower is "just" a hunk of metal. Obviously, it makes no logical sense to say that a wondrous thing could be made from building blocks that aren't themselves magical in any way.

The rest of the arguments are equally bad, including the not-so-subtle argument from popularity that most of the greatest thinkers of the past 1,500 years believed in Christian dogma.

How'd the thought process get this bad? Well, there's a clue in the author's journey to belief. Apparently, he drifted away from the faith because it struck him as "uncool" and found it again when he made the startling revelation that people often die while still believing in supernatural things.

Seems to me like the journey was merely from one poorly-reasoned position to another.

I'm reminded of this quote from Thomas Jefferson:

"Man once surrendering his reason, has no remaining guard against absurdities the most monstrous, and like a ship without rudder, is the sport of every wind"

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

If atheists ruled the world

Hilarious deadpan reenactments of classic FSTDT quotes:

The sad thing is that I saw a couple of those firsthand (truly a milestone in underachievement) at some christian sites. Like the 3 words: "evolution is a lie" LOL!

As a quick stroll through my posts can attest, it's a hobby of mine to collect the paragons of stupidity, frequently with a mocking retort. I guess it just makes me feel good about myself to know that even my tragically mediocre intellect is greatly superior to these ideological wastebaskets. Or maybe I just think it's funny when people do intellectual pratfalls. Either way, these collections of religious craziness are priceless.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Nightline's Satan "debate"

PZ's initial reaction was right, this piece is utter drek. But don't take my word for it, watch some of it yourself. It's a trainwreck.

The rational side is represented by some Christian bishop and New Ager Deepak Chopra. It's sad, really really sad, when I have to root for Deepak Chopra as the voice of reason; when the people he's arguing against are even more delusional than the guy who says that "consciousness may exist in photons, which seem to be the carrier of all information in the universe." The ex-prostitute he argued with seriously believes that she was held down and raped by demons - beings with red eyes and black faces. Seriously.

I just don't understand why they couldn't get an actual skeptic or two for this stuff.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Atheists are brainless

Via Triabolgue

I have to admit, this is one of the more clever putdowns of atheists I've read. And yet, it fails miserably at understanding even basic atheists arguments.

Atheists often argue that they don't "deny" or "reject" gods, they simply don't believe in them, just like most Christians simply don't believe in Zeus or Vishnu or Amun-Ra, etc. It's an attempt to counter strawman arguments about atheism as well as communicating to theists that the burden of proof is on them to explain why people should believe in their god, rather than on atheists to make the case that every god concept is false.

It's not complicated. It's not difficult. Any reasonably intelligent person could understand these concepts.

Yet, theists (and more specifically, Christian apologists) either genuinely don't understand this or are simply being dishonest and are intentionally mischaracterizing the position in order to curry Amens from their flocks. (which of course would be tantamount to lying and prohibited by their Ten Commandments)

They do things like quibble about whether or not babies are atheists, sometimes even going so far as to consider inanimate objects as atheists in the vain attempt to construe a simple, straightforward statement of disbelief into some absurd (and therefore false) conclusion. They often times don't realize that their logic inevitably caves in on itself. One could also argue about whether or not one's chair is an undecided voter or a neutral party in some war, but all that does is reveal the intellectual confusion of the author - it never negates the meaning of terms like undecided voter or neutral party.

Instead of pwning atheism, it's self-pwnage. It's declaring to the world that you don't have a clue what you're talking about and encouraging people not to take you seriously.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Future Weapons: Zen Buddhism

Like most Americans, I love guns and I love explosions. Personally, I'd never actually use a gun on anything living, of course, but I can't get enough of watching inanimate objects get blown up in increasingly effective and creative ways. (even though I'm pretty sure that the only reasonable use for some of the more sci-fi weapons would be interstellar war, which I don't see as likely any time soon) It naturally follows that I love watching shows about all the futuristic weapons and military-related technologies being developed.

Stuff like:
Anti-missile lasers (USA Air hehe)
Zen Buddhism

Okay, which one of these things is not like the others? The juxtaposition is just so absurd, it makes the segment sort of bizarre to watch.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Islamic Examiner needs his head examined, part 2

Part 5

It's mostly a rehashing of his previous claims as if no one ever demolished them in the comments.

He claims that atheists aren't really atheists, atheists never criticize "pagan creeds and other ridiculous mythologies" (I suppose it would be futile explaining to him that many atheists oppose all sorts of wacky cults like Scientology), etc. The ignorance is just exasperating.
A good analogy of Atheist opposition to the Law and Authority of religion is the way anarchists resist law and order in civil society.
So now atheists are equated with anarchists. I'm sure that in his warped mind, that actually makes sense, but over here in Reality Land that is a complete and utter non-sequitur.
And here's the double-whammy.

There is no guarantee or statistic which proves that in the absence of a central government an Atheist is more likely to obey civil and criminal laws than a Monotheist. Ouch.
Okayy...let's say that that's true and that in some sort of post-apocalyptic scenario where law enforcement has collapsed, atheists aren't any more likely than theists to follow the law. So what?

This guy acts like it's some devastating argument against atheism and practically does a victory dance in the margins. I don't get it.
As for the morality part, Atheists giving charity and all that stuff, I have a simple question. Where did you get these teachings from? You don't believe either in God or in revealed Texts, remember?
Gee, I don't know. Maybe *gasp* atheists feel sympathy for other human beings and want to help them.

He ends with a bizarre assertion that the above sort of reasoning is "pathetic" and ends with another self-congratulatory declaration of victory. But he never really clarifies why that it is so. He seems infatuated with delusions of pwnage and uninterested in making a coherent argument.

Part 6

Got the Tuesday morning blues? Have no fear, simple arguments against Atheism is here!
Uggh. Make it stop.
You know it's rather entertaining reading the colorful comments from some readers. Somewhere in there is a rather grave accusation that I would order the execution of Atheists if I could. Yikes!
That sort of thing would be strange if he didn't assert that his morality comes directly from the Quran and the Quran mentions just that. Personally, I'd rather not find out.
Seriously buddy, should you expect mass executions and genocide from a Muslim? Nope.

From one of your own secular, freethinking ilk like Josef Stalin? Maybe.

Case closed.
Uggh. I can't believe he said that. Because when I think of secular, freethinking atheists in places like the United States and Europe, people who adamantly oppose totalitarianism, my first thought is to consider them friends of Stalin, one of the most brutal totalitarian dictators to ever exist. Makes perfect sense.
However this is exactly the point. On many, many occasions blanket accusations of intolerance have routinely been made against Religion.
Probably unintentionally, he actually makes a good point here. You shouldn't make blanket assertions about large groups of people - not every atheist is like Stalin, not every Christian is like Fred Phelps, and not every Muslim is like Osama bin Laden. That kind of message I could support. Too bad he's too busy making hateful and piteously inept condemnations of atheists to notice.

Instead, he goes the No True Scotsman route and declares to a co-worker that it's not religions that cause wars but the misinterpretation of religion. Her blank stare speaks for my reaction as well.

Oh, and then he implies that WWII, a completely secular conflict in his estimation, is somehow connected to godlessness.

Part 7

Don't you just love propaganda?
I'm reading your column, so apparently I do.

He complains about atheist intellectuals and scientists, derides the apparent common wisdom that most smart people are atheists while "the simpletons seem to gravitate toward Monotheism". It's certainly an apt assertion in this case.
Here are a couple of quotes, albeit unsourced:

“There is too much order in the universe for it all to have been created by accident.”

“To allege that the universe and everything in it accidentally created itself is to claim that a tornado tore through a junk yard and left behind a Mercedes Benz.”
Is it really too much to ask for you too get real quotes that people have actually said rather than just pull them out of nowhere?

The first one is a common argument from design, and the second is a paraphrase of Fred Hoyle's argument against evolution, comparing the emergence of simple cells to "a tornado sweeping through a junk-yard might assemble a Boeing 747 from the materials therein." It's mainly used by Christian creationists.

So he goes from there to assert that most scientists are not atheists. So let's take a look at some data and judge for ourselves:
Research on this topic began with the eminent US psychologist James H. Leuba and his landmark survey of 1914. He found that 58% of 1,000 randomly selected US scientists expressed disbelief or doubt in the existence of God, and that this figure rose to near 70% among the 400 "greater" scientists within his sample [1]. Leuba repeated his survey in somewhat different form 20 years later, and found that these percentages had increased to 67 and 85, respectively.

Other polls get different results. But the facts of the matter remains the same: scientists tend to be less religious than the general public, and certainly far more say that they don't believe in a God than the general public.

Next, he brings actually sourced quotes to the table - Isaac Newton and Louis Pasteur believed in God. Shocking stuff. Apparently, us atheists were under the impression that no scientists were religious at all. Thanks for clearing that up.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Islamic Examiner needs his head examined, part 1

In his now 7-part series criticizing atheism, Yusuf Khan's arguments still come up far short, not just horribly wrong, but also lacking a grounding in even the basics of common sense, logic, and the fine art of knowing what you're talking about.

In part 1, he wrangles with understanding even the most basic definitions of atheism in an incredibly condescending and patronizing way (which by the way, is my job).

He starts out with calling atheism a "belief system" and can't figure out why atheists would object to that (or at least, feigns that he can't). Looks like someone needs to take Atheism 101.
Have it your way. Because if that's the case then I don't know why Atheist propaganda is always found in the Religion section of most publications, including this one.
That was, by the way, a classy reference to the website's Atheism examiner.

Okay, so he doesn't understand why atheist books could possibly be categorized in the religion section of a bookstore. I have a wild idea about that: maybe because they're about religion. It's not hard to figure out.

Next, he makes the brilliant assertion that atheists (people who don't believe in a god) believe in a god, it's just that they oppose God's authority. The whole argument is just pure, unadulterated genius. (And possibly a copyright violation. Last time I checked, Dinesh D'Souza had a lifetime patent on that incredibly ridiculous claim)

In part 2, he kicks it up a notch. The stupidity, that is.

He repeats the bookstore claim and suggests that all atheist books ought to go in the philosophy section. My local Barnes and Noble does just that - the philosophy section is a single bookshelf, waist-high at its height and consists almost entirely of Aristotle, Plato, and "Buffy the Vampire Slayer and philosophy"-type books with a small smattering of old and unpopular atheistic books. Plus, it's at the very back of the store. Meanwhile, there's a bewildering array of religion, Christianity, Christian fiction, and Bible bookshelves. These sections combined make up a large chunk of the store. They added a small display near it with some of the Four Horsemen books (Dawkins, Dennet, Harris, and Hitches) and this guy practically has a heart attack. Heaven forbid such aggression!

Next, he says Buddha mentions God so Buddhism must be theistic, not atheistic. Again, genius logic. And once again, he's wrong. Buddhism itself is by and large about eliminating suffering and achieving enlightenment and not about worship of a supreme creator.

When this topic comes up, many buddhists respond with the arrow parable:
A man lies dying with a poisoned arrow in his side, but rather than removing the arrow immediately before he dies, he wants to know who shot the arrow, whether the person was tall or short, where they are from, what kind of bow was used, the kind of string used for the bow etc.

The arrow represents our present state of suffering, and while we trouble ourselves with endless questions about this and that, our life slips away and we get no nearer to solving the problem of our suffering.
The moral of the story: wrangling about whether or not a god exists is pointless and merely distracts from the more pressing concern of human suffering. Once again, a quick google could have saved Yusuf much embarrassment.

In part 3, he explores common atheist arguments against traditional religion and almost has a salient point. Almost.

First, he complains that atheists always attack Christianity and occasionally, Islam. There are pretty good reasons for this: Christianity and Islam are the two largest religions in the world, atheists tend to live in countries that are predominately Christian, Christianity and Islam tend to be politically mobilized much more than other religions - attempting to force their views on society at large. And obviously, the specter of Islamic terrorism certainly doesn't help the public image of Islam one bit. Plus, I do have this nagging impression that Muslims and Christians as a whole (especially the more conservative-mined believers) really are more aggressive and ill-mannered than their fellow coreligionists. Maybe I'm just leading a sheltered life, but I simply don't see the same sort of pushy and domineering behavior from Jainists, Buddhists, Hindus, Wiccans, or Deists.

Next, he makes the strange claim that "ancient mythologies and pagan creeds are never attacked by Atheists". Once again, the explanation is fairly obvious: there's really no point in beating a dead religion.

Myth: Established religion is cruel and oppressive.

Fact: The above conclusion is derived from a singular bitter experience: medieval Europe. Christian scandals continued well beyond medieval times (the European Wars of Religion, the Salem Witch trials, etc) extending to present day foibles and missteps like creationism, prop 8, and "sinful" birth control. Plus, I would be remiss to talk about cruel and oppressive religion without including present day Islamic theocracies.
The remarkable progress in science and technology that was sparked in Asia, North Africa, and Eastern Europe was a direct product of Islam, not a pre-Islamic phenomenon.

This historical testimony serves as clear-cut evidence that the presence of monotheism in a society in no way hinders scientific progress. In fact the above example taken from Muslim history proves that in fact it fosters education and encourages development.
This lovely delusion of a universally pro-science Islam is falsified in only two words: Harun Yahya. Turkey is the only country on the list that's actually worse than the United States with regard to accepting evolution. Islamic beliefs can and do spread pseudoscientific beliefs.

Part 4, more confusion about the definition of atheist. Particularly, he's fond of using the dictionary definition of atheism, where it is as synonymous with wickedness, to imply that this is somehow actually true and gets indignant that people pointed out the gaping flaw in that logic.

Then he just flies off to cuckoo land:
Contrary to the dictionary definition, below is a series of quotes made by Atheists that don't deny, rather affirm the existence of God.
He really seems to think that Lucretius quoting Epicirus's famous riddle that the existence of evil is logically incompatible with the idea of a benevolent deity somehow indicates theistic belief. He quotes a satirist (a satirist!) saying "thank God I'm an atheist" as proof positive that he believes in God. Holy smokes, this guy is thick! If I said "By Jove, I've got an idea!", he'd think that I worship Jupiter.

And he just goes on and on. I'll cover part 5, 6, and 7 later. Preferably after I stop laughing and banging my head against the wall from the sheer idiocy of it.

They'll really let anyone be an examiner these days, don't they? Apparently, they do. (They changed it from anti-atheist examiner to creationism examiner, but his first choice certainly says a lot about his mentality.)

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Pope: condoms make AIDS crisis worse

While en route from Rome to his first stop, Cameroon, the Pope said that the condition was "a tragedy that cannot be overcome by money alone, that cannot be overcome through the distribution of condoms, which even aggravates the problems."
So, according to the Pope, condoms (which prevent the transmission of AIDS) make the AIDS problem worse.

How does that logically work?



On what reality does that make sense? Is it some bizzaro dimension where everything is the opposite of what it is in this dimension? Where toasters freeze bread, soap spreads germs, puppies are vicious man-eating predators, and condoms are laced with HIV?

The Pope's remarks are like something out of the Onion.

Monday, March 16, 2009

We're in for a rough landing

As an atheist, I often wonder where the we're headed with regards to religion in this country. There are essentially three factions vying for influence: the secularists (atheists and agnostics who support secularism and favor a future where the power of religion over public life is lessened), conservative Christians (who wish to marry government more closely to religion and favor a "traditional" future for America, where the power of religion over public life is increased), and liberal Christians (who have far more moderate views than their conservative peers).

I really did hope for a Soft Landing, but the ARIS poll indicates a mainline decline, liberal Christianity losing power with respect to conservative Christianity.
According to the American Religious Identification Survey, Christianity is losing ground in the United States, but evangelical Christianity is not. Just over a third of Americans are still born-again. Meanwhile, the mainline churches, beacons of progressive, rationalistic faith – the kind that could potentially act as a bridge between religious and non-religious Americans – are shrinking. "These trends … suggest a movement towards more conservative beliefs and particularly to a more 'evangelical' outlook among Christians," write the report's authors.
It seems that we're headed towards a future where liberal Christianity is powerless before their more conservative brethren, leading towards a country polarized between atheism and fundamentalism. I could be wrong about this, and I rather hope I am, because it could have harmful repercussions in the ongoing culture war.

The country as a whole continues to progress towards a more secular future, and I have no doubt that it will eventually be more similar to other western nations, where religiosity is quite low. But instead of making a smooth transition - with more aggressive and fundamentalist religious views dying out to more tolerable and reasonable ones as the country moves closer to secularism, we seem to be headed towards a more rougher transition, with extremist religious views long outlasting moderate religious views, with a death grip on the politics of a country whose populace longs for a more enlightened and less parochial state of affairs. We will indeed eventually achieve such a result, but what damages will the country endure from fundamentalist ideologies on the way out?

Friday, March 13, 2009

The coming Evangelical Collapse

Some people have already taken the ARIS news and run with it. The Christian Science Monitor, apparently using their psychic powers, predicts the imminent downfall of evangelical Christianity and (predictably) the resurgence of Christianity.

The author claims:
  • within 10 years, half of American Evangelicals will leave the fold.
  • a wave of Christian persecution will sweep the land (I'm sure it's supposed to sound really ominous, but I can't help but remember that the whinier voices in the religious right claim persecution for everything - these nuts consider even saying Happy Holidays or teaching science to be persecution of Christians)
  • Conservative Christians will lose the culture war (I could have predicted that!)
  • Aggressively evangelistic fundamentalist churches will begin to disappear (I can't think of it happening to a nicer bunch of people)
  • And finally, from the ruins, "new forms of Christian vitality and ministry will be born. I expect to see a vital and growing house church movement". (I doubt it)
I do agree with him that Evangelical Christianity has entwined its religious views with political conservatism (and is suffering the consequences of it by sharing in conservatism's unpopularity) and that young people who are "on fire for the Lord" are frequently ignorant about their own religion. But these "predictions" are just an assortment hunches and wishful thinking. It's just not good logic. Assuredly, some of this will come true (indeed, some of it already has), but if you spray and pray enough prophecies, some of them are bound to be true.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Poll: 15% of the US has no religion

ARIS poll:

The percentage of Christians in America, which declined in the 1990s from 86.2 percent to 76.7 percent, has now edged down to 76 percent. Ninety percent of the decline comes from the non-Catholic segment of the Christian population, largely from the mainline denominations, including Methodists, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Episcopalians/Anglicans, and the United Church of Christ. These groups, whose proportion of the American population shrank from 18.7 percent in 1990 to 17.2 percent in 2001, all experienced sharp numerical declines this decade and now constitute just 12.9 percent.

Christianity as a whole has declined. The mainline churches are collapsing, leaving evangelicals and megachurch members as the dominant form of non-Catholic Christianity in the US. *shudders*

The percentage of Americans claiming no religion, which jumped from 8.2 in 1990 to 14.2 in 2001, has now increased to 15 percent.
I seem to recall a few years back when atheism was allegedly in sharp decline and a "religious resurgence" was happening and/or nigh. How's that working out for them?

The states with the highest increase in the No Religion category are from the Northeast or Western regions. North Carolina trails the pack with +5% no-religion.

There's something interesting about the 15% no-religion category: a large percentage of them have had little/no contact with religion their entire lives.
•40% say they had no childhood religious initiation ceremony such as a baptism, christening, circumcision, bar mitzvah or naming ceremony.

•55% of those who are married had no religious ceremony.

•66% say they do not expect to have a religious funeral.

A great many of them are what I call "natural atheists" - they didn't have religion to begin with and they don't have it now, unlike deconverts, who all had to climb their way to godlessness, which can sometimes be a arduous process for one raised in an extremely religious household.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

A Question of Tone

One issue of continual discussion and debate in atheist circles is how atheists should make their case without causing unnecessary offense (being condescending, belittling people, etc) while simultaneously being assertive about our views and refusing to give deference to religion. Atheists have to walk the fine line of being honest and being civil.

It's made even more problematic by many believers' hypocrisies regarding civil discourse. Everyone says that they believe in freedom of thought and speech and that all ideas should be critically examined, but when it comes down to it, religion is still very much a untouchable issue in America and talking about these things in even the most forthright and civil manner possible is still makes many believers nervous, defensive, and invariably conjures feelings of offense and resentment. Some believers actively exploit this reaction, and employ it as a weapon to short-circuit debate, sometimes even to censor the "offending" party. They take extreme and unreasonable offense to the slightest irreverence, insisting that their views are entitled to respect and equating any criticism of their dogma to an outright attack on the person.

In my own view, such people will never be happy. Atheists should simply speak their minds and if some people can't handle that, that's their problem. But the question remains: how "militant" should atheists be? Should we be like more like Carl Sagan or George Carlin? Ebonmuse or PZ? Certainly, we shouldn't self-censor and should express our views honestly and firmly, but what about civility?

Here's a microcosm of that debate: The Amazing Atheist (TJ) and GoGreen18 (Laci). They're both atheists, but with very different approaches on communicating atheism.

TJ is a bit of a firebrand who isn't afraid at all to be perfectly blunt about what he thinks. He's crass, extremely vulgar, funny, and certainly offensive to many of his Christian viewers. He's great because he gives voice to exactly what people are thinking, but are too polite or too afraid to say.

Laci really tries to take the high road and debunk misconceptions and get her point across without being mean about it. She's great because she's informative and passionate, but also extremely amiable, even in the face of the most contemptible wingnuttery.

Well, last month, there was a bit of e-drama about that between the two of them. TJ commonly makes ownage videos, where he thoroughly refutes some theist's rant and frequently lets loose with personal attacks, condemning the video's stupidity and the videomaker's stupidity in equal measure. Well, the personal attacks must have really ticked off Laci because her response condemned TJ's video for being too rude, too uncivil, and going to far with the personal attacks.

And this sort of wrangling over the right tone is common among atheists. Some of us have very different ideas about what's appropriate and what's inappropriate and where the line is between them. That's fine.

Personally, I think we need all the voices we can get - we need the firebrands and the friendly atheists. We need the militant" atheists and courteous atheists. We need the Sagans and the Carlins of the world. We need atheists to make their points with a whisper and we need people to make their points with a megaphone. We need to shock people's sacred cows, but we also need to reason with people. Neither technique works well in isolation - an overabundance of politeness is simply boring and fails to excite people's passions, while an overabundance of militancy simply alienates people. By working in tandem, atheists will put out their messages more effectively than working alone.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Egnor drops the ID charade

Egnor's public tempter tantrum is absolutely hilarious. (ERV has a funny summary about it) It's fun to watch the whole ID movement self-destruct - failing to gain a foothold in either science or the classroom, it has devolved into nothing more substantial than petty, whinny tirades against those evil "Darwinists".

Egnor's rant is no exception, foaming at the mouth about scientists' refusal to hold a conference at a state whose legislature passed an "academic freedom" bill to introduce "supplemental material" into classrooms and encourage teaching "the scientific strengths and weaknesses of existing scientific theories" such as evolution and global warming. Sound familiar? It's the old Teach-the-Controversy tactic (ironically, when creation science was taught in Louisiana, the creationists considered that academic freedom as well). Creationists aren't especially good at coming up with new ideas, only disguising their outright attacks on science education, and even then they're fairly inept - the motivation for singling out evolution for "critical" analysis is obvious and the rank and file membership is notorious for being unable to keep the "Intelligent Designer" anonymous.

So imagine my surprise when Egnor dropped the charade of religion-neutral ID and threatened to unleash the fury of the creationist hordes, stopping just short of threatening, "our arrows will blot out the sun". Not the ID hordes or the academic freedom hordes. Nope. The creationist hordes. The big C-word.
But you misunderstand the people for whom you clearly have such disdain. Most Americans are creationists, in the sense that they believe that God played an important role in creating human beings and they don’t accept a strictly Darwinian explanation for life.
There are a lot of big organizations out there who don’t exactly like you. The National Association of Evangelicals represents 40,000,000 people and represents 40,000 churches.
He goes on and on about how "God-fearing Americans" despise the attacks on their faith and are fed up with darwinism/atheism. The stupidity is cringe-worthy, but the honesty is refreshing.

Finally, we see the true face of Intelligent Design, Christian creationists who not only deny evolution, but are also enraged at the mere mention of Charles Darwin and evolution in schools. They are determined to inject their religious views into the classroom and blot out the theory of evolution in a misguided crusade to safeguard their faith. They don't have a scientific leg to stand on, but they're not interested in science, they're interested only in cultural dominion. If it involves censoring actual science and teaching children factually wrong information, then so be it. And if it involves lying to the press and the public about their motivations, then so be it. But there's one place where they're always honest about what they believe - church.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Supreme Court turns down religious monument

USA Today

No, not *that* monument - they didn't get infringe on our nation's obsession with plopping down Ten Commandments monuments all over public land as if some public park would spontaneously turn over to heathenism if left to its own devises. They denied some cult no one's ever heard of the ability to dump their Seven Aphorisms (their version of the Ten Commandments) on a public park.

I talked about it before the ruling over here.

This was a good call. Indeed, it was the only reasonable call they could have possibly made. Even the wingnuts didn't want the cult to win because they don't want other religions to get their feet in the door for the church-state entanglement they so desperately desire. So, to both secularists and theocrats alike, there's no earthly reason why public parks should be used as some sort of ideological bulletin board for religious groups. Besides, there's already a place where religious clutter truly belongs - churches.

But I'm a little miffed that they didn't even bother to look at having a religious monument on public land as a separation of church and state issue, instead looking at it as a free speech issue. In fact, in their ruling, they consider the Ten Commandments monument as government speech. "I am the Lord thy God", "have no other gods before me" - that's government speech and it's not a separation of church and state issue?! Seriously, how much more obvious could it possibly be? Thankfully, in their separate opinions, the justices did acknowledge this.

So by what logic did they rule that the Seven Aphorisms cannot be displayed but the Ten Commandments are good to go? Well, it's because monuments can only be relevant to "city history or from groups with long-standing community ties".

See? History not hate government endorsement of a particular religion. The Confederate Flag strategy. Good luck with that.

Even though the Supreme Court ducked the issue this time around, it's only a matter of time before it comes up again. And when it does, I rather doubt that theocratic Christians will be the victors; there's no viable secular rationale for putting up religious monuments on public land. And it's just dishonest to even try to peddle it that way.

The way I see it, it's one down and one to go.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

You Can't Handle the Truth

“Three may keep a secret, if two of them are dead.”
- Benjamin Franklin

Heh, here's a rather bizarre editorial - one that makes the case for less truth-telling and more secrecy from the Vatican.

The common wisdom is that stuff involving, you know, child molestation should probably be put to light to catch criminals and prevent them from amassing even more victims. Pretty common sense stuff.

Well, as it turns out, that's wrong. Some secrets ought to be kept, if for no other reason than to keep an authority legitimate in the eyes of the people.

Does that sound a little strange to you, too?

Well, it all makes sense if one considers the author's personal experiences - a catholic reporter whose investigation in priestly misdeeds unleashed a maelstrom of religious turmoil and doubt. But rather than embrace the doubt and concede that the institution has flaws and that one's faith may be misplaced, the author took it in the other direction - that secrets are good because the truth brings sorrow and recrimination. Somehow, I rather doubt this conclusion would have been reached if the author and the child-molesting priests were not of the same religion.
Societies cannot survive without authoritative institutions. But which authoritative persons or institutions can withstand constant critical scrutiny? In our culture, we are predisposed to see damage done from failing to question authority. We are far less capable of grasping the destruction that can come from delegitimizing authority with corrosive suspicion. How much reality must we choose to ignore for the greater good of our own souls, and society?
Indeed, which reality should we choose? One of harsh (and politically disadvantageous) truth or one of hidden evil, of vile misdeeds carried under a veil of secrecy?

Is our commitment to truth and honesty so flimsy and half-hearted that we must sacrifice it to protect our beloved institutions from public scrutiny and scandal?

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Atheism and Happiness

The New Republic has a strange piece up entitled, "Atheism and/or Happiness?"

I wasn't aware that the two are incompatible, but to the author gives the distinct impression they are, but coherent thoughts are hard to make out from the lofty incomprehensibility of the piece.

Fortunately, it's about a topic almost everyone is already familiar with - famous atheist Philp Larkin's views on religion, atheism, and happiness. Okay, not really. I have to admit, I have never heard of this guy before, but apparently he was an acclaimed British poet.

How was his poetry?

Okaayyy...not the best I've ever heard and just a tad depressing, but I'm sure the religious views were excellent.
Religion -- "That vast moth-eaten musical brocade / Created to pretend we never die"
And that leaves him -- and us -- with no solace or reassurance, confronting the horrifying prospect of a lonely plunge into infinite nothingness:
Wait...what? Okay, maybe I'm missing the inscrutable cleverness of the article, but on the whole, it seems like nothing more than yet another foray into ye olde "atheism = meaninglessness and existential despair" meme. *sigh*

It's hard to tell what's Larkin's actual views were from what the author extrapolates from his poetry (perhaps rightly, perhaps wrongly), but it definitely paints a picture of a forlorn atheism with nothing to look forward to but deathly annihilation and religion as a provider of happiness as well as "cosmological meaning and significance" and although the dogma may be false, their work is commendable because it has real and positive effects on believers' psychological states.
The preacher's love may be a charade, the loving God that appears to act through him may be a fantasy conjured out of a combination of imagination and spiritual yearning, but in that moment faith has demonstrated its unique capacity to heal the human heart.
Yeah, it's so saccharine that I need to get tested for diabetes. But it also illustrates several lamentable misconceptions that theists have about atheists - that atheism is nihilistic, that atheists are tragically bereft of hope/meaning/happiness, etc. This is such well-worn territory that I won't bother with a detailed refutation - others have long since come up with some excellent responses. Suffice it to say that I find systems of worship of imagined gods and spirits to be supremely unsatisfying. Rather than comfort and meaning, they impart superstition with childish egoism and self-importance elevated to a truly cosmic scale.

Many theists take solace in religion. For them, religion is a powerful force in their lives - they're adamant that it gives their lives meaning and them a lift when they're feeling blue. That's fine. But the mistake they make is assuming that atheists lack these things by lacking religion. It's like an avid fisherman scolding passerby for not experiencing the joys of fishing and assuming that they live joyless lives because they don't share his hobby. He never stops to consider that they find joy elsewhere or that some people simply don't enjoy fishing. It's just a poor train of thought and a gross misunderstanding of people, and it's frustrating that this particular misconception comes up as commonly as it does.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

20 Feet of Respect

Interfaith relations have apparently progressed to the point of Christians and Muslims arguing about whether or not the Quran gets the top shelf at libraries. I'm having a hard time imagining how this could really be a pressing issue for any sane person. Even an insane person would have better things to do, like wall-scribbling or knitting. I know people can be petty and concerned with frivolous things, but this is really taking it to a whole new level.

Fortunately, I have a solution: 20-foot-high bookshelves. Everybody's holy book can go right up top, where they can enjoy all the undisturbed respect they deserve.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Distort, lie, rinse, repeat

It must be hard being a professional religious apologist. You essentially have swallow an entire belief system whole and defend its every questionable claim, gloss over its troubled history and current difficulties. There can be no doubt. No concession. No change of mind in response to new facts or new perspectives. It's simply you and them. They are wrong and you are right. And not only that, but "they" are vile, sinful people who stubbornly refuse what is so obviously true and good. Debate is not about figuring out truth but about winning, and you frequently have to be able to willfully misrepresent your opponent's position (i.e. lie) to win.

Enter Dinesh D'Souza, the Ann Coulter of religion. That is, if Ann Coulter weren't already the Ann Coulter of religion.

He's was interviewed by Salvo, and a quick glance at their about page ("blasting holes in scientific naturalism, marveling at the intricate design of the universe, and promoting life in a culture of death", published by the St. James fellowship) gives you a little hint about which side of the debate the fall on. So after a shamefully sycophantic introduction (he's the smartest person ever, annihilator of atheists, "intrepid intellect", p.s. did we mention that he's smart?) they stand aside and hand him the mic, which is probably just as well.

At first glance, (aside from the perennial "who has the bigger membership?" spat between Muslims and Christians) he initially comes off as relatively coherent and makes fairly reasonable summaries of positions that many atheists actually do hold - arguments that religion is divisive, that religious zealotry is a potent source of violence, the viral meme idea, the idea that religion may have had in role in social cohesion - including such "noble projects" such as the "crusades" (the dissonance involved in using those words in the same sentence must be formidable).

But it's not long before he drops the charade and starts good ol' fashioned vilifying: Satan, "the atheists' hero". Yeah, that makes sense. And while we're at it, we can talk about Loki, the Christian apologist's BFF.
His idea is that God is interfering with the way he wants to live his life. He simply doesn't like this Christian God with all of his commandments, the demand for complete allegiance, and his divine observance and scrutiny.
By the way, it's a constant theme with this guy that atheists really do believe that God - the Christian God - exists, but they're just too wicked and love the sinful lifestyle too much to be saddled down with piety. I don't get what all the fuss is about, it's not like public piety ever stopped many of the most devout religious men from putting in a little carnality (including the diving-suit variety) on their off time.
Hitchens asks, "If I play by the rules, what's my reward? Well, I basically get to be a servant boy in heaven. I don't want any of that. It sounds terrible."
Indeed, this is a common atheist objection. When you have preachers condemning everything from rock and roll to Dungeons and Dragons to video games, it doesn't take a genius to figure out that their version of paradise, cleansed from the sin of such delightful and utterly harmless activities and replaced with an eternity of mindless religious chanting wouldn't be very appetizing.

What D'Sousa doesn't get is that atheists obviously don't consider such fanciful claims to be probable in the slightest. It's not that we really know that heaven and hell exists and that we're all dying to get into hell to party it up with Darwin, Mark Twain, and George Carlin. It's that we don't believe in such things to begin with and we try to point out that the internal logic of that belief doesn't hold water - you waste so much time pining for a heaven that would be absolutely dreadful if it did exist!

Then he attacks caricatures of Dawkins' claims. Dinesh darts after the religious indoctrination as child abuse angle, chalking it up as evidence of a tyrannical, nigh-totalitarian, attempt to deny parents authority over their own kids even though Dawkins himself long ago dismissed this (deliberate) misunderstanding of his remarks.

Personally, I think that parents forcing religion on their children (complete with all of Johnny's non-Christian playground friends burning eternally in hell, evolution denial, and the imminent rapture) might be a tad harmful on the young tyke and that it would be better to simply teach him about religion and let him make up his own mind when he's older. I guess I'm the next Stalin in Dinesh's mind.

The entirety of his next paragraph is this seething, jealous rant about Dawkins. His pity would be much better spent on himself. Next.
I don't believe in unicorns, so I just go about my life as if there are no unicorns. You'll notice that I haven't written any books called The End of the Unicorn, Unicorns Are Not Great, or The Unicorn Delusion, and I don't spend my time obsessing about unicorns. What I'm getting at is that you have these people out there who don't believe that God exists, but who are actively attempting to eliminate religion from society, setting up atheist video shows, and having atheist conferences. There has to be more going on here than mere unbelief.
Exactly. The atheists doth protest too much! Who, in their right mind, would possibly oppose a belief that isn't true? Some of these same atheists use plenty of ink attacking creationism, homeopathy, and astrology and these are all credible beliefs.

The real reason, of course, is that atheists want tons of immoral sex and oppose God because he frowns of that sort of thing. "To get rid of God, then, is to remove the shadow of moral judgment." He's like a broken record with the whole atheists-are-in-it-for-teh-morality-carte-blanche thing.
If you really look at the motivations of contemporary atheists, you'll find that they don't even really reject Christian theology. It's not as if the atheist objects to the resurrection or the parting of the sea; rather, it is Christian morality to which atheists object, particularly Christian moral prohibitions in the area of sex.
Actually, I'd like to go on record that yeah, I do object to claims of raising the dead and parting of the Red Sea.

But yes, now that you mention it, the no-condoms-let's-get-pregnant-unexpectedly-and-maybe-pick-up-a-few-delightful-STDs-on-the-way thing is quite objectionable too. I'm not too fond of needless rashes and shotgun weddings, and I don't see how driving without a seatbelt is a moral thing to do.
The atheist looks at all of Christianity's "thou shalt nots"—homosexuality is bad; divorce is bad; adultery is bad; premarital sex is bad—and then looks at his own life and says, "If these things are really bad, then I'm a bad guy. But I'm not a bad guy; I'm a great guy. I must thus reinterpret or (preferably) abolish all of these accusatory teachings that are putting me in a bad light."
Or I could just look at homosexuality as not applicable, divorce as better than a lifetime of marital misery if you're in that sort of situation, cheating is bad for obvious and completely non-religion-related reasons, and premarital sex is awesome.

And to wrap it all up (at least, the portion of idiocy that I have the patience to wade through), he declares that atheism is dying out. It's the apologist's version of constant creationist claims that evolution will be dead in a week. Unsurprisingly, it doesn't seem backed up by the facts at all (almost as if it was an outright lie) - Christianity in general has declined in America and the No Religion/Atheist/Agnostic category has seen huge gains. I'm sure it's all part of atheism's death throes.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Darwin Day craziness

Intellectual fallout from Darwin Day. Enjoy.

First up, Egnor (a professional IDiot, and one of the dimmest of the bunch) whines about how people objected to his Darwin Day smear piece. The first line is "Why I don't believe in atheism's creation myth". It's not terribly surprising that someone would object to such drivel.

The rest of it is typical creationist talking points: evolution is poorly supported dogma (and conveniently, never trying to support that claim beyond the mere assertion), he humorously states that he figured out the flaws in evolution by reading creationist tracts (garbage in, garbage out), arguments from incredulity, etc. He finishes off his masterful defense of his idiotic editorial by derisively calling it "Happy Atheist Day". Real classy.

Second, a letter to the editor with the breakthrough announcement that "evolution theory is flawed science". ORLY.

His reasoning: we don't have strong AIs yet - specifically, a computer that can contemplate its own existence. Gotta love the creationist tendency to grab anything not relevant to evolution to attack evolution. Perhaps it's because the relevant fields clearly show that evolution occurs.

Oh yeah, almost forgot: he says evolution is atheism. I'm sensing a theme here.

Third, and this is more of an unintentionally hilarious comment than outright idiocy:
In India, Darwin is not the bogey man as he is in the West. The Indic tradition which accommodates both atheism as well as a well-stocked pantheon of 33 million gods (including a monkey god) should have little problem playing host to evolution.
I know it's supposed to highlight India's religious diversity as a barrier to the religious dogmatism that provides breeding grounds for creationism, but I can't help seeing it as an admission that India hosts such a panoply of odd beliefs that evolution doesn't even attract notice.

If you think I'm cranky...

Check out this post.

Most of it is right, but it has all the tact of a freight train.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

The New New Atheism

This is certainly a different take on atheism. The New York Times has a thoughtful piece on one atheist's attempt to build a positive, atheist worldview - Living Without God.

The ongoing rancor with religion is so loud that it frequently drowns out other priorities, like figuring out secular morality and the best possible way of life, as well as how to get hope and purpose in the absence of God and religion.

Some people, particularly Ebonmuse, excel in that area, but I tend to leave such matters alone. I get my share of fulfillment and assume that others similarly figure these sorts of things for themselves. (I suppose that's a bit like saying that I'm a decent driver, so I just assume that everyone else on the road knows what they're doing, too)

I sometimes forget that religion fills this big role in people's lives and they find irreligion incomprehensible, even dangerous. Even some people who consider religious claims unlikely in the extreme still find themselves swayed by the emotional pull of religion or repulsed by the perceived nihilism of atheism.

It is for this reason that elucidating a secular way of life is very important. Pointing out all the flaws in religion and justly condemning religion's misadventures in politics and society doesn't matter to the average person if they do not also know of ways to be fulfilled and to be happy outside of religious dogma.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Friday the 13th

Well, today's the dreaded Friday the 13th. And you know what that means.

It means absolutely nothing. Today is a normal day, just like every other day.

The 13 is due to our arbitrary calender with arbitrary numbers for every day and the non-arbitrary, roughly 24-hour period the Earth completes a single rotation around its axis. And believe it or not, our habit of assigning arbitrary numbers to non-arbitrary days doesn't change reality and make things either lucky or unlucky. If we had a different calender, today would be the 24th of Heptober or the 57th of Juneuary.

But today's Friday the 13th, a day saturated with superstition. Fortunately, National Geographic has a helpful article on the subject. (It's from 2004, but it's not like the superstitions ever change)

An expert's advice: think positive thoughts to keep those unjustified fears in check.

The woo-woo advice: "climb to the top of a mountain or skyscraper and burn all the socks you own that have holes in them" or "stand on your head and eat a piece of gristle"

I have a better idea: how about we try to act like we're sane people today and not do anything reckless, dangerous, or...gristle? Eat gristle?! What's wrong with these people?

Clergy support the bus campaign

First they ignore you, then they fight you, then they support you, then...I forget, something about wearing matching outfits.

In England, Southport clergy say they have no beef with the bus campaign.
“We live in a pluralist society and one of free speech.

“I have no problem with the right of humanists, atheists and others seeking to promote their views peacefully and with respect for others and as long as I, as a Christian, have the right to promote mine.

“The campaign opens a debate which is worthwhile. I hope that this opens a wider discussion amongst people.”
Others chimed in, adding that they can't possibly figure out where people are getting the idea that Christian religious beliefs might be worrysome.
“I have no problem with the campaign - faith has nothing to fear from debate - but I'm curious why its sponsors think that believing is a source of anxiety and worry.
I'll give them a hint. Just a tiny, little hint.

The whole reason the bus campaign exists is because some nutters put a loving message of fire and brimstone on buses. The idea of that some nutjob next door not only believes that you will get everlasting torment after death, but self-righteously declares that you deserve such treatment simply for not mouthing the right pieties apparently doesn't go over well with nonbelievers. And for believers who haven't yet abandoned their integrity, it's undoubtedly unsettling as well.
“A good deal of evidence points to the fact that a religious faith makes for personal well-being and a sense of purpose.

“It also offers hope even in the face of suffering and death.”

Fr Atli Jonsson, of Our Lady of Lourdes RCC, Birkdale, added: “This slogan makes me wonder what its authors mean by "God". It probably isn't the one I believe in - so I dont worry and enjoy my life!”
Somehow, I doubt that such beliefs are truly as positive as the salesmen claim.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Happy 200th birthday, Charles Darwin!

Today is the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin's birth. All across the world, people are celebrating Darwin's work, which helped figure out the single most important idea in biology and arguably, all of science.

And boy, are the creationists pissed. For being such persecuted and voiceless souls, they seem to have little trouble getting the media at their beck and call, broadcasting their disdain of evil darwinism.

A common theme seems to be pointing at the Freedom from Religion Foundation's "Praise Darwin" billboard (which by the way, I didn't like for just this reason) and implying that atheists really do worship Darwin as a god. Seriously.

First up, Wingnut Daily's endless screed against evil, atheistic science. For a news organization (ha!) that declared the world to be 6,000 years old, it's little surprise that their article is a festering pile of rubbish.

Next, the DI people (who believe in a designer God space alien beingamajig who created species that then may have/may not have/didn't evolve) went to town - Luskin, Casey, and Wells are working overtime, hitting up Forbes, the Washington Post, and the U.S. News and World Report with sneer pieces.

I don't have enough time (or vodka) to cover them all, but here's a little taste of the vapidity:

The present controversy over evolution is often portrayed as the latest battle in a centuries-old war between science and religion. According to this stereotype, Darwin's theory was a milestone in scientific progress, based on evidence that is now overwhelming, and its principal opponents were--and still are--religious fundamentalists committed to a literal interpretation of Genesis chronology.

Yep, the Discovery Institute, authors of the Wedge Document, which states that their goals are to "reverse the stifling materialist world view and replace it with a science consonant with Christian and theistic convictions" and to "affirm the reality of God" say that their opposition to evolution has nothing to do with God at all. Uh huh.

Friendly Atheist has news on Ohio celebrations that have caught the ire of local creationists.

And in a shocking reversal of their usual stance, Fox News has a decent piece up asking what Darwin would make of all this hubbub, 150 years after he went public with the idea. The writer thinks he would be thrilled at all the progress that has been made in the field, but disappointed at the ongoing denialism. Aren't we all.

For the honour of the Chapter

They created a real-life version of the Rhino transport. Awesome. Now we just need a dreadnought.

From the looks of things, this game is going to be ridiculously good.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Religion in Brief

  • Astrologer does a reading for James Randi and surprise surprise, thinks he might be a skeptic. What a prediction! Oh yeah, and he used the wrong birthdate on the first attempt. And we're not talking about a day or two - it was off by 20 days - not even the correct zodiac sign. /facepalm. (Watch Randi's response over at Bad Astronomy. It's priceless!)
  • Forever in Hell atheist blogger mocks some idiot's anti-atheist site. Hey! That's my schtick! Heh, there's plenty of idiocy to go around, so I guess we can share. *gives EAC salute*

Monday, February 9, 2009

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Questions that "darwinism" can't answer

Via Brisbane Times

If it's any indication of the quality of the editorial, its title is a play on the creationist propaganda techniques of the same name, a vapid series of "stumper" questions which usually utterly fail to grasp basic concepts in not only biology, but science itself ("if humans evolved from monkeys, why are there still monkeys?!" or "how did nothing explode?!") or are outright lies miscategorized as questions ("how did millions of life forms evolve with absolutely no evidence of major change?") and are somehow meant to "demolish" the theory of evolution.

For some strange reason, they're only a hit with fellow creationists. To non-creationists, it's like attempting to demolish a physics professor's "faith" in gravity by retorting, "Oh yeah! Then how come birds fly?!". Full of win, it is not.
Evolutionary theory does not explain everything we want to know about the natural world or human life, and some of what evolutionary theory purports to explain it hardly elucidates at all.
Okay, what's the problem?

*skips lengthy, irrelevant God-talk*
Conway has argued evolution is not arbitrary and if life were to evolve again, it would look very much as it does now.

The physicist Freeman Dyson said: "The more I examine the universe and study the details of its architecture … the more evidence I find that the universe in some sense knew we were coming."

These lines of reasoning do not prove God's existence
Apparently, the evolution of complex, intelligent life --> God. Massive non-sequitur spotted.

Okay, enough God stuff, where are the flaws in the theory of evolution that you mentioned earlier?
The problem I face is weariness with science-based dialogue partners like Richard Dawkins. It surprises me he is not chided for his innate scientific conservatism and metaphysical complacency. He won't take his depiction of Darwinism to logical conclusions. A dedicated Darwinian would welcome imperialism, genocide, mass deportation, ethnic cleansing, eugenics, euthanasia, forced sterilisations and infanticide.
Whiskey. Tango. Foxtrot.

*wades hip-deep in even more irrelevant God-talk*

*finishes the article*

The flaws in evolution? Personal dislike of atheism. That's it.

"I find the materialist atheism of some rational sceptics harder to accept than theistic belief, and cannot make sense of my life in this world without believing in God and providence. Crudely naturalistic science leaves no room for poetic truth, refuses to honour any spiritual element in physical things and cannot accept the existence of a human soul."

Well, who wrote this? Surely someone with some sort of biology qualifications. Nope, just some theologian denigrating evolution on religious grounds and pretending that these objections are based in science without ever backing it up.

If we lowered the bar any farther, it'd scrape the floor.


PZ covered the same editorial this morning, check it out.

Born Believers

An interesting article in New Scientist.

Highlights some scientists' claims that religion, rather than being selected by evolution as an individual and social boon, is actually a byproduct of how the brain works.

Of particular interest:

People are predisposed towards mind-body dualism:
"We very naturally accept you can leave your body in a dream, or in astral projection or some sort of magic," Bloom says. "These are universal views." There is plenty of evidence that thinking about disembodied minds comes naturally.

People readily form relationships with non-existent others: roughly half of all 4-year-olds have had an imaginary friend, and adults often form and maintain relationships with dead relatives, fictional characters and fantasy partners

Based on these and other experiments, Bering considers a belief in some form of life apart from that experienced in the body to be the default setting of the human brain.
Over-attribution of agency:
"You see bushes rustle, you assume there's somebody or something there," Bloom says.
Predisposed to teleological explanations:
Put under pressure to explain natural phenomena, adults often fall back on teleological arguments, such as "trees produce oxygen so that animals can breathe" or "the sun is hot because warmth nurtures life".
Seeing patterns where there are none:
The subjects who sensed a loss of control were much more likely to see patterns where there were none. "We were surprised that the phenomenon is as widespread as it is," Whitson says.
The conclusion:
as Barratt points out, whether or not a belief is true is independent of why people believe it.

It does, however, suggests that god isn't going away, and that atheism will always be a hard sell. Religious belief is the "path of least resistance", says Boyer, while disbelief requires effort.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Breaking news: evolution, theism compatible

Via the Columbus Dispatch

The debate between creationism and Darwin's evolution theories often pits religious leaders against scientists. But many pastors find the two ideas compatible -- and are speaking out about it.

More than 11,800 Christian clergy members in every state have joined the Clergy Letter Project, a campaign started with a letter in 2004 to explain that harmony can exist between religion and science.

It is commendable that Christians are standing up for science. Indeed, they may have one more motivation for defending against creationism than atheists do - creationists preach a theme-park version of natural history as biblical fact that is so silly, so embarrassing, so monumentally untrue that it hurts the public image of Christianity by mere association. Non-creationist Christians are obliged to counter such nonsense as much for God's sake as science's sake.

There's an excellent quote by Augustine of Hippo on this matter:

"Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and the seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he hold to as being certain from reason and experience. Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn."

"Reckless and incompetent expounders of Holy Scripture bring untold trouble and sorrow on their wiser brethren when they are caught in one of their mischievous false opinions and are taken to task by those who are not bound by the authority of our sacred books. For then, to defend their utterly foolish and obviously untrue statements, they will try to call upon Holy Scripture for proof and even recite from memory many passages which they think support their position, although they understand neither what they say nor the things about which they make assertion."
Faith leaders supporting evolution is not new, said Michael Zimmerman, a dean and biology professor at Butler University and founder of the Clergy Letter Project. Some of Darwin's most vocal supporters were faith leaders, he said.
In fact, shortly after Darwin published On the Origin of Species, the Anglican clergymen of Essays and Reviews gave it a glowing review, praising "Mr Darwin's masterly volume" that "must soon bring about an entire revolution in opinion in favour of the grand principle of the self-evolving powers of nature." Completely coincidentally, those seven were called "The Seven Against Christ" and two of them were slapped with heresy charges and lost their jobs, culminating in Samuel "my grandfather wasn't a monkey" Wilberforce getting a synodical condemnation of Essays and Reviews from the Convocation of Canterbury.

Of course, we're far removed from such blatant intolerance today. That's why in Dover, non-creationist Intelligent Design Christians were merely harassed and condemned as atheists and threatened with hell and not burned at the stake as heretics.

It's little surprise that non-creationist Christians are wary of the repercussions of such zealots achieving political domination of our country's educational institutions.
The Rev. Paul Hamilton of Westerville Bible Church said that creation and evolution are completely incompatible. Hamilton adheres to the narrative of creation described in the book of Genesis.

Darwin had a bias against God, Hamilton said. He feels a mix of pity and disgust for clergy members who say the two theories can coexist.
See? Nothing but Christian love.

Additionally, he supplies the incredibly convincing argument that Darwin was wrong about evolution because he didn't believe in God. (Nobody tell him about atoms!)

Actually, Darwin didn't stop believing in God until well after his voyage on the Beagle. Prior to the voyage, Darwin had been well educated in theology, greatly admired Paley's Natural Theology, and was most definitely a self-professed Christian. Heh, bias indeed.
For him, creation and evolution are mysteries, and humans can't presume to know for sure.
And unlike creation, evolution isn't quite so mysterious as it once was, as new discoveries inevitably lead to a greater and more detailed understanding of evolution.

Despite their efforts, all the zealous dismissal of evolution in the world can't turn back the clock and make creationism viable. Nor will vile slander of fellow Christians intimidate them from making a stand for science.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

The varieties of atheism

When it comes to atheism, theists tend to lump atheists together. Worse still, Christians apologists incessantly refer to "the atheist" in a creepy, nazirefic way as if atheism was some sort of monolithic ideology that all self-described atheists adhere to.

But not all atheists are the same. Atheism, like theism, is a broad category that reveals little about the specifics of what people believe. Atheism, like theism, encompasses a variety of different beliefs. Here are a few of them that I have noticed: (this is meant as a quick overview and not a comprehensive list)

Communism. I have to talk about this one because McCarthyism casts a long shadow and there are still people in the States who don't understand that there are atheists who aren't communists. But there are indeed atheists who do subscribe to Marxism-Leninism, especially in the few remaining communist countries.

Objectivism. The polar opposite of communism. Extremely pro-capitalism, reason as the only way of perceiving reality, and emphasis on rational self-interest as opposed to altruism.

Religious atheists. Believe it or not, atheism in and of itself does not preclude belief in the supernatural. It's quite possible to disbelieve in a creator god and yet subscribe to a religion.

Buddhism, especially Zen Buddhism, is often described as an atheist religion because god in the sense of an eternal creator god doesn't exist. Although devas are believed in, they differ from gods in the western sense of the word in very important ways - they aren't immortal or perfect and didn't create the universe. Buddhism differs from most western religions in that supernatural devotion is secondary compared to enlightening oneself and attaining nirvana.

LaVeyan Satanism can also be said to be atheistic. Adherents do not believe in any deities or any supernatural beings at all. Rather, the Satan of the Bible is a seen as a positive symbol of mankind's inherently individualistic, prideful, and carnal nature.

Many UFO religions can be correctly described as atheistic, albeit with powerful alien civilizations taking on roles traditionally assigned to Gods. Raelism is one such religion, with sufficiently-advanced aliens, the Elohim, who seeded the Earth with life (they're big Intelligent Design advocates), sent many prophets to spread their message (including Buddha, Jesus, and Muhammad), and will one day return to share their advanced technology with us. So where's the atheism? Raelians don't believe in souls or any gods. Rael himself took the Blasphemy Challenge and praised the Out Campaign, which gives me mixed feelings to say the least.

Secular Atheists. This is the big enchilada - atheists who not only object to notions of gods, but also to anything supernatural at all. Arguably, most self-described atheists fall in this category. These atheists tend to be nonreligious, highly value science as a way of knowing that is much more reliable than faith, apply skepticism to truth claims, and support secularism. And unlike communists or objectivists, many secular atheists tend to hold more moderate political views ranging from liberal to centrist to libertarian. Secular atheism has its roots in western religious skepticism, from Greek to Enlightenment to modern arguments against belief in a god. Secular atheists may subscribe, in whole or in part, to a wide variety of philosophies and ethics. I myself am quite fond of secular humanism, existentialism, and epicureanism.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Superbowl atheist

Well, today's the big day. Very soon, I shall be amongst the masses on this most holiest of Sundays: Superbowl Sunday.

It's a whole day dedicated to crass consumerism, pathetic drunkenness, and big, burly men jumping on top of each other in an inevitably homoerotic fashion. And boy, do I despise it.

Gamer/nerd that I am, I'm not a big sports fan in the first place and couldn't care less about which team wins what. That's fine, people have different interests and that's cool, but I resent being harassed by strangers who really seem to care about this stuff to something bordering on clinical obsession, assume that I do too, and are very anxious to bombard me with the details of the games - and not just today, but every single week. That's not cool. Even the door-knocking Christian solicitors aren't that evangelical. If I really cared about the game, I'd be at a sportsbar somewhere getting blasted and yelling at the TV with the other knuckle-draggers. If I'm just out and about doing my own thing - gassing up the car and buying some groceries - this is not an invitation to bother me.

It's strange that sports and religion are some of the few things that it's socially okay to shove down strangers' throats. If you stopped some random stranger on the street to discuss some Soulstorm skirmish in excruciating detail, you'd get locked up in a padded cell.

I'm sick of I'm sick of nodding my head and pretending that I care about this drek. It's just dishonest.

So I'm going to start a new tradition - I'm going to be honest about this stuff from now on. The next time I get bothered by some overzealous sports fan about which meaningless team I want to win the meaningless game I'm simply going to respond that I'm not a fan and that I really don't care which team wins.


Honesty really is the best policy. The diehard fans politely dropped the subject after I fairly politely showed that I was uninterested and a few people even expressed similar sentiments.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

The maw of the Bible Belt

Gallup has new poll results out: the religiousity of individual states in the USA.

They asked people "Is religion an important part of your daily life?"

Unsurprisingly, a majority (65%) said yes. And again, a real shocker is that people from the Bible Belt states were far more likely to say yes than people from Pacific or New England states. This data matches nicely with gallup's previous poll, which indicates that these states have large non-religious populations while the Bible Belt states have relatively few. The religious epicenter is undoubtedly somewhere in Alabama, spreading like kudzu to all nearby states, including my own state of North Carolina, #8 on the rarely-coveted most religious states in the Union category.

It's official, I live in Jesusland USA.

In North Carolina in particular, the joke is that we have two religions: Baptist and Catholic. (Other protestant denominations are dwarfed by the baptists, there are very few non-Christian believers, and evangelicals are humorously known to view Catholicism as another religion entirely rather than a different denomination in the same religion)

The good news is that the religious stranglehold is slipping, with national dips in approval of organized religion and increasing secular outlooks among the younger generations. So maybe there's hope after all.

Friday, January 30, 2009

What atheism is (and what it isn't)

There's always been a heckuva lot of confusion regarding atheism, but lately, I've noticed people take it to who new levels. It's not uncommon among fundamentalist circles see atheism denounced as a religion. Even for your average person, misconceptions abound. For many, it seems they think that atheism is a "system of belief" or some miraculously universal worldview that all atheists share.

Christian apologists in particular seem to have a hard time with atheism. I don't think they can quite grasp the concept of being irreligious - instead of wasting time understanding it, they lazily project their own religious norms on others, even people who aren't religious at all. Thus, we have popular myths of atheists worshiping everything from Satan to Darwin to themselves. And a frighting chunk of believers buy into their every misinformed word.

So what is atheism?

Atheism is merely a response to the question, "Do you believe in the existence of a god?". Theists say yes, while atheists say no.

Atheists are simply people who disagree with theistic claims - claims of a Creator God who made the universe. That's it. There's not necessarily any other point of agreement.

Atheism isn't a philosophy or worldview or even a religion for the same reason that not believing in leprechauns represents a worldview. Atheism isn't even a belief, it's a rejection of a belief and the only real difference between it and a-leprechaunism or a-unicornism or a-fairyism is that very few people seriously believe in such things anymore.

That said, atheists do not "believe in nothing". Atheists can indeed construct valid and positive worldviews, but these views are not atheism, they are beliefs in addition to atheism.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Obama offends Christian Nation wingnuts

Via Dispatches from the Culture Wars

At Obama's inauguration, here's what he said:
For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus — and non-believers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth
He's emphasizing the diversity of the American people as one of our great strengths. Everyone (well almost everyone) agrees with that. But he made one mistake, he said that we're a religiously diverse nation (which is factually true, check the latest polls). And that has the wingnuts up in arms.

They insist that America is a Christian nation (read: soft domionism). Well, what does that mean? It means that America has been and should continue to be governed under Christian (as opposed to secular) principles and it heavily implies that non-Christians aren't "true" Americans and should have no say in their own country. Nothing but historical revisionism (particularly about the founding fathers) used to fuel thinly-veiled religious bigotry and theocratic fervor.

Imagine people saying that America is a "white country" and that government should promote "white values". See the problem? Yeah, it's horribly racist and an attempt to abuse governmental authority to promote their narrow-minded, sectarian, racist ideology - a notion of "white values" that many white people would likely dispute. American theocrats have the same gameplan. And that's why they despise Obama's admission that America is a country of Muslims, Jews, Hindus, and nonbelievers in addition to Christians. They can't admit the diversity of American religious opinion because then they have to surrender the myth that America has always been and should continue to be based on their religion beliefs. Without the enduring myth of the Christian Nation, they cannot hold power.

Wingnut Daily went to town on this latest news, complete with links to other crazy wingnut sites. Here's one reaction:
A television commercial that aired in South Dakota by a group calling itself the Coalition Against Anti-Christian Rhetoric juxtaposed the audio of Obama's "no longer Christian" statement over images of the presidential candidate dressed in Somali garb and a picture of him with his hands rested below his waist while other politicians place their hands over their hearts during the Pledge of Allegiance.

"It's time for people to take a stand against Barack Hussein Obama," declares the voiceover on the commercial.