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.