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.