Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Annoying Technical Issues

It was brought to my attention this morning on Twitter that this blog is not letting anyone comment. I don't know why this is and I've been fussing with the settings all morning to no avail. This is incredibly annoying and I have to apologize. I was starting to wonder why I was getting traffic, but not a single comment.

....Just a whiny post. Hope to figure this out soon. <3

Dawkins Drama?

 I've known for a while now that the Atheist community in Michigan has been far too quiet. This recent turn of events just goes to prove my point:


Richard Dawkins was barred from a planned speaking engagement for being an atheist. Apparently, the country club in Rochester Hills where he was going to speak discovered his lack of belief at the last minute and stated that they wanted nothing to do with him. Their source of information? Fox News.

They may not be as loud and proud as the wingnuts in Texas or Kansas, but there are definitely pockets of religious nuts of all stripes in my home state of Michigan. The difference between here and Texas is that there, they have the likes of Matt Dillahunty and Aron Ra to oppose the champions of wingnuttery. Michigan really is not a bright light on the map as far as the movement is concerned. This needs to change.

Clearly, if an intelligent, eloquent and well qualified scholar is barred from a scheduled lecture because of his atheism, we have problem.

One thing I am glad for, however, is the fact that not all hope is lost here for Professor Dawkins. He'll be doing a book reading on Saturday:

I'm happy to say that I'll be there volunteering for the U of M Secular Student Alliance. My hope is that we'll be able to give RD a much warmer welcome and become more aware of the fact that we as an secular group need to become more active so that things like this incident don't happen again.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

JesusNotes Part 2

An unnamed family member of mine wrote this comment on the facebook status of one of her friends:

"I am thinking about how I pray, it is me, me, me. I am reading a great book right now. "Slave" by John MacArthur. The Greek translation of slave has been turned into servant, but we are not servants of the Lord, we are really slaves. We were bought at a price. He owns us. Think about being a slave in 1st century Israel. Do we live like we are Jesus' slaves? I know I don't."

There really are no words. WHY IS THIS A GOOD THING?? I am constantly and consistently baffled by the tendency of the very religious to revel in their own... well... slavery. 


Seriously. Why would you celebrate your god's INHUMANITY? Is god their murderer and rapist too? If your god was really so awful as to OWN human beings (and to CREATE them for his ownership, no less!) then even if he did exist, he would deserve not an ounce of worship or praise. Period.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

My First SSA Meeting

Tonight, I finally attended a meeting of Michigan's Secular Student Alliance. It was good to finally feel like I was among "my people" after feeling alienated all summer. I am constantly amazed at how horrible it is to feel all alone in the world. I hope that atheist organizations like the SSA will continue to serve as a community support system for atheists. I really hope to be able to contribute more to the community and the movement this year. The world is one big opportunity at this point. Let's do this...

Thursday, September 1, 2011

"Free Will" Can Get Stuffed

Lately, my brother and I have been on a Law and Order: Special Victims Unit binge. Just a few minutes ago, I finished watching an episode from season 10 entitled "Hell". The case in this particular episode revolved around former child soldiers from Uganda. Predictably, the premise of the story brought me to tears. Near the end of the episode, when one of the Ugandan characters attempts to shoot himself, having been threatened with deportation, he makes an especially powerful problem of suffering argument as to why God had "forsaken" him.

As I watched pictures of real Ugandan child soldiers flash by at the episode's conclusion, I was reminded why I despise the "free will defense" so much. I mean, I do think the argument itself is logically flawed on several levels, but this is also one of few arguments that I truly abhor. As I noted in my first post on the free will defense, I've noticed that few people who claim that evil is the result of human "free will" have ever really suffered. I'm sure that at least some of them have experienced troubles and tragedy in their lives, but I can assure you that almost none of them will ever experience the horrors that happen in countries like Uganda.

We're talking about children who not only had to watch their families brutally killed, but who were forced to kill people themselves. There were women and children made into sex slaves, etc. These are atrocities that no one asks for or deserves, especially not children. If there is a god out there who could do whatever he wanted but decided that the free will of some to commit atrocities was more important than the victims of said atrocities, he isn't a god worth worshiping.

I despise the free will defense because it demonstrates a lack of empathy and consideration for suffering innocents. It paints a blood washed portrait of a cruel and unfeeling god using the hands of followers so determined to defend their pet god concept that they would conveniently forget how awful the world can actually be. Free will, to the extent that it actually exists, is a luxury only offered to those of us lucky enough to live in a free society.  Certainly, you and I can choose how we live our lives in order to minimize evil and suffering, but many of our fellow humans can only dream of being so fortunate.

My solution to the problem of suffering is simple: stop praying and start working. Our "first world" society wasn't always as privileged as it is now. People worked tirelessly to make it this way.  Real human beings busted their backs and shed their blood to find cures for diseases, end slavery, dethrone tyrants and build healthy alliances. Some continue to work even to this day. It is our responsibility, if we are able, to put our talents and our strength to good use to improve the world we live in. We must make it our duty to eradicate suffering. Our gods certainly don't seem interested in helping.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Finally, Some Semi-Good News

I was slightly cheered up to see this article.

For some reason, the Atheist community in Michigan is fairly quiet. There are a quite a few of us that I know of, especially in the more liberal cities like Ann Arbor and, to some extent, Kalamazoo, where I'm from. Despite this, we definitely have our share of fundies and other assorted religious nuts. I was glad to see a sign like this go up, especially in the Grand Rapids area where our presence certainly needs to be felt.

Kudos to the Center for Inquiry for fighting the battle and putting us out there. :)

Monday, August 29, 2011

Crap happens. Avoid getting forcibly outed. It's really, really not fun.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

As For The Moderates

There seems to be a divide among skeptics and atheists today as to what should be done with regards to less radical religionists. After all, it would be unfair and inaccurate to say that all Christians are fundies and that all Muslims are terrorists. The recent bombing and shooting in Norway has been a sobering reminder to all of us that there are crazies everywhere, even if they aren't as hyped by the media or vocal as Al Qaeda. Some have stated that the responsibility for religious radicalism falls on these radical individuals alone, not on the moderates. There are a good number of atheists and skeptics who believe that we should respect religion, as long as the believers aren't blowing anybody up. I used to feel this way as well.

My mind has recently been changed.

Most of my recent blog entries have been related to each other in a way. They have addressed the danger of allowing oneself to be manupulated by other people, whether we're talking about Christian politicians with weasel words or theologians twisting their snakeoil sermons to sound convincing. These people have real, undeniable power over their followers. The problem is that not a scrap of that power is legitimate. Spiritual leaders give council on many topics, ranging from how to structure your family, to whether or not abortion is ethical, to whether or not evolution is true, the list goes on. I can assure you that most of these people are not qualified to speak authortatively on any of these subjects. It is doubtful that a person whose highest degree was from a theological seminary would be able to give ANY technical information on an embryo, forget whether or not an embryo is a person. I am highly skeptical of any celibate person who thinks he or she can give ANY good advice on marriage, sex, children or family. This isn't to say that religious leaders are stupid. Certainly, this isn't the case. The point I'm trying to make here is that there is a lot of garbage that comes flying at us from the pulpit. I have Christian friends who truly believe that the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were written by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John because that's what they learned in Church. A good Jewish friend of mine only recently learned about the documentary hypothesis and was disappointed that the rabbis at the elite jewish high school he went to taught him that the Torah was written by Moses. These facts are not just false, they are embarrassingly so, as their falsehood has been known for centuries. Yet we believe them.

One might ask "how could my spiritual leader be wrong? /why would he lie to me?" The answer is simple.

Because we ask them to.

As long as there are people demanding simple answers, others will step forward to give them. We want to hear that someone cares about us, we want to know that we'll see our deceased loved ones again, we want to know that those who do wrong will ultimately be brought to justice. So people tell us that. Religious leaders fill us with all the mental candy we could ever ask for at the price of our intellectual freedom. They would have no authority if we chose not to recognize it.

Yet, as a society, the illegitimate authority of religion is one that we tend to question the least. We show deference to priests and rabbis, even if we aren't of their persuasion, without a thought about what kind of person they might be. We assume that a minister is a good and/or person simply by virtue of his position. We see faith as a good thing, a virtue to be striven for. "He is a man of faith!" is a compliment that many pride themselves on.

In the midst of all this pride, we forget that the hijackers on 9/11 had more faith than any of us. I have yet to find someone who would label them virtuous. We continuously hear stories of priests (not just Catholic ones, mind you) who choose to take advantage of their positions and abuse women and children trusted to their care.

Am I insinuating that these extreme cases speak for all believers? Of course not. But we cannot deny the fact that one of the major reasons why these pedophiles have access to children and why extremist leaders have access to moldable minds is because we are taught to trust them implicitly. As long as moderates and ordinary people continue to go to church, give money and seek advice from such people, those people will continue to have authority. Authority, I'm sorry to say, that is all to often abused.

I think one of the biggest mistakes people make is in thinking "my people would never do that". The other night, I was explaining Scientology to my mom and in the middle of the Xenu story, her eyes got wide and she exclaimed "people actually believe that??" The irony, of course, is that she's a Christian who honestly believes that a person rose from the dead. Ressurection is just a ridiculous as an evil space lord. I'd say it's more ridiculous. At least we know that other planets exist. We can't even say that much about heaven or souls. It should be also noted that my parents are not fundamentalists. My dad reads Carl Sagan and laughs at the idea of ghosts, ESP and other supernatural claims. Yet religion doesn't get this kind of scrutiny. It's treated as a sacred cow, something "special" that doesn't belong in the same catagory as crop circles. This is precisely where the false authority comes from.

This is why I simply cannot see "moderate" religion as harmless.

If you are an atheist or skeptic who cares about truth, I do not recommend shying away from any bogus religious claim, no matter how harmless it seems. As truth seekers, it is unethical for us to encourage or legitimize falsehood. If you are a moderate religionist, I urge you to ask yourself why you believe what you do. I can assure you that no one needs to be religious in order to be happy, healthy or moral. Even if you only practice out of habit or tradition, ask yourself what the cost of this is. You may be wasting your one, precious life and reliquishing your one precious mind in exchange for comfort. Wouldn't that be a shame?

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Hehehehe



Check out the promoted video on the side of this Atheist Experience video:


Is YouTube trying to say something about the hosts of "The Atheist Experience"? Is it God sending a message??? I wonder.... :)

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Oh, Pascal

While surfing the 'nets today, I ran across a blog post entitled "Why I Am Not An Atheist" by a blogger named BlueKat. Well, naturally, I have to respond to it in full. :)

I am not an atheist because I am not arrogant enough to think that I am so wise as to know that God does not exist.

Aaaand, I need to stop this one after the first sentence. Most atheists (at least, most of the big names in atheism) don't claim to know that God does not exist. In fact, most of them don't believe in absolute certainty at all. We simply lack a belief in God. Some may believe that no God exist, but rarely, if ever, is this belief expressed as a statement of knowledge.

Ever since I posted on Pascal's Gambit (or Wager) I have found numerous references to it in forums and on blogs, etc. Usually it is being used by atheists in various ways, always claiming it to be fallacious or easily refutable or otherwise faulty. However, in order to do so, they invariably change Pascal's assumptions to suit their purpose and then declare "Eureka! Wager disproved!"

It doesn't work that way, folks.

For it is based on certain assumptions, and one primary assumption is that God is good and rewards believers with heaven and punishes non-believers with hell.

You cannot change the assumptions in order to disprove the wager.


Right, and this is a very bad assumption. It is precisely this assumption that makes Pascal's arguement so weak. But let us continue...

However, you can think of it this way:

If you believe in God, and he does exist, when you die, God does whatever he wants to do with you, and the possibilities are infinite.

If you believe in God, and he does not exist, then nothing happens, and the possibilities are nil.

If you do not believe in God, and he does exist, when you die, God still does whatever he wants to do with you, and the possibilities are still infinite.

If you do not believe in God and he does not exist, then nothing happens, and the possibilities are still nil.
Ok, what? How is this an arguement for belief at all? Yeah, if God exists he'll do what He wants with us whether or not we beleive. We all know that. Why should we believe?

Either way, the odds are always in favor of the House (or God), because our belief or non-belief in him has no bearing whatsoever on his existence or non-existence. If he exists, he holds all the cards.

If you are turned off, or disillusioned by the Christian God concept because of fundamentalists or whatever, that's fine. It doesn't matter.

It doesn't matter what form of God we're talking about here. An active, prescient God who directs us all in everything we do. An inactive, detached God who set everything in motion and then disengaged. A good God who has a nifty little heaven set up for all believers and a nasty little hell set up for all non-believers. A God who transforms us into another reincarnated being after death. A God who does nothing whatsoever with us once our time here on earth is finished.


No, no, no, no. It absolutely DOES matter what God you believe in. Al most every single monotheistic deity requires belief in Himself ALONE. Idolotry is enough to send you to hell. If you choose to believe "just to be safe" in one God, then there is still a gigantic chance that you will end up in the hell of another God. No matter what you choose to believe or disbelieve, there is no advantage. Besides, what if the God that exists, for some reason, only wants to punish believers? What if Pascal's assumption that God is good is completely wrong? Pascel's wager is a horrible wager because it fails to account for the infinite number of possibilities we could have in relation to an unknowable, supernatural entity.

Also, this blogger seems to assume that the theism and atheism are automatically by default both equally plausable positions to hold. I would argue that this is untrue. There is no evidence for the existance of God. By definition, God, as transcendent being, is an unknown. Any statements of belief require faith. Atheism requires no faith or assumptions. It is purely a lack of belief and a lack of assumptions about the supernatural. I do not choose to be an atheist just because I want to. I choose not to believe because I cannot in good conscious make dishonest statements of knowledge.


IT JUST DOES NOT MATTER, PEOPLE. Whatever you think, whatever you believe, whatever you've been taught, whatever you've read, whatever you've envisioned or prophetized or proselytized, it JUST DOES NOT MATTER.

DO YOU UNDERSTAND? You, me, the preacher, the priest, the rabbi, the master, the bodisattva... we are all just little bitty human beings running around on a teeny tiny planet in a gi-normous, unending Universe and it does not matter what we believe.


Right, but while we're here, PEOPLE matter. Religion almost always a divisive force. People kill, discriminate, make unjust laws and commit countless other ills in the name of religion. It does matter. It also matters because, if there is no God, every single person who prays daily, goes to church or temple frequently, sacrifices a portion of their salary or even their life has wasted their existence on a falsehood. I care too much to allow this to happen unknowingly.


We don't know that there is not a God. We don't know that there is a God. God doesn't flicker on and off like a neon light depending on what one little human is thinking one second as compared to what another little human is thinking the next second.

We cannot prove whether or not some higher intelligence might exist, this is true. BUT I think it is possible to prove that ancient myths about Gods like Zeus, Yahweh, Allah, etc. are just that, mythology. We know that they were written by primitive peoples who borrowed myths from their predecessors. Many of the gods they propose have logically contradictory qualities that, by definition, cannot exist (e.g., being both infinately just and infinately merciful, being omniscient and having free will, etc.) It's safe to say (though, as mentioned earlier, without absolute certainty) that these being probably do not exist.


God either exists or not. What we think has no bearing on his existence. Just because you imagine there is a God does not make God materialize. Just because you think there is no God does not make God disappear.

If there is a God, when you die, God will do with you whatever he will.
If there is no God, when you die, then nothing will happen.


Nope. This is a false dichotomy. Even if there is no God, theoretically, something could happen. Maybe our conscious minds fall into some sort of transdimensional wormhole and continue to exist in another universe. I made that up, obviously, but if we're listing things that COULD happen without the help of an intelligent deity, it'd say it works as an example.


I've studied Buddhism pretty extensively, and the problem I have with reincarnation is that something has to set that in motion which means that there would have to be a God. And, if there is a God, then he may or may not reincarnate you because it will be his choice what to do and he will do as he will. So, you can have no true assurance of reincarnation.

Ok, as with all first cause arguments, this one about reincarnation is flawed. Just because something had to be set into motion, doesn't mean that a God did it. Even if a God DID start the process of reincarnation, it doesn't men that He continues to effect it. Carrying on.


No matter how well educated you may be, or how intelligent, or how knowledgeble, you, my friend, are not all-knowing.

You can feel self-assured all you want, but you can have no assurance of anything except that one day you will die and on that day, and not until that day, you will know the truth.


No one is claiming to be all knowing here. Neurologists can tell you easily what happens when you die. Your brain stops working. There is no reason to believe that we have souls or consciousness apart from our brains. I'd say that the truth is probably that, when you die, that's the end of any life you'll ever have. Do I know absolutely? Of course not. But, as I've stated three times already, there is no reason to believe otherwise.

In the comment section of the blog post in question, the author made several posts indicating that she believed Pascal over any objectors because Pascal was smarter than any of them. Bull. This is a shameless appeal to authority. If you want to hear more about flaws in Pascal's wager, I recommend this video:

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Westboro Bapist Church > The Family Leader

Upon rethinking the thunderf00t video on which I commented yesterday, I came to a stange realization. If all fundamentalists were like the Westboro Baptist Church, the world would be a better place. Not just Christian fundies either. Whenever someone wants to give an example of an extreme fundamentalist sect, they mention the WBC. I think this is a mistake. In all practical terms, the WBC poses no threat to anyone. Here's why.

1. They don't want to convert or change anyone.
They may be jerks who picket funerals. Their beliefs may be insane by anyone's standards, but they don't demand that anyone believe or live as they do. In fact, it is part of their beliefs that most people won't live as they do. Their proud slogans only serve to alert people of their certain doom and, in some perverted way "celebrate" what they see as the glory of God. The WBC also make full use of their right to freedom of speech. You'll never see them demanding that an Atheist billboard be removed. They may picket and protest, but I have never heard them attempt to silence those who disagree with them. They live their lives, everyone else lives as they will. This fits perfectly into their religion and I doubt this will change.

2. Members of the WBC are 100% honest as to what they believe.
Sure "God hates fags" is a nasty thing to say, but it's simple, direct and, again, honest. They don't use weasely buzzwords like "family values" attempt to redefine the word "love". They say exactly what they mean even it makes them seem less appealing. One of the problems with the more extreme members of the Christian right (e.g. Sarah Palin, the AFA, etc.) is that they believe in most of the same theology as the Westboro Baptist Church. They are simply very talented at making the philosophy look good. Is anyone going to deny that the bigots from the American Family Association crusade against homosexuality and abortion because they believe that these are sins punishable by eternal torture? I can guaruntee you that they agree with the WBC on this. Yet this and other organization make it their business, not only to hold such dispicable views, but to spread these views to the rest of the world. They use words like "family" and call upon the "founding fathers" to weasel their way into the hearts and minds of even the less vocal and more moderate Christians.

If you haven't read the Family Leader's "Marriage Vow" pledge that Michelle Bachmann agreed to, I highly recommend it. It is one of the most repugnant documents I think I have ever encountered. It is bigoted, divisive and I found it personally offensive on several levels. What's worse is that there are powerful people, such as Michelle Bachmann, who seem to be living in a Christian lala land in which meddling in the personal lives of free citizens is more important than the job market, terrorism or the national debt. These are the people we should worry about, not the Westboro Baptist Church. The Phelps family is obnoxious, but when I hear similar rhetoric being spewed by people who actually hve power, I become truely frightened.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Brainwashing, Yay!

I've found that a good way to keep oneself safe from manipulation is to understand the methods people use to manipulate others. An introductory course in Sociology alone is sufficient for a basic understanding of just how easy we are to "brainwash" and just how valuble critical thinking skills are. Mind you, I'm not talking about some sort of tinfoil hat conspiracy nonesense here. I'm talking about very ordinary attempts at socialization and resocialization we see everyday, often from religion.

Thunderf00t's most recent video is a short interview he managed to get with two women from the Westboro Baptist Church. These loud mouthed coiners of the ever-popular "God hates fags" slogan have come to epitomize religion gone wrong for believers and skeptics alike. Many must wonder how these people can spout their bile so freely without a shred of guilt. Is it really possible for one human to smile at the thought of another human being tortured forever? Thunderf00t's video reveals exactly how this is possible.

It is no accident that most of the content of this interview consists of personal attacks on Thunderf00t. Insults like "little boy" are obvious attempts at making another person feel beneath you. I can't tell whether or not these particular women are attempting to demean Thunderf00t on purpose or whether it's just out of habit. Either way, the demeaning or dehumanizing of a person is a hallmark component of a process called resocialization. As the word itself suggests, resocialization is the changing of the personality or practices of a person by controlling their environment in specific ways. Organizations such as prisons, mental institutions and the military resocialize people all the time with (usually) good intentions. Unfortunately, cults and religious groups (Scientologists and the WBC in particular) use similar techniques to gain and maintain followers.

The process can be summed up simply. There is generally some degree of isolation (if not complete isolation) from people outside of whatever group is doing the resocializing. People joining the group often undergo "mortification", which generally involves tearing down one's previous life and persona. After the he has been made vulnerable, it is quite easy for the values and practices of the group to be used in order to rebuild the mortified person.

Many people are very succeptable to this kind of manipulation without meaning to be. This is the reason Scientologists are told constantly in the beginning that they must be "cleared" of all of their supposed personality flaws before they can continue through the ranks. It is also way so many people "find religion" after periods of emotional vulnerability and why "raising a child" in a particular religion is so important. Faith schools provide segregation that is useful in the instilling of ideas.

This is not to say that all groups maliciously brainwash their followers. We're all socialized in some way or another. Most of us are uncomfortable with public nudity because we were raised in a culture that frowns upon such things. Such social conventions are relatively harmless as long as they don't discriminate against, abuse, etc. other memebers of the society.

One thing we must be able to do, however, is call this kind of behavior when we see it. When Ray Comfort lists the Ten Commandments and says that we've all broken them in some fashion and are thus sinful, we should be able to take his claims with a grain of salt. Is "lusting after a woman" really the horrendous crime he makes it out to be? Does that pencil we "stole" in the third grade say anything about us as adults? Of course not. But if we were convinced that there was something dreadfully wrong with us and that the only way to fix that was to picket funerals and chant "God hates fags", we'd probably do it.

The best protection we have against these groups is critical thinking. Don't believe everything you hear, even if it comes from the mouth of a supposed "authority". Whether it's "you're a filthy sinner" or "evolution is a fact", run every assertion through your head and, if nessasary, ask for justification. If you've already been convinced by the likes of Ray Comfort, the Church of Scientology or any other religious or politcal body, take a moment or two really consider what you believe and why you believe it. Keep in mind that "I need this", "That's what I was taught" and "It makes me feel good" are bad reasons to hold a belief. Remember, the truth will come out in the wash if you make the effort to seek it objectively and without bias.

I think it's safe to say that it's too late to "save" the members of the WBC. However, we have the ability to prevent those like them from gaining power. We all have the cure within our own minds. It's only a matter of making use of it.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

So...

Some random people have been subscribing to my blog and Twitter lately. I thank you, but I feel guilty because I most def don't deserve it. haha. Note to self: stop being so damn emo all the time. :)

Next semester, I decided to drop my religion class and take biology. I know what you're thinking. It's just something i've been really drawn to lately. The only problem is that I'm a little nervous. Ok, a lot nervous. My brother is the most science-minded of the two of us. That much has always been obvious. Everyone has always hailed him as the smart one, mostly because he's incredibly good at math. I've always just kind of accepted this and came to terms with the fact that I could never be a scientist. But lately, I've really felt the urge to study biology further. Well, biological anthropology, to be specific. At Michigan, in order to take AnthroBio, you have to study biology. I know it's gonna be hard. As always, I'm scared of failure. Yessir. For some reason, I have sucked at making bracelets lately. I did do this one this morning:




How Do You Like Your Sagan?

My Childhood!

Anybody remember this shizz?

My brother is now playing it and it's giving me major nostalgia. I was an expert at this game in elementary school. To this day, my mastery of this game is my one and only claim to game fame. :)






Saturday, July 9, 2011

JesusNotes

I have several family members who like to pretend that they're profound thinkers. Come to think of it, I'm probably one of them. I did, however, ant to draw attention to one in particular who enjoys writing what can only be described as JesusNotes. Here are two examples:

"A lot of people know the first part of John 3:16 but not the second part. "For God so loved the world that He gave His One and only Son, (here's the important part) that whoever BELIEVES IN HIM shall not perish but have eternal life." Eternal life means imitate knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ and life with Him after physical death. This promise of eternal life is conditional. One must believe and receive Jesus as Lord. Unbelief is rejection of Christ and leads to hell after death. What is your destiny?"


"Who I have become in You, is grace beyond all measure. In the light of all you are, who am I to found here? Raised to life and crowned with love, Jesus, Yours forever. Majesty and Mercy leads me in this moment, how can it be that I have been chosen by the King? There's no greater honor, there's no greater treasure, then to be known and loved by You, I am highly favored." MWS &AG
Does your life reflect all the love you have for Jesus? If not, why not?"

Let's makes one thing abundantly clear: just because you can talk about a supposedly transcendent force does not make you a philosopher. It helps to learn how to spell "intimate". BUT. Let's skip to the content.

Writings like this really make me wonder why so many Christians claim that atheists are "arrogant".  The statement "I am highly favored" isn't arrogant? It certainly is a dick thing to say. The idea that you KNOW what will happen after someone dies is also arrogant, especially when you claim to know the mind of an omnipotent being. *sigh*



Friday, July 8, 2011

Interesting

Two subjects popped up on my Google alert for "atheist" more than anything today:

This story about New York atheists complaining about a religious reference in a new street sign.
This story concerning pilots who refused to fly the 4th of July Atheist banners. And
This little report on the removal of an atheist billboard.

Admittedly, I think the complaints about the street sign are overkill. That's another story.

What I find interesting is the difference in reactions between these situations. When atheists complain about a religious sign, most average people have an eye roll reaction to "those atheists", always offended by religious references. Even other atheists roll their eyes and post comments that often begin with "I'M an atheist, but..."

When people request that atheist signs be done away with or reuse to post them altogether, the only people who care are... well, atheists.  

Cultural bias? Proof that atheists DO need to be more open and vocal? I wonder....

More on Morality

I have a google alert that emails me everytime the word "atheist" pops up somewhere on the internet. As one would expect, this often leads me to some relatively interesting articles on belief and nonbelief, many of which grind my gears. It seems strange that my gears are so easily ground by theistisc claims these days, as I hear them constantly. Honestly, I think the fact that these claims ARE so common are the annoying part of all this-- every single time a theist makes a claim in support of their religion, it's the same nonsense we hear constantly from every other theist regardless of religion. It's almost gotten to the point where I just want to tell every theist who posts on my YouTube channel, "Before making a claim, please go make sure it's not on Iron Chariots. If it is on Iron Chariots, feel free to read all of the reasons why you're wrong. If you can't find your arguments on Iron Chariots, go ahead and post".

But I'm getting off track. I was reading an SOS (same old shit) theistic blog entry by a Christian on the subject of morality today. Believe it or not, this article was spurred by the recent "Elevatorgate" debocle in the atheist community. (I'd once again like to give a sarcastic "thanks" to all of the nincompoops (INCLUDING Watson and Dawkins) who turned this little, personal incident into a scandal, thereby, making all atheists look worse than they already did.) We now must answer to the theists, like this one, who are laughing behind our backs. Let's get started, then.

This article starts off with a rather long quote from a guy named Craig Hazen (who is, apparently, the editor for the journal of something called the "Evangelical Philosophical Society". Note: Red flag here.). Hazen writes that Christians should challenge the assertion that "there can be good without God" by asking three questions of Atheists:

"• If everything ultimately must be explained by the laws of physics and chemistry, help me understand what a moral value is (does it have mass, occupy space, hold a charge, have wavelength)?
• How did matter, energy, time and chance result in a set of objective moral values? Did the big bang really spew forth “love your enemy?” If so, you have to help me understand that.
• What makes your moral standard more than a subjective opinion or personal preference? What makes it truly binding or obligatory? Why can’t I just ignore it? Won’t our end be the same (death and the grave) either way?"

Sometimes, I wish people could just say what they mean. There three questions can be summed up simply: "What are morals, where did they come from and why should we follow them?" If Hazen had phrased his questions as such, they would be perfectly valid instead containing a false dicotomy and a strawman that reveal Hazen's own brazen ignorance of the subject.

First of all, Hazen seems to be under the impression that either A. The source of morality MUST be a God (specifically the Christian one) or B. Everything must be subjective.

 This notion is wrong on several levels. Ifactions are moral or immoral because God said so, then they are NOT objective. By this logic, God could command literally anything and it would automatically become moral, no matter how atrocious the action would be. Whether or not God would actually command something atrocious is beyond the point. The mere fact that morality is arbitrarily decided by some being makes for subjectivity on some level. Besides, if you believe in the Biblical God, you cannot deny that your God, if He exists, sometimes commands atrocities. Read Hosea 13:16, to start. Also, even if morals DON'T come from divine command, it doesn't mean that they're just "someone's opinion". Certainly, there are personal problems, the solutions to which might very well be based largely on the situation. However, big issues such as rape and murder are almost universally condemned for very good reasons. But I'll address that further in a moment.

The strawman in these questions is the notion that atheists belive that the universe came into being "by accident". All I can say to this is "read a frickin' science book". You can't ask questions about "how something could have possibly arisen naturally" if you don't have a fundamental understanding of how nature actually works or you'll make yourself look like an idiot. Figure out what happened between the big bang and the arrival of human civilization and THEN come back to us with these questions.

The rest of the article focuses on how evolutionary means couldn't possibly have given rise to morality, therefore God done it. It includes such gems as:

"You can’t get love from selfishness. You can’t get marriage from survival of the fittest. Not rationally, anyway. And when the chips are down, and obligations clash with self-interest, reason has a major part to play in determining how we will act. Either you ground morality or you cave in to selfishness, and marriages don’t last when you have no reason not to be selfish."

My only reply to this would be simple You. Are. An. Idiot.

Do people honestly think that there has been no progress in biology since Darwin? A link provided after the article cutely titled "I wonder where this link leads" demonstrates that this may be tragically so. Let me break this down into chunks so that it might make a little sense:

Human beings evolved as a part of SOCIETY.

A single human being is essentially USELESS without other members of SAID SOCIETY.

There are certain anti-social behaviors that could potentially lead to the DOWNFALL OF SAID SOCIETY.

As social beings, most of us instinctively DO NOT KILL EACH OTHER.

This is not that complicated, people. Read up a little on evolutionary psychology. Read "The Selfish Gene". Read "Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution". Heck, have these people ever heard that there were secular moral philosophers even before Christianity was even a thought? Even if there are certain cultural "moral" values we don't know of instinctively, there exists powerful societal pressure for us to behave in accordence with the rules and mores of our civilization. Violators are thrown in jail or killed.  Again, THIS IS NOT COMPLICATED.

Morality in a stable, first world society is not subjective. Don't believe me? Read a book. Or watch "Why Do People Laugh At Creationists: Part 29".

The other think that irked me in this article is Hazen's bit about God inscribing morality "on our hearts". He claims that it's important, even if we don't need to believe to be good, to at least acknowledge the existance of the one who made you good. This notion is just as much utter crap as it was before this article. Even if we didn't understand as much as we do about the evolution of social behavior in animals, it would not mean that a God created morality. Not knowing how or why something works does not mean that we can make something up and call it a true answer. Indeed, you cannot assert that God does ANYTHING until you've proven that such a being even exists.

Some would reply to this by saying that morality itself is proof of God. Good try, but no cigar on this argument. To say "we know God exists because we're moral" and then saying "we know we're moral because God exists" is just as circular as saying that the Bible proves the Bible true. God cannot be proof of something that is proof of God without outside evidence that there is a God in the first place.

On another note, is anyone else bothered by the fact that theists are not called out by more people for questioning the morality of an entire segment of the population?

Oh, Censorship

Because I work for Kalamazoo Public Schools, I have to use a work computer that censors the internet for inappropriate content. Today, when I tried to access a news story about Michelle Bachmann's pledge to ban porn, the net work barred me from the news site because it used the word "pornography" too many times. Thus, through censorship, we have demonstrated one reason why we should NOT support censorship.


Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Elevatorgate

All I can say about this Skepchick/Dawkins drama is this: come on, guys! This is starting to make YouTube drama look normal, and that's saying something. Skepchick had every right to feel uncomfortable and creeped out by what happened to her in Dublin. Other people should have left it at that and not made this into some huge debate on feminism. Dawkins probably should have thought twice before making his little comment and should probably come out and clarify exactly wtf he was talking about. In any case, there is no reason to completely discredit Dawkins. Heck, I always preferred his biology work to his personal opinions.

This is all so silly. Certainly, I think that the "atheist community" could use a little more estrogen in general, but the way these issues are being discussed here is unproductive and emotional. Please stop.

An Open Message from a Compassionate Atheist to a Theistic Don Quixote

You know who you are. You almost inevitably break my heart every time we have a conversation. You'll probably never realize this fact and, even if someone were to tell you this, I doubt you'd fully understand why this happens. Truthfully, it is this precise lack of understanding that feels like a kick in the stomach every time I see it demonstrated.

I make a concerted effort not to judge other people too harshly for beliefs and practices that they were taught and simply never thought about. Yet it is so difficult, so terribly heart wrenching to see a person whose beautiful mind is so restrained by the cage of dogma that they cannot think independently. What's worse is when thinking independently is taught as a negative or unnecessary ability.

Whenever I hear you say that the only reason you are good is because your religion tells you to be, I am overcome with both sadness and fear. On one hand, the idea that any person could ever tell another person that they would not be as virtuous a person without them, without their religion or without their God makes my stomach churn. The idea that a person would actually think himself unworthy or lacking without another person, without a religion or without a God makes me want to cry. Many if not most people can learn to stand on their own as an individual and, at the same time, live for others. Those who have learned to do this are the most satisfied and, often, the wisest of people. When I see you and realize that you were never even given the opportunity to become a freethinking individual tears me up inside.

On the other hand, I am frightened by the prospect that someone I love might honestly not know the difference between right and wrong. What's even more frightening is the fact that there is no more reason to believe that God keeps people moral than there is to believe that elves keep people moral. A part of me is very wary of a person who is only held back from killing me where I stand by the the supposed will of an invisible, unmeasurable, mythical being. I want to love and be comrades with you, but I cannot afford to risk my own life and the lives of my loved ones. I have no way of knowing whether or not this fear is justified. That's what makes said fear so deep and awful.

Upon hearing someone I love openly and brazenly adhering to a distorted view of reality, knowing full well that their view is distorted by faith, I feel like a failure as a human being striving for truth and betterment. I write, make videos and brood tirelessly over how I can encourage people that I have never met to open their minds, free themselves from the chains of "what's always been believed" and soar into the vast expanse of "what will be known". Watching you is like watching my best friend from middle school, sinking deeper and deeper into the hole that was her own depression. I tried time and time again to reach out to her, but time and time again, she would refuse my hand. It's a sort of indescribable helplessness that comes with having to care for a caged human who knows not of their own confinements.

I think that, perhaps, the worst part of all of this is that the reasons for your entrapment are based completely on false premises. The arguments you have heard and the "facts" you have been taught are false almost in their entirety. I could take each one and knock them down myself, but I cannot, I dare not for fear of causing you pain. If you were to question my beliefs and ideas, I would be fine. My position of atheism holds no emotion for me. Yet you have put so much personal stock into these cherished ideas that there is no way to extract them without extracting parts of you. There are moments when I see the real human mind behind that curtain of bronze-age mysticism. Moments when you are warm and kind and when you thirst for knowledge and empathize with other people. Then he always retreats behind the black curtain of false mystery disguised as morality. Sometimes I just want to scream and wail and pound the walls as if rattling the bars of a cage could somehow break them.

I know that I sound cold and condescending here, but I don't mean any of this sentiment in malice. Nor to I expect my overwhelming emotions to convince you or any other dogmatic theist. But somehow, I see myself in you. I see the person I once was and I remember that I didn't know what I didn't know. But I had one thing in my favor-- my parents, though theists, were freethinkers and my grandparents before them. They built their lives on hard work and truth seeking. It was because they helped me to be courageous and question everything that I managed to break the shackles of dogma and to love the universe unconditionally.

In the end, I can never be you and never fully understand this reality you seem to think you live in. This is the heartbreaking truth. I want to share the world with you, but I cannot when one of us chooses to live in reality despite its harshness and the other prefers to create a quixotic world of his own.

False Witness Much?

Just for funsies I decided to take a peek at the website of a Christian college that I friend of my cousin applied to. Here's a lovely gem from their mission statement:

"Rejecting relativism and secularism, it fosters intellectual, moral, spiritual, and social development consistent with a commitment to Christian truth, morals, and freedom.  Rather than political, 
ideological, or philosophical agendas, objective truth continues as the goal of liberal learning [at our college]."

Does anyone else notice the bald faced lie in the second sentence? If your institution is dedicated to instilling the values of a particular belief system, it is BY DEFINITION not free of ideological agendas. You are also NOT searching for "objective truth". 

I mean, found your institution on whatever principles you want, but for goodness sake, don't lie and make it this obvious. If you're not lying and simply too blind to notice the blatant contradiction in your own mission statement, you probably shouldn't be in the education business at all.


That is all.


Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Ad Stalinum

The next time I hear someone use the "Stalin was an atheist" arguement, I am going to explode. I guess it's not entirely an individual's fault when they think this is an accurate point to make. Afterall, the "godlessness" of the communists was a fact that was emphasized in America during the Cold War. But as is often the case, propaganda differs from reality. To quote Matt Dillahunty in his debate with Orthodox priest Fr. Jacobse, "atheism is niether nessasary, nor sufficient [to commit Stalin's atrocities]". This statement seems a bit confusing, but it is simple to expalain.

Would you place many buddhists and secular jews in the same catagory as Joseph Stalin?
Would you say that the terrorists on 9/11 were motivated by theism?

Most sane people would answer "no" to both of these questions, even though many buddhists and reform jews are indeed atheists and the 9/11 terrorists were indeed theists. In reality, niether theism nor atheism on their own are enough to inspire actions, good or bad. In order for people to commit atrocities and/or acts of charity, there must be some sort of other ideological motivation behind these actions. Christians often run charities because, not only do they believe in a god, but they believe that God wants humans to care about each other. The 9/11 terrorists not only believed in a god, but that God wanted them to attack their percieved enemies. Stalin not only didn't believe in a god, he had a separate ideology that included a supposedly "ethical" duty to eliminate those whom he saw as a threat to the State, including religious organizations.

If you wouldn't put buddhists and secular jews in Stalin's camp, you have no business putting the "new atheists" in his camp either. Freethinking empirical rationalists do indeed have different ideologies from Stalin, just as the buddhists do. All it takes to figure this out is a little historical research and a little time and effort to actually ask an atheist "what DO you believe?"

Since when is a virtual "ad hitlerum" argument not a logical fallacy anyway? After all, Stalin had facial hair. Remember that next time you see a picture of Jesus.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Convincing =/= Good

C.S. Lewis made bad arguments. There, I said it. The skeptics' apologist, the eloquent, intelligent, reluctant but eventual coup de grace of the Christian camp made bad arguments. As always, I must begin with a "don't get me wrong" clause. I do like reading some of C.S. Lewis's fiction work. In my freshman writing seminar last year, we studied the novel "Til We Have Faces" and, I must say, I quite enjoyed it. I also quite enjoyed the ever popular "Chronicles of Narnia" series as a child. Yet when it comes to Lewis's arguments as to the existence of God and the truth of Christianity, he fails miserably. My intention in this case is not to dissect all of his arguments. I can debunk a few off the top of my head: the Lunatic, Lord, Liar defense presents a false trichotomy, he assumes the efficacy of the Bible when that may not be valid, etc. The Iron Chariots wiki begins (though there is still much to be done on the article) to debunk the entirety of "Mere Christianity" if you want to read more of that. However, I'm more interested in the fact that, though he presents less than solid arguments on a regular basis, hoards of people consider him a great Christian philosopher.

Quite frankly, I think that Christian apologists are so widely beloved, not because they make good arguments, but because they make CONVINCING arguments. The two are not always the same. One might reference my previous post as an example. If the Insane Clown Posse has said "the wonder and power of attraction exhibited by magnetic force remains, to mere mortals as ourselves, a mystery. They can only be explained through the wisdom of divine revelation and intervention", they would probably have sounded a lot more respectable than they did when they rapped "f*ing magnets/ how do they work?" in their song "Miracles". Yet, upon examining the two statements, they are, in fact, saying the exact same thing. We have to admit though, the most famous Christian apologists aren't idiots. Most of them, like C.S. Lewis, are pretty good writers. It seems natural that they would at least give us pause to think about what they're saying. I think I can speculate further as to why so many people not only stop to think about what apologists say, but fall for their platitudes hook, line and sinker. There are two major factors that I hypothesize contribute to the convincing nature of apologetics:

1) A lack of critical thinking.
2) A pre-existing desire to believe.

The two probably go hand in hand, but I think each reason deserves attention.

How many times have we heard the story of the skeptic's conversion. "I DID have doubts," the theist inevitably says. "But I thought about it/read about it/ talked to my religious leader about it and all of my questions were answered!" This story crops up so many times, it's practically a meme, but I am sure that these things actually happen. Religious apologists always have answers. Always, always, always. The real question is "do they have GOOD answers?" Are their answers supported by the weight of evidence and logically sound? I can assure you almost without hearing them that they will not be. Let's face it, there are only so many arguments for the existence of God and they appear over and over again in different forms. Not a single one of them is sound and/or evidentially supported because all of them make fundamentally erroneous assumptions (generally, that "there must be something"). One might ask why the heck more people don't realize this fact. Simple. People don't generally put god claims to scrutiny. Even intelligent, critically thinking people often treat god claims as if they were sacred cows. Some may even make the same erroneous assumptions as the apologetics themselves. Because they all tend to agree on said erroneous assumptions, they don't examine them very well. Why? Well, this leads me to my second factor.

I've heard before that, in order to be convinced the Christianity is true, one must begin with a desire to believe. This is a major, major red flag. When a person is predisposed to believe something, they'll take what they can get. It's very easy to see a well written argument for God's existence, nod one's head in affirmation and block out any criticisms of that argument if all you want is a reason of some sort to believe. Even C.S. Lewis admits that, when he was young, he wanted God to exist. Thus, he has no business calling himself a "reluctant convert". In the end, when we desire to believe something, we are not looking for truth. We're looking for ad hoc justification. This leads us to throw critical thinking to the wind and fall for false premises and phony philosophy. Every single claim we can say we know to any degree of certainty had to endure a barrage of criticism from people who wanted to do anything but believe. Why do we expect anything different from God claims? We shouldn't. End of story.

Bad arguments are only as convincing as we want them to be. Can we stop searching for affirmation and start caring about what's factual? Can we stop lending credence to patently absurd notions just because they make us feel better?


Thursday, June 30, 2011

"F-ing Magnets, How Do They Work?"

Is anyone except me slightly irked when people legitimately make things up and, when ask for an explanation, treats their made up idea as  if it were some sort of profound mystery? This complaint is related to, but not the same as yesterday's post about philosophical mumbo-jumbo. Humans have a natural curiosity that drives them to solve mysteries, this much is clear. What I consistently fail to grasp, however, is our insistence upon creating "mysteries" and "miracles" where there needn't be any at all.

Let me give you a simple example. The phrase "God works in mysterious ways" is one of the most irksome cop-outs I have ever encountered. When entering into discussions about God giving humans free will for example, we often hear questions asked about why God supposedly intervenes a certain times in the lives of humans or why God allows certain "natural evils". This line of questioning generally comes back with the "mysterious ways" reply. I rarely know how to respond to this nonsense, not because it's a good reply, but because it's a supremely bad one. In such a situation, the theist is making an assertion that things happen for a reason, that is, God's plan. When asked about the rationale behind said plan, however, the best the theist can do is give an elegant version of "I don't know". How the heck does this explain anything? Why not simply admit that you don't know in the first place? What's the use of tacking on random claims of divinity that are no more than pious assumptions? And of course, when natural disasters are explained in purely materialistic terms, the miracle squad will inevitably cluck endlessly.

There were some who did not understand why certain rational minds made ICP's song "Miracles" into such a big deal. It's just a song, right? Wrong. Though the Insane Clown Posse's messy lyrics demonstrate a juvenile view of the world combined with willful ignorance, they do, in fact, display an attitude that is depressingly common among believers in the supernatural today. The difference between the ICP and theologians is that theologians are far more eloquent and thus, sound much more convincing.

That may seem like a very harsh claim to make, after all, there are a good many very intelligent theologians out there. However, I don't think the comparison is undeserved. I was recently reading an informational website run by a certain religious group who shall, for the time being, remain nameless. The subject was the inspired nature of the gospels. After a very long (and admittedly poetic) description of the depth and mystery of God's hand in scripture, there was a rather short and snippy paragraph about how scholars who use "scientific" methods to investigate scripture and thus, question the traditional interpretations, are only seeking to mislead the public. The origin of scripture could only be divine.

The sad fact is that the sentiment expressed in that essay was IDENTICAL to that of the song "Miracles". The ICP raps defiantly, "f*cking magnets, how do they work?/ And I don't wanna talk to a scientist/ ya'll motherf*ckers lying/ and gettin' me pissed!" What is the cause of this rampant anti-intellectualism? At least most people that I know of think the Insane Clown Posse is nuts. But people actually TRUST priests, pastors, rabbis and imams. Sometimes I wonder if people actually listen to what their religious leaders say or if they just see and hear pretty words strung together such so that they can't possibly be wrong.

Sadly, no matter how beautiful an idea is, that idea could still be wrong.

There is a simple answer to why parts of the Bible contradict each other and/or make no sense. As far as we can tell, it is simply a book written by scores of people over thousands of years. Please note, PEOPLE. There is no secret divine mystery to any of it and there needn't be one. Sure, there are things we don't know about the origins of the Bible, Qur'an and Torah, but that's exactly why we looks to historians and archaeologists. These people dedicate their lives to discovering these truths. Many of them are believers with no intention of "lying" or "misleading" people. No matter how much of it you do, pulling ideas and pure logic out of the air will never lead you to truth. Not without evidence, that is. Yet this is all apologetics is and ever will be. So let's stop making excuses.

I always loved the House quote about how, if the wonder of something disappears once that something is explained, there never was any wonder to begin with. It's so true. We need to stop adding Gods and spirits where they don't belong. We need to stop clinging to ancient ideas simply because they're beautiful or profound-sounding or... well, ancient. The more I read about ancient wisdom, the less wise it sounds to me. What use are imagined mysteries when there are so many real ones?

And remember, no matter how many assumptions we add to an argument, we know what will have the last laugh:




Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Mystical, Philosophical Babble

One of the more interesting courses I took last year was a philosophy of religion course. One of the big facts I learned indirectly about philosophy was that philosophy is about as useless as it is fascinating. Don't misunderstand, I like philosophy. It's a good way to get ideas flowing, to learn how to conduct logical discussions, to learn how to think in different ways. However, I can't help but notice that when it comes to accurately describing, explaining or conveying reality, pure philosophy almost inevitably fails. Certainly, many of the ideas we hold true today began as mere philosophical treatises (political ideology and the like). However, there are also a good many philosophical ideas that we hold to be false. How do we choose which are true and which are false? It all comes back to whether or not that idea or concept is demonstrably true. I'll give you an example. How many times have we heard the phrase "communism looks good on paper, but it doesn't work in real life"? Now we could debate all day as to whether or not this is actually true, but the fact still stands that many citizens of the modern world believe this statement to be somewhat true. After all, there are many still alive today who were able to witness just how corrupt Lenin's conceptualization of communism became. Yes, yes, I understand that there are different types of communism, etc. My point is simply that soviet style per Lenin was once a viable idea, philosophically for large numbers of people. Reality told a different story. Lenin turned out to be dead wrong in many ways, despite being philosophically sound.

Back to philosophy of religion.

There are those within many (if not most) religious and spiritual traditions who assert that there are parts of "truth" that science cannot touch. Some would say that there are elements both inside and outside the universe that defy empirical and rational explanations. Therefore, we must turn to faith and philosophy in order to understand them. Whenever I hear someone make this assertion, I find it hard not to exclaim how ridiculous the assertion is. Without any sort of evidential support for its premises, a philosophical argument is indistinguishable from an opinion pulled out of thin air. I like to use the following example that I heard on non-prohpets once to illustrate this point:
I start by asserting that 2+2=5. This means that 4=5. By subtracting 3 from both sides, we find that 1=2. The pope and I are 2 people. Therefore, the pope and I are 1 person. Therefore, I am the pope.
Obviously, this is ludicrous. However, my logic was perfectly sound. My fatal error was in starting with a very bad, unverifiable premise. This is problem with pure reason and philosophy. There is no guarantee that such arguments will lead us to anything that's real. They may give us pause or make us think for a second, but they are useless for all practical purposes.

Unfortunately, every argument for the existence of any supernatural quality or entity is almost directly comparable to the 2+2=5 argument. This is because all of them start with a premise that no person or group of people can possibly justify: the premise that there MUST necessarily be something other worldly, supernatural or spiritual about the universe. Something beyond the material that explains or controls forces that humans simply cannot. Heartbreaking as it may sound to the already convinced, there is absolutely no practical reason to believe that this premise is true.

Sure, we may WANT there to be something other. We may HOPE that there is something other. And yet, being as we are, the universe owes us absolutely nothing. Our wants and hopes have no effect on physical reality. Some might point out that I'm attempting to use logic and evidence to approach something that is not logical. Fine. The problem with this point is that, if you wish to argue for the existence of anything in particular within this supernatural realm, you shoot yourself in the foot. Once you assert that something is beyond logic or evidence, you have placed it in the realm of the unknowable and have no business asserting anything specific about it. Anything specific you do choose to assert about it is, again, indistinguishable from ideas pulled out of thin air.

What I truly fail to understand time and time again is why people become so disheartened by the idea that there may very well be nothing beyond the material realm. Why do we feel the need to tack on mysticism to a universe that is wondrously intricate without it. It seems to me like tacking random lace patterns onto this dress:



Sure the dress is simple, but it's lovely the way it is. There's no reason to believe that there needs to be any lace on it at all. Sure, it's not extravagant, but why does it need to be in order for us to appreciate it? The way in which my dress analogy fails is in that the universe IS extravagant, even speaking in purely materialistic terms. There is even less need to add mysticism to the universe than there is to add accessories to this dress. There are plenty of mysteries and complexities in the universe as is. We don't need to pull new ones out of our butts that only distract us from the real "spiritual" nature of the universe.  Philosophical conceptions of reality are often fun and interesting, but, in the end, they might as well be no more than mystical babble. I say we stop babbling and start discovering. Or, at least, don't let our babble get in the way of our discovery. Let's stop pretending that there's something "deep" about concepts such as the "unmoved mover" or the "eternal watchmaker" when the real depth in the universe is deeper than any God or spirit we mortals could ever imagine. 

Obsessed with Circumcision

For some reason, I have heard so much about circumcision in the last few weeks that it's starting to put the Old Testament to shame. That's saying something. Ok, so maybe that's a bit of an exaggeration, but I feel like a fair amount of people are giving a lot of attention to this issue, especially since the San Fransisco circumcision ban was proposed. I guess I should throw in my two cents on the issue.

My feelings on circumcision are largely mixed. First of all, I think it's dishonest to directly compare it to female genital cutting. Male circumcision consists of the removal of the foreskin of the penis, which is the equivalent of the clitoral hood on the female. Female circumcision involves, at the very least, the removal of the clitoris, meaning that the two would only be comparable in that sense if male circumcision involved the removal of the entire head of the penis. In addition, the circumstances, stated aims, methods etc. of the two procedures are very different. The way I see it, removing the skin around the head of the penis of a newborn for supposed health reasons or because the parents don't know any better is different than enduring a risky procedure to cut of a large portion of the female genitalia under generally unsafe circumstances in order to keep the girl sexually pure. If we have to resort to emotional appeals by comparing the two in those ways, we probably shouldn't be having this discussion.

That being said, I am not nessisarily in support of circumcision either. One fact that both male and female circumcision have in common is that the only real reason to have the procedures done in the first world is tradition. Appeals to tradition, as always, are fallacious arguments. Just because something is traditional doesn't make it nessasary or morally right. There have been assertions that there are health benefits to circumcisions and there have been studies (some of which were mentioned in a recent video by c0nc0rdance on YouTube) that, in AIDS ridden countries, male circumcision significantly reduced the rate of contraction. For a while, I was pretty convinced that, while I could never call myself a proponent of the practice, circumcision might not be SO bad if the health benefits are that positive. However, a recent blog entry by PZ Meyers has led me to rethink this notion. According to Meyers, the study was incomplete and inaccurate. Besides, in first world countries such as America, AIDS and STDs are less prevalent and relatively preventable with safer sex methods, such as condom use or responsible moderation of sexual activity. If this is so, then only one reason remains for circumsizing boys: tradition. This leaves me, again, with mixed feelings because tradition is never a good justification for something as serious as surgeries on the genatalia of infants.

In the end, I find it difficult to take a strong stand on the issue either way. If the procedure is virtually useless, I cannot support it. However, I don't think that I could support a ban on the practice either. There are a couple reasons for this. Firstly, circumcision is less risky, health wise, when done on infants than on older men and boys. The healing process is easier, and the child won't remember it, saving him from future pain and/or insecurities. These points would be rather irrelevant if circumcision weren't so prominent in the United States. The simple reality is that most people in the US choose to have their male children circumcised and I hypothesize that, because of this, many male children would make that choice when they became old enough to decide (even if only due to social pressure). That being as it is, people at this point in time should have access to the simpler infant procedure. I feel that this is one of those situations that needs to be worked out through education and further study rather than legal action.

This is an issue that merits further discussion, but I think the shouts of "human rights violation" and "anti-semitism" are not necessary at this point.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Finally...

...I am coming out of my week-long funk/illness. This is a good thing because I really hate being sick and in depressive funks. It always makes me more hostile than I'm comfortable with.

Last night, I finally got a copy of "Climbing Mount Improbable" by Richard Dawkins. I'm very excited to start it. I know that there are plenty of people who get on the cases of atheists for "worshipping" Dawkins. This claim is obviously ridiculous-- I don't worship Dawkins any more than Christians worship C.S. Lewis. Still, I have never read books on biology that made my jaw drop the way Dawkins' do. "Unweaving the Rainbow" was especially moving. The universe is such an incredible, terrible, beautiful, overpowering place. Whenever I read about biology, I always feel so humbled and so happy to be a part of it all.

I'm also very happy to have started working full-time last week. Currently, I'm a substitute secretary at Kalamazoo Public Schools. It wasn't exactly the job I was expecting, but it certainly is better than nothing. It's one of those jobs where I feel so powerful and so powerless at the same time. The ladies I work with and I are in charge of so much to make sure that the school system runs smoothly. Yet we hear so many stories, especially from kids who have to enroll in summer school, that are heartbreaking and that we can do nothing about. It really makes me wish a could adopt all of those troubled kids....

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Convince Me

Every once in a while (more than I'd like to, unfortunately) I hear theists of all stripes claiming that evidence for God is out there. Atheists, apparently, are just too blind/ignorant/closed-minded/stubborn/possessed by the devil to notice it. Some even claim that we DO see the evidence, we just pretend we don't so we can sin.

Obviously, these claims are excuses made in order to duck the immense burden of proof belonging to those who claim belief in the supernatural. However, I'll be friendly for once and I will describe in detail the type of evidence I would need in order to consider a belief in a God. 

Consistency

If every person claiming to have been "divinely inspired" come back with the same messages, revelations and assertions, I might be inclined to think that there might be some truth to their claims. However, the types of divine revelations we see and hear about today are suspiciously close to what we would expect if people were just making stuff up or mistaken. Christians, Muslims AND Jews all claim that their texts are the inspired words of divine beings. Yet all of these "inspired words" say different things. Not only that, but every denomination of Christianity claims (oddly enough, for the same reasons)  to be interpreting the Bible correctly while the others are distorted in their thinking. Why does this not seem fishy to most people? It's even gotten to the point where some of these churches actually distort history to make themselves seem like the "original" interpretations of Christianity. Both the Eastern Orthodox Christians and Fundamentalist Christians such as Jack Chick claim that their systems of belief were founded by Jesus Himself. In actuality, Jesus never founded a church. His original followers were all Jews. Christianity developed as a result of both evolution of certain beliefs and the attempts of more powerful believers to wipe out the ideas of the weaker ones. For all of this "divine inspiration", no one can seem to agree what these supposedly divine beings are saying. Either these beings suck at communicating or people are (consciously of unconsciously) making stuff up. 
Now if aliens from the andromeda galaxy came to earth and they were undeniably Christian and they instantly recognized we humans as God's chosen species, I would give the religion another thought. Same goes for any other faith. However, all of this as yet to happen and I remain unconvinced.

A Demonstrable Miracle/Act of God

Miracles are yet another proof people claim to have that their deity exists. Yet somehow, every single religion boasts miracles, even though not all of these religions can be correct. Now all we have to do to find that many miracles are either intentional or accidental hoaxes is go to skeptics dictionary and look them up. In order for me to accept an event as miraculous, it would have to be completely unprecedented. The remission of diseases  such as cancer can't count because spontaneous remissions are within the expected behavior of the conditions! The classic example of healing amputees comes to mind here. Now keep in mind that a single regenerated limb using prayer or Holy Water isn't enough. The event would have to be able to be tested and repeated under controlled conditions and the conclusions would have to be peer reviewed. This is not any sort of special requirement. This is exactly the process that every hypothesis must go through before we can consider it a truth about how the world works. Note that I include the "creation of the world by design" in this category as well. I do not consider this a miracle anymore than I do the spontaneous remission of cancer and for the same reasons. Besides, the world is amazing and I love it... but if it was "designed", the designer was not very intelligent. Don't tell me to "look at the trees" when I've seen those things fall and cause destruction.

A Sign of Divine Wisdom

This would be similar, but not identical, to the above demand. What I'm evoking here is the tendency for divine revelations to contain the same errors and prejudices as the humans who receive them. You know, how the Bible didn't contain any accurate scientific information and in "science" it did contain was dead wrong? I simply expect a creator of the universe to know how his own world works. I also expect prophecies to me more than just vague predictions that can be ascribed to any event in hindsight. When we find a Holy Book that, out of no where, gives us a detailed explanation of exactly what happened before the Big Bang, for instance, and that explanation turned out to be true, I might be inclined to believe it. Until then, consider me a skeptic.

In all honestly, one or more of these three things is all it would take to get me and many other atheists to lean towards belief. It really is not asking much. Oh yeah, and I refuse to take any of these huge theistic assertions on faith. It's against my principles, no matter how good pretending to know everything feels. 

Friday, June 10, 2011

"What's the Harm?", You Say?


With a little searching using the handy dandy Google, I finally managed to find the above video. It's part 1 of the one program on the Discovery Channel that succeeded in thoroughly scaring the crap out of me as a kid. I watched it again today and found that my feelings of fear had been replaced this those of irritation.

A six-year-old boy starts to exhibit distant and moody behavior which eventually escalates into full blown tantrums and flouting of his parents' authority. His mother is convinced that there's a demon possessing him. Yup, you heard right. She gets so freaked out that she hires a Native American Shaman to help perform a exorcism ritual on the house. ...Twice. 

Now this is just a TV show supposedly based on hearsay. I don't know how much of it is true and/or remembered correctly. The superstitious mother is the only person interviewed at length. The father was skeptical in the beginning, but we get no testimony from him as to whether or not he saw fit to become a believer. Let's assume, however, that none of the events described are exaggerated. 

Let's look at the facts we know:
  • Both the mother and father work long hours and rarely see their son during the day. They leave the boy with a nanny.
  • The boy begins to play with an imaginary friend.
  • The child starts to exhibit moody and erratic behavior as the situation progresses.
  • Throughout the time of this incident, the mother treats the imaginary friend as if it were a real person and chooses to become emotional about the bad behavior rather than discipline the child.
  • The only person who claims to see or feel anything supernatural is the mother, who was convinced from the beginning that the negative events in her life were a result of the paranormal.
Now, if we ignore the extravagant video editing and overacting in the show, we reveal that the child's behavior is something that you see on almost every episode of Super Nanny. Honestly, when stripped down to the bare basics, this story is more mundane than those on Super Nanny. If the mother and father are rarely home to care for their young child, of course the child won't respect their authority. Of course the child will feel distant from his family and turn to imaginary playmates if his family is rarely around. Notice that once the mother realized something was wrong, she started actively trying to be involved in her son's life, even if only out of necessity. That's when the son's behavior improved. Even after the first exorcism, the family went about their business and the behavior perpetuated. Why is this not a red flag for some people?

I also thought it was incredibly dense of the mother to assume that the boy couldn't have possibly picked up cuss words or a story about a kidnapping at his age. As long as the boy is exposed to television or other human beings, he's going to pick things up, good and bad. Also, the story the boy told about a child murder was not detailed at all. In fact, it sounded like the reasons my parents gave me for why I shouldn't "talk to strangers" when I was a child. If he had gone into elaborate details about child molestation, then I'd be worried. However, that's not what happened. Not only that, but the mother actually went and did research on child abductions in the area and found nothing. That should have been another red flag. If the child had indeed described an event that actually happened decades before he was actually alive, then I might raise an eyebrow. As it stands, there is no reason to draw from those facts the conclusion that there's a demon in the house.

...Unless one is already convinced. 

That was the other fishy part about this story. The only person who ever saw, felt or heard anything out of the ordinary was the mother. The fact that she was so convinced and so emotional leads me to think that what she "felt" were the results of psychology. She only felt peace after the performed the native american ritual. Which brings me to another point. Most religions have some beliefs in demons and many of them involve the banishing of those demons. The ritual in the show was very different from, say, a muslim exorcism. Yet both she and muslim exorcists claim that their rituals work. Either both religions are right somehow, or the reason they appear to work is because they calm the minds of the people involved. 

Here's what worried me slightly about these events. The family did absolutely nothing practical to help this child. No discipline, no research on erratic behavior in children, no consulting an expert. If this child had had a serious illness or psychopathy, they would be allowing this child to suffer and perpetuating his problem. What's the harm in these little superstitions? They are absolutely useless when it comes to solving legitimate problems.