Sunday, 29 May 2011

Karen Armstrong


I've just cracked the cover on Karen Armstrong's 'A History of God', and already I know I'll have trouble putting it down. I was inspired to read it by this video by someone calling himself Evid3nc3, who was in turn inspired to make it by reading the book.

The video quite literally captured my attention. An archaeological review of monotheism? No dogma, not based on the Bible, or the Torah, or the Qu'ran, but based on verifiable evidence culled from the historical record?

Oh, yes please.

The video gives a fantastic overview of the likely paths that were taken from the polytheistic Babylonian faiths into Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, with no Abraham, Moses or Jesus required. It's fascinating. I have no doubt the book will delve much deeper into the topic. I've seen people say things like 'If there was no Jesus, no Resurrection, etc, then how did Christianity come to exist?'.

This book, I'm hoping, will answer that question in great detail.

As I read it I'm going to keep track of the thoughts it inspires; I've had one already. And, quite naturally, I'm going to blog about them, and when I'm done I'll write up an overall review. Can I get a Huzzah for learning?

Saturday, 28 May 2011

Ah, Michelle Bachmann

She's showing off her extensive scientific education again.

Check out the article, it's a laugh riot. There's video, or just a transcript of her little speech if you don't want to wait for it to load. The whole thing is apt to make you either laugh or cry, depending on how you're feeling tonight, but there was one bit in particular that really got me going.

Well, carbon dioxide is a natural part of Earth’s atmosphere. The carbon dioxide is perhaps three percent of the total atmosphere that’s in the Earth. So if you take a pie chart, and you have all of Earth’s atmosphere, carbon dioxide is perhaps three percent of that total.

Is it the idea that natural is equal to good, all the time? No; that's a dumb idea, but it's not what I'm talking about. Is it her saying that CO2 makes up three percent of our atmosphere, when in reality it's about four one-hundredths of a percent? Nope.

It's her saying that if you take something that's three percent of something else, and put it in a pie chart, that pie chart will then show that that thing is three percent of the total!

ASTONISHING!

Edit:

Wow, she keeps going. I hadn't even finished reading her speech, but that made me laugh so hard I had to post it immediately. But then she comes out with this gem:

Human activity contributes perhaps three percent of the three percent. In other words, human activity is maybe 3 percent contributing to the 3 percent of carbon dioxide that’s in Earth’s atmosphere.

I hate to break it to you, but that's not 'in other words'. It's in the same words, almost exactly.

We don't understand everything. THEREFORE GOD

This is an argument that always kills me. If one subscribes to even the most basic ideas of logic, it's utterly senseless. And yet, it's rolled out constantly, held up to the sky in triumph, and declared to the Heavens that God must be real because we don't know for absolute certain what happened before the first millionth of a second after the Big Bang.

So what? I like to use germ theory at this point. There was a time, not very long ago at all, when we had no idea where sickness came from. There were a lot of people who thought that plagues and epidemics were the work of God, wreaking havoc on a sinful people. Had there been atheists at the time who were as vocal as we are now, they likely would have been saying things like "No, it's not God; there is no God. It must be something else". And they would have been right. Just because we did not, at that time, know why people got sick is in no way proof of God.

The same holds true today. We don't really know how the universe came into being, though we have some pretty good ideas. We don't know 100% how the first life came into being, but we've got some really good theories for that one; I would add the caveat that it's possible that it's just that I don't know how abiogenesis works, and that there are people who do. This would not surprise me.

Complete aside: It upsets me a tiny bit that my spellchecker doesn't know the word abiogenesis.

It's ridiculous to think that the gaps that remain in our scientific knowledge somehow prove God. I wonder sometimes, if tomorrow a scientist was somehow able to prove, absolutely, 100% beyond a doubt, that abiogenesis occurs... would these people then be willing to abandon their religious beliefs? I doubt it. They'd either move the goalposts - sure, you proved that, but what about the Big Bang, huh?! - or choose to ignore the evidence altogether.

That's really the worst part of it, for me. That second point there is already happening. I'm thinking, here, of evolution. It's been proven. Shown. Time and time again, with evidence coming in from well over a dozen different scientific fields... and it all gets ignored. Evolution deniers will ask me questions, thinking them impossible to answer. "Show me the transition between a hippo and an elephant, then!", they scream, tiny beads of froth forming at the sides of their mouths. And when I calmly reply that I can, in fact, explain that to them if they're willing to allow themselves to be educated, I'm routinely ignored, or informed that no, they don't need any explanation. They know what evolution is, and they think it's just stupid. All this while yelling things about evolution that have no basis in the theory itself.

I went off on a bit of a rant, there. The subject does get me really riled up. I have no problem with one keeping one's faith, but don't preach that science has it all wrong. That's lunacy of the highest degree.

Rant aside, the point remains the same. Your ignorance, my ignorance, or the ignorance of the entire human race, does not prove a god. Nor does it imply that we'll never be able to end that ignorance. That's what we scientists are trying to do; increase our knowledge. That's the point. Those that are trying to hold us back from that, who want to retard our progress as a species, are my enemies. And I will fight them. Red, in tooth and claw.

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Jesuswalled.


I've taken the liberty of translating her last post from 'fundie' into 'English':

"Well, I have no answer for that. I could take a moment, consider your point, and maybe learn something, and grow as a person... Or I could continue assuming the Bible is the only path to not getting cremated alive for eternity.

Praise Jesus!!"

I'm happy to politely debate anyone on the topic. I just require that they actually debate.

Damon Fowler

Damon's battle against his schoolboard is being well-covered throughout the atheist world, so though I've been reading a lot about it, I haven't done anything on it other than to offer my support via a comment on the Support Damon Facebook page. If you want to know the whole story, Hemant Mehta has some pretty comprehensive coverage here.

Having just taken a peek at that page, which is being maintained primarily by his very supportive brother - the only member of his family who hasn't kicked him to the curb - it appears Damon himself has made a statement. It's a short paragraph, but the first couple of lines are what really caught my attention.
"Thanks everyone for the support... to everyone else, if you don't agree with what I did, I'm sure crying about it will render it constitutional."

That pretty much sums it up for me. Despite my views as an atheist, despite my opinion that a world lacking in religion would be a much better place, it all really comes down to the separation of church and state. That's why Damon started this whole thing, and that's why we're all yelling about it. Public institutions, run on public money, are required by law to be secular. Full stop.

My own opinion: If your religion isn't strong enough to survive when it isn't being pushed at people in every facet of their lives, then it doesn't deserve to survive.

Saturday, 21 May 2011

Ah, the big day!

For reasons I can't even fully define, I've been looking forward to today. I don't think I've ever been so eager for nothing to happen.

It's not like today is going to be a particularly important one. It's not going to make the history books. Most people will go about their business today and not even think about the Rapture; of those that do, most people will do little more than chuckle to themselves, shake their heads at what some people believe, and go on with their lives. Even most Christians think that ol' Harold is a nutcase, so it's not like today is going to have a good chance of mass deconversion.

But what -is- going to happen? That's what keeps me so interested. My curiosity has ever been my bane, and I'm going to be watching the news like a hawk today and for the next few days to see what happens. Will Harold release a statement? Will he backpedal? Will he set a new date? What about his followers? There's that couple with a small child and another on the way who quit their jobs and calculated their finances to dry up today, just in time to be raptured. What's going to happen to them? I feel bad for those kids, and I hope they won't be too proud to accept the charity that will likely start floating their way, if only for the children's sake. Will they, at least, reconsider their beliefs? How about the elderly gentleman in New York who liquidated his life savings to buy rapture billboards?

It's going to get interesting. I can't wait to see what happens after nothing happens.

Friday, 20 May 2011

A Thought Occurs.

When the anti-evolution crowd make their 'arguments' for intelligent design, a common one is that you wouldn't expect a computer to assemble itself if the parts were jumbling around in the back of a truck, or an airplane to be assembled by a tornado hitting a junkyard, or a watch to piece itself together.

Beyond the obvious failing with this line of thought - that the mechanical is far, far different from the organic - there's another basic fallacy that has just occurred to me. It's possible I'm the last person on Earth to realize it, but it makes a certain amount of sense.

It's a disconnect in modes of thinking at a very basic level: These people see humanity as the perfect form. The ultimate, if you will, because they believe we were made in the image of their God. Understanding this, the analogy becomes a bit more understandable. A computer, or a watch, or a plane, has a specific form that we're creating when we put the bits together. Similarly, ID proponents believe that humankind has a specific form, one that is the goal of all those bits being put together.

A thought for those ID'ers reading this: Please understand that we do not believe that human beings are the pinnacle of the evolutionary process. It's a process that is ongoing, and had our evolution taken us down a slightly different path - if, for example, we'd wound up with six fingers as the norm instead of five - that this wouldn't have much affected how we view the world. Even if we were drastically different from what we are now, we would have gotten to that state via the mutations selected for by chance and our environments; we'd still consider ourselves human.

In that, your analogy falls apart. There is no end-state that can be achieved; there is no watch we're trying to assemble. We are what we are. If we were something else, we'd be that.

EDIT: It has been pointed out to me that intelligent design and an anti-evolution stance do not necessarily go hand in hand. True enough. I suppose this post, then, is primarily aimed at those who are both.

Another point of curiosity for me; are there any secularists who would argue against evolution? Why? What are the arguments? Makes me curious.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

What if God did exist?

I never used to like Twitter, but the people I follow on there sometimes come up with some neat stuff that makes me think, in many different ways. In this particular case, I was goofing around with the #IfGodWasReal hashtag, and headlessBortok expressed some incredulity at my line of reasoning. As an aside, I'm fine with that; Bortok's a reasonable, inoffensive guy. But the brief conversation we had made my mind swing onto a path it had been skirting in the few hours since I tweeted that tweet. The question, quite obviously, is largely meaningless to theists, but I pose it to other atheists:

What if God actually did exist? How would the world be different? The potential for answers to this question, at least as far as my speculation goes, is enormous. You can range from enormous implications (We'd all be of one religion, because there'd be actual evidence) to tiny ones (Churches would have better attendance). Or anywhere in between. Or bigger. Or smaller.

The potential here is quite literally unlimited, at least to me. Once you allow an omnipotent being into the picture, violating natural law as he pleases, what isn't possible? He could intervene at any point in time, and do or change anything. The would might be exactly as it is now - which is what theists will, quite naturally, argue - or it could be absolutely anything else.

It's a neat thought exercise. Does anyone have any ideas? How would the world be different if God existed? Let's also assume that he's far more willing to reveal himself than current theists believe him to be. He intervenes; how often? To what degree? What does he change? How does it change our lives?

Thursday, 12 May 2011

Why are we here?

I don't think I mean that in the way you might think I do.

I really like that last sentence, just for the sheer 'huh?' factor.

Anyway, this is a question that occurred to me last night, and it's directed primarily at those that believe in both a Creator and some sort of afterlife, with a specific focus on a paradisaical afterlife. The question, more specifically, is:

Why has your Creator deity put us, human beings, on Earth, rather than simply having us be born in [Heaven]? Why have a life, followed by an afterlife, instead of just having the after- and skipping the before-?

Removing all the religious aspects, the answer from an atheistic perspective is very simple; we live on Earth because Earth formed in an appropriate area around an appropriate star out of appropriate ratios of elements that then came together to form self-replicating molecular structures which then, over time, became more and more complex, eventually resulting in us. We're not in Heaven because there is no Heaven; this is all we get. It doesn't sound all that simple, but in essence all it means is that we're here because 'here' is capable of supporting us.

This question, for me, is kind of half-and-half. On the one hand, I see it as the kind of question that many atheists throw at the religious, trying to convince them of the errors in their logic (this isn't typically a tactic of mine, but I see it used all the time). On the other hand, part of me is genuinely curious. Why muck about being mortal when we could just come into being in spirit forms in Heaven? What's the reasoning there, for whatever religion you happen to subscribe to?

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Tired

I want to do something, but I'm too exhausted to write anything coherent, so here's another picture.


Credit to JT

Friday, 6 May 2011

Grady Warren

Oh boy, where to begin.

For those of you who haven't heard of him, Grady Warren runs ConservativeSportsmen.com. It's a site that, unsurprisingly, is about the Conservative philosophy, and killing things. As far as the hunting and fishing goes, I have no inherent problem with that, though I do think he's a little too obsessed with his firearms.

As far as his view of how life ought to be lived, however, I see a lot that I can disagree with. He's got a number of videos on YouTube that are worth watching, as long as you can handle incredibly blatant homophobia, racism, -extremely- militant anti-Muslim sentiments, and threats against your physical person if you should dare interfere with him or his followers in any way.

When perusing these videos, something to keep in mind is that I encountered only one of the three videos listed here on sites that called him out for the bigot he is. Two out of these three videos were linked to by people who agree with him, and are lauding him for saying what everyone's thinking. This guy needs to be stopped.

The first inkling I got of his existence was in a video titled A Time for TEAHAD. He begins by calling out the Congressional Black Caucus, as well as several notable black figures, as 'criminals', and refers to them as 'nigra race pimps', as though saying 'nigra' instead of 'nigger' somehow makes him less of a racist. He seems to believe that, he really does, as in the exact same breath he goes on to say "On behalf of the Tea Party, we are sick and tired of being called racist."

All of this is within the first thirty seconds of the video.

He claims that his mission, the sole mission of the Tea Party, is to educate conservative voters on the best Conservative candidates to vote for. That's it.

Really, I could go on and on, but I'd just wind up just quoting his incredibly racist diatribes. Suffice to say that he blames all his country's woes on 'the blacks' and 'the illegals', the You can view the video if you want to see them in whole. I recommend doing just that, if you can stomach it; awareness of this guy needs to be raised, so that he can be -stopped-.

One of my favourite parts is when he describes how Sarah Palin is the fantasy wife to millions of men. I'll admit, I personally find her pretty attractive, if we're going by physical appearance alone, but the second she opens her mouth and begins displaying the utter lack of substance between her ears, my lust drops to zero. That's quite a feat for me; I've got rather a lot of lust to go around.

In the end of the video, amazingly, he admits to being racist.

At this point in the writing of the post, my four-year-old niece has arrived, and so in the interest of not poisoning her developing mind, I'm putting a hiatus on watching these videos until she leaves.

The second video is titled Grady Warren on Illegal Immigration. Oddly, in this one, he seems to hold the 'blacks' as his allies against the invasion of 'chicatos'. I don't know if I've spelled that correctly, as it's the only time I've ever heard it, but he's quite obviously referring to Mexicans. I don't think he really knows how to differentiate between a Mexican-American, living legally in his country, and illegal aliens. Though I have little in the way of a stance on illegal aliens in the States, I find his proposal that they need to be 'encouraged to leave certain areas' and 'rounded up' abhorrent, particularly when he actually compares this policy to that of the Nazis against the Jews. The only word for this is evil.

Oddly, in the middle of this ostensibly anti-Mexican rant, he goes on a sidebar against homosexual House Representative Barney Frank, stating that his behaviour has 'cause his lips to turn inward, caused a speech impediment, throat damage, and some would say even brain damage'. This is, obviously, due to the differences between men and women in terms of lips, throats, and damage to the mind from giving blowjobs. Because I doubt he has any difficulty with the concept of women providing oral pleasure to men. It's an utterly ridiculous claim, and has nothing whatsoever to do with his hatred for those who speak Spanish.

The next part is perhaps my favourite from this particular video. He's made a series of t-shirt, all heavy on the American flag, elephants, and heavy-grade firearms. One of them, in keeping with his distrust of other languages, has nothing but a flag across the front, with the slogan 'We No Speekee Spanish' across the bottom.

Ahem. But I digress.

Several other shirts proclaim the wearer's love of guns, and allude to the fact that s/he may be armed at that particular moment. From that, we get this gem:

"If you see people wearing shirts that say 'Peaceful but Prepared' [showing an elephant wearing a military vest, covered in guns], or, 'We No Speekee Spanish, do not put your fingers in their face, do not put your fingers in their chest, do not provoke them, and please, do not touch them. They are all legally carrying weapons."

Implying, of course, that doing any of the above activities will get you shot. He's obscene.

The final video in the series is kind of the spur that led me to write this piece; it's titled GRADYforPresident, which is a truly frightening thought. Though I doubt it would ever come to it - he's a little too insane for even the GOP to officially support - the fact that people out there listen to and like him for his insane viewpoint causes me some concern.

Besides his bizarre accusations against Obama, this video is primarily focused on a searing hatred for Muslims.

A horrifying list of his promises when he becomes President:
  • Dissolve the IRS
  • Eliminate ALL corporate taxes
  • Reduce all small business taxes
  • Hire thousands of subcontractors [with what money?] to search out fraud in Social Security, Medicaid, Medicare, Housing, Welfare, and Food Stamps
  • Black Americans will be taught how to become Americans
  • Eliminate the National Education Association
  • Open Re-Education centres for 14-25 year old blacks [who have dropped out of school and are a drain on local crime departments and welfare resources] to learn how to become American men and women. The other races shall follow.
  • A cash program for black and legal Hispanic families to move to sanctuary cities [?!]
  • Complete the Southern border wall in six months, [construction] to be protected by the national guard with orders to shoot on sight for attempted border crossings
  • Set up tent cities to hold criminals and illegal aliens awaiting deportation
  • End the war on drugs; begin the war on Muslims in America
  • Call for the searching of all Mosques for WMDs and caches of small arms
  • Immediate deportation of all Muslims in America
  • Stop military actions and all aid to Muslim countries
  • Reserve the right to use nuclear arms as needed [Holy crap.]
  • Reinstate DADT
  • Fight for 'traditional' marriage
  • Divorce the UN and NATO
  • End all foreign aid 'until America can first feed it's own citizens'
  • Close the EPA and promote fossil fuels and nuclear power
  • Work with all faiths, other than Muslims, to restore God's presence in America
  • Fight the ACLU and 'other Atheist bastions of fear and Christian hate' at every turn

Quite the list. And that's just the worst of it, there's more.

He's a bigot of the highest degree. It seems like there's no possible way to classify people where he can't hate at least one of the groups. He appears, at least based on his missives to the public, to be composed entirely of hate. Note that none of his proposals are in any way constructive; he says nothing about education, the economy, health care, or any other topic that needs attention. Every. Single. Point. is about something he hates and wants to marginalize. I can't imagine living in the kind of chemical stew that his body must produce with that kind of attitude. I can't imagine living a life where I have to decide, every time I wake up, what I'm going to hate that day. That way lies madness.

I feel rather unpleasant for having watched those videos the number of times I had to in order to transcribe what I did. So I'm going to go give my girlfriend a hug and tell her I love her, and then spend the night not hating things.

Poe's Law

“Without a winking smiley or other blatant display of humor, it is impossible to create a parody of fundamentalism that someone won't mistake for the real thing.”

This is something that's interested me since I discovered it. I have sometimes wondered how those who live their lives based on fundamentalist ideas manage to do so, in light of the ease of access to actual, verifiable information. There are a number of theories, of course, including thoughts on Why We Don't Believe Science, and the interesting notion that, since different words mean different things to different people, it's possible that rationalists and fundamentalists are almost speaking different languages completely.

I'm going to explore that last one more in depth, I think. Maybe I'll write about it some day.

But Poe's law strikes me as being an almost absurdly potent argument against fundamentalists. The thought that occurs to me is that if I saw a person, who I knew for a fact was virulently opposed to my position, write a parody of the things I was saying, and I (or the audience) was unable to distinguish between his writings and my own... I'd have to take a moment to stop and think about it all.

That's a heck of a sentence up there, and I don't feel like I'm explaining myself all that well. Let's see if I can do better. If my detractors were using the exact same arguments that I was making to make fun of what I was saying, that would give me occasion for pause.

I've never seen it happen the other way around. This may just be that I haven't been exposed to it, personally, but I somehow don't think that this is the case. The idea that someone would take a phrase such as, for example, 'I do not think there is a god', and be able to use that exact same phrase to make light of what I was saying, seems unlikely to me.

I feel as though the intent behind a 'Poe' article is to point out to those who write such things in earnest how ridiculous they look. I feel as though someone, attempting to write a 'Poe' in my style to ridicule me, would simply wind up writing an article that would be deemed to be a rational look at the issue at hand, rather than an example of a ridiculous extremist ideology. Hubris on my part?

Am I mistaken? Can Poe's law be used in reverse? Could it be used against me? I'd be interested to hear from anyone who thinks that this is the case. Like I said, I've never seen it applied in the reverse. Anyone?

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Rapture and Recrimination

With props to Blonde Nonbeliever for the inspiration for this post.

Across the atheistic world recently there's been a spate of discussion about Family Radio and their claims that the rapture is coming - specifically, it's coming on May 21st. There has, unsurprisingly, been a lot of mocking and derision. Nobody's going to disappear on the 21st, just as nobody has disappeared in the many, many previous predictions of the rapture. They're promoting an idea which is ridiculous to any thinking person, including the vast majority of Christians.

There's little doubt in my mind how the proponents of this rapture will react when they wake up on the 22nd and haven't been sucked into heaven: They'll either forget about the whole thing and move on, or they'll predict a new rapture date, claiming to have made some sort of mistake or something. The thought that the rapture happened and they weren't included would not, obviously, be a possibility.

What I hadn't considered, at least before last night, are the potential effects on those who have joined the ranks of Project Caravan. These are people who have left their jobs, their friends (and in some cases, family), and basically given it all up to spread their message across the country. They've left it all behind, believing that come May 21st they'll have no use for it anymore.

What, then, are they going to do on the 22nd, these people who have dropped their way of making a living? Will their former employers take them back? Considering that this Caravan will have been on the go for nearly a month, it doesn't seem unlikely that they will have been replaced. Will they be able to find new jobs? I don't know about the southern states, but up here where I am, every job posting that goes up is receiving hundreds of applicants. It's a tough market.

In short, I'm not sure these people haven't doomed themselves to poverty, welfare, dependence on family members, and so on. Whether any or all of them will be able to regain a way of making an independent living remains to be seen, but the fact will remain that they took quite a risk, on the word of a lunatic preacher, a bizarre, numerological interpretation of a two thousand year old book, and mountains of evidence to the contrary.

As I said to BN last night, it strikes me as just another example of religion destroying the lives of it's followers. And it's pretty sad.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Chuckle worthy

So I was browsing over at Creation Science Evangelism - there's some truly incredible stuff over there, which is liable to either make you laugh or cry, depending on how you react to willful ignorance - when I stumbled across a little gem that made me snort a laugh.

Underneath their View Articles heading you can see, unsurprisingly, a list of articles that he's written. He's even got them organized, into Advanced, Intermediate, and Beginner:

That's handy!


Interesting. My assumption here is that they're organized by scientific content, or at least by what passes for scientific content in the minds of creationists. So, given that I have a pretty good handle on science, and am able to understand most of what I read, I click on 'Advanced', to see what he has to offer:



This one captions itself.
I would argue that he lacks even 'Beginner' level science; go read some of those articles and you'll see what I mean. I just liked that when it came to 'Advanced', at least he knew where he stood.

Monday, 2 May 2011

Blogroll!

Cooking with Parsley has been added to The Atheist Blogroll. You can see the blogroll in my sidebar. The Atheist blogroll is a community building service provided free of charge to Atheist bloggers from around the world. If you would like to join, visit Mojoey at Deep Thoughts for more information.

Sunday, 1 May 2011

Is Atheism A Religion?

It's a valid question. My immediate answer, of course, is no. But can I articulate why? I never like to give a solid answer to a question until I can answer that simplest of questions.

To that end, I've tried to pare the definition of religion down into something simplistic, something that covers the majority of the religions of the world:

A religion is a unified system of beliefs and practices relative to the sacred or the divine.

If we're going by this definition, it's pretty obvious that atheism isn't a religion. We don't believe in divinity of any kind, and we hold nothing sacred. We don't even have a unified system of practices at all, and the only belief we share is that there is/are no god/s. That is, in fact, the -only- thing that all atheists have in common.

Why, then, do people still claim that atheism is a form of religion? The only possibility I've been able to come up with is that they're using a different definition of the word than I am. So I'm going to spend the next couple of days trying to get definitions of religion from those who think that atheism is one. I'd ask for them to be put in the comments here, but I don't think anybody actually reads this thing yet, so I'm going to try and gather them from the different corners of the web, and see what I get.

I have little doubt that, no matter what definitions are thrown at me, I'll be able to argue that atheism doesn't fall under them. At that point, knowing the arguments laid against me, I'll be able to explain my reasoning. I'll be able to answer the why, in whatever situation I face. Which is the point, really.