Friday, July 30, 2010

Finally a Vatican Crackdown! ... on shorts and tank tops.

Sometimes I get weary of the stories of the Vatican, but how can I let this one go by? It seems the Vatican is finally cracking down on immorality! But not by getting rid of its pedophile priests and those who shielded them. Oh no.

The Vatican is concerned about the Vatican Dress Code! That's right. No more shorts for men (gotta wear pants!). No more tank tops for women! Keep those shoulders covered!

Yeah, that's the ticket. Show some real morality!

Science vs Creationism: Arrogance or Truth?

In most social situations, we respect those who are recognized experts. If you were at a party and complemented your host's new marble countertop and a geologist said, "Yes, it is beautiful, but actually, it's granite," you wouldn't argue. And if you did, nobody would feel sorry for you for embarrassing yourself by contradicting the expert.

So why is it that on one specific topic, the age of the Earth, creationists feel qualified to overrule the experts? More to the point, why do they drop the usual social norms? Why do they think it's OK to disagree with a scientist on this one topic, something they would never do on any other subject?

A high-school teacher can tell a student, "No, you are mistaken. Here is the right way to understand this problem." From a sociological perspective, the teacher is the alpha, the dominant person, and the student is submissive. There is no social faux pas when the teacher corrects the student. It's not considered arrogant; the teacher is supposed to be more knowledgable and is supposed to correct the student in front of his/her peers. Nobody is embarrassed by this social dynamic.

But when a creationist violates the normal respect granted to experts by making claims that are scientifically impossible, the scientist has two choices: to become like the high-school teacher, correcting the creationist in front of everyone, or to remain silent and avoid embarrassing the host and other guests.

Creationists have huge gaps in their knowledge when it comes to science. It's not merely that they are ignorant of scientific facts, but rather they don't even know what science is. They often assume that science is a belief system, another set of opinions about the nature of the universe, one that's on equal footing with other belief systems.

This is completely, utterly wrong.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Santa Claus Slams the Pope!

Santa Claus sticks it to Pope Benedict XVI! But there's a serious message behind the lampoon:
A Christian Bishop, Monk, and child advocate, whose legal name is Santa Claus, is taking Pope Benedict XVI to task, for what Bishop Santa Claus describes as, "the Pope’s continued moral failure to address urgent children's issues within the Roman Catholic Church."

... In the United States, between 1950 and 2009, the Roman Catholic Church has paid more than $2.6 billion to settle claims of abuse by clergy, has obstructed criminal and civil investigations, and often filed for bankruptcy to avoid making court-ordered payments to survivors of clergy abuse. Santa observes that, “The Roman Catholic Church clearly is more concerned with protecting its clergy and assets than protecting vulnerable children."
You can read the entire "news release" here. It's good stuff.

Santa Claus, who always puts his children first, proposes mandatory reporting laws, a one-strike lifetime ban for any priest who molests a child, mandatory fingerprinting of all priests, revoking the tax-exempt status of any church that fails to report abuse, and requiring all priests to take classes in how to detect and report child abuse.

Now here's where we're screwing up as a society. If these rules that Santa Claus proposes were put to Congress, there would be howls of protest! I can just hear it now, a cacophony of spluttering outrage at the insult to our priests. Fingerprinting priests? Treating them like criminals?

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Anti-Gay Christian Denied Counseling Degree?

Is everyone qualified for every job no matter what? For example, should you hire a white woman to play Othello, or an overweight man to model women's clothes, or a Catholic to lead a Muslim temple?

Of course not. Our courts have ruled time after time that it's OK to bar someone from a job based on race, gender, or physical disability ... if the race, gender or religion are a genuine job requirement.

Now Jennifer Keaton, an openly anti-gay counseling student, is suing Augusta State University to throw this sensible rule out and make an exception for herself. What's her justification? Christians don't have to follow the rules. According to her lawyer Christians are allowed to discriminate against gays and are allowed to become licensed counselors even though they don't meet the American Counseling Associations code of ethics.

I say too bad for Jennifer Keaton.

Monday, July 26, 2010

More Bad News in Louisiana: Intelligent Design in the Classrooms

As if hurricanes and BP oil spills aren't enough, now there's another new calamity headed for Louisiana. The School Board of Livingston Parish wants to include "intelligent design" into their science curriculum.

So Louisiana's biggest city is destroyed by a hurricane, their coastline is fouled by the largest oil spill in U.S. history, and now they want to foul the minds of their children by crippling their educations.

If this measure passes, two things will happen. First, the future scientist children of this parish, the ones who might really have something to contribute to humanity's welfare, will be seriously handicapped when they try to go to college. They'll either be relegated to second-class colleges, or they'll have to do a lot of catch-up work to be on par with other students who learned real science.

Second, this is certain to spark a lawsuit, since it is in fact unconstitutional to teach Intelligent Design in public schools.

What a waste. The school board could be spending its money educating its children in real science, but no. They want to teach two-thousand-year-old mythology wrapped up in pseudo science, and to spend their money fighting the inevitable high-cost lawsuit that will come from parents who feel that their children deserve a real education.

The Livingston Parish school board ought to respect the United States Constitution.

Vatican Screws Up, Fires Half of its Priests

Vatican officials today made the "shocking" discovery that they'd accidentally ordered almost all of their priests to quit, apparently due to a bureaucratic snafu that insiders attribute to poor interdepartmental communication.

The calamity started earlier this week when Panorama, a weekly Italian magazine, published a huge exposé (not safe for work, adult content) The Wild Night of Gay Priests... (here's the English translation).

The calamity started when the Roman Diocese urged the gay priest to "leave the closet" and the priesthood too. But someone forgot to tell the Diocese that somewhere between 50% (the low estimate) and 98% of the priests in the Vatican are gay. Word finally got through but by then it was too late – the halls were empty, and the Pope couldn't find even one priest to bring him his morning coffee.

OK, enough poking fun. The Panorama exposé really did happen,

Friday, July 23, 2010

UK Govt Changes Law To Prevent Pope's Arrest

England has always been a leader in human rights and the rule of law. Now they've thought of something new: Put a politician in the courtroom!

Children in the UK and particularly Ireland, which is heavily Catholic, have been hard hit by the pedophile priests who lurked in the Roman Catholic Church, and then were protected from prosecution by church seniors including Cardinal Ratzinger, who is now the Pope. There is some strong evidence that Ratzinger was directly complicit in shielding priests from prosecution, and worse, for allowing them to move from parish to parish, abusing more and more children. It's likely that Ratzinger is personally responsible for a number of children's nightmare sexual abuse at the hands of a Roman Catholic priest that Ratzinger protected.

Now, quite reasonably, some Brits want Ratzinger to answer for his deeds. The UK apparently has a law that allows a private prosecutor to take up a case when the public prosecutor can't or won't. A private prosecutor can provide evidence to a judge and, if the evidence is strong enough, have the alleged criminal arrested.

Well, no more. The UK government is in the process of changing the law:

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Jewish Air Force Lawyer Fighting for Catholics and Atheists

Why is a Jewish lawyer, formerly of the United States Air Force, fighting for the religious rights of Catholics, Muslims, Protestants and atheists in our military forces? Because as a Jew, he, his father and his sons all faced terrible discrimination and even physical abuse at the hands of the Christian supremacist movement that is rotting our military forces from the inside.

The stories are horrifying, and Weinstein's courage is amazing. Check out Weinstein's stories:Here's a quote from the second link to pique your interest.
"For three years [Weinstein, a Republican] was a Reagan White House lawyer and eventually the Iran-Contra investigation’s committee management officer. Weinstein was also Ross Perot’s general counsel. Despite his conservative background, in 2006 Weinstein established the nonprofit Military Religious Freedom Foundation, and he coauthored 2007’s With God on Our Side and appeared in the documentary Constantine’s Sword. HUSTLER explores why this thorn in the Pentagon’s side warns of “an unbelievable fusing of our Defense Department with Christian dominionist dogma.”
It's men like Weinstein that are protecting everyone's freedom to worship, even the Christian supremacists that he fights.

Christian Fundamentalism linked to Domestic Violence

Here's something disturbing, but not exactly surprising. It seems that the most "evangelical" Christians are also the most likely to beat their wives and children.

In an interesting new study (PDF) by Jerome R. Koch and Ignacio Luis Ramirez of Texas Tech University, they discovered that domestic violence and evangelical beliefs are strongly linked.

It's interesting that religiosity (the strength of one's beliefs) in general is not part of this equation. People with very strong faith are no more (or less) likely to be violent than people with mild faith or no faith at all. It's quite specifically the degree of evangelicalism – the belief that the Bible is the inerrant word of God and contains no errors whatsoever – that predicts domestic violence.

I guess I'm not surprised by this. To believe that the Bible has no errors you have to completely shut your mind off.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Glenn Beck is Not a Christian?!? Another Liar's Club Nomination!

Don't you just love it when Christians start fighting about who is really a Christian? I particularly like to see the typical hair-splitting, like where the Church of Christ only sings a capella because "Jesus didn't use musical instruments" so anyone who brings a piano or organ into their church is going to be rejected by God and Jesus on judgement day. Seriously, they believe that.

But today's story is much bigger than hair splitting, because apparently Glenn Beck, the Fox News comedian, er, I mean news commentator and ultra-right-wing religious fanatic, is *gasp* a Mormon! Can you imagine that?? I mean, he's been passing himself off as a Christian!

But Bill Keller explained that:
"... the beliefs of the satanic Mormon cult are totally inconsistent with Biblical Christianity ... a person who believes in the lies of the Mormon cult is no more a Christian than a Muslim is."
And who, you might ask, is Bill Keller?

Monday, July 19, 2010

Dr. Cornelius G. Hunter, Biochemist and Fool

I just discovered Dr. Cornelius G. Hunter, the "scientist" attack dog from the Discovery Institute who is wasting his life defending creationism. I probably should ignore the guy. He's such a sad waste of talent. But like so many of the leaders of the creationist movement, he actually manages to fool a lot of people, and that's not something you can ignore.

Hunter has a PhD in biophysics and computational biology, which gives credibility to his sham science. For every article he's written, you can easily find ten from reputable scientists that resoundingly refute his crazy "proofs." Real scientists spend their time discovering new things and improving our lives. Hunter seems to spend all of his time trying to destroy the work of others. That alone shows his dishonesty – if creationism (aka "intelligent design") was a real branch of science, Hunter could find gainful employment making new discoveries of his own.

I'll leave it to the biochemists to refute his complex, convoluted arguments about DNA. But even an amateur like me can find this guy's mistakes. Hunter wrote a paper with holes so big that even a freshman science or philosophy student could drive a truck through them.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Bee Attack is God's Wrath Against Homosexuals!

Sometimes I have to dig for fun blog topics, and sometimes they're in my own back yard!

Last weekend, a colony of bees decided to swarm, something bees have been doing for millions of years and if we're lucky, will continue doing for millions of years. In the process, a couple of kids got stung. Just like millions of other kids, including me. So far, no story.

Unless you're James Hartline, an evangelical Christian nutjob who lives right here in San Diego.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Scientific Study: Misinformed People Become MORE Certain When Presented With Facts

Every scientist and atheist has run into this: You're having a discussion with a religious person who holds beliefs that are simply wrong, and you have solid facts that show that they're wrong. Maybe it's about obvious conflicts in the Bible like Genesis 1 versus Genesis 2, or how the various versions of the Easter story can't be reconciled, or why creationism can't possibly be right. You carefully and politely show them the facts ... and they become more entrenched in their position, not less.

Why is that? It's baffling!

Now a scientific study reported on National Public Radio confirms it. This isn't our imaginations, it's real. People really do actively resist the truth.

Take the case of Jan Brewer (governor of Arizona) who claimed that border-patrol agents had found beheaded bodies in the Arizona desert. It turned out her claim was a gross exaggeration – most of the border violence is on the Mexican side of the fence. But she started a myth, and people believed her. Nothing new there.

But here's where it goes off the tracks: when presented with evidence showing that the governor was wrong, people who believed her didn't change their minds. In fact, they actually believed the falsehood more! Instead of changing their minds, they concocted theories that there was a government conspiracy to fool us, to cover up the true level of violence along the border. The truth is that undocumented Mexicans are, on the whole, one of the most law-abiding groups in America, and there has never been a single case of a beheaded body found in the Arizona desert.

Somewhere down inside me I've always understood that people's ideas are entrenched. I even wrote a whole chapter of The Religion Virus about why this is biologically important: it helps our survival if we can pass information from one generation to the next with high fidelity. Children are biologically programmed to learn, and then as teenagers they're programmed to "freeze" their knowledge so that when their parents die, the information will be safe until they can pass it along to their children.

But this study goes one step farther. Apparently memes (the ideas that reside in our brains) are not only entrenched, but they're actively resistant to change. They defend themselves. They build counter-arguments when threatened.

It's frustrating, but the old adage "Know your enemy" comes to mind. If we assume that logic and facts will prevail against faith and falsehoods, then we don't understand our enemy. The enemy is irrationality and myths, and it's the human mind itself. The human mind is apparently programmed to resist change.

We can argue all we like with adults, but the real battle has to be fought in our schools. Early education is the key. Human beings have to be shown how to think rationally and be taught true science and history while young. By the time we're adults its often too late.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Creationism is a Form of Insanity?

Why is it that when talking about religion, a person can make claims that in any other topic would be considered literally insane?

Consider these three people...
"The army says my husband was killed in Iraq, but that would be awful so I know it's not true."

"Our company spent all its money, but that can't be right because we'd go out of business, so let's keep spending."

"The doctor says my baby died, but I don't believe it because I love her too much."
Sad and absurd, right? Anyone who said these things would be headed for psychiatric help. So consider this article by Joe Sobran, who is trying to "prove" that Darwin's theory of evolution is wrong. Sobran starts by lambasting Dan Brown for the historical errors in his book, The Davinci Code, and then morphs that argument into an anti-Darwinism rant. And here's the heart of his logic:
"Children must be taught that nature has no purpose, beyond 'survival of the fittest' – though even survival is, strictly speaking, an accident rather than a purpose. We owe our existence, our humanity itself, not to anything intelligent, but to the chance mutations of stupid matter. This is the dogma of Darwinism, which passes for 'religious neutrality'..."
Mr. Sobran makes it clear that this unpleasant fact, all by itself, makes Darwinism unacceptable. How can it be that there is no purpose to life, no reason for our existence?

In other words, Mr. Sobran refuses to believe in evolution because it is unpleasant.

If Joe Sobran was a lone philosopher, it would be no big deal.

This guy REALLY hates church!

A little bit of fun. This is hysterical ... it speaks for itself! Some people REALLY don't like church.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Good News for Gay Rights: Gay Marriage Ban Unconstitutional

It looks like the religious right got its clock cleaned on this one. U.S. District Court judge Joseph Tauro said that the federal law banning gay marriage is unconstitutional. If it's upheld by a higher court after the Obama administration appeals it, it will have far-reaching implications. It could send shock-waves across the country.

Why, you might ask, would Obama's administration appeal it? Good question! Because even though Obama is a supporter of gay rights, an appeal would strengthen this ruling. As it stands, it only applies to Massachusetts, but if the law is upheld on appeal, the precedent would become the law of the land for a much wider area. Plus, it will almost certainly be appealed clear up to the Supreme Court.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Aquatic Apes and Mormonism

One of the most fascinating proposals in anthropology is called the Aquatic Ape Hypothesis, the idea that at some point in the evolution of homo sapiens our ancestors spent a great deal of time in the water. The theory makes a certain amount of sense, and would explain our hairlessness and the fact that human children, unlike all other great apes, love to play in the water. Just go for a walk on the beach, as I do two or three times each week, and it's striking to see kids running into the water chased by parents trying to keep them from drowning. No other primate species does this; they're all instinctively averse to swimming.

This Aquatic Ape Hypothesis (AAH) hasn't been embraced by the anthropology community, but it's not down and out either.

Either way, it illustrates one of the big differences between religion and science. In science, when there's an outlandish hypothesis (that is, outlandish compared to the accepted science), the advocates of that hypothesis are expected to provide extraordinary evidence to support their claims. It's not sufficient for them to just say, "It could be true, you can't prove it's not." The strength of a hypothesis rests on its explanatory power and on direct evidence that supports it.

The AAH has a great deal of explanatory power, but little direct evidence to support it. For example, if archaeologists discovered human remains by a sea shore with great piles of sea-urchin shells and other marine species that could only be gathered by swimming and diving, that would be strong direct evidence. Lacking such direct evidence, the proponents of the AAH can only offer indirect evidence, such as the fact that we're mostly hairless, we're good swimmers, and we love water even as babies.

The debate about AAH started in earnest in the 1960's and has continued ever since, but it's fair to say that AAH proponents have not met the standard of providing unusually strong evidence for their "outlandish" theory. Even Dawkins chimed in to say that the theory deserves some respect, but the mainstream anthropology community isn't convinced.

What does this have to do with religion? Well, I was really frustrated this week by a long and convoluted discussion in the comments section of my blog, a quasi-debate between me and several other atheists versus several Mormons. I say "quasi-debate" because it quickly devolved into mild-to-medium strength insults and a lot of smoke and mirrors, with little real substance.

Catholic Priorities: Forget Pedophiles, Get Those Atheists!

Here's a story that typifies Pope Benedict XVII:
(AP) "VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict XVI is creating a new Vatican office to fight secularization and "re-evangelize" the West — a tacit acknowledgment that his attempts to reinvigorate Christianity in Europe haven't succeeded and need a new boost."
Never mind about those pedophile priests. Forget about AIDS in Africa and the Pope's role in spreading it. Pay no attention to those pesky Belgian police who keep raiding your church records to root out your crimes.

No, the real problem is those atheists and secularists! Why, the Church needs a whole new office to fight secularization! It's obviously the only problem facing the Roman Catholic Church worthy of serious action!

It's stuff like this that makes me predict that the Roman Catholic Church will fade into obscurity in the next couple of decades. It has become self-perpetuating.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Crybaby Christian Threatens to Destroy Atheist Groups

The Religious Right lost a major Supreme Court decision last week, and now Mike Adams, their attack-dog blogger, is being a crybaby about it.

The Supreme Court ruled that the University of California was within its rights to ban a group of lawyers for their anti-gay policies. It's OK for such groups to meet in private, but there's nothing that requires a public school to endorse such discrimination.

Well, here's what Mike Adams had to say:
"I can’t stand atheists. And I plan to do something about them. Thankfully, the U.S. Supreme Court has given me a powerful tool to use in my war against the godless. ... I plan to round up the students I know who are most hostile to atheism. Then I’m going to get them to help me find atheist-haters willing to join atheist student groups across the South. I plan to use my young fundamentalist Christian warriors to undermine the mission of every group that disagrees with me on the existence of God... [We] will seek to destroy groups whose names are even remotely suspicious. If I see any words like “atheist,” agnostic”, or even “free-thinker” I will know they are a group of godless heathens. Then we’ll move in for the kill.
When I first read this, I thought it was a joke, a dumb attempt at humor. It is so over-the-top preposterous that it took me a minute or two to realize, "Wow, this guy really means it."

But here's the truth: crybaby Mike Adams won't dare do this. You see,