Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Intelligent Design

I saw this flounder picture and I just couldn't resist. That may be the dumbest looking animal in "all of creation." If God is an intelligent designer, then he sure has a weird sense of humor!

Truth is, the flounder's life cycle is a fascinating illustration of why evolution makes sense and creationism doesn't.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Atheism IS where morality originates

One of the claims of theists that really bugs me is that morality comes from God. No, actually its worse than that. Theists claim that morality can only come from God, and they go on to suggest that without religion, the world will devolve into an amoral chaos of murder, thievery and rape.

And to add insult to the equation, theists claim that whatever morality atheists have is borrowed from religion! They assert that we atheists grew up immersed in a Christian, Jewish and Islamic culture and so we absorbed their morality. Atheists, they claim, are sort of unwitting Christians, Jews and Muslims when it comes to morals.

Its time to turn the theistic argument on its head and show why exactly the opposite is true. The fact is that theists have stolen their morals from human nature. They claim morals come from God, but in fact humans merely put the words in his mouth. The real origin of morality is in our evolutionary heritage.

The truth is, both God and morality are made-up human concepts. We made God in our own image and then we imbued him with our own natural understanding of right and wrong.

When it comes to morality, theists are nothing more than plagiarizers, stealing and giving no credit to the original.

You can easily see this by just educating yourself. Take any freshman college course in cultural anthropology and you'll learn two things:

Friday, August 27, 2010

Dangerous Christian Plot: Convince Courts Atheism is a Religion

There is a new conspiracy to get religion back into our schools and government.

So who cares? After all, the U.S. Constitution, backed by a long string of court rulings, prohibits religion in government. Why is John H. Calvert a new threat? What's the big deal?

Because Calvert is trying to turn science into a religion, and if he succeeds he'll be able to get creationism into our textbooks and religion into our government.

John H. Calvert is the managing director of the "Intelligent Design network, inc [sic]". In spite of the fact that Calvert can't even capitalize the organization's name properly, he is a dangerous man. In Calvert's words:
The popular definition confines "religion" to just belief in God. This excludes Atheism and "Secular" Humanism from the religious classification. ... Secular Humanists and Atheists go into the public schools demanding the exclusion of "religion" (defined as just belief in God) and any of its religious teachings such as those found in the Bible.

But is it legal? No. Generally, the federal courts ... have moved in the last 60 years to define First Amendment religion broadly to include nontheistic religions. Secular Humanism, Atheism, Transcendental Meditation (like that practiced by Buddhists), Wicca, Scientology and the like have all been held to be religions. Hence, government may not legally endorse or prefer Atheism and Religious/"Secular" Humanism over traditional Theism.
If Calvert was just another megachurch preacher, I wouldn't think too much of it. But he's an attorney, he has funding, and he's writing peer-reviewed articles in legal journals.

Calvert starts by claiming that science is merely another belief system. Every real scientist knows this is a gross misrepresentation, that science is more of a way of thinking, a way of ensuring that we're getting at the truth rather than letting our wants and wishes fool us. Science is nothing more than a methodology that helps us to verify one another's claims.

But Calvert deliberately mixes up science (a methodology) with scientific discoveries (facts).

Then he dismisses those scientific facts as merely the scientist's opinions. The speed of light, the atomic theory of matter,

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Atheists Get More Dates???

The new free dating site OKCupid.com did a study of what works and what doesn't work when writing your profile. Down at the bottom of the article there's a big surprise: Those who mentioned "atheist" in their profile had a much better chance of getting a reply when they contacted someone else! Here's a link to the article.

It's not clear exactly what their graphs mean, but the trend is clear.

I have to wonder if this isn't just an artifact of their demographics. OKCupid.com has been marketed heavily to the young, tech-savvy crowd, which is notoriously unreligious. Those in this group with faith typically don't attend traditional Christian churches. They're more of the "spiritual but not religious" crowd.

Still, it's interesting news.

Six Reasons to Have Casual Sex

There's an interesting article over at Alternet.org entitled 6 Reasons to Have Casual Sex. On the surface, the article seems to advocate that casual sex is to be encouraged, and I can't say I'm on board with that idea.

Yet I encourage everyone to read the article as an antidote to the religious extremist viewpoint that pervades this country and leads to unhealthy relationships. It challenges a lot of the dogma about sex that pervades American society, and if more people would at least look at both sides of this important question we'd have a a lot more healthy committed relationships too.

I thought the most interesting reason was number six:
We’ve all heard the stories about undereducated, traditionalist marriages in which the partners never realized that sex is possible in a position other than missionary, or that a woman can orgasm. With public school programs throughout the country refusing to provide young people with accurate, useful information, Americans are often left to educate themselves through the oldest and arguably best form of learning: experience.
In other words, the conservative machine that has America's morality in a stranglehold is being hoist by its own petard.

Because our school system doesn't teach our children about their bodies and their sexuality,

Monday, August 23, 2010

Why Does Atheism Exist?

Why do atheists exist?

This may sound like an odd question to regular readers of this column, and there are many good answers. But in this case it's actually an interesting question because it came from one of my readers (I'll call her O.P. for privacy) who felt that my book, The Religion Virus, didn't answer this question.

O.P. is on board with the basic premise of my book, that people believe ideas (memes) that they want to believe, often with little regard for the veracity of the ideas. And the ideas that they like the most are far more likely to spread, to be passed on to other people.

As religion evolved, changed and spread across societies and down through history, the ideas that were the most appealing (either because they were the most attractive or the most frightening) were the ones most likely to gain adherents. Religion became a constantly-changing thing, shaped and improved each time it was retold. It became more and more "infectious" because that's what evolution does. At each generation, the "stickiest" ideas are the ones that are retold. After a thousand or two years the religion memes that survived in this "survival of the fittest" battle became very tenacious. These religious memes have become incredibly appealing.

(This is a pretty terse summary of the foundation of my book – I hope readers who aren't familiar with memetics will enjoy my book or any one of a half-dozen others that do an excellent job presenting the concept of memetic evolution, how ideas evolve as they move across society and down through history.)

So how does atheism survive? Given that it has no dogma, no Bible, very little literature, and few organized congregations bent on spreading it, why are there so many atheists? How do atheism memes propagate themselves?

The answer is that atheism doesn't survive. It's like asking, "What's in a hole?" There's nothing in a hole. It's only a hole as long as nobody fills it with something. The word "hole" describes the lack of content.

Army tries to force Muslims, Jews and Atheists to attend Christian concert

How would you feel if you were a soldier training in Virginia, and your sergeant gave you this choice: attend a Muslim concert by a band known for its Islamic proselytizing, or be locked in to clean your barracks with no phone, internet or TV allowed until the concert was over?

That would never happen in the United States Army, right? I mean, we're a nation that represents freedom ... freedom of speech, freedom of association and freedom of religion. Our Army is there to defend these constitutional rights! Right?

Apparently not everyone in the Army sees it that way. Except it wasn't a Muslim concert, it was a Christian concert. And it wasn't the Christians who objected, it was the Muslims, Jews and atheists. It's just fun to flip the roles around so that even Christians can see how wrong this is.

Apparently this concert was part of the "Commanding General's Spiritual Fitness Concerts" series. A Captain (who probably wanted to earn points with the General) gave the order that men had to attend or be punished. Apparently following orders,

Friday, August 20, 2010

Dumb and Dumber: Palin Defends Dr. Laura!

Oh, this is rich: Sarah Palin is coming to Dr. Laura's defense! According to Palin, whom we all admire so much for her towering intellect (not!), is quite sure Dr. Laura is not a racist even though she used the n-word eleven times (here's the transcript) on her broadcast.

Ironically, I agree with Palin (amazing, isn't it). Dr. Laura isn't a racist. She doesn't discriminate against blacks – she seems to hate everyone equally!

And I have to ask: Why did it take the n-word to get Dr. Laura off the air? She's been saying hateful things about gays and lesbians for years, yet no mob came after her about that. Why is the n-word the n-bomb, the only thing that can get a bigot to resign from the airwaves?

I wonder if Sarah Palin realizes that she's not doing Dr. Laura any good by coming to her defense. Dr. Laura's mistake wasn't being racist. It was lacking intellect and kindness.. Just like Sarah Palin. So I guess they're two of a kind.

Maybe they can both get jobs on the Fox Noise Network.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Does Embarrassment Keep Christians Faithful?

A friend of mine has become agnostic/atheist, but can't "come out of the closet" because it will probably destroy his marriage. This makes me very curious. How many people are in this predicament? How many have lost faith but can't talk about it because spouses, children, parents or friends would abandon them?

Dan Barker, co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, tells of fighting this very problem in his book Godless. He was an evangelical Christian preacher and actually found himself giving sermons about a God he had rejected. Reason won out in the end – Barker became a prominent atheist activist but the price was high. He split from his wife and lost many friends.

One of the amazing parallels between biological evolution and memetic evolution (the way ideas change and mutate as they move across society and down through history) is that we find fully-developed immune systems in both.

We're all familiar with our body's defenses: antibodies, white blood cells, T-cells, and so forth. Our bodies have concentrated a bunch of food that other creatures would like to have, and without an immune system we would quickly perish.

It turns out religion has also evolved immunity memes that protect it from external attacks. Ideas (memes) compete for space in your brain,

Monday, August 16, 2010

Strippers Force Meddling Church to Back Off

I'm on a bit of a holiday, so today I'll just leave you with a great little follow-up story. Remember the exotic dancers in Warsaw, Ohio who'd been harassed for years by a church and started picketing the church every Sunday in their skimpies? The story apparently was rather an embarrassment to the church when it made news and blogs nationwide.

Well now the church has backed off. According to The Columbus Dispatch via Yahoo! news, "It's over. The war is over."

It's not clear yet what the final resolution is – club owner Tommy George is still wary. The church hasn't actually promised to stop harassing the club, to which George says, "I think this is a very good first step. But I will be here until they stop."

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Gay Marriage and Mormon Hypocrisy: canadianjohnson's Funny Chart

Here's a really amusing chart of Mormon hypocrisy about marriage by canadianjohnson over at reddit.com. If you want to use this, please link to the original, http://i.imgur.com/UJKCH.jpg, so that the author gets proper credit. Enjoy!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Christianity is Dying - The Story Behind Anne Rice's Defection

The recent flurry of news reports and blogs about Anne Rice's defection from Christianity has been fun, but most writers missed the story behind it. Anne Rice isn't just an oddity or an exception. She's not one of those rugged individualist authors (though she certainly is unique) trying to hack a new path through the jungles of religion.

No, the real story is how utterly common these defections are becoming.

According to a new LA Times story, defection from organized religion is becoming so frequent among young people that a high-profile case like Anne Rice is barely news any more. "Rice is merely one of millions of Americans who have opted out of organized religion in recent years," according to the Times.

The Times goes on to cite the now-famous 2008 Pew study that showed 1 in 6 people in America are not part of any specific religion, a number that jumps to 1 in 4 for young adults 20-30 years old. "American Christianity is not well, and there's evidence to indicate that its condition is more critical than most realize – or at least want to admit."

This is particularly bad news for religion, and Christianity in particular,

Strippers Turn Tables on Picketing Church

A strip club has turned the tables on a local church that's been harassing it for years. The dancers are protesting outside the church!

According to Tommy George, the owner of a strip club in Warsaw, Ohio, "We had Pastor Bill Dunfee and his followers show up about four years ago and ... it's been continual harassment virtually every weekend since then."

It seems Pastor Dunfee is a meddling goody-two-shoes who reportedly has admitted to adultery. Dunfee decided that it is his right and duty to put Mr. George out of business and his dancers out of work. Never mind that the strip club is licensed, legal and pays its taxes on time, and that most of the dancers are supporting children. In fact, one is supporting six kids, something you'd think Pastor Dunfee would applaud.

Dunfee makes it clear. "As long as [The Foxhole strip club] exists we will not share territory with the Devil. What it comes down to is this ... In this world there is good and there is evil. There's right and there's wrong. There's light and there's dark. ... Whenever you take a look at the strip club, it's evil."

In other words, the typical black-and-white view of an unthinking Christian, the same view that has been used to justify so much evil down through history.

Well, now Mr. George and the dancers have turned the tables on this meddlesome church.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Mozambique "Praying Cures" Study: A Pile of Steaming Dung

Groan. A new "study" is out showing that prayers can heal the sick. The evangelical Christians, Jews and Muslims are going to jump all over this, fling their arms to the sky in victory and say, "See! We told you so! God is at work! We proved all you smarty-pants scientists wrong!"

The problem is, they didn't. This so-called "scientific study" was worse than just flawed science. It wasn't science at all.

Here's the story in a nutshell (read the details here). These "researchers" took 14 hearing-impaired people and 9 vision-impaired people and told them what the experiment was about. They tested the subject's hearing or vision, and then did some intensive praying in close physical proximity with the experimental subject. After the praying, they tested the subjects' hearing or vision again.

Lo and behold, the people had dramatically! Or ... maybe it was a completely bogus experiment?

Let's see if we can count the mistakes in this experiment.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Why Atheists Laugh at the Bible, and Why They Shouldn't

Atheist bloggers love to laugh at the Bible, to point out all of its inconsistencies and logical errors. Writers like Hitchens, Harris and Dawkins love all of the horrible stuff in the Bible – the cruel God Yahweh of the Old Testament, the silly mistakes and the glaring inconsistencies of history and even errors of basic philosophy. When you're faced with a Biblical literalist who claims the Bible is 100% correct in every respect, it's hard not to laugh. I've even done it myself.

That's really sad, because in truth, the Bible is a fascinating book. Atheists have been forced to ridicule it because the Biblical literalists have an equally ridiculous position. And somewhere in the middle, the real Bible, a collection of fascinating stories, myths and lessons from thousands of years ago, is turned into a caricature of itself.

When atheists take this trivial view, more-or-less throwing stones for fun at an easy target, we miss something really important. We lose the story behind the Bible.

I recently got a new appreciation of the subtlety of the Bible from Bart Ehrman's excellent book, Jesus, Interrupted, which I highly recommend to anyone with an interest in religion, atheist and theist alike. One of Ehrman's previous books, Misquoting Jesus, was a constant companion while I was writing The Religion Virus, and now Jesus, Interrupted has joined it in my library.

In Jesus, Interrupted, Ehrman asks an amazing question.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Death of Religion is a Two-Generation Process?

Back in February, I wrote a blog about the demise of Christianity in America and offered some informal arguments about how it would take two or three generations for it to really fade:
I'm reminded of what happens to immigrants and their "mother tongue" when they come to America. The grandparents who immigrated still speak their native Italian, Spanish, German, Polish, and so on. Their kids learn English pretty well, but also speak their parents' language because that's what's spoken at home. But the grandchildren, the second generation, almost never learn the family's native tongue fluently, and often not at all. By the third generation, it's gone.
This month I ran across an excellent article in Free Inquiry magazine entitled Is Loss of Faith a Two-Generation Process?, written by Tom Rees. As you can tell by the title, it validates my thesis. But more importantly, Rees' article gives a much more thorough sociological basis for the claim.

Let's illustrate with a somewhat hard-to-believe claim,

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Santa Claus tells Pope Benedict XVI: Resign!

In a follow-up to last week's press release by Santa Claus criticizing the Pope for putting children's welfare in second place behind the Roman Catholic Church's reputation, Santa now says Pope Benedict XVI should resign.

"The handwriting is on the wall," said Santa, in a somber departure from his usual joviality. "The Pope will be called to account." Santa points out that recent court decisions are denying the Vatican its traditional immunity. "It is only a matter of time before the Pope and Vatican are compelled by law to submit to criminal investigation, perhaps resulting in the Pope’s arrest."

Santa Claus, who lives at the North Pole, is well know for his pro-children advocacy, and it's refreshing to hear that he has come down solidly on the side of the kids, unlike the Pope who seems to only be concerned with his own reputation.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Wikileaks Classified Documents: Christians Blame Homosexuality

In a stunning show of hypocrisy, a right-wing Christian group called Family Security Matters (FSM) is blaming homosexuality for the 90,000 classified military documents that were leaked to Wikileaks.org.

Here are the facts that are available. Private First Class Bradley Manning is the U.S. Army Intelligence analyst accused of leaking the classified information to the WikiLeaks.org website. Manning is gay, and appears to be somewhat of an activist who objected strenuously to the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy. There is speculation that the Wikileaks incident was Private Manning's revenge on the military for his displeasure with the "don't ask, don't tell" policy and for discrimination he had personally experienced.

But from these facts and guesses, the Christian FSM editors have concluded that it was homosexuality, rather than the terrible discrimination that gays face, that made Private Manning break the law. And who is behind this discrimination and bigotry? Why, it's Christian conservatives like FSM!

According to FSM,
The revelations of Manning’s openly pro-homosexual conduct suggest that a more liberal Department of Defense policy, in deference to the wishes of the Commander-in-Chief, had already been in effect and has now backfired in a big way. The result could be not only the loss of the lives of U.S. soldiers, as a result of the enemy understanding U.S. intelligence sources and methods, but damaged relations with Afghanistan and Pakistan and a possible U.S. military defeat in the region as a whole.
In other words, if we hadn't let these queers into the military in the first place, this wouldn't have happened.

(FSM isn't the only Christian or right-wing organization doing this. Just google for "private manning wikileaks homosexual" and you'll discover that the Christian right are jumping all over this.)

FSM is trying to blame the victim,