Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Intelligent Design Proponent Says God Must Be Stupid

Our friends over at the "Discovery Institute" (a misnomer if ever there was one) have in essence told us that God is just plain stupid. What's even funnier is that their boneheaded leader, Dr. Cornelius Hunter, doesn't even seem to realize what a gaffe he just pulled.
We do not know evolution to be an obvious, compelling explanation of the data—beyond any shadow of a doubt. Yet this is precisely what evolutionists claim. ... Here, for example, is what one professor recently wrote to me:
"An omnipotent god could do anything (we guess), but one who is omnipotent, serious, and thoughtful (at least as serious and thoughtful as an exemplary human) would not route wiring from giraffe’s larynx around its aorta."
How does the professor know that an omnipotent, serious, and thoughtful god would not route wiring from the giraffe’s larynx around its aorta? What does the professor know about omnipotent, serious, and thoughtful gods? And what does the professor know about creating giraffes? Precious little, I’m afraid, in both cases."
Wrong, wrong, wrong!

OK, Dr. Hunter, let me explain it in plain simple terms.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Will Religion Go Out of Business When Science Gives Us Eternal Life?

A couple decades ago when the first digital cameras hit the market, the head of the Eastman Kodak company declared that in a decade their film business would be closed. One of the most profitable products in history ("make it by the mile, sell it by the inch"), was going to be completely obsolete in a virtual eye blink. And he was right: by the end of 2009, Eastman Kodak made its last roll of film, and in 2010 the company was removed from the S&P 500 index.

What would happen if religion's best product, "eternal life," went the way of Kodachrome? If we can get eternal life from a scientist instead of from God, will religion shut its doors too?

Every marketing guru on Madison Avenue knows that sex, food, and fear are what sell. Find a product that fills one of these needs (or make it seem like it does), and you'll be rich. And in the end, religion is nothing more than a big business with a product – eternal life – to ease your fear of death. Death is at the very foundation of

Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Immoral Heart of Christmas

If I robbed a bank and you forgave me, would the court let me off the hook? If my father was a child abuser and my uncle forgave him for it, would that make me feel better? If your wife cheated on you and her sister took the blame, would you feel better?

On Christmas Day it seems appropriate to contemplate the meaning of Christianity. Not Christmas, all the cheer and sharing and such – that's all good stuff. I'm talking about Christianity itself.

Even though most Christians are very moral people, and even though Christianity has many redeeming features, ultimately we can't ignore the fact that the message at the very heart of the story of Christmas is ... well, just plain wrong. Flawed. Immoral.

What is that idea? That we humans are deeply and incurably immoral. That we're depraved and sinful. And that we are born in that depraved state. Christianity teaches that from the very first breath we take, we already are in need of forgiveness and redemption. Christmas is about a savior who supposedly fixes all that. (Isn't that a wonderful meme? "You're in bad shape, but we have the cure!")

This is such a twisted, sick way to look at life and love that it's no wonder we have so many problems in the world. But it gets worse. On top of the idea of "original sin" you add the fact that someone besides your victim can forgive you. Who on Earth decided that one person could take the blame for another person's sins, and that would make it OK? That's just a plainly wrong philosophy. The only person who can take the blame for your sins is you. (Actually we know who invented this idea, and it wasn't Jesus.)

Hey, maybe that's why the

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Co-opted Pagan Winter Celebration!

First, I'd like to thank all of the people who purchased the Kindle edition of The Religion Virus on Christmas day! There is a certain delicious irony to this, and the day isn't over yet. (I love Kindle – I get up-to-the-minute reports on my sales!)

I was contemplating a complaint about how the pagan Winter Harvest/Solstice celebration has been co-opted by Christmas and Hanukkah. But wait ... I'm not even a pagan. How can I whine about that? So I guess there's not much to do but to go along with the spirit of it! And in spite of my frequent criticisms of the bad that comes from blind religious faith, I do admire the spirit of Christmas.

My favorite Christmas movie is It's a Wonderful Life. But it's ironic: even though it's supposedly about Christmas, there is almost no religion in it. It does have one religious icon, the hapless, somewhat comedic angel named Clarence who escorts the young suicidal banker George Bailey (Jimmie Stewart) into a bleak George-less future. But the core message of Wonderful Life, the part I love the most, is that it shows how each person's life here on this Earth does matter. It shows us that being good and kind to one another is the highest ethic of all.

It doesn't matter whether you are Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, Muslim, Hindu, Jain or anything else, we can all appreciate this message. We may feel that the world is too huge, and each of us is too insignificant to make any meaningful difference. Recessions, wars, crime, natural disasters ... sometimes it seems like no matter how hard we try, it will all be for nothing. Why bother?

But we do bother, because it does matter.

A million years from today nobody will know who we were. Our existence will have been

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Bill Maher on Christmas and Global Citizenship

Other duties call today, so I'll just leave you faithful readers with this. It's Bill Maher from ten years ago, yet it's a perfect message for today. Whatever you celebrate, be it Christmas, Hanukkah, Winter Solstice, the new year or nothing at all, I hope you'll take this message to heart.

Like it or not, we're all global citizens first.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Pope Blows Another Apology, Needs to Return to Kindergarten

Will Pope Benedict XVI ever get it right? Apparently not. His latest attempt to apologize for the priest sex and pedophilia scandal is agonizingly bad. The man either doesn't know how to apologize, or is genuinely not sorry.

I don't know about the Pope's childhood, but way back in kindergarten I learned that there are three parts to a good apology:
  1. You have to acknowledge a fault or offense without reservation.
  2. You have to say you're sorry and mean it.
  3. You must take responsibility for the consequences and try to put it right.
Simple, right? Everyone knows this.

Except maybe His Holiness. His latest failed apology was given during his traditional meeting with the cardinals:

Monday, December 20, 2010

Ft. Worth Pastor: First Amendment is not for Atheists

It seems that at least one prominent Christian pastor in Fort Worth, Texas doesn't believe the First Amendment applies to atheists. It came to light because Fort Worth banned all ads with religious or atheist content.

We've all been having fun watching the back-and-forth "battle of the ads" on Fort Worth buses. For years, various Christian organizations bought ad space with no controversy. Then those darned atheists messed it all up. They decided to show their "Good Without God" and similar atheist ads, sponsored by the Coalition of Reason, on those same buses.

Well, those ads upset the deeply religious people of Texas – we're talkin' about Baptist country! So they started chasing the buses around with their own god-mobile. It was a truck with a big billboard on it saying "I still love you – God," and "2.1 Billion People are Good With God." A couple of bus drivers even refused to drive the atheist-ad buses and took sick days.

Up to that point, it was all good fun.

Friday, December 17, 2010

God Gets D- on Bible Project

Poorly written and confusing. Repetitive and contradictory - get to the point!
Some good stuff, but you're not getting through.
Please see me - you need to repeat this class.
(This is philosophy not mythology!)

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Phoenix Catholic Bishop Confirms: Hospital Should Have Let Mom AND Baby Die

Remember the nun who was excommunicated by her bishop for participating an emergency abortion to save a woman's life? The patient, a mother of four, developed life-threatening pulmonary hypertension while pregnant, and would probably have died along with her baby without the life-saving procedure.

Today we find the truly disgusting disregard the Roman Catholic Church has for human life and morals. Thomas J. Olmsted, the Bishop of Phoenix, has reiterated his position: the mother should have been left to die.

But even worse, he is now "pulling rank" on all of the doctors and insisting that they never again defy his authority.

He refuses to even consider anyone else's opinion. In a letter to the hospital's president, Olmsted wrote:

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Killing Babies: Why Spanish Conquistadors are like Male Chimpanzees

I received a fascinating email from R.H., a professor at a university in Texas. R.H. drew a clever parallel between infanticide in animals and the history of the Spanish Conquistadors in America.

In nature there are numerous examples of infanticide carried out by "step fathers." For example, when a new male joins a chimpanzee troop he will often kill infants. While this horrifies us, it makes evolutionary sense. When a female chimpanzee enters her fertile period she will typically mate with almost all of the males in her troop. This means that the males in the troop have no idea which male fathered which baby. If a male from the troop kills an infant, it could be his own.

But when a new male joins the troop, he can be certain that he's not the father of any of the babies. If he kills the babies it causes their mothers to become fertile again, and he has a higher probability of passing his genes on. So that's exactly what he does.

You see this in humans too. Sadly, human step fathers are roughly fifty times more likely to kill a step child than the natural father of a child – remarkably parallel to the statistics you find in chimpanzees and many other species. We'd like to think we're evolved, that we've moved past our animal instincts, but it just isn't so. You see this pattern throughout nature: a new mate (male or female) is far more likely to kill the "step children" than the natural parent.

So what on Earth does this have to do with Conquistadors? I thought you'd never ask...

Professor R.H. wrote, "The Spanish destroyed many temples, idols, and customs that connected the indigenous population to their ancient religion." That's an understatement. They also killed

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Second Most Famous Catholic: Gayness Denied

Did you know that the second-most famous Christian in history was gay? Probably not. And you're not alone. Almost nobody knows this, and it's no accident.

So first of all, who is this #2 Christian? I'd give the #1 spot to St. Paul, author of so many of the Biblical letters. But the #2 spot has to go to Leonardo da Vinci. There's hardly a Catholic alive, or any western Christian for that matter, who hasn't seen The Last Supper. And his painting of the Mona Lisa is called the "most famous painting in the world."

Everyone knows the name da Vinci. But very few people know that he was gay!

If you were writing a biography of someone famous man – say your history teacher wanted to know about Albert Einstein – wouldn't you include a bit about his life and family, his personal life? You'd write about his two marriages, and you'd surely want to mention Einstein's ten mistresses.

Any good historian would do this. Right?

Wrong. If the historian is working for the Roman Catholic Church

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Fake-Christians Easy Out Clause: Another Ray Comfort Gem

I've never written about Ray Comfort before because he's such a goofball. It's like shooting fish in a barrel. But the other day he wrote an essay that parroted one of my favorite arguments from Christian apologetics: the Fake Christians Argument. In a nutshell, it says that anyone who abandons Christianity wasn't a "real" Christian to start with! Here's Ray's version of Fake Christians:
After seven seasons as host of Canada's "most listened to spiritual talk show," Drew Marshall announced to his listeners that he is no longer convinced there's a God. ... We have millions of people within the contemporary Church who have been convinced intellectually of the existence of God, but they've never been converted experientially by the power of God. So when someone comes along with what they perceive to be a more convincing argument, they begin to doubt their salvation. And so they should--because they are not saved. They are false converts...
In other words, Christianity never loses membership because anyone who abandons it was a fake. Only real Christians count. How do you know they are real Christians?

Friday, December 10, 2010

Atheists Have No Morals ... and the parrot is just resting

Debating morals with theists sometimes makes me feel feel like John Cleese and the Dead Parrot.
"It's dead, that's what's wrong with it."
"No, no, it's resting!"
"I know a dead parrot when I see one and I'm looking at one right now!"
"No, no, it's not dead, it's resting."
... and so on, with the shopkeeper repeatedly saying something that everyone can see is plainly false. The parrot isn't alive, it's dead! Deceased!

It's like that when debating morals with a theist. They constantly harp back to their only argument, that without God there can be no morality. A case in point is Gary Hardaway's essay, CAN ATHEISTS BE GOOD CITIZENS? Hardaway starts with a few irrelevant quotes from the most religious of America's founding leaders such as James Madison in order to lend credibility to his case. But then he gets to the old dead-parrot argument:
The fatal, disqualifying flaw arises when the atheist encounters the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal and are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights and that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” The atheist cannot agree with the Founders. In honesty he has to say, “Men do not have a Creator. Their unalienable rights do not come from a Creator. They come from another source.”
So far, so good: Hardaway is actually correct. Unalienable rights do not come from a creator! There is no God, just an idea of God that humans created. Human rights are unalienable because we have become a civilized species capable of rational thought. Using the same Rationalist reasoning that was created by the ancient Greeks and refined for two thousand years, we've figured out that human happiness and dignity are the foundation of all morals and ethics.

So we're good, right? Alas, no. Hardaway goes on:
What might this other source [of human rights] be? Government? But government can take away what it has bestowed. ... Atheists have an insoluble problem. If God doesn’t exist, human beings can have no special value.
Ah, there it is. The old dead-parrot claim. It's nothing more than "proof by repeated assertion." If you say something often and loudly, then it must be true!

Sorry, Mr. Hardaway. Atheists don't have an insoluble problem. God doesn't exist, and the universe doesn't give a damn about humans. If we manage to detonate all of our nuclear weapons and turn this planet into a sterile rock, that rock will keep orbiting the sun for another few billion years. The Earth won't care, the sun won't care, the universe won't care.

Human rights only matter to humans. Atheists and humanists know this. It makes human life even more precious. It's why atheist morality is fundamentally better than religious morality.

It is the theists, the Christians, Muslims and Jews who have the real problem.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Temper Atheist Optimism? Not This Blogger.

My blogging colleague vjack over at Atheist Revolution is challenging us to be a little less giddy about the rising optimism of Atheists. He writes:
"Religion has been declared dead in America many times before, and it has reemerged each time. ... I do not expect to see the end of Christian privilege in my life time, nor do I expect to live to see religion truly fade into the obscurity it deserves."
He makes a good case that religion will prove its resilience once again by fighting off the rising tide of atheism.

I have to disagree. I'm still retaining my optimism. I think we are at a true tipping point, where a series of changes in society are aligning in unprecedented ways that will cause the rapid demise of Christianity as we know it in America. Like the other "tipping points" in Malcolm Gladwell's book, the result will be cascading change, an accelerating societal upheaval that will move far faster than anyone expects.

What are those changes? What new social forces will converge to make this happen?

The Internet. Never before have young people been exposed to so many ideas from so many sources. In past generations, parents largely controlled their children's access to knowledge, either

Monday, December 6, 2010

Is Christianity Dying? American Christians Lie About Their Church Attendance

Here's another interesting tidbit in the ongoing saga of Christianity's decline in America. It turns out that American Christians stretch the truth rather badly when reporting how often they go to church. In fact, "stretching" the truth may be too kind ... I'd call it lying. American Christians exaggerate their church attendance by almost sixty percent.

And even stranger, European Christians don't. The "attendance gap" is nearly zero in Europe. Their claimed attendance matches their actual attendance.

According to a new University of Michigan study, American church attendance runs around 35% to 45% if you simply ask people. But

Which Soldiers Hate Gays the Most? The Chaplains!

Which military group is most vehemently opposed to repealing the Don't-Ask-Don't-Tell law? Maybe you heard that it's the Marines, the "manly men." Or maybe you thought it was the Army, the men in the trenches. Wrong!

It's the chaplains. The men of God.
"There is very clearly a concern out there by chaplains, that they would somehow be treated adversely if they held or espoused religious views that were contrary to the government's view if the law is repealed."
–General Carter Ham, Director of Operations, Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Big surprise. According to this CNN report, we once again find that the religious leaders, the ones who are supposed to be spreading God's word of infinite love, tolerance and acceptance, and spreading Jesus' message of forgiveness, are instead leading the charge in the battle against gay rights. They're at the forefront of intolerance and discrimination.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

McCain's True Colors: A Homophobic Jerk

There was a time some years ago when I admired Senator McCain of Arizona. His military service was above and beyond the call of duty and he seemed like an intelligent, thoughtful man. I've never been fond of Republican politics, but McCain seemed like an honest Republican, a man with principles.

But l can't find any respect left in my heart for John McCain. McCain claims that he supports gay rights. He promised that when the military told him it was ready for the repeal of the Don't-Ask-Don't-Tell (DADT) law, he would support the repeal. But he simply lied! The majority of military leaders, as well as the overwhelming majority of servicemen and servicewomen in all branches, have spoken clearly: they support gay rights in the military, and they support the repeal of DADT.

So what does McCain do? He calls for more studies, committees and reports. When they arrive, he claims they didn't address the right question. He stalls.

And finally today, when the most definitive study was released by the military which concluded it is time to repeal DADT, what did McCain do? Did he take it to heart like he promised? No. He simply claimed that the report is "flawed" and that the senior military officers who put it together didn't do it right.

He's proving to be nothing more than a homophobic jerk. What's more, his actions today opposing the repeal of DADT are just the last in a long string of heartless, harsh conservative dogma that he's been reciting.

I respect people who care more than I respect people who merely happen to agree with me. I'd rather have friends who have thought about their morals and politics than friends who are knee-jerk liberals or conservatives. Well, I thought John McCain was someone I could respect, but either I misjudged him to begin with, or else McCain decided to become dishonest to his own principles for reasons I can't fathom.

Either way, I finally lost the last vestiges of respect I had left for Senator John McCain.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Oklahoma Needs a Civics Lesson: Sharia Law Ban Exposes Constitutional Ignorance

On Monday a federal judge blocked the Oklahoma "Save our State" constitutional amendment because it singled out Sharia law for special mention. The Court ruled that by banning Sharia law from Oklahoma courts but not mentioning other religions, the amendment was effectively endorsing Judeo-Christian laws. That is plainly illegal under the First Amendment (as extended to the states by the Fourteenth Amendment), and the judge ruled correctly.

But to hear the conservatives' howls, you'd think the judge had allowed Sharia law into the Oklahoma law books! Here's what one conservative news site had to say

Santa Cruz: My Home Town Displays "Reason Greetings" Banner in Parade!

My home town is making me proud! From the MercuryNews.com:
SANTA CRUZ -- When this year's holiday parade kicks off Saturday morning in downtown, one of the newest additions will be the Atheists of Santa Cruz and Monterey counties, whose members will march down Pacific Avenue with a banner bearing the words "Reason's Greetings."

Other groups sponsoring the banner include Santa Cruz Brights, UCSC Secular Student Alliance and Secular Humanists of Santa Cruz County, a coalition of like-minded individuals who have banded together to publicly express their "non-theist" ideology.
Santa Cruz, for those of you who don't know, is a beautiful little town on California's north coast, about 80 miles south of San Francisco. We've had our share of notariety – a couple mass murders, a mention in a Beach Boys song (Surfin' USA), the home of the University of California Santa Cruz, and as a town that banned nuclear weapons! The town was also severly damaged in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake.

Santa Cruz is an odd mixture of far-right conservatives and far-left liberals. Back in the 1950s and 1960s,