Friday, January 28, 2011

60% of Science Teachers Are Afraid to Teach Evolution

Did you know that sixty percent of science teachers in America don't teach evolution? And it's not because they don't believe in evolution. It's because they're afraid.

The theory of evolution, the very foundation of modern biology and the best-proved theory in the history of the world, is being censored because the right-wing Christian campaign of fear is working. Teachers are afraid that teaching the truth will cost them their jobs.

If any of my readers think it's time to be optimistic, think again. I'm one of the most optimistic of the atheist bloggers (see my Is Christianity Dying series), but my optimism was seriously tempered this morning.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Arkansas Shows It Has More Than Hillbillies: Elton John Baby Pics

Here in the United States we have a bad habit of stereotyping our states. Kentucky has nothing but tough farmers with shotguns over their shoulders and a scarecrow in every field; Texas is filled with gun-toting cowboys; if you're from New York you are either Jewish or from Brooklyn or both ... and so on. And if you're from Arkansas, you're a dumb hillbilly.

Well, it seems the citizens of Arkansas have shown us that they're made of better stuff than that.

The story started when Us Weekly magazine put a big picture of Elton John, his husband and their newly adopted baby on the front cover of the magazine. This apparently offended the sensibilities of Harps Grocery story chain, which put a "family values" shield in front of it so that children couldn't see the cover.

That's the same shield they use to hide pornography from the kids. Not only that,

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Mean Atheist or Nice Atheist: What should I do?

Should I be a nice atheist or a nasty atheist?

Honestly, I haven't decided which side of this purported divide I'm on. Should I be conciliatory and inclusive, or abrasive and critical? Am I trying to have a dialog or give a diatribe?

Last week I wrote a blog criticizing a Christian web site because although their motives were good, the language of their web pages gave a bad impression of their philosophy. A reader Jerry Ballwell, responded, "It's made me look closer at my own arguments and how they can be perceived by Christians. ... If Christians think that we're calling them idiots, and if they get offended with what we say, perhaps we should look at our presentation too?"

I really try to be friendly to everyone (unless they're overtly rude to me). I welcome all points of view and appreciate it when theists take the time to comment on my blog. I try to listen to all viewpoints and to treat everyone with respect.

Most importantly, I try to always remember that most religious people are sensible, thoughtful people who are sincere in their beliefs for good reasons. In other words, I try to stay on the "nice" side of the nice/nasty atheist divide.

And yet ... sometimes it's hard.

I'm falling victim to the cynicism that seems to pervade the non-theist

Monday, January 24, 2011

Why does this keep happening? Virginia school district posts Ten Commandments

Are these people living in the dark ages? Don't they have newspapers and the Internet?

A Virginia school district is restoring the Ten Commandments to their classroom walls in spite of being told by their own lawyers that it's illegal.

There are so many aspects of this that baffle me that it's hard to know where to begin.

Do they really think this is going to convince their children to believe in God and stay in their faith? Is their regular Sunday (and often Wednesday) church not enough?

Don't they have better ways to spend their money ... like on the kids' educations? This is certain to spark a lawsuit

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Dead Birds! God Hates Homos! ... oh wait, the US government killed the birds

Remember that old joke, "Psychic conference cancelled due to unforeseen circumstances"? Well, here's another one.

Over the last few weeks, thousands of birds have fallen from the sky for no apparent reason. But Cindy Jacobs over at the Generals International is a prophet, with not one, but two PhDs in theology! And Dr. Cindy figured it out: God is pissed about that gay marriage thing that Bill Clinton started back in Arkansas that's now now infected our military:
But the blackbirds fell to the ground in Beebe, Arkansas. Well the Governor of Arkansas' name is Beebe. And also, there was something put out of Arkansas called "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" by a former Governor, this was proposed, Bill Clinton. As so, could there be a connection between this passage [Hosea 4] and now that we've had the repeal of the Don't Ask, Don't Tell, where people now legally in the United States have broken restraints with the Scripture because the Scripture says in Romans 1 that homosexuality is not allowed.
Egads, we should have been more careful! Why, if we'd known God would be so angry, we'd could have kicked all those homosexuals out of our army (never mind that they're brave, dedicated patriots risking their lives for us) and saved ourselves from being hit on the heads by falling birds!

And ... what's that? You say the government poisoned those birds? On purpose? Oops.

It seems the real story is that

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Alabama Christian Governor: Do Politicians Have a Right to be Prejudiced?

Do politicians have a right to hold beliefs that are offensive to modern society? Do they have a right to espouse those beliefs in public? Should they be held to a higher standard than the rest of us?

Robert J. Bentley, the newly-elected governor of Alabama, is "raising eyebrows" according to the LA Times.
"If you're a Christian and you're saved ... it makes you and me brother and sister. Now I will have to say that, if we don't have the same daddy, we're not brothers and sisters. So anybody here today who has not accepted Jesus Christ as their savior, I'm telling you, you're not my brother and you're not my sister ..."
The governor made these remarks in church, not during his official duties as the state's governor. Does that make it OK?

I don't think so. Governor Bentley abused the power of his office, plain and simple. He used the State of Alabama to promote Christianity. It may not be illegal, but it certainly is unethical. The governor should be ashamed of himself.

Governor Bentley has a duty to represent all of the citizens of Alabama: people of all faiths and no faith, people of

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

More re: Changing the Face of Christianity

Monday I wrote a fairly harsh blog condemning the web site Changing the Face of Christianity. Brad White, the site's author, was kind enough to reply in detail, and he made some good points that I'd like to address today. (Click here to read my blog and Brad's reply if you missed it). Today I'm responding via an open letter to Brad, the site's founder and author.

Dear Brad,

In your comments to my blog, you argued that I essentially missed many of your points, and that I was assuming far too much about your opinions. In a nutshell, you pointed out that I was putting words in your mouth, claiming that you said things that you never said and don't believe. And I confess, that's exactly what I did. Guilty as charged.

But I'm still going to claim I was right to do so!

How can that be? How can I claim that my inaccurate portrayal of your opinions and thoughts is actually right?

I have done a great deal of GUI ("graphical user interface") design in my career. I create computer programs

Monday, January 17, 2011

A Sad Joke: Christian Intolerance Fighter is Hypocritical

Why is the Friendly Atheist, known for his conciliatory approach to religious/atheist debates, criticizing a Christian who is trying to do the same thing?

When non-Christians are asked to describe the typical Christian, words like smug, homophobic, judgemental, hypocritical and closed-minded are often the first things that come to mind. According to atheist-turned-Christian Brad White, there's a good reason for these adjectives: too many Christians really do fit these descriptions. So Brad founded Changing the Face of Christianity, an organization devoted to educating Christians about negative Christian stereotypes and why they're true.

Christian hostility is no surprise to non-theists. We've experienced the aggressive intolerance of our non-belief first hand. But even Christians are often embarrassed by their brethren. Many Christians forget even the most basic lessons of Jesus:
  • Judge not, lest you be judged
  • The meek shall inherit the Earth
  • The peacemakers will be the children of God
  • You are not your brother's keeper
So I was pleased to hear of Brad's efforts. Who wouldn't be? If there's one thing we should all agree on, it would be the respect and tolerance of one another's beliefs.

But before I had a chance to check Brad's web site, Hemant Mehta over

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Religious Fraud Scandal: $34 Billion Stolen, Only $31 Billion Spent on Global Missions

For once, I find myself rooting for the Christians, Jews and Muslims. They've got a real scandal on their hands and are actually taking a hard look at themselves.

The Christian Headlines Blog is courageously breaking the news that financial fraud is rampant in religious institutions worldwide. In 2011, more money will be stolen in the name of Jesus than will be spent on missions worldwide!
The January 2011 issue of the International Bulletin of Missionary Research reported that Christian religious leaders will commit an estimated $34 billion in financial fraud in 2011 while only $31 billion will be spent on global missions. Researchers from the Center for the Study of Global Christianity estimate that Christian religious leaders will commit $90 million in financial crimes daily and the fraud is growing at a rate of 5.97% each year. If the researchers are correct, religious financial fraud among Christians will almost double in 14 years to $60 billion annually by 2025.

... Barrett and Johnson in the reference book “World Christian Trends” reported, “Probably 80% of all cases are kept private or swept under the carpet, but each year a rash of megathefts (over $1 million each) is uncovered and publicized in the secular media.”
The Christian Headlines Blog is pulling the covers off this scandal with a series of insightful blogs that starts today.

When someone embezzles from a bank, it's no big deal. Willie Sutton, the depression-era bank robber, was asked why he kept robbing banks and famously replied, "Because that's where the money is." We expect thieves to be attracted to banks.

But thieves are attracted to money and don't much care where it is. Anywhere money flows

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Mix Government and Religion, Women Lose

There's a great article in the New York Times that once again illustrates why government and religion should never mix.

In Pakistan, anyone who advocates equal rights for women can be, and often is, accused of blasphemy. And that, my friends, is a capital crime! Gloria Steinem, watch out! You'd get the death penalty if you tried your feminism stuff in Pakistan!

Women's rights are almost nonexistent in this religion-dominated country, just as they were in America and Europe when religion was in charge. But Pakistan seems to be even worse: a woman who is raped can't go to the police because she'll be accused and convicted of infidelity.

In most countries, civil rights violations spawn citizen protests. India threw off British rule, Martin Luther King inspired America's Blacks to demand their civil rights,

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Ghost Prostitution: The Discovery Channel and the Catholic Church

I love some of The Discovery Channel's programs, but their ghost-hunter series has always been a huge blight on their reputation. It's pure money-making balderdash, taking advantage of people's gullibility and superstitions to make a buck. I've tried to watch it, but it's so ... stupid. Do people actually fall for that stuff?

Sadly, yes. People still believe in ghosts, and fall for the stupid tricks they pull when producing the show. And I guess I can't blame Discovery Channel for wanting to make money.

But now The Discovery Channel is going too far. They announced a devil's pact with the Roman Catholic Church for an exorcism series. They're sanctioning the mistreatment of mentally ill people and making money from it.

It's pure economic prostitution.

Schizophrenia and other delusional mental disorders are among the worst diseases one can get. They turn the victim's own mind into an instrument of torture, often leaving the patient terrorized and tormented for years, decades and even for life. Modern medicine has made some real progress, giving life and hope back to many patients. But even those who for whom these drugs work are not actually cured; the drugs merely reduce symptoms. The schizophrenic patients lead lives plagued by voices, doubts, anxiety and fear. They frequently can't work, live alone or have normal romantic relationships.

Before we understood schizophrenia and other mental illness, it might have been reasonable

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Tax on Witches? Bad Idea!

Beware if you decide to tax a witch!

Apparently Romanian officials decided that fortune tellers, palm readers, astrologers and witches should pay income tax like everyone else. That's when the excrement hit the proverbial fan ... or in this case, the cat excrement and dead dogs hit the cauldron. The witches don't think they should have to pay taxes, and they're fighting back by casting evil spells on the politicians.

You might think this would give the politicians a good laugh, but no. According to the AP article, Romania is a country where "the president and his aides wear purple on Thursdays, allegedly to ward off evil spirits."

We'll be keeping a close eye on this story to see how many Romanian politicians succumb to these spells!

(To my faithful readers: I'm taking a bit of a break for a few days, so have fun with this short article. I'll be back in full swing next week – see you then!)

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The End of the World is Here! Again!!

Egads, the end of the world is here again! A group of Christians led by Oakland, California radio preacher Harold Camping has calculated that May 21st will be the end of the world!

I'm reminded of that Mickey Mantle quote:
If I had known I was going to live this long, I would have taken better care of myself.
If I'd know the world was going to end, I might have ... well, I don't know what I would do differently.

That's the great thing about atheist philosophy. We only have one life, so we know it counts. You have to live a good life, one that matters and is moral and productive. The only thing you get to leave behind is whether you made the world a better place or a worse place. There is no forgiveness, no second chance, no "Oops, sorry about that, can you forgive me God?"

Harold Camping and his followers are running around telling everyone it's time to repent, that there is very little time left to get it right. A better philosophy is to get it right in the first place. Have good morals and you'll never have to ask for forgiveness. Live this life as though it matters, because it does.

Actually, even sadder than all that "repent" business is that some of Camping's followers

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Why Islamic Extremists Kill Their Critics

The other day I was seriously wondering how Taliban leaders including Osama bin Laden have been able to hide in Pakistan for so long. The Taliban are waging war on Pakistan, trying to overthrow the legitimate government, so why do the Pakistanis support and hide them?

Well, today I got my answer. This is the same country that imposes the death penalty for blasphemy. The Taliban supporters put Islam first, and their country second.

Any country that has a law imposing the death penalty for blasphemy is still in the dark ages. Their Muslim fundamentalism is so extreme that they are blinded to what's happening. They'd rather foster terrorism than make their country a civilized place. They'd rather have war and murder than let some random nobody say something bad about their religion.

I really don't understand how anyone can care about blasphemy. If some random guy I've never met before stopped me on the street and told me "You're ugly!", I'd just walk on by. Why do I care what he thinks? The guy is nobody.

If instead I took his insult seriously, I'd be doing two stupid things. First, I would be showing him that I cared about his opinion. And second, I'd be lending credibility to his authority to make such a claim.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Why Science Rules (Even When it Sucks)

New Yorker Magazine published an article last month that on its surface seems like a resounding condemnation of science, the scientific method and the scientists who purport to follow it. It seems that in spite of the claims that science is neutral and objective, the pressures of money, fame and egotism still create bad science ... a lot of bad science. And we're not talking about trivial stuff. This affects people's lives, fortunes and health.

Author Jonah Lehrer's article The Truth Wears Off reveals some shockingly bad science:
  • The drugs Abilify, Seroquel, and Zyprexa were shown to dramatically improve the condition of schizophrenics and are now heavily prescribed. But follow-up studies simply haven't been able to reproduce the original results. The drugs are effective, but not to the extent originally claimed.
  • Zoologists showed that asymmetry in birds was strongly linked to the number of genetic mutations in the birds, and others went on to find similar results many other species including flies and even humans. But later studies weren't able to reproduce the results. It was as though the asymmetry effect had evaporated.
  • Dozens of acupuncture studies in Japan and China, conducted by reputable scientists and reviewed by qualified peers, showed 100% positive results. But the same studies, when conducted by American scientists, were ambivalent; only 56% of the studies showed positive results.
  • Out of 432 scientific claims about a link between genetics and a mental disease, only one was consistently replicable. The rest were junk science and wishful thinking.
The list goes on and on. It's enough to make reasonable people question and even reject science entirely.

According to Lehrer, the problem seems to be that