Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Response to Rabbi Adam Jacobs' "The God Test"

Here is my response to "The God Test" questions.

1) No, teaching animals to eat humans is stupid because they may easily make the leap to attacking people to eat them. That's why we avoid that. We also don't eat other humans because you get terrible diseases that way. Look up kuru and Creuzfeldt-Jakob disease.

2) I'd try to get along in hopes we could do something to survive. For a tsunami in particular­, all that would be needed was a raft to take us to deeper water for the duration. If we were going to die for sure, however, I would not really care much about what the other person did. (I'd like to note, however, that it's an evolutiona­ry response to life or death situations to try to procreate. Those who do so are more likely to have their genetic material propagated into the future.)

3) I totally don't follow the logic on this one. The majority of people do feel love, and it has evolutiona­ry advantages­. Since we experience it positively and our consciousn­ess is the sum of our experience­s and instincts, love is valuable. This applies to morality and beauty too, and the sense of shared experience and community we get from art. Creativity can mean survival. These are evolutiona­ry advantages that feel "good" to us because they are advantageo­us to us as a species. The best way for humanity to survive becomes the "good" we strive for. Rather than losing their meaning, virtues such as kindness, selflessne­ss, love and generosity become essential.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Welcome, new island!

The Canary Islands are experiencing the birth of a new island, with a resurgence in undersea volcanic activity at El Hierro. Recent video of the eruptions from the surface is available here.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Science in America

I just wanted to point out that New Scientist, from the UK, has a feature running on science in the US. It has a good variety of information and editorials on topics from respect for scientists as a profession to acceptance of evolution. Check it out!

Censoring creationist failure

So, a creationist and a scientist have a debate. Scientist wipes the floor with creationist, who then decides that he will not allow the record of the debate to be publicly released, not even with his presence and words removed. Does that mean science "wins"?

Saturday, October 29, 2011

More extrasolar planets!

Astrobiology magazine reports that three more planets orbiting other stars have been discovered, as well as a "mystery object" that may be another planet or just another small star. All are orbiting dying stars, but the information gleaned from them may be helpful in finding other extrasolar planets and learning about planetary systems.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Obama disappoints

I'm not surprised, but Obama denied both petitions to remove "under God" from the Pledge and the money. Nonetheless, I find it extremely disappointing. His reasoning was terrible. Government endorsement of a specific deity is absolutely not a part of the "public square".

Today's dose of crazy

A few things caught my eye today. First, the US Military has apparently been teaching some strange ideas about American religious beliefs to foreign students. Specifically, the US is a Christian country and freedom of religion is the freedom to interpret the Bible yourself. Anything else is part of an evil liberal plot to defeat Christianity.

Only slightly lower on the crazy scale are the young Earth creationists. Having studied geology in college, these guys drive me mad. They calculate the age of the Earth by adding the ages of the people in the Bible, rather than by using any sort of scientific method. Recently at the Geological Society of America's annual meeting, creationists presented their "research". In a prior year, they had led field trips. So to me, it seems like a bit of semantic dodging and half-truths are required in order to be accepted by both communities. Isn't it strange how people are willing to lie, contradicting one part of the book they live by, in order to prove another part of that same book to be literally true? How does one justify that?

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Science, not censors

It always bears repeating: science doesn't censor things. If you follow the scientific method in your research, you can participate too. Just be aware that scientists don't censor their responses, either. If you say something unsupported, someone will point it out. Nothing is held sacred or untouchable, and everything is up for question. That's the beauty of it.

Principal with principles

I am impressed with the story of this principal who did the right thing in not allowing a Christian historical revisionist to speak at his school. Thank you to the many educational professionals out there who help keep church and state separate!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Bibles for porn!

At the University of Texas in San Antonio, an atheist group is allowing people to bring in their Bible and get free porn in return. Police were needed to guard the group, as many Christians were extremely angry about the swap.

However, with all the sex and violence in the Bible, I don't doubt that it was an equal trade.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Religious teaching workshop?

In Arkansas, some churches have been holding teacher workshops. However, the classes focus on how to circumvent the separation of church and state without overtly breaking the law. As one teacher said, "It became very clear to me as the day progressed that the objective was to encourage teachers to abide by the letter of the law while quietly sabotaging the intent of the law."

If that wasn't bad enough for you, teachers are given professional development credits. Teachers must participate in mandatory training hours every year in order to keep up with the latest techniques and information about teaching. This training is called professional development, and certificates are issued as proof of the teacher having fulfilled their obligations.

In this case, the certificates were forged. The signatory was not an employee of the education department. Yes, these good Christians lied to the teachers, after taking their money. Dishonesty is promoted by these churches in the form of forged certificates and training to circumvent laws. And these are the people who claim to be moral authorities?

Friday, September 30, 2011

Happy Blasphemy Day!

Today is Blasphemy Day! Celebrate your freedom from religion!

In other news, justice has been done in Oregon. Dale and Shannon Hickman allowed their newborn son to die rather than seek medical attention for him. Instead, they prayed. Now they are guilty of second degree manslaughter.

An important result of this case is that Oregon no longer allows homicide suspects to use a religious defense. No longer can religion be legally used as a defense. Faith healing does not work, and should never be used in the place of real medical care. I am always happy to see laws being written in accordance with scientific fact.

Finally, I call on everyone to check out Scientific American's call for stupid science statements made by public figures. I'm looking forward to the list they compile!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Evolution petition

Hey everybody, another petition for you to check out! This one calls for the teaching of evolution in science classes, rather than religious myths. Sign it here!

Friday, September 23, 2011

White House petitions

The White House has launched "We the People", a new online petition service. If a petition reaches a certain number of signatures within a set time, it will "generate an official response." Currently, the goal is 5000 signatures in 30 days. This is potentially an excellent opportunity to make atheists' voices heard. With that in mind, here are some petitions I recommend you view and consider signing:

Discontinue church tax breaks and instead have them apply for non-profit status. Currently, religious organizations are free to discriminate in hiring and firing, etc, and they have been actively petitioning for this "right" to continue.

Refrain from vetoing Palestine's application for statehood. Why shouldn't Israel and Palestine be on closer to equal terms? The inequality breeds terrorism. The root of the conflict is religion, but equality has the potential to "civilize" the conflict.

Remove the phrase "under god" from the Pledge of Allegiance. "Under God" has only been part of the Pledge since the mid-1950s. It was added during the McCarthy era, when paranoia and hatred of communism ruled. Obviously, our founding fathers would not have supported the inclusion of such an exclusive religious message, although the Pledge itself dates from only 1892. Anyway, children recite it in school every day, and I hate indoctrination.

Remove the phrase "In God We Trust" from money. This was also added during the fifties McCarthy era.

Currently, those are the only petitions I thought relevant to atheism. Definitely check out the "We the People" site for other important issues and updates!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Sorry about that...

I've been sick this past week. Rather than subject my dear readers to half-baked rantings, I decided to refrain from posting for a while. I'm now on the mend, so I hope to be up and running again soon!

Here's a good article about near-death experiences and what's really happening during them.

Another article dispelling some common myths about atheism. It's a great one to send your religious friends and acquaintances.

Monday, September 12, 2011

2012 election insanity!

I'm reluctant to talk about the presidential candidates. Most Americans are probably sick of hearing about it by now, thanks to the media's relentless coverage. I know I am! Although I'm not a Republican, I am concerned by the increasing trend of openly disregarding science, and it was heartening to find that I am not alone in my worries.

Rick Perry and Michelle Bachmann both deny the reality of evolution. Both also believe that global warming is made up. Bachmann famously declared that since carbon dioxide was a product of nature, it couldn't possibly cause climate change.

Why do they hold these views? In regards to evolution, I understand that they have religious beliefs that contradict it. As misguided and ignorant as creationism is, I know that the greatest victims of it are the creationists themselves. Global climate change, however, differs in that it affects every living being on the planet. I'm unaware of any religious objections, but I suspect the money would lead back to businesses that benefit from the use of fossil fuels.

Despite the actual reasons for their apparent skepticism on the issues of evolution and global climate change, the candidates are quick to blame scientists. Somehow, scientists are allegedly conspiring to hide evidence in order to advance their own interests. Therefore, scientists cannot be trusted, in the view of the religious Republican candidates.

I believe this sort of paranoid delusion comes from what psychologists call 'projection', in which one attributes one's own undesirable traits to others. Scientists are not a very homogenous group, yet they are treated as conspiratorial partners; religious groups tend to be composed of people with similar worldviews and lifestyles. Hiding evidence and lying to suit a personal agenda? The competitiveness of science practically guarantees that any sort of falsehood or obfuscation will be caught. Religion, however, is based on faith, which means that evidence is largely irrelevant.

Strangely enough, the Mormon candidates are the most supportive of science. Jon Huntsman openly declared that he trusts scientists. Mitt Romney believes in evolution, but is very clear about stating he believes that it was started and guided by his God; he also believes that measures are needed to compensate for climate change, suggesting that he also trusts scientists. The Mormon church seems to be happy to leave science to the scientists, and to concentrate on faith in the church. As commonly maligned as Mormons are, I was honestly surprised to find out how reasonable and rational their official position on science is.

To quickly sum up the 2012 Republican presidential candidates, the Christians are crazy but the Mormons reside in reality. Who would've guessed?

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Morality without religion

Who else has been told that without religion, they and their family must not have any sense of morality? Maybe I should phrase it the other way--who has not been told that they are immoral or amoral because they don't believe in a god?

To me, it's obvious that following basic moral rules would be evolutionarily beneficial. People are naturally social creatures, and so any behavior that harms the group is going to be rejected. The rejection of the person's behavior likely leads to the expulsion of the offending person from the group. That person is now far less likely to reproduce or even survive, and is probably used as an example of what not to do. Voila! Morality sans religion or god.

Well, now there is a new study on morality in babies. Using puppets, the researchers show that babies prefer the 'good puppet' that did not steal a toy over the 'bad puppet' that took the toy and left. Babies certainly do not believe in a god or even think about religion, yet they know that stealing is bad.

Morality--so easy a baby could do it!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Communicate with your child's teacher

One thing that I have learned quickly in this first week of school is that a parent should be in contact with their child's teacher regularly. Young children often forget details or confuse things. Older children have their biology and life science lessons. Religion tries to sneak into the science classroom disguised as creationism or intelligent design.

That's why parents who value a good scientific education need to read this letter and consider drafting a similar letter to their child's science teacher.

Books to help your child with science!

As we find more evidence for evolution in the human 'family tree', I've still been considering how to introduce the topic to my son. I decided books would be a good starting point.

I expected it to be difficult to find good science books for children. It wasn't too tough, although I did need to go through a lot of reviews. Here are the books I bought for my five-year-old:
A couple of the books I wanted to buy were written for children several years older than my son, but I feel they deserve a mention. One such is Evolution: How We and All Living Things Came to Be by Canadian author Daniel Loxton, for ages eight and up. The controversy around the book has piqued my interest, although I think any children's evolution book receives a similar reaction, unfortunately.

And of course, as I mentioned in an earlier blog, Richard Dawkins' book The Magic of Reality: How We Know What's Really True will be released in the US on October 4th.

Do you have any recommendations on science-related reading material for children? Please feel free to comment!

Friday, September 2, 2011

Of woolly rhinos and evolution.

I cringe whenever I see an article like this one, just because I know they serve as a magnet for the craziest of creationists. The title "An Ice Age Beast Evolved to Beat the Cold" is the same tired metaphor that leads people to think animals are actively planning and changing their bodies to take their next evolutionary step towards perfection. In this case, we have a woolly rhinoceros strategizing in the highlands of Tibet to survive as temperatures drop and glaciers advance.

Although it might make a great movie, it has little enough to do with the reality of evolution. Simply put, everything is random to some degree. At one time, the woolly rhinos resided in the cool high altitude environment of the Himalayas. At the same time, a wide variety of animals were residing all over the world. As temperatures went down and glaciers grew, many of these animals went extinct. Some animals' habitats shrank, while others' habitats took over more area. The woolly rhino was one of the species that were lucky enough to find themselves with a huge increase in habitat due to the lowering temperatures.

I also cringe at the use of the term 'cradle' because it implies that someone has put these species in a safe place until they're ready to grow up. It also implies that the earliest woolly rhinos were the infant stage of the later adult species. The "ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny" idea, while often true, is by no means universal. Also, it plays into the fallacy that evolution is somehow striving toward a goal, and that later species are more advanced and better overall.

Please, journalists, quit using the metaphors and sensationalized headlines for science matters, especially evolution. Don't contribute to the ignorance of the masses.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

First day of school!

Richard Dawkins recommends that children start learning about evolution at age five. Today, my five-year-old son attended his first day of kindergarten. (It went very well, and he loves school!) As it happens, I have been considering what kind of extra science instruction I should be giving him at home. Evolution it is!

Dawkins is releasing The Magic of Reality, a fun "all ages" science book, on October 4th. (Earlier in the UK.) Perhaps it will prove helpful with my son, and I definitely think it will be interesting. I hope to post a review once it is out.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Speechless for once...

This story made me feel ill. It speaks for itself.

Is dark matter real?

National Geographic released a fascinating article today, entitled: "Dark Matter Is an Illusion, New Antigravity Theory Says."

From what I understand, everything that dark matter has been used to explain can be explained by weird gravity dipoles. Although this is a somewhat controversial idea, I think it's an attractive one, so I hope to hear more about it as it's refined and tested.

When I tell people that gravity and evolution are both scientific theories, they often scoff. With both gravity and evolution, we know the general picture, especially as it affects us. Scientific debate and deliberation is concentrated on the details and how they make up the general picture. Contradicting the mountains of evidence supporting either is likely impossible.

Help our troops...

Help our (US) military by aiding in the development of a new "spiritual fitness" survey! The current mandatory test is discriminatory against atheists and other non-theists. Read about the research here at Rock Beyond Belief, a site for atheists and other freethinkers in the US Military.

Lists are handy!

Recently, there's been a bit of an internet uproar over Pastor Mike calling for a registration of atheists' names and addresses. Today I found Mojoey's Deep Thoughts blog, which responded cleverly with a list of Christian sex offenders. Also on that blog, I noticed the Atheist Blogroll.

So, we hate lists, and we love lists, but more importantly, lists are useful. And that's the problem here, isn't it? The use of it.

DeSoto County still doesn't get it

DeSoto County, where the recent controversy over prayer at school events occurred, has once again attracted the attention of the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF). This time, the school board has been allowing the Gideons to distribute Bibles during class.

The FFRF cites the Berger v. Rensselaer Central School Corporation case, in which the distribution of Bibles during school time was declared to be a violation of the First Amendment. In particular, it violates the establishment clause, which states: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion..."

Clearly, the DeSoto County School Board has a lot to learn about the First Amendment. I remember learning about the Constitution and the Bill of Rights in high school. The situation begs the question: what are DeSoto County students learning? Are they being taught about the country in which they reside? Are they even being taught about the Constitution and the Bill of Rights? And if they are, what are they actually being taught about it?

Monday, August 29, 2011

The Out Campaign

The Out Campaign is a project of Richard Dawkins' to increase awareness of the diversity within the community of atheists. Basically, we atheists want to show everyone that we are not scary, evil people and that we come from a wide range of backgrounds and lifestyles. So if you were wondering about the big red A on the right, that's what it is.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Update--prayer at the game

Well, I can't say it surprises me. The high school game in De Soto County turned into a prayer group. I would not be thrilled with the situation were my son present, but I do not begrudge them their rights.

In the article, a Jewish student who had prayed commented, "I'm kind of disappointed.  It's not really ignorant, but they don't think of other people and how that affects others." I agree. Not having empathy for others is reprehensible.

Can you imagine how an atheist kid, or a kid who is just unsure about his religion, might have felt with everyone around him or her praying? Obviously, that kid will feel like no one cares about what s/he thinks and feels, and will feel alone. That could very well be my son at that game, feeling alone and disrespected for not believing in an unproven god. How can anyone claim to be moral while hurting others unnecessarily? Why couldn't they pray in their homes or at a church, and then traveled to the game?

Christian parent Leigh Harris was asked about respecting the rights of others. She dodged the question and wouldn't address the issue. Instead, she commented that the controversy gave Christians the chance to "make lemonade out of lemons." 

Empathy? More like narcissism.

Evolution is not a religion

Today I'd like to point out a few common misconceptions that religious people have about evolution and science. A recent Washington Post "On Faith" article asserts that Richard Dawkins is a "high priest" of evolution, which is what inspired me today.

Evolution is not a religion. There are no beliefs in evolution that require any more faith than we all must have in our daily life. For example, the belief that our senses inform us about the world around us is a belief that everyone holds. Nowhere in evolution are we required to believe in something we cannot sense or use reason to deduce. The idea of evolution as a religion shows staggering ignorance of science and religion both.

However, many religious people still make the error of using religious hierarchy to describe atheists and scientists. Dawkins is called a "high priest worshipping at the feet of Charles Darwin" and "the world’s most loyal devotee of 'The Church of Evolution.'" Unfortunately for Jordan Sekulow, the author of these assertions, evolution does not actually meet anyone's definition of religion. I shouldn't have to mention that no one actually worships Darwin or any other scientist.

Clearly, by calling evolution a religion, Sekulow wishes to equate Dawkins' support of evolution with the actions of door-to-door missionaries, and to lower evolution to the level of mere baseless opinion. Evolution is a highly respected scientific theory with evidence and support from many areas of science, if not all sciences. Evolution and gravity are both scientific theories; in layman's terms, evolution is as much a fact as gravity is. In fact, some might say we know more about evolution than we do gravity!

By seeing evolution in its proper light as science, rather than a religion, Dawkins' message is clearly not an attempt at religious conversion. Instead, he is lamenting the popular tendency to conflate religion and science, and the resulting attitude that science is not important. Amusingly, Sekulow is upset that Dawkins considers these ideas ignorant and foolish.

Another error I see in this article is the idea that since most people believe something, it must be true. Sekulow claims that since a high percentage of Americans believe in God, and less than half believe in evolution, Dawkins could not possibly be correct that such beliefs are proof of ignorance. I can only assume Sekulow is unfamiliar with history, because otherwise he would be aware of many examples of the majority being completely wrong. Remember when everyone thought the Earth was flat? Or that the Earth was the center of the universe?

In closing, I'd like to point out that calling someone an elitist for being educated and expecting others to try to learn is despicable. It's the equivalent of writing "proud ignoramus" on your forehead. I'd also like to encourage everyone to spend some time learning about the scientific method and evolution before calling them false.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Prayer at the game?

Separation of church and state. As every good American knows, our Constitution guarantees that government institutions will not impose any religion on its citizens.

However, in Hernando, MS, the Constitution has been laid aside by some parents. After the DeSoto County School Board enforced the separation of church and state by refusing to allow the use of public school property to lead prayers at a football game, some Christian parents were outraged. They seem to believe that prayer is banned completely, although paradoxically they are going to lead a prayer group at the game.

One such parent, Mike Coker, claims, "Our rights are slowly getting ripped away by Congress, by our government and it's being done silently." I would like to know exactly what rights he feels are being ripped from him. No one has actually banned people from praying. What was banned was the use of public school resources and support for prayer, exactly how it should be according to the laws of our nation.

From the article:
"Parents said they understand that the Supreme Court has ruled school-led prayer is against the Constitution.  They hope if they are loud enough, that could change."
Really? What exactly do they think should happen? Should the Supreme Court reinterpret the Constitution just because you yell really loud about it? Or do they think the Constitution needs to be changed?

Here is the exact passage from the Constitution:
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;..."
Although public school is not the Congress itself, the Congress does ultimately make the laws governing public education. Leading prayer in schools is therefore something that the Congress is required to disallow. Note that they are not stopping people from praying at all, which would violate the First Amendment as well. I see no way in which the amendment could be interpreted as requiring the school to make available resources for prayer.

I suppose they could try to amend the Constitution. Realistically, I doubt they could do it. Both religious and non-religious people value their right to pray or not as they see fit. Also, no one would be able to agree on what constitutes an appropriate prayer. Even among Christians, there are different sects with different interpretations of the Bible.

As an atheist, a group prayer at the school's football game does bother me. Obviously, no one likes to be excluded. Atheists are excluded from prayer by its definition. Although the organizers of the prayer at Hernando High School claim "everyone is invited so they do not feel they are being left out of the prayer," it is blatantly false for all who do not believe. To be honest, I don't know if I would want to be included anyway, but the fact is that people are definitely being excluded. (And isn't lying a sin in most religions?)

The other reason I take offense is intimately tied with the nature of life. For myself and other atheists, this life is our only life. Every moment of it is precious. To ask us to waste valuable moments of our life waiting for you pray to what we consider to be your imaginary friend is just plain rude. I have no problem with you spending as much or as little time in prayer as you wish, but please do not expect me to sit and twiddle my thumbs waiting for you. Religious people believe they have eternity, so they should be the ones willing to wait. My life means more than that; show some respect for our beliefs, as well.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Oh, the irony!

I ran into this article this morning and was surprised to find it was from a Christian source. Keep that fact in mind as you read.

By now most people who would care to know have heard about the issue of the atheist ads on some Arkansas buses. Originally the atheist group was asked to pay $36,000 extra to insure the ads against defacement. The ads themselves were only $5000, and religious groups in the past have never been asked to pay the extra insurance. Yet the judge still ruled they would have to pay $15,000 insurance; no word on whether or not religious groups will also have to pay the insurance.

Yes, they were concerned about those good Christians defacing the buses. Because the ads dared assert that one could be "good without God". A spokesman for the atheist organization stated the purpose of the ads: "The world needs to know that people can be decent human beings without believing in a god or gods."

So, how did the leaders of the Christian community in Arkansas react? They refuse to admit that this is an issue of free speech, for one, showing a complete lack of knowledge about one of the most basic values of the country in which they reside. They also intend on picketing the buses, no doubt ensuring that traffic will slam to a standstill. They say the ads "promote chaos" and are "pure evil" and corrupt.

It all boils down to righteous indignation over a simple issue. How dare atheists let people know that they are not evil, lascivious, baby-eating monsters?!