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?!