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.