Saturday, July 28, 2012

"What time has been wasted during a man's destiny in the struggle to decide what man's next world will be like! The keener the effort to find out, the less he knew about the present one he lived in"
Sean O'Casey
"Shaw's Corner" Sunset and Evening Star

Family Values with a Side of Indigestion

If it weren't so ridiculous and insulting it would be incredibly funny how often Christian fundamentalist/evangelical literalists make claims about being champions of family values. A recent post, "Henson, Huckabee take sides in Chick-fil-A same-sex marriage controversy" on CNN' Belief Blog is just another example of this often repeated bit of crap. Once again, a loving committed same sex couple is an abomination by their nature but the key figures of the Bible are automatically paragons of virtue. Why? Simply because they are in a collection of ancient myths, legends, and folktales. As for actually representing family values, that can only be true if you accept adultery, incest, and rape. Just look at the "heroes" of the Bible.

Abraham was an adulterer as was Noah. David was one of the biggest horn-dog adulterers ever and may have committed rape (it's debatable depending on translations and interpretations), he certainly encouraged it in his troops. Lot had an incestuous romp with both his daughters after his wife was turned to salt. That's just scratching the surface. I didn't even bother with domestic violence (short of rape, that is).

So when people like Chick-fil-A CEO Dan Cathy claim, "We are very much supportive of the family – the biblical definition of the family unit. We are a family-owned business, a family-led business," I can't help having a mixed reaction. I want to laugh and puke at the same time.

Religion as a Source of Cohesion

For a blog that is supposed to be about science, Science on Religion consistently has issues with details, nuance, and complexity. On more than one occasion they have posted on one specific study or experiment without paying attention to details or measuring it against any other work on the same topic. The July 19th post, "The evolution of Atheism", is a prime example of this lack of thought.

The first paragraph, as you would expect, sets the tone and nature of the piece quite nicely,
"Typically, when researchers study religion, they find that it brings various benefits to society: cohesion, cooperation, trust, etc. Religion evolved and persisted because of the gains religious cultures reaped. However, these findings implicitly seem to uplift religious people and make a puzzle out of atheists. If atheism (by implication) hurts the fabric of society, why did it evolve? What’s the evolutionary purpose of atheists? Political scientist Dominic Johnson (University of Edinburgh), rather than offering a definitive answer, instead suggests no less than ten possible hypotheses."

Right from the start, and throughout the piece, DiDonato simply accepts that not only is religion benificial but that it is innately and universally beneficial. If he bothered to look into the details of the various studies that have been done he would know that this is not the case. Cohesion and cooperation within a given religious group does occur. However, it occurs within a specif sets of circumstances. Once even a single one of those circumstances changes religion is just as likely to become divisive. In point of fact, many of these studies seem to indicate that once a religious group reaches a certain size and level of stability (from outside influences/threats) it tends to schism. He also overlooks a major reason that atheism is not that much of a "puzzle." 100% conformity or cohesion is never reached. There is no evidence that humans have ever completely agreed on anything. There is always at least a small faction that does not fit within the norm. These outliers would not necessarily agree with each other. There is also no evidence in these studies to reach the conclusion that atheism or any religious minority, for that matter, actually "hurts the fabric of society."

With his starting point being loaded with all manner of biases and logical fallacies it is not surprising that what follows is little more than a regurgitation of Dominic Johnson's views. Johnson does make some interesting points but none of them are that original or particularly well supported. DiDonato only briefly references Johnson's background. If you didn't notice it in the quotation above, he is a political scientist. This is an important field but not by itself of particular authority in regard to evolution. Remember, "evolution" is in the title of the piece. There is nothing to indicate that Johnson bothered looking into evolutionary biology or any other field more directly related to the study and research of evolution beyond lifting a term or two. So, where's the science? I could go on about some of the "ten possible hypotheses" but I'm not sure where to start and it is hardly worth bothering. I'll just give an idea of their nature by pointing out that one of them supposes "There are no atheists." An assertion that requires conflated a variety of unfounded beliefs together without any real reason. Yup, its that ridiculous.

I really wish those who post to this blog (it has more than one author) would either put a disclaimer at the beginning or change the name of the blog. They could forewarn that what they mean by "Science on Religion" is an interpretation of what they think passes as science.

God's Intervention

According to Chamber's 21st Century Dictionary,

verb (intervened, intervening) intransitive
1. (often intervene in something) to involve oneself in something which is happening in order to affect the outcome.
2. (often intervene in something or between people) to involve oneself or interfere in a dispute between other people in order to settle it or prevent more serious conflict.
3. to come or occur between two things in place or time."

God's intervention is an important aspect of many theist's beliefs. It is one of those areas that has always confused me to some degree. I have never understood how so many can fail to see the innate contradiction and irrational nature of this view. Many of those who believe firmly that God intervenes on their behalf also insist that God is the creator and source of all things. By definition this would imply that God either does not intervene or is not the source of all things. How do you intervene if you are the source of the effect or interaction in question? Reread the above definition. Does it not indicate a third, previously uninvolved, party? 

It is actually possible to interfere with your own plan or action once it is set in motion but that is not generally what we mean when we use the term "intervene." This also poses a number of other theological problems. If God is the source and then "intervenes" wouldn't this indicate a mistake? Most theists would also agree that God is perfect. If God finds it necessary to interfere with what has been set in motion that would seem to imply that God is imperfect. If you accept perfection as a defining trait of God then intervention becomes a contradictory and untenable view. Rather, it would, if you apply anything resembling critical thinking.

John 3:16

"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life" (John 3:16)

This is probably one of, if not the, most quoted and used passages from the New Testament. In many ways it is a quintessential passage of Christianity. As it relates to contemporary Christianity it is also one of the most damning passages for modern theologians. It epitomizes the incoherent irreconcilable contradiction that is at the heart of many theologians definition and understanding of God. Many of these theologians insist that atheist criticisms are unfounded in part because God is more abstract than we are willing to accept. Aside from that being a false assertion, it exposes their own muddled thinking. None of these same theologians have ever distanced themselves or their faith from this passage.

Read it again and then think about what it is saying. It clearly indicates that God had a physical son. How can something that is an abstraction have physical offspring? It would have to at least have a physical component. That would mean it is subject to the same laws of nature that all other physical material is subject to. God would be fair game for scientific inquiry. This is, of course, refuted by most contemporary theologians. They insist that as an abstract force or essence it is outside the realm of science. Bullshit. If God has a physical presence then there is no reason such an entity should not be quantifiable. Without a physical presence John 3:16 loses its meaning. Jesus cannot be the "begotten Son" if God is purely an abstraction.

There is another problem with this approach. If God is an abstraction then there are other reasons to doubt such a concept has any independent existence. Many contemporary Christians are also fond of such defining phrases as, "God is Love." Its a nice sentiment and I in no way doubt the existence of Love. However, it does not exist in the same way a person does. In point of fact, Love and similar abstractions can only exist while sentient beings do. It is a product of our minds, of our personal interactions. Anything that is that abstract can not have an independent existence. Basically, this line of reasoning would lead to God being a construct of our minds that can only continue to "exist" within our minds. God could not exist where there are no minds. God could only be experienced through sentient beings.

Essentially, God would no longer be divine. God would be a natural phenomenon no different than any other emotion, experience, or construct produced by our brains.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

"It could be argued that the greatest confidence trick in the history of philosophy is the attempt to make the various arguments for the existence of God support each other by using the same term for the entity whose existence each is supposed to establish. In fact, almost all of them bear on entities of apparently quite different kinds, ranging from a Creator to a moral Lawgiver. The proofs must, therefore, be supplemented with a further proof or set of proofs that shows these apparently different entities to be the same if the combination trick is to work. Otherwise the arguments must be taken separately, in which case they either establish or fail to establish the existence of a number of remarkable but unrelated entities." 
Michael Scriven, "God and Reason" Critiques of God


No, not the really bad Hellraiser sequel, which unfortunately I have seen. There is a new documentary coming about Hell. I'm assuming both the production value and intent will be far better but the overall content will probably be just as ridiculous. I am still planning to try to find a theater to watch Hellbound. It sounds like it should be fairly interesting.

They aren't Magic, Are they Sacred?

I don't doubt that Matthew Bowman knows more about Mormons than I do. I've never bothered to do that much research on them, though I have read the Book of Mormon cover to cover. He may be right that the average Mormon no longer believes in magical undergarments but that does not change the fact that is still part of their official doctrine or that they have done nothing to mothball that ridiculous notion.

I do find his assertions somewhat suspicious since a few of the examples he gives of similar ideas among other religions are rather faulty. For the sake of brevity I'll stick with one in particular. In his "Mormon Temple Garments -- They're Not Magic" piece he implies that most Catholics no longer believe in the power of Saints. If he thinks he know Catholics as well as he knows Mormons than he is delusional on both counts. Veneration of Saints is alive and well among Catholics, and not just among the most conservative ones. I know plenty of Catholics who have various Saints medals/pendants, among other accessories. It is not for aesthetics. Most of those medals are rather ugly. Plenty of Catholics either pray to or reference saints in there prayers. Pilgrimages are still being taken. There are at least four major websites devoted to Medjugorje alone. If Bowman thinks people are visiting these sites out of sense of culture/tradition he's not only delusional he's an idiot. I've actually been to a few of these sites (ex. Saint Anne deBeaupre in Quebec, Canada) and I can tell you I was one of the few who was interested solely in the architecture/art. Hundreds if not thousands were praying and making offerings. Many were looking for cures to various ailments. Basically, his casual dismissal of things like the, "stories of the relics of Catholic saints curing epilepsy or blindness" does not match reality.

In the end, I find apologists like Bowman rather disingenuous. It is important to note how the average believer views their own faith but it is equally important to be aware of what the official doctrine of the religion they follow is and what the leadership says is essential to that religion. Criticizing critics for noting how ridiculous a specific doctrine is seems like a rather weak dodge.

Talk about Illusions

Why do so many religious bloggers and theologians have such difficulty with definitions and the application of definitions? Eitan Press' July 5th post, "Lose Your Illusions and Find Infinity: A Jewish Mystical Take on Atheism and God " is so absurd it is comical. It seems that he doesn't like any of the standard definitions for "God" but can't come up with a coherent one himself. So what does he do? Rather than consider that the concept is by it's nature bullshit he creates a series of fallacious dodges.

It starts at the end of the second paragraph paragraph and dribbles into the third with, "So what do I mean when I say 'God'? I can't tell you, because its not something I can put into words. The word 'water' doesn't make you wet, but you know what it's referring to. This is not the case with the word 'God.'"This bit of nonsense set the tone wonderfully. His example is about as inappropriate and misleading as you can get. Of course we know what water is. Water is all around us. We need it to live and we can quantify it quite easily. For the record, the substance designated by the term "water" does make us wet. God on the other hand doesn't seem to be anywhere or not in a way that matters to those who prefer reality over illusion. Had a cup of God recently? It gets even loopier.

Two paragraphs later he opens with this gem, "God is beyond any concept. God is beyond even the concept of beyond." What the fuck?I don't think he gets the concept of "concept." According to Chambers 21st Century Dictionary a concept is a, "a notion; an abstract or general idea." So if god is not an idea how do we think or talk about God? For that matter how can God have any connection to reality if it does not even count as an idea. Try thinking about anything you know to exist in reality that cannot also be thought of in terms of an idea(s).

Press never seems to consider that if what he is writing has any validity then his writing about it is futile and meaningless. It is a bit of a contradiction. It certainly never dawns on him that perhaps he can't come up with an adequate description or set of terms because there is literally nothing there to attach them to. This seems to be a fairly common approach among many contemporary theologians. Either you constantly introduce slightly altered and highly abstract definitions of God or you claim there can be no true definition for God. They do it without ever acknowledging that once something becomes too abstract it loses any and all practical meaning. Not only the word "God" but also the concept of God becomes worthless.

This piece goes on longer but never gets anymore coherent or insightful. The only illusion apparent is his own. As for "taking on atheism", I don't get any sense that he has ever actually paid attention to any atheists. He clearly has no idea what our objections to the God concept actually are let alone thought about them for ven a matter of a few minutes.

Titles Alone

Sometimes when I peruse sites like Huffington Post and Patheos I come across blog post titles that I really want to write about but then become very disappointed when I actually read the piece attached to the title (sometimes the title changes from the link to the actual piece). There just isn't enough substance to bother with. It seems a shame because the title has such promise. So I've decide that occasionally I may just include a few of the titles with a brief comment or alternative title. I will, of course, include the link should anyone wish to read them as well.

"Report: Vatican Bank Compliant On 9 Out Of 16 Core Standards"
Paragons of ethics, 56% of the time

"Evangelical Scientists Debate Evolution, Bible"
Isn't that kind of like vegetarians debating which burger joint has the best meat and then devolving into a heated discussion over who could eat more, Pacman or a Gremlin?

I feel better. Those titles were too good to pass up even though reading the articles was an unfortunate waste of time.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

“Handle them carefully, for words have more power than atom bombs.”
Pearl Strachan Hurd

“If the word has the potency to revive and make us free, it has also the power to blind, imprison, and destroy.” 
Ralph Ellison

Baldness is not a Hair Color

"Baldness is not a hair color," sounds like a joke. It is. It is also a lesson in the ignorance rampant among many of those who wish to criticize and attack atheists. In Elad Nehorai's recent post, "Atheism is a Religion ," (I'd link to it but the cowardly bastard took it down) his ignorance is only matched by his insincerity. If he actually cared at all about us "dear atheists" he'd have paid more attention to what we actually write, say, or argue.

The title alone is a clear demonstration of his lack of thought. The basic construction of the word "atheism" literally makes it impossible for it to be a religion. Theism is a religious belief system. The prefix "a" means none or without. "Atheism" is therefore "without a religious belief system." How is it even possible to have a religion without a religious belief system? This is not to say that atheists do not have beliefs. Idiots like Nehorai frequently jump from one stereotype/myth to another even if they contradict each other. Even if we could convince him atheism is not and cannot be a religion he would probably then insist we believe in nothing and have meaningless lives. The notion that we can follow a belief system that has little or nothing to do with being an atheists never seems to occur to people like him. For example, I happen to be a humanist and since not all humanists are atheists it is possible that I would have ended up believing in humanism even if I wasn't an atheist.

Almost immediately this pinhead has the nerve to question atheists ability to reason, use logic, and think scientifically. He never seems to realize that his main point is almost entirely dependent on his own lack of critical thinking. He conflates two distinct statements (one is actually a false statement) and then offers them as proof.

"Let's look at the arguments atheists make: they say there's absolutely no evidence for the existence of G-d, and that the burden of proof is on believers, etc., etc.... Do you really believe that your argument is based around science, around logic, when you say that there is absolutely no chance there is an intelligent design behind the universe?"

The first statement is correct and even Nehorai admits to its validity. The second part is not only false it  exposes him as a hypocrite on top of being an ignorant bigoted asshole. I am unaware of any atheists unwilling to concede to their own fallibility as a human. I don't believe I am wrong about God but I have no problem admitting that there is a very, and I mean very, remote chance I could be wrong. At no point does Nehorai even hint at being willing to concede he could be wrong.

In the end this is not about the false assertion that "atheism is a religion." Deep down I think even a fool like Nehorai realizes that it a bogus claim. I'm pretty sure he and others like him feel the need to perpetuate this myth because they know they cannot use actual reason, logic, or science to defend their beliefs. Facts are not on their side. Since they cannot win in a legitimate debate/discussion that have to attempt to rig the argument. They have to distort and misrepresent our arguments to salvage their own.

"On Scripture": Epitome of Theistic Propaganda

Believers can now receive the worst of Christian liturgy right in the comfort of their own homes courtesy of Patheos and Odyssey Networks. That's right, the ignorant and scripturally illiterate now have even less motivation to think for themselves. "On Scripture" is a prime example of why Christian liturgy is such a horrible offense to human intelligence. Theists never seem to notice or care that they are being spoon fed theological crap. The very design of the liturgy is structured to increase and maintain ignorance not to enlighten or educate. The passages are carefully selected, or rather cherry-picked. Even then they are frequently sanitized. The passages are not short simply for the sake of convenience and economics, though I'm sure that is also a consideration.

I strongly encourage any theist who stumbles onto this post to conduct a little literary experiment. Either from the liturgy at church or from those posted on "On Scripture", jot down the passage references. With each passage go to the Book, Chapter, and Verse(s) and then read at least a dozen verses before and after. If you've got the stamina, read the entire Book referenced (ex. if the passage is Mark 5:21-43 then read Mark 5, or Mark in its entirety). Ignore everything you've been told it means, including my commentaries (assuming you've read some of my previous posts). Read and pay attention to what you are reading. I will be genuinely shocked if you don't find some questionable/absurd or outright despicable messages.

The Christian Liturgy really is the worst type of propaganda possible. It is meant to stop critical thinking. It is meant to over-ride all personal thought and evaluation. As I have previously noted the Symbolism of Christ as a shepherd and Christians as sheep is quite apt.

To be fair, not all propaganda is by its nature bad. Propaganda can be used to encourage and motivate to achieve positive goals. If you come across forms of propaganda that seem to say, "You must think this way," that is terrible shit. On the other hand, if it comes across, "This is why you should think this way," that is potentially a good thing. It is still up to each individual to assess the merits of a message regardless of how it is presented.

Read, pay attention, and think for yourself!

Using Science to Justify Ignorance

Just the fact that some are posing the question, "Does the Higgs Boson Discovery Resolve the Religion-Science Debate?," says a lot. For a start, the "discovery" has not yet been confirmed. As far as I'm aware the various scientist involved with the Large Hadron Collider have not checked all their data or run the various tests necessary to confirm their initial finding. If theists (and the media) were more science literate they would know that there is a big difference between reporting initial findings for the sake of scrutiny and review and a confirmed discovery.

Setting aside that rather significant detail it is also important to note that simply giving a theoretical particle a nickname does not necessarily tell you anything about it. Referring to the Higgs-Boson Particle as the "God Particle" does not prove that it has any relationship to any religious doctrine or the concept of God. It's a nick name and an inappropriate one at that.

A third point involves the very idea of a debate between religion and science. It really isn't much of a debate. There is nothing in the structure of religion that requires evidence at all. How do you "debate" what amounts to willful ignorance? The very nature of these two institutions place them at odds with one another. That is also not really a matter of debate since all you need to do to reach such a conclusion is list their traits and compare them.

Basically, there isn't much of a debate to be had. The Higgs-Boson doesn't apply. And, if there is a resolution it would have to be that Science prevails over religion since it is based on evidence and religion is based on nothing more than wishful thinking, fear, and personal opinions.

Friday, July 6, 2012

"It is not what a man of science believes that distinguishes him, but how and why he believes it. His beliefs are tentative, not dogmatic; they are based on evidence, not authority or intuition."
Bertrand Russell

They really Don't Know Us

It is incredibly rare that political pundits pay much attention to Atheists and unfortunately when they do they tend to reinforce rather than dispel ignorance and intolerance. I understand how headlines work but a recent piece in The Hill still is a bit grating. "Obama's atheist problem" is not a particularly good title to start with. It implies he has a problem with us, which would further imply that he actually thinks much about atheist to begin with. I doubt that. Occasionally inserting a vague throw-away line into a speech or two, though better than nothing, doesn't show that much concern or thought.

Mellman's initial concern is both superficial and a conflation.

"Fresh Gallup data make it clear that President Obama is hemorrhaging support among white atheists. The president’s vote is down 10 points since 2008 among whites who profess no religion..."

Not identifying with a specific religion does not automatically make someone an atheist. The more generic term "non-religious" tends to include plenty of theists. The notion that he is "hemorrhaging" atheist support is premature and misleading. If by support Mellman means votes I wouldn't worry too much. If he means favorable rating then he might have more of a point. Pointing out that Obama has been more favorable toward atheists than previous presidents is like saying it's better to have one form of cancer over another. Sure, it is technically true but it would be better not to have cancer at all. Vague, ineffectual support may be counted as an emotional victory but serves no real practical purpose.

As an atheist (as a liberal I have a whole other set of problems with him) Obama only made one campaign promise that I cared for in any way. Even his claim to reform the "Faith Based Initiative" fell way short of what it should have been. Within months of taking office he backed away from his pathetically weak promise. Mellman is incredibly naive to think Obama had much support among atheists over issues directly related to being an atheist. I'd be surprised if he got many votes from atheists beyond the reason that the other guy would have been even worse on such issues. That, of course, assumes an atheist point of view even came into play. Being atheist does not say much about an individual' politics. There seem to be two sizable political camps within atheism: liberals and libertarians. The former tends to favor Democrats while the latter seems to favor Republicans.

Mellman still seems to think that for Obama, "Reclaiming the godless must be a priority." I'd love it if that were true but I have no reason to reach such a conclusion. He has yet to pay much attention to us. Put bluntly, he doesn't have that much reason to do so. We don't make up that much of the electorate. By we, I mean actual atheists not the non-religious. It is for that reason that groups like the National Atheist Party have emerged (I am a member). Unfortunately, since the NAP is in its infancy it will probably be a few more years before it will be able to exert much influence. Until we are able to pool our resources and efforts more effectively, which we are moving towards, I see my self voting the way I have always voted. I'll cast my vote for the lesser of two assholes.

I look forward to the day I can cast a ballot for a candidate I actually want. It will take some work but I think it can be done. If you're interested in working towards such a goal at least take a look at the NAP.

Christian Scholars Finally Trounce Barton

Two academics from Grove City College, a conservative Christian college, have taken on David Barton's most recent book. I am going to have to get a copy of Michael Coulter and Warren Throckmorton's Getting Jefferson Right. It sounds to be as well researched and documented as Barton's The Jefferson's Lies is fabricated and full of shit.

I am actually rather impressed with their attitude as reported in the July'August issue of Church & State.

"...Engaging in scholarship as a Christian is not about who is on our team; it should have as an aim of uncovering the facts about a subject, whether it is a historical figure or a theory of social science, and following the data where they lead."

I doubt they'd actually apply that approach to the "historicity" of Jesus but at least they are willing to stand up to a fellow theist on other historical issues.

A New Level of Homophobia in Missouri

There is a bill floating around the Missouri House of reps that has established a whole new meaning to homophobia. It really is a phobia. It seems that right wing Missouri legislators are so afraid of homosexuals that they do not even want the terms spoken. HB 2051, AKA the Don't Say Gay bill, would bar any mention of sexual preference in schools with the exception of human reproduction as related to science curriculum. In other words, heterosexuals can be mentioned in biology class since they can reproduce unaided. But don't you dare mention those Homos or it won't be God out to get you.

The details are a bit fuzzy and it now seems unlikely the bill will actually be brought to a vote. This is not necessarily because the legislators have come to their senses. Once its existence became known there was an almost immediate response to this ridiculously ignorant and unnecessary bill.

Text of the Bill:
HB 2051

A sampling of pieces on the bill:
"Opposition Mounts to Missouri's 'Don't Say Gay' Bill for Schools"

"'Don't Say Gay' Bill Advances in Missouri House"

"Missouri’s ‘Don’t Say Gay’ Bill Loses Steam, But Opponents Keep Their Guard Up"

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

"These are not open to votes"

The hypocritically named "Fortnight for Freedom" campaign of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops is coming to its announced conclusion. This, of course, is as much a lie as all the other bogus claims they've made along the way. They will continue to ram their personal views down our throats regardless of whether we are Catholic or not.

I found it appropriate that NPR had a piece this morning that help reveal the churches real intentions. I'm sure it was unintended but their are a number of quotations that all but reveal the Catholic Hierarchy's true intentions.

"When it comes to core doctrines, Bruskewitz says, the church is not a democracy.
'These are not open to votes,' Bruskewitz says. 'These are what God has revealed, and the custody of that revelation is of course in the possession of the church.'
Bruskewitz says the church can't compromise its views just because the secular world doesn't like them."

Got that? Individual Catholics have no say in their own lives. We have no right to tell the church to fuck off yet they have every right to tell us, whether Catholic or not, what to do. The campaign is not about religious liberty it is about the church being pissed that they can't just push people around anymore. Insurance paying for birth control in no way obligates anyone to actually use birth control. It is still up to each individual to make that decision. The church is seeking to interfere in our DEMOCRACY by stripping away that choice.

Think about it. A group that openly opposes democratic ideals is seeking our aid to undermine our own freedom. It does not get more arrogant, brazen, or selfish than that. So this 4th of July celebrate your freedom by telling the Catholic hierarchy and all other authoritarians, whether political, religious, economic... to go fuck themselves (no birth control needed).