Friday, February 28, 2014

A little universal perspective

Every once in a while I like to post amazing scientific facts that I uncover. I always hear how Proxima Centauri is the nearest star to our sun, but I've never heard the actual distance, so I looked it up on Google.

It's 23,462,784,000,000 miles (4.3 light years) from our sun.

Let's put that into perspective, shall we? Earth is 93 million miles from the sun. If we made 1 inch = 93 million miles, then Proxima Centauri would be 252,288 inches away, or 21,024 feet, or just about 4 miles, which is very interesting because when you use this scale a mile almost equals a light year.

And that's the nearest star, which is a red dwarf. Imagine how far away exoplanets outside our solar system are from us, ones we can't even see with our monster telescopes here on Earth.

We won't be visiting other systems any time soon, that's for sure.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Of miracles and debates, Part I

Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in! That's about the only good thing that came out of Godfather III, but it fits me today. This week, there was a story on the wire about some guy who lived after getting mugged and a shot fired at his chest was stopped by the bible he was carrying in his shirt pocket.

This, of course, made its rounds on Facebook and the forums I frequent. Theists automatically claimed divine intervention while atheists chuckled at the assertion.

My brother posted the version of the story and did so without comment, just a video/story link. He didn't actually come out and say it was a miracle or anything divine, but it's not hard to imagine he was posting it as some incredible story with religious overtones. The story was complete with some bystander offering the obligatory, "Someone was watching over him," type of drivel.

So, without being confrontational or even remarking on the miracle undertones in the story, I commented with a link to a historic piece about Teddy Roosevelt surviving an assassination attempt when his 50-page speech in his jacket stopped a bullet meant for his heart, and the link was accompanied by my comment that paper will indeed stop a bullet.

At this point, my debating nemesis/sister-in-law chimed in, as I knew she would because she's a Christian apologist who never misses an opportunity to proselytize and spew her irrational beliefs. She said it wasn't the bible stopping the bullet that was the miracle, it was because he just started carrying the bible the week before. From that moment on we were off to the races, even after we agreed last month to not debate anymore. This time it was in a semi-public forum, something I had always wanted to happen so others could see her desperate style of debating and her ad hominem attacks when she doesn't want to answer a question.

While I certainly wasn't looking for any debate by posting my link, I'm grateful we did because lately I have been slowing down with my posts here and this has provided me with plenty of fodder and it got my atheism juices going again.

So, here is the start of the exchange after I posted the link with the "stacked paper can stop a bullet" comment, and this is unedited. In the coming days, I will post more portions of the exchange so you can see what truly desperate defeated theists do when they aren't prepared to debate.

HER: The miracle is not the paper, it's the fact that he started carrying that book in his shirt pocket the week before.

(This is quite a low standard for miracles if you ask me, but I chose to go in a different direction.)

ME: Would it have been a miracle if it were the Koran, or a cigarette case? Good thing god made him start smoking last week. Sorry, special pleading and far from a miracle. Glad the guy is OK, but can't imagine anything more arrogant as to think some deity made sure he carried some pocket fairy tale a week in advance so he would have protection from a mugging. Why not stop the mugging? Sad worldview.

(Here comes her first ad hominem, accusing me of being angry and changing the subject for most of the response.)

HER: Why are you always so angry at our beliefs? Nobody said you have to accept what we believe. Why do you think this is even a story in the paper? I think it's because most people believe there was some divine intervention. It wouldn't matter to me if it was the Koran or any other thing that this guy started carrying in his shirt pocket a week before. He was going along doing the same thing day after day and suddenly he is moved to start reding this book and carry it with him everyday. Great for him and I'm glad they reported the story.

(At this point I wanted to say, if he were a homeless druggie and started carrying his crack pipe in his shirt pocket the week before would you have called it a miracle and would the press have reported the story? Would it have been divine intervention?)

ME: I'm happy for him, too, as I said. But there's no anger, just another ad hominem from you. :-) And you brought up it being a miracle, so I said it wasn't, which is wasn't. Nice story, though, glad he's OK. Love you Sweetie!

HER: You can have an opinion. And straw man on your paper can stop bullets. Nobody said they can't. :-)

(After about a month of debating she still doesn't understand what a strawman argument is, which I pointed out to her. And I wanted to use sarcasm and thank her for telling me it was OK for me, the lowly atheist, to have an opinion, but I took it to another level instead.)

ME: I was agreeing with the story that a stack of paper can stop a bullet, no debate, no strawman. And if it's opinion that it wasn't a miracle, then prove it. Show me the empirical evidence that your god made sure he carried this bible just in time to stop this bullet, which may or may not have killed him anyway. You know, burden of proof and all that stuff? Ah, just like old times huh, Sis? :-)

(The gloves are starting to come off and it escalates fast. More in my next post.)

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

A question for Arizona bigots

Today, Arizona's governor vetoed the ridiculous SB 1062 that would have allowed public businesses to refuse service to anyone (but clearly meant for homosexuals). While I applaud the governor, it is despicable to me that this actually became a bill and made it to the governor's desk.

Here's a question for the Arizona bigots: The reason you would have wanted to refuse business to gay people is because of your religious beliefs, right? That your bible says gay people are an abomination and their acts are sinful? But your bible also teaches that all sins are the same in the eyes of your god. So does that mean, to be a good Christian, you would have refused service to all sinners? For instance, those with tattoos, those who cheated on their spouses, those who committed rape, those who work on Sunday, etc.?

You're not Christian, you're just a bigot and an asshole.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Let's play the feud

If people choose to have faith (no matter how much I believe it's a poor way to live your life), I support that. I would never tell anyone how to lead their lives or force any beliefs on them. Everyone is entitled to their lives and they're free to do with it what they want. But what I can't stand is someone being completely ignorant about a particular topic and not only pontificating about that topic but then they make comments about the topic in a derogatory insulting manner. Ultimately it makes them look foolish, which is a minor consolation, but it could do more damage than good.

Let's take a look at a perfect example with this 2009 interview between Joy Behar and Steve Harvey. Watch this, and then I'll have some afterthoughts.

First, he says he would never date a woman who was an atheist because, "If you don't believe in God, where's your moral barometer?" This coming from a man who has been married three times (twice divorced) with children from two women. If he were a god-fearing Christian, he would have made his first marriage work, or at the very least his second marriage. And since he's a "devout" Christian he should know he's going to hell anyway.

But to insult an entire section of society because they choose to look for evidence of some supernatural event/being is pure ignorance. Morality doesn't come from a book, especially not the bible. It's a fact that morality has developed over millions of years through group behaviors, especially in the animal kingdom with survival tactics.

Harvey admits to just "walking away" from atheists because he has nothing to say to them, and then he calls atheists "idiots" because they don't believe in a god. This is what I meant earlier when I talked of people commenting on a subject about which they know nothing and then hurl insults about those tied to the subject. But the topper for me, and it was so sweet hearing him say it, was when he tried to take a swipe at evolution. "Why are there still monkeys?" Classic stupidity and horse-and-buggy thinking.

Where do I begin? As I've written on here before, evolution is FACT. We didn't come from monkeys; we have a common ancestor. The tree of life has branches, not rungs of a ladder. This interview, which came on the Larry King Show when Larry was on vacation, was to plug Harvey's book. In this book is where his marks about atheists first arose. What surprises me is his editor/publisher/publicist/agent never pulled him aside and said, "Hey, man, I know what you want to say here, but you're the idiot."

Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and to remove all doubt. — ABRAHAM LINCOLN.

If I were to have 10 minutes alone with this moron I would call into question his morality for marrying three women, having children with more than one woman, lingering child abuse accusations and his insensitivity toward millions of people. Then, if there was still time, I would school him on the Theory of Evolution and explain that he didn't come from monkeys, but he certainly has the brain of one. Then again, that's giving him too much credit.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Judas: betrayer or victim?

Every once in a while I like to address subplots of the major religious themes I attack. By major themes I mean things such as morality, freewill, hell, Jesus, the bible, etc. Today, however, I'd like to look at Judas Iscariot and how he became a subplot of god's plan, another major theme.

Very quickly, Judas was one of Jesus' 12 apostles and as the story goes, for 30 pieces of silver he informed the arresting soldiers who Christ was so they could apprehend him before the feast (to avoid a riot). Judas kissed Jesus on the cheek as a sign to the soldiers of the high priest Caiaphas, who then turned Jesus over to Pontius Pilate's soldiers. Christ was taken and tried, ultimately ending in his conviction and crucifixion.

In today's vernacular, if you were to refer to someone as a Judas, you would be indicating that person betrayed you in some hurtful fashion. But I would contend Judas didn't betray Jesus. No, I'm not saying I was there or have empirical evidence that someone else betrayed Jesus.

It's here where I'd like to refer back to god's plan. In most Christian circles, their god is omniscient, meaning he knows everything that has happened and everything that will happen. In these same Christian circles, Jesus is god incarnate, so if he were god, then he would know the events that would unfold. And finally, John 3:16 refers to god so loving the world that he gave his only begotten son, meaning he purposely put himself on earth with the plan of being crucified to fix the world's problems (problems he was responsible for I might add).

So, if god needed someone to turn him over to the Romans so that his plan could be set into motion, and Judas was the man who did that, did he in fact betray Jesus, or did he just help god with his plan? There are some reports that Judas and Jesus were thick as thieves and arranged for Judas to betray him, but that story isn't "accepted."

Also, if god already knew Judas would be the "betrayer" then that would mean we are crossing over into another major theme: freewill. Doesn't the fact that Judas' actions are predestined mean he didn't actually have freewill? This is why god's omniscience (master plan) is in direct conflict with freewill and just another reason why the idea of an omniscient being is so preposterous. And if you believe in one, then you can't have freewill, and do you really want to think that whatever you do isn't up to you? If we have freewill, and I believe we do, then we're all Judases to god's master plan, and not Judases to ourselves. Nothing is worse than betraying yourself.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Omegle oh my! Part III

In the final part of my conversation with this theist/deist, we sort of started to lash out at each other, which I believe is a result of the medium. It's almost like the final round of a heavyweight bout and we're trying to outslug one another before the final bell. I was particularly disappointed with how this ended because he disconnected. It couldn't have been because of any insults, so I think he either started to get frustrated or he lost his Internet connection.

We pick up the conversation with him spouting/quoting some indoctrinated drivel that injects his own opinion and makes very little sense. It is very typical of a theist, who is driven by fear of the unknown rather than the betterment of humankind. I'm still answering his previous points about the Catholic Church, but I really wish I had more time to address his fear.

HIM: "Because, without the concept of God (as a man, as the Universe, as the Earth, as the Flying Spaghetti Monster), what does man have left to fear? His own mortality- thus all "sins" (objective case for harmful actions to himself and others)"
are done to forget, and ultimately hasten, his death.

ME: The Catholic Church is a money-making machine, keeping its billions (that it takes from the gullible) and then disguises its philanthropy as its own. And what about AIDS in Africa? Catholic Church's actions say it's better to die from AIDS than to use a condom. Idiots. Just keep your religion out of public schools and government and stop starting wars, and I'll be fine. ... And you act like the CC is the only way people could be helped in society. There are countless secular charities that do the same work, without taking the pope's cut. ... Why do we have to fear anything? Laws and enforcement are in place to protect us in the here and now and prison and retribution instills plenty if fear in me. You're so indoctrinated it's sad. Think for yourself, man. Stop regurgitating what they "teach" you, and stop irrationally inventing heaven's justice/reward to placate being afraid of the unknown.

HIM: I haven't been taught anything- your idealistic approach to humanity is both myopic and misguided. You emphasize the ideal of the individual over the group, yet completely omit how disobedient and indulgent everyone is? Have you taken a look at society today? All this murder, broken families, all a result of a breakdown of the nuclear family structure, held together by God-fearing men.

ME: Where did I emphasize individualism? Disobedient to whom, your made-up malevolent dictator of a god? By the way, America, which is NOT a Christian nation, is basically at its most religious in history and yet the crime and unconventional family numbers are still higher than we like. How come? In fact, the states with the most teenage pregnancies and crime are the states with the most religion. That study was just released last week.

HIM: And, by the way I never once said I was Catholic- I harbor Deistic intentions. And have you ever been to a church, seriously? You're confusing tele-evangelists with most other churches. Hell, most churches barely scrape by- that's why they ask for money to be passed around as mass. Go to your local church, I don't mind if it's Baptist, Presbyterian, Catholic, or what have you, and see how they tread on cutting staff and amenities on a monthly basis.

ME: Please. You're showing your ignorance. On any given street in this country you will find multiple churches, sometimes in double figures. Yep, they are struggling all right. ... So why would you defend the CC or any religion if you lean toward deism? And I love deists, they are so selfish. You invent a god because you can't answer the question of how we got here and you hate the idea of a theistic god in your head and watching you have sex.

HIM: Are you serious? I have read reports to demonstrate to the contrary, that in fact, America is becoming undeclared in heaps and bounds. A pillar to Christianity (for example), is virtue and faith, and faith works in mysteries (placebo effect); a disgustingly high amount of children grow up in broken homes, and, as a result, (in fatherless homes, statistics indicate), offspring are more prone to be incarcerated, depressed, dependent on drugs and alcohol, and so on.

ME: Check your prisons and run the numbers. Less than 1 percent of prisoners are atheists or non-believers. The fact that more secularity is becoming apparent doesn't mean the country is less religious as a whole. It just means more people are finally not afraid to admit it; it was much more difficult to come out as an atheist decades ago and it was essentially social/career suicide. This country is still 85% religious, that's huge, and yet you are saying the country is going down the toilet when it comes to crime and vices. You can't lay all of those harmful stats on the undeclared or non-believers. So, your god isn't having a strong enough influence on your religious brethren after all.


What I took from this conversation was this believer was very typical. He lived his life in fear, cherry-picked what he wanted from his religion and then invented the god he wanted by admitting his particular bend was toward deism despite not one shred of proof for that worldview. He attributed everything he thought was wrong with this country/world to heathens (without evidence), yet it's statistically impossible for infidels to be responsible for it.

I really would have liked this confab to have been through email, so I could have taken my time with destroying his arguments and addressing each point in chronological order. But I'll have to settle with getting him to essentially regret defending the Catholic Church and fleeing after throwing out a bunch of unsubstantiated "facts" that had nothing to do with lack of religion.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Omegle oh my! Part II

When we last left off, I was on chatting with a bigoted, brainwashed believer who was declaring religion to be the only reason we have civilizations. He also admitted to hating atheists despite only stereotyping them and not really having any true understanding of what atheism is.

Let's pick it up now with his response to me listing just a few of the atrocities committed in the name of religion over the course of history.

HIM: I am actually vehemently against Islam- the reason I didn't specify was because, out of experience, Atheists I have known all critique only Christianity, yet are mum on Islam.

ME: Nope, I'm against it all man. But again, we are sidetracked. I don't care if you have religion, I just don't believe there's a god because of lack of evidence.

HIM: So, model for me, your perfect (pragmatic) society, ostensibly a God-less, even in abstract, one.

ME: Religion isn't the only way to have a healthy, caring society, in fact it deters it in most cases
(bigotry, condemnation, anti-abortion, child rape, abuse, tax-free status). I would love to take every dime given to religion and put it back into schools, secular charities and hospitals. And if not, then tax them and use THAT money for hospitals, charities, etc.

HIM: That is a false statement. Are you aware how many millions of people are helped by the Catholic Church, for example? And, without the concept of God, how can man progress without self-indulgence, gluttony, and "sin"? You absolutely cannot argue that man isn't ultimately and inherently self-destructive and hedonistic. The biggest fault with Atheism, in my opinion, is the Socratic belief that man can overcome his humanity by being inundated in technology, and that adherence to divine principles of virtue and self-restraint are archaic.

ME: False? Do you know how many millions of people have been and still are being killed in the name of religion, who are oppressed and abused by the Catholic Church? Spend five minutes in Africa and see what your Catholic Church is doing. There is no fault with atheism. It is a stance on one topic, that is it. It's not a religion. Man, you are all over the place and your ignorance is showing. And you talk about man being destructive inherently? Do you realize that by saying that, you're admitting your religion and god are useless?

HIM: Are you serious? The fighting is mainly amongst Catholics in Africa is in deterrence to the myriad of militias that plague the country. Did you know that roughly half of all foreign aid sent to Africa directly funds terror groups, that pillage and murder entire towns and villages? Multiple millions are fed, housed, and given education through the Church, and that is an unrepentant fact.

ME: How long does your god need in order to make humans fall into line? It's childish to think humans can't get along or show diplomacy and philanthropy because of a lack of some holy text fairy tale and a watchdog in the sky. In fact, there are plenty of studies that show religious people are just as likely to break the law when police are on strike. Anti-slavery laws and laws against rape are man-made, in direct conflict with your bible, which condoned these horrible acts.


Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Omegle oh my! Part I

Every once in a while, I log on to to see if I can chat with theists or deists. I admit that most times I go on there just to screw with them or to look for a debate, and nine times out of 10 they just disconnect from the conversation when I tell them I'm an atheist. That, in and of itself, speaks volumes to me. Their faith is so fragile they can't even have a completely anonymous electronic conversation with someone who doesn't believe in their god.

But, I don't reveal that I'm an atheist immediately. I usually let the conversation exchange pleasantries and see where it leads. If they're a "good" Christian then they try to proselytize me, or sometimes they have questions. But the other night, without even typing a word yet, my dialogue partner opened with this gem, and remember, we don't know each other and haven't even said hello yet:

HIM: I strongly dislike Atheists out of principle.

Now, this person has already told me so much about himself. He's a bigot, and his principles are grotesquely out of whack. Why open a conversation like that? And by admitting he doesn't like atheists on principle, means he's narrow-minded and brainwashed.

So I decided to play along to get a juicy conversation going.

ME: I feel sorry for theists because they are brainwashed.

HIM: Oh boy

ME: Yep, you hit the jackpot, let's roll.

HIM: What makes you say that? And keep in mind, I have the authority to ask so, since all of civilization has been begotten from adherence to religions of all denominations, and that is irrefutable.

ME: All of civilization, really? While all civilizations have/had religion, I would argue agriculture and evolution were just as responsible for civility and advancement. Ever heard of burden of proof?

HIM: Have you never taken any history class? Paganism in Rome? Holy Roman Catholic Church for over a millennium in Europe? I'm not verifying God, I'm justifying the improvement religion has had on modern civilization, and its precursors.

ME: You're defending an argument that wasn't there. You said you can't stand atheists. What does that have to do with the influence of religion?

HIM: And, explain your reasoning on subjective morality, since that is the modus operandi of Atheists.

ME: While I didn't mention anything about my stance on morality, I'd like to point out you've made some fallacies here. First, you're deflecting the initial points we've discussed and introducing a new argument, which is called a Red Herring. You're also asserting all atheists' MO is rooted in subjective morality, which is another fallacy called Begging the Question. And finally, objective morality is a fallacy, too. Even if there were a god, his morality would still be subjective. And religion has done more harm than good.

HIM: What supporting statements do you have to verify the latter statement? I'll assume you'll say the Dark Ages were the spawn of "papal oppression" when, in fact, many historians completely dismiss this opinion.

ME: No, I'm more educated than that. And again, you're assuming things without fact. Even if you cast aside the Crusades and your papal oppression, you're still left with 9/11, 7/7, childhood genital mutilation, suicide bombings, ethnic cleansing, Protestant-Catholic wars, gay bashing, female oppression, etc. It's pathetic and ignorance at its highest level, all in the name of an imaginary man-made sky king.


Tuesday, February 18, 2014

At this point, does my ignorance matter?

I like to be well-informed about as many topics as possible. I'm not really sure why this is; perhaps it's my journalism background or the fact that I don't like to be made foolish under any circumstance. Whatever the reason, I don't like to be unprepared for anything and enjoy knowing at least a little bit about most topics.

Being raised Roman Catholic, I felt well-versed with most of its doctrine/dogma/myths. So it was only natural when I began having doubts about my religion that I would begin my critical thinking by putting Catholicism and Christianity under the microscope. I knew what Catholics practiced, thought, believed, etc., and my faith had been fractured early in life, so it wasn't too much of a stretch to go from doubter to atheist/non-believer.

My research was so thorough that, as a consequence, I learned some of the major differences of Christian sects, Judaism and even some edicts of Hinduism and Islam. My knowledge of these other religions isn't exactly complete, though I have read my share of the Koran and Bhagavad Gita. But given my current beliefs (that there are no gods and supernatural acts are non-existent), do I really need to bother with learning about these other religions? If I were going to be a professional debater or if I wanted to actively seek religious confrontations, then maybe I would deem it important to learn everything I could about all religions and practices.

But will people question my atheism if I never explored thoroughly the practices of Islam or Hinduism? I don't think it's necessary. Does a person who is allergic to shell fish keep eating different species until he's tried every kind? No, why risk death for the sake of completion? That's not to say I'm the least bit intimidated or scared by other religions. But what's the point of studying Muhammad or Ganesh when I don't believe there's any evidence of their miracles or existence?

Besides, I'm sure if proof actually existed or came to light I would learn of it rather quickly and do my homework then. For now, I'm happy knowing the minimum about other religions and being an atheist.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Morpheus and more Matrix parallels

You may have read my breakdown of the original Matrix movie and how atheistic overtones/themes could easily be interpreted there. I noticed something else watching the movie the other night for the 158th time.

Morpheus, known in mythology as the god of dreams but ironically is the one charged with waking people up from the matrix, has an interesting exchange with Neo the first time they meet.

Like so many people who start to have doubts about religion, Neo has been looking for answers, too, because things just aren't making sense to him. In the following exchange pulled directly from the movie, I will substitute "the matrix" with "RELIGION" and you'll see the conversation still makes sense and holds up quite nicely as if Neo was an indoctrinated believer on the cusp of deconverting.

MORPHEUS: "Let me tell you why you're here. You're here because you know something. What you know you can't explain. But you feel it. You've felt it your entire life. That there's something wrong with the world. You don't know what it is, but it's there. Like a splinter in your mind, driving you mad. It is this feeling that has brought you to me. Do you know what I'm talking about?"


MORPHEUS: "Do you want to know what it is?

Neo nods.

MORPHEUS: "RELIGION is everywhere. It is all around us. Even now, in this very room. You can see it when you look out your window or when you turn on your television. You can feel it when you go to work, when you go to church, when you pay your taxes. It is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth."

NEO: "What truth?"

MORPHEUS: "That you are a slave, Neo. Like everyone else you were born into bondage, born into a prison that you cannot smell or taste or touch. A prison for your mind. Unfortunately, no one can be told what RELIGION is. You have to see it for yourself. ... This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back. ... You take the blue pill. The story ends. You wake up in your bed and believe…whatever you want to believe. ... You take the red pill. You stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes. ... Remember, all I'm offering is the truth. Nothing more."

You see, Morpheus, with the blue pill, is offering a chance to go back into oblivion, to return to a world where ignorance is bliss, even though the machines are using Neo's very life to extend theirs. The blue pill could also be symbolism as the believer pill (B for blue, B for believer) and the red pill could be a symbol for rational thought or reality (R for red, R for rational or reality).

It's just a thought.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Gnostic, agnostic, theist, atheist explained

"Gnost" comes from the Ancient Greek word gnostikos for learned or knowledge. So the term gnostic means to know something, and its counterpart is agnostic, meaning lacking knowledge.

I admit when I was first having doubts about religion and god, I threw the term agnostic around to describe my stance because someone once told me they were one and their doubts matched mine, but that wasn't complete. The more I researched the more I came to realize agnostic has nothing to do with religion or gods. I can be agnostic about a lot of things, such as French ballet and oil rigs. When it comes to gods, I assert everyone is agnostic, because how can you absolutely know if a god exists? They can pretend they know, or make some immature irrational statement from personal revelation, but in the end it's hokum.

Many believe agnostic means you reserve the right to believe in a god should we find proof of one. But clearly that's wrong. Atheists have the same right.

A theist is someone who believes in a god and an atheist is someone who doesn't believe in a god. That doesn't mean an atheist couldn't believe if evidence proved a god existed, in fact it means exactly the opposite. I would gladly admit there was a god if one presented itself. Often, believers list their beliefs, superstitions, holy books and ignorance as proof, and when atheists carefully point out none of these things are evidence, they ask, "What evidence could a god provide that would make you a believer?" I like to say the deity/creator/god would know what level of evidence it would require to make everyone believe, so why answer the question?

There are some atheists who will claim there is no god, but that only hurts their stance, because then they would need to prove their claim, which they can't. So to say a gnostic atheist exists is just as unlikely as a gnostic theist. We'll never know for sure one way or the other unless a god did what was required to erase doubt. But real evidence mounts heavily on the side of no existence of gods.

Me? I'm an agnostic atheist, because the two terms aren't mutually exclusive and it's the most honest description of my worldview. I don't know if any god exists and I believe there isn't one based on the available evidence.

Friday, February 7, 2014

To help or not to help

I'm a member of a handful of atheism, debate and podcast forums. I admit I was never really a forum regular because most of the time the topics are mundane (or so tangential you can never remember the original topic), many people are argumentative or trolls and basically I just didn't care.

Lately, I have been spending more time on The Thinking Atheist, mostly because it's fun to debate theists and reinforce my knowledge. However, I'm an atheist for quite a few reasons, and one of those reasons is because I just couldn't stand proselytizing nutbags. So much so that they were the reason I set out on my journey to discover the truth. I figured if these jacknuts are so happy being mindless I may as well find out what all the hubbub was about and why it was so damn important to force it down my throat. I discovered the truth through rational critical thinking and haven't looked back at all.

But, something came up on TTA's forum that gave me pause. There was a young man on there asking for advice (this essentially happens weekly). He was 16, and an atheist. His father, who is a devout Christian, couldn't answer this boy's questions adequately so he enlisted a pastor to have a meeting with the boy. This boy asked the forum members what to do.

The TTA members stepped up in droves to tell him what to say, what to read, how to act, how to prepare, etc. Some were sarcastic, some were genuine. I was tempted to respond, to help out this young man, but as I started to read the comments from the others, I began to feel like it was almost like proselytizing for atheism. These comments and proposed actions were not unlike what religious people would do when faced with doubters/non-believers.

I admit I have chimed in once or twice when young people were facing a crisis with their theistic families, but now I'm not as comfortable doing it as I used to be. Granted, in most cases these kids are already atheists and just looking for guidance since they can't get it from their parents, and I'm fine with that. But lately I haven't been comfortable with giving advice to impressionable youngsters, regardless of their religious beliefs or stance. It just feels hypocritical. Sure, if they have questions, I'm not going to deny them knowledge, but to coach them on how to stand up to their parents and religious leaders just feels wrong now.

Do I think less religion would make this world a better place? Absolutely, and I will tell anyone who will listen. And, yes, I think young people should know what we know so they can make an informed decision, but I just don't like telling children what to do, even if their parents are irrational indoctrinated followers.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

I'll have a Ham on Nye, hold the bible

I sat through the entire Bill Nye-vs.-Ken Ham debate, and my thoughts afterward were pretty much the same as they were before the debate. I wasn't sure if this debate would be a good thing because the moment you put someone of respectability on stage with someone who is less than credible, you instantly lend credence to this individual.

Why? Debates are meant to pit two ideas with legitimate equal ideas and  viewpoints, and Ham's worldview is anything but legit. There was a part of me that felt if Nye could reach some people who might have been on the fence that it would be worth it. Once the debate ended, my feelings remained the same, that Nye may have reached some people, but Ham got the exposure he craved with a respected member of science, plus he raised money for his horrendous museum.

So, what did I think of their performances? I think Nye was in a precarious position because this was his first debate and it came against a polished debater, and he couldn't be combative. If this were Christopher Hitchens, he would've used his rapier wit, instantaneous recall and unrivaled vocabulary to destroy Ham, but he wouldn't have used any restraint and likely would have lost the mostly pro-Ham audience, who would chalk Hitchens up to being a strident, militant, arrogant atheist.

To Nye's credit, he remained calm and used the platform the educate. I truly believe he agreed to this debate so he could have unedited uncensored access to Ham's followers, and by remaining calm and mostly respectful, people listened to him rather than dismissed him. He tried to make a lot of jokes (his M.O.), but I felt this was a mistake. It's OK, and actually encouraged, to tell jokes when you are on your home turf or at the very least in a neutral location, but when you are on someone else's turf, your jokes are mostly going to draw crickets and give the illusion that you are losing. He only had a finite amount of time with these people and should've used every minute conveying his arguments.

I do wish Nye would have held Ham accountable for some of his fallacies and used better points to refute the Ark and bible accounts. When Ham continually used the bible as his "proof" and pandered to his home crowd with sly condescending jokes, Nye should have made it clear that the bible is ONLY a claim, just like every other religious text, and is not proof of anything. He could have brought up the Flood of Gilgamesh, the single window out of which all of the tons of waste from the animals would have to be discarded or the fact that the mix of freshwater and saltwater would have combined to kill all of the water animals.

As for the fallacies, here is where I think Nye needed the most help because an experienced debater would have jumped on Ham's mistakes. Ham opened the debate by changing the debate topic and then proceeded to use this angle to support his point. This is known as a strawman argument.

Instead of addressing the issue, which was creationism as a viable option to origins, he announced that Nye and the outside community say creationists can't be scientists. This has absolutely nothing to do with the topic at hand. He then ran video clips of a handful of scientists who rattled off their resumes to show how legitimate they are in the scientific community. They then stated they were creationists, etc.

This is an appeal to authority. Ham introduces these official looking and sounding scientists to an impressionable audience to influence them into thinking, "Hey, these guys are scientists, so if they say creationism is correct then it must be." But, none of these scientists have ever had one paper published regarding creationism. They may be experts in astronomy or MRI invention, but that doesn't make them an authority on Genesis or creationism. But it didn't stop Ham from carting out their names later in the debate to "shore up" and "legitimize" his defense.

Ham's other strawman came when he spun the word "science" to mean what he wanted it to mean rather than what it is. He said the science we witness today is observational science, whereas things we weren't around for would have to be explained through historical science, and that is not reliable because we weren't there. This was Ham's gin card, because whatever Nye would use as scientific evidence to determine such things as the age of the earth or lack of proof for a global flood, Ham would roll out his boilerplate excuse that we weren't there so your method isn't accurate.

There are numerous scientific ways to combat this way of thinking, but in this case I would have made it simple for the audience and said, "Were you there when the bible was written? Were you there when god created the heavens and the earth and Adam and Eve?" So why do you get to use events you weren't present for as your proof, but science doesn't get to use its proven radiometric dating methods for events we weren't present for?

I then would have said if you don't trust radiometric or carbon dating, then what about China, which has a continuous history that dates more than 5,000 years with actual historical records? Your 4,000-year-old flood story completely disregards an entire country, race, culture and heritage. Where were these Chinese people when this flood came? It's a much easier tangible example to keep the simple audience thinking rationally.

Ham was very good at dodging questions, such as, "Do you believe everything in the bible as literal truth?" He spent the first minute of his allotted two-minute response on defining "literal," then spouted off the standard, "Some parts are meant to be poetry and some are history," etc. While Nye admittedly was a little harsher with his one-minute rebuttal here, he could have really gone in for the kill, but he didn't. His inexperience as a debater showed in this segment, and Ham used it to his advantage, knowing they never really had to engage each other.

This was the major problem with the format. It was almost as if these guys didn't need to be in the same room. A good debate has give and take, it allows debaters to hold each other accountable and lends itself to actual discussion and the fleshing out of points. This format started with five-minute opening statements, followed by 30-minute speeches, then a pair of five-minute rebuttals and counters, and wrapped up with a Q&A from the audience. Here is where I felt the format hurt Nye, because the questions were posed, they got two minutes to answer and the opponent got one minute to answer the same question. Had the format allowed for the opponent to rebut rather than answer, we might have seen some fireworks.

Overall, I was glad I watched it. Nye did a good job and Ham proved he was a nutjob.

Sorry, I'm not Abel to believe this, Cain you?

A little while ago on Facebook, I posted a YouTube video of a Fox News show that had a young priest as a guest who was answering questions about random topics. It was an epic fail on his part when a viewer posed the question of how Adam and Eve's sons Cain and Abel populated the earth since they were two boys.

Here's the clip:


It's a simple question, and one that is poignant to the short-sightedness of Genesis. Adam and Eve, according to this fairy tale, were the first two humans on Earth (though you should look into the full story of Lilith for fun). They were charged with populating the planet, so they had sex and the result was Cain and Abel.

Since Eve was the only woman on Earth, and she didn't give rise to a girl, it would stand to reason Adam would have to keep trying to make a girl with her, or Cain and/or Abel would have to sleep with their mother, right? Incest was going to have to be overlooked at some point, since even if Eve gave birth to a daughter, the brothers (or Adam) would have to impregnate her, too.

But let's explore the story a bit further. They had a farm and the sons had their chores: Abel tended to the sheep while Cain raised crops. Then these guys felt the need to give god a gift. God loved Abel's sheep offering, but was less than enthused with Cain's food. Go figure, god is immature and fussy, just a child not wanting to eat broccoli.

Anyway, this rejection ticked off Cain to no end, so much so that his jealous rage led him to kill Abel, which resulted in Cain's famous saying, "Am I my brother's keeper?" when god returned asking where Abel was. Funny, isn't god omniscient? Does he really not know what happened? Let me guess, he's treating Cain like an infant who spilled a glass of milk on the new couch. He knows he did it, despite the choruses of "Not me." This led to a fight with god, some insults were tossed around and then Cain split.

Now here's where the story takes another twist (as if there weren't enough bizarre plot lines already). As Cain wanders through the Land of Nod (East of Eden), he finds a wife! Where did she come from? Adam and Eve didn't have her (though they would give birth to yet another son, Seth, and he would sleep with Eve to populate Earth), and god never says he put her there for him, plus why would god reward Cain for his murderous actions by giving him a wife? Incest runs rampant and Abel has a huge family. The end.

If you're a believer, how can you read this tripe and not question it? I know Genesis is made-up poetry written by science-deprived Middle Eastern troglodytes, but there are literalists out there who believe this stuff. And when you have a priest on national television who can't explain it, isn't it time to discard the effluvium and call it what it is, a fairy tale?

Monday, February 3, 2014

A triumvirate of contradiction

It's a funny thing, prayer. Some people do it to clear their minds; some do it because they think it will help whatever it is that troubles them; some do it out of habit; most theists do it because they believe some supreme beings can read their thoughts and make things happen in their favor.

It's a funny thing, freewill. Some people think we don't have it; theists think we have it, an ability to do whatever we want; some theists think freewill is merely an illusion and we are all predestined to live life exactly how it turns out (and many theists have never done any critical thinking to see these last two statements are at odds with each other).

It's a funny thing, god. Some people believe he exists; some believe he doesn't exist; some theists believe he has a master plan that can't be changed because their god is omniscient and has seen/laid out everything past, present and future.

Now, I have written about prayer, freewill and god's master plan before, but I have a different slant this time. Let's combine all three.

I've heard people pray for family members to do the right thing, for the surgeon to do his best or for the person in the car ahead of them to bypass the open parking spot.

While at first blush these statements may seem arbitrary and harmless, especially to a theist, but a deeper understanding of the three elements I carefully laid out at the top of this post will help you see these statements are confusing and contradictory in a theist's worldview.

If you are a theist, you believe in intercessory/petitionary prayer, meaning you think god and his heavenly compadres can hear your prayers and "answer" them. That if you ask for cancer to leave your friend's body, god can hear your request and make the decision to rid your friend's body of cancer, sending him into remission. We already see something wrong with this because if you are a theist, you believe your god is all-knowing and already has planned out every day of your life and your friend's.

But let's take it a step further: Suppose now you were the one asking your god that the surgeon does a good job on the surgery for your friend, who has cancer. You are now violating free will and god's master plan. You see, by asking god to make sure the surgeon does a good job (and expecting god to actually follow through), you are taking away the freewill of the doctor to falter or do something differently. Plus, you are asking god to change his plan (for if your friend was destined to die on that table, then god would be changing his master plan just for you, and if he was destined to live then god wouldn't listen to you because it was in his plan anyway). The only way god listens to your prayers is if he is willing to change his plan, which, if you're a theist, you believe can't happen. The second you believe your prayers have been answered is the exact moment you contradict your core beliefs in god's master plan.

The same holds true for the trivial parking spot. If you pray, "Please, God, don't let her take that parking space!" You are admitting you don't believe in free will and your prayers can make god change his plan just for you. Quite a bit of arrogance, no? Because if god knew this person was going to take this spot, he would have to insert a thought into her head to make her drive past the opening. This violates the woman's freewill.

This is one of many logical problems with theism and what happens when you write a bunch of supernatural laws and gibberish into a holy text. You find out later it doesn't make sense when you hold it up to scrutiny. You cannot believe people have freewill, god has a plan and prayers get answered. You can believe in one of these, but you can't believe in any two because they ultimately contradict one another.