Tuesday, February 27, 2007

What a Terrible Doctor

A pediatrician in Bakersfield, California recently denied a child treatment for her ear infection because her parents had tattoos. Why should that matter? Because the doctor wanted to create a "Christian atmosphere" for his patients.

I can't even find the words to describe how angry this makes me feel. I mean sweet Jesus, aren't doctors supposed to help people?! Even then, this "doctor" punished the child for something she had no control over. What a loser. I bet he claims ot be the exemplar of Christian charity, but then he refuses to give a child medical treatment because her parents have a bit of ink in their skin. How does the presence of a person with tattoos ruin the "Christian atmosphere"? How does it make them less worthy as a person? Please, I wish someone would explain this to me, because it makes no sense to me whatsoever.

Man, this pisses me off. Just another prime example of religion making someone a judgmental asshole for no good reason. Then again, it might not be the religion. Maybe he just has an irrational fear of tattoos and uses religion as an excuse.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Here's a Good Sign: Religious Right Can't Find a Republican Presidential Candidate to Support

On Saturday, the New York Times had an interesting article on the Religious Right's current political woes. After a meeting of the Council for National Policy, a group comprised of several leading Fundamentalist Christian leaders, they all agreed on one thing: they don't have a winning Republican to support.

Obviously, they can't turn to Democrats since the RR has painted them as evil baby killers. That might look too hypocritical (never say never, right?). However, the leading Republican candidates aren't much better from a Fundamentalist Christian's point of view. McCain, despite his recent pandering, was pro-choice in 2000, so that leaves him out. Guliani is currently pro-choice and pro-gay rights, so he's definitely out. Romney is a Mormon, a religion that most fundamentalists view as a cult, so they can't support him either. Of course, Brownback, Huckabee, and Sanford all say the right things to soothe the RR's ears. Too bad they're losers and are lagging far behind the others in the polls, and no one wants to bet on a losing horse.

More than anything, the RR might have to admit that most of the country really doesn't give a damn about their "family values" agenda. There's much more important problems with this country: war, massive deficits, individual liberty abuses, incompetent government, etc. The last thing people should be worrying about right now is "sinful" activites between consenting adults that harms nobody. This nation has real problems, and blaming it on abortions and homosexuals is not a solution.

Sorry Fundamentalist Christians, but you've had your opportunity and you couldn't do anything but mess it up for everyone. It's time to put rational people back in complete control.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Case to Watch: Hein v. Freedom From Religion Foundation

This Wednesday, the Supreme Court will hear the oral arguments for Hein v. Freedom From Religion Foundation. The purpose of this case is to challenge the Bush administration's appropriation of funds raised from taxpayers to religious groups in such projects as the "Faith-Based Initiatives". The Bush adminisration's side will argue that they used general operating funds for these initiatives and that taxpayers cannot challenge such action.

I have one word for the administration's stand on this: bullshit. The day US citizens can't challenge the government's use of their taxes is the day the government no longer belongs to the people. Basically, the administration is saying the the law does not apply to its actions since only it knows the people's best interests. It's downright scary.

Of course, this has been happening for some time, but the Faith-Based Initiatives are one of the most flagrant manifestations of this lawlessness. Even though the money given to religious groups is said to be for charitable purposes, there's no oversight whatsoever. Religious groups can do whatever they want with the money. It is in direct violation of the establishment clause of the Constiution, and should not be allowed to stand.

Unfortunately, Hein v. Freedom From Religion Foundation will not challenge the Faith-Based Initiatives directly. Instead, it will determine whether or not taxpayers can challenge such governmental action. The fact that this is in question should be enough to concern people by itself. At any rate, if the Supreme Court agrees with the Constitution, then we should finally see some direct challenges to the administration's poorly veiled attempt to bring us closer to a theocracy.

Read more at Americans United

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Another Reason Religion is Not for Me

This bit of news shows just how dangerous faith can become. Last week in Pakistan, female government minister Zilla Huma Usman was shot in the head right before deliviering a speech. Why did the man shoot her? Because she refused to wear a veil and she's a woman in politics. So the man who murdered her, Mohammad Sarwar, decided to end another human being's life because the woman wasn't wearing a scrap of cloth over her head and tried to enjoy some semblance of equality. Dispicable.

Even more frightening is Mohammed's complete lack of remorse:

I have no regrets. I just obeyed Allah’s commandment. I will kill all those women who do not follow the right path, if I am freed again.

The police statement also said:

He considers it contrary to the teachings of Allah for a woman to become a minister or a ruler. That’s why he committed this action.

The worst part is that, religiously speaking, Mohammed is completely justified in his actions. That's why he has no remorse. The Koran says he has a duty to kill "disobedient" women. This is why fundamentalist faiths are so dangerous, especially those with guidebooks written before the modern era. The fact is that those books were written in a different time by people who had different moral views of the world. If you tell an impressionable individual that a particular book tells you exactly how to live, you shouldn't act surprised when that person does exactly what that book tells them to do.

I just hope this tragedy causes others to rise up in outrage, making equality for women closer to reality in the Middle East.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Book of the Month: Monkey Girl

If you want the definitive history of the Kitzmiller v. Dover School Board trial, then Edward Humes' Monkey Girl: Evolution, Education, Religion, and the Battle for America's Soul is the book you need.

First off, the book is one of the most enjoyable non-fiction books I've read in a long time. It reads like a court drama in the way that Humes interweaves the various events leading up to the trial and fleshes out the people involved. Even the account of the trial itself is remarkably entertaining, especially when he discusses Eric Rothschild's cross examination of Michael Behe. It's one of the few times in an actual trial where you'll see a Hollywood style "Gotcha!" moment, and Humes describes it beautifully.

Even though Humes establishes which side of the issue he supports early on, he never demonizes those on the side of Intelligent Design. He carefully describes every major player in this drama, allowing the reader to better connect with the real person behind each name. It helps the reader understand each individual's motivation and rationale, thereby creating a clear and honest picture of what happened in Dover where both sides felt they were doing the right thing.

Additionally, Humes provides an excellent summary of the evolution wars. He ranges from the Scopes Monkey Trial onwards. For those who know little about the history of evolution and creationism in the US Court system, it really is an excellent starting point for those who want to learn more. Plus, it obviously helps reader better understand the issues and precedents surrounding the case.

In the end, Monkey Girl is the book you should get if you want to know what happened at Dover without reading the trial's transcripts. If you have an interest in the Creation/Evolution debate, I think you'll find it's one of the few histories of a civil suit trial that you can seriously call a page-turner.

William Dembski Needs to Stick to Math

Here’s a great example of when you should understand what you’re criticizing before you criticize it. William Dembski, one of the leading proponents of Intelligent Design recently left a post on his blog, Uncommon Descent, where he makes two arguments that vestigial structures in organisms are better evidence for design than evolution. Yes, you read that right. Dembski thinks that evolution would never have vestigial structures. Here’s his first argument:

Vestigial structures in biology are commonly cited as evidence for evolution, and it may well be that they did evolve. But if it is evidence of evolution, it is evolution in the wrong direction — it’s not the sort of function enhancing/innovating evolution that is supposed to give evolutionary theory its bite. Vestigial structures, after all, are structures that have lost their function. If all of evolution proceeded in this fashion, we’d quickly descend to a world of nonfunctionality.

Like most creationists, Dembski obviously thinks that evolution must have a set order of progression, hence his insistence on “direction”. Of course, he believes that a god directs everything in existence, so it’s not hard to see why he can’t escape the paradigm that everything must have a set path. However, the theory of evolution does not say that there is an inevitable progression of speciation. In fact, it says the exact opposite. Species will either survive or they won’t, depending on how well they are equipped to deal with the environment. This simply favors those that can reproduce enough to survive, and it means that the slightest environmental change early on could completely alter the outcome down the line. If evolution were to start over, life would certainly progress much differently and would be quite alien to anything we know today.

Additionally, Dembski refuses to acknowledge the fact that new features can arise through adoption. This undoubtedly comes from his belief that natural processes cannot add information to DNA, which relies on his rather dubious interpretation of information theory (for more, read here). I won’t go into this much further, but the idea that new features cannot arise comes from Dembski’s own hypothesis rather than the actual theory of evolution, creating yet another mischaracterization of the theory.

A great example of vestigial structures along side new ones can be seen in whales. Most modern whales have the remnants of hind legs. In the picture below, you can see the vestigial hind limbs of a humpback whale. The tiny bones hanging below the vertebra are the remnants of femurs (picture courtesy of http://www.edwardtbabinski.us/).

However, with Dembski’s version of evolution, that means all whales must have lost their hind limbs and should be stuck with nothing more than a pointed tail for swimming. However, this is not the case. As whales evolved, the tips of their tails flattened. Initially this probably helped with steering, but eventually the flukes became more efficient at providing propulsion than the hind limbs. As a result, whales’ hind limbs began to shrink since they became more of a hindrance than a help, and today whales have no externally visible hind limbs, if any at all.

As you can see, just because some structures disappear due to evolution does not mean that the same process cannot alter existing structures to the point where they become something new and more useful like the flukes on the tails of whales.

For more on whale evolution, click here.

Dembski’s second argument highlights Intelligent Design’s complete inability to usefully explain anything:

But vestigiality need not evolve by purely material means — it can also be designed. I was delighted to be informed (after my recent debate with Michael Shermer at Bridgewater College) of a nifty example of vestigial structures that arise not through “devolution” but rather through design, to wit, vestigial running boards on older automobiles.

He then shows a series pictures with old Fords that portrays a progression from useful running boards to small fairings in later models where running boards would normally go.

This brings us to an important question: why would an intelligent designer keep these vestigial features? Does he find them aesthetically pleasing? I guess Dembski’s god must find something interesting in whales with tiny, useless bones in their tails. Of course, Dembski can’t tell us why. I’m sure he’d say we can’t understand the Intelligent Designer’s (read: God’s) reasons. And that brings us to the ultimate problem with ID. It creates more problems than it solves and then declares the new problems unsolvable. This is not how science is supposed to work. It’s supposed to help us better explain the world, not fill it with more unknowns. Just saying “God did it,” is nothing more than a copout. With Dembski’s reasoning, we might as well shut down all scientific research and return to the Middle Ages because God does everything and we can’t understand it.

Now, I’m certainly not an expert in biology, but Dembski, as a leading advocate for a biological origins theory (however unscientific it might be), shows a remarkable degree of ignorance towards modern biology. Obviously, he would never accept the prevailing views on modern biology since evolution forms its foundation, but he should at least understand the theory if he seriously wants to challenge it. Clearly, Dembski hasn’t bothered to actually learn about evolution, or he wouldn’t have made such ridiculous arguments about vestigial structures or insist that evolution has a direction. This just shows why he can’t be taken seriously. A true scientific innovator would understand the prevailing theories, not completely ignore them. Clearly, Dembski either needs to do a bit more reading or stick to math.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Rep. Chisum Needs to Check his Sources

A couple of weeks ago, I told you about Texas state representative Warren Chisum and how he distributed a memo to the rest of the state house claiming that modern science is nothing more than a Jewish cult, and that the website fixedearth.com proves it (you should check the website out, but be ready for the obnoxious clash of text colors and the even more obnoxious ideas). More importantly, the website has a number of anti-semitic remarks. This, as the Dallas Morning News reports, quickly caused Chisum to change his tune. In his defense, Chisum said:

"The stuff that causes conflicts between religious beliefs, you know, I'd never be a party to that. I'm willing to apologize if I've offended anyone."

How absent-minded can you be? He officially distributed something without even checking the information it contained. Is he really that desperate to remove evolution that he distributes the first thing that comes across his desk? Good job Texas, this is one of the men making your laws.

I suppose Chisum must have assumed the memo was legitimate enough, since it originally came from Georgia state representative Ben Bridges. It makes me wonder just how fundamentalist Bridges must be. I wonder if he actually believes the nonsense from fixedearth.com? Of course, I shouldn't assume Chisum disagrees with it either since he supports teaching Creationism in public schools. With that, you never know how far his beliefs go. This might just be an effort to save face. Silly Republicans.

Quote of the Week

"Seek those who seek the truth. Avoid those who have found it."

- Anonymous

Monday, February 19, 2007

Bush Knows Nothing About History

MSNBC had an article today that caught my eye titled "Bush Compares War on Terror to US Revolution." My first thought was, "How do you figure?" Then there was this mind-numbingly stupid quote from Bush:

“And as we work to advance the cause of freedom around the world, we remember that the father of our country believed that the freedoms we secured in our revolution were not meant for Americans alone.”

I about pulled my hair out at this point. Washington was a strict isolationist. And I mean strict. He felt that America should have nothing to do with the rest of the world, much less try and spread democracy throughout it. No, he wanted freedom for his own nation, and the rest of the world could deal with their own problems. Besides, if you want to draw any parallels between the Revolution and Iraq, then we'd look more like the British. Unfortunate as it may be, we're the ones trying to impose an unpopular government one the people. No, Washington would punch Bush in the face if he were here to see what Bush had done with this country.

Either Bush slept through his US history classes (probable) or he's trying to put a good spin on a sinking ship (almost certain). His presidency will undoubtedly be seen as one of the worst in history, and this must be his way of trying to make himeself look better than he actually is. He draws completely false parallels to truly great men in history to try and piggy-back off their success. The only problem is that you can't use mere rhetoric to make something better. You actually have to make a change and take action. Mr. Bush, has proven incapable of changing his course and wonders why everyone is pissed. If it wasn't so harmful to the country, it would almost be sad.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Carnival of the Godless #60

Carnival of the Godless is up at Brent Rasmussen's Unscrewing the Inscrutable. There's some good stuff there (including a little something from yours truly), so check it out.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Repeal the Military Commissions Act!

A while a go I wrote a post concerning the Military Commissions Act and the negative implications it would have on Habeas Corpus. Well, Senator Chris Dodd (D-CT) is now sponsoring a new bill called the Restoring the Constitution Act of 2007 that would repeal the Military Commissions Act and restore Habeas Corpus. From Senator Dodd's website:

On Tuesday, I re-introduced the Restoring the Constitution Act of 2007. The bill will restore Habeas Corpus protections to detainees, bar information acquired through torture from being introduced as evidence in trials, and limit presidential authority to interpret the meaning and application of the Geneva Conventions.

Also, Dodd released a YouTube video to further explain the bill:

Please, go here and take the time to become a citizen co-sponsor of the bill and help end this unethical travesty that the 109th Congress and President Bush have brought us. Help this country once again become a nation of law that obeys the rules of the Geneva Conventions. Otherwise, we're no better than the bad guys.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Out of Town for a Few Days

I'll be out of town for the weekend, but the discourse will resume Monday evening. Science be praised.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Excellent Evolution Resource

I just found this excellent resource, and I had to share it. This website contains a collection of videos where actual scientists talk about the evolution/creation controversy and point out what's wrong with the entire thing. They also provide the evidence for evolution and refutations for Creationism. They can go a long way in helping you imprive your knowledge on the subject.

For example, in the first video, Professor Kenneth Miller explains why teaching ID is not actually fair when it is rejected by science:

The proponents of intelligent design, or creationism, who say it’s only fair to consider their ideas have a very curious idea of what fairness is, because they’re not interested in developing evidence. They’re not interested in engaging in this process of peer review, of publishing their work, of going to scientific meetings, and trying to win a scientific consensus. In effect, what they want to do is to do an end run around the entire scientific process by appealing to boards of education or legislatures to insert their ideas into the classroom even though they haven’t won a scientific consensus. So, you have to ask yourself: what’s fair about that? Every other idea in science has to fight its way through the criticism and analysis of the scientific process. But these IDists claim that they want to be exempt from that process in the name of fairness. In reality, what they’re asking people to do is to cheat on the process of science and give them a shortcut that will get into classroom and textbook. That would be very bad science policy and be even worse in terms of educational policy.

If you love science as much as I do, then I suggest you check it out.

Texas Legislator: Evolution is Just the Beliefs of a Jewish Sect

In an amazing display of ignorance, Texas State Representative Warren Chisum passed around a memo from Georgia State representative Ben Bridges aruging that modern science is nothing more than the religious beliefs of Kabbalah, an ancient Jewish sect. From the Dallas Morning News:

Mr. Bridges' memo claims that teaching evolution amounts to indoctrinating students in an ancient Jewish sect's beliefs.

"Indisputable evidence – long hidden but now available to everyone – demonstrates conclusively that so-called 'secular evolution science' is the Big Bang, 15-billion-year, alternate 'creation scenario' of the Pharisee Religion," writes Mr. Bridges, a Republican from Cleveland, Ga. He has argued against teaching of evolution in Georgia schools for several years.

He then refers to a Web site, www.fixedearth.com, that contains a model bill for state Legislatures to pass to attack instruction on evolution as an unconstitutional establishment of religion.

Mr. Bridges also supplies a link to a document that describes scientists Carl Sagan and Albert Einstein as "Kabbalists" and laments "Hollywood's unrelenting role in flooding the movie theaters with explicit or implicit endorsement of evolutionism."

It's amazing how low these legislators have sunk to "prove" that evolution is a religious belief. They use the website of Gerardus Bouw (You can see it here, but be careful because your head might explode from a massive overdose of ignorance), a quack "scientist" who claims the Earth is the center of the universe because the Bible says so. That's right, a couple of state Republicans are trying to use the "research" of a real-life geocentrist to support their agenda. Not only that, but Bouw actually uses the claims of a few Kabbala loonies who assert that modern science has verified the beliefs of the Kabbala religion (see Bouw's "evidence" page). I suppose if you're stupid enough to begin with, you'll fall for the claims of an obscure religious sect that's trying to prove its validity to a world that doesn't care.

Seriously, do Chisum and Bridges really think the Earth is the center of the universe? Is that really what they want to associate themselves with? I hope this gets them laughed out of office. Plus, I think this qualifies as a new low for American Fundamental Christianity.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

My Beliefs: The Promise of Science

I believe that science is the greatest tool we have for understanding the world around us and is our only hope for making the world the better place we want it to be. However, that doesn’t mean I worship science. It is not meant to provide a person with a basis for morality or to codify how one should live his or her life (I’ll address that in another post). Instead, it’s more like a tool whose purpose is to gain knowledge of the universe around us through observable and testable evidence. By itself, that might not seem like much, but it’s what we do with that knowledge that can make all the difference.

For example, just two centuries ago we never would have suspected the existence of asteroids, much less the threat they pose to our survival. If one had appeared over the Earth at any point in our history except for the last couple of decades, we would have been powerless to stop it. Today, we not only recognize how dangerous they can be, but we are also coming up with better methods to detect them, and we can even theorize ways to divert them to save ourselves from extinction. All thanks to science.

I shouldn’t even have to tell you how science has made our daily lives better. It has given us effective medicine, rapid transportation, empowered people with access to instantaneous communication, etc. What has religion done for us? Not so much. It unifies some people, but makes them bitterly opposed to others, and it resists all change, no matter if it’s good or bad. Since the serious pursuit of science began shortly after the Middle Ages, we have seen more positive progress than 5000+ years of organized religion could ever dream of achieving.

In its purest form, science allows us to understand who we are and what we can do while keeping us free from the ancient dogma that forms the basis of our irrationality. In its ideal form, science starts with a blank slate and asks, “Why?” Then, instead of giving up when the search becomes difficult and deferring these questions to the supernatural, it continues to push forward in search of answers, never content until it finds a satisfactory explanation. Even then, that explanation can change radically as new discoveries are made, thereby always keeping science relevant and moving forward. In the end, it teaches us to never be satisfied with not understanding the world around us, a lesson we should all appreciate, because without understanding, everything is nothing more than wishful thinking.

A Great Bit of Wisdom from Sam Harris

I just wanted to share this excellent excerpt from Sam Harris' recent email debate with Andrew Sullivan. In it, he almost exactly sums up my feelings (and much more eloquently than I could manage) on why we should discard our ancient myths and engage in a rational, evidence-driven pursuit of knowledge for the betterment of us all:

I’m asking you to imagine a world in which children are taught to investigate reality for themselves, not in conformity to the religious dogmatism of their parents, but by the lights of truly honest, fearless inquiry. Imagine a discourse about ethics and mystical experience that is as contingency-free as the discourse of science already is. Science really does transcend the vagaries of culture: there is no such thing as “Japanese” as opposed to “French” science; we don’t speak of “Hindu biology” and “Jewish chemistry.” Imagine a world that has transcended its tribalism—racism and nationalism, yes, but religious tribalism especially—in which we could have a truly open-ended conversation about our place in the universe and about the possibilities of deepening our experience of love and compassion for one another. Ethics and spirituality do not require faith. One can even achieve utter mystical absorption in the primordial mystery of the present moment without believing anything on insufficient evidence.

You might want to say that every religion offers a guide to doing this. Yes, but they are provisional guides at best. Rather than pick over the carcass of Christianity (or any other traditional faith) looking for a few, uncontaminated morsels of wisdom, why not take a proper seat at the banquet of human understanding in the present? There are already many very refined courses on offer. For those interested in the origins of the universe, there is the real science of cosmology. For those who want to know about the evolution of life on this planet, biology, chemistry and their subspecialties offer real nourishment. (Knowledge in most scientific domains is now doubling about every five years. How fast is it growing in religion?) And if ethics and spirituality are what concern you, there are now scientists making serious efforts to understand these features of our experience—both by studying the brain function of advanced contemplatives and by practicing meditation and other (non-faith-based) spiritual disciplines themselves. Even when it comes to compassion and self-transcendence, there is new wine (slowly) being poured. Why not catch it with a clean glass?

You can see the rest of the debate here.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

How Dare You Suggest We Defend Our Views!

Representatives John Shadegg (R-AZ) and Peter Hoekstra (R-MI) just released a "dear colleague" letter with the following astounding statements:

We are writing to urge you not to debate the Democratic Iraq resolution on their terms, but rather on ours.

Democrats want to force us to focus on defending the surge, making the case that it will work and explaining why the President's new Iraq policy is different from prior efforts and therefore justified.

We urge you to instead broaden the debate to the threat posed to Americans, the world, and all "unbelievers" by radical Islamists. We would further urge you to join us in educating the American people about the views of radical Islamists and the consequences of not defeating radical Islam in Iraq.

The debate should not be about the surge or its details. This debate should not even be about the Iraq war to date, mistakes that have been made, or whether we can, or cannot, win militarily. If we let Democrats force us into a debate on the surge or the current situation in Iraq, we lose.

I can't believe the sheer ignorance this letter displays. These men actually think that they have no need to show why the surge will work--a an action that will cost millions of dollars and more lives lost--because America will lose if we dare question it's chance of success? America is not a dictatorship where a small group of men get to make decisions while the rest of the people are ignored. We are a democratic republic where open debate is necessary to reach a satisfactory compromise. Since the American people are the ones shouldering the burden of this war both in terms of cost and lives, we should damn well have a good reason to keep doing it.

Plus, using fear just a convenient way of trying to divert attention from the actual issue at hand. Speculations of what may or may not come to pass without good evidence is nothing mroe than scaremongering and does not belong in a rational government. It's thinking like this that shows just how poor the current state of American politics has become.

Daily Kos has more.

Kansas Removes Anti-Evolution Science Standards

It's official, the Kansas state school board has removed intelligent design and the fraudulent claim that evolution is widely challenged by science from their public school curriculums.

Let's give three cheers for science!

Read more here.

Let's Make an Example of Bill Donohue

If you haven't heard of Bill Donohue, he is the head of the Catholic League who demanded that Senator Edwards fire two of his staffers, Amanda Marcotte and Melissa McEwan, for posting anti-Catholic statements on their personal blogs. The only problem is that these statements were not anti-Catholic in the intolerance sense. They were simply critical of the Catholic Church's stance against women's rights. Donohue is also a habitual anti-Semite and is the last person who should even consider pointing the intolerance finger.

Sadly, Amanda Marcotte resigned on her own (she was not fired as Donohue demanded) to protect Edwards' campaign (read about it on her blog here).

Now, where this gets interesting is the fact that the Catholic League is a non-profit organization and, by law, cannot influence politics, and Donohue using the Catholic League to demand that a political candidate fired some of his employees is definitely influencing politics. This is a perfect opportunity to make an example of the political preachers who tell their congregations how to vote while enjoying the benefits of tax-exempt status. It's time we show them that they are breaking the law through their actions and we will no longer stand for it. Daily Kos has more. I'll try to get more information as I find it.

As an aside, Amanda Marcotte has recieved some downright disturbing emails from supposed Christians, and several of them deal with sexual violence. You can see Marcotte's post on the subject here. It just goes to show how low of an opinion many Christians have of women. It's disgusting and immoral and we decent people should not tolerate it.

A Response to One of My Critics

An individual with the screen name Healtheland recently left a criticism to my post concerning Dr. Marcus Ross. I'd like to use it to elaborate further on the matter. The criticism starts with:

Sir, this may come as a shock to you, but Christians (and Jews and Muslims who also believe in creation but funny how no one is trying to keep THEM out of graduate school based on THEIR beliefs, hmmm!) who adhere to creation have been earning advanced degrees in physics, paleontology, and other disciplines that have required them to "compartmentalize" their beliefs and their studies for decades. As a matter of fact, many Christians believe in creation but teach evolution in public school and in college! So, this is nothing new.

Healtheland's first mistake is to assume that I'm talking about all Christians. That couldn't be farhter from the truth. I'm simply talking about the minority of theists that reject modern science and its conventions in favor of Bible-friendly Creationism, which Dr. Ross reportedly does. The same critcism would apply to Jewish and Muslim Young-Earth Creationists. However, Healtheland left no evidence (names, links, etc.) to verify his or her claim that there are such individuals out there. As for Creationists who teach evolution in public schools and colleges...well public is the key word. It's unconstitutional to teach Creationism in a public school science class, so these Creationists have no choice. It's different from someone seeking a PhD where they should have to endorse what they study.

What is new is radical atheists advancing the notion that a person who holds certain religious beliefs cannot and should not be educated, and hence such a person either should not be allowed to pursue an education or should "do the honorable thing" and not seek one. It is hilarious how so many are completely ignoring the perfectly RATIONAL stance of this fellow: if a Marxist can earn an economics degree at Milton Friedman's University of Chicago, then certainly a Christian can earn a paleontology degree.

Once again, I am not talking about Christians in general. Just ones who try to distort science for their own theological ends. As for a Marxist earning an economics degree, Marxism is not antithetical to economics in general, only free market capitalism. Economics themselves remain valid to both systems.

And another thing still: atheists and similar earn degrees in theology, divinity, religion, etc. for the sole purpose of using what they learn to undermine and attack religion. Happens all the time. Anything wrong with that? Should they be prevented from doing so? Or should they openly declare their disbelief and hostility to the subject matter on every test and assignment, thereby ensuring that they will not successfully complete the program or perhaps even get admitted, to "earn your respect?" Or is your respect and integrity standard different for Christians?

Once again, we have no evidence to back up an assertion, but if an atheist writes a dissertation antithetical to his beliefs in order to earn a PhD with the goal of undermining a religion, then
he is just as wrong as Dr. Ross. The only way evolution could be seriously overthrown is from within science itself by following the conventions of science. It happens all the time. Just look at the Big Bang Theory. Before, the accepted idea was that the universe was eternal. However, scientists using the scientific method successfully proved that the universe did have a beginning.

If Dr. Ross really disagrees with evolution, then he has to find scientific reasons to support it. This should have been his dissertation instead of writing something he sees no use in beyond a means to an end. He could have brought up legitimate questions about the theory of evolution and done research to back it up. It would have been intellectually honest. Is this what he did? No. He wrote a paper that goes completely against his beliefs, and then once he had his PhD, he scurried away to a Creation-friendly institute (Liberty University) that engages in propaganda instead of real science.

This is not an attack against Christians. This is a criticism of Dr. Ross. His actions and his methods seem suspect because he did not even try to support his own "theories." It seems clear he knows that Creationism is not real science, so he needed to go through the motions to obtain his ultimate goal. What is his goal? Beyond earning a legitimate PhD, hard to say. Now, if he starts to produce legitimate research that follows the conventions of science, then I will stand corrected. Until then, I won't hold my breath.

Fossils: The Devil's Handiwork

To help brighten your Tuesday a bit, enjoy this bit of comedy from Lewis Black:

Chimps Learned to Use Tools on Their Own?

MSNBC has a fascinating report on recent archaeological finds suggesting that chimpanzees learned to use tools on their own instead of simply copying humans. It's pretty cool, so check it out.

This discovery also comes on the heels of DNA research which suggests that chimps should be reclassified to the Homo genus, thereby doing away with the Pan genus. Read more here.

Personally, I think this is an amazing find. I always wondered what it would have been like to live alongside another member of the homo genus, such as when early humans lived alongside Neanderthals. Now, it seems as though we've been living with some all along, and they've been starring in our commercials:

Monday, February 12, 2007

Where do you get your morality?

Some atheists seem to have trouble answering this question. In the recent Paula Zahn program on CNN I was depressed to find that the President of the American Atheist Associate Ellen Johnson was posed the question of “where do you get your morality” but Reverend Jesse Lee Peterson. She stumbled in her answer and seemed to avoid the question. The answer of, “where do Atheists get their morality” though is so very simple I am surprised an educated women of her stature was unable to enunciate it.

Society, yes society dictates morality. Murder, rape, theft, all things condemned by society in law, all things condemned by morality. One does not need guidance of a God to appreciate what is fair and what is just. As early as Hammurabi’s code, law has dictated the morality and the morality has impacted law in mutually beneficial relationship which fostered the growth of societies across the world.

The Golden Rule is in fact a very secular idea. “Do unto others as you would have done unto you” is an excellent bit of logical reasoning which any thinking society can and have arrived at without the help of morals imposed by religion. The fact that different societies, with different religions still arrive at this logical conclusion… that people seeking to have their rights respected need to respect others, speaks more to the logical abilities of the societies than to their religion.

Religion does not dictate morality. Society does. Hence why, in a relativist world, different societies will accept different standards of morality, yet they all have them. Atheists will not remove morality from our society; they will add their logic and reason to it allowing morality to better change with the changing of society.

To those who fear changes in morality I say that moralizing persons are responsible for prohibition, one of the most ludicrous and failed policies in American history. Society did not see alcohol consumption as immoral, thus legislating its immorality did not stick.

Where do Atheists get their morality? They get it from the society they live in.

My Thoughts on Paula Zahn's Show Tonight

Tonight Paula Zahn's show (she wasn't on tonight) expanded upon the show two weeks ago that featured a panel with no atheists talking about discrimination against atheists (see my post about it here). Tonight's show featured a short interview with Englishman Richard Dawkins who was as eloquent as always, but not exactly relevant considering this was about discrimination in America. Plus, I didn't like the fact that CNN did not show any clips from the previous show to highlight just how bad the last panel was.

Now the nice thing was the composition of the panel. There was actually an atheist, Ellen Johnson, and Air America radio hostess Rachel Maddow who actually knows the Constitution. Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson formed the opposing opinon.

The most telling part was that Peterson refused to let the other panel members finish speaking. He constantly talked over them, throwing out the stupid question, "Where do atheists get their morals?" Before atheist Ellen Johnson tried to answer, Peterson insisted she wasn't answering the question and continued to talk over her. He did everything he could to prevent the pro-secualr side from talking because he know they had limited time. It was intellectual dishonesty at its finest.

Of course, I'm not surprised. This is what theists always do when religion comes up in an honest debate. More than anything, it shows their fear. It shows they are afraid to let atheists talk because we might actually say something that makes more sense.

Update: One Good Move has a video of the entire sement here.

Guess Who Else Had Birthday Today

Those who normally read my blog probably already know that today is Charles Darwin's 198th birthday. However, I just found out that another great man in history was born on the exact same date of February 12, 1809: Abraham Lincoln.

So take some time today and raise a toast to these great advocates of science and freedom.

Quote of the Week

"Properly read, the Bible is the most potent force for atheism ever conceived."

- Isaac Asimov

I'm Really Starting to Like John Edwards

The lastest issue of Newsweek has an interesting article on Democratic Presidential hopeful John Edwards. Here's some more enlightening quotes:

In the fall of 2005, John Edwards sat down with a pad and pen and scrawled out three simple words: "I was wrong." It was nearly three years after he'd joined a Senate majority in voting to authorize war in Iraq. After an unsuccessful run as John Kerry's vice presidential candidate in the 2004 election, Edwards had returned home to North Carolina and watched as the war descended into chaos. Increasingly filled with regret, he concluded that the three-word confession would be the right way to start a Washington Post op-ed admitting his vote was a mistake. But when a draft came back from his aides in Washington, Edwards's admission was gone. Determined, the senator reinserted the sentence. Again a draft came back from Washington; again the sentence had been taken out. "We went back and forth, back and forth," Edwards tells NEWSWEEK. "They didn't want me to say it. They were saying I should stress that I'd been misled." The opening sentence remained. "That was the single most important thing for me to say," Edwards recalls. "I had to show how I really feel."

On Feb. 4, in an appearance on "Meet the Press," he broke the cardinal rule of presidential politics and admitted that his proposal for universal health care would require raising taxes. Then, last week, he refused to fire two campaign employees who'd criticized Roman Catholics and religious conservatives on their personal blogs, despite pressure from conservative leaders.

If John Edwards is actually this committed to honesty, then this is exactly what we need in a President to fix the problems of the current one. Here we have a man who seems unafraid of speaking the truth and will stand by his principles. Furthermore, it's nice to see a candidate who refuses to pander to the Religious Right. Only time will tell if he maintains this promising stance, but so far, Edwards has my vote.

Addendum: DavidGX also has a post expressing similar sentiment.

How Do Creationists Earn Legitimate Phds?

A front page article in the New York Times this morning caught my eye. Titled "Believing in Scripture but Playing by Science's Rules", the article is about Dr. Marcus Ross, who's 197-page dissertation was about the distribution of mosasaurs 65 million years ago. "So what?" you might ask. Dr. Ross is a young-earth creationist who believes the Bible is the literal word of God and the world was made 6,000 years ago.

This is intellectual dishonesty in the extreme. He basically lied his way through his doctorate to gain a legitimate PhD and obviously didn't care enough about his own work to accept his findings. He was simply pretending. The real clincher is where he works now: Liberty University, the ultra-conservative school founded by Jerry Falwell, which teaches young-earth creationism as actual science.

In Ross' defense, the New York Times reports:

For him, Dr. Ross said, the methods and theories of paleontology are one “paradigm” for studying the past, and Scripture is another. In the paleontological paradigm, he said, the dates in his dissertation are entirely appropriate. The fact that as a young earth creationist he has a different view just means, he said, “that I am separating the different paradigms.”

I don't buy it. I seriously doubt a person can find a way to agree with two completely opposed views.

This is just my speculation here, but Creationists are desperate to legitimize their views. A major way to do this is to gain more PhDs who agree with them. Is this what Ross has done? Perhaps.

Now, Creationists might defend Ross by saying he never would have earned his PhD without faking it because of the scientific community's dogma against new ideas.

That sounds nice, but it's bullshit. Evolution is accepted because the theory is derived from observation of the natural world. Creationism is not accepted because it is a mythological story that looks for evidence to prove it. The scientific one came from connecting the dots, the theological one already has the lines and tries to find the dots. It's the opposite of science.

The most upsetting part for me is that Ross went through all the work it takes to become a PhD by pretending to be someone he's not. It's deceitful and dishonest and should instantly discredit him in the scientific community. Furthermore, while he was a greaduate student, he appeared in a DVD endorsing intelligent design, so we already know where he stands.

In my opinion, he should stop pretending to be someone he's not and actually stand for what he believes in, no matter what it is. I'd respect him more since what he's doing now is simply dishonst.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Evolution of New Species Does Occur and Here's How to Picture it and Support it with Evidence

Since tomorrow is Charles Darwin's 198th birthday, I decided to take some time to pass on an excellent visualization of evolutionary speciation that my high school biology teacher utilized.

Before I begin, let me define speciation. Also called macroevolution, it is the evolutionary process by which new biological species arise. For creationists, this is one of their largest points of contention. They argue that no species of animal has ever been observed giving birth to a different species. While certainly true, this is not how the theory of evolution says new species will arise. If an animal's offspring were a different species, that would probably serve better as proof for Creationism more than evolution. As a rule, an animal will always be the same species as their parents. Then how does evolution say new species will arise? Well, come along and I'll relate the excellent example my biology teacher told me.

Let's say you have a species of frog that lives in Florida. It's particularly successful and multiplies quickly. This obviously causes competition for food and forces the frogs to spread out so they can find more food. This spread serves as a form of migration and eventually these frogs and their descendents spread out so far that they span from Florida to New York (obviously, this is a bit large for frogs and they would more likely spread east and west since the climate changes aren't as extreme, but follow along for the sake of argument). However, the environment at each latitude is a bit different and favors certain mutations within the frog population. They might have to eat different foods, the climate might change their mating patterns, their coloration might change to blend in with the different vegetation, et cetera. Sure, these are all examples of microevolution and do not make it a new species, but with enough changes you start to get something different with the variations becoming greater the farther away you get from the original habitat.

Now, the frogs in Virginia will be a little different than the original population, but the Florida frogs and the Virginia frogs will still be able to breed with each other since they are not as different and might still intermingle. On the other hand, the New York frogs will have taken much longer to get where they are and have a much different climate than Florida, causing them to change even more than the Virginia frogs, but they can probably still interbreed with the Virginia frogs since the separation in time and space is once again not terribly large. However, the New York frogs cannot interbreed with the Florida frogs since they have had too many changes to successfully interbreed and produce viable offspring, thereby making the New York frogs a new species. It wasn't quick or sudden, but it eventually led to speciation. Put simply, the frogs can breed with their neighboring populations, but not the next population over.

Of course, this is just a theoretical illustration and would be useless if it didn't have any evidence to support it. So, is there any evidence? Yes. Just look at mules. Mules are created by breeding a male donkey with a female horse. However, donkeys and horses are still separate species because mules not viable, i.e., they are sterile (except for extremely rare cases). This shows that horses and mules were once part of the same species. However, there were population migrations and the group that lived in the Asian steppes eventually became horses that adapted to living in open grassland while the group that settled in northern Africa became the wild ancestors of donkeys and adapted to subsist on more meager resources. However, they are still similar enough to interbreed and produce young, albeit sterile. It's an excellent example of recent speciation. The ability to breed a lion and a tiger to produce a sterile liger is a similar example.

Now that we've seen evidence for recent speciation, can we find evidence for speciation in progress? Yes. All you need to do it look at ourselves and the existence of different races. Early humans spread out from Sub-Saharan Africa to span the reaches of the globe. As they moved to different climates, they began to adapt. Sunny Africa favored dark-skinned humans, Asia favored a similar adaptation, although to a lesser degree, and cloudy Northern Europe favored humans with paler skin. Nevertheless, human populations weren't isolated from each other long enough to develop different species, and the devlopment of transportation technology allowed us to intermingle once again, finally preventing it. However, if the different races had remained isolated from one another, then we certainly would have seen the speciation of different humans with homo sapiens as the common ancestor. Of course, you could compare this to the Bible-friendly explanation from Answers in Genesis. I'll let you be the judge.

In conclusion, speciation or macroevolution is really not too hard to understand and accept when you just look at the world around us. The evidence for it is easy to find.

P.S.: In my discussion, I used the out of Africa hypothesis to explain the existence of different races. You can see the other scientific hypotheses here.

Update: Here's a good article about a new find that supports the out of Africa hypothesis.

In Celebration of Evolution Sunday

Today is Evolution Sunday and some 600 churches will be discussing evolution in a positive way to try and reconcile science and religion. While I don't really feel science actually can be reconciled with religion, it's better than what most other churches are saying.

Anyway, to help further this event, I would like to provide this link to Talk Origins about the 29+ evidences that macroevolution exists. You'll always hear creationists accept microevolution (small physical changes, like a bird population gaining longer beaks) but completely deny macroevolution (the change from one species to a different one). Hopefully, this resource can aid you in your struggles.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Vladimir Putin Makes a Good Point

Russian President Vladimir Putin might be a freedom-hater who longs for the return of the Soviet Union, but he made an excellent point in a speech earlier today. From CNN:

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday blamed U.S. policy for inciting other countries to seek nuclear weapons to defend themselves from an "almost uncontained use of military force."

"Unilateral, illegitimate actions have not solved a single problem, they have become a hotbed of further conflicts," Putin said at the Munich Conference on Security Policy, an annual forum attracting senior officials from around the world.

The Bush administration said it was "surprised and disappointed" by Putin's remarks.

Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, who was also attending the conference, described Putin's remarks as "the most aggressive speech from a Russian leader since the end of the Cold War."

I'm sorry Senator McCain, but the truth hurts. Even though he's critical of US policy, Putin's comments are entirely valid, especially in relation to Iran.

Let's use an analogy to better understand Iran's situation. Say you're chilling in your house when the rich guy in the mansion down the street who you've never gotten along with starts calling you a member of the "Club of Evil" because you don't adhere to their neighborhood covenant. That alone might not be a big deal, but you consider buying a couple of guns you've always had you eyes on to protect yourself whenever your financial situation allows it. However, the rich guy down the street then sends in his personal security detail to take over your next door neighbor (who was also labeled a member of the "Club of Evil") and forces him to adhere to the neighborhood covenant regardless of the fact that most of the neighborhood is against the action in the first place. Would that not make the purchase of a few guns your primary priority? Would you not put all other needs aside when your way of life is threatened? Sure, the rich man will warn you not to buy the guns, but he already announced a public hit list with you on it. Why should you listen to him when you can buy a proven deterrent?

In much the same way, Iran knows it is in the Bush administation's crosshairs. They were included in the "Axis of Evil" in 2002. They watched the US ignore world opinion and invade another nation in this "Axis". Sure, Iran probably wanted to develop nuclear weapons long before 2002, but now the Bush administration has shown the willingness to use military force when most of the world opposes it. What's the only thing that can deter the US from doing the same thing to Iran? Nuclear weapons. They worked in the Cold War. They made warfare between the US and the Soviet Union unthinkable and prevented World War III. In the mind of most Iranians, the US poses a clear and present danger, making the development of nuclear weapons extremely attractive because diplomacy and world opinion obviously did nothing to deter the US from invading Iraq.

Now I certainly don't agree with Iran's policies or form of government. Afterall, they are a theocracy. However, Iranians are human, and they will react like threatened humans, so we shouldn't be surprised by their actions. President Putin is simply telling the truth that needs to be told. The US has scared Iran into developing nuclear weapons because Iran sees no other effective methods of protecting itself.

The best thing we can do now is admit our error, stop pretending like we're blameless, and actually talk to Iran. The truth might hurt, but it's better than living in a delusion that will only make matters worse. Furthermore, rejecting criticism outright is simply a refusal to adapt and improve. It's dogma and doesn't belong in sound foreign policy. Of course, why should I expect anything but dogma from a born-again Christian in the White House? Alas, these are the times we face.

My Beliefs

Vjack at Athiest Revolution just came up with a great idea, and I'm extremely jealous I did not think of it earlier. On his post "What Do You Believe?" Vjack correctly points out that, unlike religion, atheism has no distinct set of beliefs apart from our views on the nonexistence of gods:

As we consider this question, one critical disclaimer must be offered at the outset. Because atheism has no doctrine, set of core values, or even shared vision of the world, no honest atheist will have much to say about how his/her fellow atheists think. Since atheism implies nothing besides a lack of theistic belief, one must expect tremendous diversity among atheists. I have met atheists who believe in ghosts and others who do not. All they necessarily share is that they do not believe in gods. This may be difficult for some Christians to grasp because they do have at least some shared doctrine.

Those of us who think it is important to provide believers with an alternative worldview are going to need to offer something beyond atheism.

To do my part, I am going to use this post as a springboard to periodically address what I do believe in and the values which inform my worldview.

I think this is a great idea. Like Vjack, I will also start posting my beliefs on life, the universe, and everything from time to time. Eventually, I hope it will provide a reasonably comprehensive belief system of at least one atheist. Of course, my beliefs could certainly change over time. That's the great part of being an atheist. Without religious dogma, we're free to reevaluate the world and our place in it as we encounter new ideas. You'll be able to access all my posts on the topic from the link on the right sidebar.

New Human Evolution Exhibit at American Museum of Natural History

Today the American Museum of Natural History will open a new permanent exhibit on human evolution. The cool part is that it will be the first exhibit of its type to combine fossil and genetic evidence to provide a much more comprehensive view of human origins. Read more about it here.

Of course, Creationists won't buy it. They probably won't even go. The Christian Post has its own article about the new exhibit, and it asserts:

The findings presented should not shake up the creation museum organizers, however. Much like evolutionists, the creationists study the same fossil and DNA evidence that the AMNH will present. They argue that, if studied subjectively, the evidence will only back up scriptural authority.

Ha! I guess by research, they mean read the Bible really hard and make stuff up. Notorious creationist Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis shouldn't even be allowed to call himself a scientist when he makes statements like this:

The Bible, where it touches on science or any subject including same-sex marriage, race or abortion, is totally trustworthy. As a revelation of history from the beginning to the end of time, the Bible is the foundation that enables us to construct the big picture and have the right approach in geology, biology, physics and astronomy.”

If that's the case, perhaps Ham can show me where the Bible lays out the proper way to understand radioactive decay. What a loon.

Anyway, since I'm going to school in New York, I'll probably be checking out the new exhibit at the AMNH within the month, and I'll give you some of my thoughts on it.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Haggard Signs Banishment Agreement

In a further attempt to cover up all the details of Haggard's homosexual activities, Haggard has signed an agreement with the New Life Church stating he can no longer live in Colorado Springs. From 9News in Denver:

9Wants to Know has learned the New Life Church in Colorado Springs has reached an agreement on the conditions of Pastor Ted Haggard's relationship with the church.

The agreement calls for Haggard, the former head of the National Association of Evangelicals and senior pastor at the New Life Church, to not rejoin the ministry at New Life, for him and his family to relocate from Colorado Springs and requires Haggard to refrain from speaking publicly about the scandal.

The agreement also includes a financial settlement, but as part of the deal, the church and Haggard cannot disclose how much was included.

Despite the fact that such an agreement would fail miserably in court since the Constitution says that Haggard can live wherever he damn well pleases and say whatever he wants, this whole thing stinks. Why should Haggard allow a church to dictate what he does in life? This is America. Be free. Plus, if Haggard is "cured," what is the New Life Church so afraid of that they have to force Haggard to stay out of town and keep quiet about the incident? I wonder. Once again, here we see a fundamentalist Church trying to close their eyes and hope everything bad just goes away.

At least they gave him some money. He was the one who established the church, afterall. It's nice to see all of his efforts didn't go to waste.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Can't Forget Our Celebrity Infatuation

Is it not enough that a person died? CNN has taken it upon themselves to give hour after hour of coverage on the death of Anna Nichole Smith. Death is always a tragedy, but does it really need this kind of exposure and wild specualtion? Let her go in peace and let's not make a huge deal out of this. This American infatuation with celebrities disgusts me. People need to worry more about their own lives rather than the lives of someone who they will never meet.

Since the death of Anna Nichole Smith is of such Earth-shattering importance, CNN has decided to suspend coverage of all other news. Needless to say, we'll have to wait until tomorrow to see Paula Zahn make amends.

At Least CNN Can Take a Hint

Unlike Karen Hunter and Debbie Schlussel, who continue to dig themselves into a hole, it seems like Paula Zahn might regret the final outcome of her anti-atheist show last week (and by regret, I mean see an excellent opportunity to increase her ratings). Tonight at 8 PM eastern time, Zahn will have Richard Dawkins on her show to discuss the same issues.

Okay, I admit it. I'll add to her ratings, but just because I want to see Richard Dawkins. I love hearing what that man has to say.

At any rate, I suppose we can count this as a victory of sorts.

Update: Hmmm...it seems as though Dawkins will not be on the show very long. Pharyngula has more. Besides, what's the point of having a British atheist when the topic is on intolerance within America. I like Dawkins, but this doesn't really address the issue. We'll just have to see how the show pans out.

James Dobson is Still a Dirty Liar

Last month, I wrote a short post discussing James Dobson's distortion of the research of Dr. Carol Gilligan. Well, another PhD, Dr. Kyle Pruitt, has also come forward with the same complaints. In the video below, he talks about how Dobson has lied about Pruitt's findings in an attempt to further his theological goals. Check it out:

Just another example of evangelicals being selective with science. They use it when it helps then and ignore it when it refutes their claims.

My Thoughts on the CNN Debacle and the Responses from Hunter and Schlussel

I'm finally going to jump on the bandwagon and say something about the CNN piece from Paula Zahn where Karen Hunter and Debbie Schlussel basically told atheists to sit down and shut up since our rights don't matter anyway (you can see it here). At least Steve Smith (of ESPN) had the courage to come to our defense. I clearly wouldn’t agree with him on matters of religion, but at least he knows how our Constitution is supposed to work and what rights we Americans have.

Like every other atheist who has commented on this issue, I was disappointed Zahn did not have an atheist on the panel when thee topic of discussion was discrimination against atheists. However, the format of the show doesn’t really lend itself to a balanced discussion on every issue since it has the same guests throughout the entire episode, so I guess I can understand. Besides, Zahn seemed rather surprised to see that nobody wanted to defend atheists. I can understand that much, I guess. But then a number of atheists contacted Hunter and Schlussel, and the responses the two women have given are downright appalling.

Starting with Karen Hunter, a person using the name CDG posted an email conversation with Hunter on Richard Dawkins’ website. Here are some of Hunter’s more revealing quotes:

You choose to be an atheist. I
didn't choose to be black. I have never seen a sign that read:
Christians Only. You never had to sit at the back of the bus because
you're an atheist and I cannot recall a single atheist being hung from
a tree or drag from behind a truck until his limbs fell or shot at 50
times just because he was an atheist.

You chose to be an atheist. You weren't born that way. It's a belief
system and no one has to know unless you walk around with a sign or
throw in people's faces. Live and let live. Do what you want. But if I
believe that this society lacks morality and I believe that the kids in
my neighborhood would be better served by having a little of that in
their lives, please don't go to the Supreme Court to ensure that they

The person taking part in the email exchange should have gotten off the issue of race and turned to the fact that Hunter chooses to be a Christian. Since she thinks something you choose is not a right, does that mean she has no right to defend her faith? She completely invalidates her entire argument. Plus, I don’t think anyone is saying that atheists have it as bad as blacks did, but that doesn’t mean we should put up with people being chased from their communities just because of their faith or lack thereof. Besides, so what if you choose your religion but not your race? They’re both matters of equality. Further down the thread on the Dawkins website, Kingasaurus left this comment, which I agree with completely:

Someone needs to tell Karen Hunter that freedom of thought and speech is just as important as racial equality. The fact that one "chooses" religious belief and doesn't choose skin color is a completely irrelevant comment and is a distinction that is completely meaningless in the context of this discussion.

The fact that you can change your mind about your religion and not your race DOESN'T MATTER. The principles of freedom and being treated fairly by the society at large are the same in both cases.

The irony is that it wasn't that long ago that a black woman couldn't be elected dog catcher. The fact that an honest atheist still can't be elected in America seems not to bother her one bit, and she can't see the parallels between the two situations. The differences between blacks and atheists in the context of what they are/were fighting for are meaningless details, but that's what she focuses on because the opinions of atheists are so incredibly foreign to her way of thinking.

Principles should transcend any particular difference of opinion you have with someone else. If you can't do that, look in the mirror.

In the end, I guess Karen Hunter is simply unable to empathize with someone who has different beliefs. It’s sad and extremely narrow-minded, but no surprise there. I am surprised that she's a Pulitzer Prize winning author. Someone that ignorant shouldn't be eligible.

Debbie Schlussel, on the other hand, is even more ignorant and far more hateful. On her blog, she posted a response to the whole incident with the asinine title “When Atheists a/k/a Future Muslims Attack.”

I don't mind receiving the atheist hate mail, since I know that in a few years, many of these same people will either be Muslim extremists (redundant) or helping the country fall further in its fight against the creep of Islamic imposition on America . . . or both.

Look at famous atheists and what happened to them. Adam Gadahn a/k/a Azzam Al-Amriki--now a top Al-Qaeda video "personality"--was raised by his hippie Jewish father and equally bizarre gentile mother as an atheist. And look how he turned out. Ditto for hippie-spawn John Walker Lindh.

Those two people are enemies of America, and many of those who think like them are of equally weak mind. If you don't believe in anything, you'll easily fall for virtual nothings. That's why Europe is so quickly turning Islamist--because atheism dominates and Christianity is rapidly dying there. Over there, the number one cause for which atheists are suddenly finding "god" is Islam.

Over here, as I pointed out on CNN, atheists are on the attack against religion and G-d only when Christians and Jews are involved, not when Muslims and Islam are. A Christian prayer at a public school graduation or football game? Send in the ACLU lawyers. A Muslim prayer at a high school football game in Dearbornistan? Suddenly, when the "Religion of Peace" is involved, atheists boast extreme tolerance and display ultimate deference. No lawsuits. Ever. And the Muslim prayers continue.

To start off with, she clearly has a deep-seated hatred towards Muslims. That should be enough to condemn her right there. How dare she even accuse atheists of hatred when she can’t help but reveal her own bigotry? Then where does she get her data about atheists in Europe converting to Islam? She provides no source, so I have a guess: straight out of her imagination. It’s not a big secret that Europe has had a huge influx of Muslim immigrants. Just do a simple Google search and you’ll see what I mean.

Next, I’d like to see any proof that there have been Muslim prayers in American public schools, but I bet this “fact” also comes from her overactive imagination. If any government-funded school tried to impose a Muslim prayer on their students, I guarantee the ACLU would be the first ones to stand up and file a lawsuit.

Unfortunately, someone showed that atheists can be just as stupid and took it upon himself to post “whore” several thousand times in Schlussel’s comments section. I just had to groan when I saw that. Name calling is never helpful. It closes people off from discussion. Anyway, I digress.

Despite the sheer bigotry this episode revealed, perhaps it will be a blessing (figuratively, of course) in disguise. Hopefully, it will alert people to the issue and show them that we will not tolerate open hatred against us nor should anyone else who believes in the American ideals of freedom and equality. This country will not have true religious freedom until all religions, or lack thereof, are seen equally.

Atheist Ethicist also has a great post on the subject.

I highly recommend you take the time to read it.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Evangelicals Get One Gay Freebie

I missed this on my last post dealing with this subject, but it turns out the Inquisition--I mean the four ministers reviewing Ted Haggard's "immoral conduct" feel that Haggard is "completely heterosexual" because he only had homosexual relations with one man. From CNN:

Haggard also said his sexual contact with men was limited to the former male prostitute who came forward with sexual allegations, the Rev. Tim Ralph of Larkspur told The Denver Post for a story in Tuesday's edition.

"He is completely heterosexual," Ralph said. "That is something he discovered. It was the acting-out situations where things took place. It wasn't a constant thing."

Ralph said the board spoke with people close to Haggard while investigating his claim that his only extramarital sexual contact happened with Mike Jones. The board found no evidence to the contrary.

So, this sends a great message for homosexual evangelicals still in the closet: it's okay to have gay sex as long as it's only with one person. You're only gay when you have gay sex with a second man. What a load of crap.

Undoubtedly, they're trying to save face while ignoring Haggard's truly immoral actions. What about the bold faced lies he told to his wife and his congregation? Shouldn't that be the more important issue here? I guess integrity and isn't nearly as important to evangelicals as sexual orientation, which people cannot help. I hold this as further evidence that fundamental Christianity is morally bankrupt.

DaveScot: When Good Science Goes Bad. Yeah, Right

DaveScot of the ID blog Uncommon Descent recently had a post titled "Glodal Warming is not Due to Human Contribution of Carbon Dioxide." I suspect this comes on the heels of the UN Global Warming Panel's report that humans are at fault for the phenomenon. What is DaveScot's source? Why, an article from notorious global warming denier Timothy Ball, who calls himself Canada's first PhD climatologist. However, there's a few small problems with Ball's credentials, courtesy of desmogblog.com:

Ball and the oil industry
Ball is listed as a "consultant" of a Calgary-based global warming skeptic organization called the "Friends of Science" (FOS). In a January 28, 2007 article in the Toronto Star, the President of the FOS admitted that about one-third of the funding for the FOS is provided by the oil industry. In an August, '06 Globe and Mail feature, the FOS was exposed as being funded in part by the oil and gas sector and hiding the fact that they were. According to the Globe and Mail, the oil industry money was funnelled through the Calgary Foundation charity, to the University of Calgary and then put into an education trust for the FOS.

Ball inflates credentials
Ball and organizations he is affiliated with have repeatedly made the claim that he is the "first Canadian PhD in climatology." Even further, Ball once claimed he was "one of the first climatology PhD's in the world." As many people have pointed out, there have been many PhD's in the field prior to Ball.

Ball and the NRSP
Ball is listed as an "Executive" for a Canadian group called the "Natural Resource Stewardship Project," (NRSP) a lobby organization that refuses to disclose it's funding sources. The NRSP is led by executive director Tom Harris and Dr. Tim Ball. An Oct. 16, 2006 CanWest Global news article on who funds the NRSP, it states that "a confidentiality agreement doesn't allow him [Tom Harris] to say whether energy companies are funding his group."

Ball's research history
Ball retired from the University of Winnipeg in 1996 and a search of 22,000 academic journals shows that, over the course of his career, Ball has published 4 pieces of original research in a peer-reviewed journal on the subject of climate change Ball has not published any new research in the last 11 years.

Ball sues researcher and Calgary Herald newspaper
On Sept. 1, Ball, launched a libel suit against Dr. Dan Johnson, a current Professor of Environmental Science at the University of Lethbridge and a Tier 1 Canada Research Chair in Sustainable Grassland Ecosystems. Here are the original Statements of Claim and Defence.

Now, I know DaveScot loves to point out these "rebels" who fight against the unyielding scientific establishment. To him, it seems like proof that the efforts to keep ID out of schools is simply scientific dogma. As DaveScot says:

This is what happens when good science goes bad. It’s the same story with orthodox evolution theory.

Too bad he tries to use a liar with a severe conflict of interest to try and prove his point. Hmm...sounds just like an ID advocate. No wonder DaveScot likes him. Better luck next time.

Update: An anonymous commenter left a sweet link that further exposes Ball's lies. It's a list of all the Canadian climatologists prior to Ball. Check it out and see for yourself. Thanks anonymous.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Finally, Someone Can Show Me Why God Killed All Those Children

Someone calling himself or herself Bet left and interesting link (and nothing else) in one of my comments sections. I can only assume from the content of the linked article that Bet wanted to turn me away from my wicked ways in an attempt to save my soul from eternal damnation. While I appreciate the concern, I wanted to take the time to address the article.

Written by Ray comfort, the article comes from ChristianAnswers.net and is a three pronged attack against atheism. In the first part, Comfort tries to show how a loving god can exist when we have terrible natural disasters like the tsunami on Dec 26, 2004 that killed a quarter of a million people. Comfort poses a worthwhile point:

Tell that to those who were burying tens of thousands of human corpses after the tsunami hit. Tell that to the fathers who hold the dead bodies of their beloved children in their arms, or to the relatives of those who died of horrific diseases. It doesn't take much intelligence to realize that if there is a God who created all things, He must be all-powerful. Nothing is impossible for Him. He therefore could have easily prevented unspeakable agony by simply lifting His finger off the earthquake button. But He didn't.

How does Comfort reconcile this with his beliefs? Oh, it’s amazing:

A quick look at Jeremiah 9:21-24 gives the answer to this intellectual dilemma. How could God be loving and yet allow suffering? The Bible tells us that He is in control, and that He does send judgments to this earth. God is love, but He's also just and holy and if He gave us what we deserve, the tsunami of His holiness would sweep us all into Hell.

Imagine you have knowledge that a bridge has been washed out by a terrible storm, on a dark and moonless night. You stop all approaching cars and say, "The bridge that spans a thousand-foot chasm has been washed away! Please turn your vehicle around." The violence of the storm itself is enough to convince any thinking driver that you are speaking the truth, and those who have the sense to believe you do turn around.

Tsunamis, terrible diseases, agonizing cancers, massive earthquakes, devastating tornados, killer hurricanes, awful suffering, and death itself are very real and violent storms that should be enough to convince any thinking person that our warning is true.

The message of Christianity isn't one of God wanting to better this life for humanity. It is one of warning of a terrible fate in store for those who continue on the road of sin. We are told by God's Word that there are two deaths on the highway to Hell. The first death is when we leave the storms of this life and pass into timeless eternity. The second death is the chasm of eternal damnation. It is the terrifying justice of a holy God.

Thanks, Ray. You pretty much confirmed my feeling that fundamental Christianity is a death cult obsessed with suffering. I’m sure God smote the thousands of children who died in that disaster for their wickedness. Doesn’t the Bible say children are innocent? I guess that doesn’t apply to evil, heathen babies.

Plus, I’m sure all the children in the remote, coastal villages of Southeast Asia really had a chance to hear the messenger warning them of the washed out bridge. Is it their fault they didn’t even get an opportunity to hear Christian teachings? If God punishes people for not believing in something they never even heard of, then God is a real bastard.

Next, Comfort goes into a variation of Pascal’s wager suggesting that a person might as well believe in a Christian afterlife to spare the torment of hell. Sorry, but I can’t just make myself believe in something without evidence. Pretending to believe won't be actual belief.

Finally, Comfort tries to prove that atheists don’t actually exist. He uses the same tired argument:

Let's say that you know an incredible one percent of all the knowledge in the universe. To know 100 percent, you would have to know everything. There wouldn't be a rock in the universe that you would not be intimately familiar with, or a grain of sand that you would not be aware of. You would know everything that has happened in history, from that which is common knowledge to the minor details of the secret love life of Napoleon's great-grandmother's black cat's fleas. You would know every hair of every head, and every thought of every heart. All history would be laid out before you, because you would be omniscient (all-knowing).

Bear in mind that one of the greatest scientists who ever lived, Thomas Edison, said, "We do not know a millionth of one percent about anything." Let me repeat: Let's say that you have an incredible one percent of all the knowledge in the universe. Would it be possible, in the ninety-nine percent of the knowledge that you haven't yet come across, that there might be ample evidence to prove the existence of God? If you are reasonable, you will be forced to admit that it is possible. Somewhere, in the knowledge you haven't yet discovered, there could be enough evidence to prove that God does exist.

Okay Ray, so you suggest we just accept something on blind faith for which you have no evidence? The problem is that he assumes atheists are 100% convinced there is no God. That’s not the case. I certainly can’t speak for all atheists, but my beliefs are driven by evidence. If there was actually tangible evidence for a God, then I would admit my error, but I won’t accept the existence of a God without it. Why? Because something that does not exist will not leave evidence. It’s like me claiming there’s an invisible dragon under my bed. Using Comfort’s argument, he’d better accept that the dragon lives there because he isn’t omniscient. He’d also better accept every god that people have ever worshiped because he isn’t omniscient.

Now, I can easily admit that the evidence for God's existence might be out there. Does that make me agnostic? Sure, whatever, but it's nothing more than semantics. I simply won’t waste my time worrying about something that isn’t real enough to leave evidence. I’d rather spend my time actually helping people and doing what I can to improve the world in this life. If there is a god and helping others doesn’t get me into his good graces, then he’s not a god worth believing in.

However, I'd assert that, everyone is atheist to an extent. As Richard Dawkins said:

We are all atheists with regard to most of the gods of history. Some of us just go one god further.

He's Cured!

After an intensive three weeks of treatment, Ted Haggard has been officially cured of his gayness. The Denver Post reported the following:

The Rev. Ted Haggard emerged from three weeks of intensive counseling convinced he is "completely heterosexual" and told an oversight board that his sexual contact with men was limited to his accuser.

Wow, that's enough to convince me that homosexuality is a choice. Despite the copious scientific evidence proving otherwise, I can't argue with this. But, come to think of it, I'm sure I would agree to just about anything after three weeks of intensive guilt tripping from a group of overbearing fundamentalists. It's really sad that Haggard can't admit who he actually is. He has to keep living a lie.

Then in a move suggesting that the New Life Church leadership doesn't believe their own bullshit, the Denver Post had this to say:

In the message, Haggard revealed that he and his wife, Gayle, intend to leave Colorado Springs and pursue master's degrees through online courses.

Haggard mentioned Missouri and Iowa as possible destinations. Another oversight board member, the Rev. Mike Ware of Westminster, said the group recommended the move out of town, and the Haggards agreed.

"This is a good place for Ted," Ware said. "It's hard to heal in Colorado Springs right now. It's like an open wound. He needs to get somewhere he can get the wound healed

I see. Haggard is "cured," but he still needs to be banished. If he was really cured, what would be the problem? I guess the church doesn't want Haggard tainting the entire congregation with his suppressed gay thoughts. What happened to the Christian ideal of being forgiving? I guess that doesn't apply to things people have no control over. It's really quite disgusting and helps highlight the moral bankruptcy of fundamental Christianity. They're on the same level of morality as the segregationists of the 20th century (unsurprisingly, it was fundamentalist Christians then too). If Americans really want to be seen as a caring, moral people, then we need to throw off this unethical mentality and embrace the idea that all people are equal.