Monday, April 30, 2007

My Beliefs: We Make Our Own Purpose in Life

I haven't written one of these in a while, but today I thought I'd write about a belief that's a major component of my worldview. If you've read much of anything I've posted here, you know I don't believe in the existence of a god. I won't go into the reasons why here, but I do not see a grand plan in the universe. However, contrary to what many theists believe about atheism, that does not mean I think that life is pointless. I do not believe we are all doomed to suffer meaningless lives just because there is no paternal figure in the sky watching after us. Instead, I feel we can and should make our own purpose in life.

Obviously, this is an entirely relativist position, which means that different people will come up with wildly different meanings for their lives, for better or worse. While this may not sit well with many people, to make claims against the reality of relativism is to deny the ample evidence of human history. Certainly, the Nazis did terrible things because they made their ideology their purpose in life, and other similarly distasteful individuals have found insidious purposes for their lives. However, that doesn't mean that people can't put forth the same amount of effort towards something positive. Whenever there's a major disaster, people turn out in droves to help, and aid money pours in to finance the recovery. This is not the work of a god showing his mercy. It's the efforts of a group of people working together to do something positive. In much the same way, the Nazis and Japanese were not stopped by an act of god. It took the herculean efforts of several nations over six years to end that nightmare.

Before I get into too much more of a tanget, Id like to make my point. Even though I believe we might be alone in the spiritual sense, there are still over 6 billion other people in this world sharing the human experience. When enough of us come together, we can either do works of great evil or do truly amazing things that greatly improve the richness of all our lives. It's your choice which path you choose. You just have to be willing to deal with how your fellow humans will view your actions. As far as I see it, we don't need to please anyone other than those with whom we share this planet. Technically, we don't need to please anyone. However, my position is that I want to make the world a better place for future generations so they have lives that are even more fulfilling than my own. If you want to suffer trying to appease a being who refuses to reciprocate, that's fine by me. I'm going to enjoy life and do whatever I can to help others do the same. If that makes me a bad person, so be it.

My Work is Done!

I finally finished my thesis and my other minor papers, so the five of you that read this should start seeing regular posts once again...until my schedule fills up again in July. At any rate, I'll be ranting strong until then.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Best Pro-Choice Argument I've Seen in a While

There's nothing like personal experience to put a debate in context. More often than not the pro-choice/pro-life debate comes down to nothing more than rhetoric and ideology, particularly on the pro-life side of the debate. That's one reason I don't like to get involved in abortion debates. There's simply too much emotion involved. Plus, I'm a male, so I don't think it's my place to decide what a woman does with her body, anyway. However, the aspect that most pro-lifers tend to forget is how their desired results would affect the actual people involved.

I came across a heart-wrenching post (thanks to Pharyngula) about a husband who had to struggle with this very problem. In it, the author relates an instance where his wife and he did not want an abortion, but complications made it increasingly likely the mother would die without one, and, due to her condition, placed the decision squarely on the husbad's shoulders. More than anything, it shows how government involvment in a difficult time would simply make it even worse.

It's an eye-opening article, so check it out.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

We All Knew This Was Coming

It was only a matter of time before some creationist hack blamed the Virginia Tech shooting on evolution. I'm surprised it took this long (of course, it could have come sooner, this is just the first instance that came to my attention). What's not surprising is that it came from Ken Ham, the founder of the creationist organization Answers in Genesis.

Here's some of what Ham had to say:

We live in an era when public high schools and colleges have all but banned God from science classes. In these classrooms, students are taught that the whole universe, including plants and animals—and humans—arose by natural processes. Naturalism (in essence, atheism) has become the religion of the day and has become the foundation of the education system (and Western culture as a whole). The more such a philosophy permeates the culture, the more we would expect to see a sense of purposelessness and hopelessness that pervades people’s thinking. In fact, the more a culture allows the killing of the unborn, the more we will see people treating life in general as “cheap.”

I’m not at all saying that the person who committed these murders at Virginia Tech was driven by a belief in millions of years or evolution. I don’t know why this person did what he did, except the obvious: that it was a result of sin. However, when we see such death and violence, it is a reminder to us that without God’s Word (and the literal history in Genesis 1–11), people will not understand why such things happen.

Now how does Ham support this conclusion? Well, he begins his tirade with this:

When such terrible acts occur (and sadly, random violence is occurring more frequently these days)...

Now that's an unsubstantiated assertion if I ever heard one. Of course, Ham never bothers to offer evidence. If he tried, it would simply counter his claim that things are much worse now than they used to be. Now, I like to live in reality, and the reality is that things are not worse now than they have been before. In fact, violent crimes dropped dramatically in 1994. Unlike Ken Ham, I will use evidence. Here's a good chart from the US Bureau of Justice Statistics:

Hmm. Crimes are lower than they used to be, but the theory of evolution was still taught in schools from 1994 onwards. What do you make of that Mr. Ham?

More than anything, this "it's much worse now than it used to be" is a common myth the Religious Right uses to justify imposing their narrow ideology on the nation. It's simply a lie to justify taking away our freedoms.

Now, we can also look at a time when Western Civilization was completely grounded in Christianity and Biblical principles to test Ham's claim that it would make society a perfect utopia. There's only one problem for Ham. The best example of a Biblical-based society was in the Middle Ages. During that time, there were no random acts of violence whatsoever, right? Oh wait, it was one of the most violent periods of human history.

In reality, the Virginia Tech shooting was a result of one thing: humans are inherently violent. We always have been. We probably always will be. It's unfortunate, but it's the reality of our existence. Violence didn't suddenly appear in 1859 when Darwin published Origin of Species. Certainly, this heinous crime is a tragedy, and we must do everything we can to prevent it from happening in the future. However, it will take a rational look at this particular situation to find proper deterrents. Using it to justify an assault on our free society is not only wrong, but it is a dispicable way of using another's tragedy for your own purposes.

Ken Ham, you make me sick.

Thanks to Respectful Insolence for bringing this to my attention.

Debbie Schlussel: Muslims Must Have Done It

First off, I want to say how saddened I am by the shootings at Virginia Tech yesterday. It's always despicable when someone decides to use violence against their fellow human beings. My thoughts are with the families of the victims in the hopes that they will find the solace to cope with and overcome this tragedy.

I also hoped that people would not use this tragedy as an excuse to try and validate their intolerances, but I guess I hoped for too much because Debbie Schlussel has already done so.

You may or may not remember Debbie Schlussel. She was the woman who showed her ignorance and bigotry towards athiests on CNN and then continued to look like an intolerant dumbass on her blog afterwards when she insisted that atheism makes people Muslim extremists (see my post on the subject here). Anyway, she has come to my attention once again (thanks to Pharyngula) when she decided to open her mouth on the Virginia Tech shootings. Who did she blame without any evidence? Why Muslims, of course.

Why am I speculating that the "Asian" gunman is a Pakistani Muslim? Because law enforcement and the media strangely won't tell us more specifically who the gunman is. Why?

Even if it does not turn out that the shooter is Muslim, this is a demonstration to Muslim jihadists all over that it is extremely easy to shoot and kill multiple American college students.

Now, I know she's Jewish, and there's a bit of bad blood between Jews and Muslims, but come on. This is hysteria plain and simple. Without hearing anything beyond the fact that the shooter was "Asian", Schlussel immediately assumed it was the ubiquitous "Muslim terrorist" because the police and media won't say who it is. Right. So the media has stopped all information on this case from reaching the public? Vast, left-wing conspiracy, eh?

Now, I know Schlussel is quite the conspiracy theorist (she also thinks rising atheism in Europe is making Europeans fundamentalist Muslims, nevermind the fact that there's been a massive influx of immigrants from the Middle East), but this is rediculous. In the case of the identity of the VT shooter, the answer is probably the most pedestrian. It's an ongoing investigation and the police rarely release the names of suspects for the first few days. Look at what happened after Columbine. It took a couple of days before the police released any of their findings.

Debbie, how about you wait for the facts and keep your hysterics to a minimum? If it's a problem with anxiety, Im sure your doctor can prescribe something to help you out.

Of course, when it came out that the shooter was actually Chinese and not a Pakistani Muslim, Schlussel immediately posted this update:
The shooter has now been identified as a Chinese national here on a student visa. Lovely. Yet another reason to stop letting in so many foreign students.
Okay, so maybe she not a conspiracy theorist. She's just scared of everyone who isn't white. Damn xenophobe.

Why Fundamentalists Struggle to Maintain Their Numbers

Daily Kos has a great article by Mary about why fundamentalists struggle to maintain their numbers in the modern, scientific world. The title, "Who Are You Going to Trust, Me or Your Lying Eyes?", basically spells out the central idea of the essay that the younger generation has trouble rejecting reality enough to buy into the fundamentalist nonsense since science and reason does a much better job appealing to a person's common sense.

I can't speak from experience. I grew up in a casually religious family, so there was never an insistence to adhere to any rigid dogma. However, the conclusions in Mary's article seem reasonable to me because, when it came to choosing one worldview or the other, I quickly went with the one that conformed to reality.

At any rate, the article gives me hope that the continued march of science will bring a slow death to the scourge of religious fundamentalism. Call me an optimist, but it keeps me going.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Oh that South Park

I am moved to post again because I recently view an episode of South Park that had particularly interesting social/political overtones. The recent episode entitled Cartman Sucks had in it, among other crude attempts at humor, a rather interesting social dynamic involving the naive character Butters. After being tricked by Cartman, Butter's father catches him performing what appears to be a homosexual act and immediately questions Butters. Not knowing what is going on, Butters admits that he is confused as to his gender preference referred to in the episode as "bicurious." Butter's parents’ solution is to send him to a camp to "Pray the Gay Away" but unfortunately for the camp administration, the "confused" campers continually commit suicide. Butters, who is not actually gay, eventually saves the life of a fellow camper about to commit suicide by standing up and declaring that it is ok to be "bicurious" because essentially God made them that way. Though he has no idea what is really going on, Butters and South Park, in their crude yet humorous way that we have all grown to love, have hit upon an important point that has long gone un-recognized in society.

Homosexuality is not a choice. People do not choose to face the ridiculing scorn of an un-accepting public. They do not choose to be ostracized, told they are wrong, and forced to either pretend to be something they are not or worse yet, kill themselves. In one instance in the episode the campers are exposed to a clergyman who has been supposedly "cured" of his gayness. Yet he is the most gay of all of them. Homosexuality is not a disease, it is not a choice, and it is not evil. God (editor's note: notice this is GreatScott! and not me who wrote this. I promise I haven't radically changed my worldview in the last few hours--J-Bar) makes everyone; God loves his children. The God I worship does not love conditionally. He does not punish his children for being different. All that should matter is how you treat other people and the world around you, for God has made everyone in his imagine, not just the select few of fundamentalist Christians who see fight to oppress those who disagree with them. I would have thought we Christians of this world to have learned the lesson the Romans taught us so very long ago. That is violence and hatred will not snuff out people. Trying to destroy what you do not understand will sooner destroy you. We treat homosexuals as the ancient Romans treated us and we should be ashamed.

We could all stand to learn a thing or two from the naive idealism encapsulated in the character Butters.

Are Geeks More Likely to be Atheist?

Okay, I have a confession to make: I'm a huge geek. I mean, I can tell you the name of the fictional company that made the equally fictional Star Destroyers in Star Wars, and that's common knowledge for Star Wars geeks. You don't even want to see how far I can go with this, but I'm comfortable with it.

Anyway, I came across an interesting article (thanks to Five Public Opinons) that talks about the positive correlation between being a geek and having an atheist worldview. The authors rightly avoid the "geeks are smarter" argument and instead argue:

...geeks are not atheists simply because they may know "more" but also because they choose to think differently (whether or not they think superiorly is a question for another debate).

I think the authors make some good points, so check it out and see what you think.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Blog Against Theocracy: The Problem With End Timers

All this weekend, a plethora of secularist bloggers are blogging against theocracy. To start off my humble contribution, I wanted to repost a little missive I wrote last year to hold you over while I get some new stuff ready:

First, let me tell you who End Timers are. They are the bulk of the evangelical right who believe that the book of Revelations accurately predicts the second coming of Jesus. When this happens there will be plagues, natural disasters, genocide, war, etc. Luckily for Christians, they think they’ll be “ruptured” into heaven to dance and party with Jesus until the end of time. Meanwhile, back on Earth, the Antichrist will call all the nonbelievers to his side to destroy the remaining Christians (poor bastards, I guess they didn’t believe enough in the first place). Luckily, Jesus will come back in seven years as a superhero and smite the forces of the Antichrist, judge all of humanity, and then reign on Earth for the next thousand years. And it’s all going to start in the next fifty years. Don’t believe me? Read the Left Behind series by Tim Lahay. This money grubber lays it out exactly how fundamental Christians think it will happen.

The problem with prophecy is that it can become self-fulfilling. Evangelicals today want to do everything they can to hasten Jesus’ return. They support war in the Middle East, refuse to allow Israel to give up land to the Palestinians, and don’t care about global warming. Why? Because these are the events that will hasten Jesus’ second coming. That’s all well and good…unless it’s not what Revelations means at all.

The idea of the Rapture first appeared in the 1800s. It’s not an ancient belief at all. Furthermore, the author of Revelations was writing for a contemporary audience. The Christians of the time rightly feared the Romans and believed that Jesus was going to come back and destroy the Roman Empire in the same generation. But here Christians are 2000 years later, still waiting for Jesus to save them.

Because of the control the RR (Religious Right) has on our government (not to mention our born again President) through the Republican Party, this belief in the End Time permeates through government policy. Bush rejected the Kyoto Treaty to stop global warming, and believes that he is doing God’s work in Iraq. It also widens the division between religions until there is no chance for reconciliation. It’s all ludicrous. When people stop caring about this world, what happens to this one? What do we leave our children? This belief in prophecy must stop if we want to survive as a species and give our descendents a decent place to live.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Supreme Court Rules Against Bush Administration

Sorry for the lack of posts lately. Between school work and my laziness, I just haven't had the desire lately. However, there was an interesting development yesterday.

Surprisingly, the Supreme Court Ruled yesterday on Massachusetts v. EPA deciding 5-4 against the EPA. The case decided whether or not the EPA has an obligation to enforce the Clean Air Act and, if they choose not to, states can enforce it instead.

The Bush Administration had claimed that the Clean Air Act did not give the EPA the right to regulate carbon dioxide emissions. However, the states and environmental groups filing suit pursauded enough of the court that carbon dioxide emissions pose a serious threat to their security and that the EPA must follow its own regulations.

Even better, the majority opinion said that if the EPA doesn't want to regulate specific emissions, it must provide valid, scientific proof that the emissions are not harmful rather than a set of unrelated objections. Since the scientific community pretty much agrees on the reality of global warming, that makes it extremely difficult for the EPA to refuse to act.

Perhaps now this ruling will force the EPA to finally do its job regardless of any kicking and screaming coming from the White House.

Read more at the New York Times.

The part of thise ruling is the fact that the court doesn't seem to have become crazy conservative with Bush's appointees. Of course, they were both amongst the dissenters along with Scalia and Thomas, but that's to be expected. Perhaps the Court is less liberal, but I can live with a moderate one as long as it doesn't destroy all the progessive gains that have been made over the past half century. It gives me hope that they'll rule properly in Hein v. Freedom From Religion Foundation over whether or not taxpayers can file suit against the unconstitutional Faith-Based Initiatives. I suppose only time will tell.