Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Well, it's nice to know she's not nuts or anything

By now this story, about some pathetic cult member who has pled guilty to the starvation death of her infant son provided the charges are dropped once he comes back to life (a condition I imagine the DA's office gleefully agreed to), has made the rounds. It would be easily to laugh at this kind of arch-stupid irrationality if it weren't for the fact it claims the lives of innocent victims. Here's a poor little kid who died because the adult charged with his care was a deluded idiot, in the thrall of similar deluded idiots. The cult she belonged to was something called "One Mind Ministries". Replace "One" with "No" and you're a little closer to the mark.

It's also tempting to comfort yourself with the reassurance that, at least, this is the sort of thing that takes place in lunatic fringe cults, and fortunately mainstream religion, risible as it is, doesn't go around killing and hurting its kids as much. This is the point where it's helpful to be reminded of the tens of thousands of kids sexually molested by benign, trusted, avuncular Catholic priests, and the numerous cases of parents, not belonging to some wacko church obviously on the farthest of far-out fringes, arrested and charged with killing their kids by refusing to take them to doctors for easily treatable illnesses, preferring "faith" healing and prayer instead.

Unreason kills. Period. That one form of unreason happens to gain mainstream acceptance over others makes it no less an example of unreason, and no less dangerous. It's time to deprogram, not just extremist nutjobs like Ria Ramkissoon, but the whole frackin' human race from this insidious thing called religious faith.

Monday, March 30, 2009


We had a caller on the March 22nd show who was hearing impaired and we attempted to interact with him via a TTY service. Unfortunately, we didn't get very far with the caller as the interaction was so painful, but he did get out a rather strange phrase having to do with abortion. Matt and I didn't get gist of the call, so we moved on.

Some of our sharper fans figured out what the caller was trying to say. He was quoting a rather amusing book title, "BIRTH CONTROL IS SINFUL IN THE CHRISTIAN MARRIAGES and also ROBBING GOD OF PRIESTHOOD CHILDREN!!". It's being sold on Amazon and it's worth checking out if you'd like a chuckle. Especially check out the description (mostly capital letters), reviews of the book, and its price. If it weren't so expensive, it might make a nice book for a devout family member.

So, thanks to our caller. The message finally got through.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Recent headline roundup

I've been away from the blog several days, but the slack has been more than capably taken up by the rest of the team. Thought I'd pop by with a quick post today with my observations on some recent events in the news and around the globe.

A: Nothing fails like prayer.

Just in is this report about the imprisonment of a Tunisian charter pilot in Italy. It seems that, instead of taking the proper emergency measures when his plane started going down, he chose to pray instead. Result: 16 dead. Now, Christians might gloat that this fellow was Muslim, and therefore this proves that Allah (who is just the Abrahamic God in a different outfit, but hey...) is a false God. And they would, of course, be ignoring all the times that their own prayers fail. But there's an easy way to test this. The next time a Christian finds himself in an out-of-control aircraft plummeting towards a fiery doom, then he should simply pray. We'll see how well he gets out of it.

B: He must be really counting on that "forgiveness" thing!

And here's a hilarious piece about Baptist minister Henry L. Lyons, who is running for the presidency of a prominent organization of African-American Baptist churches. What's the big deal? Well, only that ten years ago, he held that very position, only to be forced out of it when it was revealed he'd been embezzling millions from the org in order to support his luxury lifestyle, which included more than one mistress. Ah, that superior Christian morality! Can you get enough of it?

Anyway, it all went sour for Lyons when his wife twigged to his extramarital dalliances and burned down one of the homes he shared with a mistress. Go girl! Lyons was later convicted of racketeering and fraud and did some time. And now, he's not only a pastor once again, he running for the same office he stole from! The man must need a wheelbarrow to carry around balls that big.

"I prefer building on the present and the future and being as positive as possible and really don't want to go back to that era and talk about those negatives," says Lyons. We'll see if Baptist voters share his forward-looking positivity.

C: Reeeding iz hawrd!

In Dallas last weekend, an ambitious Christian Book Expo was held, with the goal of connecting "publishers and authors directly with readers in the evangelical Christian market." I expect they overestimated the actual existence of readers in said market, because the expo was a dismal flop, drawing only 1,500 attendees. The hoped-for numbers were in the 15-20,000 range.

Well, is this such a surprise? After all, how many different updated Bible translations does one need? After all, the damn thing's been translated into everything from hip-hop slang to LOLcat, so where else can you go after that? Klingon? And since everyone there has probably already slogged their way through the Left Behind saga, what's the big draw? Oh well. Maybe they just weren't promoting Ray Comfort's new book enough?

D: Uh-oh! Is atheism vanquished?

It looks as if we have ironclad proof of God's existence after all! I mean, I don't what else you could possibly call this!

And a quick PS: Only 16 more T-shirt orders needed to get the second print run going. Thanks to all!

When Does Ignorance Become an "Answer"?

As you likely know, Texas recently has become the new Kansas as unabashed YEC and school board member Don McElroy pushes for new education standards in Texas science classrooms. The Austin American-Statesman editorial section has become a really interesting read for any interested atheist. An idea was expressed this morning in the letters to the editor by one citizen, and I wanted to add some input. Unfortunately, my response would be longer than the letters section would allow, so, I am adding my input here:

Claim 1: Each spring supernatural garden fairies make my garden grow using magical techniques that are a mystery to my limited human mind. I know this is true, because I have seen my garden grow each spring. And I can demonstrate to others that my garden grows each spring; so, my garden fairy belief is not based on ignorant faith, because I have demonstrable evidence to support it.

Claim 2: In the beginning, a supernatural being made the whole universe exist using magical techniques that are a mystery to limited human minds. A letter-writer knows this is true, I am guessing, because he/she can see the universe exists. And he/she can demonstrate to others that the universe exists; so, his/her god belief is not based on ignorant faith, since he/she has evidence to support it.

In a letter to the editor in this morning’s Austin American-Statesman, Pat H. noted that science has no answers, but “God does.”

The difference between my fairy claim and Pat’s god claim is that more people believe Pat’s claim, and Pat’s claim (assuming Pat is basing this claim on the Bible—and statically speaking, here in Austin—there are pretty good odds of that) comes with a few thousand pages of pretty much irrelevant window dressing to distract adherents from the fact that the claim is nothing more than a promotion of willful human ignorance.

I'm thinking Pat would likely reject my fairy claim.

So, my question is this: How many distracting details and adherents do I need to add to my fairy story before it stops being a promotion of willful human ignorance and becomes an “answer”?

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Shameless self-promotion

The exceptionally intelligent and discerning students that comprise the Penn State Non-Theists have, as a demonstration of their great wisdom, arranged to fly me to their fine University to address an audience of however-many-show-up.

They've setup a Facebook page for the event and I've decided that I'd rather not speak to an empty room when there are hundreds of seats that we could fill with people of varying beliefs. So, if you're in the area, or can be in the area, you're invited as well. If you want to invite some theist friends, feel free.

When: Tuesday, March 31st, 6:30pm-9:00pm.
Where: 101 Chambers, State College, PA

Not coincidentally, March 31st will be my 40th birthday. On the list of 'Great Ways To Spend My 40th Birthday'...this was very near the top. It'll be much better, though, if we fill the room and I get to spend nearly the entire time answering questions and having interesting discussions.

Since mentioning this on my Facebook page, the two questions I've been asked most often are:

1. Will this be recorded?
2. When will you come to [insert city/university here]?

The answer to #1 is: I don't know, but I hope so.
The answer to #2 is: As soon as someone makes the arrangements.

I'll speak pretty much anywhere I'm invited, as long as there's no out-of-pocket expense to me and as long as we can work it around my schedule (I actually have a real job with limited vacation). Several other university groups have asked and I haven't turned anyone down...but so far, only Penn State has managed to follow through.

You're not really going to let your group be shown up by Penn State, are you? Is Penn State really the best university in the world? Are universities in the United States really superior to universities in Tahiti, Greece, Australia, Great Britain and Japan?(I've got a passport and I'm not afraid to use it!) Has Penn State managed to out-do the Atheist Longhorns at UT Austin? It seems they might have...

In all seriousness, if you're able to come to the event, we'd love to have you there. The bigger the turnout, the less actual 'lecture' work I'll be doing in order to accommodate as many questions as possible. I'm much better 'under the gun' (just don't bring a real gun), so let's put me to the test.

It's one week from today. Start planning.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Survey research project

Reader Robert Eldredge sent me a request, and I've decided to post it here on the blog since I didn't get around to mentioning it on the Non-Prophets this weekend:

I am in a research methods class for my graduate school program. Listening to several years of the atheist experience and non-prophets spawned my interest in my research topic: How does the threat or presence of hell effect the relationships and lives between religious and nonreligious people. Because we have no funding I will not actually be doing a full on research study, but merely, an in depth proposal. However, because little to no research has been done on my specific topic (that I have been able to find anyway) I will be doing a little pilot study, one directed at religious people, and one directed at atheists. It would be extremely helpful if you could mention this survey on the air, and/or put it up on the atheist experience blog. While all atheists who want are encouraged to answer, I am specifically looking for those that have religious family members or loved ones. I will be asking about their experiences coming out to those people, or, if they have not, why not. As this is a pilot study and I have nothing to offer the participants but my gratitude, I have worked real hard to keep the survey as short as I possibly can, and I think most will be able to complete it in about 10 to 20 minutes. I will be posting the results of the survey sometime in May at my blog importantandsmart.blogspot.com, or people who are interested can go to a website I set up specifically to publish results of the survey: religionpilotstudy.blogspot.com (I did this so I could direct fundie Christians to a website without the rantings of a liberal atheist). The survey is currently open, but will close Saturday April 4th at 11:45pm eastern time. This should give me about 3 weeks to study the results and put together my proposal to be graded for class.

My end goal is that hopefully more research (hopefully it will be me doing the research!) will be done on this topic. People have differences of opinion on religion, but hopefully, if we understand the emotions and attitudes that go along with the differing opinions, how people react when such things come up, and the reasons for conflict, strategies can be developed in dealing with these situations so that these issues need not tear loving families apart, and suffering over these issues can be minimized.

Go help out with the survey if you feel like it.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Don McLeroy's idea of a real science book

The intrepid crew at the Texas Freedom Network inform us that the reliably moronic Don McLeroy, the creationist dentist who's devoting his career to painting a bullseye on the educations of millions of Texas students, has found a worthy book on the subject of evolution. What might it be, you ask? The Ancestor's Tale? Why Evolution Is True? Or Ken Miller's perennially assigned Biology textbook?

Uh...no. How about: a book-length histrionic rant self-published by a frothing anti-evolution crank named Robert Bowie Johnson, Jr.

Johnson is a wackaloon's wackaloon, a West Point graduate whose pet projects have included tortured reinterpretations of Greek mythology in an effort to show they're simply variants of the Adam & Eve story. Yes, it's bizarre to try to prove your myths have some veracity by referencing other myths; seriously, the guy's position is that Athena is really Eve, therefore, the Bible is true! But that's how nutcases like Johnson think. And nutcases like Johnson think the same way monkeys drive trucks.

Johnson's "thinking" on evolution, which impressed that cretin McLeroy enough for him to refer to the book as "unique," "insightful" and "important," includes such gems as the following.

Creationists do not want to bring religion into the classroom… Creationists simply want the God hypothesis brought back into the science classroom, and recognized for what it is—a scientifically valid hypothesis.

What are they doing coming into all of our elementary schools, all of our junior highs, and all of our high schools with a disguised demand that our children embrace their evoatheism? What are they doing teaching our children that they are descended from worms and reptiles? What are they doing imposing their atheistic religious faith on our children when we’re not around? What are they doing sowing atheism in our schools?

The obvious problem here is that it is simply not possible to be a Christian in any meaningful sense of the word, and at the same time, embrace the tenets of atheistic evolution.

What kind of monster parents teach their children that they’re descended from rodents and reptiles?

Come on in, everybody, especially you kids, and join the great evolutionary festivities! Learning about your descent by chance from worms and reptiles will strengthen your faith in “a creator,” with a small “c,” whoever he is.

So you see the kind of "science" textbook McLeroy thinks "deserves a hearing": a bombastic, hysterical, spittle-flecked tirade by a throughly scientifically illiterate moron, who, like Ben Stein, bases his whole overwrought screed on selling the idea of "Big Science" as some monolithic entity with stormtrooper-like enforcers (the first chapter literally opens with an absurd men-in-black scenario) out to quash dissent.

The egregiousness of all this cannot be condemned forcefully enough, and I encourage everyone far and wide to shine as much light on McLeroy and his pet cockroach Johnson as possible. Bring the absurdity and emotionalism of the creationist anti-science crowd right out into the open, and correct their angry lies with calm, sober scientific facts (which, contrary to Johnson's ravings, do exist to support evolutionary biology in its totality). Let ridicule and derision drive them back into the obscure darkness of their own superstitious fears, where they belong.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

You can't legislate reality away

While the creotards continue to try to push one anti-science, anti-evolution bill after another through their respective state legislatures, under the guise of "academic freedom," the NCSE reports that another one of these has died in committee in Iowa. No one is fooled by their attempts to hide their true agendas — slipping Biblical creationism over the transom into classrooms — but that doesn't seem to stop them. Poor benighted idiots.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Special rights for creationist morons!

Okay, so you may recall how the creationist asstards at the "Institute for Creation Research" (snicker, giggle) couldn't get approval from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board for their proposal to offer an online master's degree in science education, right? There is a very obvious and excellent reason for this: they're a bunch of pseudoscience-peddling frauds, motivated not by a desire to expand humanity's scientific understanding of the world but by a desperate and childish need to protect their precious bronze-age fantasies about an invisible magic sky daddy who's going to give them presents if they're good little boys and girls.

Well, this being Texas, home to quite a few childish idiots of that stripe, the ICR has found a friend in idiot representative Leo Berman, who demonstrates his brilliant scientific acumen with such sagacious statements as "Personally, I don't believe in evolution. I don't believe I came from a salamander that came out of a pond." Berman has — you'll love this — proposed legislation to exempt the ICR from the Coordinating Board's requirements, effectively granting them privileges no other educational body has.

What a great life you have when you're a Christian. Rules don't apply to you! And if the facts don't back up your ideologies, why, just legislate your need to provide those facts away!

But hey, the Texan anti-science onslaught doesn't end there. The aptly named Wayne Christian has proposed the sweeping HB 4224, which, in the words of the TFN, "would open the door to teaching public school students almost any cockamamie concept that any crackpot wants to portray as 'science,' regardless of what mainstream scientists and school administrators have to say about it." This is just another one of those weaselly-worded bogus "academic freedom" bills, which declares that "no student in any public school or institution shall be penalized in any way because he or she subscribes to a particular position on scientific theories or hypotheses..." In other words, if Little Johnny Inbred wants to answer a question on a science test to the effect that covalent bonds are the result of angels holding hands, his teacher couldn't "penalize" him by marking the answer wrong.

I often ask myself, is there no depth of sleaze and dishonesty to which creationist fools won't stoop? And the answer is always no. Remember, they do what they do not because knowledge captivates them, but because they're afraid for their immortal souls.

But...don't be so quick to console yourself that this behavior is the desperate last-ditch flailing of a movement whose race is run and whose horse broke its leg long ago. This kind of stupidity needs to be slammed harder and harder, each time it comes up. Nothing less than the future of an entire generation of minds, let alone America's scientific and economic standing on the global stage, is at risk. These sad, debased little people can live in the 18th century all they like, if it's what keeps their fears at bay. They just have no business dragging those of us moving forward into the 21st century down into their mire with them.

Oh, we get email

Been too busy to blog this weekend, so I thought, just in the interest of moistening the drought around here a little bit, I'd offer up some amusement from the show's inbox.

yup it's hard to satisfy people that God really does exist.

i just wanna know if you believe in evil spirits??
if there are evil spirits, it somehow will state a fact
that there are more of them which the Bible stated
and it could be a link or can be a connection.

I would just want to know
if you guys have tried this ouja board?
it's been known to contact spirits or something evil,
maybe if you could get contact with a spirit,
it would show you things in a different level.

scientists don't believe spirits do exist,
I wonder if they've ever tried using materials people use
to contact spirits.

I want you people to try it,
conduct an experiment with it,
just to state a fact,
or may just it be a theory?

we believers of God can't try it
since we are against to do so for it is a sin
as it was said on the Bible.

Hope i could get a reply once done,
thanks and peace be with you.

Okay, in fairness, I don't think English is this fellow's first language. Still, what he's asking is deliriously fun, isn't it? He seems to think ouija boards are real and not just a quaint parlor game for drunk people who like giving themselves a little scare. And he thinks the only reason scientists don't believe in evil spirits is because they've never played with a ouija board themselves? That's just...adorable! So now he wants us to play with a ouija board and contact an evil spirit, and then tell him what it says.

Sure, happy to help. Here's what I wrote back.

After consulting my ouija board, here's what my local evil spirit had to say: "Pick up bottle of milk, extra cat litter. Plus TiVO Galactica series finale. Peace out."

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Dress godless for teh comfy!

See? Here they are. Sweet, eh? Thing is, you can't have one. All the shirts in that box there? They're all sold. But I am willing to do one more print run. However, I need at least 49 more orders to do so. So flood 'em in, my heathen fashionistas! If you've got one of the RDF scarlet-letter Out Campaign T-shirts in your wardrobe, be assured these are every bit as soft, light and comfy. Rub them against your tender nipple buds. The ecstasy!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

A headline to warm your heart

Some of you have probably already seen this CNN article, with the eye-catching headline "America becoming less Christian, survey finds". Even more full of awesome is the lead.

America is a less Christian nation than it was 20 years ago, and Christianity is not losing out to other religions, but primarily to a rejection of religion altogether, a survey published Monday found. [Emphasis added.]

Still, don't start throwing confetti and popping corks yet. We're a long way from being, say, Norway. The US is still the most benighted country in the civilized world in terms of its addiction to supernaturalist twaddle. Perhaps only Turkey and Saudi Arabia are worse, and as for some of the even more radical Islamist nations, well, we could probably argue about the degree to which they're "civilized" in the first place. I'd be dubious about applying the term to Saudi Arabia even, considering they're still entrenched in attitudes and rules that are indistinguishable from pure barbarism.

The sobering flipside to this shift away from religion is that, among those identifying as Christian (still the humiliating majority), they are shifting further away from traditional denominations and churches, and towards the kind of blinkered, butt-ignorant evangelical fundamentalism represented by the likes of Ray Comfort, Brannon Howse, and the Texas SBOE. So the job of the reality-based community to ensure that such things as science and freethought survive into the 21st century has in fact gotten harder.

The article is, on the whole, typically bad of what you see in the MSM, as they interview numbskulls like the odious Bill Donahue and gay-basher Tony Perkins, while failing to interview anyone representing atheists or the religiously indifferent. But it's still nice to see that the growing rejection of religious idiocy in our country is, at least, being noticed. It's the kind of thing the AE blog and TV show are proud to contribute to.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Does the term "atheist evangelism" acknowledge that atheism is a religion?

Dale writes:


I am 40 years an atheist and have countless communications with theists. The blogoshere has opened a deversified line of communications with theists. I have just watched your lecture series on You Tube and thoroughly enjoyed them.

I am presently debating a theist that is trying to perpetuate the myth that atheism is a religion. He is now pointing out your lectures and saying, "see, they are "evangelizing." That proves that atheism is a religion.

My observation is that using the term "evangelizing" may not have been the best choice of words. I understand that it is meant to mean "carry the message," but it seems that "evangelize" is strictly used in a religious connotation.

I was wondering if you you have had any other feed back on this and how you might respond to my dilemma.

I know you must be very busy but hope you have a moment to respond.

I will be supporting you and the ACA more in the future and keep up the great work that you are doing!

Best Regards,


When I titled my lecture "How atheists can be effective evangelists," of course I was intentionally invoking the obvious religious connotation of the word.  I would say this was partly a joke -- I like to use a little bit of clever wordplay in the titles of my posts and lectures whenever any occurs to me, and I picked the image of an atheist evangelist precisely because the words are so jarring together.

I recognize, though, that it's a problem that atheists grapple with already.  Theists frequently dismiss atheism by saying it's "just another religion" -- which is hilariously ironic, since the implied irrelevance of religion makes our point for us.  But let's tackle this question of whether atheism is really a religion.

A while ago I came up with a strategy for dealing with the "Atheism is a religion" charge on the show.  My reply can be summed up in two words: "So what?"

That's a bit glib, sure, but let's look at the accusation.  The problem with the charge is that "Atheism = Religion" is a huge equivocation fallacy.  It relies on the fact that "religion" is poorly defined and has many different meanings.  So when somebody tells you that atheism is a religion, the appropriate follow-up question is "What do you mean by that?"

This puts the ball more squarely in their court, and lets you evaluate the MEANING of the word rather than quibbling over the word itself.  One perfectly acceptable definition of religion is: "something one believes in and follows devotedly; a point or matter of ethics or conscience: to make a religion of fighting prejudice."

Gosh!  Fighting prejudice is a religion!  I certainly don't have a problem fighting prejudice, I guess I am pro-religion!

On the other hand, another definition is: "a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, esp. when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs."  Atheism is not that.  Duh.

So you see, the active meaning is the important thing.  Not the word.  There are ways that atheists do the same things religious people do.  For instance, I like the way religions form social outlets for people to get together and discuss common interests.  I think atheists should do more of that.  If they did, they'd be more like religions.

So what?

I don't think you should take things on faith.  I don't think you should form major unwavering beliefs on the basis of little evidence, or in spite of contrary evidence.  In that sense, atheism should not emulate religion, and probably never will.

For the purposes of the Supreme Court, secular humanism is a religion.  So what?  Should we revile secular humanism on those grounds?  Or should we say "Yeah, I can see the relevance of the legal definition, and I'm glad that this is used to confer more rights on secular humanists that were already implicit in the legal meaning of religion"?

Next time people tell you that atheists are just as religious as Christians, ask them what they mean by that.  And if they use a definition of religion that is so broad that it really does include your concept of atheism, then just reply, "So what?"

Shirts ship Friday the 13th

A quick note about the AXP T-shirts (see sidebar), which will at last be ready this Friday. If there's one thing cooler than having two months in a row with a Friday the 13th in them, it's that you get AXP shirts into the bargain.

The initial print run is sold out. But a second print run will be a much simpler (and faster) thing to do, as it will only involve a phone call saying "I need more shirts." To make it worthwhile though, it'd be nice to have a good healthy second run ordered — say, 50 shirts. I know we're all keeping tight belts right now. But everyone could use a sexay new shirt, if only to replace the one that living under eight years of a religious right presidency stole off your backs.

Any shirt orders placed between now and Wednesday will be ones I'll try to have ready for the Friday shipping, along with the first batch. Don't forget to include your size, which is something a lot of folks have been forgetting. There should be a text field you can use for that.

Stem cell research at last

I'm pleased, as is anyone in the pro-science camp, at Obama's expected reversal of Bush's ban on federal funding of embryonic stem cell research. I especially appreciate these comments he made.

"Promoting science isn't just about providing resources, it is also about protecting free and open inquiry," Obama said. "It is about letting scientists like those here today do their jobs, free from manipulation or coercion, and listening to what they tell us, even when it's inconvenient especially when it's inconvenient. It is about ensuring that scientific data is never distorted or concealed to serve a political agenda and that we make scientific decisions based on facts, not ideology."

That last is another richly deserved rebuke of the Bush administration, and its kowtowing to fundamentalist ignorance in issues of science. In particular, the Right Wing Cult of the Fetus is driven berserk by the idea that "babies" are being "killed" so that mad scientists can do their freakish lab experiments. The point that the fetuses being used are among those routinely destroyed as surplus by fertility clinics is not the kind of inconvenient fact that will pierce the armor plating of their righteousness. Nor is the fact that these fetuses will still be available for infertile parents who wish to conceive in vitro.

As for the results we may one day enjoy from such research, which are also disputed by the RA crowd (Righteous Anger), well, we cannot say for sure right this minute that, fifty years from now, paraplegics will be dancing the rhumba after having their new spines installed as an outpatient procedure, or that we'll have eradicated dozens of diseases, or what have you. But the possibility is there, and not to be ignored, and that's why research is so vital. If we can better the lives of people, we should. That's basic.

Still, though, sometimes I think conservatives cannot only think long-term, but literally can't understand anything that doesn't appear to have an immediate, tangible benefit. It's as if scientific research isn't worth doing if it doesn't work like an ATM, spitting out instant gratification. Get a load of Republican Rep. Eric Cantor's ignorant and hypocritical whimper, which he tries to couch in terms of the economy.

"Why are we going and distracting ourselves from the economy? This is job No. 1. Let's focus on what needs to be done," Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Virginia, told CNN's "State of the Union."

Once more with feeling: Cantor's party bequeathed us this tattered economy, so that's quite enough pretense from their side of the aisle that theirs is the party that's all about fiscal responsibility, thank you kindly. And with the stimulus package now signed, well, let's say that the l-o-n-g road to economic repair is, at least, being mapped out.

But what's doubly stupid about Cantor's remarks is his failure to understand that a country engaging in strong and well-funded scientific research is one whose economy is thriving. Not only does it put researchers to work — you know, jobs — but if their research really does bear fruit, and we begin to see real treatments emerge that we've never had before...well, that means money, dammit, and plenty of it. It means medicine we can export, it means more students getting advanced degrees in the sciences due to the increase in jobs in the wake of these new treatments...I mean, there's no downside.

The only downside to scientific research is when ideology hurls itself bodily in science's path. I'm glad that, for right now at least, we have a president who respects the role of science in benefiting humanity. And the economy.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Oklahoma has the dumb!

By now most of you have been made aware of this.

Just now I sent an email to the august Rep. Thomsen, at todd.thomsen@okhouse.gov, as follows:

Dear Rep. Thomsen,

Are you trying to make Oklahoma a nationwide laughingstock?

It's working.

Martin Wagner

I'll let you know if he writes back.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

A retrospective on the millenium bug

I wrote a post on my other blog looking back at Y2K.  While it is still primarily a blog about software engineering, a lot of the post is repeating and expanding on some things I said about Gary North in my show about Dominionism last year.  Besides, you can never have too much making fun of people for their failed end-of-the-world predictions.

Hey, everyone!  Remember that one time when the banks failed, governments collapsed, truckers were immobilized, people everywhere were starving, and civilization as we know it ended?  Good times, good times.

In the immortal words of John Cleese, "I got better..."

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Do Moderate Christians Enable Fundamentalist Agendas?

I have a theist friend who thinks I’m too quick to blame some of the world’s ills on religion. After all, he was raised in religion. He believes in god, and he doesn’t care if anyone else does or not. He isn’t trying to force it onto anyone else. He isn’t writing to legislators to ask them to incorporate his beliefs into laws that impact anyone else. And none of his friends or family has ever done anything like that, either. Christianity isn’t impacting U.S. policy. I’m simply imagining things.

My friend is an example of what Sam Harris discusses in his writings when he describes how moderate Christians act as a buffer—a safety net—for fundamentalist Christians who are pushing their agendas into public policy and legislation. To criticize such a Christian agenda insults moderate Christians (like my friend) who are quick to defend that their religion should not be blamed for public ills. After all, what moderate wants to be held responsible for harmful public policies and legislation?

Say that religion is at the root of such a problem, and you get shot down before you’re even out of the gate (if I can mix my metaphors)—not by overzealous fundamentalists, but by moderate, liberal Christians—like my friend. Point out where religion harms society, and you’re met with the shout down—from moderate, middle-of-the-road Christians—that you’re guilty of painting religion with too broad a brush. You’re cherry picking lunatics and fanatics and trying to impose that dysfunctional mess upon all Christians, who are, for the most part, socially benign.

To be honest, I have no idea if the majority of Christians are “moderate”—in the sense that they have personal beliefs they don’t try to spread around or impose on others. I have no aversion to assuming most Christians fit that bill. Certainly most believers I have met personally aren’t any different. But whether they have majority numbers or not, it’s the fanatics that are running the program, invading politics, and shaping law and policy in this nation to bend it to a fundamentalist Christian agenda.

If a silent majority doesn’t like being represented by a squeaky-wheel faction—I recommend they should learn to speak up against their brethren whom they condemn privately as “lunatics” and “fanatics.” Instead, from what I can see, moderates would rather use their collective, “majority” voices to speak out against anyone else who condemns their fanatical members publicly. And here I have to excuse (and applaud) more responsible, moderate Christians—few though they may be—who do actually counter fundamentalism publicly, such as Barry Lynn Executive Director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

But it can no longer be denied, by any reasonably informed person, that public policy is being shaped by Christian agendas—whether it is the work of a fanatic, but highly politically efficient, minority of Christians or not. And if the moderate middle rebuffs criticisms of their more fanatic brethren, denies there is any problem in their midst, and refuses to join anyone in confronting the negative elements within their own camp—how are they not part of the problem? These moderates aren’t just guilty of letting the fundamentalist element run roughshod while they sit silently by, they’re actually protecting fundamentalist actions against legitimate criticisms by throwing the accusation “gross generalization” and “prejudice alarmist” at anyone who dares claim there even is a problem to criticize within the Christian ranks.

In the editorial section of this morning’s Austin American-Statesman, there are two articles that address the statistically observable supreme failings of Texas’ abstinence-based sex education in public schools. One article, “Learning Sex the Texas Way,” has this to say:

“Gov. Rick Perry's office said he is comfortable with the abstinence-based approach. ‘We oppose any sex education other than abstinence until heterosexual marriage,’ said his spokeswoman.”

Make no mistake, Perry has won re-election in the past. I cannot claim that he is unpopular. And I’m guessing he knows who his supporters are. What politician doesn’t? If he put forward policies not backed by the majority of voting Texans—how would he remain in office? Any thinking person might legitimately then ask, “what constituency would support failing programs and policies that put their own children at risk of deadly STDs and unwanted pregnancies?”

Let’s examine that question.

At the American Family Association (AFA) online, in their article, “Abstinence-Only Education Proves Effective,” it states, “there is no logical reason why abstinence-only education would not be effective in reducing sexual activity among teens.”

Logical or not, we come pretty close to abstinence-only in Texas—and it’s not working as it “logically” should.

Just to cement that this is a Christian organization, in their section “Does AFA hate homosexuals?” the site states:

“The same Holy Bible that calls us to reject sin, calls us to love our neighbor… AFA has sponsored several events reaching out to homosexuals and letting them know there is love and healing at the Cross of Christ.”

Make no mistake AFA is a Christian coalition.

Another supporter is The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. On their site is an article “Support Abstinence Education,” that says, “Don’t let the Senate jeopardize the future of abstinence education. Call or e-mail today!”

Do I need to keep going? The religious right has code words as well, such as conservative, family values, traditional, moral, and so on. They have less overtly religious organizations as well, such as the National Review—which bills itself as a “conservative” media source. Not every group is an outright Wallbuilders. But the more you educate yourself about these issues, the faster you begin to recognize the words that equal “Christian.” Doubt me? Try following a few of these sites for a month to see if you don’t start seeing particular words and phrases that begin to stand out as secular, yet repetitive.

Why use codes? Why not simply say, “This is my religious belief, and I’m going to do all I can to promote it in public policy and legislation”? AFA pretty clearly does this—so why not all organizations with a Christian base?

There is one clear advantage to hiding a religious agenda. Ask Intelligent Design proponents. When the courts tell you that teaching Creationism in schools is using the government to promote religion, and you can’t do that, you are forced to find more subversive, secular-sounding means to reach your goals. You take out “god” and put in “Intelligent Designer.” (Just make sure to double-check the search-and-replaces in your documentation really well before going to court.)

Still, today I realized something different and new and as enlightening as it is disturbing. I realized that even powerful mainstream critics of these religious fundamentalists have learned to pretend that this is actually a battle between secular ideologies—Republican vs. Democrat—and religion plays no part. In both opinion pieces, religion is oddly absent—as is any mention of who might be promoting such policies. Why call out Perry alone? Yes, he’s a politician, and his performance should be examined in the paper. I can’t deny that. But is a public official who has won re-election really the cause of bad policy or is he merely the elected representative for it? Again, without the support of the majority of voting constituents in Texas—he could not have won re-election. Perry is doing the will of the (voting) majority in Texas. And when his office can issue a statement such as the one quoted earlier—can there be any doubt it’s a Christian Right majority he intends to please?

What would happen if the paper published an editorial critical of the “Christian” agenda to promote abstinence-only education? In addition to raising the ire of far right groups like AFA, Wallbuilders, Liberty Commission, and so on—they would upset, as well, huge numbers of “regular” people—like my friend—who would cry “foul” at being lumped under the umbrella of the fundamentalist “lunatic fringe” who are causing this harm.

But if I say Christians are at the root of the abstinence-only policy, I’m not generalizing any more broadly than if I were to say that horses run in the Kentucky Derby. The group promoting these policies consists of self-identified Christians. And the animals running in the Derby consist of horses. Do all Christians support these policies? No more than all horses run in the Derby. So, what’s the problem? I don’t care if some Christians—even most Christians—aren’t supportive of these policies. It’s no less true that the policies are, by the largest margin, Christian created, promoted and supported. But if we say that, nobody will hear—not because the Religious Right will shut us down, but because religious moderates will.

My friend made this point loud and clear. “There’s nothing religious in those articles. It’s just about the schools and education. Where do you see religion even mentioned?”

He’s right that I don’t see religion even mentioned. But I have to ask if he sees any mention of who is at the root of these policy directives? Does my friend imagine Perry just made this up himself?

Fundamentalist Christians use public policy and legislation to push their religion onto everyone else. Anyone who criticizes the far right source is immediately shot down by the moderate middle. And, for the most part, we all pretend religion has no bearing on public policy—to the point that many people actually believe this is true. Anyone who says otherwise is just an overly excited alarmist. And the fundamentalists proceed, without mainstream majority opposition or interference, to push their religious agenda onto everyone else, with absolute gratitude toward their moderate brethren—the ones who would never do anything to push their religion onto anyone else.

Monday, March 02, 2009


Here's another Kirk Cameron movie that I'll never have to watch now. Thanks, Everything Else Atheist!

After a heroic rescue and doctor drama, Cameron's at home again, on the Internet looking at boats, an established hobby. An ad pops up - "wanna see? Click here!" Adblock plus and firefox will take care of that little annoyance, I tell you. I think it leads to porn, but since they dance around it and never say the word porn, it's a bit hard to tell. Maybe the sexy girl in the photo wants to show him her enormous Jenga collection, maybe it's a rickroll. We will never know, because he flips out, gets up and emotionally beats himself for thinking about clicking on that link. With the help of the advice book, he decides not only to not click the link, but to take his computer outside and destroy it with a baseball bat.

Honestly... who among us has psychological problems that can't be solved with a simple baseball bat?

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Regarding Ray Comfort, the World's Stupidest Christian™

Ray Comfort, the World's Stupidest Christian™, is the world's stupidest Christian. When you consider the competition, that's quite a feat. Ray's degree of stupidity is truly stunning to behold. It's so monumental it serves as a kind of strange attractor towards which other Christians, not necessarily as stupid as Ray but not especially smart either, are inexorably drawn. It's Stupidity as a force of nature, implacable, unwavering as the tides, and entropically hurtling towards greater and greater stupidity until any remaining vestige of what might be determined intelligence has been broken down into its constituent molecules, and scattered to the voids of space.

So like, the guy's frackin' stupid. Really. I've blown boogers into tissues during a bad cold that are Nobel laureates compared to this guy. Stoo-pid.

Not content with the minor notoriety one gains from being the World's Stupidest Christian™, Ray has decided he really needs to earn the title. After all, a man's gotta have something in the way of an achievement in life. So, to this end, as those of you who've been hanging out on RDnet and Pharyngula have already heard, he has "challenged" Richard Dawkins to a "debate". This is as funny as Verne Troyer challenging Mike Tyson to three rounds in the ring.

But it gets funnier. Ray Comfort, the World's Stupidest Christian™, thinks Dawkins will be impressed by money. So he's offered $10,000. Thinking a millionaire will be impressed by your $10,000 is like thinking a supermodel will be impressed by your Honda Fit. But, bless his heart, that's why Ray is the World's Stupidest Christian™!

Dawkins was unimpressed with the $10,000 offer, shockingly enough, replying to someone claiming to rep Ray that the offer "is less than the typical fee that I am ordinarily offered for lecturing to a serious audience (I often don't accept it, especially in the case of a student audience, because I am a dedicated teacher). It is not, therefore, a worthwhile inducement for me to travel all the way across the Atlantic to debate with an ignorant fool." Gold! Dawkins then added (and you can see him smiling as he wrote it) that he'd consider playing along if Ray donated $100,000 to the RDF "so that that money will NOT be available for buying animatronic dinosaurs with saddles, or other similar nonsense. The fact that he would be making a substantial donation to a charity dedicated to Reason and Science adds to the humour of the situation."

Now it gets even funnier. Get this: Ray Comfort, the World's Stupidest Christian™, thinks Dawkins is haggling. So he raised the offer to $20,000, imagining, I suppose, that Dawkins is now obliged to come back with something like, "How about 90?" At which point the haggling continues as a matter of form until they settle on 50.

Of course, Dawkins isn't playing. He doesn't have to. And the funniest thing of all, in a long list of funny things, is that without this stupid "debate" even taking place yet, Dawkins has already humiliated Ray! D'oh! That's what you get for being the World's Stupidest Christian™, cupcake!

And Dawkins has humiliated Ray simply by letting Ray be Ray. It's uncontrollably funny the way Ray's very offer essentially amounts to nothing less than an admission of inferiority in all respects. To wit, Dawkins doesn't need Ray. Ray desperately needs Dawkins. Dawkins has everything Ray doesn't have and cannot gain through merit: prestige, respect, authority, legitimacy, expertise. Ray wants all of those things, and hopes an association with Dawkins will cause them to rub off on him, especially as he's deluded himself into thinking he can prove evolution false in a debate with one of the world's leading scientific authorities on evolution. But you see, that's Ray Comfort, the World's Stupidest Christian™, all over!

I love Ray. Really. I heart him like a hearty thing. He cannot know what joy he brings into the daily lives of atheists, just by the million little loving ways he reminds us that he's the World's Stupidest Christian™.

So Dawkins has named his price, because he can, because Ray has nothing Dawkins wants or needs. And the mere fact that Ray has already upped his previously pathetic offer to a slightly less pathetic level has pretty much bagged this "debate" for Dawkins right out of the gate. In the same way it's funny to see the no-hopers at the Discovery Institute still trying to convince themselves of their relevance more than three years after Dover put a howitzer shell through ID, by their continuing efforts to find scientists to debate them, it's even funnier seeing Ray running after Dawkins, like some loser at a bar trailing after a hot chick pleading, "Well, maybe if I gave you my number..."

Gang, this is exactly the right way to treat creationists every time they try to make a grab for legitimacy and shore up their inflated sense of importance: pure derision. Because you know, it works! It really gets their gander up.

How did Ray Comfort, the World's Stupidest Christian™, react to being dubbed an "ignorant fool"? Well, nosir, he dint like it! And he whined about it in entirely predictable fashion over at — where else? — the Christian Worldview Network.

During the more than 5,000 times I have spoken in the public forum, I have engaged hundreds of little Richard Dawkins' and have noticed that when their argument is very weak, they always revert to personal insults. While I won't condescend to insults, I will point out that Mr. Dawkins does believe that we were created by aliens.

Which, of course, he doesn't, but that's beside the point. Ray doesn't realize that Dawkins is not insulting him by saying he's an ignorant fool. He's simply stating a fact, as I am when I refer to Ray by his unofficial title, the World's Stupidest Christian™. It's like, imagine that Dawkins has a bowl of chocolate ice cream in front of him. And he looks at it and says, "The flavor of this ice cream is chocolate." Is he calling the ice cream a name? Is he insulting it? No! He is merely stating an observable fact about the nature of the ice cream. Likewise, when he points out Ray is an ignorant fool, he is merely stating an observable fact about Ray Comfort. Ray will never get these points. Because — what is he, everybody...? All together now...