Saturday, December 30, 2006

Dawkins admits mistake, removes name from petition

Richard Dawkins has admitted he erred in signing the controversial petition mentioned in the previous post, and in a comment on Ed Brayton's blog, says the following:

I did sign the petition, but I hadn't thought it through when I did so, and I now regret it. I have asked the organizer to remove my name. Unfortunately, it seems that the list has already gone off to Downing Street but the organizer, Jamie Wallis, has kindly asked their web manager to remove my name. I suspect that he himself may be having second thoughts about the wording, and I respect him for that. It isn't always easy to get the exact wording right.

I signed it having read only the main petition: "We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to make it illegal to indoctrinate or define children by religion before the age of 16." I regret to say that I did not notice the supporting statement with the heading, "More details from petition creator": "In order to encourage free thinking, children should not be subjected to any regular religious teaching or be allowed to be defined as belonging to a particular religious group based on the views of their parents or guardians." If I had read that, I certainly would not have signed the petition, because, as explained in The God Delusion, I am in favour of teaching the Bible as literature, and I am in favour of teaching comparative religion. In any case, like any decent liberal, I am opposed to the element of government coercion in the wording. Furthermore, the Prime Minister, thank goodness, does not have the power to 'make' anything 'illegal'. Only parliament has the power to do that.

I signed the main petition, because I really am passionately opposed to DEFINING children by the religion of their parents (while 'indoctrination' is such a loaded word, nobody could be in favour of it). I was so delighted to hear of somebody else who cared about the defining or labelling of children by the religion of their parents (how would you react if you heard a child described as a 'seclular humanist child' or a 'neo-conservative child'?) that I signed it without reading on and without thinking. Mea culpa.

So there we have it. Unlike creationists, Dr. Dawkins shows a scientist's humility and willingness to admit to a mistake. I hope he is more circumspect in future about adding his name, and the considerable weight it carries, to anything that on the surface appears to support his views, before looking more deeply at its true ramifications.

PS: PZ Myers has spoken to Dawkins personally and confirmed it is Dawkins who commented at Brayton's blog, and that Dawkins has in fact recanted.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Has Dawkins totally jumped the shark?

Richard Dawkins has been a huge hero to the atheist community for some time, not only for his years of tireless advocacy of science, but, most recently, for his work in bringing atheist views into the mainstream with his bestseller The God Delusion. But recently, his support of a rather alarming petition in his native England has disturbing implications.

The petition, authored by one Jamie Wallis using a service on the #10 Downing Street website that allows users to write their own petitions and gather signatures right there for the PM's consideration, reads as follows:

We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to Make it illegal to indoctrinate or define children by religion before the age of 16. In order to encourage free thinking, children should not be subjected to any regular religious teaching or be allowed to be defined as belonging to a particular religious group based on the views of their parents or guardians. At the age of 16, as with other laws, they would then be considered old enough and educated enough to form their own opinion and follow any particular religion (or none at all) through free thought.


Let's run through this.

The first and most obvious thing that comes to mind is that what the petition asks is something that in America is unequivocally unconstitutional: government intrusion in private religious practice. Ed Brayton, over at Dispatches from the Culture Wars, has gone into outrage overload at this whole thing, declaring that "as far as I'm concerned, this pretty much removes Dawkins from any discussion among reasonable people." He goes on to a laundry list of entirely valid criticisms.

This proposal is every bit as noxious and totalitarian as a proposal from Christian reconstructionists that those who teach their children about witchcraft or atheism should be thrown in jail would be. Just imagine what you would have to do to actually enforce such a law. No one could take their children to church, which means you'd have to literally police the churches to make sure no children went in. Nor could they teach their children about religion at home, read the Bible with them, say prayers with them before they go to bed. The only way to enforce such a law would be to create a society that would make Orwell's 1984 seem optimistic by comparison.

In case the "thrown in jail" part sounds a little hyperbolic to you, recall that the petition itself uses the word "illegal," and the general idea is that if someone does something illegal, then they've earned at the very least a citation and at worst imprisonment. Does Dawkins really want people to go to jail for taking their kids to Sunday School? Has he really gone that far over the top?

I ask this because, unlike Brayton, who tends to get reactionary and pissed off at the drop of a hat, I have the impression just based on my reading of Dawkins over the years that the man is at least sensible and rational enough to comprehend and even concede all of the points Brayton has raised in objection. He has never come across like 1984's O'Brien, nor even as someone inclined to shoot off his mouth carelessly like Elton John about banning religion utterly.

A law that tossed parents in jail because they told their kids about the baby Jesus would obviously be not only an egregious intrusion into the sanctity of the family and home, but a brand of thought crime so self-evidently absurd as to be beyond rational consideration. Is Dawkins perhaps thinking, Well, we prohibit children from drinking and driving and voting and going off to war until a certain age. Shouldn't we consider religious indoctrination similarly risky and withhold it until the age of consent as well? Is he perhaps thinking of the way children in heavily religious, war-torn areas — such as Catholic-vs-Protestant Northern Ireland or Muslims-vs-Jews West Bank or Muslims-vs-Christians Sudan — are unfairly harmed and victimized by conflicts brought on by the warring faiths of their parents? While this is another reason to disdain religion, I hardly see how a law prohibiting religious exposure to minors will protect one from a stray .50-caliber round fired by some hopped-up asshole screaming "Allah akbar!"

I could go on. I will go on. Does Dawkins think that freethought can only arise in a young mind if religion is kept away? I was raised Christian, and many of my fellow heathens are surprised to hear I have quite fond memories of my adolescent churchgoing years — particularly the sleepover parties at the Tallowood Baptist Church rec center we called "lock-ins," in which we 14-year-olds indulged in the rare prilivege of staying up all night. (And no, we weren't preached to the whole time, it was pretty much lightly supervised. If anything, I remember myself and my friends sitting around talking about girls like any other 14-year-olds would do, and using naughty words while we did so.)

Despite this youthful "indoctrination," I emerged a freethinker and an atheist every bit as hardline as Dawkins. Why is this? Because in addition to church there were other influences in my life — I was and still am a voracious and omnivorous reader — and I learned to question received wisdom and authoritarian declarations as a matter of course. It is very true that not all kids — few, even — have these options or would take them if they did. But is it the sort of situation that can be created by legal fiat? You'd have to be a blind fool to think so. We've all seen how well laws banning kids from buying cigarettes have succeeded in eradicating teen smoking.

Most other atheists have come from a religious tradition. Team member Matt Dillahunty has described himself as a former fundamentalist who was firmly on board the young-earth creationist train. A cohost I had for a few months on the AE TV show, David Clark, was a former seminarian who had even performed baptisms; before he moved from Austin he was leading a push to get a decalogue monument off the state capital lawn (it's still there). Today, atheists all. Would keeping religion away from them as minors have made them any better or stronger in their atheism, more prepared to argue soundly and think rationally, than they are today?

I remember years ago watching Frank Zappa tell a TV interviewer that his formula for raising perfect children was to keep them away from religion. Children should not have such an important decision foisted upon them until they are old enough to comprehend what religions are all about, what they claim, and how to evaluate their claims. Only with age and intelligence can the choice of which religion to choose — including none at all — be made. It is, on balance, a sensible opinion.

But of course, Zappa did not and never would have advocated government enforcement of this idea. I'm baffled to see why Dawkins seems to endorse it. And so, as an admirer of Dawkins over the years (I'm not yet ready to write him off like Brayton), I want an explanation.

What exactly does Dawkins mean by this? Would he really wish such intrusion into the private lives of U.K. citizens? He must know that the Christians are going to go bugfuck over this; why would he hand them such a blatant and easy weapon? (Let's take a quick bet on how many Christian blogs will not pass "go" and go directly to Godwin's Law on this one.) And does he honestly think that, even if it were possible (how the hell do you keep religion away from kids when almost anywhere you look in London or any other British city or town you see steeples?), shielding children from religious exposure until their teens will do fuck-all to stem the tide of irrationalism, superstition, intolerance, ignorance, prejudice, and scientific illiteracy that religion propogates now? Can there be, lurking behind Dawkins' calm demeanor and eminent rationalism, such naivety? It just doesn't compute.

So I think he needs to get on his website and immediately post an editorial or something explaining why he endorses this petition, and what he thinks it means.

He especially owes this to those of us who are his supporters, but who also believe in freedom from government intrusion into private affairs, and who don't think the cause of freethought — let alone its very definition — is at all served by laws allowing the government to tell you how you can or can't raise your kids.

Bored gaming

The demented duo, Ray Comfort and Kirk Cameron, are at it again. I've already posted lengthy responses to their "Way of the Master" series, covering episodes on atheism and evolution — but it seems they haven't bothered to read and learn.

Their latest endeavor is a new board game called "Intelligent Design versus Evolution". According to Kirk Cameron,

We are very excited about this game because it presents both sides of the creation evolution argument, and in doing so, shows that the contemporary theory of evolution is perhaps the greatest hoax of modern times.

Which means that they haven't actually presented both sides, they've simply presented their side along with their grossly misunderstood view of the actual science that supports evolution.

The goal of their game is to collect "brain cards" and the player with the most brain cards wins. The irony is so thick that the responses nearly write themselves...

Endorsing this brain trust is Ken Ham, the creationist responsible for and quotes like:

I don't use science to prove my religion. I use the Bible to build my science.

Evidently Dr. Dino is a little busy.

Monday, December 25, 2006

So it's Monday

Evidently the Christians are having some major holiday today. To me, it's a very quiet Monday. The weather's pretty, though. Very nice change from the rains yesterday.

I don't see any reason to treat December 25 any differently from any other day, whether for "cultural" reasons or any other. They're all unique, you only live them once, so enjoy them as best you can!

Friday, December 22, 2006

Another casualty in the "War on Christmas"

What do you want to bet this will be blamed on godless libruls?

You realize, of course, that this means WAH!

Louie Savva's Everything Is Pointless is (like ours, he said modestly) a really good blog you should be in the habit of reading. That fact does not mean, however, that his closing in on our #4 chart position at The Best of Net Atheism can be tolerated. Start clicking, soldier! And suck in that gut!

Thursday, December 21, 2006

When Christian belief is "deluded" to mainstream Christians

There's been another ghastly incident of a zealously religious mother murdering her small children and saying God told her to, and this has sparked an interesting discussion on the ACA mailing list that I thought I'd hijack and migrate over here.

The ugly story in brief: Lashuan Harris, a young Oakland woman, believing she was under orders from God to deliver a human sacrifice, methodically flung her three kids, ranging in ages from 18 months to 6 years, into the freezing San Francisco Bay. Her counsel has pled not guilty by reason of insanity, which might seem entirely understandable (except for the "not guilty" part — I've always thought the plea should be "guilty but mentally impaired" or something) until you realize there's this Bible story about a fellow named Abraham and his son Isaac. Evidently this kind of behavior is not unknown in the Judeo-Christian tradition. However, in the modern day California version of the story, it looks as if God forgot to give the kids a last minute stay of execution on the grounds his mother had passed some sort of sick loyalty test.

On the mailing list, the indefatigable Stephen Rogers — quite possibly making the Abraham/Isaac connection as well — asked if events like this weren't enough to wake believers out of their trance and realize how morally reprehensible and deranged their belief system really is. I replied that most Christians will probably just dismiss such a quandary with remarks that the woman isn't a True Christian™, or that she was just delusional and that God would never ask anyone to do such a thing, though he clearly did according to Genesis 22. Regular AE blog commenter Tracie Harris made a worthwhile point:

Everything I was ever taught about Xianity — when I was a Xian — would support her logic. These children are in heaven, according to most Xian doctrines. It's funny to me that using Xian logic to ensure your children's place in heaven is also labeled "delusion."

Even if the woman is viewed as having committed a sin — according to Xian doctrine, she did send her kids to god/heaven (although she may pay with eternity in hell for herself — that would take a really loving Xian mom to sacrifice her eternal soul and exhibit such great faith to kill her own children to ensure they're [sic] eternal happiness).

By calling her "deluded" in her logic, though, it's no different than calling all Xians deluded. If she was deluded for thinking that killing her kids would send them to heaven/god, then I know a great number of deluded Xians who think exactly the same way — but who just wouldn't kill their own kids to lock in their slots in heaven.

This distinction would seem to be the separator: the transition from belief into action. Consider: if a Christian would conclude that Lashuan Harris was delusional, and yet would still profess belief in the truth of the Abraham/Isaac story, a bevy of questions open up about how the believer can accurately make a moral judgment against what Harris did.

If one believes God really did order Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, can the believer really say for sure that God didn't make a similar demand of Harris? A believer might say that it's obvious God didn't. After all, God spared Isaac at the last minute, so God's basically a decent guy after all (unless you're a Midianite, but that's another story). As there was no last-minute reprieve for Harris's kids, then QED, Harris couldn't have been acting under orders from God, because God doesn't ask people to kill their own children without stopping them in the nick of time to say he was only kidding.

But how could they know? And what if God hadn't reprieved Isaac? What would the believer think of God's little test of faith then? What would they think of Abraham, for committing the most abominable crime a parent can commit? Indeed, what do they think of Abraham now, for being willing to do it in the first place? Wouldn't a more courageous parent have stood up to God and said, "What, kill my own son for you? Fuck off. If that's the kind of test of faith I have to pass, I don't need you." Would a truly great God have punished Abraham for taking such a courageous stand of defiance, or recognized his courage and rewarded it? If God had smote him for it, wouldn't that just make God a sick, petty, bloodthirsty tyrant? I mean, we'd be rightly disgusted if we knew someone like Saddam Hussein had been going around ordering men to murder their own sons to prove their loyalty to him. Indeed, we'd make that one more pretext — and actually a kinda justifiable one, for a change — for his overthrow. So why is such a demand acceptable coming from God? Is it just that God gets to obey a different set of rules? Now isn't that "moral relativism"?...

And so on and so on. Stephen and Tracie, as usual, raise good points. While the expected reaction from mainstream Christians would be to brand Harris delusional, this is the sort of situation that a savvy atheist can use as a springboard to raise lots of questions about Christianity and belief in "Biblical morality" on a broad scale, and really force Christians to think about what they believe. "What if God spoke to you, clean and clear as he spoke to Abraham, demanding your child's life? What would you do? Can you be sure God would never ask that of you?"

The sad truth is that it shouldn't have to take the deaths of three innocent kids to make people investigate and question their choice to believe violent, morally dubious millennia-old fables and superstitions in the first place.

Reason's Greetings

Happy Winter Solstice, everyone! Bummer to those of you being slammed by snowstorms, but in Austin today, the weather's kind of pretty. 63° and mostly sunny.

In the comments, let's hear a little about what you'd like to see 2007 bring. An end to the war in the mideast may be a little unrealistic, but perhaps we can hope for some positivity here at home.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Remembering Carl

When I was young(er), Carl Sagan was something of a cultural anomaly: a celebrity scientist. You didn't see too many professional scientists representing on Johnny Carson and other mainstream media venues. Though I'm sure there were more, the only other scientist I can think of who was known by a large percentage of the public about 25 years ago would have been Isaac Asimov, and he was mostly known for his science fiction, actually a modest portion of his entire writing output.

To the young me, then as now a rabid fan of both science fiction and science fact, Carl's particular expertise in astronomy meant that there was a sound field of study underlying the adventure stories that I embraced for my entertainment. It's one thing to read a cool space opera by the likes of Gordon R. Dickson or Poul Anderson, and allow your imagination to soar as you dream about what it might actually be like to fly among the stars. But it's another thing entirely to have a guy like Sagan who could bring you back down to earth with real science, but do so without losing any of that sense of wonder — if anything, enhancing that sense of wonder by letting you see that the real universe was just as wondrous, if not moreso, than how it appears in even the best science fiction.

But in the years prior to his death, I got introduced to another, even more intriguing subject by Carl: skepticism.

His book The Demon-Haunted World was not the first work of skepticism out there, but it was one of the bestselling ones, and it was the first one that I read. I was, by my mid-teens, already leaning towards a rejection of the religious beliefs I'd been raised with. But as a youth I had no sophisticated arguments with which to defend my skeptical views. Nor was I aware of the extent to which not only superstition and irrationalism thrive in all cultures, but the degree to these problems threaten science itself. I still can never understand why people will reject sound scientific facts supported by strong evidence, while freely and joyfully choosing to believe all manner of bizarre claims and requiring no evidence or proof at all to do so. But they do, and Carl's book, with its remarkable, visually evocative title, brought the extent of the cultural crisis home to me. Our species is shrouded in darkness, a pall built up of centuries of accumulated superstition, fear, and gibberish. Science is there to light the way through this darkness toward understanding. And yet so many people find their darknesses comforting, and refuse even to look at the light.

I'm aware of the religious character of this metaphorical language, and I know Carl was too. That is, I think, why he used those images. In the hopes of penetrating the darkness of even one benighted True Believer, Carl understood the value of reaching them by speaking their language. It may have been a small effort; religiosity is as rampant today as ever and has more destructive power over people's minds and lives than any time since the Dark Ages. (I can imagine how profoundly sad 9/11 would have made Carl.)

But even this small effort mattered, because I think The Demon-Haunted World helped pave the way for my generation of atheists and skeptics and freethinkers, to launch our own causes, and to realize it's okay to speak your mind about these topics, and not let religion have a undeserved pass, simply because it's religion, and "we just don't talk about that kind of thing." Finally, Carl's work had a lot to do with creating a receptive marketplace in which books by atheist writers like Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins could become bestsellers.

So on this tenth anniversary of Carl Sagan's death, I just want to tell him: Thanks. Thank you very much. Your legacy of reason and humanism is greater than you'll ever know, and it absolutely changed my life for the better.

(Posted as part of the Carl Sagan Memorial Blogathon.)

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Now here's a new Pledge I could get behind

See? No church/state issues at all. And if we have to entrust the defense of our nation to an animal, I'm sure this little fellow would do a much better job than the Chimp.

I order you to buy this amazing CD

For years now, Negativland have been a collective of audio pranksters whose electronic, sample-laden musical constructs have taken the notion of satire into heretofore unexplored realms. Occasionally they've even gotten into legal hot water, at one point being sued by no less than U2. Among atheists, they may best be known for the outrageous "Christianity Is Stupid," which centers on a looped sample of a fundamentalist pastor blathering the song's title (taken, of course, shamelessly out of context from the sermon it was part of, but when you're a satirist, you get to be shameless).

Now Negativland have upped the anti-religion ante from that track on It's All in Your Head FM, a double live CD taken from two public performances of their weekly radio show Over the Edge. This is hilarious and yet strangely compelling stuff, and sharp listeners might spot similarities to some of Frank Zappa's work. But Negativland have a transgressive quality all their own.

This clip only barely scratches the surface of what's on this set. It really is required listening for atheists, so be like the cool kids and buy now. Hell, you could even pick one up for a Christmas present to a Christian friend of yours, depending on how badly you want them to hate you.

(PS: If the track doesn't play, odds are my daily bandwidth allotment has been exceeded. Just come back another time.)

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Another day, another gay evangelical

First Haggard, now Paul Barnes, until yesterday pastor of the 2100-member Grace Chapel in Denver. Barnes confessed to fundagelical fudge-packin' and resigned his post, after — get this —

an anonymous phone call from a person who heard someone was threatening to go public with the names of Barnes and other evangelical leaders who engaged in homosexual behavior...

Yoiks! So there are more Colorado pastors infected with teh gay! Astounding. In my mind I see them dropping like ninepins in the biggest scandal since the Catholic Church Pedo Party of several years back.

Of course, there's a significant difference here, in that pedophilia is a vile crime, while there's nothing at all wrong with normal adult homosexuality. But the latter is very much the kind of activity that destroys the life of the average fundie, who has been indoctrinated by his religion to hate gays. And if the gay person in question happens to be oneself, then, well, one simply must hate oneself, mustn't one? What a lovely thing religion is. What joy and light in brings into people's lives.

I wonder how much more humiliation the Christian Right in this country can take. Let's hope it's lots and lots!

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Film producers the Weinsteins bring a dirty bomb to the War on Christmas

Over at my film blog, Mr. Wagner's Final Cut, I have a snarky little post in which I express much amusement at the way Bob and Harvey Weinstein, the moguls formerly of Miramax and now releasing as The Weinstein Group, announced they were launching a new company to distribute "faith-based" films, only to follow it up by slating the stupid splatter horror movie Black Christmas for release on Christmas Day itself. At least one right-wing blogger has gone completely apeshit. One wonders, though — is this such a bad release strategy? And why, if Christians are really so offended by Hollywood's predilection for exploitive trash, aren't any them going to see The Nativity Story?

Enjoy the snark in full at the link.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Well, this is disappointing. And I try so hard!

How evil are you?

It must be because I didn't choose to answer more of the questions with "Canada".

Today on the show

It's my turn to co-host this afternoon, but I just clawed my way out of my first year of grad school, and as a result I'm in no mood to research an entire new topic today. I want to throw out a brief complaint about how boring the new Catholic radio station in town is, and I think I might throw out a little discussion on Theomatics, one of the first topics I ever did on the show six years ago. This subject popped up again because I got in a brief edit war about Theomatics with some apologist on Wikipedia.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Butterflies, science, and ID

There's an interesting post over at The Scientist in which Jack Woodall, billed as "director of the Nucleus for the Investigation of Emerging Infectious Diseases in the Institute of Medical Biochemistry at Brazil's Federal University of Rio de Janeiro," (pause for breath) uses the example of butterfly development and human-caused extinction patterns to poke holes in ID. The comments are about evenly distributed between evolution supporters, and ID supporters trotting out the usual argument-from-incredulity fallacies. I've chimed in, and am reproducing here a comment I posted in reply to another commenter, Jim Lord, who replied to my initial comment. Go have a look at the article and thread yourself, and if you can think of anything I missed, pitch in. They need more intelligent voices over there.

Jim Lord's comments are italicized, and we pick up our conversation already in progress. Many IDers in the comment thread attacked Woodall for making what they call straw man arguments against ID; they claim that just because design in nature may be, you know, horribly flawed, doesn't mean it isn't design. (Shades of Casey Luskin's immortal Ford Pinto analogy from a few days ago.) I pointed out this little detail:

On the face of it, this would seem a valid point. Until one butts up against the fact that Dembski and virtually every other ID proponent I've ever encountered is either Christian, Muslim, or some believer in a monotheistic god from the Abrahamic tradition. This God is said to be perfect in every way. So whence could come imperfect design?....

So I must now ask everyone slamming the article as attacking a "straw man" of ID because of the "imperfect design" approach: Are you people religious (whether Christian, Jew, or Muslim), and if so, do you believe your God is omniscient and omnipotent? If you answered "yes" to both those questions, and still think that ID isn't refuted by pointing out poor examples of design, then how do you reconcile imperfect design with a perfect designer? Or are you suggesting that God is, after all, imperfect? Or are you going WAY out on a limb and suggesting some designing agent OTHER than the God of your religion actually did all the designing (which would make you a polytheist)? And if so, how do you reconcile THAT with your religion?

Jim replies:

Therefore, true/inspired or not, religious texts such as the Bible and Qu'ran provide explanations for man's imperfection. (Else, why preach a need for a relationship with God?) The Bible describes man's fall and separation from God in Genesis.

Jim, what you call explanations I think can more accurately be termed rationalizations or justifications. It is a real problem for Christianity that it proposes, on the one hand, a perfect god, then must turn around and resort to all manner of tortuous rhetoric to explain how a perfect creator makes an imperfect creation. If God were truly omniscient, he'd have foreseen the imperfections in his creation and either rectified them or chosen not to make those mistakes at all. That he didn't either indicates this deity either isn't so perfect after all (then why worship it?), or, meant for all of life's imperfections, including evil (there goes omnibenevolence), to be part of the Grand Plan, or whatever.

This is the crux of the Problem of Evil that demolishes Christianity's O3G (omniscient, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent) concept of God. Despite two millennia of highly motivated theodicy, this dilemma has never been successfully addressed. And its ramifications do impact the validity of intelligent design as both a scientific and theological concept.

In the famous opening passage of the Gospel of John, the Bible makes an ontological argument for the existence of God, which is supported by other passages. "In the beginning was the 'Word'", the logos, the reason of itself.

The opening of John isn't an argument at all, but a series of tautological assertions that are hermetically sealed against rational inquiry. "Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made." Does that apply to God himself? If God belongs to the information set labeled "all things," then did God make himself? Or did something else make God? Or is God "unmade"? If so, whence came God, and what was he doing for the infinite span of time before he decided to create a universe? And, knowing via his omniscience he was going to create a universe someday, why not do so before he eventually did so? And if you are willing to accept the existence of at least one unmade thing, why stop at one?

You see how God fails scientifically as any kind of concept with explanatory power. The unanswerable questions are endless. Invoking God as the explanation for our universe is simply an act of trying to solve a mystery with an infinitely greater mystery.

Ancient holy books that attempt to define their deities into existence by rhetorical fiat do not exactly qualify as scientific treatises on the nature of life and the universe. After all, how does one look at the claims made in John 1 and decide they are any more or less valid a creation story as, say, this one?

Unfortunately, just as religious leaders turn to science to prove their faith, scientists often resort to half-baked theological arguments.

I actually tend to see more apologists using half-baked theological arguments than scientists, frankly. Not to mention holy books themselves — see John 1.

Faith cannot be fostered with fact, but just because it is faith does not necessarily mean it isn't true.

Maybe, but that is not a scientific statement. If ID supporters wish their alternative "theory" to be taken seriously by the scientific community, they're going to have to do better than "just because it's faith based doesn't mean it isn't true." They're going to have to make with the evidence for the Designer, and it is going to have to be evidence every bit as detailed as what science currently has for evolution across multiple disciplines. What nature of being is this designer? Is it bigger than a breadbox? Is it alive, in the sense we understand an organism to be alive? Does it have metabolic processes? Where does it live, if not in this universe? What exact mechanisms does it employ when it creates universes, and how does it employ them? Constantly attacking scientists for making alleged "straw man" criticisms of ID is pretty dishonest of the ID camp, when they aren't even beginning to try to address these questions and explain their designer in an intelligible way (except to say it isn't "necessarily" the Biblical God whenever they find themselves addressing a judge or school board).

Science, by definition, is a process of empirical study that can only draw conclusions based on observation of evidence. Faith is fine for religionists, but it just has no place in the scientific method. If you admit that "faith cannot be fostered with fact," which I take to mean that religion's claims cannot be examined scientifically, then you must agree that faith-based concepts like ID simply don't get to join the scientific least until some fostering facts come along to give it actual substance.

Monday, December 04, 2006

We're the U2 of atheism!

In addition to Mojoey's big ol' atheist blogroll, we are proud to be added to The Best of Net Atheism, one of those Top-10 or Top-20 or Top-50 type sites where the more click-throughs you send them, the higher you jump on the charts, and the more people click back to you to check you out. Today we're at #12, which I may proudly boast makes us the U2 of atheism! For you see, U2's new CD compilation U218: Singles is the #12 album this week, hence the chartish kinship. "In God's Country" indeed!

So what that means, gang, is that whenever you visit us, do take a moment to click on the link in the sidebar under Blogrolls. Only with your help can we step up from being atheism's U2 to being its — erm — Jay-Z.

On second thought...

Wait...he's bangin' Beyonce.

Yeah, screw it. Go ahead and click.

Snake oil on a plane! Hinn sleaze flying higher than ever.

Benny's just bought God a new Gulfstream jet, and he wants his flock of dupes to pay for it. Ay-mayzing. Check the transparently manipulative language in the sales pitch here and boggle that anyone's brain could be so calcified as to buy it.

...Now we must pay the remainder of the down payment, and I am asking the Lord Jesus to speak to 6,000 of my precious partners to sow a seed of $1,000 in the next ninety days. And I am praying, even as I write this letter, that you will be one of them!

I know that as you obey the Lord, He will open heaven wide and cause a mighty harvest of blessings to descend upon your life and all that you do!

Take special note of the phrasing, "I know that as you obey the Lord..." This bit of smarm is very much in keeping with the language of something called NLP, or neuro-linguistic programming, which is all about how to phrase sales pitches to rubes using careful turns of phrase that make them think they're doing something other than what you're really trying to get them to do (buy your product, have sex with you), and that the decision to do it is their idea, that they arrived at all on their own because it was really the only sensible thing to do, and why would they even consider not doing it? He wants his "precious" partners — the ones who are already forking over loads of cash they can probably barely spare in the first place, so that Benny can live it up in places like this — to "sow a seed" of six million dollars for his fancy jet, and he's equating doing this with "obeying the Lord". Confronted with meretriciousness and hubris of this degree, I don't know whether to tip my hat in grudging respect, or buy an ad banner on the Al Jazeera website seeking shoe bombers.

That last bit was a joke.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Another note to new visitors

If you've never seen this blog or other projects by the Atheist Community of Austin, please take a moment to drop by Iron Chariots and see if it's something you'd be interested in participating with.

Iron Chariots is a counter-apologetics wiki, aiming to be the definitive collection of arguments used by atheists. If you're inclined to contribute, then please feel free to create an account. If you simply find some pages useful, help promote IC by posting links to argumentation pages in your own online discussions.

How do you spell "scumsucking filth"? B-E-N-N-Y H-I-N-N.

Yes, yes, we all know what a vile charlatan this clownish "faith healer" is. But to see what this son of a bitch does with your own eyes, to see how cold-bloodedly he exploits the hope of the truly desperate and pathetic while whooping it up in $10 million mansions and $4000-a-night hotel suites, just makes you sick to your stomach. This kind of hard-hitting exposé, from the CBC news program The Fifth Estate, is the kind of badass investigative journalism America hasn't seen since the Watergate scandal, and which we're not likely to see in this day and age, when conservative mouthpieces own the U.S. airwaves and they're only too willing to pander to the most egregious forms of religious lunacy. This runs 42 minutes but it's worth every one. Bask in how low one man can go. All in the name of Jesus.