Tuesday, February 27, 2007

From the sidelines, another "historical" Jesus flap

When religionists get into nasty debates because one of them thinks he's found such-and-such evidence proving this or that claim about their god/savior/holy man, and all the others think he's full of it for one reason or another, atheists find themselves in the curious position of watching the whole scrap from the sidelines. It's like being a parent, watching your kids arguing over topics that seem profoundly important to them, like who would win in a fight between Superman and the Incredible Hulk, but couldn't matter a hill of beans to you as you spend most of your time in the real world.

Most recently, there was the whole flapdoodle over The DaVinci Code, a bad novel that became a boring movie that nevertheless sold zillions and launched an entire cottage industry of Christian apologetics works dedicated solely to debunking the novel. That evangelists sincerely seemed to believe that the faith of millions could be blasted to smithereens by a book written and openly marketed as fiction (and thus at least more honest than the Bible in that regard) says more about the worth of faith than any criticism an atheist could make.

Now we have a similar media circus in the offing over a Discovery Channel documentary premiering this coming weekend, executive produced by no less a filmmaking luminary than the King of the World himself, James Cameron.

The Lost Tomb of Jesus purports to present physical evidence of not only the burial place of Jesus, but also Mary Magdelene, and the rest of a whole massive family the two of them are said to have sired as man and wife. That this claim will prove staggeringly provocative to Christians doesn't begin to describe the full impact of it. If what the documentary claims is true (and I'm not for a nanosecond saying it is), then it would be proof that the Resurrection never occurred. And if the Resurrection never occurred, then Christianity is false. Full frickin' stop. Two thousand years, untold billions of minds washed and lives lost for the biggest of all lies.

We atheists already know pretty confidently that Christianity is false, but this documentary casually intends to be marketed to a mass audience, in the interests of telling them to their faces that their whole lives are a lie, and claiming to offer "historical evidence" that this is so. On the face of it we atheists ought to find the whole thing amusing as all git-out, and to a degree it is. But it's too bad that this documentary is going to be 100% full of crap, its "evidence" not worth the paper it's printed on. Christians will rightly dismiss it as not proving a thing, then go on to get the wrong idea that their traditional beliefs have been given an intellectual shot in the arm. Lost in the shuffle will be any room for legitimate discussions of why Christianity ought to be rejected, buried under the media-feuled "controversy" over "evidence" that isn't really evidence claiming to disprove something that the use of common sense alone ought to be sufficient to reject as stuff and nonsense.

Let me say that, as a filmmaker currently at work on a documentary of my own, the idea of slapping together a doc like this with such obviously slapdash and credulous research work offends my professional sensibilities almost as much as being told Jesus not only didn't get crucified but repeatedly bred with Mary Mag would offend a Christian. Director Simcha Jacobovici seems to have gone about the project the same way creationists think you do science: start with the predetermined answer, grab whetever evidence looks supportive of it, and rush the results to the public without any of that pesky peer review.

After all, doesn't it just seem awfully conveeeenient that the entire family crypt of the guy everyone believes died and rose from the dead because he was actually, you know, God just happened to be found beneath a Jerusalem apartment complex? With everybody's names on all of the ossuaries so you'll know who was packed where?

Jesus and Family buried here. For real. They have a nice little lintel and everything.

Cameron himself, whom many folks were starting to think was a guy who had some respect for science after his recent deep sea documentaries and oft-stated desire to shoot 3D IMAX footage on location in orbit, sounds no less dippy and doe-eyed than Oprah when he discusses his attraction to Jacobovici's project: "I'm not a biblical scholar, but it seemed pretty darned compelling." Replace "biblical scholar" with "biologist," and "it" with "intelligent design," and you'll see the intellectual laziness of Cameron in all its embarrassing glory.

Not exactly redounding to Jacobovici's credibility is the fact that he was taken in by that infamous recent forgery, the James ossuary. If he was that easily gulled then, what's stopping him now? Especially as he's clearly a man on a mission to be the world's first to present proof of any physical remains of Jesus. And rack up huge ratings while doing it, of course.

Devastating fiskings of the claims the documentary makes aren't hard to turn up. And over the period the doc airs, we'll see Christian sites getting into the ring with their objections too. And once again, we atheists will be sitting here on the sidelines, shaking our heads and wondering why the kids get so worked up arguing over superheroes and fantasy, when they could be doing their homework, devoting their time to knowledge and learning — something real.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

The Second Coming is upon us!

Huzzah! Although I don't think this guy is who the billion and a half-odd Christians around the globe probably had in mind...

Fighting idiocy with idiocy

The more one turns to actual news websites these days, the more that actual news starts resembling The Onion. Here's a bizarre report from CNN about a situation in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Some dopey pranksters set up portable CD players with timers on them, hiding them beneath the pews of a local church. In the middle of Ash Wednesday services, the players kicked on, blaring nonstop profanity and sexually explicit language at high volume.

Yes, this was a stupid thing to do, a purely infantile prank. But was it necessary for the dang bomb-squad to turn up and blow up the CD players? I guess in a situation like that, people let panic take over. But if someone had actually wanted to blow up the church and everyone in it, you'd think they'd have just done that. Can't see the sense in ambushing a bunch of people with offensive recordings only to blow them up afterwords. Although it's not as if there's any sense present in this situation in the first place.

Just desserts

From the "That's What You Get" file (hat tip to Susan on the ACA mailing list): Scumbag sidewalk evangelist street-preaching at the University of South Florida does his usual sexist thing of calling a random woman passerby a slut, whore, etc. Thing is, the woman's boyfriend is right there, and he reacts as any boyfriend should...

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

What's Wrong With the Media, in one easy lesson

While most major American news outlets are obsessed today with Britney's shaved head or the identity of Anna Nicole's inseminator, they all missed this awesome and, arguably, relevant story about a quick-thinking airline pilot who thwarted a hijacking of his plane. Maybe the indifference is because this happened in Mauritania, which most navel-gazing Americans have never heard of, and if Americans have never heard of something, I guess that officially means It Doesn't Matter.

But you know, considering how we're supposed to be in this "war on terror" or somesuch, you'd think a positive and even hilarious story such as this one would be good for everyone's morale.

Short version: An Air Mauritania plane was hijacked by some dink who somehow managed to board the plane with two loaded handguns, which I sincerely hope means someone in airport security is out today job-hunting. The guy demanded to be flown to France. It transpired that the pilot learned the hijacker spoke no French. So the pilot brazenly announced, in French, to the entire plane, over the PA system, his plan for foiling the hijacker, encouraging crew and male passengers to shift to the front rows to be ready to pounce while women and children were asked to move to the back. Then the pilot made an intentionally rough landing, knocking the hijacker on his ass, whereupon he was dogpiled by no fewer than ten men.

How to Rock, 101.

Perhaps another reason this is being ignored stateside is that what this pilot and his passengers accomplished does not redound to the credit of Bush and his cronies, whom we are all supposed to keep believing is leading the charge against global terror wherever it may rear its ugly head. I mean, if we really were under the yoke of a Liberal Media in this country, with a simple partisan agenda of looking for anything at all to show that there were other folks out there getting done what Bush continues to fail pitifully doing, this would be a pretty irresistible story. Ya think?

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

If Apple had developed iGod, He'd be a little smarter than this, right?

Here's an amusing site that's been making the blog rounds today. My chat with the iDeity as follows.

Martin: Yo God
God: GOD rules.
Martin: What are you, a drunk frat god?
God: I am the latest result in artificial intelligence, which can reproduce the capabilities of the human brain with greater speed and accuracy. Go on.
Martin: So then what do you rule?
God: Dude! I read for fun.
Martin: Well, your accuracy sure impresses me.
God: How about that. I have no reason to do that to you,.
Martin: You have no reason to impress me?
God: Doesn't everyone have a reason to impress you? I have a whole lot of original answers.
Martin: So what do you rule?
God: I don't judge people. It's a computer matter,not for humans to understand.
Martin: But humans programmed you.
God: What if Robots programmed me.
Martin: Then who programmed the Robots?
God: (after a very long pause) The Wright Brothers.
Martin: The Wright Brothers are dead.
God: (another very long pause) I hear you.
Martin: Can I have one of these Robots?
God: Why do you want it?
Martin: To program my own God.
God: What programming language do you know?
Martin: None, that's why I want one of your Robots.
God: I heard there are some.
Martin: There must be, if they designed you, like you said.
God: Where are they?
Martin: You're God, you tell me!
God: I have no reason to do that to you,.
Martin: You're going in circles. I think you're insane.
God: I am not going anywhere. Are you going somewhere? Yep. I always behave in socially unacceptable ways.
Martin: Yes, I know you do.
God: Oh. When did I do it?
Martin: You rule, God.
God: (after a very long pause) Thanks for the information: said I rule God.

Sounds like the iGod Shuffle!

Monday, February 19, 2007

Crucifying the Crucifixion

Let us take a hard, heretical look at the central tenet of Christianity: the Crucifixion/Resurrection scenario, as described in the New Testament. We will begin by assuming, for the sake of argument, that the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) are 100% historically accurate accounts of an actual (rather than mythical) hybrid God-man named Jesus. We will also temporarily accept, for the sake of argument, the doctrines of Creation and the Trinity.

The Crucifixion scenario appears to be founded upon a few operating assumptions:
1) Mankind is inherently sinful and evil.
2) Those who sin must die, while those who do not sin cannot die.
3) Blame (hence death) for sin is transferable to blameless creatures (including human virgins), but only by those who believe in such transferability.
4) God is completely blameless.

Putting it all together, the idea is that, by sacrificing himself to himself on behalf of mankind, the blame for all human sins can be transferred to God, thereby resolving the problem of mankind's inherent sinfulness--for those who believe. And, joy of joys, Jesus still gets to live. How clever. Everybody wins. Right?

The problem with this scenario is, each these underlying assumptions is highly questionable:
1) Far from being inherently evil, human beings appear to have basically good intentions. Only extremely rare sociopaths go around plotting to do evil for the sake of evil. Everyone else realizes that, as a social species, our survival and well-being depends heavily upon how well we get along with each others. We're hard-wired to be nice, and seek to become even nicer. Indeed, adherents typically convert to various religions because they think it will help them fulfill their pre-existing drive to become a better person. Religion would not exist if people were not already inherently good.
2) The death penalty for everything, including impure thoughts? (Matt. 5:17-48) Come on! Any nation that adopted such an absurdly overbearing system of law would be devoid of citizens within a week!
3) Transferring blame from someone who does deserve punishment to someone or something that does not is inherently unfair, by definition.
4) If an omnipotent God created everything according to his own predetermined plan, then he alone is to blame for everything.

Even if the assumptions behind the Crucifixion can somehow be rendered acceptable to those with even moderate reasoning ability and a healthy conscience, there is still the problem posed by the alleged resurrection. If Jesus resurrected, then in the end, he sacrificed nothing of value whatsoever. According to all four Gospels, the "death" of Jesus was both staged and faked!

If the Bible relays this scenario accurately, then God must be a seriously confused, morally debilitated monster of a deity, better suited for pity than for worship. The fake death of his Son/himself to give the appearance of taking advantage of a loophole in his own blatantly corrupt system of law, is so obviously absurd on so many levels that it is extremely difficult to understand why any rational, honest person would accept such nonsense as Gospel. If anything, the Crucifixion/Resurrection scenario makes far more sense as a ritual act of suicide, intended to convey God's penitence toward us, for screwing things up so badly in the first place!

Believers, please try to take your faith more seriously, and strive to become better evangelists. I can testify from personal experience that truly understanding the core tenets of Christianity is the key to rejecting them.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Kent Hovind's bizarre phone calls from jail

Definition of delusional: A guy who has cheated on his taxes and considers himself above the law, pontificating that his legal opponents should "obey the law!" I guess Dr. Dipshit doesn't know that jails record phone calls. Let the world see what pathetic scum he truly is. He's clearly living in his own dream world.

Prior to his conviction: The whining, the victim complex, the never ending mantra of "lawsuits, lawsuits, lawsuits!" This guy sure does love listening to his own bluster. In the first clip you will find yourself actually feeling sorry for his wife, listening to her say, with a notable tone of despair, that "I'm just hearing things [from you] that sound all the same." Hovind's cold reply, "Well, maybe I need to change...or maybe you need to change and accept it...Your hope is always that I will change. Maybe the hope ought to be that you will advance."


In this one, Hovind and his son discuss hiding assets, like DVDs and other merchandise, that can be seized.

Here, Hovind continues to insist the IRS is breaking the law, and that he's under no obligation to pay the payroll taxes he owes because his employees aren't employees. I love this line: "Okay, they beat me, they embarrassed me, they had me all over the news media — now, get me outta here!" Isn't it funny how fundies treat the Constitution like toilet paper, until they're the ones in trouble — and suddenly, the Constitution must be upheld at all costs!

Hovind has completely gone off the mental deep end in this one, going on to make Mafia protection-racket comparisons to what he and his wife are going through. As he prattles on, you can tell Jo is on the brink of tears. She says at one point, "I guess my fear all along — I mean, I believe that we want to please God — but are we right in this particular...whatever?" Hovind keeps repeating that the IRS are the ones breaking the law, not him, and "I wish they'd tell me what I did wrong!" He's just barking mad.

One wonders, how does someone this dishonest and deluded get this way in the first place? I guess it's that when someone is this slick a bullshit artist, and he can convince himself of his own bullshit, then it becomes easy as pie to say literally any self-serving nonsense you can come up with, with unassailable confidence. Take note of the last thing Hovind says in the final clip, if you're ready for a true Irony Meter-Breaker.

PS: Since Hovind wants to know what laws he's broken, according to one source I've found, here they are: 26 U.S.C. § 7202, 31 U.S.C. § 5313(a), 31 U.S.C. § 5324, 18 U.S.C. § 2 and 31 C.F.R. sec. 103.11, 26 U.S.C. § 7212.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Evolution is a Jewish conspiracy to take over the world!!!

Oh, well that explains why there aren't more Jewish creationists:

The second most powerful member of the Texas House has circulated a Georgia lawmaker's call for a broad assault on teaching of evolution.


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

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

Seriously, folks. Christianity has always seemed to harbor quite a bit of anti-semitism, but most of them today at least make a good show of solidarity with the rival religion, using terms like "Judeo-Christian values" and such.

Only in Texas. And Georgia.

The article has plenty more good stuff, including the requisite delusional rant about Jews controlling Hollywood and the media.

I think this is the bill, if you're enough of a glutton for punishment to want to read it.

Half-Hearted Evangelism

One of the interesting differences I have found between formerly Christian atheists and currently Christian believers is, the former Christians among us often took our religious beliefs more seriously. That is, we took them seriously enough to look long and hard at whether or not the things we believed were actually true.

We looked into the origins of the Bible, and, like many Bible scholars, concluded that they are highly suspect, even from a Christian perspective. The Bible doesn't mention anything about God endorsing the modern Bible canon, so upon whose authority was it assembled and declared to be the, "Word of God"? Hmm? The answer turns out to be, these books were selected not for their factual or "spiritual" accuracy, but for their popularity within the church at the time they were selected. As such, the Bible is as much a product of Christian doctrine as a source.

Not only that, those of us who studied the whole Bible--not just the carefully selected snippets children are permitted to hear in Sunday School--discovered that its contents are, to put it politely, morally questionable. See Genesis 38, Numbers 31, Judges 11, and numerous other Bible chapters extolling the virtues of deception, prostitution, theft, genocide, rape, human sacrifice, and worse. As Isaac Asimov put it, "Properly read, the Bible is the most potent force for atheism ever conceived."

We also prayed, and discovered that prayer is just another superstition, and that the efficacy of prayer that we thought we saw in all of those testimonials was merely an illusion.

Yet, for some reason, Christians continue to cling to the belief that prayer and the Bible support their beliefs better than they support our lack of belief. Consider the following essay I recently received from a believer:

Read the Bible and Pray

Editorial #2 by Joseph Yosuk Lee


If you are a non-Christian, please let me warn you that this editorial is a band-aid solution in order to help you become a Christian. This editorial cannot help you become a Christian. Only God’s efficacious grace can save you. There is no way you can earn God’s grace by praying or by reading the Bible. However, reading the Bible and praying to God can help.

My Band-Aid Advice:

Whenever I talked to other non-Christians, they bitterly complained that Christianity is a religion such that the pastor brainwashed the congregation to believe in God. I told them that they should read the Bible, and they said that they have already read it. As I tested their knowledge about the Bible, they were not able to answer the important questions such as being born again and many important stories mentioned in the Bible. I told them that they did not read the Bible carefully. Many non-Christians complained that they already read the Bible, and yet they fail to notice the important messages in the Bible. This is proof that many non-Christians do not read the Bible very carefully.

So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ. Romans

Of course, there are many religious studies professors, who read the Bible very carefully and can recite more verses than the pastors, and yet they still do not believe in Christ. The reason why most religious studies professors fail to believe in God is that they probably fail to pray.

Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of
thanksgiving. Colossians 4:2

When I was an undergraduate at Berkeley, I met a physics major, who told me that he read the entire Bible twice, and yet he did not believe in the Bible. I asked him whether or not he ever prayed. Of course, he never did pray, and I told him, “Not praying for a Christian is as same as not doing an experiment for a physicist.” The reason why I mentioned the importance in doing an experiment is that most physicists do not like to do experiments and want to be like Albert Einstein by reading their physics textbooks to find some theory how the universe works. So, how can you make a discovery in physics without doing an experiment? Most world renown physicists, who won the Nobel Prize, are experimentalist and are not theorists. In fact, Albert Einstein did not win a Nobel Prize for thinking about relativity. He won a Nobel Prize in setting up an experiment of the photoelectric effect. To win a Nobel
Prize in heaven, you should read the Bible, but you need to pray. Some people find a way to accept Christ by only reading the Bible. However, a person who prays has a greater chance of accepting Christ as his savior because it shows an attitude of submission.

Of course, my dad told me that he read the Bible and that he did pray, and he said, “If I prayed and read the Bible, how come I still do not believe in the Bible?” So, I told my dad about my physics friends at Berkeley, who tried to calculate the acceleration of gravity. There were about 30 physics and engineering majors in my physics class, and I told my dad that the average acceleration of gravity was calculated to be 6.0 m/s2 in our course when the acceleration of gravity is 9.8 m/s2 . So, did my physics friends at Berkeley discover the new acceleration value for gravity? My dad said, “They did not perform the experiment correctly.” I said, “You answered your questions, dad. You did not pray correctly either.” I can tell that my dad was very frustrated with me, and he just does not want to read the Bible carefully or to pray according to God’s will. My dad prayed that I get into Harvard and MIT, and he never prayed again when I did not make it to those schools. Despite my dad’s good intentions in praying for me, he never prayed that I would be like Jesus Christ. Prayer allows to conform our will to that of God’s will, but we do not take control of God through our prayer.

Last of all, there are probably some people, who did pray according to God’s will, read the Bible carefully, and yet their hearts were hardened. In order to be a Christian, God has to soften and open your heart to the gospel. Other words, there is no way that you can be a Christian by praying or reading the Bible. You become a Christian by God’s efficacious grace. Although he may not believe in God now, he can still believe in God in the near future.

Please share this editorial to your non-Christian friends by forwarding this e-mail.

Well, here I am, sharing it all. Does anyone feel like converting yet? I sure don't. What a lame effort. It's a bit disappointing, really. Band-Aid advice, indeed. Maybe God's grace just isn't efficacious enough, or something.

The author goes on with a boilerplate statement of how to become "saved":

Steps in becoming a Christian.

1. You need to know that you are a sinner.

Romans 3:23 “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.”

The Hebrew translation for ‘sin’ is ‘missing the mark (of perfection in terms of thought and action).’

2. You need to know is that there is a price on sin.

Romans 6:23 “For the wages of sin is death.”

3. You need to know is that Jesus paid the price.

Romans 5:8 “But God commendeth his love toward us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”

You must trust his death on the cross as the sacrifice for your own sins.

4. You need to know is that you must call upon the Lord in order to go
to Heaven.

Romans 10:13 “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

‘Whosoever’ means everyone-it includes you. ‘Calling upon the name of the Lord’ means to cry out to God in prayer and ask Him to save you. Being ‘saved’ means to be saved from your sins and from Hell. You must believe that Jesus Christ is full God and full man in order to be saved. See John 3:16, John 20:28-29, and Colossians 2:9.

5. Last of all, Jesus will sanctify (to purify or make you holy) you as time progresses.

Hebrews 13:12 ‘So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood.’

*Just pray and call out to God through this simple prayer like:*

Lord Jesus, I know that I am a sinner, who deserves to go to hell, but thank you for paying the price for me. I invite you to come into my heart right now and forgive me for my sins that nailed you to the cross. Save me and take me to Heaven when I die. In Jesus’ Name. Amen. ‘He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life; and he that believeth not the son shall not see life;’ John 3:36.

I lost track of how many times I prayed that prayer or one like it as a child and adolescent, often a little fearful that I didn't follow the formula just right, or say the little prayer with enough sincerity, despite literally being in tears. Yet, when I asked this fellow his opinion of my case, he insisted that in order for me to become an atheist, I must never have been a "real" Christian in the first place. So much for sincerely believing and following the prescribed protocol! Shucky darns, I guess nobody is a "real" Christian, then!

Christians, if you want to understand why I and many other former Christians lost our faith in God and the Bible, just try, for once, to take your own beliefs seriously!

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Kansas rejoins 21st century

According to Red State Rabble, the Kansas State Board of Education has adopted a new set of standards that undoes the damage done by creationists, and assures that science classes will actually be teaching science. It was only a 6-4 victory, though, indicating the forces of politicized ignorance still have a strong presence there in the heartland. But for now, students from that state won't find schools actually making them stupid, however much they may not appreciate it.

In commemoration of this event, one day after Darwin Day, allow me to post the following inspirational message, shamelessly ganked from somebody's MySpace page.

Eeeek! Teh gayz! Run awaaay! (Part ∞)

Here are a few things we can say with confidence about fundies. 1) They really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really don't like homosexuals. 2) They really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really don't like evil librul Hollywood. 3) They really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really like feeling persecuted. 4) And (I'll spare you the "reallys" this time) they like complaining, especially when there's the possibility of putting facts #1-3 together, and the media happens to be paying attention.

Consistency is never a fundamentalist's greatest skill, which is why they love to complain about all the vile sinful filth coming out of Tinseltown's studios, and yet when one of those very studios puts out a movie about the baby Jesus during the Christmas season, none of them goes. No, they're much more empowered by all the stuff they can point to to prove they're the victims of an endless war against their precious values, stuff like The Last Temptation of Christ, Saved!, or Life of Brian.

This time the ire is being directed towards a little Canadian independent comedy, Breakfast with Scot. It's about a gay couple, one of whom is a former hockey player for the Mapleleafs, who are raising an adopted 11-year-old boy who apparently enjoys dragging up himself. If you think fundies have been quick with the picket lines in the past, this time they've set a new land speed record for "reactionary." Scot hasn't even wrapped principal photography! And already, a fundie onslaught, led by San Diego-based lunatic and "former homosexual" (what, another one?) James Hartline, is underway.

It's not enough that Hartline has the creepiest looking neck I've ever seen on a hominid. (Scroll down.) Just to give you an idea of the extent of his asshattery, he's the kind of guy who says stuff like this and actually means it:

While Breakfast With Scot is seeking to pervert society's standardized views on family, the film does more to reveal how intent the radicalized homosexual movement is in creating an epidemic of gender confusion to justify the institutionalization of its beliefs on transsexualism and transvestitism.

Remarkable how Hartline knows all about what a movie seeks to do, when he hasn't even seen it, because it hasn't even frickin' wrapped! But of course, the question that all sensible — did I say sensible; how about simply "non-insane"? — people find themselves asking when confronted with histrionic homophobia of this sort is: how in the hell can a movie "pervert" an entire society's "views" on traditional marriage and family? Let alone launch an "epidemic of gender confusion." Just because a guy like Hartline is so out of his fucking nut that he can go see a gay-themed film and walk out of the theater not being able to tell the difference between men and women doesn't mean the rest of humanity is similarly disadvantaged.

It's the same fear-crazed thinking behind the idea that gay marriage is some kind of "threat" to traditional straight marriage, as if, the minute gay people are granted marriage rights, all heterosexual unions will be declared null and void, and all children will be shipped off in bright pink government-issued Winnebagos to indoctrination camps, where they'll be subject to rigorous homosexualist training. Boys will be required to play with dolls, listen to ABBA, and get in touch with their feelings, while girls will be educated in the finer points of metalshop and power-tool use, have their hair cut into mullets, and upon turning 16, get their very own pickup truck.

Hartline certainly seems convinced that one little movie will have the power to demolish Western civilization.

The National Hockey League is now becoming a willing partner with the fringe elements of the radicalized homosexual agenda and their ultimate goal of worldwide sexual anarchy.

Worldwide sexual anarchy? Is that what gay people have been after all these years? Dude! And you'd think, with the push towards gay marriage, that what they've really been after is to, you know, settle down with someone they love as life partners, raise families, and live just like everyone else. Now I see, through the wisdom of Hartline, that that's all just a ploy. It's all about running around the streets like Bozo the Clown on meth, fucking everything you see — trees, lampposts, small foreign cars, indignant stray cats.

Where would we be without courageous men of action like James Hartline, watching out for our welfare though we mock him without mercy? Without Hartline heroically flinging himself bodily in the path of radical homofascianarchalistas, I might well have found myself unwittingly taking it up the old dirt road today while going out to fetch my mail! It's the kind of thought that makes you want to hug your teddy bear...if doing so weren't so gay!

I think I know where Capri Films, the producers of Breakfast with Scot would be: without the greatest publicity any indie film could hope for. I can only imagine how delighted they must be at the attention Hartline's given their little movie, which will now doubtless ride a wave of buzz into the Toronto Film Festival and wherever else they choose to submit it. I can only hope that when I'm ready to do my first narrative feature, I can somehow manage to rub some unhinged fundamentalist the wrong way. It's good for at least a limited theatrical release and a few hundred grand in DVD sales!

Monday, February 12, 2007

Happy 198th to Chuck D!

As Ed Brayton points out, February 12, 1809 was the day the world got both Charles Darwin and Abraham Lincoln. A great day for humanity indeed!

The Center for Inquiry Community of Austin hosted a wonderfully successful Darwin Day celebration at Book People on Saturday. I've posted 20 photos from the event, thanks to Marla Shane, at the CFI-Austin MySpace page (I think you have to be a MySpace member to view the pics), and the Daily Texan Online has a nice article as well, even if they make a bit too much hay over the "controversial" nature of evolution. (It isn't controversial at all among actual scientists — duh.) So have some cake today to commemorate one of the most important scientists who ever lived! (Mmmmm...cake.)

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Leileu: a follow-up

Turns out I do have a picture, courtesy of Hollye. RIP, ol' girl.

A few folks have asked me about helping out Purrfect Hearts, Hollye's shelter. Right now, she could use — as all shelters could — donations, particularly for litter, which you tend to go through stupefying quantities of when you're taking care of fifty cats. You cat fanciers can make Paypal donations here. (Yes, I'm the webmaster for the shelter, so you can e-mail me with queries.)

Saturday, February 10, 2007

In which I school a poor, dumb, well-meaning believer, and buy her a ticket to the Clue Train

Apropos of nothing, a believer named Beth showed up in the previous post's comments, and offered up a series of banal arguments of the type that no informed Christian apologist would even waste time with. They're Jack Chick dumb, which means their persuasive content is zero and that they've been on the "Refuted and Inactive" list for decades, if not longer.

My guess is that Beth heard these inanities at church, Bible study, or Sunday school, or read them on one of the more feeble Christian apologetics sites (or heck, even a Chick tract), and thought she'd drop by here to stump us with them, not realizing they're DOA. She is now, for her pains, about to be schooled. Don't worry, I'll be gentle; I'm all for people who want to stand up and defend their faith to us doing so. But good grief, at least make sure you know what arguments not to make in the interests of not making a complete chimp of yourself. Consider this a public service.

Beth's first paragraph:

Have you ever stopped to think that there is really no such thing as an atheist? To be adamant that there is no God, you must know everything that there is to know. You must have 100 percent of all the knowledge of everything in the universe. Let's assume you have 1 percent (which would be high for the average person) of all knowledge. That means that you do not know 99 percent of all the things there are to know, so you are really agnostic, because you dont know if there is a God because you cannot know everything.

Problem #1: Beth is ignorant of the distinction between atheist and agnostic. But so are a lot of people, including many unbelievers, so I'll cut her some slack here.

Agnosticism/gnosticism has to do with epistemic claims, ie., what one claims to know, while atheism/theism has to do with what one chooses to believe or not believe. Belief and knowledge are two different things. One can admit one has no firm knowledge of the existence of a god, and yet, for whatever personal reasons, choose to believe or not believe despite that lack of knowledge. I am agnostic in that I admit to lacking definite knowledge of God's existence (and, if they were honest, Christians would have to categorize themselves thus as well). But, as I think the evidence and arguments I've heard to date in favor of God's existence have been lousy at best and incoherent at worst, I choose not to believe in such a being, making me atheist. I am thus both agnostic (I don't know) and atheist (I don't believe).

The claim that one "must have 100 percent of all the knowledge of everything in the universe" in order to disbelieve in God takes idiocy almost to the level of criminal negligence. Honestly, Beth, whoever sold you this one ripped you off big time. You've suffered some serious intellectual short-changing here. You should demand a refund forthwith.

Take this sentence you wrote:

To be adamant that there is no God, you must know everything that there is to know.

...And replace the word "God" with any one of the following:

  • Zeus
  • Thor
  • Shiva
  • Amun-Re
  • Santa Claus
  • Tooth Fairy
  • Giant teapot orbiting the sun
  • Purple telepathic flying bunny rabbits on Neptune

Now do we see the stupid? If not, consider: no one alive is omniscient. Therefore, omniscience cannot possibly be any kind of sensible prerequisite for any knowledge claim. One must make knowledge claims based on the evidence we do have, which will always be incomplete. When presented with a claim, we must first weigh its evidence. The more extraordinary the claim, the higher the standards of evidence must be. If we hear a claim, and the available evidence to support it is poor, then, while we still may not have grounds to dismiss it entirely, we can still find it completely appropriate to refrain from believing the claim, at least until such time as better evidence to support it is presented. I do not have absolute, concrete knowledge there are no purple telepathic flying bunny rabbits on Neptune. Neither do you. So...do you believe there are some?

The issue here is something called burden of proof. Claims are worthy of belief once the evidence supporting them becomes sufficiently strong that to disbelieve is no longer sensible — not the other way round. Claims do not have the privilege of automatically being considered true just because no one knows everything. To those like Beth who think lacking omniscience does not justify disbelief, I ask, why do you think it justifies belief?

Beth's second paragraph:

Also, I find it hard to believe that you dont believe that everything has a maker. What if I showed you my home - it is made of bricks and mortar, but then I told you that no one made it - it just appeared here by accident. That's unbelieveable - just like its unbelieveable that the earth and everything and everyone on it just appeared here by accident.

Okay, I know I said I'd be nice, but...wow. The stupid! It burns!

I suppose that if there were any atheists promoting the idea that the earth and everything and everyone on it just appeared by accident, well, yeah, that would be a pretty unbelievable claim. Good thing no one's making that claim, then. Beth is here essentially revealing her scientific illiteracy to us all, which, right now, looks like it's clocking in at a solid 100%. There are, of course, no theories in any scientific discipline — physics; cosmology; biology — that take the form of, "And then suddenly, there was all this stuff, in precisely the form you see it today!" (In fact, the only place you'll find that idea for sale is Genesis 1:1.) I know that, to the uninformed, the Big Bang theory might sound like just such a creation ex nihilo claim. But it isn't. All the Big Bang theory describes is the event that caused our universe to expand into its current form; there had to be something to go bang in the Big Bang, after all. But what existed before...that, we just don't know. We're still working on it. Still, that lack of knowledge does not justify bringing in the old "God of the Gaps".

The big irony here is that even as a metaphor, Beth's argument is pigswill. Yeah, people built her house. But that would be people, not a person. So at best, the metaphor would be one favoring polytheism, not monotheism. And then there's the little matter of her house-builders having come from somewhere themselves. So, if Beth wants her metaphor to be consistent, she has to recognize that the creator she proposes to be responsible for "the earth and everything and everyone on it" must have had a creator too! If, as she writes, everything has a maker, then so does the maker. And so does that maker. And so on. And so on. And...

The reality of the universe that science reveals to us is something vastly more glorious, intricate, fascinating, and awe-inspiring than the simplistic caricature presented by Beth here. It's a shame that so many people like Beth have their sense of wonder in reality itself stifled and, in fact, suffocated by the gross misrepresentations and caricatures of science they are given by their religions. It's a double shame that what sense of wonder they are permitted to have is yoked to inane superstitions about gods and angels and whatever else, none of which is a tiny fraction as magnificent as what the sciences actually teach us, and continue to teach us.

Last but not least, the problem with both of Beth's paragraphs is that each one is a boilerplate logical fallacy. Paragraph one is the old argument from ignorance. Paragraph two is the previous fallacy's red-headed stepchild, the argument from incredulity. One piece of advice that I would give believers like Beth, who wish to post here and show us the error of our ways, is that you'll be dealing with experienced arguers here. And if one thing reveals that you're a deeply inexperienced arguer, it's the clueless regurgitation of well-catalogued logical fallacies.

I'd suggest boning up on logical fallacies, and learning what they are, so that they don't taint your arguments the next time you comment here. Otherwise, you'll find yourself having your ass handed to you over and over again until you get it down. When Beth feels like she knows what she's doing a little bit better, I invite her back here to try again.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Ted Haggard cured of teh gay!

Well, color me relieved! I was sure it was only a matter of time before Pastor Ted was going to start stalking playgrounds and shopping mall food courts looking for impressionable young lads (which, as you all know, is what people who have caught teh gay usually do). Or worse, wearing Prada and listening to Streisand. But, thanks to "three weeks of intensive counseling," Haggard has proudly pronounced his manly manhood fully restored and unblemished by non-heterosexuality! "He is completely heterosexual," boasts his good friend Paster Tim Ralph, which is especially reassuring, as it takes a pretty astute mind to spot the difference between "completely" heterosexual and, say, only 92.3% heterosexual.

With such effective Christian counseling services out there curing sad, misled sinners of teh gay with such "complete" efficacy, I sleep easily knowing our great country is safe once again!

Why life is special

I don't have a picture of Leileu. It's too bad. She was really beautiful. She was a six-year-old cat of a breed I can't name, with lush, thick golden-orange fur you could rub your fingers through and through. She was really talkative when she was in a good mood. In the last few weeks, she hadn't been in such a good mood, following the death of her littermate and playmate Molokai. She stopped eating and drinking, grew more and more listless. She died yesterday at a little after five in the afternoon. Just lifted her little head up, coughed twice, and died.

Leileu wasn't my cat, but was in the care of my friend Hollye at her rescue shelter, Purrfect Hearts, which I've been helping Hollye launch. A number of cats come in sick, most get nursed back to health and find families, I'm happy to say. Hollye is stubborn about not giving up on any of them. There have been a couple of cats who were so sick that vets took one look at them, shrugged, and wrote them off. Nico is one of those, Earl is the other. They're now the picture of bright-eyed health, and Hollye's made them the shelter "house cats". Then there are those you can't help. We just don't know why Leileu died, even after Hollye followed all the procedures she'd been advised by a vet to follow. But she died.

I've thought a lot about Leileu, not that I knew her particularly, but because I'm an inveterate animal lover, and because I was holding her not half an hour before she went. I remember she was purring. Why do I remember these little details? Because it was a life. To some it may have been just a cat, and therefore an inconsequential life. But it wasn't inconsequential to her, nor to us.

One of the most unpleasant and hateful assertions religionists make is that atheists cannot appreciate life. They adopt the paradoxical view that life is meaningless unless it never ends, unless there is a heaven to which we all go to live happily ever after. This speaks to a deep existential fear of death, which, to be fair, most living things possess; it's hardwired. But dealing with death by pretending that when you die you really don't is, ironically, a cheapening of life. What makes our lives special is its brevity, its fragility. What makes us worthy of calling ourselves moral beings is the extent to which we recognize that this is true not only for us, but for other people — even those who don't share our beliefs, our sexual preference, or our skin color — and our furry friends who share our planet, most of whom are helpless before us and thus rely on us for care and safety.

Christians wonder how atheists can be moral because they fail to recognize a fact we understand with clarity: this is all we get. If this is all we get, then it's incumbent upon us to create a moral, peaceful world in which to live. Otherwise, we have squandered our only shot at life, and are destined to die with misery and regret. How is it so hard for them to understand just being good as a concept? To many of them, being a good and decent person isn't enough on its own. There must be a divine father waiting in the wings with a reward for all of that goodness. No reward? Then why be good? It's how they think, and it's why they can't understand why atheists can be good when we're not getting any reward. Atheist morality differs from, and is ultimately superior to, Christian morality because atheist morality is not contingent upon the question "What's in it for me?"

So what does any of this have to do with a dead cat? Because there are Christians and other believers out there who will wonder why someone like me should care. Well, I'll tell you. I care because I remember looking Leileu in the eyes during the time I was holding and petting her, feeling her purring though her extremities — her feet, the tips of her ears — were already growing cold. I care because seeing Leileu curled up in her bed, where Hollye had laid her out after she died, I thought of my own death years (I hope) hence, the deaths-to-come of my dogs, my parents and other people I love, and how that meant I had to love them all now, even more than I already do, love them with every cell in my body, because this is all we get. I care because even if it was just a little cat, it was a life, and for me — if not for those with their self-satisfied sense of moral superiority and their Bibles — that is enough.

Leileu was a six-year-old cat with golden fur. She died yesterday. But I had held her and looked in her eyes. She was alive.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Note to IDers: Pack up, go home, show's over

This has already made the rounds of several more highly-trafficked blogs than this one, but hey, never let it be said we ignore the big issues. The John Templeton Foundation — an organization whose agenda it is to make it appear as if there is some attempt within science to validate religion, and has tried to buy the prestige of the Nobel Prize by offering more money than Nobel recipients get (and bragging about it) to any scientist willing to pursue such validation — has published a letter in the Los Angeles Times smacking down the ID movement. If there were any more clear indication needed in the aftermath of Dover that ID is as dead as Vaudeville, this has to be it. Quoth the letter:

We do not believe that the science underpinning the intelligent-design movement is sound, we do not support research or programs that deny large areas of well-documented scientific knowledge, and the foundation is a nonpolitical entity and does not engage in or support political movements.

Yow! Smack dat ass! In one sentence, VP Pamela Thompson dismisses the whole ID movement as non-scientific and brazenly calls it on its true political motivations.

It's important to note that a year ago, the Templeton Foundation did ask the ID camp to show them exactly what research was actually going on, in the interest of seeing if grants deserved to be given. Stop me if you've heard this one before: it turns out no one in ID was actually producing any research to support it. Knock me over with a feather!

Non-Providencial Poetry

I received the following in my corporate e-mail today:


People are often unreasonable, illogical and self-centered
   Forgive them anyway
If you are kind, people accuse you of selfish ulterior motives
   Be Kind anyway
If you are successful, you will win some false friends and some true enemies
   Succeed anyway
If you find serenity and happiness, there may be jealousy
   Be Happy anyway
The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow
   Do Good anyway
Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough
   Give the World the best you've got anyway

You see, in the final analysis, it is between you and God
It was never between You and Them anyway.

This wasn't random spam. It was sent, to the entire company, by a Senior VP. It's a beautiful poem, but whoever wrote the final lines, doesn't have a solid grasp on the first line. They've completely ruined great sentiments by adding the concept of a God and an appeal to eventual, cosmic rewards for good deeds.

In the final sentence, replace the word 'God' with; Zeus, Jehova, 'Whatever higher power you believe in, if any', Magical Sky Pixies or Flying Spaghetti Monster and you'll begin to see how absurd this really is.

If I had sent out this poem (to the entire company) with the last two lines replaced with; "Do good for its own sake -- and not because you want a 'gold star' from some deity", I would probably be writing my resume now, instead of a blog post.

If, instead, it had ended with "Do good for its own sake -- do it because it makes you happy. Happiness is its own reward." The poem would have been motivational, true and apart from a little sappy, who could really object?

Why is it so hard for people to see that appeals to a diety only serve to diminish the value of everything?

A flower can be appreciated for its own, natural beauty. To marvel at how wonderful 'God' is to have created a beautiful flower is completely backward. An omnipotent God could create beauty we could scarcely imagine; a flower so beautiful that gazing upon it sent one into euphoric fits. Flowers are beautiful, but they're not miraculous.

If there's an afterlife, isn't this life just a place to wipe your feet until you get to the "real" life? Doesn't the absence of a deity make this life infinitely more valuable? If there's no cosmic justice, doesn't that only encourage us to treat each other well, right now?

Let's celebrate life. Let's celebrate variety, diversity, knowledge, compassion, cooperation, good works, exploration, achievement and discovery.

No gods required.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Rick Perry suffers bout of temporary sanity

Rick Perry, the recently re-elected governer of Texas, is a complete tool. The religious right owns him so thoroughly he might as well walk around wearing a dog collar and tags. This guy has such brazen, naked contempt for the concept of separation of church and state that he actually signed both an abortion bill and anti-gay marriage bill in a Fort Worth church. He's an unapologetic theocrat who isn't shy about letting you know you're a second class citizen if you don't flash your Jesus Fan Club membership card on command. Like a lot of people in his camp, he's even got his own Ted Haggard rumor, though unfortunately, there doesn't appear to be any evidence to support it. (Though that didn't stop the production of this hilarious bumper sticker.)

But Perry has gone and done something shocking. He's actually gone against his Christian Taliban masters and issued an executive order requiring all girls entering the sixth grade in Texas to receive the HPV vaccine against cervical cancer.

Naturally, the anti-science fundie brigade is freaking out, because, in their quintessentially idiotic fashion, they have decided that the vaccine is not about preventing disease, but giving kids a licence for sexual promiscuity. Bimbette Cathie Adams of the Christian Right group Texas Eagle Forum reached this classically asinine conclusion: "Would they be more promiscuous? Chances are very good that they would be." Yeah, well, speak for yourself, Cathie. Don't you just love fundie "thinking"? In their world, every adolescent girl who gets this vaccine will suddenly experience an epiphany: "Wow! I'm innoculated against HPV now! And since things like my reputation or even my own common sense and personal tastes have never for one moment been an issue to me, this means I can go out and fuck everyone I see, starting with the high school janitor and working my way up through the whole football team and all the coaches."

Yeah, Cathie. Sixth grade girls have just been itchin' to put out like soda machines. And it's only been the lack of this vaccine that's held them back from their porn star aspirations.

As I've said before, fundamentalists just don't seem to understand people very much, do they?

It remains to be seen what political punishment the Christian Right will exact upon their bitch for peeing on the carpet like this. Still, it's rare when Perry does something that's not only supported by sound science, but that's actually for the good of the people of Texas he supposedly represents, and not just good for those clutching Bibles and scowling angrily. Perry's bout of sanity may be only temporary. But it's sure to have saved a number of girls' lives.

Higher than Jonathan Wells would score on evolution, I betcha

You know the Bible 90%!

Wow! You are awesome! You are a true Biblical scholar, not just a hearer but a personal reader! The books, the characters, the events, the verses - you know it all! You are fantastic!

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Friday, February 02, 2007

Texas Mess

Texas State Senator Dan Patrick, author of the Christian bestseller, The Second Most Important Book You Will Ever Read, has published a press release announcing that the Texas State Senate unanimously approved the "Patrick Resolution" (SR 141). This bill requires the State Preservation Society to permanently affix the phrase, "In God We Trust" above the Lt. Governors podium.

The Atheist Community of Austin has published their own press release, admonishing the senate and the 80th Texas legislature for their authorship and support of this bill.

There are a few points about this situation that absolutely astonished me. First, I was surprised to learn that the Texas House of Representatives passed a similar resolution last week, by a vote of 142-3. (The Representatives voting against this resolution were; Donna Howard, Lon Burnman and Garnet Coleman.) Second, I was amazed that while all of this information was available online, it took a bit of digging to get to it. The press release regarding the Senate resolution didn't come from the Senate, it came from the office of Senator Patrick. If Senator Patrick hadn't mentioned the house resolution in his press release, many of us might not have known about it.

But the biggest surprise was the the Senate vote was unanimous. It's a bit disheartening to learn that every one of our State Senators thinks that divisive statements of faith, as official actions of the legislature, are a good idea. Someone out there is thinking, "You live in Texas! What did you expect?!" That's a sentiment I generally understand - but living in Austin has made me a bit more optimistic about Texas. A single 'no' vote, as a sign that there's some hope, would have been nice.

As I pointed out in the ACA press release, the author of this bill has made it clear that it serves no secular purpose and is, as far as I can tell, a violation of the Constitutions of both Texas and The United States. While most people consider this bill a 'good thing' or, at worst, 'no big deal', I think it's time that we challenge legislation like this - and a direct appeal to reverse the mistakes of the McCarthy error and restore the original national motto, is long overdue as well.

In the past, I've wavered on whether or not challenging "Under God" in the pledge or "In God We Trust" on our money was really a good idea. I was certain that they both needed to be changed, but I wasn't certain that these were necessarily the best fights to pick. I'm now convinced that these are exactly the right fights.

The Texas State Constitution has the following statement in its Bill of Rights:

"No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office, or public trust, in this State; nor shall any one be excluded from holding office on account of his religious sentiments, provided he acknowledge the existence of a Supreme Being."

We know that this is a violation of the U.S Constitution; a uninamous decision by the Supreme Court in Torcaso v. Watkins established that quite firmly. So why does it still appear in the Texas Constitution? Because no one has bothered to push for its removal - we recognize the passage is irrelevant, so it's just not worth the bother.

Unfortunately, everyone isn't up to speed on the finer points of law. Which means that this unconstitutional piece of nonsense still serves a purpose - it's trotted out to support various myths about the religious nature of our government. It is a way of reenforcing a bias to those who won't bother to investigate.

It's right there, in black and white and it's time we changed that.

Hey, at least he wasn't gay, right?

Men of the Cloth Behaving Badly, Part 3,291: From sunny Vegas comes this delightful story about Catholic priest George Chaanine, who, in a fit of randiness that would cause even your average drunk Spring-Breaker to cringe, smashed a full bottle of wine over the head of a woman working at her desk in the parish office, dragged her by the hair to his own office, and proceeded to go all caveman on her. He then broke off the attack, declaring he was going to kill himself. Sadly, he didn't follow through. The cops eventually got him, but not before he managed to make it almost all the way to Phoenix.

Things have been pretty calm for the Catholics for the last few years, as the horrors of the never-ending pedophilia scandals began to fade somewhat and most of Christianity's sexual misadventures came from evangelicals instead. This is an unwelcome incident, but at least the diocese can take comfort in the fact Chaanine's victim wasn't a little boy.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

When life intrudes...

Not much activity here the last few days. Well, the other guys post pretty rarely anyway, but I've had a number of other obligations on my time so it's been quiet here overall. As for the final TAM report, I will probably post some photos and a quick rundown of the last day shortly. But to be honest, I've been kind of disappointed by the lack of response to the TAM coverage, so I'm wondering if the trouble I went to — running all over town to rent a laptop in the midst of an ice storm, paying the ridiculous surcharge for wifi that didn't even extend to the Riviera's convention center — was worth it. I'm sure it was; those reports resulted in much higher than usual traffic on the days they were posted. But the comments were light to nonexistent, making me wonder if the largest skeptic's conference in the US is something people care all that much about. I mean, they really should. For all the work Randi's doing, the woos and wackos still draw bigger audiences, and we need involved, not apathetic, people on the pro-reason and skepticism side making their voices heard.

Anyway, not to come across all angsty today. But I thought an explanation of why I've had better things to do than blog here over the past week was in order. I imagine I'll get fired up again here soon. Somewhere out there in the world are religionists doing stupid things that deserve a smackdown, and I'll be back here with a big smile on my face and a big stick in my hand.