Thursday, November 29, 2007
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
However, I wouldn't want to forget the Islamic end of the religious spectrum. This is the reason why we should free ourselves from dependence on Saudi oil. It's also the reason why the separation of church and state is critical. Islamic "law" my ass.
Thursday, November 15, 2007
I like aliens, too. At least the idea of them. They're not necessarily important to me (I spend much more time thinking about atheism and the environment), but the thought of having neighbors somewhere in the universe is at least plausible. With sextillions (yes, that's a real measurement - ten to the twenty-first power) of stars and likely sextillions of planets in the universe, it's not too hard to imagine that at least a handful of them have conditions suitable to life.
Some have tried to estimate how many inhabited planets might be out there. Perhaps the best-known attempt is The Drake Equation:
- R* is the average rate of star formation in our galaxy;
- fp is the fraction of those stars that have planets;
- ne is the average number of planets that can potentially support life per star that has planets;
- fℓ is the fraction of the above that actually go on to develop life at some point;
- fi is the fraction of the above that actually go on to develop intelligent life;
- fc is the fraction of civilizations that develop a technology that releases detectable signs of their existence into space;
- L is the length of time such civilizations release detectable signals into space.
- But whether there are two intelligent civilizations in the universe or 200, there is a simple analogy that can be drawn to a common activity here on earth - the lottery.
- We, humanity, won the cosmic lottery. (So did every other species on our planet, but I suspect they don't appreciate it quite as much.) When the universe burst into existence, there was a certain chance that life would develop on any given planet. The chance was very small, as is the chance of winning any terrestrial lottery. But we won.
- Our behavior since winning this lottery, particularly towards our planet, parallels that of many lottery winners past who squandered their newfound resources and found themselves bankrupt within a relatively short period of time. You can read about a few cases here and here.
- What makes this behavior especially dangerous is that the winnings we are squandering aren't cash - they're our planet. And if we destroy our planet, we don't just get to start over with a bad credit rating. We lose. We die. And as far as we know, there aren't any habitable planets within a few light years.
- It's frustrating to me that theists seem to have little regard for our environment. But the reason isn't surprising. The Christian Bible says two things in particular that don't bode well for conservation efforts: 1) God created the earth for humans to do with as they please, and 2) The world is going to end one day anyway.
- The second statement is the most disturbing, since many evangelical Christians view the degradation of the environment as a biblical sign that the "end time" is approaching. And some argue that hastening the degradation will bring the end time sooner. This is frightening.
- As an atheist, I live my life in direct opposition to Pascal's Wager. For those that don't know, Pascal's Wager is a piece of decision theory developed by 17th-century French philosopher Blaise Pascal which determined that it's a better "bet" to believe in God, because the benefits of belief are theoretically infinite (i.e. eternity in heaven), while the benefit of non-belief is nothing (or possibly worse). I prefer to function under the assumption of the Atheist's Wager, which says:
"You should live your life and try to make the world a better place for your being in it, whether or not you believe in God. If there is no God, you have lost nothing and will be remembered fondly by those you left behind. If there is a benevolent God, he may judge you on your merits coupled with your commitments, and not just on whether or not you believed in him."
- But it goes beyond that. I'm not personally concerned about getting into heaven. I'm worried about the state of the earth as we leave it for future generations. We should live our lives to make this world the best place possible for our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. We should assume that the world is not ending soon, but rather that it will be here for thousands, if not millions, of years to come. We can and must choose now whether our descendants are going to live in a cesspool of industrial pollution and greenhouse gases or not. The future is much closer than we think.
- The main reason that I want to hitch the atheism wagon to environmentalism is that I believe they both have a bright future with a lot of room to grow. The future of the environment is renewable energy resources. Currently, renewable energy accounts for about 10% of the energy used in the United States. Interestingly, atheists make up about 10% of the population in the United States.
- I do believe that both of those figures will increase dramatically during the next couple of decades. The only question is whether or not they will reach a critical mass soon enough to avoid the irreversible destruction of Earth.
- Our existence is a test of our intelligence, whether or not God exists. We have two methods of producing energy for this planet: fossil fuels, which are polluting and finite, and renewable sources such as wind and solar power - which are limitless and clean. The fossil fuels were the first that humans figured out how to harness the power of. But it has become clear that the future of these fuels is not much of a future at all.
- With that, I again pose the question to theists: Does it make sense that there is a God? If there is, and he created the earth, he was kind enough to give us enough rope to hang ourselves with. If we burn all of the estimated remaining fossil fuels that can be extracted from the ground, we're in a heap of trouble - to the tune of a 15-degree Fahrenheit rise in average global temperature, plus a rise in ocean levels of about 21 feet among other gruesome statistics. If you believe that God created the earth, then you must believe that God created all of the materials that make up the earth. If this is so, then why did God set such an environmental trap while neglecting to tell us about it?
- Like evolution, global warming has been happening relatively slowly. The effects of global warming are not yet very pronounced. However, while evolution has occurred over millions of years, global warming will go from start to fatal within 200 to 300 years. The theist and the atheist can argue about evolution forever - but we have no such time luxury when it comes to global warming. So, unless you're absolutely certain about when the world is going to end, I would suggest to theists that they should get serious about environmental preservation. Personally, I think we're going to be here for a while.
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
But before I talk about Mr. Flew, I'd like to share a revelation I had after reading about him.
I figured out why believers - particularly Christians - are so afraid of atheists.
I speculate that there are a lot more Christians-turned-Atheists out there than there are Atheists-turned-Christians. I'm pulling this number straight out of my rear-end, but I would guess the ratio is somewhere around 10 to 1. I'll try and see if there's some research out there somewhere to back this assertion up. But frankly, the only people you really hear about turning to Christianity are convicted felons (and I'm talking about the kinds of felons who got popped for the Class 1 or 2 varieties). So, you'll have to forgive me if I don't quite believe the sincerity of their conversions.
So by this math, any atheist that converts (or returns) to Christianity is worth about 10 people going the opposite direction (remember also that atheists currently make up only about 10% of the population). And the atheist is worth even more when it's a prominent one.
Such is allegedly the case with Antony Flew. Mr. Flew, it turns out, was one of the great atheist philosophers of the 20th century. There is a new book out entitled There Is a God: How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind, attributed to Mr. Flew and a Christian activist named Roy Abraham Varghese. (Why is it that nobody seems to be able to write the word "atheist" without sticking a negative adjective in front of it? Seeing a pattern here?)
I'm going to provide a link to a lengthy article about this book that appeared in the New York Times a few days ago. But let me just give a quick summary:
Antony Flew is now in his 80's, and is clearly losing his mental faculties. As recently as two years ago, he was corresponding with an atheist - and during said correspondence, he rejected the existence of God. But a group of Christian thinkers, including Varghese, were able to get to him again and obtain his permission to put his name on the book. The Times article makes clear that the book was largely written by Varghese, with contributions from some other Christian thinkers. In the book, Flew extolls the virtues of these thinkers and solidly backs their positions - and yet, when interviewed by the New York Times reporter, Flew can't even remember who these people are when asked about them.
Dishonesty does not strike me as a particularly Christian principle. But that's exactly what this book is. A few Christians taking advantage of a mentally declining atheist to get their beliefs validated. If several atheist thinkers took advantage of a prominent Christian experiencing Alzheimer's to get such a book published, there would be outrage from the Christian community.
But don't worry. We're not outraged. Just sad. Sad for Antony Flew that he got suckered into this, and sad that Christians continue to use dishonesty to promote their positions.
If you read nothing else by Antony Flew, read Theology and Falsification - his short 1,000-word masterpiece from 1950, written when he was in his prime.
Here is the New York Yimes article.
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
As an atheist, I don't especially care if an elected official wants to engage is the Christian equivalent of a Hopi rain dance. (Actually, the only thing I worry about is if it actually rains, people will believe that God did it!)
What makes me sad is that the Governor does not seem to be particularly interested in investigating what the cause of the drought might be. Maybe...global warming?
Global warming is the real deal, people. It's gotten a bit if a black eye now again because any time there is a disastrous weather event (i.e. Hurricane Katrina) there are those who jump the gun and say we're going to lose a major city every year to hurricanes. But you have to admit, the weather has been a little screwy the past few years. Big insurance companies have figured this out. When will politicians?
My message to Sonny Purdue - stop wasting time praying under your taxpayer-funded salary and start researching some concrete solutions.
Friday, November 9, 2007
Fife Symington, former Republican governor of Arizona, will be hosting a November 12 event at the National Press Club where he will discuss the Phoenix Lights incident. He says he will be joined by 14 former high-ranking military and government officials from seven countries who will share evidence from what they call their own UFO experiences and investigations.
It was just a few days ago that Democratic presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich was forced to talk about his own UFO sighting after his longtime friend, actress Shirley MacLaine, came out with a memoir describing the incident. Shirley MacLaine is certainly a crackpot by any definition, but Kucinich still admitted to the sighting. Symington resigned his governorship in 1997 after being convicted of bank fraud (hey, big surprise - he's Republican!), but it doesn't change the fact that the Phoenix Lights incident was widely documented.
But this isn't a blog about UFO sightings - it's about religion (and a lack thereof). I've often asked myself - "Wouldn't the existence of extraterrestrial life render religion null and void?". After all, if we were created in God's image but some aliens showed up who look nothing like us...how many images does God have? And that's the least of my questions.
I've spent the last hour or so reading a few missives on the subject of aliens and religion, all written by Christians. The answers they provide (or lack thereof) are frustrating to say the least. Allow me to review.
Many of the writers subscribe to something resembling this statement made by Benjamin Wiker in an article entitled Alien Ideas: Christianity and the Search for Extraterrestrial Life:
"The simple truth remains: Over the span of the 20th century, science systematically eliminated the possibility of extraterrestrials in our solar system, and their existence elsewhere has dwindled from an absolute necessity to a dim chance."
This is a common theist argument that I'll call the Time-Limit on Scientific Discovery Argument. I read and hear over and over, especially from proponents of creationism and/or intelligent design, that because science hasn't yet figured out exactly how the universe was created, for example, then God must have done it. There are a lot of things that science hasn't figured out yet (and I mean yet), but does that mean scientists all over the world have hung up their lab coats and called it quits? No. Should researchers stop trying to find a cure for cancer just because they haven't found it yet? You can't argue that because something hasn't been discovered yet that it will never be. There is no time-limit on scientific discovery. The origin of the universe is The Big Question, to be sure - but it's only in the last 50 years or so that science has really been developing technology (computing technology in particular) good enough to do high-powered research on these kinds of questions. Technology will continue to get better, and more answers to life's big questions will be forthcoming. And this must be disconcerting to those who believe in God, because every time a mystery is explained, God becomes a little less useful.
The first half of Wiker's statement - that there are no extraterrestrials in our solar system (if by extraterrestrials he means the intelligent, society-forming variety) is probably true, though we still need to send quite a few more probes to more planetary bodies in the solar system to rule out the existence of simple organisms either in the past or present. But the preliminary data from the Mars rovers is quite interesting.
The second half of the statement, though, is misleading at best. The search for extrasolar planets (planets orbiting stars other than our own) is in its infancy. The technology involved at this point is only good enough to detect large (and theoretically uninhabitable) gas giants circling distant stars. This is another take on the Time-Limit on Scientific Discovery Argument. Look at this article, for example. Once you wade through all the biblical quotes, the author makes the argument that because the extrasolar planets discovered thusfar do not appear to be inhabitable, therefore extraterrestrial life must not exist. This type of argument is also called Jumping to Conclusions.
You'll notice in both of these articles that the authors run a lot of interference before even attempting to answer the question of what effect the discovery of extraterrestrials would have on religion. Wiker spends the bulk of his piece reviewing crazy theories of extraterrestrials put forth by scientists from the year 1200 until around 1900 - yet he doesn't cite a single prominent 20th-century (or 21st-century, for that matter) scientist on the subject. In the second article, as you would suspect from someone who believes in the end-time prophecy, there's an awful lot of Bible-thumping.
(By the way, you can read more on the subject yourself. I'm not going to quote any more articles here, since this is already a much longer post than I was planning. The Google search I used was Christian position on alien life.)
Just to sum up one other Christian argument on the topic of extraterrestrial life - this is the assertion that God created the entire universe, not just the Earth, so we shouldn't be surprised to find life elsewhere. That was refreshing, I thought, until I kept reading: Jesus died for them too.
What? What?! Okay, granted all this talk about alien life is conjecture anyway. But hang on a minute. Jesus died for aliens too? Let me run through a few possible alien first-contact scenarios to see just how this would play out...
Aliens: "Hello Earthlings. How are you?"
Us: "Welcome to Earth! Jesus died for your sins!"
Aliens: "What? Who?"
Us: "You know, Jesus, son of God. God created the universe!"
Aliens: "Um, no. The universe was created in the Big Bang [or whatever their scientific universe-creation theory is, which would undoubtedly be more sophisticated than ours]."
So who would be right? Would aliens be just another bunch of no-good atheists?
Aliens: "Hello Earthlings. How are you?"
Us: "Welcome to Earth! Jesus died for your sins!"
Aliens: "What? Who?"
Us: "You know, Jesus, son of God. God created the universe!"
Aliens: "Actually, the Great ZZZZnnrfbOtT created the universe."
This is possibly the only scenario where believers might get a foot in the door. It could be that the Great ZZZZnnrfbOtT is just their name for God. Our theologians and their theologians could sit down together, discuss our mutual scriptures, and who knows - maybe live together in galactic harmony. But then there's the third scenario...
Us: "Welcome to Earth! Jesus died for your sins!"
Aliens: "Open fire!"
Assuming aliens arrive simply to obliterate us, the question remains - who is right? Would God have created a race on another planet that would destroy us? What's the point? And why would God create all the different races on earth, instilling only some of them with the belief that is right? You could argue that all the different religions of the world, at their most basic level, want the same things. If that's true, why don't they work together? Why, in fact, are they almost continually in conflict?
It just goes to show that you don't have to look to extraterrestrials to reasonably conclude that there is no God.
Thursday, November 8, 2007
I'll let the article speak for itself, but also - it's interesting to note that in the United States, religious organizations are not required to file tax returns with the Internal Revenue Service. The vast majority of charitable non-profit organizations must submit a statement of their financial activities each year (usually IRS Form 990) despite being exempt from paying taxes.
I've worked for several (non-religious) non-profits during my career, and preparing tax returns for an organization is about as fun as preparing your own. Except with your own tax return, sometimes you get a refund.
Non-profit organizations usually have to have their financial activities audited by an independent Certified Public Accountant each year, since many large donors - such as foundations - require it. The tax return is usually created from the results of the audit to ensure maximum accuracy. This is a time-consuming and expensive progress. I've never been successful in getting a CPA firm to do an audit on a pro bono basis. Even for the smallest organization I worked for, the audit cost was about $3,000.
For churches to be exempt from this is unfair, at best. So unfair, that this investigation of megachurch-televangelists has inspired me to write a letter to my state's U.S. Senators. And you can do the same. Instructions on how to do so (and text for letter I wrote) are here.
Friday, November 2, 2007
Thursday, November 1, 2007
To get things rolling again, I'd like to share a blog post from Greta Christina.
Since starting this blog a few short weeks ago, I've talked a few times about how we atheists are labeled all sorts of things by believers - militant, vicious, aggressive. These adjectives, as I've pointed out, are all generally pseudonyms for "outspoken". There is a general panic among believers that atheists are becoming more outspoken, and that we're well on our way to crashing their party.
Another term often used to describe atheists is "angry". Believers like to think that all we do is sit in our basements all day and think about ways to lash out at them - in angry sorts of ways. "Why are you all so angry?" they ask us.
Of all the adjectives heaped on atheists, "angry" is actually not entirely untrue. With that, I give you a primer on atheist anger.
Tuesday, October 23, 2007
He has a new book out extolling the virtues of Christianity while also taking ample time to dump on us hostile atheists. I'm going to pick apart this opinion piece from yesterday's USAToday (which is just an excerpt from his book):
We seem to be witnessing an aggressive attempt by leading atheists to portray religion in general, and Christianity in particular, as the bane of civilization.
There’s that word “aggressive” again…”aggressive”, “militant”, “vicious”…you’d think atheists are a pack of rabid dogs! Come on, everybody, say it with me now – the word is “outspoken”…”O-U-T-S-P-O-K-E-N”. That’s the word you’re looking for!
The proposed solution: a completely secular society, liberated from Christian symbols and beliefs.
Strawman alert! This is not possible, nor is it what most atheists want.
Christianity is responsible even for secular institutions such as democracy and science.
It doesn’t appear that Mr. D’Souza took 8th-grade history in this country. Because if he did, he would know that the Greeks are generally credited with the creation of Democracy (and that’s the Before Christ Greeks I’m talking about). And the word “democracy” comes from Greek to boot!
Because science is based on an assumption that is, at root, faith-based and theological. That is the assumption that the universe is rational and follows laws that are discoverable through human reason.
Maybe someone can explain to me how this assumption is “faith-based and theological”. I’m drawing a blank.
There's no particular reason the laws of nature that we find on Earth should also govern a star billions of light years away.
Well, maybe except for the fact that, as D’Souza stated in the previous paragraph – “That is the assumption that the universe is rational and follows laws…”
No wonder also that the greatest scientists of the West - Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo…were priests.
Remember Galileo? Right – he was the one who was sentenced to house arrest for the rest of his life because he dared state that the Earth revolved around the Sun. The Bible said otherwise! Nice to know Christians hold him in such high esteem now.
If modern science has Christian roots, so do our most basic political institutions and values. Consider Thomas Jefferson's famous assertion in the Declaration of Independence that "all men are created equal." He claimed this was "self-evident," but one only has to look to history and to other cultures to see that it is not evident at all. Everywhere we see dramatic evidence of human inequality. Jefferson's point, however, was that human beings are moral equals. Every life has a worth no greater and no less than any other.
First of all, when Thomas Jefferson asserted that “all men are created equal”, we all know that he meant all white men. Slavery would continue well into the 1870’s, and women didn’t even get the right to vote until the 1920’s. Jefferson may have been a role model for his time, but why are Christians so obsessed with the founding fathers and using them to somehow prove we are a Christian nation because of them?
And secondly, I’m sure that the poor and disenfranchised in America and all over the world are so happy to know that they are “moral” equals with everyone else. Every life has an equal worth? Really? Then how many Iraqi civilians do you think equal one American civilian? The sad thing is, it is very much possible to calculate that value based on economics.
Christianity initially tolerated slavery- a universal institution at the time - but gradually mobilized the moral and political resources to end it.
Cop-out alert! D’Souza justifies Christianity’s initial tolerance of slavery by saying the institution was universal. Hey Dinesh – here’s my favorite parental quote: “If everyone else jumped off a bridge, would you do it too?” I guess it’s kind of hard to be against slavery when the Bible promotes it.
From the beginning, Christianity discouraged the enslavement of fellow Christians. Slavery, the foundation of Greek and Roman civilization, withered and largely disappeared throughout medieval Christendom in the Middle Ages.
“…discouraged the enslavement of fellow Christians.” Great, but go ahead and enslave everyone else who doesn’t submit to Jesus! This statement from D’Souza is laughable. And let’s not forget that slavery was a big part of the foundation for American civilization as well.
Consider finally modern notions of human rights - the right to freedom of conscience, or to property, or to marry and form a family, or to be treated equally before the law - as enshrined in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The universalism of this declaration is based on the particular teachings of Christianity. The premise is that all human lives have equal dignity and worth, but this is not the teaching of all the world's cultures and religions.
Aside from the fact that human rights are a common-sense issue (who needs a god to tell you that killing someone is wrong?), I wonder if Mr. D’Souza knows that the United Nations Human Rights Commission – the keeper of the UDHR –says homosexuals are protected under the declaration. How does your Christian conscience feel about that?
One reason the atheist philosopher Nietzsche hated democracy is because he understood its religious foundation.
It seems only fitting to end with Nietzsche. I’ll let you in on a little secret, Dinesh – Nietzsche was crazy, and he hated everyone and everything. I think you may have something in common with him.
Wednesday, October 17, 2007
You can read the transcript of the interview here (scroll all the way to the bottom, then scroll up - it's the next to last segment). Let's fill in the holes:
First - this is the movie they're talking about. Which is based on this series of books geared towards young adults. Interesting how they didn't talk at all about either of them. They just threw the name of the film out there and started going off about atheists.
Now, what they tried to accomplish in this interview was to get people to boycott a film called "The Golden Compass" because the book that it's based on supposedly attacks Christianity.
[Sorry, I got sidelined by a nasty cold at this point in the post. It's now October 22nd, but I'll try to remember where I was and finish up.]
So, yeah, these two Christian authors and Glenn Beck are ganging up on this film based on the book series. Here are some interesting points in the transcript of the conversation I'd like to pick apart:
GLENN BECK: The film is based on the first installment of an award-winning children's series called "His Dark Materials." Nothing spooky or sketchy about that title, huh? OK, like "Left Behind" doesn't sound sinister either. Nothing like scaring your kids into believing something.
GLENN BECK: ...The author is an avowed atheist. Not really. Had Mr. Beck done some research, he may have found this interview with the author (whose name is Philip Pullman - another fact not mentioned for some reason, nor was Mr. Pullman apparently invited to be on the show) who clearly states he is "caught between the words 'atheist' and 'agnostic'".
TIM LAHAYE: Well, the problem is it's a vicious attack on Christianity, the church, and moral values. Why is it that every time someone writes or says something negative about or questioning religion that it is termed "a vicious attack"? To me, a vicious attack involves some kind of physical injury. Like if someone bombed a church, that would surely be a vicious attack. But for someone to write a fantasy novel that draws some parallels to modern Christianity, and asks young adults to give religion a hard look - that's not vicious. But I understand why it scares Christians!
GLENN BECK: But, Tim, you say that atheism is on the rise in this country and it's tearing us apart, and I believe I agree with you. I'm not sure who Beck means by "us" when he says "it's tearing us apart", but I'm going to assume he means "this country" (The United States). What I would like to know is exactly how atheism is tearing the country apart. Here are some current events that I think are tearing the country apart - please tell me how atheism is involved: the war in Iraq, lack of health insurance for those that most need it, droughts in the South and East, wildfires in the West...shall I go on?
LAHAYE: Well, it's not only on the increase, but it's becoming more evangelistic and more aggressive. Evangelistic? Hey, Christianity invented evangelism. Are they just mad that we're dipping into their bag of tricks? Aggressive? Another bad euphemism, like "militant", that Christians like to use instead of "outspoken". Yes, for the umpteenth time, we atheists are becoming more outspoken.
LAHAYE: Pullman admits that he's an activist atheist, and he'd like to tear down the church and discredit it in the eyes of the young people. Please show me where Pullman says this.
LAHAYE: This is something like indoctrination against belief in God. As opposed to an indoctrination for belief in God. That's what belief in God is, isn't it? If you raise your child to believe in God, that's indoctrination. So why badmouth atheists for doing it? Again, I think they're just mad because we're using the same tricks they are.
BECK: OK. I have not -- I've never even heard of this series before. Can either of you -- have either of you read this series? Can you tell me what's in it that is so disturbing, the things that are in it?
JERRY JENKINS: That's the problem, is that we haven't seen it and we don't like people criticizing our stuff when we haven't read it. But from all the things that have been quoted about the author, he clearly is, as Dr. LaHaye says, an active atheist and wants to propagate his views. At least they admit that they haven't read the books. They're just scared that the author is (supposedly) an active atheist who wants to propagate his views. Do you know what we call that in America? Free speech.
LAHAYE: Well, this atheism is even more subtle. Jesus made it very clear that children have a built-in faith. He said "they that believe in him." He just took it for granted. You have to teach children atheism, and that's the harm. Children have a "built-in faith" because Jesus said so? You have to "teach children atheism"? Well, sorry gentlemen. But I was not taught atheism. And neither were most atheists. We were taught religion, and we rejected it. If I had a "built-in faith", it must have come broken from the manufacturer.
I hope all of you on-the-fencers out there can see what I'm getting at.
Michele Anderson <*****@forbes.com>
Thanks for your email. I am passing it along to the editor of our Readers Say section for possible use in an upcoming issue.
Hooray for me and atheists everywhere!
Friday, October 12, 2007
Thursday, October 11, 2007
Tuesday, October 9, 2007
Of course, since nearly every religion opposes homosexuality, leaders from all major religions are in an uproar. Not surprising, but it was this quote from the article that really got to me:
"Religious groups warned it could lead to preachers being prosecuted for emotionally expressing their firmly-held beliefs and will restrict freedom of speech."
It's this "emotionally expressing" cop-out that I find ridiculous. If a preacher of whatever religion is emotionally expressing his belief that homosexuality is wrong, it sounds like a euphemism for inciting hatred to me.
Leaders of religious congregation wield a great deal of influence. If they believe that homosexuality is wrong, but they also believe that homosexuals have a right to exist and should not be attacked, then they should say this clearly to their congregants. A good leader should be able to keep emotions in check, especially if the result of an "emotional expression" could be violence.
There is a less sensationalized article about the legislation here.
To The Editor:
As an atheist it was with no surprise that I read the old, tired arguments against atheism from Paul Johnson.
To call atheists “militant” is to suggest that we are violent, and that is inflammatory at best. Did I miss reports of a recent string of bombings for which prominent atheist organizations took credit? I believe the adjective Mr. Johnson meant to use is “outspoken”. Yes, we are outspoken and are becoming more so. We are getting more press, more television coverage and traffic is increasing on atheist Web sites. Mr. Johnson is correct to note that atheism is on the rise, but that is the only point he makes that could be considered so.
There is too much superstitious, conspiracy-theorist nonsense in Mr. Johnson’s article to refute in 500 words, but it is clear that he dislikes not only atheists but anyone who does not believe in the God of the Bible. I can only assume that at least one of states he speaks of that has an interest in acquiring nuclear weapons is Iran, which is an Islamic republic – not an atheist one. And it is not revulsion against Islamic extremism that is partly driving the current “wave” atheism as Mr. Johnson suggests – it is our revulsion against the aggressive response of a significant portion of the Christian population towards what is a very small percentage of the total Islamic population. Lumping atheists together with Islamic extremists is a transparent tactic – one indicative of his level of paranoia.
Mr. Johnson also suggests that if we atheists had our way, we would demolish churches, burn artworks and attempt to purge history of any mention of God. We aren’t interested in trying to change the past, Mr. Johnson. There are plenty of people trying to do that already. It’s the future we’re most worried about.
As atheists, we believe that using faith as a crutch, that hiding behind it in order to see only what we want to see, is akin to shutting one’s eyes while driving on the highway. You can have “faith” that God will see you to safety, but chances are someone will needlessly wind up getting killed.
In conclusion, to address Mr. Johnson’s question about whether this latest wave of atheism is a “phase”, he will be sad to learn that it is not. Atheists currently make up about ten percent of the population, but recent studies have shown that 20% or more of young people under the age of 25 are identifying themselves as non-believers. And Christianity has only itself to thank. Thanks to the internet we can read about every church scandal, fallacy and abuse of power. And it wouldn’t take more than a few days of news coverage to make a reasonable young person believe that a life in God’s service is not much of a life at all.
For those of you unfamiliar with debate tactics (particularly of the theist vs. atheist variety), Mr. Johnson employs in his article one of the most common methods of deflecting (and I do mean deflecting - not debunking) an atheist argument: the "strawman".
A strawman is essentially an implication that your opponent holds a certain (undesirable) position that they actually don't. Here is the text from his article where the strawman is let loose:
"I could not find content in a landscape whose horizon held no churches or in a civilization whose literature was purged of any reference to a divine being; whose art had blotted out the nativities, crucifixions, saints and angels; and whose music contained no intimations of immortality. And I believe the vast majority of people share such a view."
Mr. Johnson is right - the vast majority of people, including atheists, share this view. As I stated in my response to this article, it is clear that Johnson is implying that atheists would unleash a scorched-earth campaign against religious imagery and literature if we were in charge. This argument is clearly a strawman because (1) to do such a thing would be logistically impossible, and (2) most atheists simply would have no interest in such an undertaking.
So - to all you on-the-fencers out there, here is your first lesson on monitoring theist vs. atheist debates: Beware the Strawman!
In relation to my last post, is this not government establishment of a religion? A couple of weeks ago I was on an atheist forum where one of the members was about to join the Marines. He told us that during boot camp on Sundays, you had to be on a work detail if you chose not to go to church. I couldn't believe it. That was just before this story came out.
This isn't the first time that the military has tangled with allegations of improper evangelism. You may recall in 2004 the U.S. Air Force Academy had to bring in a new commandant on the heels of news that cadets of other faiths (or no faith) were being unfairly persecuted by evangelical Christian staff and cadets.
How is our military supposed to fight a common enemy when it can't reconcile differences within it's own ranks?
In case you're wondering, the U.S. Constitution mentions religion in exactly one paragraph - the First Amendment. It says the following:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
I would like to know how a reasonable person would believe that this text establishes the United States as a Christian nation. Christians will commonly argue in response that the United States was "founded on Christian principles" because the majority of the founding fathers were Christian. That may be true, but if the founding fathers were really that concerned about cementing the place of Christianity in our country's founding, perhaps they would have taken a few minutes to write it into the Constitution. Instead, they made their intentions very clear in the First Amendment - the practice of religion (any religion) would not be interfered with, but no single religion would be endorsed by the government either.
The moral of this story? Read your Constitution folks! Especially you elected officials. The Cornell University Law school has a nice navigable electronic version here.
Didn't that feel good?
If you're not an atheist, then it either didn't feel good or you just didn't say it. Either way, that's fine. You're not my target audience. Which isn't to say that I'm not interested in your input. But we'll get to that part shortly.
So let's start this off properly - my name is Geir, and I'm an atheist. I have been for a long time. Always, actually. Don't get me wrong - I was raised Lutheran, went to Sunday school and all that for several years, went through confirmation...and then never went to church again (except for the occasional wedding, of course). None of that religious education stuck. Why? I don't know. But I do believe that religion is instilled by indoctrination, and part of my atheism, I'm sure, is that the indoctrination just wasn't strong enough. (The church I went to was ELCA, not Missouri Synod - those of you raised Lutheran will understand).
Anyway, why is this important? Why am I doing this? The simplest answer I can give is this: organized religion is either directly or indirectly influencing and causing a lot of things in the world that it shouldn't be. And it is also denying or refusing to deal will issues that must be addressed. In the past week, in particular, several news articles appeared that finally drove me over the edge.
I've been thinking about creating this blog for a while. It will function as sort of a running tally of religion causing trouble, as reported by the media. Plus some color commentary from me, as time permits.
Now - back to my target audience. My target audience is those of you who are or may be on the fence about religion, faith or whatever you want to call it. If there are lingering doubts in your mind about the existence of the God of the Bible, or any god, I hope you take a good look at the cases I show here and ask yourself what makes more sense - an invisible man in the sky, supposedly all-powerful and in control of everything that happens, or the fact that we're just here, in control of our own destinies, and responsible for making the most of it. It's more complicated than that, of course. Entire books have been written on the subject. But this is a blog, not a book, so I'll do the best I can.
To those of you who are atheists already, I ask you come out of the closet if you haven't yet! You don't have to put up a blog or anything. As a good first step, I'd recommend checking out The Rational Response Squad, which is a great clearinghouse for atheism-related information. It's probably the only link I'll include at the top of this blog as they have links to everywhere else I would consider going.
One last point to end this long-winded first post. I am not interested in, and nor will I, attack any individual based on his or her faith. As atheists, we don't attack individuals. We attack the shameful and destructive results of religion taken too far. So please don't take my existence or the existence of this blog as an attack on you or your beliefs. As I said before, I am interested in your input. If you want to debate, we can debate. In fact, at some point soon I'll be posting something just for you believers to respond to!
On with the show!