Nov 17, 2009
Fundraising efforts for Camp Quest Texas help cover the fees of volunteer counselors, allow for enhanced activity options, and covers deposit on future camp locations. Camp Quest Texas needs your support to become a reality! If you are unable to attend the fundraiser, please consider donating to Camp Quest Texas: http://campquesttexas.org/donate
Also, registration for Camp Quest Texas 2010 is open! The camp will run from August 1 to August 7, 2010 at the Texas 4-H Conference Center in Brownwood, Texas. Registration is $480 per child or you can put down a $100 deposit to reserve your child’s spot. Kids ages 8-18 are invited to sign up. Older kids, ages 16-18 have the opportunity to be Junior Counselors. Camp Quest Texas Registration makes a great Holiday/Solstice/Christmas/Hanukah/Festivus (or whatever you may celebrate) gift! So, register today: http://campquesttexas.org/register
Nov 4, 2009
Donate 1 dollar (or more) here: http://memorywalk09.kintera.org/dallas/whpford
I'm walking with a team of Freethinkers, lets show everyone just how generous freethinkers can be!
Nov 2, 2009
When: December 10, 2009 6pm to 9pm
Where: Al-Amir in Addison, TX
Cost (includes dinner): $25 adults; $15 (kids 12 and under)
Attendees can register at:
Camp Quest Texas is a residential summer camp for the children of Freethinkers. We are dedicated to the promotion of critical thinking, the scientific method, ethics derived from human experience and the separation of church and state as protected by the US Constitution, in our children. Camp Quest Texas will provide our children with a place where they will feel welcome, safe and secure. Camp Quest Texas will reinforce the vales we all hold as dear. Camp Quest Texas needs your support to become a reality! Please RSVP today and be a part of the historic creation of Camp Quest Texas.
In addition to supporting Camp Quest Texas you will have the opportunity to participate in a silent auction (including Cowboys v Chargers tickets and a book autographed by Penn Jillette!) and ‘balloon raffle’ for other great services/events while enjoying authentic Mediterranean cuisine and being entertained by a belly dancer. A generous family style dinner prepared by Al-Amir’s chef is included in the cost of the event. Al-Amir will donate ten percent of all food and beverage sales from our benefit to Camp Quest Texas, so show your support the way a Freethinker would-with your heart and soul stomach!
Questions? Please contact email@example.com
Oct 20, 2009
Surprise, surprise but some people started threatening to delete their Twitter accounts if #No God remained a trending topic. They also made sure to throw some mighty nasty insults at anyone using the #No God tag in any way that was not flattering to their personal (and very sensitive) worldview. Some of these insults were so bad that I won't repeat them here others were as lame as "RT: @djsynical: @HappyAtheist your face proves god has truly shunned you #mudduck//<---look, a true christian!".
Well, apparently, like a kid refusing to quit screaming if they don't get candy, these childish twits got their way and Twitter removed #No God from the trending topics well before activity had died down. It didn't slide down the TT list, it was manually removed by Twitter staff. While Twitter is a private company and can censor however much they like, if censorship becomes a Twitter trend I guarantee they will lose their growing fan base.
Oct 1, 2009
The Camp Quest Texas T-shirt Design Contest 2010 gives contestants the opportunity to express their creativity while helping to further free thought and promote Camp Quest Texas. For additional information and entry form, see the Official Rules (PDF).
Prizes:One (1) first place entry will receive recognition as the winning t-shirt designer as well as one free t-shirt imprinted with their design. All top five (5) entries will receive recognition on the CQ TX website.
Enter from October 1, 2009 till Midnight October 31, 2009
Full rules and entry form located at: http://campquesttexas.org/donate
Jul 10, 2009
Marjoe is the best documentary film about evangelical religion that you have probably never heard of. I don’t recall exactly how I came across it–but somehow it found its way into my Netflix queue, languished at the bottom for months, and finally made it to my mailbox and DVD player. And what a wonderful, unexpected treasure it was.
The subject of the film, is one Marjoe Gortner–what kind of name is “Marjoe” anyway, you are asking? Why, it is a portmanteau of the names Mary and Joseph! If that gives you a feeling for what his parents must have been like, wait till you see them in the film. For Marjoe was groomed very early on by his devout family to be a child preacher. As the beginning of the film documents, this sort of thing was wildly popular decades ago in the South (and if you’ve seen Jesus Camp, you’ll know the tradition of having children “minister” is still alive). The old footage of a red-haired child shouting from a pulpit is at once a comical and disturbing sight. But the point of the film is not about Marjoe the child, but about the expose he’d create during his adult life.
As he grew older, Marjoe luckily came to reject the religious beliefs that were instilled in him, though he continued to preach as a way to earn a living. Once his conscience began to bother him about the way he and the others of his profession so easily fleeced the gullible, he came up with the act of contrition that is this film: he invited a crew to go “on tour” with him and document the tricks of the trade – not only those he used, but those of his unknowing fellow preachers. As you might imagine, the results can be rather hilarious, in the same way that Sacha Baron Cohen’s films are, since the behaviors captured on celluloid are genuine.
My favorite scene involved a conversation with another minister and his family. They all somehow find themselves discussing the possibility that a charlatan might parade as a preacher with no intent other than to defraud the sheep, but conclude that they’d rather easily be able to spot such a fake. I wondered if they ever saw the film and realized just how badly they got owned?
Marjoe won the Academy Award for Best Documentary in 1972. Apparently it did not have a widespread distribution at the time, especially in the American South, where there were concerns that it would spark outrage. Yes, it would, and it still would, I’d venture. I’ll hold out hope that eventually, our public schools will provide an objective Survey of Religion curriculum and that this film will be part of it. Probably not in my lifetime, though.
Jul 3, 2009
A few days ago, while in the grocery store checkout line, I found myself scanning the rack of idiot magazines and tabloids. Between the obligatory images of Angelina and the preternaturally beaming Rachel Ray, I saw this headline on the National Examiner’s cover: “Obama’s Top-Secret Meetings With Muslims: His Shocking Pact With The Enemy.”
This is moronic at several levels. What bothered me the most was not that some portion of the population might seriously believe President Obama to be involved in such a conspiracy, but rather, that their worldviews are so simplistic that they categorically see Muslims as “enemies” of the United States. And what’s more, I reckoned, the majority of such people are almost certainly a subset of those that assert “America is a Christian Nation.” I thought of that embarrassment to my home state of Minnesota, the unnamed woman at a John McCain town hall meeting from October of 2008, that suggested that Obama was “… an Arab!”
These instances are bona fide examples of what has been termed “Islamaphobia.” I’ve seen it firsthand, too, in the form a devout Catholic, conservative coworker of mine, that often voices a concern that will we all one day be forced to “wear a diaper on our head and bow to the east.”
It behooves us nontheists, then, when we take the occasion to put Islam in our sights, to do so with the clarity, even-handedness, and care that these fundamentalist Christians eschew. Pointing out that Islam, as a set of beliefs, is chock full of absurdities and dangerous notions is certainly not a form of prejudice. Just because some bigots continue to paint a huge swath of humanity with a very broad brush should not prevent us from denouncing the irrationalities and consequences of believing in nonsense, regardless of what corner of the globe the nonsense comes from.
In the way of offering an outstanding example of a blistering and fair attack on Islam that is not “Islamaphobic”, I recommend one that comes from a practitioner of the same faith: Irshad Manji. Her critique is in a book called The Trouble With Islam Today.
Manji calls herself a Muslim “Refusenik”: an openly lesbian, feminist, progressive Muslim whose religious views are so far removed from mainstream Islam that it is difficult, for me at least, to consider her an adherent to the same core Muslim faith. Her book is as fiercely critical of the problems with Islam as is Sam Harris’ The End of Faith. Where it differs is that, by mounting her assault on fundamentalism from within the tradition (as a Muslim championing change, as opposed to a non-Muslim calling for it), she is more likely to gain an audience among those that most need to hear the message. And this is nothing to sneeze at.
The book begins in the form of an open letter to all Muslims: a shockingly candid letter that has probably earned her a few death threats. “Islam is on very thin ice with me,” she begins, and then goes on to identify the unique features and problems endemic to the faith she was raised in: “The trouble with Islam today is that literalism is going mainstream, worldwide.” She even acknowledges that fact about the genealogical paths of belief that many others won’t admit: “Most of us Muslims aren’t Muslims because we think about it, but rather because we’re born that way.”
Manji looks at a number of issues with important ramifications: The preponderance of fundamentalism, tribalism, the mistreatment of women (”Those who wish to flog women on the flimsiest of charges can get the necessary backup from the Koran”), terror (”Being self-critical means coming clean about the nasty side of the Koran, and how it informs terrorism”), and the tension with the west (”We can’t pin our basest ills on America. The cancer begins with us.”) And while some of the book is aimed at Muslims, imploring them to take a very hard look at what they believe and how they behave, she is refreshing in her advocacy that Islam should be put under the microscope by the rest of us:
Note to non-Muslims: Dare to ruin the romance of the moment. Open societies remain open because people take the risk of asking questions–out loud. Questions like, “Why is it so easy to draw thousands of Muslims into the streets to denounce France’s ban on the hajib, but impossible to draw even a fraction of those demonstrators into the streets to protest Saudi Arabia’s imposition of the hijab? … Non-Muslims do the world no favors by pushing the moral mute button as soon as Muslims start speaking. Dare to ruin the moment.
It goes without saying that, as I am an atheist, I still regard the watered-down Islam that Manji practices to have features just as much at odds with reality as those in other, more traditional religions. But while progressive theists like her have worldviews dissimilar from our naturalistic one, they share with us much common ground, in that they too seek a world free of theocracy, religious intolerance, and fundamentalism. They are some of the best friends that the non-religious have. The Trouble With Islam Today is a good example of pushing for change from within–change that could lead to a more secular, humane, and peaceful version of a what is still a very immature religion. Will that ever happen with Islam? I’ve no idea, but I welcome Manji’s attempt to make it happen. As much as many of us would like to see religious belief simply jettisoned altogether, it isn’t realistic to expect that to happen anytime soon. I’ll gladly accept believers moving to a more progressive, liberal kind of religion as a second choice.
Jun 24, 2009
As proud members of the Evil Atheist Conspiracy, we all know about the importance of making sure we trick as many theists out of their god belief as possible. In the past we have done things like planting dinosaur bones and have our guys on the inside mistranslate Biblical texts. These are all great techniques, please keep up the great work, but we must also know how to spread atheism when face to face with a theist. This, unfortunately, is something the theists are largely better at doing since they are so willing to incorporate underhanded techniques. Don't let this get you down as we can use this to our advantage.
Through careful study, we at the EAC have found a way to use good for evil. Yes that's right, good can be evil. If this seems odd to you, just as Christians about God and they'll be sure to set you straight. By taking in this fact, we have developed a system through which you will use good to spread the EAC message. If you have forgotten the EAC message it is on the back of your membership card. I know you have the card as you should be guarding it with your life...because we will kill you if you lose it. Anyway, the EAC message is that god is a big meany and although we know he exists we will throw him out of power. But, don't jump to revealing that message too quickly to new converts, it might scare them. For now, just explain to them why god doesn't exist. We can work up to the real story after they have reached a higher ranking within the EAC. Now, onto the important stuff, how to win over the religious with good:
The first thing you must do is be friendly towards the theist no matter how silly their argument may be. This will make the religious person very angry as they try repeatedly to get you to blow your top over threats of hell and how hard your...erm...heart is. It is very important that you do not fall prey to their techniques. The strategy here is to let them blow up first, thus destroying any argument they have that being religious leads to being a nicer person. Once you have achieved this very amusing technique, it is onto the next step.
Now that you have gotten the religious person to secretly accept that religion doesn't make someone a better person (give yourself on the back if you got them to voice this change of opinion), you can now proceed to prove that the religious person is less moral than yourself. Feel free to cite their belief in a god who allows slavery and the subjectification of women as proof of your moral superiority. If possible, make sure the theist sees you helping an old woman walk across the street prior to engaging in conversation. Keeping a set of fake membership cards to organizations such as ASPCA, Green Peace, Habitat for Humanity, Doctors Without Borders etc will also help your argument if proof is demanded of your volunteer involvement. Btw, we will be setting up some fake atheist charities over the next year to help you in this effort.
If you are successful with implementing the above, you should be well on your way into tricking the theist into thinking that atheists are in fact more moral than any religious person. After all, it couldn't be that some people do good for the sake of good; that's just silly. I hope you all found this guide helpful. Remember to join us at our next meeting...we have cookies.
While browsing on twitter today, I came across a popular new trending topic: #dontyouloveGod. This generally consists of inane babble along the lines of why believers are so personally thankful for their god, and all that he supposedly does for them. It is always startling to come across this kind of piffle; to realize that these people are sincere in these expressions. Here are some examples, verbatim, that I collected from this topic just now:
#dontyouloveGOD for his forgivness and never judging us!
#dontyouloveGOD when he gives us pretty rainbows?
#dontyouloveGOD because He only gives us what He feels we can handle?
#dontyouloveGOD when he saves a premature baby?
#dontyouloveGOD b/c He considered you worthy enough of a saviour?
#dontyouloveGOD for helping me realize that my circumstances could always be worse. I am so thankful
#dontyouloveGOD for always being there when you need Him. Amen he is a PRESENT HELP!!!!
#dontyouloveGOD LOVES you despite of your WRONGs!
#dontyouloveGOD is a Jealous God, remember to keep him 1st!
#dontyouloveGOD for being such an amazing provider! He gives us just what we need when we need it!
You get the idea. Someone needs to get these people a copy of Voltaire’s Candide. Or better yet, since they might not understand how that story relates to them, Mark Twain’s far more direct assault on the Christian version of the “Best Of All Possible Worlds” dementia: his little-known Letters from the Earth.
Letters from the Earth is a brief, witty, and remarkable funny series of reports from Satan about certain behaviors of man (and God) that he has been observing over time. Because it isn’t very long, it is generally published together with other short, irreverent writings from Twain (often including the equally hilarious Diaries of Adam and Eve). The version I own is part of a book entitled The Bible According To Mark Twain, edited by Howard G. Baetzhold and Joseph B. McCullough. I cannot recommend this volume highly enough.
Letters from the Earth begins with a short introduction of how the Creator fashioned the universe out of nothing. A conversation then follows between Michael, Gabriel, and (the then still heaven-dwelling and angelic) Satan, about what it all might mean; this new place where new living beings are being introduced. They have only been informed that it is meant to be some kind of experiment.
Satan shortly finds himself banished to the earth, as punishment for making snide remarks about the character and actions of the human race he has been watching with growing interest. He’s especially interested in how the Creator has instilled in them an entire spectrum of inconsistent traits. And once on earth, he begins to write letters back to his archangel friends, and these notes comprise the bulk of the book.
All throughout, Twain deftly satirizes both God and Man simultaneously, such as in this excerpt describing their dysfunctional relationship:
He requires his children to deal justly—and gently—with offenders, and forgive them seventy-and-seven times; whereas he deals neither justly nor gently with any one, and he did not forgive the ignorant and thoughtless first pair of juveniles even their first small offense… He elected to punish their children, all through the ages to the end of time… He is punishing them yet. In mild ways? No, in atrocious ones. You would not suppose that this kind of Being gets many compliments. Undeceive yourself: the world calls him the All-Just, the All-Righteous, the All-Good, the All-Merciful, the All-Forgiving, the All-Truthful, the All-Loving, the Source of All Morality. These sarcasms are uttered daily, all over the world. But not as conscious sarcasms. No, they are meant seriously; they are uttered without a smile.
What I find so striking about the book is the clarity with which Twain seems to see the inhumanity and idiocy of Christian Bible, and the ease with which he exposes it. It is satire writ very large, lean, and focused.
A considerable portion of Letters from the Earth is devoted to details of the flood story that, not surprisingly, never found their way into scripture. Since every Christian, from childhood, has been immersed in images of pairs of giraffes, zebras, and lions striding majestically up the boarding plank, Satan narrates instead how special lodgings were arranged (within the bodies of the humans on board) to house the multitudes of sundry parasitic, microbial, and viral species: those essential organisms needed to propagate all the terrible diseases (that God so carefully created) into the post-diluvian world. Detailed arrangements were also made for flies, including one that was forgotten and required a voyage of sixteen days to retrieve. We learn that this vector of so many diseases is indeed God’s favorite pet; his darling.
The book builds to its final crescendo with a scathing attack on another portion of the old testament: specifically, the some of the horrific abuses recounted in the book of Numbers. His take on the story that begins Numbers 25:
“And Israel abode in Shittim, and the people began to commit whoredom with the daughters of Moab.
And the Lord said unto Moses, Take all the heads of the people, and hang them up before the Lord against the sun, that the fierce anger of the Lord may be turned away from Israel.”
Does that look fair to you? It does not appear that the “heads of the people” got any of the adultery, yet it is they that are hanged…
Very well then, we must believe that if the people of New York should begin to commit whoredom with the daughters of New Jersey, it would be fair and right to set up a gallows in front of city hall and hang the mayor and the sheriff and the judges… It does not look right to me.
From here Twain moves on to the infamous genocide of the Midianites from Numbers 31, and begins to work himself into a bit of a rage. The book ends suddenly and with little warning. One gets the impression that Twain is so angry at this point that he cannot stand to consider the matter any further. And that would certainly be understandable. Sometimes we seem to have grown so familiar with the stories, and numb to the nonsense, that it almost seems… normal. The gift that Letters from the Earth offers is that it so effortlessly exposes contradictions at the core of Christianity. The sudden ending is necessary, because any more would be redundant. But despite the fact that you can practically see the old master’s formidable eyebrows scrunching down in an ever fiercer scowl as you go on, what I always think of with this book is how much it made me laugh. Make room on your freethinking bookshelf for this one; you will enjoy many times. I promise.
Jun 8, 2009
As I was browsing news articles on the Internet I came across the following headline Finding a community as an atheist in church. This, of course, grabbed my attention. I wondered what type of church and maybe if more people were trying to start churches like the North Texas Church of Freethought. Needless to say, I was surprised to read that an atheist UT professor had decided to start attending a Christian church.
While I understand the need for community, I wonder why Jensen, that's his name, didn't look into the many atheist/free-thought groups that are operating quite strongly in many parts of Texas; including Austin where UT is located. The article does not touch on if he tried atheist or free-thought communities prior to joining the Christian church; but does offer the following quote from Jensen:
I joined a Christian church to be part of that hope for the future, to struggle to make religion a force that can help usher into existence a world in which we can imagine living in peace with each other and in sustainable relation to the non-human world. Such a task requires a fearlessness and intelligence beyond what we have mustered to date, but it also requires a faith in our ability to achieve it.
That's why I am a Christian.
An atheist-Christian? I can't help but find this odd at best and foolish at worst. References to "deeper meaning" in the reference article lead me to think that Jensen was searching for a sort of atheist spirituality that simply doesn't exist and found that personal need filled by liberal Christianity. But I don't want to discuss what it means to be a Christian here or if Jensen made a good decision.
What I do want to comment on is that this demonstrates a need to form stronger communities as free-thinkers so that we do not miss out on the social network and support provided by a religious church. However, at the same time, when discussing attending free-thought groups with fellow non-believers many of them seem unsure about attending. Many of these people are the same people who complain about not having anyone to talk to that isn't religious. So, I'll end this blog by asking a few questions of my fellow non-believers.
What do you think about Jensen's calling himself a Christian while he is an atheist? Is there something about spirituality that fills a need secular communities cannot fill? Do you personally feel the need for community? If so, how do you fill that need?
Jun 7, 2009
I'm not a vegetarian. I would probably starve. Just want to get that out of the way.
These days, social networks give everyone a soapbox and makes everyone a critic. I'm just as guilty as anybody. Thankfully, I don't get a lot of flak for my secular worldview, though I imagine some people see my anti-religious ranting or tweeting as offensive or unnecessary. My response to them is: it is no different from youth ministers or the very devout discussing how wonderful Jesus is or how blessed they feel or how they need to evangelize more. No difference. They just don't like it when I do it. Some people really don't like it.
A friend of mine decided, after two years of being a vegetarian, to fall off the wagon. He and his girlfriend went to a restaurant, watched the Cavs game and had fish.
Sounds fairly innocent, and it is. When he posted something about it on Facebook, he received a mixed response of cheers and questions about what took him so long. He described the feeling to me:
When you eat meat, nobody asks why. But, if you say you're a vegetarian, they immediately begin to question you: 'What are your motives? Do you feel bad for the animals? Do you not like meat? How can you not like meat?' That, or they try to corner you with inconsistencies: 'Well, I see you're wearing leather shoes, so you're obviously not vegetarian because you care about animals.' Then, when you tell people you've started eating meat again, it's like they welcome you back into society. You're one of "us" again. It's absolutely bizarre.
He wondered if I ever get that sort of thing about my worldview choice. Some of us get it more than others, I'm sure. Being in a very liberal college town, I'm surrounded by secular people. My wife is from Taiwan, where the population ratio of secular to religious is the even smaller than the inverse of what it is here. I'm definitely looking forward to that, when public policies are based on the wellbeing of the people, rather than the ideology of some religious nutjobs.
It got me to thinking, though, that atheists and vegetarians aren't really that different. Here, I'll show you:
Atheists are atheists because they believe that it's fully possible (and, many would contend, preferable) to have a great life without religion and still maintain high moral and ethical standards. In other words, you can still be good without God.
Vegetarians are vegetarians because they believe that it's fully possible (and, many would contend, preferable) to have a great diet without meat and still maintain high dietary and culinary standards. In other words, you can still eat without meat.
Now, I'm not going to say that I feel good that animals die so I can enjoy how they taste. I just don't feel bad enough that I'll stop. Can't remember which comedian said it, but I did not climb to the top of the food chain to be eating broccoli. Still, it's important to know, if you're eating meat, where it comes from and show it due respect.
Jamie Oliver did a show examining chickens, eggs and how they get from the farm to your plate. It's a very revealing look at modern chicken farming and the difference between battery and free range. Or, if you're a seafood kind of person, just watch the former Iron Chef Michiba Rokusaburo take apart an Angler fish (Monkfish, Goosefish, depending on where you are).
Delicious. I guess. I've never had it. I'd love to try it, though. That's one of the things I'm really looking forward to about living in Taiwan: best seafood around.
I'm sure at this point you're thinking, 'How is he going to tie this back into refuting a religious worldview?'
Well, atheists have looked at religion and deemed it disturbing, painful and unnecessary enough that they prefer to live without it, just as the vegetarians have done with meat. The big difference being that atheists do it because they care about human lives rather than animal lives.
Uh oh. Now I'll have PETA on my ass for putting people before animals. I'm not worried; I could probably take Ingrid. Probably.
I think people are more likely to give a vegetarian shit than an atheist because there's no clause in the social contract that says you must be tolerant of what people eat. Even at our wedding, we had three vegetarians out of 60 guests, and we devoted 1/6 of the menu to them. If you have a group of 60 people and 3 of them are avowed atheists (which is about the national average; if you throw non-religious, agnostic and Buddhist/etc in with that group, it'd be more like 12 or 13 out of 60), what are the chances that they'll be considered at all? Pretty slim, I'd say.
The steak and the cross: two sides to the same coin, it seems. Having said that, I think I'll have steak for dinner tonight. Pan seared. No wine.
If you would like to follow the anti-religious ranting or tweeting of this carnivorous writer, visit his blog and follow him on Twitter. He'll probably follow you back. He's nice like that. He may even buy you a steak.
Jun 4, 2009
With today's Internet culture what you put online could be viewed by virtually anyone. A good example of this is Wigglez's wife having his blog viewed by a Christian employer.
Knowing this, many of us are hit with a personal (maybe even moral) decision...should be be out online or not? I say that maybe it is a moral decision because I have been told by fellow atheists that it is immoral for me to hold back on being completely outed online. However, I'm honestly not sure if I should consider it a moral choice.
Yes, I do want to support the atheist cause and help to further our progress in being accepted as normal. That's actually one of my main goals...one of Happy Atheist Forum's main goals. But, I'm also pragmatic; if what I say online ends up keeping me from being hired and keeping a job and potentially does the same to my husband (who is a teacher) then that is going to end up harming the efforts I am currently taking since so much of it requires frequent Internet access.
So, I filter what I do online that is associated with my full name verses what I do online that is just associated with my first name. I don't shy away from posting my picture on atheist related sites, but I also don't make my picture my main image on most of them. My profile on MySpace is an atheist profile (which I honestly neglect updating as regularly as I should) where I can post anything without any worry of an employer associating it with me. However I also have a Facebook profile, which won't link here for reasons stated, that is mostly just my IRL friends (some of whom are also atheists) and I don't post any controversial atheist messages there. I also have two twitter accounts...but that's because one of them is potentially for business and shouldn't have any atheist content on it (@HappyAtheist).
So, what do you think? Do you also feel conflicted on this issue; probably in daily interactions too? Is this a moral question or just a personal choice?
Feel free to post your comments on the related Happy Atheist Forum thread: http://www.happyatheistforum.com/viewtopic.php?f=4&t=3403
Apr 22, 2009
WHAT: Dr. Robert M. Price versus Dr. Douglas Jacoby
WHEN: Saturday, June 13 2009 @ 7 p.m.
WHERE: Houston Baptist University, Durham Theater, 7502 Fondren Road, Houston, TX 77074.
INFO: The Apologetics Research Society is hosting an International Christian Evidence Conference in Houston from June 12-14. The highlight of the conference will be a debate between Dr. Robert M. Price and Dr. Douglas Jacoby on the historicity of Jesus. The debate will be held on Saturday, June 13 2009 at 7 p.m. at the Houston Baptist University (Durham Theater). The debate will be entitled, "Jesus: Man, Myth, or Messiah?" Tickets are $12/person.
If you are in the Houston area or within driving distance, please go and support Dr. Robert M. Price.
ON THE NET:
Dr. Robert Price: http://robertmprice.mindve
Apologetics Research Society: http://evidenceforchristia
Dr. Douglas Jacoby: http://douglasjacoby.com
Apr 20, 2009
I wrote this poem in high school and while it does not reflect my current views I think it does express how a person feels when questioning their beliefs.
The world's many voices,
Crying out conflicting views
--Few are right, many wrong.
Where is the truth?
The light I seek is hidden
Among multiple beliefs:
Only one is right.
What holds the truth?
Finding God in prayer
--Seemingly an empty palace
Away from mortal view.
Is there truth?
--Those who sin
A difference of opinions.
Which is the truth?
Looking for God
In all the wrong places.
Forget the soul
Does my heart hold the truth?
With critical thought.
Do I have the truth?
Creating greater confusion.
Who knows the truth?
Mar 9, 2009
We all start out innocent enough. We're on an adventure in honesty, attempting to carve out a truly objective and reasonable view of existence. It's not surprising that many find their way to a comfortable seat in the club that is agnostic atheism: the disbelief in a supernatural creator. It can take quite a bit of struggling to get into this particular group, especially considering where many of us come from. You may have grown up in a religious household where atheism would have been tantamount to rape, but you lingered on, allowing your curiosity and intellect guide you. Regardless of your path, you made it.
But becoming an atheist isn't going to solve all of your problems. If you had low self-esteem before, you may very well still have low self-esteem even now, as a free thinker. Unlike god, atheism doesn't make unrealistic promises about what might happen upon conversion/deconversion; that's not how we roll. It's damned common in this world to allow self pity to inspire feelings of inferiority, which lead to overcompensation. That's why we're all here. Let's begin:
Boyfriend/girlfriend: You know I love you, baby, but every time anyone talks about religion you instantly deem yourself an indisputable fountain of perfect knowledge. It's getting on my nerves.
Atheists are very rarely religious in their atheism; very rare are "strong atheists", people who flatly deny the existence of god regardless of the evidence. Most of us are agnostic, choosing to pragmatically view all available data and make an informed decision based on a rational interpretation of that data. Since there is no verifiable evidence supporting the existence of god or supporting the nonexistence of god, we remain at null theory, or a place of being unconvinced of god's existence. Basically, the answer is "probably not". The problem, though, is so many atheists preach their beliefs with just as much unhealthy certainty as theists, forcing themselves from a reasonable agnostic stance to an unsupportable stance of certainty. Don't let yourself fall victim to strong atheism.
Father: Son, I know you don't approve of our going to church, but could you stop pretending I'm a fundamentalist? I believe in evolution and I don't even know what an ontological argument looks like.
We all know the arguments backward and forward. We can all recite Epicurus for memory and we can explain exactly where that idiot from Growing Pains weren't wrong in describing the evolution of the eye. Why do we know these arguments? Many atheists have been required to defend themselves to unprovoked and angry questioning by theists, and have helped to construct brilliant answers to the odd questions that we're asked. That hardly means that every theist is going to come at you with intelligent design arguments, though. I know it seems like theists are on a united front against reason and science, but they're not. If you decide to go off on every theist you see with a barrage of "god of the gaps" or "confusing cause and effect" arguments, you're not defending yourself. All you'll do is alienate people.
When I was a boy, my grandfather told me never to discuss politics or religion in mixed company. He was a very smart man. If some nutter corners you with a stupid argument, please, go right ahead and calmly apply a thick coating of reality. Don't attack people without provocation, though.
Best Friend: Sometimes you're going to be wrong, and it's not the end of the world. I get that you like to argue, but being right isn't about competition, it's about the facts.
Now we cut to the heart of the situation. You've done a damned good job finding your way to atheism. You should be proud that your objectivity has led you to a more logical position. Still, you're not always going to be right about everything. Atheism isn't a magic ticket to omniscience, in fact it's basically admitting to yourself that you don't know shit. Atheism is a statement of humility in the face of the true amount of knowledge there really is in the universe. It's a beautiful thing. Don't cheapen it with know-it-all-ism. You don't even know the beginning of anything and neither do I, so let's hit the books, look through the microscopes and telescopes and utilize the scientific method and Occam's Razor.
There was a post on Reddit a month or two back on something called the Dunning-Kruger effect. Essentially, the hypothesis was that "people reach erroneous conclusions and make unfortunate choices, but their incompetence robs them of the metacognitive ability to realize it". The experiment essentially demonstrated that people who aren't agnostic are likely more incompetent than their agnostic counterparts. Think about that for a minute.
If you want to change, the first step is very simple: admit that not only are you not the smartest person on earth, but even the smartest person on earth really isn't all that smart. Your worth doesn't have to be tied up in always being right regardless of the facts, you can be right by dealing in facts, and you can be humble in the face of being wrong and expand your understanding with new facts.
Now, about your drinking...
Feb 12, 2009
I wrote the following a few years ago while taking Philosophy of Religion in college. After finding the essay recently, I thought some people might enjoy reading it and decided to post it in the blog. There are plenty of opportunities for improvement of this essay but I have chosen to leave it as originally worded. Enjoy:
Moral standards must have a strong basis upon which it encourages individuals to act ethically. Mavrodes comes to the conclusion that religion is the only means of providing deep meaning to morality and that morals wouldn’t necessarily exist if religions never developed. The second part of his conclusion brings up an additional question, if morality is based solely on religion, what are the motives involved in being moral? His main argument against secular views of morality is that they are superficial. However, the reasons to be moral which develop through religion create a basis for morality that is arguably driven by fearful obligation which is in itself shallow. This paper will look specifically at religion based morality, in comparison to secular views, and its status in answering the question of why we should want to act morally.
In discussing this topic, it is necessary to review Mavrodes’ argument for a religion based explanation of morality. Mavrodes wrote the article in response to Bertrand Russell’s secular view of ethics, describing them as queer and inadequate in answering the question; “Why should I be moral?” Mavrodes opens briefly with the point that morality is dependent on religion to the extent that morality would cease to exist if religion failed. His intent is to use morality to show that religion is a better explanation than secular views. He develops his argument by taking a look at the Russellian world and how morality would function and gain meaning in such an environment. The Russellian worldview is:
That man is the product of causes which had no perversion of the end they were achieving; that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave; that all the labours of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, and that the whole temple of Man’s achievements must inevitably be burned beneath the debris of a universe in ruins – all these things, if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain, that no philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand.
Mavrodes compares the Russellian world to what he perceives as the actual world, one where religion is the truth. Mavrodes describes final moral obligation as “obligations that a particular person has in some concrete circumstance at a particular place and time, when all the aspects of the situation have been taken into account.” Mavrodes then makes the point that there are many cases in a Russellian world in which moral obligations would require a person to act in a manner which results in personal loss. He makes a distinction between moral feelings and moral obligations and describes obligations which lead to loss as strange because they do not give the individual a reason to want to act morally. He refers to Kant to make the statement “there cannot be, in any ‘reasonable’ way, a moral demand upon me, unless reality itself is committed to morality in some deep way.” Mavrodes states that moral obligation within the Russellian world are superficial. He then ends his argument and essentially concludes that these moral obligations and things like mind and purpose are much deeper in the real world than they would be in a Russellian world so religion must be the answer to why one should be moral.
Mavrodes describes moral obligation as “morality ascribes to particular people an obligation to do certain things on a certain occasion.” This description is a good starting basis for explaining morality. However, it is not possible to create a thorough set of rules which define proper action in every scenario a person may need to make a moral decision. This fact is demonstrated in the many debates occurring within religious groups over issues, such as how to handle abortion rights and civil unions, which are not clearly defined by religious moral laws. To further define morality it must be understood as an obligation, based on the good of humanity, placed on rational beings to discern the appropriate ethical action. Through this definition the needs of the greater good and a sense of duty are included in the decision process. In writing the extended definition, morality is that which creates an obligation for an individual to do certain things on certain occasions by making rational moral decisions which are based on a concern for the greater good. This approach relieves ambiguity created by a limited set of rules. Additionally, it is important to determine morals on a secular basis because new moral issues are repeatedly brought about by medical and technological breakthroughs. A prime example of these breakthroughs is cloning. The ability to clone or alter the genetic code of organisms was not remotely possible during the time religious laws were written. To determine the morally correct action in these cases requires the same approach described as being used by secular ethics.
Kant “held that a truly moral action is undertaken purely out of respect for the moral law and with no concern at all for reward.” Mavrodes uses Kant’s view to support the need for morality to be a commitment with profound origin. The deep meaning which creates moral obligation in a secular world is a concern for the sake of society as a whole. A person is dependent on society and develops concern for its well-being in relation to his own, thus, creating a strong reason to act morally. When asking why someone chooses to act morally within a religious context, the reason does not necessarily seem to be as deep as Mavrodes indicates. With some exceptions, many religious texts advocate morality as being an obligation to avoid punishment and place little emphasis on acting morally for its own sake. This does not necessarily mean that there is no deep theological reason to act morally. However, the emphasis of obligation to act morally because it is the will of a higher power or good is often lacking in religious teachings. This is an aspect of religion that has the potential to be remedied, however at this point the tendencies of religions to teach morality on a basis of fear instead of duty to a higher power discredits the concept that religion universally creates an understanding of a deep moral obligation.
Mavrodes might accept that secular morality gains meaning through society but maintain his claim that religion provides a more solid and deep reason for people to want to act morally. It is true that religion has a history of being able to get people to act in a certain way. However, unless all religious sects are able to agree on what is ethical then individuals will be in conflict with the moral beliefs of other religions. A strong example of this variance is between religions based on anthropocentricism and those which place moral value on being an equal part of the ecosystem. This sort of conflict is not an adequate means of creating a moral basis. Furthermore, this conflict of moral views can lead to unnecessary disdain between religious communities. For morality to have universal application the means through which it is derived cannot be subjective.
Additionally, Mavrodes briefly indicates that a reason to act morally would not exist without religion. This assumption was formed on the idea that individuals will not act morally without the deep meaning that religion provides. In a comparison of secular and religious based cultures, those countries which are less religious are more likely to have stronger morality.
‘In general, higher rates of belief in and worship of a creator correlate with higher rates of homicide, juvenile and early adult mortality, STD infection rates, teen pregnancy and abortion in the prosperous democracies.’ . . . The study concluded that the US was the world’s only prosperous democracy where murder rates were still high, and that the least devout nations were the least dysfunctional.
This study, originally published in the Journal of Religion and Society, contradicts Mavrodes notion that morality would not exist without religion. The study, accompanied by the previous explanation of how secular worldview can maintain a deep sense of obligation, demonstrates that there is no reason to think that morality would not exist without religion. Through this correlation I am not intending to argue that religion necessarily has a negative effect on morality. The purpose is to show that religion cannot be concretely deemed the primary basis through which morality is derived.
Mavrodes holds the idea that secular morality requires a being to sometimes act against its own good. If this were the case, secular morality would certainly be odd. Indeed, if many moral actions repeatedly resulted in personal loss, the obligation to act morally would be greatly overcome by an individual’s sense of concern for himself alone. Examples of actions which he perceives to accommodate personal loss in the Russellian world are “repaying a debt, keeping a promise, refraining from stealing . . . risk of death or serious injury.” It is true that some of these actions can cause a certain amount of personal loss. However, these actions do not regularly carry a net loss when considered in the community framework. Although reward is not the foundation that creates an obligation to act morally, many ethical actions do present the moral agent with a positive result. Moral obligation placed on individuals in a secular worldview do not require a person to act in a way with is negative to their well-being. A person operating within a secular moral framework keeps promises out of obligation to society, but in doing so also creates additional social connections and opportunities. Any loss created by keeping a promise is far outweighed by the social benefits. Much in the same way, a person chooses not to steal by abiding by society’s standards of moral obligation and is rewarded by being viewed as a favorable member of society.
In moral situations which may require risking death or injury it is easily stated that the person is acting for the sake of humanity because these are altruistic actions. A person performing these actions within a secular context runs the risk of personal loss. However, if the person were to refrain from performing this obligation, feelings of remorse would create a far greater loss than that of death or injury. Furthermore, in a secular world, an individual does not experience a loss through his own fatality because death is viewed as an end where the individual no longer exists to have experiences. In a similar way, religious moral obligations call for individuals to act against what may be their immediate best interests while associating a reward with acting morally. Although the religious reward in acting morally is perceived to be granted in the afterlife, the extents to which moral obligations create personal loss appear to be more or less equal between secular and religious views.
Within our ever changing social environment, the ethical issues which result call upon a need for a moral basis which can rationally adapt moral understanding to accommodate progress. Religious morality does not have the flexibility to respond to issues which are new to modern times. This combined with the nonconformity of religious morals across various belief systems, renders religion inadequate as a prime basis for telling individuals why they should be moral. I leave open the question of if secular morals based on a deep commitment to society are indeed the best explanation of moral basis. This is in recognition that there are numerous foundations upon which secular morals have been declared to receive substantial meaning. I do however claim that a secular moral basis better answers the question of why one should be moral because it allows ethical codes to apply universally.
 Mavrodes, George. “Religion and the Queerness of Morality.” Philosophy of Religion: An Anthropology. Canada, Wadsworth, 2003. p. 566.
 Russell, Bertrand.. “A Free Man’s Worship.” Philosophy of Religion: An Anthropology. Canada, Wadsworth, 2003. p. 570.
 Mavrodes, George. “Religion and the Queerness of Morality.” Philosophy of Religion: An Anthropology. Canada, Wadsworth, 2003. p. 563.
 Ibid. p. 565.
 Ibid. p. 563.
 Mavrodes, George. “Religion and the Queerness of Morality.” Philosophy of Religion: An Anthropology. Canada, Wadsworth, 2003. p. 565.
 Mavrodes, George. “Religion and the Queerness of Morality.” Philosophy of Religion: An Anthropology. Canada, Wadsworth, 2003. p. 561.
 Gledhill, Ruth. “Societies worse off ‘when they have God on their side.’” Britain, TimesOnline, September 27, 2005. http://web.archive.org/web/20060619050338/http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2-1798944,00.html
 Mavrodes, George. “Religion and the Queerness of Morality.” Philosophy of Religion: An Anthropology. Canada, Wadsworth, 2003. p. 563
Feb 8, 2009
The Teleological Argument (Argument from Design): This is the argument what Intelligent Design advocates utilize to base their assumptions. A basic breakdown of the Watchmaker Argument by William Paley (1743-1805):
If you come across a watch you assume it had a designer because, due to it apparent design and complexity, it would be illogical to think it always existed. In this same way we can look at living organisms which are more complicated than watches and infer that they must too have a designer. (Just as we infer an intelligent designer to account for the purpose-revealing watch, so likewise we must infer an intelligent Grand Designer to account for the purpose-revealing world.)
Objection 1. If something complex has a designer then surely the designer would have to be more complex than its creation. This would mean that the designer must also have a creator, thus leading to an infinite series of creators.
Refutation to Objection 1: God is infinite and therefore does not need a creator or explanation outside of itself.
Objection: This violates the premise that complex entities must have a creator.
Objection 2. A watchmaker creates watches with pre-existing materials. God is stated to create from scratch. This difference renders the analogy weak.
Objection 3. A watchmaker makes watches but nothing else. We would not see a laptop and assume that the watchmaker was the designer. This indicates that the arguments suggests multiple creators; one for each type of thing that exists.
Objection 4. The first part of the argument says that the watch stands out from randomness of nature because it is ordered. The second part of the argument claims that the universe is obviously not random, but is ordered. This makes the entire argument inconsistent.
Objection 5. Darwin’s Theory of Evolution: complex animals and plants can be produced through generation by less complex animals and plants. These plants and animals can be show to be derived from a process where complex things cam from inorganic matter. (www.talkorigins.com , also see Richard Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker) So, the premise that complex beings must have a designer is inaccurate.
Refutation to Objection 5: Evolution does not explain the initial origins of the universe. (and they make various other claims about the how evolution isn’t true).
Objection to Refutation: Just because we can’t currently explain the origins does not mean that goddidit. There is an overwhelming amount of evidence for evolution.
There are more objections to this form of the argument, however I think the above is more than enough to show that it is not adequate for proving the existence of a conscious designer.
Modern teleological arguments tend to focus on the “fine-tuning” in the universe, the fact that it is exactly as it needs to be (“fine-tuned”) to support life. Richard Swinburne (1934- ) reformulated the argument to get around the nuisance of dealing with Darwinist refutations. This is called the inductive argument from design.
“We can reconstruct the argument from spatial order as follows. We se around us animals and plant, intricate examples of spatial order in the ways which Paley set out, similar to machines of the kind which men make. We know that these animal and plants have evolved by natural processes from inorganic matter…They may therefore naturally infer from nature which produces animals and plants, to a creator of nature similar to men who make machine-making machines.”
Swinburne didn’t think this argument was very strong by itself. The circumstances under which nature behaves as a machine-making machine are very rare. This makes the analogy weak. He then goes on to offer an argument from temporal order which he thinks is much stronger than the inductive argument; I summarized it here:
1. Simple laws govern almost all successions of events.
2. The universe might so naturally have been chaotic, but it is not.
3. The universe conforms to a pattern which man can identify and describe. (admits that one could argue that this is by chance)
4. Things have and will continue to conform to such a pattern however initial conditions vary, however men interfere in the world.
5. This order exists independent of men.
6. If the universe were not orderly, men would not exist.
7. There is a great deal more order in the world than is necessary for humans to exist.
8. The existence of the universe is a problem too big for science to explain.
9. Nature only has building blocks of a few kinds. Each of which has its own defining properties.
10. The orderliness of nature is a matter of vast uniformity in the powers and liabilities of bodies throughout endless time and space, and also in the scarcity of kinds of components of bodies.
11. The temporal order of the world is where explanation stops
12. The temporal order of the world is due to the agency of God.
Objection 1 to item #4: Problem of induction (Swinburne admits to this) “Hume's problem is usefully divided in two. There is first what I shall call the descriptive problem: How do human beings form opinions about unobserved matters fact? And then there is the normative problem: Are beliefs formed in this way justified? Does someone who "reasons" as we normally do really have reason to believe his conclusions about the parts of nature he has not observed?” http://web.archive.org/web/20060619050338/http://www.princeton.edu/~grosen/puc/phi203/induction.html
Objection 2. I agree that it is amazing that we are here. But, it is very possible that this is not the first or last universe to exist. We could be the result of a series of “unsuccessful” universes and are the lucky recipients of a working universe.
Objection 3 to item #6: If the universe were not orderly it is true that men would not exist. However, this argument assumes that the current universe is the only possible universe which could sustain life. It could be possible that there are alternative ways in which the universe could be arranged that would also bring about life in an orderly fashion. Also, I don’t understand the String Theory very well, but I think it claims that there is an underlying chaos within the order of the universe. So, someone that actually understands the string theory may be able to make a scientific objection on this.
Objection 4 to item #8: I actually agree with this. But there are some that would argue that eventually science will be able to explain everything.
Objection 5 to item #9: String theorists may have an objection here. However, I am not going to discuss string theory in this post
Objection 6. to item #12: it is illogical to jump to the conclusion of god. God has distinct attributes which are not supported by this argument. It would have been more appropriate to say intelligent designer. This designer could be a highly intelligent race of aliens for the purposes of any argument from design.
Objection 7. There is no reason to conclusively state that the universe is temporal (finite). There is a common misconception that the universe is claimed to “start” from the big bang. This is simply as far as science has been able to explain at this point. I would have to brush up on what Big Bang theorists do and don’t think in order to explain this further.
Swinburne went on with some more arguments from design, if anyone wants to look at them further the book is “The Existence of God” by Richard Swinburne (1979) Oxford University Press.
So, that was a crash course in the Argument from Design. It is far from a complete explanation or refutation, but it lays down the basis from which the argument formed and how it is stated today.
More about the Argument from Design: http://web.archive.org/web/20060619050338/http://philosophy.wisc.edu/sober/design%20argument%2011%202004.pdf
The full length version of Paley's Watchmaker argument can be found at the following url: http://web.archive.org/web/20060619050338/http://www-phil.tamu.edu/~gary/intro/paper.paley.html
Feb 4, 2009
Will: "That's a good question. I suppose that depends on who you ask."
Timmy: "I'm asking you!"
Will: "Alright, hand me that scotch and I'll tell you. Good. Do you ever play with toys, Timmy? Maybe little action figures, legos, and trucks?"
Timmy: "Of course."
Will: "When you play with legos and trucks and things, do they act like trucks or do they act like people?"
Timmy: *thinking* "What do you mean?"
Will: "When you're playing with the toys, do they talk and think like people?"
Will: "Why do you think that is?"
Timmy: "I dunno. Why?"
Will: "Hand me that airplane glue and I'll explain my theory. People—human beings—are social. We have to team up in order to get things done a lot of the time. Most of the time, throughout our history, we've lived in groups of people, not alone. Think back to what you learned in school about cavemen. They lived with family and friends, and everybody had to help out just so they could survive."
Timmy: "Like Democrats!"
Will: "You've got it. Well, because we had to all work together so much, people had to learn really early how to understand other people. It's hard to communicate and get something done if you don't understand the person or people you're working with. Well, this skill grew in humans very early. The better people were at understanding other people, the more likely they all were to survive. This trait became a survival trait. Before too long, most if not all people were pretty good at sympathizing with other people, understanding other people's thought processes, and using teamwork to get things done. And we were really successful. We spread out of a small place in Africa into the Middle East, then South Asia and even Europe. Before too long, we were the dominant species on the whole planet."
Timmy: "Cool. But what does this have to do with trucks?"
Will: "Stop interrupting and hand me that salvia. Whoa... Anyway, because humans were so smart, we were always trying to learn and understand everything around us. The problem, though, was that we didn't have thousands of years of science to built on like we do today. There's no way a hunter-gatherer from 8,000 B.C. could understand that the sun was made up of a nuclear furnace, burning hydrogen so hot that it turns into helium, nearly 100 million miles away. How could they? Astronomy was still in its infancy, and real nuclear physics wouldn't be along for nearly another 10,000 years. But that didn't stop them from being curious... so they guessed."
Timmy: "Are you okay? You look dizzy and you keep licking the couch."
Will: "Yeah, salvia's a hell of a thing. So how do you think they explained the sun?"
Timmy: "I dunno."
Will: "They did what they'd learned how to do over thousands of years; they gave it a personality so they could relate to it."
Timmy: "But the sun's not a person! It's a fireball!"
Will: "You know that and I know that, but they had no idea. All they saw was a warm ball that rose and fell every day, and they knew it was very, very important. The knew the sun was necessary for warmth, for growing crops, for telling when the harvest season was going to end, and even just telling what time it was during the day. The sun was important! So what happens when you combine these? What happens when you combine a great natural phenomena with a personality?"
Will: "Basically, yes. They figured that this very, very powerful personality was something to revere, so they started worshiping the sun. And because the sun isn't consistent—some days are hot, some days are cold—they assumed that their behavior could influence the sun god. Appeasing the sun god was thought to have positive results and angering the sun god was thought to have negative results."
Timmy: "But that's not how it works. The sun does what it does because of other reasons."
Will: "You're absolutely right. Because of that, the response to their praise and worship wasn't consistent. You can pray to the sun one day and have it sunny, and you can pray to the sun and have it cold the next. This is when something pretty bad happened. Because people thought they could communicate with the sun, they thought that somehow that gave them a supernatural importance, and people got kinda addicted. The people that were the most addicted became priests and shamans. These were spiritual leaders that were expected to be authorities on what the sun wanted or how the sun thought. As time went on, other natural phenomena were also given personality, and eventually they were just assigning gods to whatever. There were wind gods, and ocean gods, and sky gods. And then people with one set of gods would meet other people with another set of gods. This generally didn't go very well. Inevitably one group would try to convert the other and they'd either succeed or they'd both fight."
Timmy: "That's stupid!"
Will: "Yes. We're still doing it today, though."
Timmy: "Wait, I mean the Christian God."
Will: "I'm getting to that. Hand me that tequila and I'll explain it. Eventually, it was the gods and not the phenomena that were important to people. God wasn't the sun god, Ra, anymore, it was king of the gods Zeus, for example. Zeus did throw lightning, but that wasn't why he was praised anymore. Religion had gone from being the predecessor of science to being something that dominated society. Then came the Jews."
Timmy: "Like John Stewart?"
Will: "Sort of. Around 2000 B.C., a man named Abraham had a vision, like what I just had with the salvia, and thought he saw angels. He was scared, but because he got his wife pregnant he believed it was true. He gathered together old myths that had been handed down from some of his ancestors and then started a religion that we now call Judaism. He passed down the religion to his sons, and they added a bit more, and then their sons added a bit more. Before long—maybe 600-700 years—they had a lot of followers. They were all over the area we now call Israel. Anyway, they ruled for a while, were conquered a few times; normal religion stuff. Somewhere along the way, priests and "prophets" discovered one of the best ways to keep people believing in a religion, they and others found, was to make vague prophesies. These were just guesses about what might happen. If they came true, and they usually did because they were so vague, they could use that as evidence that their faith is real. Judaism had prophecies, too, about a savior coming from their god to usher in some new age. Anyway after a while, according to Christianity, a man came along. His name was Yeshua bin Joseph but most people now just call him Jesus or Jesus Christ."
Timmy: "Jesus Christ!"
Will: "Yes. This part is a bit of a mystery, because we're not really sure if there was a real Jesus or not."
Timmy: "What?! Why?"
Will: "The thing is, they didn't start writing the Bible until like 70 years after Jesus was supposedly born. And the accounts of Jesus’ life aren't consistent going from author to author. The worst part is that evidence outside of the Bible that we have now usually came from the Bible at one point or another or was made up. We'll probably never know for sure if he was real or just a combination of other religious figures."
Will: "Whoa, watch the language. No more HBO for you."
Timmy: "So god is just people believing in nothing? Wait a second, we already know about how the sun works, though. We know how a lot of things work. Why do people still believe in god?"
Will: "A few reasons. First, when you're really little, you tend to believe what your parents and other adults tell you. It's another survival trait. Back in the caveman days, if your mother told you to stay away from wolves, you had better stay away from wolves. Those kids that didn't listen were probably delicious, and they were eaten before they could reproduce. Another reason has to do with the way people interact. There's something called groupthink. Because humans have done so well when we cooperate, it's become a part of us to want to cooperate, to get along with and agree with others. Unfortunately, sometimes this can go too far, and we'll agree with a group of people even if what you're agreeing with is bad or doesn't make sense. But the big two reasons are easy: the carrot and the stick. Smarter animals, like humans, can be conditioned through rewards and punishments to do and think pretty much anything. In religion, generally there is a promised reward for believing and a stern punishment for not believing. Ask a Christian about hell if you want to know about their punishment. It's basically torture for all of eternity. Pretty scary right?"
Timmy: "So they think you're going to be tortured forever?"
Will: "Most of them do, yes."
Timmy: "Why don't you believe?"
Will: "I'm not afraid of something for which there's no evidence and I'm not motivated by something for which there's no evidence."
Timmy: "Okay, Entourage is on I've gotta go."
Feb 3, 2009
I already knew that abstinence only education was a waste of money. But this is worse than I had previously imagined. If you'd like to see what an abstinence only clown looks like, click the above link to see the video. Hurry, that crazy sexually frustrated clown is a little camera shy and has been pulling his videos from sites (including his own). Considering that the Obama administrations won't consider this a laughing matter, they have a good reason to not want this silliness advertised. Of course, that is exactly why I am posting this. More people need to know what their money is being wasted on.
Feb 2, 2009
Far too many religious organizations are getting away with poking their nose into politics without any consequences. Part of their requirements to maintain 501 status is to not associate themselves with politics by promoting a candidate, supporting the bill or other related activity. I guess this is just one more thing to add to the list of problems in America.
Jan 21, 2009
Jan 20, 2009
Obama is not only the first black president, but also the first president to acknowledge that America is composed of many world views in his inaugural speech. Obama took the care to mention that non-believers also contribute to the melting pot that we call home.
"For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus - and non-believers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth; and because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace." Text of Obama's inaugural speech
Following a paragraph referencing the "scriptures" in a speech ended by "God Bless America," this may not seem like a big step forward. But consider the non-patriotic phrase at one point uttered by former President George Bush Sr.; "I don't know that atheists should be regarded as citizens, nor should they be regarded as patriotic. This is one nation under God."* True patriots value the ideal of equality.
While Obama is unlikely to completely separate his religious views from his work, it is very obvious that he is taking steps to unify this country under the idea of true equality. I say true equality because this is a nation where those in charge have claimed we are all equal for quite some time. We were all 'equal' back when blacks were slaves. We were all 'equal' back when women couldn't vote. In the near future maybe we can look back and sarcastically say: We were all 'equal' back when homosexuals could not marry. We were all 'equal' back when most of America would not vote for an atheist.
If slavery can be overcome in such a relatively short time frame; true equality for nonbelievers is only a moment away.
Jan 17, 2009
I have noticed that I have no issues telling anyone that I am non-religious. I know they know that means that I don't go to church and don't practice any standard religion. No one reacts badly to my saying non-religious; at most they'll ask why. How I explain why depends on the person, I try to respond in a manner that I think they can listen to instead of tuning out due to extreme disagreement. For instance, if the person is very religious I start out by talking about being tired of how so many religious people are hypocritical. By the time I get around to saying anything that offends them they have agreed with at least half of my reasoning. With everyone else I just say that my reasons are quite complex but that the main reason is there simply is no evidence that any one religion has figured things out. If you get this far with someone; you can say 'atheist' pretty easily without them freaking out
I would never just walk up to someone at work or family gatherings and make a point to tell them I am a Christian back when I was one. Why would I do it now that I am an atheist? However, I do find it difficult to not be afraid to just come out and say atheist if I am in a situation where it is appropriate to be discussing religious views. In this part of the country a lot of, otherwise fairly reasonable, believers associate atheism with Satanism/evil. I don't know if this is something they picked up from church or if it is just a Southern misguided view based on lies circulated by evangelicals. But, it is something I have to keep in mind if I want to be able to discuss my views with someone in a calm manner.
I would use the term freethinker, but a lot of people don't know what that means and could be offended if you can't explain what it means before they jump to the conclusion that you are implying their mind is not free (which might be your view anyway). Nonetheless, you don't want to offend someone just by stating your views. I understand it is the other person's problem if they can't accept the existence of differing viewpoints. However, if I can control the conversation in such a way that I can speak freely without the other person getting offended; I prefer to do so. I think the more we can have a calm and open dialogue with theists the faster they will accept atheists/freethinkers as just another approach to viewing the world rather than something to fear due to false perceptions.
Basically, if you are around reasonable people...what is there to fear? You might have to lead into stating your views in order to create a foundation for the other person's understanding. But after doing so there shouldn't be any issues. The only people who would truly freak out are the fundamentalists and I'm pretty sure average religious people already think fundies are crazy anyway. Try not to let all the jerks/trolls/insane people on the Internet affect your view of how people react in the 'real' world.
I think that for most of us, our fear to be open about our views is unreasonable. I can tell people that I am pro choice in public without anything terrible happening. And this is during a time when, to many people, that is the same as saying I'm pro murder. If I can safely be pro-choice and pro-teaching evolution in this society, why should I fear being an atheist? With the exception of those who live in very backwards parts of the country, our fear to be open is not based on reason. As most freethinkers pride themselves on making decisions based on logic rather than emotions; I think we all need to objectively reevaluate why we think there is a reason to fear being outed as an atheist.
Jan 15, 2009
If you would like to learn more about the SCA or Lori, please visit: http://www.secular.org/
Jan 13, 2009
There is probably nothing more satisfying than being able to think about life's great questions without the restrictions created by religion and other superstitions. If someone inquires about your views, you have an answer. If you don't have an answer and are at fault, you can easily adjust your personal philosophy to better fit with reality. There are no imaginary chains.
Religiously minded people will often ask how someone can be happy without a belief in a god. Any atheist reading this blog can relate to how confusing that question can be. In our minds not believing in a god is like not believing in Santa. Thoughts of Santa filled many of our childhood minds with joy but we were only sad for few moments when we realized or found out Santa is not real. Religious views of god is just Santa for adults. Thoughts of god make many people happy, but that doesn't mean they would be forever sad if they found out god is imaginary.
I also find the question confusing because belief in god doesn't make everyone happy. It seems that for quite a few that belief just gives them a reason to carry on a life they don't like in hopes that when it is all over they'll be rewarded in another life. That's actually a very sad existence if you think about it...this life is not about this life but is about the next.
"When I finally came out of the closet and allowed myself the freedom of being an atheist, it was like a butterfly emerging from its chrysalis. I could read anything I wanted. Ask any questions I wanted. Challenge anything that didn’t make sense to me. And after being the equivalent of a worker ant for so long, this was heady stuff indeed! I am still exhilarated by it. A chained intellect, as demanded by religion, is a pitiful thing. A free intellect is a thing to be treasured.- Judith Hayes - The Happy Heretic
While many things cause joy for individuals, if there is anything specific to freethought that makes people happy it is what was described in the above quote. The complete freedom to simply be the person you want to be without worrying about conforming to pre-packaged views is a lasting happiness.