Showing posts from August, 2010

Francis Collins' "The Language of God"

I received Francis Collins' The Language of God as a gift from my parents some time ago (I think it was for my birthday last year), and hearing the book mentioned in a debate I recently watched has provoked me to finally get around to writing a critique of this book.

Francis Collins holds a special place in the heart of modern believers because, in addition to being a devout Christian, he's also an esteemed scientist. Francis Collins headed the project that sequenced the human genome. He's certainly every bit as laudable in his field as someone like Richard Dawkins or Daniel Dennet. Like Kenneth Miller, the evolutionary biologist who led the charge against Intelligent Design in the infamous Dover trial, Francis Collins believes that science and religion reinforce one another and are both integral to the human experience. This stands in stark contrast to someone like Dawkins, who argues that science and religion are inherently and irreconcilably in conflict.

So, I've re…

Pat Condell is wrong about the mosque

Here's a recent video of Pat Condell ranting about the so-called ground zero mosque:

I'm a fan of Pat Condell and his no-nonsense, incisive wit. I've seen him make a lot of great points about god, atheism, Sharia Law in Britain, and a litany of other issues. But I part with Pat when it comes to his stance on Islam. Not because he doesn't make a lot of valid points about Islam, including the problems with "moderate" Islam – of which there are many. But Pat has a tendency to paint all Muslims with the same brush, and that's simply a view that is detached from reality. In Pat's mind, most if not all Muslims tacitly approve of jihad, the oppression of women, and the subversion of human rights.

It's for this reason that Pat disapproves of the "ground zero mosque". Notice the language he uses in this video – he claims that the mosque will be "a few yards" from ground zero, which is patently false – it's a few city blocks, not eve…

What does it mean for prayer to be untestable? (via Daylight Atheism)

Daylight Atheismhas a great post up confronting the claim many theists make in response to studies such as the MANTRA study, which showed prayer to have no measurable effect: that prayer is supposedly untestable. But that old canard reminds me of the immortal words of PZ Myers:
Science is simply a process for examining the world, and anyone can do it, even if you don't have a lab coat. If something has an effect or influence, you can try to examine it using the tools of science — so when someone announces that gods cannot be detected by observation or experiment, they are saying they don't matter and don't do anything, which is exactly what this atheist has been saying all along.The reality is that few people believe in an irrelevant deistic god who just set everything in motion, then folded his arms, died, or went about making other universes. Most people who believe are theists who believe God has a real impact on their lives – their health, their financial prosper…

The art of the 20-something life crisis

"When I was your age, I was older than you." Those are words my dad said to me on my 30th birthday, and they seem relevant today. There's a great article in the NY Times this week that talks about the peculiar stubbornness of modern-day 20-somethings – a lot of them just have a hard time growing up. It's a pretty involved read if you care to soak it all in, but I just wanted to touch on a few points that hit home for me. From the article:
The 20s are a black box, and there is a lot of churning in there. One-third of people in their 20s move to a new residence every year. Forty percent move back home with their parents at least once. They go through an average of seven jobs in their 20s, more job changes than in any other stretch. Two-thirds spend at least some time living with a romantic partner without being married. And marriage occurs later than ever. The median age at first marriage in the early 1970s, when the baby boomers were young, was 21 for women and …

If there's no God, where did the universe come from?

The whole idea that the mere existence of all things is evidence of God is a common one. Perhaps more than any other, it's leveled at atheists like it's this big "gotcha": Hey smart guy, you can't explain how the universe got here, can you? It was God. If it wasn't God, how could anything exist? How could something come from nothing? 
The answer is, I don't know. But I submit that theists don't know either – they only make an assertion. In the absence of robust scientific explanation, they claim victory. This is tantamount to someone in the first century claiming that demons cause illness. If I pointed out that this was an illogical explanation, but we hadn't yet discovered microorganisms, the theist would claim victory. It's a classic argument from ignorance.

Let's look at the idea that God made everything. How could we know? How could we know, for example, that it was one God and not 40 trillion gods? How could we know it was a an all-po…

That whole pesky mosque issue

I just don't get people.

But first, some fact-checking is in order. How far from "ground zero" is the "mosque"? Well, it's actually a little over two city blocks. And, here's the interesting thing: muslims already meet and pray there. Oh, and it's not really a mosque; it's a community center with space set aside for prayer, sort of like the Y.

That stuff's important, because the wing nuts who are politicizing this issue are calling it "the ground zero mosque" not because that's actually what it is, but because they're trying to unify their base of ignorant dipshits by rallying prejudice against a religious minority, conflating "Muslim" – of whom there are millions of peaceful practitioners here in the United States – with poisonous terms like "Al Queda", "Bin Laden", and "9/11". Nevermind the fact that among the roughly 3,000 killed in 9/11, a number of them were peaceful Muslims.


Theology is fluff

People get PhDs in theology. I think that's kind of comical. It's the intellectual equivalent to getting a PhD in astrology, homeopathy, telekinesis or psychic clairvoyance. Of course, the people who actually study theology think it is serious business. But it's not. It's bunk. It is in fact so glaringly bunk that the whole field of "study" can be dismissed in one fell swoop... which I will do momentarily. But first, a little back story.

Writing the post I did the other day about the plurality of religions got me thinking back to my time as a Christian, and the process that led me from the flock. Bud over at Dead Logic is doing a series of posts telling his deconversion story, and I've gotten in touch with quite a few apostates over the last year or two and had the privilege of hearing their own stories. Interesting too is the number of emails I've received from Christians with whom I went to church as a teen, and they have all told me similar stories…

The problem with health science

Okay, nevermind the hyperbolic title to this post; it's really just about a problem with health science, which how research is done and published, and what we laypeople are supposed to make of it all. Here's what got me thinking about this issue:

There was a blurb in this month's issue of Flex magazine (a hardcore bodybuilding mag) about doing "supersets" - that is, if you are doing exercises for your chest and back, instead of doing all your chest sets and then all your back sets, you alternate one set of a chest exercise with one set of a back exercise, and so on. The question was whether doing supersets burns more fat than training with traditional "straight sets". According to the study reported on in Flex, the answer is "yes".  A few days later, I was reading through this month's Men's Fitness, and found another blurb about a study on supersets asking the exact same question. But guess what? In that study, the answer was "no&…

Why are there so many religions?

This month's Scientific American has a fascinating article on how early humans survived near extinction, with a breeding population in the mere hundreds, before our exodus out of Africa tens of thousands of years ago. The most interesting thing is that the archeological evidence discovered along the southern tip of South Africa completely rewrites our understanding of human history. While molecular evidence has firmly placed the earliest homo sapiens around 200,000 years ago, it was widely believed that our cognitive abilities did not evolve until much later; the oldest evidence of art and language dated back to some 40,000 years ago in what is now France. However, new archeological evidence described in the article shifts that back to well over 160,000 years ago. And notably this is merely the evidence we have now. It seems reasonable then at this point to assume that more than likely, homo sapiens' cognitive abilities were essentially the same at our origin as they are now.

There goes Billy Graham again

Thanks to Bruce Gerenscer over at the NW Ohio Skeptics blogs for bringing this one to my attention. Building on my semi-recent rant about how us happy atheists are a bit of a conundrum for believers, the Reverend Graham takes his own stab at the classic "Why is my atheist friend so happy and awesome?" question, and the torrent of spurious reasoning he unleashes is downright impressive in its vacuity.

Reverend Graham was given the following query:
DEAR DR. GRAHAM:The kindest, most thoughtful person I know says she's an atheist and doesn't even believe in God. I always thought we needed to believe in God before we'd behave like she does, but I guess this isn't necessarily true, is it?What's that you say? A happy, functional atheist? Aren't we all supposed to be amoral, depressed hedonists? Graham replies (emphasis mine):

I'm convinced that when a person comes to Jesus Christ and commits his or her life to Him, they will become a better person than the…

Why we don't need religion

There was an op-ed in USA Today that I'm frankly a little surprised the usual crew like PZ Myers and Jerry Coyne haven't tackled in their own blogs, because it's filled with the usual kind of spurious reasoning that those guys love to pounce on not unlike Jerry Coyne's own cats. So I will dutifully step up to the plate and tackle this hogwash.

The article is by a guy named Oliver Thomas, and it's called "Why Do We Need Religion?" I would jump at the chance to write a similarly titled op-ed, but Thomas goes in a completely difference direction than I would with his conclusion. See, I would ask it rhetorically, while he's asking it ironically. But you knew that. In case you want to trudge through it, here's a link to the full article. I'll just tackle it in snippets. Why religion? In the face of pogroms and pedophiles, crusades and coverups, why indeed? Religious Americans have answered the question variously. Worship is one answer. Millions gather…

Notable stuff other people are doing

My computer is still down (new motherboard should arrive Wednesday, and hopefully everything else will work). So, I can't really blog on my phone. I mean, technically I can, but that's like asking someone to sit through Ben Stein readingthe Lord of the Rings trilogy. So right now, I'm at my folks' (that's "parents" for you people not from the South) house for our usual Sunday dinner, and I'm stealing a bit of time on their iMac, which is about as far removed from my uber-awesome gaming PC as you can get.

Anyway, there's lots I want to blog about once I can do so with some consistency, but for now I just want to share some stuff I've been reading and watching.

1. TED Talks. Here's the deal. I like to have something on in the background while I practice guitar - movies, shows on Hulu, etc. Since my computer is down, all I have is Youtube. Ugh. So I've been watching lots of TED Talks. And let me tell you, I have watched (well, listened to

A quick word on the Prop 8 ruling

Unless you've been living in a cave, you have probably heard that a Federal District court in California struck down Proposition 8 as being unconstitutional. The battle is won, but the war is far from over. No doubt this legislation is not gone just yet, and I wouldn't be surprised if it makes it all the way to the Supreme Court.

I think it's really worth noting that there is one group of people who really supported Proposition 8: religious conservatives. You know that whole thing in the constitution about equal rights under the law? Well, according to these religious nutbars, it's really more of a guideline. The following video was brought to my attention via Facebook, and I think it's typical of the religious conservative mindset:

Notice the way she phrases it: People who voted to oppress the equal rights of others are the "victims" here. She says that you should pray to protect their rights. You know, the straight people who already have the freedom to…