Showing posts from March, 2011

Newt Gingrich, moron

Newt Gingrich, who is possibly going to run for President, had this to say the other day:
"I have two grandchildren: Maggie is 11; Robert is 9," Gingrich said at Cornerstone Church here. "I am convinced that if we do not decisively win the struggle over the nature of America, by the time they're my age they will be in a secular atheist country, potentially one dominated by radical Islamists and with no understanding of what it once meant to be an American."Let's ignore for a second the irony of a dude who's had multiple affairs acting like a leader in America's march toward moral fortitude. Muslims running an atheist country? That doesn't even make sense. But then, nothing rallies the sheep like a healthy dose of bigoted fear-mongering. Muslims and the religiously unaffiliated (not necessary atheists) make up close to 40 million Americans who apparently have no idea what it means to be an American.

I'm not sure what Newt means by the &qu…

Ray Comfort was on The Atheist Experience

... And I didn't watch it. Really, I think Ray Comfort is incorrigible. I watched his discussion with Thunderf00t, I've visited his blog and website countless times, and I sat through the atrocious debate on Nightline that pitted Comfort and his apprentice Kirk Cameron against the Rational Response Squad. I've seen about all I can take of that guy. I mean, at least the arguments of guys like WL Craig and Alister McGrath reflect a modicum of reason. There's a wise old saying that one is entitled to their own opinions, but not their own facts. Ray just gets the facts wrong and spouts the identical arguments ad nauseum no matter how many times he's corrected. He's also a science-denying Biblical literalist, and I can't see any reason to pay attention to those morons.

So yeah. I have no interest in listening to more of Ray Comfort. But I did read the follow-up blog over at TAE, and I liked the way Martin articulated his objections to the standard arguments &quo…

The human longing for God (part 2)

In part 1 of this post, I discussed my objections to the notion that humans have an innate longing for God. I pointed out the lack of a ubiquitous definition of God (or gods), and the great diversity in religious beliefs and practices, including things like animism and ancestor worship. But I also expressed dissatisfaction with the atheistic rebuttal that religion simply exists to give people comfort; indeed, religion's "comfort" is often derived from the alleviation of threats and guilt that religion itself fabricates. But even if humans do not possess any homogeneous concept of gods or spirituality, it's undeniable that generalized beliefs in supernatural phenomena are ubiquitous in human cultures throughout history. If "comfort" is an unsatisfying answer, then why is this the case? Is this ubiquity evidence that supernatural things are real, and that we have a deeply embedded desire to connect with them? And why do supernatural beliefs manifest as gods a…

The Kalam gets another beatdown

A while back I pointed out that the Kalam commits the fallacy of equivocation two separate times. I've talked in other posts about the erroneous scientific assumptions in the argument as well, but now someone with much more free time than I has authored an extensive and thorough rebuttal of "Kalam cosmology", such as it is. There are two very in-depth articles here:

1. The Science of Kalam: The Big Bang

2. The Science of Kalam: Singularities

Essentially, the Kalam – and pretty much all belief in a theistic creator – is dependent on the notion that the Big Bang is the finite beginning of the universe, and there absolutely was not and could not have been anything before that. The universe began at the so-called "cosmological singularity" – the moment of God's creation. Except that's wrong. I'm headed to bed, but I liked this quote, because I've said a before that the singularity is merely an artifact of general relativity.
And this is the main probl…

Boy almost dies, claims Heaven is real, strikes lucrative book deal

I caught this on my Facebook feed today: a story about a kid who had a near-death experience, complete with visions of angels, a sister he wasn't supposed to know about, Jesus riding a big horse, the apocalypse, and well... y'know, typical evangelical end-times crap.

His dad's a protestant pastor. He couldn't possibly have picked up any of that imagery from his parents, friends of family, or their church. He couldn't possibly have filled in missing pieces months after the fact. He couldn't possibly have heard about his sister from someone else, or (again) mistakenly attributed it retroactively. He was four and unconscious with sepsis from a burst appendix. How reliable would any of these memories be? People in perfectly good health make mistakes and retroactively edit their memories all the time. But nah. That wouldn't happen. The only logical explanation is that he actually went to Heaven and it's all true.

I always say that when there are people stup…

The human longing for God (part 1)

There's a highly underrated book in the atheist arsenal, so to speak, that flew under the radars of most readers – primarily, I suspect, because it is not a polemic in the vein of The End of Faith or The God Delusion. It's called Religion Explained, by the anthropologist Pascal Boyer. He discusses religion through the lenses of evolution and cognitive psychology, explaining not only why religious beliefs are ubiquitous but why they tend to take the particular forms that they do.

I bring this up because I was just visiting the site of fellow godless liberal Michael Hawkins, where he's posted an interview with Richard Dawkins from the Christian show "Revelation TV". The interviewer challenges Dawkins to explain why so many billions of people seem to have an innate sense of God's existence. I've seen this concept posed a myriad of other ways by countless other people of faith, so much so that I'm convinced it's one of the central arguments for the ex…

This is why science beats religion

Any regular readers of this blog are likely familiar with the Christian theologian William Lane Craig. Judging by his debates with Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Peter Atkins and many others along with a great deal of work in Blackwell's Companion to Natural Theology, he's regarded by many a Christian as one of today's formost apologists.
His pet argument is the Kalam Cosmological Argument. A key premise in this argument is the idea that the universe had a finite beginning. Craig derives this from the Big Bang, and it's absolutely central to his theology. If the universe has no beginning – no moment of creation – then there's no need for a Creator. God could still exist of course, perhaps as some sort of pantheistic divine intelligence. But in order for his theology to be tenable, the universe must have a finite beginning.

Here's the thing though: we don't actually know whether the universe had a finite beginning, and the Big Bang is no…

The reason earthquakes happen

I caught this video courtesy of Friendly Atheist, in which a priest-turned-atheist gives his view of the earthquake in Japan, and something in particular caught my attention:

First, I should mention that I wholeheartedly agree with his perspective; while believers fumble about trying to rationalize "why", we nonbelievers aren't losing any sleep over who is to blame – because no one is to blame. Earthquakes happen because of plate tectonics. That's it. Not because of the wrath of God, not because of original sin, not because it's a sign of the end times. Plate tectonics.

But what caught my attention is that he points out the irony of praying to God to help the earthquake victims, when – if one believes that God is omnipotent – God is the one who orchestrated the earthquake in the first place. Believers, of course, do everything they can to reassure themselves that God has his reasons. Maybe it's because of original sin, so it's all our fault! Except, plate…

Ronald Reagan on collective bargaining

"Where free unions and collective bargaining are forbidden, freedom is lost."

Dr. Oz may actually be from Oz

At least, that's the only reasonable conclusion I can reach after this monstrosity of stupidity:

Dr. Oz Says Psychic John Edward "Changed My Life"
As a rule, the worlds of western medicine and psychic phenomena just don't mix, but that's not the case on Tuesday's installment of The Dr. Oz Show. Oprah discovery Mehmet Oz will welcome famed psychic medium John Edward, who claims to relay messages from the dead, and the two men will discuss how connecting with the afterlife can be therapeutic for those in grief. Edward also conducts readings for several members of Dr. Oz's studio audience, and offers advice on how to pick up signals your dead loved ones may be sending you — things you can do without the help of a psychic. TV Guide Magazine spoke by phone with Dr. Oz, who had quite a wild time watching Edward do his thing. In fact, the good doc says the experience changed his life!Geez. Dr. Oz has peddled some pseudoscientific crap on his show before, …

Sam Harris on dualism

Sam Harris touches on some very important points in this clip from his recent debate, particularly the fact that science (and, by extension, atheism) makes no a priori assumptions about the existence or non-existence of supernatural things. And I love his final point regarding the absurdity of the "spirit".

ht/: Tristan Vick

Sophistocated theology in a nutshell

I mentioned in the previous post that the Huffington Post always provides an ample supply of religious woo, and in browsing the site I've come across some op-eds that typify what appears to be passing for sophisticated theology these days.

You'll hear them spouting off all this poetic-sounding stuff about meaning and purpose, about the limitations of science, about "other realities" and "expanded consciousness", but without ever providing any rational basis for making such bold ontological assertions. Like, for example, this inane rambling from David Wolpe, the rabbi who (along with Bradley Artson Shavit) recently debated Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchen and, by most accounts it seems, got his ass kicked:
Religions are not the same. One claims a man can become God; another claims the distance between human and God is unbridgeable. One claims that God is not personal; another insists that God is personal. Differences can be multiplied. They are real;…

Religious woo takes on dreams

Jerry Coyne links to Huffpo a lot, and I can kinda see why – it's a breeding ground for pseudoscientific, accommodationist garbage that masquerades as sophisticated philosophy. I still enjoy the site, but if I'm ever feeling like I'm fresh out of targets, Huffpo never lets me down.

Case in point: professional woo peddler Sadhguru rambling about the meaning of dreams:

In a nutshell: dreams are repressed desires. This might sound plausible (Freud certainly though so), but sorry; that's not actually what dreams are. How do I know? Cause I done went me to school.

A fate worse than death?

Jeremiah Mitchell is an 8-year-old boy here in my home state of Oklahoma who contracted meningitis. Last year, an outbreak of meningitis killed two children and hospitalized five others. But this isn't one of my rants about the evils of the anti-vaccine movement, although there is a vaccine for meningitis. 

Jeremiah's odds of survival were very low, but his parents opted to leap for the surgery. It succeeded, but at a great cost: all four of his limbs were amputated, along with part of his face. He has many more surgeries to come, years of rehabilitation, and will almost certainly require assisted living for the rest of his life. He'll have extraordinary difficulty relating to his peers, dating, getting married, or raising a family.

I'm not about to suggest that his parents were wrong to save him. But I wonder what I would do if I were a parent in that situation. Would I fight for my child's life, no matter the cost? Or would I recognize that to save his life w…

Republicans vs. their own values

So in case you haven't heard, Republicans are trying to toss a pebble off our mountain of debt by stripping funding from Planned Parenthood. It's no secret conservatives dislike Planned Parenthood because... wait for it... they do abortions. And as we all know, a fertilized mass of human cells is the exact same thing as a living, breathing human.

Republicans claim that they're doing this do reduce our national debt. According to Wikipedia, Planned Parenthood receives a shade under $400 million of its national funding from government grants and contracts. Per Republican legislation, the organization cannot use this federal funding to pay for abortions. But of course, conservatives aren't content yet. They want Planned Parenthood gone for good.

But Planned Parenthood, as the name suggests, not only provides a number of vital heath care services for women (breast and cervical cancer screenings, for example), but it offers services that help prevent unwanted pregnancy – in…

Why are atheists angry?

Over at Huffpo's religion page, Rabbi David Wolpe (whom some may know from his debates with Sam Harris) asks why we atheists are such a pissy bunch:
It is curious that a religion site draws responses mostly from atheists, and that the atheists are very unhappy. They are unhappy with the bible ("foolish fairy tales" is one of the more generous descriptions), unhappy with the idea of God (the "imaginary dictator" whose task in human history, apparently, is to ensure that oppression and evil triumph) and very unhappy with anyone (read: me) who presumes to offer religious advice to the religious.Whenever religious folks start talking about angry atheists, I feel like it's mostly just them projecting their frustrations.  It's like Daniel Dennett said (I'm paraphrasing): there's not really any nice way to tell people that their most cherished beliefs are basically nonsense. And yeah, we're a little irked at the way religious nutbaggery can and ofte…

Those aren't aliens in that meteorite

Wow. So it turns out that this Richard Hoover character is a bit of a kook, who has already penned a book on panspermia. Confirmation bias, anyone? Then you have the problem that the Journal of Cosmology (which published his study) has, well, to put it kindly, a less than stellar reputation (it's online-only, if that tells you anything).

Then you have the problem that a number of scientists in the blogosphere had serious reservations about the study, and the reaction, from the Journal of Cosmology, was this:
Only a few crackpots and charlatans have denounced the Hoover study. NASA's chief scientist was charged with unprofessional conduct for lying publicly about the Journal of Cosmology and the Hoover paper. The same crackpots, self-promoters, liars, and failures, are quoted repeatedly in the media. However, where is the evidence the Hoover study is not accurate?
Few legitimate scientists have come forward to contest Hoover's findings. Why is that? Because the evidence is s…

You can't make this stuff up, part MCXVII

You often hear the old creationist canard that life cannot arise from non-life. Well, abiogenesis is a nascent field of science, and we're not sure how life first arose. We certainly have no reason to assume that it must have been supernatural. Our very bodies – and indeed all life – is composed of the exact same elements (indeed the exact same atoms) that ancients stars spat out when they exploded, seeding the galaxy with heavy elements. That such elements were synthesized by the laws of chemistry is certainly more plausible than the old "A Magic Man done it!" excuse. I've always thought it was peculiar that creationists insist the universe was designed for life, but then insist that biogenesis itself required an extra bit of divine intervention. I mean, that's pretty arbitrary, no? If God designed the universe for life, then why wouldn't he make it so the laws of the universe allowed life to arise by the natural processes he created? So I posed this query …

Extra-terrestrial life found? Maybe.

A NASA researcher is claiming that he's found hard evidence of extra-terrestrial life, in the form of fossilized microbes on a meteorite:
Writing in the March edition of the Journal of Cosmology, Richard B. Hoover argues that an examination of a collection of 9 meteorites - called CI1 carbonaceous meteorites - contain "indigenous fossils" of bacterial life. "The complex filaments found embedded in the CI1 carbonaceous meteorites represent the remains of indigenous microfossils of cyanobacteria, " according to Hoover. That matter-of-fact sentence also underscores the shout-out-loud implication that the detection of fossils of cyanobacteria in the CI1 meteorites raises the possibility of life on comets. And Hoover does not shy away from offering that very conclusion. Well, not everyone is jumping on the bandwagon just yet. Phil Plait of Bad Astronomy writes,
Probably the biggest bump in the road for showing these things are life-forms is to show they are…

Science denial

There's an article over at TIME magazine's website about the dangers of the anti-vaccine movement. The last few years have seen disturbing rises in treatable diseases like meningitis, whooping cough, and even the measles. The victims are usually kids.

Now that the research which showed a link between autism and the measles vaccine has been discredited and its author stripped of his medical license on charges of fraud, you'd think that people would be saying, "Oh... I guess we were wrong." I mean, that's what reasonable people do, right? They look at the evidence. But when followers of the anti-vaccine movement are faced with mountains of evidence that discredit their claims, they do the opposite: the become even more entrenched in the ideology. They shift the goalpost: originally, they wanted thermosol removed from vaccines, and it was. After autism rates continued rising at the same rate, they charged that it's due to a diversity of toxins in vaccines. T…

I love Tim Michin (again)

This one's been making the rounds on atheist-themed blogs... Tim Michin is a brilliant musical comedian, and like George Carlin and Ricky Gervais, he's adept at exposing the absurdity of religion through light-hearted mockery: here, incisively mocking the silliness of prayer.

If the subtitles moved a bit too quickly, here are the lyrics.

If it ain't one dogma, it's another

Primatologist Frans De Waal has done a lot of work on evolutionary models of morality, which undoubtedly provokes the ire of religious believers who simply can't fathom morality being an emergent outcome of evolution divorced from some unseen divine entity. I particularly love this opening statement from an essay he contributed to the Templeton Foundation:
Human nature simply cannot be understood in isolation from the rest of nature. This evolutionary approach is already difficult for many people to accept, but it is likely to generate even more resistance once its implications are fully grasped. After all, the idea that we descend from long-armed, hairy creatures is only half the message of evolutionary theory. The other half is continuity with all other life forms. We are animals not only in body but also in mind. This idea may prove harder to swallow.De Waal's books are scientific, not polemic, and he only mentions religion in passing. But much as Pascal Boyer's R…

Why does anyone care about Westboro?

Okay, I know they're really annoying and stupid. But this story from Huffpo just popped up in my Facebook feed about them:
A leader of the Westboro Baptist Church told reporters Wednesday that the congregation would "quadruple" the number of funeral protests in the wake of a ruling by the Supreme Court, which found that their controversial demonstrations were protected by the First Amendment, ABC News reports.Last I checked, those "protests" look something like this:

Just for reference, the March on Washington protests for civil rights looked like this:

Who care about a dozen or so inbred morons? Well, they certainly do. They love the media fuss, and they feed off of it. If we quite giving them what they want, they'll go away.

You can't make this stuff up

The Pope has a new book, and in he tries to resolve that whole antisemitism thing by exonerating the Jews for Jesus' death:
In "Jesus of Nazareth-Part II" excerpts released Wednesday, Benedict explains biblically and theologically why there is no basis in Scripture for the argument that the Jewish people as a whole were responsible for Jesus' death. Interpretations to the contrary have been used for centuries to justify the persecution of Jews.
While the Catholic Church has for five decades taught that Jews weren't collectively responsible, Jewish scholars said Wednesday the argument laid out by the German-born pontiff, who has had his share of mishaps with Jews, was a landmark statement from a pope that would help fight anti-Semitism today.Riiiiight. Since when have antisemitic assholes, just like any sort of racist or ethnocentric assholes, ever let something like this get in the way of their hatred?

Here's a better one: first of all, a…