Monday, August 6, 2012

The Midwest Atheist is moving!!!

To another URL, that is. I wanted to change up the name a part because I see very few atheist bloggers actually use the term "atheist" in their blog titles. Also, a lot of websites block this URL. It's very strange, and I've never been able to find out why. Anyway, my new blog name is "Teeth of the Buzz Saw" which incorporates my last name slightly in the title (and appears to not get blocked). The Midwest Atheist address will remain in tact, primarily for linking purposes (though all posts have been ported over) and so that people who find this link know how to get to the new site..which is going to be much like this old site. But this will be the last post, so please update any RSS feeds you may have.

- Leo

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Why it's good to challenge beliefs

   This is part one of a three part series on beliefs. This post covers why I find letting people believe what they want is a bad idea.

   This is a topic I have tried to write about multiple times, but every time I get long winded. It's hard not to because this should be fucking simple!!! Yet, for whatever reason (we'll get to that in part three), it is not.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Help me, PZ Myers, and Hemant Mehta Get Tattoos

   If the Foundation Beyond Belief can get 5,400 people on their international team by this Saturday, raising money for The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society through their Light the Night Walks, Todd Stiefel will get a mohawk and PZ Myers and Hemant Mehta will get tattoos!!!

   Now where may you have heard about this Light the Night Walk before??? Hmmmm... OH, ON THE SIDEBAR TO THE RIGHT!!! :)

   Yours truly is already part of this event and I am captaining a team for the local event in Iowa City on October 13th (just three months away). If you happen to live in the Cedar Rapids and Iowa City areas, you may sign up for my team, which also adds you to the Foundation Beyond Belief list.

   And allow me to up the stakes just a bit... If this goal is met OR if people help me reach my fundraising goal of $500 (also by this Saturday), I will get a tattoo as well!

UPDATE: For people who donate, I will send you pictures and possibly video of me getting the tattoo.

   Sign up HERE (for signing up on my team) or here for a list of national teams or donate on the right!

Thursday, July 5, 2012

What kind of atheist am I?

   PZ Myers has an interesting post where he discusses what he sees as the four major categories of atheists. Those categories are as follows:
  • Scientific Atheists
  • Philosophical Atheists
  • Political Atheists
  • Humanists
   PZ points out that the categories are not mutually exclusive, so, with that in mind, where do I fall? Well, a little bit in all four. Of course, I will expand on that...

   I think I am mostly a Scientific Atheist. It is through this category that I discovered I was an atheist. I also struggle with the weakness of such atheists, which is smugness.

   I would say that next I am a Philosophical Atheist. While I'm not all that big on philosophy, I try to be rigorous. I am also at times long-winded. I have had my wife complain at times about me writing a book as a response to someone on Facebook (and not limited to the topic of religion). I tell her I'm that way because I try to be thorough in explaining myself.

   After that, I'd have to say I'm a Humanist. It is this part of me that leads me to speaking out against religion. As PZ said, this is the heart of the atheist movement. It is indeed my motivating factor and it is the factor that leads me to stand up for gay rights amongst other minority rights. I consider this a less significant part because, first, I was basically a humanist before I was much of an atheist and, second, because of the scientific part of me, I feel that I do not have the weaknesses of this group. I would not, for example, at this point in my life* join a progressive church. I may not have much use for the atheist movement if it failed to take up such issues, but I wouldn't go anywhere religious.

   Finally, I am also a Political Atheist. Those who know me, though, may realize that I am fairly involved with politics. Ah, but my political involvement goes well beyond just atheism, and is actually more tied in with my humanism**, which doesn't have to be tied to atheism. That's perhaps the way it should be because we are supposed to have and should have a separation of church and state. In other words, my atheism should be separated from state. The reason it isn't is in reaction to those who don't keep it that way themselves. Additionally, my political involvement existed prior to my atheism. That is much why I consider it my lowest category. It doesn't hurt either that my political views already lined up well with the major political party that does not make a big deal out of religion.

* I'll be open to the possibility that my mind could change in the future.

** This is perhaps another reason I don't have the weakness of the Humanists. If the atheist movement doesn't fight for humanist issues, I'll fall back to politics before I would a religious institution. (How would it count if I happened to back a political party that promoted religion??? Or am I thinking about this too hard? OK, I'm putting the philosopher back in the box!)

Monday, June 18, 2012

When sticking to talking points is good

   I've been away from the blog machine for some time, but I had to make some comments on this video below.

   Sometimes I am really annoyed when people stick to their talking points and don't actually answer the interview questions — though, the interviewer wasn't really asking a lot of questions but was instead making statements looking for a response. As Ed Brayton describes it, she was "using the 'some people say (insert something idiotic and crazy)' technique."

   The first incident was when she said, "Some Christians might argue that, because such groups are in high schools, you're sort of indoctrinating young people in a time when it is not proper because they are not old enough to really handle questions like that." Jesse actually had a good response pointing out that, first, they're not actively recruiting students; those who want to join come to them, and, second, there are often Christian groups at these schools, too. I myself would have wanted to be more brutal about that...

   ...I mean, seriously?!? Even if it were true that atheists were out to indoctrinate children, has anyone ever heard of a church that doesn't allow in children because "they are not old enough to really handle questions like that"? If there are any, I'd bet there are damn few. And I really hate that sort of hypocrisy. I had a Christian acquaintance from a few years back that accused me of wanting to convert people to my worldview...or some shit like that. Of course, she made it out to be a bad thing that I should feel ashamed about. Yet, did she share these same concerns about Christian missionaries? Probably not (though I would have expected her to lie and claim otherwise if I would have cornered her on this).

   All this is about is Christians being upset that they are getting some competition. And they are losing ground to that competition rather quickly.

   It should also be expected that when Christians are essentially called out on their hypocrisy and they don't deny this, they then have to try to find some justification for why it is OK for churches to indoctrinate children. This reporter does just that in her second try when she says, "They say that's dangerous because most people in their life; it's not a bad thing." Again, Jesse actually responds quite well. He directly avoids addressing the reporter's comments about religion being a good thing and instead focuses on the positives of secular groups.

   The truth, though, is that religion, overall, is a bad thing. Sure, it has it's positives. And that is, of course, what defenders of religion like to focus on. But it has lots of negatives. On that, the defenders of religion try to blame it on bad people misrepresenting religion. I fucking hate that bullshit, too.

   Still, way to go, Jesse, for not taking the bait!

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

This is why I speak out against religion.

   This is a post I started drafting in early May...figured it was about time I finish it.

   JT Eberhard posted a four-part series of email exchanges between his dad and a Christian from his home town. The Christian made a lot of baseless claims, but also said something I find quite scary (emphasis mine):
I feel no guilt about potentially damaging the world with this information, because it contains the very power of God to save those that are lost, and offers to believers glory in the Lord. What is wrong with that?
I, of course, realize that not all Christians agree with this. However, (1) there are likely many Christians who do and (2) such a statement is actually consistent with not only Christianity but basically any religion that promotes a personal god with a plan for humankind. In a recent post, I made the point that conservative Christians could argue that, in reference to gay rights, "God's law is higher than, and therefore trumps, human's law." (And they have.) A similar argument can be made here. In this case, it is reaching heaven that is the goal.

   The problems of this are so enormous, it's hard to know where to start except with where it should be most obvious — managing the resources of our planet. Just over a year ago now, I was hosting a party mocking the idea of the rapture. Yet, "41 percent of Americans think Jesus Christ is returning by 2050." Chances are, this guy is part of that 41%. When you put these two concepts together, why would such a person be concerned with global warming? What do they care if we run out of oil? In another 40 years or less, we won't be here anyway, according to these people.

   For anyone who cares about what we leave behind for future generations, religion should concern you.

"I'm again' it!"

   A few weeks back when there was that win for bigotry in North Carolina, I saw on a comment board somewhere of this argument bigots think is clever about putting gays and lesbians on an island and showing that they'll eventually die out because they can't reproduce. That particular argument is stupid because (1) actually they often can reproduce, so if you put men and women together, even if goes against their sexual preference, they'd probably work it out to reproduce. And (2) why is this relevant? There seems to be two routes this argument is supposed to take: (1) This is supposed to show that homosexuality is "unnatural" and therefore should be condemned and, if that argument doesn't impress, (2) gay people should not be allowed to marry because they can't have children. The argument is horribly flawed. It's an appeal to nature, which is a fallacious argument and can be seen more clearly when the same argument can be made for people who are infertile or people who are intersex*, like my wife. Are these people "unnatural"? Should they not be allowed to be married? What about adoption? And since when was marriage primarily about procreation?

   This last question is something that I feel was addressed adequately at Alethian Worldview.
...In the first place, unless adoption or premarital sex is involved, there’s going to be at least some portion of the marriage in which there are no children present to be raised. And then they grow up and leave home, so they’re not part of the child-rearing environment anyway. So does the couple still have a marriage? ... Again, you’ve got a definition of marriage that tries to divert attention away from the relationship between the people getting married, and onto some contrived and disingenuous criterion intended to deny equal rights to a certain segment of society. Bad definition.


...And did you notice? Changing the definition of marriage so that it refers primarily to child-rearing is, ta-da, changing the definition of marriage...
That last bit is for those who want to "define" marriage. Interestingly (not really), their reasons for marriage being between a man and a women end up redefining their own definition. That's how bad the argument is. Still, I get quite insulted by these people who suggest marriage is about raising children. What about love? And the argument encounters other problems: Besides people who are intersex or infertile, what about elderly people who marry past their child-bearing years? (Well, I guess that technically makes them infertile, but most people probably don't view it that way.) And, more disturbing, what about teenagers? Is it OK for them to get married as soon as they can start reproducing? Why not? Remember, any reason given for this must be applied to everyone.

   And, finally, there is the pastor in the video below who inspired the title of this post. He's still essentially trying to make the same argument. Except that he seems to think that homosexuals are never born from heterosexuals. So he's got to separate the men from the women to ensure they don't reproduce for the sake of reproduction. Once again, the same argument can be applied to people who are intersex or infertile. So to limit the rights of one of these groups and not the others is discriminatory, plain and simple.

* I was discussing recently with Amy that it surprises me that the topic of intersex people does not come up seemingly at all in the discussion of gay rights, especially as a counter to these naturalistic arguments. I suppose intersex people are more rare than homosexuals and, from my experience, it seems intersex people tend to not talk much about their condition, leading to people being unaware that they know an intersex person. So this could create an "out of sight, out of mind" problem.

Friday, May 25, 2012

The low-effort thought of John Archer

   I've been seeing a number of signs and TV ads for John Archer, who is running for Congress in Iowa's 2nd district. With the redistricting, this does not include Linn county, so this will not apply to most of my Rockwell Collins coworkers. But this does include Johnson county, so I do know a few people in that district. So here's the TV ad I've been seeing; let's go through it.

Some people act like you need a PhD from Harvard to run our government. (0:00 - 0:04)
   Is that supposed to be a shot at Obama? Does this guy realize that Romney went to Harvard, too? In fact, I think Romney spent more years at Harvard than Obama. In reality, I suspect he knows exactly what he is doing and his goal is for the conservative viewer to think about Obama and forget about Romney. In other words, he's taking advantage of flawed human thinking (or that low-effort thought I referred to in the title).

Everything I need to know is in the United States Constitution. (0:04-0:07)
   Ummm...not even a course in economics 101? What he's doing here is again targeting his conservative base (he has a primary to win yet, after all) by throwing out this buzzword of ignorance. Need I point out how a lot of conservatives view themselves as fierce defenders of the constitution these days? All a politician needs to do is mention the word and their constituents will automatically get a hard on. (Yet, even the's a metaphor!)

Respect life, preserve the 2nd Amendment, restore power to the States so that we the people can govern ourselves. (0:10 - 0:17)
   Translation: "I'm against abortion and contraception, and you can reasonably suspect I'm against women's rights in general. I think white people should have unrestricted access to guns. I want the States to have more power so those good 'ol red states can more easily follow their archaic ways of life — making abortion and contraception illegal, suppressing women and minorities, discriminating against the homos, teaching the Bible as literal Truth™, which then includes teaching creationism instead of evolution and, yes, teaching that the earth is 6000 years old." Note that I suggested that people like him only want to preserve the 2nd Amendment for white people. I would imaging that if I were to speak of someone of Middle Eastern descent wanting to buy a dozen assault rifles, many conservatives would lose their shit. That would not be OK with them. Yet, if a white guy would want that many assault rifles??? Meh.

And you know what's not in here? That's right — government run health care. (0:17 - 0:22)
   So what? The implication here, of course*, is that government run health care is unconstitutional. I'm pretty sure the constitution says nothing specifically about Social Security, Medicare, and Medicade, so we can expect Archer to be against these programs as well. The same goes for things like radio, TV, and Internet. Better get rid of the FCC. I don't recall anything in there about environmental protection. Good bye, EPA. Seriously, though, it bothers me a bit because this whole "That's not in the constitution" game is only about opposing things conservatives dislike. There are probably a number of government policies that conservatives like — they probably don't mind the FCC keeping profanity off of the TV — that they don't mind despite being "unconstitutional" based on this false standard of anything that is not explicitly stated in the constitution being unconstitutional.

   On a side note, the book he is holding also includes the Declaration of Independence, according to the cover of the book.

   Overall, I find the video quite cheesy. As I mentioned earlier, he has a primary to win first, so this particular video is likely aimed at conservatives. Yet, I'll give him some credit for doing a decent job of using code words to allude to his positions instead of being straight forward about them, which could likewise hurt his chances in the general election. So, that's why I'm here to help decode Archer's commercial. I see "Tea Party" written all over him.

   Your thoughts?

* Perhaps I should not say "of course." There is a conservative posting in the comments that either doesn't get the implication or hir's playing dumb. I suspect the later, but maybe they really don't get it.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

They never see the irony

   So there was a state representative from Mississippi calling for the killing of gay people in the news just the other day...but that's not what I'm really here to talk about. What he said included, "The only opinion that counts is God’s: see Romans 1:26-28 and Leviticus 20:13." Leviticus is the verse that calls for the killing of gay people, which I already knew. I was curious about the Romans verse. It states the following:
26 Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. 27 In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.

28 Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done.
   So I became curious as to the context. Apparently, Paul is telling the Romans how the Big G is taking out his wrath on the nonbelievers...nonbelievers who are supposed to be able to see invisible evidence.
20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.
   This is essentially the argument from ignorance. (You can't explain the tides; therefore, God.) Yet, this is still not what I am here to discuss. It is rather the next three verses that I find interesting. (Emphasis mine.)
21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.
   That sort of sounds familiar...

   Of course, there are a few differences: (1) Christians didn't "exchange the glory of the immortal God" for this image. Instead, they strangely conflate the two. They treat Jesus as both god and mortal human. On the one hand, they try to claim that Jesus "died" for our sins, but then on the other hand they try to claim that Jesus is part of that "immortal God." I'm sorry, but something that is immortal, by definition, cannot die. So either Jesus is (was) mortal and could have died on that cross and then not be part of that "immortal God" or he is immortal and therefore could be part of that "immortal God" but could not die on a cross. It can't be both; that would be a violation of the law of excluded middle. And, finally, (2) there are no "birds and animals and reptiles" in the image. The big irony, still, is that the main Christian image is "made to look like a mortal human being."

   Then again, I already knew Christians are pretty oblivious to irony. They are, after all, very good (or bad, depending on perspective) about ignoring Matthew 6:5-8
5 “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 6 But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. 7 And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

Monday, May 21, 2012

"Organized" religion isn't the problem!

...Well, it isn't, but not the way some Christians suggest.

   It pleases me — PLEASES, I SAY! — when Christians (typically of the more liberal variety) attempt to claim that religion isn't a problem, it's just that damn organized religion that's problematic! To which I say, "Bollocks!"

   What can I say? There was a vote on a ban of gay marriage in North Carolina recently and I found an article about it and in that comment section (it was on MSNBC, but I'm not sure which article or where to find the exact comment now) some Christian was going off about how Christians can't take the moral high-ground because of prior moral failings (agreed), but then seemed to blame this on "organized religion" and had to make it clear he was not an "Atheist" (with a capital "A" because, I suppose, he thinks atheism is a religion). This really causes me to facepalm when I see that there is one survey (how well this was conducted, I do not know) that found about 97% of atheists/humanists support legal gay marriage. (Also, Gallup finds that 89% of non-Christians support gay marriage.) And this guy seemingly wants to distance himself from such a group to make it clear he belongs to the Christian club, or at least a religion. Or maybe he thinks atheists eat babies or are communists who worship government? Most of all, I suspect he's trying to make himself feel superior. It reminds me of the xkcd comic.

   Which brings me right to my biggest point on this issue: there is really no such thing as religion without organization. This commenter goes out of his way to point out he's not an atheist. Why? Seriously, why? As I already suggested, I suspect he's trying to make it clear that he is himself a Christian (without having directly said so). But why is that important? If you think organized religion is so horrible, why imply that you are a member of the group? Perhaps he's afraid of social consequences for denouncing religion. Which brings me to the reality that religion needs organization to survive. I credit the fact that I am an atheist much to not having a religious upbringing. I didn't have to fight off years of people telling me that a god is real. Granted, my parents could have brought up religion in the home more often than they did (which was virtually never), and if they had, I might not be an atheist.

   But what about my children (when Amy and I get around to adopting)? I'm not going to be teaching them religion as literal truth. I doubt Amy would, either. So where could they possibly pick up religion? I mean, without organized religion? Could some friends teach them about religion? Maybe, but those friends might also believe Spiderman is real, too. So when Spiderman becomes fake, so does religion. At best, I would say, they might come up with something of their own, but would they get into anything like Christianity? Probably not.

   I raise this because there have been cases of the children of atheists becoming religion. Some, even pastors (i.e, William Murray and Stephen Kagin). But would this have happened without organized religion? So often I hear stories from atheists who began life as non-religious or not devoutly religious and then got pulled into church or a college prayer group through friends. That's organized religion, even if the organization may be relatively small in comparison to, say, a juggernaut like the Catholic Church. Never have I heard anyone claim that they became religious from a friend merely telling them about Jesus. No, it seems to take some sort of church experience to convert.

   Think about that. If parenting were the primary way to pass on a religious belief and there were no effective conversion methods, specific religions would gradually fade away as parents, such as mine, fail to pass on their beliefs. Now, new religions may — and probably would — spring up from people creating new religions, but even those wouldn't last. About all that might last are the simplest of beliefs. People still believe in astrology, for example, but it is relatively simple. At least it seems to be that way anymore. At one time, I think it used to be quite more complex, by which I mean people spent much more time actually looking at the alignment of the stars and planets because they actually thought that mattered. Today? It wouldn't surprise me if many astrologers know the position of planets, but recognize that all they really do is make up stuff in horoscopes. More importantly, though, there are no scriptures or really any dogma that is tied to such a belief. Just think about that for one, brief minute. What is the Bible, after all? It is an organized collection of stories, poetry, and letters.

   Yet, I can imagine there would be some objections about how that is not what they mean by "organized." Then what do they mean? Why do I get the feeling that their particular brand of Christianity is not organized but everyone else's is???

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Thou art gotta be shitting me! - The Book of Job

   DarkMatter2525 pulls off another masterpiece! This is just too damn funny! I loved the alternative ending the most. Watch and enjoy!

   I should also mention The Goon Bible Project's version. It's quite a classic.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Penn Jillette when his is right.

   I wrote an earlier post where I was not pleased with a quote attributed to Penn Jillette. Now I have to turn the tables and post something from Penn that I find to be really great. Below is the video message he presented to the Reason Rally back in March. I'll highlight some of the great parts below.

It's about time we grabbed the moral high-ground. Many people who are religious—they are sometimes doing their good deeds: their charity, their kindness. Sometimes comes from reward and punishment—going toward reward and away from punishment. I can make the argument—and I have—that the only ones with true morality are us, the atheists. We are doing good because it is good and we are doing right because it is right and not for reward or punishment.


We are the people who believe in this life. We are the people who believe in morality. If you are doing something for reward or punishment, you do not have morality. Morality must come from inside you—from your mind and from your heart. You can't say "Don't hit your sister and I'll give you an ice cream sandwhich;" "You must not hit your sister because it's wrong to hit your sister."
   My only thought is this is a bit contradictory to that quote from that earlier post. That quote implied getting "moral credit" and "great joy" from helping people. But aren't these rewards, especially the moral credit? The great joy is something internal, but could I not call that a self-reward? It would seem that either Penn did not say that quote or he is holding contradictory ideas. From my writings, it should be clear that the Penn in the video above is the Penn I agree with.

UPDATE: I found the source of the quote from my earlier post. It appears to be a response to his interview with Piers Morgan back around August of last year, which is actually the interview from which I based some of my thoughts of Penn in that post, particularly with how he used anecdotal evidence during that interview. (I actually posted the first part of that interview on this blog. The video I embedded is apparently no longer available, but the links to other videos still work.)

Sunday, April 29, 2012

God and I Am Legend

   I am not one to watch new movies. Actually, I'm not one to watch movies, period. Typically I'll just watch a movie on TV if I've got nothing better to do on a weekend night. Such was the case last night when I watched I Am Legend.

   The movie wasn't too bad, but the whole god part of it all was a bit disappointing. Robert (Will Smith) and Anna get into a conversation about a colony to protect the survivors of the zombie virus. She claims it exists; Robert claims it doesn't. Robert goes on to ask Anna why she thinks it exists. Well, she "just knows." What she should have done is turned the tables and asked him how he knew it didn't exist as Robert was also making a positive claim. Anna apparently isn't that bright, and, when asked again, says "God told me," or some shit like that. She goes on to talk about how the timing of their meeting couldn't have just been a coincidence; therefore, it was part of God's plan. See, Robert had been broadcasting a message to survivors on all AM radio frequencies for years. She only just now heard that message. And the timing was great because Robert had become suicidal, so Anna had to rescue Robert from himself. Well, Robert goes into a problem of evil speech and yells, "There is no god!" at Anna a couple times.

   Immediately after this, the movie begins to climax. Zombies find Robert's home and attack in droves. They eventually have to flee into the basement, where Robert has a lab where he experiments with potential treatments for the disease. After years of testing, it turns out that his latest treatment is working. So, since zombies are closing in, he draws some of the healing human's blood and gives it to Anna and then hides her and a boy named Ethan in a little alcove. Robert remains outside to kill the zombies (and himself) because he suddenly realizes there is a god and that god's plan was indeed to send Anna to find Robert so he could give her the cure that he has found just in the nick of time. Even though Robert has to die, it's a happy ending because he was an angry atheist who found God!!!

   Except, there seems to be a bit of a problem. That has to deal with why Robert had become suicidal. That happened because his dog, Sam, became infected and he had to kill her. And that happened because Robert got caught in a booby trap. The booby trap involved a manikin. My two main questions are (1) how did Robert just notice this manikin? Was he driving through a neighborhood he had never traveled through before? And (2) how had zombies not even accidentally set off that trap? My assumption is that trap was put there by a human. Based on the story, that manikin would have likely been there for years. I can understand the zombies not falling for a manikin as a trick, but to not even check it out or just wonder by? No, that doesn't seem right. I suppose the other alternative is that the manikin and trap were placed by the zombies, but, while the zombies are not completely stupid, it is suggested in the movie that they may not be all that smart either. At any rate, it seems like God's plan must have then involved Robert getting caught by the trap. Otherwise, Anna wouldn't have had to rescue Robert from depression. In other words, God's plan involved making Robert depressed by making Robert kill his dog. That doesn't sound like a very nice plan.

   I suppose religious apologists could provide two explanations*: (1)Satan! It's typical for the religious to find a scape goat to explain why things go wrong. And (2), this wasn't part of God's plan. It happened because Robert wasn't listening to God. (Maybe this god should have given Robert a reason to listen!) At any rate, God can't lose! And that's one thing I hate about religious people: anything seemingly good gets attributed to a god and anything bad is someone else's fault, and it's all asserted without evidence! It was a disappointing end to the movie.

* Sure, it's just a movie and a work of fiction, but the "it can't just be coincidence" argument unfortunately reflects real life arguments.

UPDATE: When I originally wrote this, I was at a loss for words on that last point. It's hard to really argue against people who can make up whatever they want. So, I have instead thought of an alternative explanation to hopefully highlight the problem: "Robert could not hear the one true god, Flying Spaghetti Monster, because Robert did not eat pasta, the media through which FSM delivers His message." Maybe that's the problem. Why not? I have just as much evidence for my claim as anyone who would say Satan or ignoring god was the problem (if we are to assume a god exists).

Saturday, April 28, 2012

I wonder if they'd accept my design?

   So, the State of Iowa is allowing license plates with a pro-life message. I'm not sure it's best for the government to allow a politically charged issue to be on the plates, but then that would mean the government should either not allow any activism/specialty plates or they would have to declare what is and is not a politically charged issue. I would also be against the later. This means the state should either allow all or none. (For those who don't live in Iowa, we have many types of activism/specialty plates, including one for bicyclists.)

   I see that Iowa also has a "God Bless America" plate, too. I think it's time to turn things around in the correct direction. But I wonder how they'd react to this idea:

Friday, April 27, 2012

This doesn't fix the problem.

   Silly liberal(?) Christians! I was browsing the timeline of a Facebook friend and found this ridiculous image. In searching for the image, I found a webpage with a likewise silly comment:
YES, THANK YOU! It’s so hard sometimes to tell non-Christians that you’re Christian when you live in a world where “Christian” means Gay-basher and determiner of law.

My type of Christianity is the kind that LOVES and DOESN’T judge. So two men dig each other. Get over it. So the laws of Christianity don’t govern the whole country. Get over it and read the constitution.

Jesus was a rad dude, you guys.

Doing My Part for the Godless Future - Money

This post is in part a response to Hank Fox's Doing My Part for the Godless Future.

   One thing I have decided to start doing is crossing out "IN GOD WE TRUST" on paper money. In the past, I thought the idea was a bit childish. It not only seemed silly to do so, but I feared other people might feel the same way, turning people against atheists. Particularly, my immediate family are the people I tended to think about. They are not very religious, yet they don't seem to be fond—for whatever reason—of atheist activists. I figure marking money will further that divide between me and my family. But then I will see dumb comments like this:
If you feel so strong about being an atheist,you should not use money,after all it does say in God we trust on it
Such comments demonstrate why having "IN GOD WE TRUST" is a problem. It is a problem I wish to help fix.

   Stories about atheists in religious communities thinking they are alone have also encouraged me. Perhaps there are atheists out there that will feel some relief from knowing other atheists exist if they get a hold on one of my "marked bills." As for my family...screw them! They'll probably never be my allies, but they'll probably never be an enemy, either. Much the same goes for other people who are sitting more in the middle...people who I might call "accommodationists." If an atheist crossing out "IN GOD WE TRUST" frustrates you more than all the horrible things religious people do, then fuck you! I would rather mark money if it helps motivate atheists than to not in order to pander to people with such horrible moral priorities.

UPDATE (08-May-2012): I saw something disturbing on PZ Myers' blog this weekend. Emanuel Cleaver, a U.S. representative from the state of Missouri, said the following recently in an interview:
Actually, I don’t believe that there is such thing as an atheist because no respectable atheist would walk around with something in his pocket that said ‘In God We Trust.’
   Well, I have no paper money that says such a thing (I have not attempted to remove it from coins...that would just be too much work). Suck it, Cleaver! Oh...and thanks for demonstrating my point.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Soccer Report — Spring, Week #1

   Well, the season started out with a disappointing 4-2 loss. On the bright side, it was only the first half that was disastrous for my team as they outscored us 4-0. Much of the problem, I think, was due to the fact that we are a new team. The team consists entirely of people who could not find a team of their own. We are, in other words, a ragtag bunch of misfits. There seemed to be some organizational problems in the first half, primarily with defense. I was primarily playing forward or midfield, but saw that the defenders were doing a horrible job marking up. I can recall at least one of those first two goals being the result of a cross to our right side of the field because the right defender moved too much to the middle and let a man go unmarked in his area. I later noticed that substitutions appeared to be causing some trouble...

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

What causes me cognitive dissonance and why I've had a tendancy to avoid Facebook.

I wish to be optimistic about the future of the human race, but then I see stupid shit on Facebook that runs counter to that wish. This causes discomfort that I wish to avoid. Instead of giving up my wish, I instead chose to give up on Facebook. It is time to fix that. If I am going to honestly call myself a realist, it is time I give up on that wish.

There is one more issue worth mentioning. I'm not quite sure if it is an irrational fear of may be a little...I think it is more a fear of having to defend myself. I lean more to the later because I did not have near the issue of facing criticism in the past. The fear has come about, I'm quite sure, from past attempts at defending myself where my words would not come out right and I'd feel stupid about what I said later. There might be some cognitive dissonance there as well because I view myself as a smart person, so doing something stupid contradicts that. On the flip side, I feel that I have accepted as fact that I am not good at thinking of quick, witty responses. So that would not be dissonance then. It must then be that fear, though one of the reasons I started this blog was so that I could take my time writing responses so that I could develop better arguing/debating skills. It is time I dropped this fear as well!

Friday, April 20, 2012

Yet another early sign I was a feminist

   I don't know what it is, but I feel like talking about feminism suddenly...

   First, a lead-in story... Yesterday at work we had our team meeting. There is about 20 or so people in my team...only two women, and one is currently on maternity leave. The one woman one the team currently at work pointed out that she was the only woman in the room. And, based on the names of the new hires, she's going to be one of only two women. But that segued into me thinking about gender-neutral names. Like Leslie, or Shannon (even if they do tend to be more popular as girl names). I don't think any of the names on that new hire list were gender-neutral...pretty sure they were all males. Anyway, that then segued into this time my father, who is totally not a feminist, seemed to be quite pleased that a man, with one of those gender-neutral names, had applied at was accepted into some program that was for women-only. My father's pleasure seemed to derive from this idea that if women want equality then they shouldn't have such groups. This then got me thinking about other things he has expected out of women, specifically that he thinks women in the military should have to shave their hair just like men. These ideas made some amount of sense to me at the time, but something didn't quite feel right. I was too naive to place a finger on the problem, though.

   Of course, I see the problems now. For that later example, the problem is with those who created the rules about shaving hair in the military, specifically the gender of those people. Yeah, they would have been males. So, my father seemed to think that if women want to be treated as equals to men, they should follow the rules that men put in place. Yeeeeeeahhhhhhh-no! I'm sorry, but perhaps women should at least have an equal role in creating those rules first! For that former example, it's difficult to really know what to say, at least in a way that will make sense to the person who doesn't understand. But a lot of it comes down to not being equal yet and being the underprivileged group. Yes, if women were considered equal to men, then it is true that such groups and programs would not need to exist. But we are not there yet. Far from it. Until women can achieve equality, then women's groups and programs are a necessity to combat inequality. Perhaps the best way to say this is that one cannot fix a problem if they act and behave as though the problem does not exist. Yet, what my father seemed to want is for women to act as though there is no problem, thinking the problem would magically fix itself. Or, it's also quite possible that my father doesn't think there is an actual problem.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

An early sign I was a feminist

   While I have failed to talk about feminism much (I do have a few posts that have stalled out in draft state) on this blog, I do consider myself a feminist. And today I saw a post from Jen McCreight where she talks about the mean things people unfortunately say about her looks. It is something that a lot of women apparently get. But, for whatever reason, this memory of something my father would occasionally say came to mind. I'm quite sure it was, "I wouldn't kick her out of bed for eating crackers." I remember not being impressed with my father for saying such a thing. That may have been as early as high school. It's possible he said it more often when I was in college. I can't be sure. Either way, I'm glad I came to the conclusion that judging women based on their looks was a bad idea at a fairly young age. (Though, I must be honest and admit I probably concerned myself with looks more than I should have when I was on the dating scene. My wife can testify to this.)

IDHEF - Chapter 4 Addendum: The Probability of God

This is part of my breakdown of the book "I Don't Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist." Related posts can be found by clicking here.

   One thing I forgot to address in my breakdown of Chapter 4 was the probability of God. In that chapter, the authors spoke much of probabilities. The idea is that the probability of things in the universe turning out as they did is so improbable (because it is so complex, they claim) that some sort of intelligence (God) had to behind it! Even if we ignore the other problems with their probabilities, we still have a problem that they are not bothering to ask about the probability of God. Think about it. If there is something that has the ability to assemble the universe with precision (their claim, not mine), doesn't that thing have to be more complex than the universe? And if it is more complex, shouldn't that make it even more improbable than the universe? If not, I'd still like them to tell me what they think that probability is. (I wonder how many would tell me that's a stupid question or give me a probability of 100%.)

   Even as an engineer who works in the aviation industry (more broadly known as the aerospace industry) where I help to build airplanes, I find it takes more complexity than an airplane to build one. That is because it takes thousands of humans to build an airplane. It takes the physicists to figure out the basic science behind it, it takes material engineers to design the body, it takes lots of other engineers and mechanical operators just to build the machines that are needed to build an airplane, and then, of course, there are all the mechanical, electrical, and software engineers (such as myself) that build the components for inside the airplane. Let's not forget the pilots that then have to learn how to fly the things. As complex as airplanes can be, it takes a large network of human beings to pull off building such things. Is this network really more complex than the airplane itself? Yeah, I'd say so!

   So if you're going to claim that a god must be behind the universe because it is so complex, then I'd suspect that god would be more complex and improbable than the configuration of the universe. And if you're going to claim that the configuration of the universe is so improbable as to be virtually impossible, then the same goes for your god claim. Of course, we know the universe is not impossible because we are here. The same cannot be said for the god claim.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Looking back on the last 4 years

   Recently I've been catching up with an old friend from work. He had only been here in Iowa for a year, but we got along pretty well during that time. In a recent email exchange, he expressed shock that I am an atheist. The truth is that when we were both in Iowa (which was from June '07 - June '08), I was and wasn't. Yes, I know that's contradictory. Allow me to explain...

   By saying that I was an atheist, I mean that I did not believe in a deity. What I mean by saying that I wasn't an atheist is that I neither fully realized that I was an atheist nor was I very informed on religion. As I discussed in the introduction to this blog site, it wasn't until July of 2008 that I really began reading about religion after I bought a copy of Richard Dawkins' "The God Delusion." Before that, I knew next to nothing about religion! In that introduction, I mentioned that that I had learned a lot since then, but what I didn't really discuss is how little I knew! I mentioned not knowing who Yahweh was, but I'm not sure how many Christians would actually know that, seeing how (1) Yahweh is typical name for the Old Testament god, which seems to basically be what Christians refer to as "the Father," and (2) Christianity focuses primarily around the mythology of Jesus. But even Jesus was a character I knew little about. My main exposure to Jesus was through the Christmas holiday as a baby in a manger and through churches as a man in his underwear (loin cloth, whatever) pinned to a cross with his head drooping. I had most likely heard of Jesus referred to as "the Son of God" (no idea then that "son" should be capitalized), but knew of none of the trinity stuff about him also being part of the Christian god concept. It probably should have dawned upon me that, as being the son of a god, that he would end up being at least immortal, but it did not.

   Other things of which I was unaware was that Christianity was based off of Judaism. Nor did I know that Islam was also based off of Judaism, as well as incorporating Christian elements, such as Jesus being a prophet. (Though, once again, I'm sometimes unsure of how much actual Christians know of this, especially that about Islam.) I also knew little about why there were different denominations of Christianity. I knew a little bit about Martin Luther, but I don't know if I had realized the whole Protestant movement was tied to him or if I thought it was just the Lutheran church. I knew of the roots of the Anglican church, though.

   I knew of the Noah's Ark story. Or at least a story that resembled that in the Bible, though I think some of the details (including some significant ones) were different. I had heard of Adam and Eve and the Garden of Eden, and I suppose I realized that there was a story of them being the first humans. While I thought that last part was ridiculous, I had an impression that the Garden of Eden may have been referred to in other places as I knew people (including a project engineer this friend and I once worked for) who thought it may have been a real place. My thinking was likely why would they think this was a real place if it was only talked about in their Bible? (And that if multiple cultures referred to such a place, that would slightly increase the likelihood that some place of significant vegetation had at one time actual existed in the Middle East as opposed to just being made up.) Silly me! It never occurred to me that people would take mythology so seriously. I held what PZ Myers has dubbed the "common atheist delusion." I thought "most practitioners of religion are followers of practice, not belief — they go to church for ritual and community, and all the dogma is dispensable." I should have known better because I also knew of people searching for Noah's Ark, though I had likely written those people off as a fringe group of lunatics.

   Hopefully all of that gives you an idea of just how ignorant I was as little as four years ago. How things have changed! And I'm glad they changed. I am a person who likes to understand reality and the world around me—even if that reality provides a depressing outlook for the future of mankind. I'd much rather know and understand that reality, as then I know what I have to work with. To put this into engineering language, one cannot fix a problem until one knows what the problem is. Heck, one cannot fix a problem until they know there is a problem to begin with! And now I see religion as a problem, which I did not four years ago. Now I do, and now I can work on figuring out how I can do my part to fix it.

Monday, April 16, 2012

IDHEF - Chapter 4: Divine Design

This is part of my breakdown of the book "I Don't Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist." Related posts can be found by clicking here.

   Chapter 4 involves the authors trying to show that the universe must be designed. I'm not going to spend as much time going through page by page as I have done in the past because, first, much of the first half of the chapter talks about the Apollo 13 mission in order to hammer home their points; second, their arguments tend to have similar flaws, so I can group many of them together; and, third, one section isn't much more than preaching about how awe inspiring the universe is.

   But let me start with some objections to their teleological argument. First, they say that the argument itself is evidence. It's high time I get out my Dave Silverman face!

   Arguments do not count as evidence themselves. Rather, arguments need to be supported by evidence to be considered true. (Based on this, I'm having second thoughts on Chapter 3 as well as later chapters in the book where they claim or imply evidence they don't actually have. If they are counting things that are not evidence as evidence, then no wonder!) Second, they say the universe has "highly complex design" (p95). Now, as this is what they are out to demonstrate in this chapter, I will say no more for now other than that I disagree. Why I disagree will be explained throughout this post.

Libertarians and Charity: A Follow-Up to the Follow-Up

   In my last post on this topic, I discussed what seemed to be liberal hypocrisy in regards to charity, but there was something that just wasn't setting quite right. It turns out to basically be two thing—local phenomenon and decline in giving with decline in need. If there is less of a need for charity, then it is not surprising that people might give less. If you then combine this idea with an idea that people will react more to their local communities as opposed to national needs, you may get a partial explanation of why liberals donate less.

   Take Mississippi, for example. It is generally a conservative state and is quite religious. Therefore we should expect the people of Mississippi to be quite charitable. But Mississippi also seems to have a lot of societal ills. I think they have a high poverty rate and I am quite sure they have the highest teen pregnancy rate in the nation. So they have a great need for charity. Contrast this with Vermont, which is generally quite liberal. I think Vermont tends to rank fairly well as far as societal health goes. There is then less of a need for charity. So I'm not too worried if people are giving less in Vermont than in Mississippi. Actually, I would expect that!

   But, to be fair, this doesn't completely excuse the issue. There are things like cancer research (like I am helping donate to on the sidebar) that are pretty much a constant across the country. If people in Vermont have less of a local need, then they should probably be compensating that with larger donations to other needs like this. Or, as that article I had linked to last time addressed, liberals give less blood. There really isn't a good reason for this to be the case. So, there still seems to be some bit of hypocrisy, but it may be less than it appears when looking at it from a high level.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

IDHEF - Chapter 3: In the Beginning There Was a Great SURGE

This is part of my breakdown of the book "I Don't Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist." Related posts can be found by clicking here.

   We begin Chapter 3 with a quote from Einstein, one of which the meaning is often debated. From my understanding of Einstein, he occasionally spoke in metaphor. It pains me to say this, as liberal Christians often use this to justify bizarre verses in the Bible, but this quote is probably not meant to be taken literally. In the case of this quote, many have argued that the word "religion" refers to a sense of awe and wonder as opposed to more common definitions of the word which refer to the dogmatic belief in ideas, typically relating to the supernatural. While it's not important to discuss this in the larger context of the book, I find it nonetheless important to raise this point as this quote is often used as an argument from authority in society. That argument is typically along the lines of "Einstein, who was really smart, thought religion was important; therefore, religion is important"

Friday, April 13, 2012

Is it sexist to protect the wives of political candidates? Your thoughts?

   I do claim to be a feminist, and thus I do try to call out sexism when I see it. I've been noticing what seems to be a bit of sexism in presidential politics that got hot yesterday.

   The trigger event apparently occurred Tuesday night on CNN when Hillary Rosen suggested "it was wrong for Mitt Romney to be using [Ann Romney] as his guide to women's economic struggles when she 'had never worked a day in her life.'" I don't find it as all that horrible of a remark. Rosen was specifically talking about how Ann Romney had a job that pays actual money, whether it be in private industry, government, etc. However, since Rosen just said "work," she phrased her remark in a way that left it vulnerable to being taken out of context, like in the response she received from Ann Romney:

   It has been quite disappointing that this has been turned into a supposed attack on mothers. It wasn't. (Never mind that this was likely viewed as an opportunity to distract from the Republican's "War on Women.") Perhaps the most disappointing thing I saw were comments from President Obama that I heard this morning in his attempts to play defense. (Interestingly, the interviewer was from my local ABC affiliate!)

I don’t have a lot of patience for commentary about the spouses of political candidates. My general view is those of us who are in the public life, we’re fair game. Our families are civilians.
   My big problem with this is that, the way I see it, Mitt Romney brought his wife into the public when he said, "My wife has the occasion, as you know, to campaign on her own and also with me, and she reports to me regularly that the issue women care about most is the economy." I can understand the families being off limits when they don't really do anything for their candidate other than make appearances with them, but if they are actively campaigning and serving as an adviser on women? Does that not put them in "public life"?

   Now, when I first saw the Obama comment, I was thinking it may have been a bit sexist, hence the title of this post. I was thinking this was maybe even some misogynistic "protect the vulnerable women" move. As I've been writing, I'm no longer sure. I may be seeing it that way because so often presidential candidates are male. But then I had to think back four years ago when Sarah Palin was on the ballot for vice president. (Hillary Clinton doesn't count because Bill Clinton was obviously in the "public life") A lot of the focus on her family was on her pregnant daughter, but didn't she even try to declare her husband Todd off limits? It's been a while, so my memory is not clear on this. But if that is the case, this may just be politics at its worst—family members are used as tools. It's not right for candidates to use their families to enhance their image, but then be hostile to criticism.

Your thoughts?

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Libertarians and Charity: A Follow-Up

   In my last post, I mentioned Susan Jacoby speaking of some statistics on charity based on political alignment. Now, since it was said on a TV panel discussion, no source was given. So I went about doing a Google search to see what I might be able to find. And I found this article from four years ago written by George Will. There are a few interesting things to note in this article, some of which are surprising and others that are not.
  • "The single biggest predictor of someone's religion."

       This is not surprising. If people often go to a place that is asking for 10% of a person's income, potentially including threats of torture in an afterlife (or maybe just claims that they need the money to spread the "Good News" to prevent others from being tortured), then it's not surprising that some of those people will be quite giving. (And if a church doesn't use fear, they always have guilt.) If you don't deal with such an environment, then where is one to get constant reinforcement? Therefore it makes sense that liberal giving would be less. Like the article states, "the percentage of self-described Democrats who say they have 'no religion' has more than quadrupled since the early 1970s." Liberals such as myself have to be our own motivators, and it would appear we are failing at that.

       By the way, I should point out that Jacoby claimed that the religious give more to secular charities than do the secularists. So they are not just giving to church (which I don't count as particularly being "charitable"). This article does not address this point. Yet, I wonder how much of that money goes to religious charities that are disguised as secular. For example, if Focus on the Family is considered a charity (I don't know if it is), it would probably be considered "secular," yet many secularists know better. So I'd like to see some deeper investigation on that front. Though secularists still need to do better regardless!

  • "The least charitable cohort is a relatively small one -- secular conservatives."

       This seems to line up with what Susan Jacoby said in that interview. (Interesting, too, is that George Will himself is part of this group.) It is something that does not personally surprise me, but when you consider this point and the next point together, there seems to be a disconnect.

  • "People who reject the idea that 'government has a responsibility to reduce income inequality' give an average of four times more than people who accept that proposition."

       This in itself isn't surprising. If you think private charity is the better way to go, then you'd better demonstrate your commitment to that idea, which is why I posed a challenge to Libertarians at the end of that last post. However, as I said before, there seems to be a disconnect with the previous point. It has been my impression of secular conservatives that they tend to be part of this group that rejects the idea of government having responsibility. So why are they so horrible at charity? Perhaps my impressions of secular conservatives are wrong; perhaps they are not as against this idea as I think.

       What would be nice to see is a breakdown of this group that rejects the idea of government responsibility between religious and secular conservatives. Heck, it may even be a good idea to know how many liberals are in this group. And it would also be very nice to know how many people consider themselves to be libertarians, instead of having a binary breakdown between conservative and liberal (that goes for the entire study). I hope I need not state that politics are more complex than this! (I myself score highly on the social questions on this quiz called the "World's Smallest Political Quiz.")
   The disappointing point about that last point is I would like to see that not be true. Much of the article is to point out liberal hypocrisy. It appears to unfortunately be true. As the article highlights, liberals should be donating to private charity until there are more government programs in place, as promoting such programs alone does nothing for those in need. There's not much else to say other than I am disappointed. Yet, I know one of the first places I need to start is with myself. Otherwise, when I complain about libertarians possibly being more talk than action, it's like the pot calling the kettle black.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Libertarians and Charity

   One area where libertarians (and a lot of conservatives can be included in this discussion as there tends to be a fair amount of overlap in this area) really upset me is in the area of charity. They often act like they are caring, compassionate people. However, their arguments tend to suggest otherwise. The general Libertarian position is that individual people should decide where to donate their money and that government should stay out of the process. An example to the right is from Penn Jillette (who I will refer to on a first-name basis, as that seems to be how he likes to be addressed). This particular statement is a bit more aggressive than typical Libertarian sentiments, but it should help give you an idea what such arguments are like. I'll go into Penn's particular argument later, but for now I'll cover the problems with the general arguments.

Monday, April 9, 2012

I found a new cause!

   I just learned today that Foundation Beyond Belief is a Special Friend of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society's Light the Night walk. The FBB has a goal of raising $1,000,000 for this cause, with the Todd Stiefel family pledging to match the first $500,000 raised. This would be a great way to send a message to the world that atheists are charitable, moral people, countering the negative stereotypes that are our there. The other thing about this is that my wife, Amy, has had to deal with lymphoma twice in her life. (You can read more at her blog.)

   Please help out by donating to this cause through the widget below or on the right sidebar. The money will help me achieve my goal of $500 and my local team's goal of $2,500. (I've noticed difficulty with the widgets loading. Alternatively, you can visit my fundraising page. Or, you can always donate under Amy's page.)

UPDATE: OK, one problem with the widget is that there can only be one such widget on the page at a time. I have removed the widget from this post so that the one on the sidebar can work.

Saturday, March 31, 2012


   Yeah, I shaved Bailey. Note to self: 1/4 inch is probably too short. I could probably go at least 3/4 inch. Oh, and thanks to my wife for allowing me to trim her.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Oh, gotta love those FOX News fallacies!

   Or not. Someone named Larry Alex Taunton put together a doozie of an opinion piece on the Reason Rally. Let's break the worst of it down!
But there is something not quite right about all of this. Christianity, whatever the faults of its adherents, has a rich intellectual tradition that has a comprehensive view of life.

The JetBlue pilot and a reason why I am an outspoken atheist

   People often spread these silly notions that we should just let people believe what they want to believe. (Alternatively: Live and let live.) It turns out this JetBlue incident may be an example of why those people are wrong. Here are videos from ABC's Good Morning America. Below the videos and the fold are my comments.

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video platform video management video solutions video player

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Hi, Mom, I'm on Pharyngula!

  I made it onto PZ Myers' blog, and I just feel like gloating a little. That, and I want to share the picture that was taken. I'm in the middle and the one Jesus with fake hair. :(  To the right (my left) is vlogger Thunderf00t (a.k.a. Phil Mason) and to the left (my right) is the American Atheists' Arizona state director, Don Lacey (OK, maybe his head hair is fake...I can't remember what he looked like out of costume). In case you don't get it, we're doing "Speak no evil; see no evil; hear no evil."

UPDATE: Mr. Lacey has confirmed that is his real hair.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Reason Rally Ahead!!!

   Soooooo busy lately with warm weather (product of global warming? probably at least in part) bringing about an early gardening season and preparation for the Reason Rally! As a result, I have not had a lot of time to blog, though I have much to blog about!

   Speaking of the Reason Rally, if you found this blog site via the QR code on my T-shirt, welcome fellow freethinker! Here on The Midwest Atheist, I blog quite a bit about general religious topics. I try to comment on the latest political news when I have the time and I also have goals to blog on feminist issues, though I have not gotten around to those much. Additionally, I have been posting my responses to the book "I Don't Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist."

   I hope you will consider subscribing to my blog and I will try to pick up on posting come April. In the meantime, I am posting the 7 finalist videos from the Ten Point Vision challenge. The videos are below the fold.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Bizarre Right-Wing Christian Logic

(via Biodork)

   Below is a video featuring Kalley Yanta, who, apparently, was a TV news anchor up in Minnesota and is still a media presence. She is railing against birth control in the video and makes some interesting arguments, which I will go over below the video and the break.

Monday, March 12, 2012

IDHEF - Chapter 2: Why Should Anyone Believe Anything At All?

This is part of my breakdown of the book "I Don't Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist." Related posts can be found by clicking here.

   Chapter 2 starts out discussing a seminar presented by James Sire that shares the title of this chapter. They say that Sire has four categories for why people believe what they do: sociological, psychological, religious, and philosophical reason. Before continuing, I'd like to point out that, first, the sociological category seems to be more specifically social psychology. Second, the religious reasons could be rephrased as "Obedience to Authority," but these points are trivial.

   The authors go through a hypothetical dialogue between Sire and the students of some college Sire may have presented at. This following part bothers me a little, though my objections are not related to the objectives of the book:
Sire: Okay, what about cultural influences? Do you think people ought to believe something just because it's accepted culturally?
Students: No, not necessarily. The Nazis had a culture that accepted the murder of all Jews. That sure didn't make it right! (p52)

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Can we recognize Bill Maher as both a red herring AND a problem?

   For those of you who may be living under a rock for the last week, conservative radio show host Rush Limbaugh has been under a lot of heat for sexist comments he has made. Well, now conservatives have been going after Bill Maher, who has a history of making sexist comments. Unfortunately, it sounds like some liberals have been defending Maher under the guise that Maher is a comedian. I can see this as being a valid excuse to an extent...that extent being to the point that comedians will often play off of stereotypes to make their jokes. The problem is that Maher way oversteps this boundary. One can tell from some of the things he's said that he is seriously sexist. I've embedded a video below if you'd like to judge for yourself. (Also on an interesting note, while the right is now attacking Maher, Maher actually suggested that liberals accept Limbaugh's notpology.

   There are two things I want to say to liberals. First, I'm sure you realize as much as I do that this attack on Maher is just a red herring to both distract away from Limbaugh's comments as well as a way to play the "They do it, too!" blame game. Call them out on it! But, second, you must admit that Maher is a sexist pig as well. Their game is to make us out to be hypocrites and it appears that some liberals are going to allow conservatives to win that point.

   I do, of course, realize the trap the conservatives have set up. It's a financial trap. Some conservatives want Obama's Super PAC to return money donated by Maher. My guess is in return they want liberals to ease off on Limbaugh, who has been losing advertisers. The solution, as I see it, is to say, "No, Obama's Super PAC does not have to reject/return Maher's money." There is no rule that a candidate has to vet his donors to make sure they don't do anything controversial. Same goes for the Republican candidates — if Limbaugh donates any money to them, they shouldn't have to reject/return any money just because Limbaugh is a slimeball.

   On a final note, I think the conservatives are also grasping for straws. I'm not sure what to do here except to just call them out on it. I am getting the impression that they are upset that liberals did not criticize Maher with such ferocity for attacks on Palin, others, as we are criticizing Limbaugh. There are three problems here. First and foremost, I don't think Maher is anywhere close to being a voice for liberals as Limbaugh is for conservatives. When Maher says something stupid, many liberals can honestly say, "Well, I don't listen to Maher anyway." I don't see how conservatives can say the same for Limbaugh...not that there aren't conservatives out there who don't care for Limbaugh. I'm sure there are plenty that don't listen to or care for the man. The point is there is an unequal level of popularity between the two. It does not then make sense for the outrage to be equal. Second, conservatives seem to be complaining not about Maher's misogynistic views in general, but specifically his attacks on conservative women. Come on, conservatives! If you want us to think you really care about women, then don't limit your complaint to Maher's treatment of your own. This shows that conservatives just don't get it. It reveals that they honestly think the issue with Limbaugh's comments is his use of the words "slut" and "prostitute." It's not. It's about treatment of women and, for some of us, the double-standards for men and women in regards to sexual health that men like Limbaugh hold. Third, and a much less significant point, the conservatives seem to be upset about Maher insulting women who are political figures (whether politicians or just political pundits). Sandra Fluke, who Limbaugh has criticized, is neither*. Now, this in no way excuses Maher for his behavior, but I don't see a political figure insulting other political figures quite as deserving of the same outrage as a political figure insulting someone who is not. Again, this is not excusing the behavior of political figures insulting one another. The overall point is that the Maher vs. Limbaugh comparisons are not on equal ground, so it is not fair for conservatives to be expecting equal treatment.
* One could claim that Sandra Fluke is an activist for women's rights, but I wouldn't put that in quite the same category. I mean, I consider myself to be somewhat of an activist (even if I'm pretty much limited to just voicing my thoughts on my blog right now).

   In the end, though, I am disappointed that some liberals are being hypocrites. Shame on them, but shame on conservatives for trying to spread the blame instead of dealing with their issues.

I like the message, not the messenger.

   There is an ad sponsored by American Future Fund that I have been noticing on both TV and the internet. For the most part, I like the ad. Obama is very hypocritical when it comes to Wall Street. He's not the reformer he claims to be...and, trust me, being a registered Democrat, I know that both he and Democrats spout how the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform bill is supposedly some great "change." This video is very good about pointing out how Obama gets a lot of campaign donations from Wall Street and how his administration is made up of a lot of insiders. It is something Democrats don't seem to want to acknowledge. The reason why is what this video targets: it's the idea that if Obama was really out to change Wall Street, Wall Street wouldn't be donating to him, nor would he include those insiders on his staff.

   There is about only one part of the video that I don't support, and that is the idea that Obama was wrong for supporting the bail out. And this gets into who the messenger is. America Future Fund's slogan is "Advocating Conservative, Free Market Ideals." These people are no enemies of Wall Street, either. Sure, maybe they wouldn't have bailed out Wall Street if they had their choice for President, but I have my doubts that they are really concerned about the people like Jack Lew (Obama's latest Chief of Staff) taking big bonuses. No, these are likely the type of people who would have let the economy tank into a depression all the while still allowing the rich bank executives to keep and walk away with their money from the banks they put under. As disappointed as I am in Obama for not restricting these executive bonuses or for not aggressively prosecuting anyone for the economic collapse, these guys have worse philosophies.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Clinging to minor points

   One thing that I have occasionally noticed in dealing with religious people is they will cling on to minor trivialities. The purpose of this seems to avoid discussing the major point, which I suspect to be an area of discomfort for the believer.

   One of the first times I noticed this occurred nearly two years ago now. In the discussion, I brought up a point made by Julia Sweeney where she observed that a common tactic cults use is to get people to abandon their families and what do you know?!? There is a verse in the New Testament where Jesus tells his followers they need to abandon their families to follow him. The Julia Sweeney quote is as follows:
In Luke, Chapter 14, Jesus says, "Anyone who comes to me and does not hate father and mother, brothers and sisters, wife and children cannot be my disciple."

I mean, isn't that what cults do? Get you to reject your family in order to inculcate you?

   The Christian that I was having the discussion with, instead of addressing the main point, drug the conversation over to whether or not that translation was correct. He wanted the translation to be "love less" instead of "hate". It baffled me why he was so insistent on that, and I admit I failed to keep the conversation under control after that. He eventually claimed I was closed minded for not accepting the translation he wanted. That stunned me, too. I really didn't care one way or the other about the translation because I failed to see how it changed the main point. About the only difference that word change would make that I could see would be to change the emotional overtones, but such a change would not void my point.

   As far as why I bring this up now is because I saw a similar example within the last week. Cenk Uyger of The Young Turks went on a rant mocking the Mormon church for baptizing Anne Frank. See the video here.

   At the time I viewed this video, one of the top comments (though not very highly rated) was from someone claiming to be a Mormon and they said they had lost respect for Uyger for suggesting that the Mormons chant when performing baptisms, pointing out they must have missed that memo (or lesson...I can't remember the exact word used). But if you watch the video, Uyger himself admits shortly after he made his mocking chanting noises that he didn't know if the Mormons actually chanted and pointed out that it didn't matter. The important point was that the Mormons baptize dead people and that is loony.

   Yet, the commenter decided to focus on this suggestion that Mormons chant when performing baptisms. I could understand if they felt offended that Uyger mocked their religion, and that's probably the real reason the commenter had "lost respect," but this was not given as the reason. Instead, the commenter attacked those remarks as if they had been reported as fact.

   The last thing I wish to say before closing is that I'm not sure the believers even recognize when they are making much ado about nothing. I suspect they are just grasping for straws, so to speak, seeking out any point of disagreement on which they can object. Their problem is that the points they find are minor to the point of being insignificant. Yet, they have to defend their faith, so defend it they will, even if the only person who can be convinced of that defense is themself and they make fools of themselves to everyone else.

   To the skeptics reading this, if you see a theist attempting to distract away from your main point by objecting to trivialities, call them out on it and do so quickly. You can do so politely by asking them to explain how that changes the main point or you could be blunt. But if you don't call them out, they'll think you to be the fool. To the theists reading this, if you can't object to the main point, then consider conceding that point. Objecting to trivialities only makes you look like a fool, as well as verifying to the skeptic the stupidity of religion.

   Before I got around to finalizing this for posting, I encountered a similar example today. This time in politics. I stumbled mid-conversation on a comment board and the discussion was about oil subsidies. One of the people in the discussion was claiming that the oil industry does not get subsidies; they get tax incentives, which this person claimed are different. The poster referenced some conservative blog for the definition that defined a subsidy as a direct payment. As tax incentives are not direct payments, then they can't be subsidies. The implication of this seemed to be that one can then ignore anyone who suggests that the oil industry no longer receive subsidies because they have revealed themselves to be uninformed on the issue, thus making their perspective invalid.

   The problem here is that many people do not use such a strict definition of the word "subsidy." In fact, if you Google the definition, you will likely find that many definitions do not say a subsidy has to be a direct payment. Therefore, if a subsidy can be an indirect payment, then a tax incentive can count as a subsidy.

   Once again, as with the religious arguments, we have someone who likely does not want to defend their position fairly, so they make a deal out of smaller points; in this case, the poster made an issue out of semantics. Much like how the Christian insisted that people use his translation of the Bible, this poster appeared insistent that people use their definition of "subsidy," ignoring the arguments of those who would dare use a different definition.

   I will add that if this poster wants to personally use a definition of the word "subsidy" that only allows for direct payments, that's fine. As an atheist, I see many people use a definition of the word "atheist" with which I disagree, and I have had to correct people many times, so I can appreciate arguing for better definitions of words. What I and this commenter do not get to do, though, is expect or insist that everyone else use that definition and dismiss the arguments of anyone who does not use our personal definitions. We must argue from what we understand their meaning of the word to be and must ask for clarification if that meaning cannot be determined.