Monday, May 30, 2011
One thing I would point out to young Zack that there are many other States besides Louisiana that have poor high school biology classes. Frankly, I do not remember learning about evolution in high school. (I know I learned about it when I was home schooled, though. Thanks, Mom and Dad!) PZ Myers, a microbiology professor from the University of Minnesota - Morris, has stated that he sometimes wishes high schoolers were not taught biology so that he wouldn't have to spend time "unteaching" the incorrect things his college students learned there. Though, I think PZ would have to admit, there are those who would then go without any biology education if they do not go on to learn it in college, and that could cause an increase to science illiteracy.
Below is a report containing video clips from a town hall event with Republican Congressman Rob Woodall from Georgia. Cenk Uygur breaks it down nicely. Woodall likes his insurance program because it is free for him, but apparently is one of these Republicans that wants to Medicare as we know it, a program that people pay into. (In other words, a program that is not free.) And he also wants to end employer sponsored health care, yet takes the health care provided by his employer...again, because it is free for him. Now, in defense of Woodall, there is a follow up question I would want to ask him before making a final judgement:
- While you are taking your employer's sponsored health care for the time being, are you fighting in Congress to end this program?
And perhaps the most disappointing part was when people cheered for his "when am I going to take care of me" response. As Cenk points out, people pay into Medicare, so they are taking care of themselves. This just leaves me wondering how deep is the Stockholm syndrome with Republican voters?
Sunday, May 29, 2011
Saturday, May 28, 2011
UPDATE 05/29/2011 16:24: It appears that Team Awesome has now taken a lead over Team PZ! Maybe I'll get to see Matt Dillahunty in drag after all!
In my first couple of posts (as well as with future posts), I stated that I am an atheist. However, many people do not understand what that means. And if you are one of those people who does not understand, you're going to have trouble understanding my posts. So let's get this cleared up, shall we?
The first thing we need to do is set away the dictionary definitions, as many of these are not quite accurate...though they appear to be getting better...and instead break down the word itself. The prefix "a-" (or "an-" when used with words that start with vowels) means "without." If you then define "theism" as "belief in the existence of a god or gods," then "atheism" means "without belief in the existence of a god or gods." An "atheist" is then "someone without belief in the existence of a god or gods."
OK, now that we have derived a good definition, let's look at some of the dictionary definitions you should throw out:
1. "Denies the existence of any God."
I do not like how they use the word "denies," as if to imply that atheists do deep down inside acknowledge the existance of a god, but "deny" this on the outside.
2. "The doctrine or belief that there is no God."Likewise, here are some acceptable definitions:
"A belief that there are no gods."
The first complaint is that there is no doctrine. The second complaint is that these are too narrow and do not encompass all atheists. I admit that someone who is without a belief in a god can also believe that no god exists, but most atheists I know, if any, actually believe this. This sort of atheist (believing that no gods exist) is often called a strong (as opposed to weak)$ atheist. (Watch the video below for more information.)
Most atheists are just unconvinced by the evidence that has been presented for a god, but are open to new evidence. (What we don't like is the same old shit repackaged and presented over and over.)
1. "One who rejects or is ignorant of theism."
I certainly agree with the use of the word "rejects." We must be careful about the word "ignorant," as this word is too often incorrectly used alone to insult a person's intelligence, when really the word just means "unaware because of a lack of relevant information or knowledge." When used as an insult, it is often because the person being insulted is thought to intentionally (or willfully) be ignorant. In other words, it is thought that person does not want to, and even avoids, gathering knowledge. An example of someone who is willfully ignorant would be someone who decides to not read my blog for the simple fact that they do not agree with my views. This definition of "atheist" should not be interpreted with the insulting meaning of "ignorant."
2. "A person without a belief in, or one who lacks belief in the existence of a god or gods."$ I notice in the Wikipedia link that it interchanges "stong" and "positive" to describe the type of atheism that is a belief that no gods exist. My blog description says that I am promoting "positive atheism," but what I mean by that is a positive view of atheism, as discussed in my second post.
You, too, are an atheist!Most of the theists who happen to read this will most likely be Christians (so it is to Christians that I speak to in this paragraph, though those of other beliefs can still pick up on the point). While you believe in a three-headed god, you likely¥ lack belief in the gods of other religions. You don't believe in Allah, Krishna, Vishnu, Wotan, Thor, Loki, Ba'al, Marduk, Zeus, etc, etc, etc...do you? If you don't, you are an atheist with respect to all of those gods. I just go one god further - yours!
¥ I recognize that there are those who claim that those other gods are really just misinterpretations of the Christian god. I don't want to go into this too much, as it is off topic, but if you are one of these people and if this is true, then your god has demonstrated itself to be a piss poor communicator. Additionally, why should I think you're the one who has it right?
UPDATE: I no longer believe this is a good point, although it is still somewhat valid. As other atheists have pointed out, Christians may not believe in those gods because they believe their god is the one true god and that one true god tells them that all those other gods are fake...or something like that.
- "The view that the truth value of certain claims—especially claims about the existence of any deity, but also other religious and metaphysical claims—is unknown or unknowable."
I think I've hit all the main points I set out to address with this post. If you want further information, below is a really good video discussing the definitions. It presents some different perspectives that I did not cover myself.
Friday, May 27, 2011
It's not preachy because I'm not out to tell you what to think. I'm just trying to get you to think. That is also a way in which it is not religion. There is also no leadership in atheism. Yes, there are leaders of some of the organizations, but there is no pressure on anyone to follow those leaders. If those leaders are doing things that are positive, we tend praise them; if they do something negative, we tend to call them out. Much the same goes with the people who write books. If these authors have good ideas, we will promote those ideas; if their ideas are bad, we will let them know. And, by the way, no atheist I know of considers any of these books to be "holy." Atheism is as much a religion as bald is a hair color.
This still doesn't answer why you need to speak out about it.
There are many reasons to be outspoken about atheism. For one, I get upset, even angry, about all the negative impacts religion has on people. That is a very long list, one that I am not going to go into here, but Greta Christina has a post listing many problems, so I suggest checking that out. One of those things to be angry about that I would like to address here is
that the 41st President of the United States, George Herbert Walker Bush, said of atheists, in my lifetime, "No, I don't know that atheists should be regarded as citizens, nor should they be regarded as patriotic. This is one nation under God."This upsets me.
But what happened to Damon Fowler this past week really upsets me! Damon's school, the Bastrop High School in Louisiana, was planning to have a prayer at the graduation ceremony. School (we're talking public schools, not private) prayer was determined to be illegal by the Supreme Court back in 1962.
[Damon] contacted the school superintendent to let him know that he opposed the prayer, and would be contacting the ACLU if it happened. The school -- at first, anyway -- agreed, and canceled the prayer.I have become used to Christians behaving badly when they get defensive about their beliefs, but #4 is just outright unacceptable!
Then Fowler's name, and his role in this incident, was leaked. As a direct result:
1) Fowler has been hounded, pilloried, and ostracized by his community.
2) One of Fowler's teachers has publicly demeaned him.
3) Fowler has been physically threatened. Students have threatened to "jump him" at graduation practice, and he has received multiple threats of bodily harm, and even death threats.
4) Fowler's parents have cut off his financial support, kicked him out of the house, and thrown his belongings onto the front porch.
I am upset that this is not an isolated incident.
According to JT Eberhard, high school specialist for the Secular Student Alliance, "In Alabama, Auburn High School is refusing to allow an SSA affiliate. In Cranston, Rhode Island, a public school is facing an ACLU suit for refusing to take down a sectarian prayer [a banner posted in the school gym]. In Texas we had a student who was told he could have a secular club if he called it a philosophy club and didn't affiliate with the SSA.
And I haven't even started on my anger over creationists pushing their non-scientific beliefs into science classes. I am angry as to how far behind the United States is on understanding evolution.
(At least I can take a slight sigh of relief when I see that the polls on evolution have at least not gone down. 16% (or 54% when you count the "guided by God" gap fillers) is still a dismally low number, though.)
But let's forget the science side of things for a moment and return to the Fowler story. Again, the major disappointment is that his parents have disowned him! This is a huge problem. This alone is reason enough for me to be outspoken about atheism. I believe speaking out is a way to help people like him. Now, you may be wondering how does speaking about atheism help a kid who's been disowned by his parents? It helps by raising awareness.
Below is a recent poll on how accepting Americans are on the issue of gay marriage. Note that there has been over a 40 point swing over the last 15 years. This is amazing. How did this happen? Well, some have suggested that the most important factor may be that people now know gay people. Gays used to be demonized (and still are by fringe groups) by people claiming that they are sexual deviants that like to molest children. People could get away with such claims when not many gays were "out of the closet" because, let's admit, people are lazy and aren't very good at fact checking. However, when people get to know gay people, they see that these claims are bullshit based on personal experience. It turns out that gay people are really not all that different from heterosexuals. It turns out that gays pose no threat to heterosexual marriage.
Atheists likewise are demonized. As I mentioned in my first post, there are people who claim you need to believe in a god to be moral. Likewise, people have accused atheists of eating babies. As with the gays, people buy into these ridiculous claims as they do not know atheists and do not see that atheists really are not all that different than everyone else. As I said in that first post, I've been an atheist my entire life. For any family members who may be reading this that have known me for years, I'd like to ask you, "Could you tell I lacked a belief in a god?"
This is part of what frustrates me with the Fowler situation. He was probably a critical thinking atheist for a number of years, though his parents probably did suspect. Not that it matters; the fact that they threw him out of their house for any reason (I cannot stress this enough) is despicable. I know atheists who are older than me who live miles away from their parents that still don't have the courage to come out (of the atheist closet) to their parents. When I see or hear stories like this, it reminds me of how much trouble my own parents have had as accepting me as an atheist. (Which, as I pointed out in my first post, feels odd now that I am aware that my mother may be an atheist herself!) This is wrong. And a way to fix it is for people like me, who have already dealt with their parents and who live in a liberal, open-minded community where I do not need fear being ostracized, to be the ones to be fully open about our lack of belief. There are bound to be family members who read this that had no idea. Many of them probably hold misconceptions about atheists. Some of them may want to disassociate themselves from me and maybe even my immediate family simply over the fact that I am an atheist. That's fine by me. If you are that intolerant and bigoted, I don't want to acknowledge my relationship to you, either. For those family members who do stay around, but are not necessarily "comfortable" with atheists, I have a message for you: The non-believers are here, we are growing in number, and we have no plans to remain silent about unfair treatment.
I'm quite sure this is an atheist poking fun at the notion that we eat babies, by the way.
Thursday, May 26, 2011
My YouthWhile I am now living in Iowa, I was not raised here. I was raised in a rural area near a small town that is lucky to show up on a map called Amidon, North Dakota. This area leans primarily conservative in political views. As I did not receive much exposure to the religious environment, it is hard for me to say what that is like. I do know that there are a number of Lutherans and Catholics, so the people seem to be a bit more liberal/moderate on the religious views, but I do believe there are some more conservative/fundamentalist churches in the area. (I will perhaps need my parents to set the record straight on this.)
Religious Upbringing...Or Lack Thereof
I was fortunate to be raised in a secular household. My parents, especially my father, had been exposed to Christianity (specifically Catholicism for both parents), thus my other, more distant relatives were Christians and the little religious exposure I had was primarily a Christian exposure at large family gatherings, such as holidays, weddings, and funerals. In short, I've been an atheist all my life. I never truly believed in a god. (I did, as I still do now, believed in the concept of a god.) There were certainly moments in my early youth (I'm talking about when I was like 5 or 6) where I did look at awe at the sky, the local geological formations we call buttes, and life itself. It was what I had heard was God's creation and I certainly thought it was amazing (and I still do today), but, perhaps due to my investigative mindset, I was not sure I should be attributing those things to God. I had never seen God, nor did I have any understanding of how he could pull off such a stunt. In my mind, he was an old man, much like Santa Clause. In much the same way I questioned how one person could deliver presents to children by entering their houses through a chimney (this was not helped by the fact that we did not have a chimney), I questioned how one man could create all of that. Additionally, where did he live before creating the earth??? As my parents didn't ever talk about this, the idea of god was never taught to me as fact. This left God to be one big mystery to me, as well as more of a fictional character. Until I could understand that mystery, how could I attribute any actions, such as the creation of earth, to that god? I was also home schooled much of my youth, and since we lived in a secluded area, I had little to no interaction with peers who could have potentially influenced my beliefs.
Don't trust the adults!
While not having this idea of there being a god reinforced on me week after week was certainly important to my atheism, perhaps another factor that I often overlook in reflection is that I was conditioned to not trust adults. As I said earlier, this was an area that leaned conservative on the political scale. My father, however, was (and still is) a very outspoken, fiery Liberal. It would not be uncommon for him to be calling some political figure or even a local citizen an idiot or even worse! I suspect this led me to realize that adults can say stupid things and that I cannot necessarily trust what they say, so I needed to think for myself. While I still find that my father can be a little harsh in his words as well as his approach, it would be
Into High School and on to College
When I was older and returned to public school as a sophomore in high school, where I was more exposed to Christians, I failed to examine the claims of Christianity, or any other religion for that matter. This failure to examine continued through much of college. In reflection, I am not entirely sure why I didn't take a closer look. I am also not certain what my thoughts were in the past, and as I have been trying to reconstruct my memories, I wonder how much I am skewing those memories with what I know now.
One thing I am sure is that I only remember one person ever trying to proselytize me, and it was done in a polite, non-confrontational way. Without people pressuring me on the issue, why would I have reason to give it much thought? I had so much else going on - sports, theatre, robotics, and (oh, yeah) homework.
A second factor may be that I perhaps did not believe anyone took it seriously. Here, the actions of my father may have thrown me off! Whenever we had the big family gatherings and someone would bless the meal, he would participate (take note that I don't remember him blessing himself) in bowing his head and doing the whole recognizing the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit routine. Likewise when we went to church for weddings or funerals, he would sometimes kneel at the pew when asked. Yet, there was never blessing of food at home with just my immediate family. And, as already mentioned, we never went to church except for weddings and funeral. (At this point, I should mention that I did go to church with my grandmother on my father's side a few times in my life.) Looking back, I wonder if this gave me the perception that going to church was more about culture and community. I found the sermons to be boring, if I payed any attention at all, but I could understand how some people could enjoy the singing or enjoy visiting with friends afterward. It just wasn't for me as I did not enjoy those songs nor did I know anyone. (This would have been more for the years prior to college. At college, there were religious groups on campus, so I would have known some of the people who participated in them.)
Yet, there was one thing that should have giving me some pause: the 9/11 attacks. This happened during my senior year of high school. This should have been a clue that, yes, people do take this seriously! I think I considered that Muslims took it seriously and never considered that maybe Christians did, too. It was hard for me to know for certain, as I did not know any Muslims, nor did I know much about their religion. I likely also considered that there were other factors involved, such as quality of life, government, etc, that would lead someone to fly an airplane into a building, not just religion. Today, I still find that (the other factors having impact) to be true, but, in 2006, my understanding of religion began to slowly change.
There is also one important roadblock that I must make note. This one I must blame on my own parents. As helpful as they were in keeping me an atheist, they oddly enough had trouble accepting me for who I was. (Rather, it was odd to me at that time; I suspect I now have a better understanding of their reasons.) I remember being home from college some weekend (I think it was in the spring of 2003) where I said, "I think I'm an atheist." The response I got from my parents was a stern, "No, you're not!!!" I even received this reaction from my mother who is at most a deist, if not an atheist herself. The truth, though, is that I was, and always had been, an atheist. However, I was still at an age where I wanted approval from my parents. Their dismissive attitude was certainly discouraging. It sent the message that an atheist was a bad thing to be. I sometimes wonder if they would have had an inquisitive attitude instead how much sooner I would have reached the point I am now. Having said that, I cannot hold a grudge against my parents as I obviously overcame that roadblock.
Out of the Dakotas
As I pointed out above, I had not known any Muslims in my life from birth through much of college. That changed when I had an internship (more properly called a coop) out here in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. A couple of months into my coop, a Muslim from Pakistan was assigned a desk in the room where I worked. When the conversation of Islam would come up, he would tell me that the people inciting violence were not "true" to the Islamic faith. I yet had no idea what the Koran actually teaches, so I just sort of took his word on it. (I say "sort of" because I still left the question open. I wasn't going to take what one person tells me as fact.) However, later that year, another Pakistani coworker told me that I should not defend the religion. This indicated that maybe I had better do some research of my own since I was now receiving conflicting views on Islam.
Back into a Fire
After my coop was over, I returned to South Dakota, where I was going to college. This was in the fall of 2006, and there was a measure on the November ballot that would ban abortions. One of the arguments the people in favor of the ban used was, "God is pro-life." This was a wake-up call for me that, yes, in fact, some Christians do take this seriously! Unfortunately, I was too ignorant then to know how to respond to such claims. This should have been a time for me to start researching into Christianity. However, I did not do so. I suspect I was much more concerned with graduating as well as no longer concerned with the issue after the election.
Finding the "One"While I must give credit to my other atheist friends for their Facebook postings that helped me begin to learn about religion, the most important factor was my search for a woman to date. I primarily (as in about 99.9%) used online dating sites for my search. All of these sites asked you to state your religion. Having still been behind the roadblock put up by my parents, I was calling myself an agnostic at this time. (I will be explaining the differences between "atheist" and "agnostic" in a future post as well as how neither are actually a religion.) I still had not been giving religion much thought other than that I didn't buy into it. At this point, I probably recognized that prayer was a joke as well as any other supposed sign of an interventionist god, which Christianity and Islam both believe in, though I had yet to examine their holy books whatsoever. I likely also realized that belief in an afterlife was primarily out of fear of death. However, I suspected, thanks in part to the roadblock my parents set up, that someone was bound to question me as to why I was an agnostic, so I realized I needed to start thinking more about it. Then in June 2008, an atheist woman I was exchanging emails with recommended that I read Richard Dawkins' "The God Delusion." I did not suspect things would go well with this woman (but I wouldn't have to explain myself to an atheist), so I did not hesitate to pick up the book so that I could be ready for interactions with other women. I didn't have to get far into that book to realize that I was indeed, as I had suspected 5 years earlier, an atheist. I finally made it over the roadblock my parents put up.
Making Sense of it AllPerhaps the most important thing I got out of Dawkins' book is an understanding of why people believe in a god. It came down pretty much to childhood indoctrination as well as social pressure to prevent people from straying from the belief. People believed because their parents believed and their parents had taught them that belief since they were very young. I also looked at some of my own ideas and realized that the reason I was a Liberal at that time was because my father was a Liberal and my political ideology was a result of his influence. (On a side note, I still am a Liberal, but I have looked into the positions and ideas much more on my own and have realized I still agree with many of them. In fact, I have become more progressive since I began thinking for myself.) Getting back to religious belief, it was then not hard to follow this chain back to a time when humans were very ignorant of the world around them, such as the days when people thought lightning was supernatural. It became clear that much of belief in god is filling in gaps in human knowledge, though some beliefs, such as the age of the earth being about 6000 years old, actually do go against human knowledge.
A Disappointing Collection of KnowledgeOne thing I had trouble with early on in Dawkins' book is that he kept referring to this character known as "Yahweh." I was at home (North Dakota) visiting family for 4th of July weekend when I was reading this. I figured this had to be some sort of Biblical character, but it was a name I had not heard of. So, I asked my father if he knew. He did not. As I found out later, that was God! (Rather, Yahweh is more the Old Testament god, as Judaism and Christianity are really two quite different religions, though Christianity tries to incorporate the Tanakh...but this is perhaps a discussion for a later time.) I cannot be too hard on my father as any belief he has, as I am not sure what he actually believes, is likely the result of the childhood indoctrination I mentioned earlier, but this began a realization that I was going to have to know more about a religion than the believers themselves! (I probably should have realized this after realizing that much of religious belief is derived from ignorance, or lack of knowledge, but this discussion with my father is what helped put those pieces together.)
I also started to understand why my parents set up that roadblock on me. Dawkins' book addressed morality and revealed that there was this defense mechanism of religion that a person had to believe in God in order to be moral. I wondered if my parents, though not really religious themselves, still had this false idea buried in their minds somewhere. I also much later learned that, during the Red Scare of the 1950's, atheists were thought to be directly linked to Communism. It was during this period that "In God We Trust" became the national motto, was added to paper money and all coin money (some coins already had the phrase), and "under God" was added to the Pledge of Allegiance. Atheism, to anyone who objectively looks at the facts, is clearly not tied to Communism. This should be evident by the fact that Ayn Rand, who has influenced today's Libertarian views, which are on the opposite end of the political spectrum, was an atheist. (On a side note, it has recently been brought to my attention that Rand Paul, Ron Paul's son, was possibly named after Ayn Rand. It turns out that is probably not true, though was the shortening of "Randal" or "Randy" to "Rand" still inspired by Ayn Rand? We'll perhaps never know for sure.) However, I still see people today say that atheists are communists. The effects of the Red Scare are still visible. I cannot help but suspect my parents' views of atheists had been, and possibly still are, impacted by such stupidity.
Another factor may be the work of Madalyn Murray O'Hair. Now, I know nothing about Murry O'Hair except for what I read or hear about her. My parents, however, are more likely to know about her. (For one thing, I read that she was a frequent guest on The Phil Donahue Show, and I'm fairly sure my dad watched that once in a while.) I've heard people describe her as the "queen bitch of atheism." Could her actions be an influence on why my parents objected to me stating that I was an atheist? If not this or the stigma left over from the Red Scare, what was(were) the reason(s) for their objections? (I am going to ask them to read this post. Maybe I'll get an answer back.)
That's my story in a large nutshell. I hope you enjoy my blog!