Friday, December 30, 2011

IDHEF - Chapter 1: Can We Handle the Truth?

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.

   The chapter starts out with quotes from A Few Good Men, particularly the famous line, "You can't handle the truth!" The authors then go on to point out the hypocrisy that people tend to demand truth in everything else but religion and morality.
...Why do we demand truth in everything but morality and religion? Why do we say, "That's true for you but not for me," when we're talking about morality or religion, but we never even think of such nonsense when we're talking to a stock broker about our money or a doctor about our health? (p36)

Thursday, December 29, 2011


   This is in response to people like my father who use this argument that "it's possible God could exist" as one to support the position of letting religious people believe what they want to believe. The problem is that lots of things are possible. If we wish to discuss the origins of the universe, perhaps a Flying Spaghetti Monster created the universe. Perhaps the universe was created by an extraterrestrial named Ted who accidentally blew up his apartment while trying to make beer.

   Maybe most of the world leaders are actually shape-shifting lizards. Maybe our bodies are host to immortal alien spiritual beings called thetans that are here because Xenu blew them up with hydrogen bombs...or something like that. Hey, it's possible!!!

   I could go on and on and on. The point is that I don't give a crap about what is possible because, again, lots of things are possible. What I'm interested in is what's probable. All of these things that I have listed are possible, but they all lack evidence to support them. Thus, they are highly improbable. And I'll continue to ridicule people who actually believe in any of these things without any or even just lousy supporting evidence.

What you talkin' about, Perry?

   Rick Perry's ad have been quite comical. A few of them have been him or his wife bragging about their Christian values. Too bad for him his god didn't pull through for him on the Texas drought. 'Nough said on that!

   In his latest ad, he is bragging about his idea for a part-time Congress. Apparently he brought this up in a debate. See the video and more comments below.

The part that really got my attention was when he said, "Let them get a job like everybody back home has." OK, Rick, which planet are you from?!? Oh...right...Texas! The Washington Post recently released an article showing the growth in the net worth of Congresspersons since 1984. That net worth has more than doubled since then and the median net worth is reported to be $725,056. (Click on the graphic to the right to enlarge.) The majority of these people don't need to "get a job"! Rick Perry, I don't mind your idea of cutting their pay in half, but the rest of your proposals fail to address any of the real issues with Congress as you don't seem to be in touch with reality.

Note: The bottom 25 members of Congress all have negative net worth's. Of course, this doesn't necessarily mean they are poor folk; it just means they have more debt than assets. The Congressperson with the lowest net worth (see the link) has a net worth of almost -$5 million. Someone like me would never be able to obtain the loans necessary to get that far in debt. Anyway, the point remains that Perry is an idiot.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Labeling - Why is it such a big deal?

   Recently, the Seattle Atheists have launched an ad campaign promoting the idea that 1 in 4 Washingtonians is an atheist. The group has received some slack over the claim, but they have defended their numbers by pointing out the main consideration when counting atheists: many atheists do not self-identify as atheists. (I personally know at least five people who are atheists who do not self-identify, two of whom have even explicitly rejected the term as being an appropriate label.) The one area where I do have issue is they themselves say that only 1 in 5 statewide is an atheist; the 1 in 4 concept is for the Seattle area only, which is where the ads appear. So...slightly misleading.

   But it's not the slightly misleading statement that I am here to write about. My complaint is with the response to this from Ask an Atheist, a Seattle-area radio show. The following is part of their response to the ad campaign:
Labeling people as atheists when they intentionally avoid the phrase is a misstep. While the wider discussion we have on atheism here on the show would include many of these people, we believe people reserve the right to label themselves.
I find this statement a bit frustrating in part given the fact that the hosts of this show, even in the same episode in which they presented this statement, recognize that there is a social stigma around declaring non-belief in a deity. This is frustrating because I recognize, as I suspect the hosts of the show do as well, that these stigmas will not go away unless more people who are atheists are open about it.

   The other part that I find frustrating is the idea of considering "atheist" to be nothing more than a label in the sense of branding someone as part of a group. This is the type of labeling one will see when stereotyping, which is what I think is the real problem here. People don't want to be part of group A because then people will incorrectly attribute characteristics X, Y, and Z to them. So this frustrates me for two main reasons: (1) By refusing to be labeled, people are avoiding having to address the real problem of stereotyping. It should go without saying that a problem typically does not go away when avoided. (2) Labeling should be seen as descriptive—without the stereotypes. In fact, the Free Dictionary defines it as "a descriptive term; an epithet." If someone lacks a belief in gods, then I'm going to label them an atheist because that is what they are. I'm not going to be afraid, to borrow a phrase Sam Harris commonly uses, to call a spade a spade! I am a white heterosexual male atheist, as well as a number of other things. Is that labeling myself or just stating the facts? Or both? Would anyone believe me if I said I'm a black homosexual female Christian?

   Once upon a time—actually, it is still present today, but is fading away—it wasn't cool to be gay, and I don't mean "happy." Things that are lame or even abnormal were considered to be gay. According to Urban Dictionary:
[O]ften used to describe something stupid or unfortunate. originating from homophobia. [Q]uite preferable among many teenage males in order to buff up their "masculinity." "Man, these seats are gay. I can't even see what's going on!"
But thanks to homosexuals "coming out of the closet," people know more homosexuals and are realizing they aren't really any different than most heterosexuals. Hopefully the profane use of the word "gay" will soon fall out of use. Either way, that is how you combat a stereotype—you face it head on! That means taking on labels and being true to yourself.

   This is something the atheist movement is trying to do. People who are not believes in deities are being encouraged to come out of the atheist closet. Now, I understand that some people cannot be open about their lack of belief. I know one such atheist who is a Muslim apostate. The punishment for that can be death. While I know this person to be an atheist, I am not going about announcing this fact to other people. But for people who have nothing to worry about? Yeah, I'm going to label them.

   The one objection I can see with labeling people as atheists is not being able to confidently know that they are indeed atheists, as it is impossible to read minds. It's not as easy as, say, labeling a person like me as white; my skin color clearly gives that one away. It's not even as easy as identifying gender. (As one who is married to an intersex individual, I recognize that gender isn't..."black and white.")

   Now I certainly give kudos to the Ask an Atheist crew because they are there to help combat the stereotypes. But then again, they have accepted the label. Where we differ, I think, is that they are trying to present a more welcoming environment in which theists can even feel welcome. I am more of what are called the "firebrand" atheists. I'll give people a metaphorical kick in the ass if I think they need one.

Monday, December 19, 2011

In Rememberance of Christopher Hitchens - Hitchens plays "What if?"

   For those who have not heard, Christopher Hitchens died back on Thursday night. I haven't written about it yet, but I may start posting some videos of people getting "Hitchslapped". I was reminded of this video (or rather it's just audio) of Hitchens appearing on Todd Friel's show. The host is annoying and can't seem to grasp the fact that Hitchens won't accept his Christian theology, even assuming it is true.

Friday, December 16, 2011

"Science is always changing its mind!"

   This post surrounds the topic of Pluto. I previously sent some of this information to my family in an email, but I'm updating it to clarify the point I was trying to make.

   There is this misconception on how science works in our society, and it often rears its ugly head in regards to Pluto. It is the idea that science can't be trusted because it is always changing. Pluto is used as an example based on the idea that "it used to be a planet, but now it's not!" The reality is that the declassification of Pluto as a planet has nothing to do with scientists just changing things on a whim as such statements imply. Rather, the change had much to do with obtaining new data.

That new data surrounded the discoveries of other round, planet-like bodies in the beginning of the last decade. Three of these newly discovered bodies, as well as Pluto, were then classified as "dwarf planets." These dwarf planets include Haumea, Makemake, and Eris. Eris is about three times further away from the sun than Pluto (though its orbit varies so much that, at Eris's closest point to the sun, it is closer to the sun than Pluto if Pluto were at its furthest point). Perhaps more importantly to this discussion is that it is thought to be more massive than Pluto and could have potentially been the 10th planet of the solar system. This fact was a motivational factor in getting the International Astronomical Union to define what a planet is.

   Additionally, there is a body known as 90377 Sedna that can get up to about 31.6 times further away than Pluto! Another interesting tidbit is that there is another dwarf planet that is in the asteroid belt, called Ceres. Also interesting is that, according to Wikipedia, "for half a century it was classified as the eighth planet." (This would have been before the discovery of Neptune or Pluto.) So, here we are talking about how "Pluto is no longer a planet" when the same thing happened to Ceres many years ago!

   With all of this information, either these bodies would also have to be classified as planets or else what is classified as a planet had to be changed. It was the classification that changed.

   What people really need to do, though, is stop thinking about this as change. Do people care, for example, that cellular phones can now browse the Internet, record video, play music, etc. when only a decade ago they could do no more than make phone calls? Do people care that televisions now have 3D technology? No...with the possible exception of being upset that they cannot afford the latest technology. They often welcome the change. Nor would most people call this "change." They would more likely call this "advancement" or "improvement." People need to start thinking in these terms when it comes to other aspects of science, including the reclassification of Pluto. This should be thought of as an advancement or improvement of our understanding of the solar system in which we live and not a change.

   Science does not "change." It improves, advances, and refines.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Thoughts on the Las Vegas Marathon

   So, I have not been blogging for a few days as I have been out of town on vacation which has included running a marathon. I finished in just under 5 hours and 5 minutes, but that is besides the point of this post. What I want to address is the sights along the way.

   In about the first mile (and certainly within the first two), there were three people promoting Christianity. There signs said quite a bit, so I wasn't able to read them in their entirety, but I'm quite sure there was some message about repenting for sins and how Jesus loves us. It seemed to be quite an odd place to be sending such a message, as it contradicts other messages Christians occasionally send. Just the day before, I was watching this show called The Real Winning Edge, a Christian show about teenagers and their accomplishments. On the episode I watched, there was a kid who was into surfing who claimed his friends started getting involved with girls and drinking, and giving into those temptations was bringing down their surfing abilities. (My thought was that maybe it had more to do with his friends not practicing as much because they changed their priorities, regardless of what those priorities were. In other words, if they would have done something that would not be considered sinful in this youth's mind, like volunteering for charities or maybe studying more, their surfing abilities would have gone down doing those things as well. But I digress!) So, if living a supposedly sinful life is going to bring down one's athletic abilities, these marathon runners cannot be living that bad of lives. Even if these people don't share the belief of the surfer kid, they were still trying to tell marathon runners, people who are trying to achieve something that is often considered a great accomplishment, that they are horrible people in need of saving. In short, it seems to me that they were trying to deliver their message to the wrong crowd.

   The other thing was that somewhere along the strip was a billboard that said "WHERE IS THE REAL BIRTH CIRTIFICATE?" I really have nothing to say about that than it is just pathetic how people cling to their absurd ideas.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Catholic Church vs. Harry Potter and Yoga = Irony!

(via Blag Hag)

   Father Gabriele Amorth, the Vatican's chief exercist (yes, the Vatican has a chief exercist in the 21st century!), says "Harry Potter and yoga are evil." Oh no's!!!
Father Gabriele Amorth, who for years was the Vatican’s chief exorcist and claims to have cleansed hundreds of people of evil spirits, said yoga is Satanic because it leads to a worship of Hinduism and “all eastern religions are based on a false belief in reincarnation”.

Reading JK Rowling’s Harry Potter books is no less dangerous, said the 86-year-old priest, who is the honorary president for life of the International Association of Exorcists, which he founded in 1990, and whose favourite film is the 1973 horror classic, The Exorcist.

The Harry Potter books, which have sold millions of copies worldwide, “seem innocuous” but in fact encourage children to believe in black magic and wizardry, Father Amorth said.

“Practising yoga is Satanic, it leads to evil just like reading Harry Potter,” he told a film festival in Umbria this week, where he was invited to introduce The Rite, a film about exorcism starring Sir Anthony Hopkins as a Jesuit priest.

“In Harry Potter the Devil acts in a crafty and covert manner, under the guise of extraordinary powers, magic spells and curses,” said the priest, who in 1986 was appointed the chief exorcist for the Diocese of Rome.

“Satan is always hidden and what he most wants is for us not to believe in his existence. He studies every one of us and our tendencies towards good and evil, and then he offers temptations.” Science was incapable of explaining evil, said Father Amorth, who has written two books on his experiences as an exorcist...
   Wait a minute, reading Harry Potter encourages children to believe in black magic and wizardry, but exorcism and Catholicism with it's "the Eucharist is the actual body and blood of Christ" doctrine don't? I'm not sure whether to facepalm or laugh hysterically.