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.
   Ohhhhhhkay. But this doesn't fix the problem. First, note that this poster seems to admit that the laws of Christianity could allow discrimination of gays, but that Christians can't do that here in the USA because we have a First Amendment that prohibits religious laws. What if this poster did not live in such a country? What if they lived in Uganda, where there has been a struggle over a "kill the gays" bill? Might that be compatible with "the laws of Christianity"? Let me put it this way: If one of your defenses of Christianity involves pointing out that Christians can't have their way because we live in a secular country, that's not an argument in favor of Christianity. That's an argument for secularism. Not only that, it's an admittance that secularism is better than Christianity. Sadly, this Christian likely does not recognize the implication of hir statement.

   Moreover, the conservative Christian has arguments at their disposal that are good counters to this liberal Christian's argument about laws. Their argument could be that God's law is higher than, and therefore trumps, human's law. "So what if the USA has a constitution? God's law is higher. Is the liberal Christian really trying to place man above God?!? That's what those damn atheists do!"

   As for the problem with the image itself, the more liberal Christians can't actually say that there is nothing wrong with being gay or believing in other least not without abandoning some of the core doctrines of Christianity1. (At which point, why would you call yourself something you're not?2) The poster I quoted says "Get over it," but could they actually say, "There's nothing wrong with that"? Liberal Christians, at best, can speak about love or not judging, as this poster did. They'll say things like how Christianity teaches to love your neighbor. And from such ideas they derive catchy little phrases like, "Love the sinner; hate the sin." But they can't actually say that homosexual behavior is not a sin. Where would such a notion be supported in the Bible?

   Ideas of not judging might work to counter bullying, but what about reparative therapy?3 That's the "therapy" that tries to "cure the gay." Can liberal Christians really object to such a thing? Well, they can object, but what's their argument against it? They can't really argue that it's being judgmental. I would argue that such therapy is simply trying to help people free themselves from sin. Such therapy is out of love! If the liberal Christian then tries to argue that you should just allow people to sin, then they open up the floodgates. Do we then try to help alcoholics or other drug addicts? Just let them sin! Men who beat their wives? Let them sin!

UPDATE: I want to add that I have heard arguments from some pastors that helping homosexuals is like helping an alcoholic. Additionally, I do find these to be good least if you agree to the premises that both homosexual behavior and drinking are problematic. I don't agree, which is why I ultimately don't find the argument convincing, but what about the liberal Christians? Do they also not agree? /UPDATE

   Can the liberal Christian really say that? Take another look at the image. This is encouraging Christians not to judge, but there is still someone who does get to judge—Jesus himself! And what is Jesus going to do with the gays and those who worship other gods? Is Jesus going to send them to hell? If so, how can the liberal Christian just sit by and do nothing while the homosexual dooms themselves to eternal damnation? Think about it—if you saw a deaf person walking along train tracks and a train was approaching from behind, could you just stand and watch the deaf person meet their death? Wouldn't the loving thing be to save them? It would seem, then, that the Christians that are the truly loving Christians are those who want to help gay people with their sin4 or those who aggressively proselytize to those who believe in other gods. It is the liberal Christians who say "Get over it" that are truly the heartless ones, despite what they claim.

   To be fair to the liberal Christians, they may not believe in a hell that involves eternal torture. They may believe hell is just separation from god or annihilation. Still, if they believe heaven is a better alternative, don't they, out of love, have to help those who might not be going to heaven? Especially those who believe in the wrong god, and maybe even the nonbelievers! (Some Christians believe that all you have to do is believe in Jesus and you'll be saved regardless of your sin. Thus, the gays are safe as long as they are Christians. The non-Christians, however, are still doomed. I know of few Christian denominations, Rob Bell's being one of them, that promote an idea of universal reconciliation. But I would expect many of these Christians to reject the notion of judgement, so this image doesn't apply to them anyway.) On top of that, it is not even the beliefs on hell of the liberal Christians that matter. It is the views of the conservative Christians (or those who believe in a torturous hell) that do. Before liberal Christians can even suggest that gays or non-Christians be allowed to live as they please, the liberal Christian must first demonstrate that those people aren't going to receive ill-treatment in the afterlife. (Which they can't, because there is no good evidence that such a place exists, let alone the god they believe in.) If you look at that which Rob Bell speaks, he speaks about "Jesus' message of love, peace, forgiveness and joy." However, the believer in hell can point to the many verses that speak of "weeping and gnashing of teeth. And then the liberals will argue that doesn't mean what it appears to mean, etc...because that's such a winning argument...or not. (Why couldn't a supposedly all-powerful god deliver a message that wouldn't be up to interpretation? Jesus could just as well have stuttered! Assuming he even existed and said anything at all.)

   Otherwise, what argument does the liberal Christian have against reparative therapy? Homosexuals were born that way?5 First, that's a secular argument. Show me where the Bible says that! Second, as per the judgement problem, even if gays are born that way, wouldn't it be the duty of Christians to help gays not give in to their natural behavior? Sure, you might not be able to get them to live as though they were heterosexuals, but wouldn't helping them abstain from homosexual behavior be a noble deed?

   As for the topic of worshiping other gods, what liberal Christian (again, except for those that subscribe to universal reconciliation) can object to proselytizing? Proselytizing has to be considered a loving activity if it will help get people in Jesus' good graces.

   In summary, liberal Christians, if they try to make arguments from Christianity against gay-bashing or other discrimination, appear to have little choice but to paint themselves into a corner. Sure, it's not the most visible corner, but a corner nonetheless. The best arguments that they have at their disposal are actually secular arguments, which says more about the superiority of secular morality than it does about Christianity.

1. Claiming there is nothing wrong with worshiping other gods would be in clear contradiction to the First Commandment.

2. This reminds me of some comment I once saw posted on a YouTube video. The comment had something like, "I disagree with most of what the [Catholic] church says, but I'm still a Catholic." Imagine if someone said they disagreed with most of the Democrats' party platform, but said they were still a Democrat. Would that make sense? Yet, the tribal nature of religion is so strong that people can say such things with a straight face.

3. And if you're a liberal Christian that sees nothing wrong with reparative therapy, don't be surprised when non-Christians treat you like a bigoted conservative Christian.

4. It is of my opinion that a lot of conservative Christians are bigots, plain and simple. (Especially those that demand gays be put to death.) However, there very well could be a number who are indeed genuinely concerned about gays going to hell. Or maybe they're even worried about what judgements Jesus may have in store for them if they stand idly by. Take Kirk Cameron, for example. Is he a bigot? I don't think so. I don't think he's very intelligent, but not a bigot.

5. The "born that way" argument also has some theological problems from the Christian standpoint. If their god created humans, then it created them to be gay. And then it condemned gays for being the way it created them to be. This is not the depiction of a loving god. Though, I know...I know...many Christians will blame "original sin" rather than their god.

UPDATE: One thing I forgot to say when I initially posted this is that I find it wrong (not like a criminal offense type of wrong...more like a "bad idea" type of wrong) to believe in gods without evidence. On that, there is no more good evidence for Jesus than any other supernatural god claim. (Perhaps there is more "evidence" but it is of the very shitty variety where it doesn't matter how high you stack it.) Believing in Allah or Baal or Zeus is no more wrong than believing in Jesus.

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...

   I was playing forward when they scored their third goal. I noticed that there were not enough defenders back, so I sprinted to get down field to try to assist. This ended up being necessary, as the last defender got beat, leaving me as the last person who could get between their forward and our goalie. I did make it down in time, however, I made lousy contact with the ball. I was trying to kick it out the back, as I saw that as the best option. I went down from colliding with the attacking forward, but he managed to stay up and go after the ball that was still in play after my failed attempt to kick it out. I did get back up, but I was not really in any condition to get properly set for defending as their forward was threatening to take a shot. So I hustled to get in the way. However, he backed off and then was able to dribble around me and score. I felt a little bad for going as hard at him as I did, but I feel he would have gone threw with that shot had I not. I was also hoping I would maybe have some backup from the defender who had been beat earlier. And he was indeed in the area, just not quite to where he could be effective. So, that was frustrating, but I'm not really blaming myself for that one as (1) it was not my responsibility to even be there and (2) their forward would have likely scored had I not done anything.
   After that, I got a hint of what the problem really was. It was to be our ball, but I noticed we had too many people playing forward. I looked back and saw that there was no longer a right defender! (By the way, their forward came down our right side of the field.) I decided I had better play defense then!

   A while later was when I made a mistake for which I do take blame. The middle defender had pushed up further than he probably should have, considering that the forward who had gotten the third goal has pretty good ball-control skills. I ended up being the furthest back defender, and I had to be where I was because I was up to the mid-field line. (Moving up any further would have not caused the forward to be offside as he was on his half of the field.) Their right defender got the ball, and he hit the ball up and crossed it over to the guy I was defending. I got this stupid idea in my head that I could break up the pass. I failed to do so. He managed to play off the first bounce and headed the ball over me. As my momentum was carrying me to the sideline, I had to switch directions. As he was already going the way he wanted to, I had to play catch-up. At this point, there was not a whole lot I could do. I did manage to get back in front of him and made him pull back the ball. The problem was he still had a lot of advantage over me. Again, I had a problem with having to change direction. I grant that perhaps it would have been better if I had looped around instead of trying to cut back. I did some quick drawing in Paint on how I remember the play going down. I drew the opposing player's general path in black and mine in red. At this point, he went to his left, as my momentum had carried me off to his right. I tried cutting back, but then he pulled up again and went around me the other way. I put an alternative in gray. Perhaps instead of trying to cut straight back, I needed to loop backwards a bit, just to create some space and to give me time to be able to react to his moves. By cutting back like I did, I was bound to get beat again. I put myself in a position where if I did not charge hard at the ball, he would have likely moved around further left and still beat me. Yet, by charging in hard, he was able to pull up again and maneuver around my back side. At any rate, my first mistake was playing too aggressively instead of just being sure I stayed in front. After that, my options were limited.

   I apologized to the middle defender for playing too aggressively instead of just trying to get in the way until he could back me up. Shortly after this, it was halftime and things became slightly frustrating. This is because two of my teammates thought they should bring it to my attention that I overplayed the ball. Yeah, thanks, but I knew that already! Not that they knew that I knew, of course, but it's not necessarily pleasing to have other people on your case, even though I'm sure they meant it only as friendly advice, when you are on your own case. Though, the most frustrating part was when one of them suggested I was overreacting to the first move, allowing the forward to juke around me. That was not quite accurate. While I grant I'm a bit rusty when it comes to outdoor soccer, I'm not one to bite hard on a juke move. No, it probably looked that way because I had gotten myself in such a bad position that I had to react to any move because I was unbalanced from having to play catch-up.

   On a bit of a side note, that forward may not fully understand the offside rule. One time, his teammate tried to pass him the ball when he was offside (which was because I noticed I was furthest back defender and moved up to play the ball). I got slightly in the way of the ball, but only just enough to deflect the ball and not actually stop it. He then intercepted the ball and got called. Then he complained to the ref about how it hit my foot. So I went about searching the internet and could not find anything that suggested a deflection off an opponent would nullify the offside rule. Actually, I found a page confirming that a deflection does not count; it appears I would have had to have control of the ball first, which I did not.

   The second half went better. One of those guys who talked to me at half decided he had better play center defense. This helped maintain some order, though there still seemed to be a number of changes on the outside defender positions. The one slightly scary moment was when he decided to sub out when the other team had the ball on our side of the field! Granted, the ball was out of play at that time, but I didn't know if the sub was going to make it in in time. (I strangely don't even remember who that sub was. Honestly, I remember having different defenders at different times, but I didn't really notice when they went in and out.)

   I played goalie that second half and managed to keep them scoreless! Though the improved defense really helped out. They really only had two reasonable shots on goal. Most of their shots went high over the net. I managed one save that for sure would have otherwise gone in. The forward was to my right and dribbled around the left side of the defender on him. I was keeping in mind some tips I read at the time. Before he had gotten around the defender, I had actually moved up a little to put on some pressure, yet stayed back so that I could react to his moves. Once I saw him start to get around the defender, I moved slightly in the left direction toward the far post, realizing he would have a better shot at the far post than the near post. This turned out to be a wise assessment as his shot was going for the wide post, but I managed to dive for the ball and hit it with my left palm. This caused the ball to roll out behind the goal line giving them a corner kick.

   Now on that corner kick, I did not play so well. The kick was plenty high and I may have had an opportunity to punch it out. After all, I can use my hands, giving me more reach than anyone else. Yet, perhaps that screw up in the first half caused me to be cautious. I stayed back, which may have been a worse idea because the person who got his head on the ball had quite the opening. (The other part was that the defense was not marking up correctly. The left midfielder was playing outside of his mark instead of inside.)

   But that was most of the excitement. There was a weird moment when they took a shot that may have been going wide, but I wasn't sure where the far post was, so I pursued and punched the ball away. I thought I saw a white jersey, so I backed off to get back in the net. Then no one came. Not even my defense. I guess I did suggest that the ball was going out. It interestingly stopped rolling pretty much on top of the line. (Actually, the bottom of the ball was outside the line. Does the ball need to cross the line completely to be considered out? Apparently so!) Eventually someone got it. It probably should have been me once I realized no one was actually coming for the ball, because I could have picked it up and cleared the ball more safely than anyone else on my team.

   Other notes are that my punts are quite monstrous. I can really boot the ball that way. My goal kicks still need work. They could use a bit more height yet. And I need to work on my aim. I had a situation where the right midfielder was being left open along the right sideline two goal kicks in a row. The first time I kicked the ball too much in the middle. The next time I over-corrected and kicked it out.

   The last thing I can recall wanting to mention is that I had a moment where I was pleased that I won the psychological game. There is one woman on our team who has never played before. Her ball-control skills are non-existent. I had the ball and saw that she was open down the left sideline. There was also a guy in the middle who has good ball skills, but had a defender monitoring him. I looked and motioned toward the open woman on my team. I had no real intention of throwing to her; I was really hoping to draw defenders to her. It worked. The defender in the middle shifted that way, allowing me to pass to the teammate I really wanted to go to.

   So that's pretty much all I can remember for now. The only other thing to say is that it appears a number of people on my team are not in good shape! I guess that just means I need to improve more! And I will. Amy and I are taking outdoor basic training (pdf)!!!

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.