Thursday, September 15, 2005

The True Face of Atheism

Before getting into today's post, I just want to thank everybody, especially Aaron and Tanooki Joe, for contributing so much to the philosophical discussion about whether objective morality exists. I've read all the replies made so far, and I must say, I'm very impressed. I'm going to take a couple of days off from participating in that discussion, for two reasons: I want to let everybody have their say and hash out their own issues; I want to allow myself sufficient time to turn all these ideas over in my mind. I was about to start replying to the comments, but quickly realized that I need some time to evaluate the strength of each argument, as well as to reflect on my own position. Expect a new entry, addressing your comments, soon.

Today's topic has to do with the malicious way religious activists try to define atheists. If you listen to small-minded Christians, atheists are hateful people, in denial about God, with "father issues," who are a danger to society and who should be marginalized.

Just check out this webpage.

Some salient quotes:

"Atheists are not fit to be parents; they are not fit to be employed in any portion of any society; they are not fit to be any kind of leaders in any society, nor are they fit to serve in any area of public trust. Atheism makes every person who embraces it unfit for any good work."

"Atheists are not even fit to live. They have forfeited the right to life by virtue of being unfit for any good thing."

"Every atheist should be regarded as high criminals by all governments who have no right to live on the earth."

On the same site, a headline screams: "ATHEISTS ARE SLAVES OF SATAN"

Now click Here. Another salient quote follows...

"So now you realize that it is atheists (and other nonbelievers) who are in favor of putting their "terminally ill" parents to death; who are in favor of murdering innocent human embryos and fetuses; who are perpetuating homosexuality, lesbianism, bestiality, pornography, pedophilia and etc; who are responsible for all the violence in the movie industry; who are responsible for all the smut on the web; who bear false witness against the existence of God; who bear the false testimony that the earth came into being by a cataclysmic explosion; who bear the false testimony of evolution; who bear the false testimony that man descended from the ape; who worship the creature rather than the Creator; who are responsible for all the moral decline in America and the world community."

I'm tired of letting people like this define me, and my fellows in rationality. I'm 22 years old. I've never smoked. I've never taken any illicit drug. In high school, I never so much as had a detention. I am a Summa Cum Laude college graduate. I was associated with my university's Honors College. At present, I have a full time job and support myself. I have a wonderful relationship with my family: parents, brother, extended relatives and cousins. I'm an animal lover, and though I am not a vegetarian, I would never hunt for sport, as I oppose the recreational activity of killing. I've maintained friendships for many years, including with my best friend (with who's dog I appear) for around 14 years. I've never been on the wrong side of the law and have never done harm to anybody.

And I'm not alone.

The above description probably fits, or comes close to fitting, tens of thousands of atheists all over the world. People like those quoted earlier damn us because we reject their fictitious God and his arbitrary moral strictures, ignoring the fact that we live happy, productive and socially-responsible lives. By and large, the secular community is a force of good in the world. That cannot really be said for the religious community.

Pat Robertson:

"If I could just get a nuclear device inside Foggy Bottom, I think that's the answer"

"If [Hugo Chavez] thinks we're trying to assassinate him, I think we really ought to go ahead and do it. It's a whole lot cheaper than starting a war."

Jerry Falwell (on the 9/11 attacks):

"And, I know that I'll hear from them for this. But, throwing God out successfully with the help of the federal court system, throwing God out of the public square, out of the schools. The abortionists have got to bear some burden for this because God will not be mocked. And when we destroy 40 million little innocent babies, we make God mad. I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People For the American Way - all of them who have tried to secularize America - I point the finger in their face and say 'you helped this happen'."

Now, I know that not all religious people are scumbags (though Robertson and Falwell are indeed scumbags of the lowest order), but I do believe religion nurtures views such as those. As such, it is RELIGION, not atheism, that is a pernicious influence on human societies. We should fear the religious, not the secular, among us.

Never again should we allow religious activists to negatively define us. It's time to take a stand, proudly admit who we are and try to make the world a better place in spite of religion.

I, for one, am ready to put forth the effort.

~TLD

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Hunting for Objectivity

Looking at the replies that have been posted to yesterday's blog entry, I can tell that my moral relativism is still a point of disagreement with many of you, who otherwise seem to agree with me on most things. Thus, I'm going to make a good-faith effort to wrestle with these issues further. My mind is open: I am not married to the relativist philosophy. This blog entry will outline my concerns about the notion of objectivity with respect to 2 specific issues. I anxiously await your responses, as I intend to study them, turn them over in my mind, and compose another entry on this subject in the near future.


Here are the two issues that I assert cannot be understood absolutely or objectively, but rather only subjectively: Morality and "Value of Life." Let me expand on these before I go further:


1. I view morality to be subjective, rather than objective, because I recognize no method by which to test moral principles. Clearly, the scientific method of testing does not apply to a statement such as "Homosexuality is morally acceptable." As far as I can tell, a statement such as that can only be evaluated through human perception via the senses and reasoning. However, human perception is demonstrably faulty. Once again, I cite the example of optical illusions. In this illusion, only a ruler can reveal the truth; our senses lead us to an erroneous conclusion. Without instruments with which objective tests can be performed, my fear is that our conclusions could be illusory, and we simply would be ignorant to that fact.


2. I view "value of life" to be subjective, rather than objective, because once again I recognize no method by which to gauge "value of life." Once again, the scientific method of testing does not apply to a statement such as "Human lives have more intrinsic value than bumblebee lives." And, once again, as far as I can tell, such a statement can only be evaluated through human perception/senses/reasoning. Moreover, in this example, we have an inherent bias present simply because we are humans and it's in our interest to value our lives highly. That's why, in my view, people cite things such as complex emotions, intelligence, cognizance and reasoning abilities as "value-adding" traits. We've arbitrarily decided that our traits are "value-adding," rather than selecting having wings, 8 legs, antennas or the ability to regenerate severed limbs.


Now, a response to my previous entry, my friend Aaron Kinney posited a couple of "objective" standards to fit into the above categories, which I allege to be subjective.


He wrote: "Back to the homosexual argument you provided: I think you borrowed from objective morality itself when you said: 'Let people do absolutely whatever they want, so long as their actions do not impede others from doing absolutely whatever they want'."


The statement in question definitely reflects my personal moral code, and I'd love it if that statement had some connection to objective morality, but I just don't see it right now. I sincerely ask Aaron and everybody else here how a statement such as "Let people do absolutely whatever they want, so long as their actions do not impede others from doing absolutely whatever they want" could be objectively verified or falsified. As far as I can tell, morality cannot be tested, measured, gauged or quantified in any way. Thus, I am having a hard time grasping how the above-quoted statement is falsifiable. Are we simply appealing to our perception, or is testing feasible?


Aaron also wrote: "I also think that your mention of speciocentricity doesn't make morality relative. Instead, it makes it contextual. Morality is contextual to the subjects in question. In other words, it is moral for a life form to promote itself and its own kind. This way, it is moral for a human to kill other life forms for food, and it is also moral for those life forms to defend themselves from the humans."


I see this as being connected to the "value of life" issue. If I am analyzing the above quote correctly, then human lives OBJECTIVELY are more valuable to humans, just as bear lives are OBJECTIVELY more valuable to bears, etc. This seems to refute the notion of intrinsic life value and replace it with contextual life value, based upon one's species. The first half of that sentence is very appealing to me. As a believer in the Theory of Evolution, I recognize that there is only 1 Tree of Life. Every species that ever existed is either a branch unto itself or a branch from a branch. That being the case, I cannot justify the notion of one species having more intrinsic value than another. I see no evolutionary process by which life value could increase.


But going back to Aaron's argument, I once again question how the assertions could be tested, either to be confirmed or falsified.


"Looking through the human prism, human lives are objectively more valuable."


"Looking through the bear prism, bear lives are objectively more valuable."


That makes sense to me. It even seems to fit with the Theory of Evolution by natural selection, which is all about propagating one's genes. But are the ways of nature a reliable source for moral guidance? I see no conclusive evidence pointing to this. Moreover, I see no way to quantify, test, measure or gauge the objective truth behind the two quoted statements above. As I wrote, they seem sensible to me. However, I fear this conclusion might be analogous to the false impression an optical illusion imparts. I want a method by which objective analysis can be done, so statements can either be confirmed or falsified.


I don't have the answers here. I appeal to you for your help. I view this blog as both a place to spread my ideas and a place for others to educate me. Aaron has my mind working, as I grapple with these issues. Perhaps we can reach a conclusion together.

~TLD

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

On Homophobia, Science and the Non-Existence of Morality

Why the morality or immorality of homosexual behavior is irrelevant.


In what will probably be my most controversial post to date, I'm about to tackle a major issue: homosexuality. The route will be winding, making a sharp detour toward my stance on moral relativity. I guess, for an issue as large and multi-faceted as homosexuality, it would be remiss for me to not start with the Infallible Word of God on the subject. Let's see what the inerrant Book has to say:


"You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination."

Lev. 18:22

"If there is a man who lies with a male as those who lie with a woman, both of them have committed a detestable act; they shall surely be put to death. Their bloodguiltiness is upon them."

Lev. 20:13

Shit.


But then again, there's this...


"As for your male and female slaves whom you may have--you may acquire male and female slaves from the pagan nations that are around you."

Lev. 25:44

So maybe Leviticus isn't a suitable guide to determine 21st century policy.


Back to reality now, the seed for this commentary was planted when I saw the headline about Arnold Schwarzenegger vowing to veto a California gay marriage bill. The move, according to Schwarzenegger, is "out of respect for the will of the people." It's sure a good thing political leaders weren't thinking like that back in the '60s, when interracial marriage was the controversy of the day. In January 1967, the Supreme Court struck down the anti-interracial-marriage laws in Virginia and 18 other states. And in 1967, these laws weren't just leftover scraps from a bygone era. Two years before, at the height of the civil-rights revolution, a Gallup poll found that 72 percent of Southern whites and 42 percent of Northern whites still wanted to ban interracial marriage. Sometimes, small-minded people need to be nudged in the direction of liberty.


I'm not going to drag out the debate about whether homosexuality is innate or learned behavior. However, to pass on a sense of the scientific debate surrounding whether homosexuality resides in the genes, I direct you Here for more information.


Some salient quotes:


"Sexual orientation is not an either-or trait but exists as a continuum (Haynes 1995). Those with some heterosexual orientation can still contribute homosexual genes (to the extent it is genetic...)"


" The most manifest heterosexuals may have homosexual tendencies, too. Homophobic male heterosexuals showed more arousal to homosexual images than did nonhomophobic heterosexuals (Adams et al. 1996). Societal condemnation of homosexuality may contribute to its genes being propagated by causing latent homosexuals to behave heterosexually."


" It should be noted that the question of explaining homosexuality is not limited to humans. Homosexuality exists in hundreds of animal species (Bagemihl 1998)."


The last quote should serve as compelling evidence that homosexuality is not a human method of rebelling against God and societal rules. It is natural to the extent that it occurs throughout nature. Indeed, it seems to be the product of instinct, whether acted upon or bottled up. Here is some more information about homosexuality/bisexuality in the animal kingdom:


"Bonobo

The bonobo, which has a matriarchal society (unusual amongst apes), is a fully bisexual species -- both males and females engage in heterosexual and homosexual behavior, being noted for lesbianism in particular."

"In October 2003 a study was released, stating, that homosexual behavior in sheep is related to a region in their brain (called 'ovine sexually dimorphic nucleus' or oSDN). The scientists found: 'The oSDN in rams that preferred females was significantly larger and contained more neurons than in male-oriented rams and ewes. In addition, the oSDN of the female-oriented rams expressed higher levels of aromatase, a substance that converts testosterone to estradiol so that the androgen hormone can facilitate typical male sexual behaviors. Aromatase expression was no different between male-oriented rams and ewes.'"


The reference for the information is: Bruce Bagemihl: Biological Exuberance: Animal Homosexuality and Natural Diversity. St. Martin's Press, 1999. The quotes come from Here.


Now, the homophobe will immediately counter all that information with a simple question, "So, just because animals do it, we should also?" It's actually a trick question, because nobody "should" do anything. I'm a moral relativist. I don't think "absolute objective morality," even if it does exist in the abstract, can be discovered by humans. Our perception/senses are far too fallible, and the notion of morality is far too intangible and immeasurable. The same principle applies to concepts such as "civilized society," which inherently include human value judgments.


The human species has adopted a societal structure (including morals), in many different forms to adapt to different cultures, but with significant similarities. Analogously, other species, such as chimpanzees (with whom we share about 96% of our genome), have created societies, with behavioral rules and social expectations. Here is more about that:


"Anatomical differences between Common and Pygmy (Bonobo) Chimpanzees are slight, but in sexual and social behavior there are marked differences. Common Chimpanzees have an omnivorous diet, a troop hunting culture based on beta males led by a relatively weak alpha, and highly complex social relationships; Bonobos, on the other hand, have a mostly herbivorous diet and an egalitarian, matriarchal, sexually promiscuous culture."

Source: Here

Who is to say any human society is more "civilized" than common chimpanzee society or Bonobo chimpanzee society? Who is to say American society is more "civilized" than Saudi Arabian society? To make judgments such as those is to appeal to one's fallible perception of totally unquantifiable notions (morality/immorality, right/wrong, good/bad). Not to mention, as human Americans, we approach it from a totally biased standpoint. To a human American, our society is probably perceived to be best. Ask an Iranian cleric and I'm sure the response will be different than the American's. And I'm sure Bonobos are equally sure of the correctness of their species' societal structure. Nationalism and speciocentricity blind us to the utter relativism of it all.


So, do I perceive homosexuality to be acceptable behavior? Sure. Maybe I'm right; maybe I'm wrong; maybe there's no such thing as objectively acceptable/unacceptable. Maybe, as I suspect, it's all a matter of personal opinion. If that's the case, I move to let consenting adults (my opinion rears its head to make a restriction) engage in whatever relationships they please, be they heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, incestual, polygamous or any other conceivable combination. If it's all a matter of individual opinion, then it falls beautifully into place in my rugged individualism ideology.


Craft your own morality. Give others the same privilege. That's the only ground rule. Laws should be devised in that vein: Let people do absolutely whatever they want, so long as their actions do not impede others from doing absolutely whatever they want. "Morality," much like "value of life" and "sanctity," should be expunged from the consciousness of the species. [The "value of life" notion, for example, is terminally biased by the fact that we (as a species) are an “interested” party. It’s only natural that humans arbitrarily decide human lives have more intrinsic “value” than the lives of other animal species--we have a vested interest in staying alive.] Our only concern should be eliminating all barriers to the free exercise of personal choice, both our own and that of others.


But then again, all that is merely the product of a fallible human's imperfect thought processes.


~TLD

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Religion Kills

In somber remembrance of the religion-inspired slaughter of 9/11/01, today's post will point out just how murderous "God's children" often are. It's frequently been said that more people have been killed in the name of religion than for any other reason. After reading the following, it becomes a very believable assertion.


The Crusades (1095-1291): The Crusades were a series of multiple military actions—mostly sanctioned by the Papacy—that occurred from the 11th to the 13th centuries. Originally, they were Roman Catholic attempts to get the Holy Land from the Muslims, but some were aimed against other Europeans, for example the Fourth Crusade versus Constantinople, the Albigensian Crusade versus the Cathars of southern France, as well as the Northern Crusades. Death toll: Estimates range from 1,000,000 to 5,000,000.


Witch Hunts (1400-1800): Death toll roughly estimated to be between 50,000 and 60,000.


Spanish Inquisition (1478-1834): The Spanish Inquisition was the product of Spain's reconquest from the Muslims and the decision to convert Spanish Jews and Muslims to Christianity. Death toll roughly estimated to be between 8,800 via Torquemada; 32,000 in total.


The second half of the 16th century and the early part of the 17th century brought about one of the worst series of wars that Europe had ever suffered. The early Reformation had been, in hindsight, notably free from bloodshed; that, however, lasted only a little while. It was inevitable that the increasing division between Christian churches in Europe would cause a series of armed conflicts for more than a century. Protestants and Catholics would shed each other's blood in incredible amounts in national wars and civil wars. These battles would eventually shatter the European monarchical traditions. The monarchy was challenged by Protestants dissatisfied with the rule of Catholic kings. The final result of these struggles would be the overthrow and execution of Charles I in England in the mid 17th century, a historical event that permanently changed Europe.


The French Wars of Religion (1562-1598): The French Wars of Religion represented a series of battles between Catholics and Huguenots (Protestants) from the mid 16th century to the Edict of Nantes in 1598, including civil infighting in addition to military operations. Death toll: 2,000,000–4,000,000.


The Thirty Years' War (1618-1648): This was a battle waged mainly in the Central European territory of the Holy Roman Empire, but additionally involving the majority of the main continental powers. It took place for myriad reasons. Although it was from its beginning a religious conflict between Protestants and Catholics, the self-preservation of the Habsburg dynasty was also a key motive behind it. Death toll: 3,000,000–8,000,000.


And, let's not forget the constant battles between the Palestinians and Israelis, or the events of September 11.


Now, here are some individual stories of religious-inspired assault, misery and/or death:


A Pagan girl in Tennessee was punished for refusing to participate in religious events. In addition, the school did not do nearly enough to prevent religiously motivated bullying, which lead to physical assaults on the girl. Read more:
Here

There have been many victims of religion-based medical neglect, whereby children do not receive medical care because stupid religious superstitions lead parents to shun traditional medicine. When you rely on the power of prayer, you get horror stories like these. Read more:
Here

Theist murders atheist in the name of believing in God. The murderer told the police "I did it because he is evil; he was not a believer." Read more:
Here

The People's Temple was a cult that is notorious for a mass suicide at Jonestown, Guyana, on November 18, 1978. Reverend Jim Jones created the Temple in 1953, in Indianapolis, Indiana. Read more:
Here

Religious torture stories spring up again. Read more:
Here

An innocent child is starved to death in order to "fulfill a religious prophecy." Read more:
Here

Psychotic man slaughters mother for God. Read more:
Here

Victim of incest to be executed for perceived crime against God. Girl was raped and impregnated by her brother and Iran’s clerical judge has sentenced her to death by stoning. Read more:
Here

That's just a taste of the death, misery and mayhem directly caused by religious nonsense. There is no God. There is no afterlife. All we have to enjoy is our earthly life. Wouldn't it be much more sensible to throw superstition to the side and simply work toward making the world a better place? And, step one on that score is to expunge religion from the species.


~TLD


In remembrance of the 9/11/01 victims of religion.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Defending Controversial Views

In my brief time as a blogger, I've articulated many strongly held positions. The majority of these positions could be described as controversial: I'm an atheist in a theistic country; I'm a libertarian in a statist country. However, two positions in particular seem to have isolated me from just about everybody else, even those in my own ideological sphere. So, today's post seeks to explicate why I hold the positions I do on those two issues. The "Comments" section, as always, is open. I'm happy to discuss these matters in much more detail there.


The two positions I seek to defend are as follows:


1. Morality is subjective. In essence, this means that right and wrong, good and evil, moral and immoral are all subjective and relative.


2. Illegal immigrants should be deported. By this, I mean ALL illegal immigrants, whether they've been here for 2 days or 2 decades, should be immediately deported.


Well then, onto the defense...


In my view, taking the position that all morality is subjective is logically necessary. I say this because of the human species' inherent fallibility. Humans are demonstrably and reliably fallible, in things both tangible and intangible. Luckily, regarding things that are tangible, we can mitigate our fallibility through objective instruments. Click this link for example (first read the following sentences, though!). In optical illusions such as this one, our perception and senses fail us. We need objective instruments, like a ruler, in order to ascertain the truth.


Morality, though, is totally intangible. Moreover, there is no instrumentation that can be used to gauge, measure, test or quantify morality. Therefore, in forming our notions of morality, we depend solely upon the same perception and the same senses that were just demonstrably deceived in a simple optical illusion. How, then, in the absence of objective instrumentation, can we possibly claim to know what is moral or right or wrong? I submit that human perception of morality is undeniably fallible, and thus unreliable, and therefore not objective. Though an objective morality might in fact exist in the abstract, humans are far too flawed to discover it through our fallible, easily deceived senses.


Moving on...


Many people incorrectly perceive racism when I say that all illegals must be deported. That's a complete misinterpretation of my objection. In fact, I would support having a totally open border policy. If I were in Congress, I would vote for such legislation. I would have no problem with 25 million Mexicans legally entering the US tomorrow. My objection is narrow: I oppose criminals entering the United States illegally, willfully and deliberately ignoring the law. We do not live in an anarchical society: We cannot simply ignore laws with which we disagree. The fact that the government continues to turn the other way while criminals undermine the laws of our land is absolutely shameful.


Think that I don't sound very much like a libertarian on this issue? Well, let's never confuse libertarianism with anarchism. Libertarians want as few laws as possible. Anarchists ignore laws. Say, come to think of it, these illegals fit the definition of anarchists more than do libertarians!


I am a strong believer that widespread lawlessness, even in the violation of one particular statute, undermines the entire justice system. How many millions of illegal immigrants are in this country right now, totally free? That sends a pernicious message: Millions of criminals can break the law and not suffer negative consequences. The federal apathy sends another pernicious message: The federal government will watch millions of criminals breaking the law, and not bring down negative consequences on them. This is truly the worst-case scenario possible on this issue.


I've often heard people say that illegals are willing to work the jobs that nobody else wants. That wouldn't be the case in a libertarian society. In a libertarian society, there would be no government welfare. Therefore, if those people wanted to get a check every month, they'd be working those jobs currently occupied by illegals. Those undesirable jobs don't look quite so terrible if the alternative is a cardboard box.


I welcome your comments!

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Bashing the FCC and Bush...Old Habits are Hard to Break

Sorry if this post seems a bit schizophrenic, but I have to address two different issues that have really got my blood boiling today. First, we have the FCC, now under the activist leadership of Kevin Martin (with his favorite female Christian wacko assistant). It seems this outmoded organization has set its sights on its favorite punching bag again: Howard Stern.


In this article, it is revealed that the FCC's Enforcement Bureau is looking into a February broadcast that supposedly contained "indecent material." More specifically, the FCC is investigating material aired on the February 4 broadcast at about 8:55 a.m., when The Stern Show was airing the Stupid Bowl, a contest featuring women golfing with strap-on dildos on their foreheads, followed up with the contestants attempting to sing "Amazing Grace" with a four-inch sausage stuffed down their throats. The complaint is from idiotic Floridian Jack Thompson. [text paraphrased from the article].


First, let us look at how the FCC defines "indecency."


"The FCC has defined broadcast indecency as 'language or material that, in context, depicts or describes, in terms patently offensive as measured by contemporary community broadcast standards for the broadcast medium, sexual or excretory organs or activities.' Indecent programming contains patently offensive sexual or excretory references that do not rise to the level of obscenity. Indecent programming may, however, be restricted in order to avoid its broadcast during times of the day when there is a reasonable risk that children may be in the audience."


This, my friends, is truly embarrassing. In this country, the ONLY material that can be deemed indecent is something related to sex or excretion--two perfectly natural bodily activities. This idiocy betrays the pathetic ideology of our founders, the Puritans. After all this time, we still enslave ourselves to their archaic conception of morality. Is violence indecent? No. It never has been. Indeed, that kind of sentiment might preclude slaughtering the Native Americans, and the self-righteous Puritan prigs could never let that happen.


Morality is subjective. Indecency is subjective. Obscenity is subjective. The government making sweeping declarations FOR US is statism, and statism sucks.


Excellent Free Speech activism resource: Here


And, moving on to cover the next topic of the day, Bush sucks too.


Maureen Dowd wrote a tremendous editorial today, completely damning Bush's response to the horrors of Katrina. His ineptitude on this front is no surprise, however, to those who have watched him mismanage an Iraq War that would not be worth it even in the best-case scenario. To read Maureen's take, click Here. Here's a salient quote:


The Bush administration bungled the Iraq occupation, arrogantly throwing away State Department occupation plans and CIA insurgency warnings. But the human toll of those mistakes has not been as viscerally evident because the White House pulled a curtain over the bodies: the president has avoided the funerals of soldiers, and the Pentagon has censored the coffins of the dead coming home and never acknowledges the number of Iraqi civilians killed.

But this time, the bodies of those who might have been saved between Monday and Friday, when the president failed to rush the necessary resources to a disaster that his own general describes as "biblical," or even send in the 82nd Airborne, are floating up in front of our eyes.

In the spirit of letting those who are more qualified than I do most of the condemnation, here is another great link. Once again, a salient quote to whet your appetite for truth:


But even as President George W. Bush denounced the brutal Islamic fundamentalist regime in Kabul, he was quietly laying the foundations for his own fundamentalist regime at home. For the first time far right Christian fundamentalists had one of their own in the White House and the opportunity to begin rolling back decades of health and family planning programs they saw as un-Christian, if not downright sinful.

Since 2001 dozens of far-right Christian fundamentalists have been quietly installed in key positions within the Department of Health and Human Services, the Federal Drug Administration and on commissions and advisory committees where they have made serious progress. Three years later this administration has established one of the most rigid sexual health agendas in the Western world.

And here is another truly scary article. A representative passage:


Meet the Dominionists -- biblical literalists who believe God has called them to take over the U.S. government. As the far-right wing of the evangelical movement, Dominionists are pressing an agenda that makes Newt Gingrich's Contract With America look like the Communist Manifesto. They want to rewrite schoolbooks to reflect a Christian version of American history, pack the nation's courts with judges who follow Old Testament law, post the Ten Commandments in every courthouse and make it a felony for gay men to have sex and women to have abortions. In Florida, when the courts ordered Terri Schiavo's feeding tube removed, it was the Dominionists who organized round-the-clock protests and issued a fiery call for Gov. Jeb Bush to defy the law and take Schiavo into state custody. Their ultimate goal is to plant the seeds of a "faith-based" government that will endure far longer than Bush's presidency -- all the way until Jesus comes back.


I've said it before and I'll repeat it: This country is crumbling faster than did the Gulf Coast from Katrina. I'm not hopeful for the US' prospects with these fanatical theists/statists in control. Indeed, it will take nothing less than a total societal shift to drag the US from the depths of the toilet bowl.


~TLD

Monday, September 05, 2005

Exorcising Idiocy

The new film The Exorcism of Emily Rose (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0404032/) is soon to be released. I'm confident that the film, whether good or bad, will reinvigorate the fictitious debate as to whether possession and exorcism are real. Believe me: The faithful will exploit any and every opportunity to ensnare people in their mindless theistic ways. It is our responsibility, as rational atheists, the publicize the facts about the sham that is exorcism. For, the United States is already hostile to science; we need no more regression.


In that spirit, I provide several links that ably debunk exorcism and possession. I trust everyone will find them useful:


The Skeptical Dictionary's Take: http://skepdic.com/exorcism.html


Dissociative States: Possession and Exorcism by Barry L. Beyerstein: Here


Neuropathology and the Legacy of Spiritual Possession by Barry L. Beyerstein: Here


The Real Story Behind The Exorcist by Benjamin Radford: http://www.csicop.org/specialarticles/exorcist.html


Spirits, Witches, & Science: Why The Rise Of Science Encouraged Belief In The Supernatural In 17th-Century England by Richard Olson: http://www.skeptic.com/01.4.olson-witches.html


The Haunted Boy: the Facts Behind the Story that Inspired "The Exorcist" by Mark Opsasnick: http://www.strangemag.com/exorcistpage1.html


A Kinder, Gentler Satan by D. Trull: http://www.parascope.com/articles/slips/fs33_1.htm


Esophagus Exorcism!: http://www.parascope.com/articles/slips/exorcism.htm


Gold, Mark S. The Good News About Depression: Cures and Treatments in the New Age of Psychiatry (New York: Bantam Doubleday Dell, 1995). This book doesn't deal with exorcism, but it has much material on physical disorders whose symptoms mimic mental illness, in addition to material on symptoms of brain disorders including schizophrenia and hypermania, as well as depression. Many of these illnesses have been, and unfortunately still are, mistaken for demonic possession by those who are ignorant and/or superstitious.: Here


And here is a sarcastic take from James Randi:


If the Pope can't exorcize a demon, who can? Surely Satan will listen to the Pope, and get out of the neighborhood? Father James LeBar appeared on CNN last week to explain how a teenager exorcized by the Head Exorcist in Rome, at a ceremony attended by the Pope, later the same day began shouting nasties and carrying on during a religious service. Is it not incredible that in the year 2000 we are still declaring the reality of demons and such?


Asked about how accurately the movie "The Exorcist" represented a "real" exorcism, LeBar said: "Well, that movie pretty much shows what it's really like. It's a compilation of a number of things that would happen in different exorcisms, but there is the levitation, expectoration, there is the screaming. All of those things take place in a real exorcism." Well, spitting and screaming I can accept. But "levitation" . . .? Is Lance Burton missing something?


The host, Jane Clayson, asked LeBar, "There are a lot of people who might be skeptical of this. How do you differentiate between someone who is truly possessed by the devil and someone who may be seriously mental ill or have other problems?" The exorcist replied, "Well, of course today we have the added benefits of psychiatrists and psychologists and such, so before we would agree to an exorcism, we would have a psychological evaluation, a medical checkup and a psychiatric evaluation as well. And if there is any problems in those areas, they need to be treated first before we go forth with an exorcism." Note that the exorcism apparently goes ahead, regardless. Hey, this is showbiz, and the show must go on.


"Are exorcisms always successful? Do they always chase out the devil?" Jane asked. The priest offered, "Since exorcisms are a prayer of the church, by which we command in the name of Jesus the Devil to leave, they are ultimately always successful. Sometimes it takes a while. There are some cases that have gone on 20, 30 years before the person is finally delivered. No one can say why that happens, but it does."


Father LeBar, let me hazard a layman's guess here. Either there was nothing there in the first place except a dandy way to get attention, or the "afflicted" just lost interest?"

http://www.randi.org/jr/09-24-2000.html

Finally, while we are slaying "demons," let's at long last put The Amityville Horror to rest. It, too, is pure fabrication. Just click here: http://www.snopes.com/horrors/ghosts/amityville.asp


The world has plenty of problems with which to deal. We don't need fictional problems occupying our time. Hopefully, this post will be one step in the direction of rationality...

~TLD

LATE BREAKING ADDENDUM HERE!

Sunday, September 04, 2005

A Strong Atheist's Case Against Christian Theology

I. *Representative* Scientific Objections to The Bible:

A. Adam and Eve story.

1. How did God create a female (Eve) from the male DNA of Adam's rib?
2. How did Adam and Eve successfully mate and produce offspring when, at most, they had identical DNA, and at least, they were twins?
3. How did a snake acquire the ability to speak in human language? How was this physiologically possible?

B. Crossing the Red Sea.

Stipulating: The sea is roughly 1900km long and at its widest is more than 300km. The sea floor has a maximum depth of 2,500m in the central median trench and an average depth of 500m, but it also has extensive shallow shelves, noted for their marine life and corals. The sea has a surface area of roughly 438,000 or 450,000km².
1. Stipulating that, how did Moses and the Israelites pass through it? After all, it was substantial enough to deluge Pharaoh's army.
2. If the sea was parted, how precisely was that done?

C. Jesus' resurrection.

1. How did Jesus rise from the dead, and walk around good as new, when after dozens of hours of being dead, he would be brain dead, with decayed muscles, bloated from gasses, with blisters on his skin and with millions of dead and useless cells, including dead and useless heart and kidney cells? It should be noted that brain death is irreversible in every instance. It cannot be turned back. It is permanent.

D. Noah's Ark.

1. How is it possible to hold all the world’s species in an ark with the dimensions specified? There are possibly up to 100 million animal species alone.
2. How is it possible to feed these millions of animals?
3. How did specific species and classes of animals become trapped on different continents? For example, most marsupials are only found in Australia. If the Noah’s Ark story were true, then we should expect a more homogeneous converge of species.
4. Why didn't many aquatic ecosystems die off from the massive change in salinity?
5. Why didn't many modern plants die out, as they should have?

Note: One may not cite "miracles" to explain any of these phenomena until the concept of "miracles" is shown to have a scrap of merit.

For Reference on Miracles:

http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/theism/miracles.html


II. Science's Take on Theism/Design/Creation/Divine Guidance:

A. Pervasive Atheism Among Eminent Scientists.
Information is from Here

In a survey of National Academy of Science scientists, 72.2% were overtly atheistic, 20.8% agnostic, and only 7.0% believed in a personal God. It should be noted that the NAS is the most prestigious scientific organization in the United States.

"Our survey found near universal rejection of the transcendent by NAS natural scientists. Disbelief in God and immortality among NAS biological scientists was 65.2% and 69.0%, respectively, and among NAS physical scientists it was 79.0% and 76.3%. Most of the rest were agnostics on both issues, with few believers. We found the highest percentage of belief among NAS mathematicians (14.3% in God, 15.0% in immortality). Biological scientists had the lowest rate of belief (5.5% in God, 7.1% in immortality), with physicists and astronomers slightly higher (7.5% in God, 7.5% in immortality)."

From these figures, we can conclude: 93% of scientists who are members of the National Academy of Science are in fact agnostic or atheists. Indeed, looking at a chart that includes figures from earlier in the 20th century, one can only come to the conclusion that top scientists are more atheistic than ever before.

Expanded percentages (among "greater" scientists):

Belief in personal God 1914/ 1933/ 1998
Personal belief 27.7/ 15/ 7.0
Personal disbelief 52.7/ 68/ 72.2
Doubt/agnosticism 20.9/ 17/ 20.8

B. Illogic of Omnibenevolent, Omniscient, Omnipotent Designer.
This is by Steven Pinker, Psychology professor at Harvard University, and appeared in Time magazine:

"Our own bodies are riddled with quirks that no competent engineer would have planned but that disclose a history of trial-and-error tinkering: a retina installed backward, a seminal duct that hooks over the ureter like a garden hose snagged on a tree, goose bumps that uselessly try to warm us by fluffing up long-gone fur.
The moral design of nature is as bungled as its engineering design. What twisted sadist would have invented a parasite that blinds millions of people or a gene that covers babies with excruciating blisters? To adapt a Yiddish expression about God: If an intelligent designer lived on Earth, people would break his windows."

C. Lack of Scientific Support for Creationism.

"...Taking into account only [scientists] working in the relevant fields of earth and life sciences, there are about 480,000 scientists, but only about 700 believe in "creation-science" or consider it a valid theory. This means that less than 0.15 percent of relevant scientists believe in creationism. And that is just in the United States, which has more creationists than any other industrialized country. In other countries, the number of relevant scientists who accept creationism drops to less than one tenth of 1 percent.
...
A panel of seventy-two Nobel Laureates, seventeen state academies of science, and seven other scientific organizations created an amicus curiae brief that they submitted to the Supreme Court (Edwards v. Aguillard 1986). This report clarified what makes science different from religion and why creationism is not science. Note that there are no creationist Nobel Laureates."
source-- http://www.talkorigins.org/indexcc/CA/CA111.html

Note: The scientific community's opinion, in itself, does not constitute proof of anything. However, equivalency arguments, comparing scientific opinion to general public opinion, are transparently fallacious. One need only ask oneself how many people on a busy street corner have any idea what "homologous structures" are.


III. Objections to the Bible's Accuracy, Historicity, Connection to Reality:

A. Archaeological Fallibility.

Many times, Christians will falsely claim that archaeology supports the accuracy of the Bible. They continue that the Bible's historical account has many times been substantiated by new archaeological information. Those are untruths.

"Archaeology supports at most the general background of the Bible and some relatively recent details. It does not support every biblical claim. In particular, archaeology does not support anything about creation, the Flood, or the conquest of the Holy Land.

If a few instances of historical accuracy are so significant, then an equal claim for accuracy can be made for the Iliad and Gone with the Wind.

Archaeology contradicts significant parts of the Bible:

The Bible contains anachronisms. Details attributed to one era actually apply to a much later era. For example, camels, mentioned in Genesis 24:10, were not widely used until after 1000 B.C.E.

The Exodus, which should have been a major event, does not appear in Egyptian records. There are no traces in the Sinai that one would expect from forty years of wandering of more than half a million people. And other archaeological evidence contradicts it, showing instead that the Hebrews were a native people.

There is no evidence that the kingdoms of David and Solomon were nearly as powerful as the Bible indicates; they may not have existed at all."
source-- http://www.talkorigins.org/indexcc/CH/CH120.html

B. The Bible is Teeming With Errors/Contradictions.

"There are several aspects of the Bible that show it is not inerrant. These include factual errors, for example:

Leviticus 11:6 states that rabbits chew their cud.

Leviticus 11:20-23 speaks of four-legged insects, including grasshoppers.

1 Chronicles 16:30 and Psalm 93:1 state that the earth is immobile; yet it not only revolves and orbits the sun but is also influenced by the gravitational pull of other bodies.

and Contradictions:

In Genesis 1, Adam is created after other animals; In Genesis 2, he appears before animals.

Matthew 1:16 and Luke 3:23 differ over Jesus' lineage.

Mark 14:72 differs from Matthew 26:74-75, Luke 22:60-61, and John 18:27 about how many times the cock crowed.

2 Samuel 24:1 and 1 Chronicles 21:1 differ over who incited David to take a census.

1 Samuel 31:4-5 and 2 Samuel 1:5-10 differ over Saul's death.

The four Gospels differ about many details of Christ's death and resurrection. For example, Matthew 27:37, Mark 15:26, Luke 23:38, and John 19:19 have different inscriptions on the cross.

Matthew 27:5-8 differs with Acts 1:18-19 about Judas's death.

Genesis 9:3 and Leviticus 11:4 differ about what is proper to eat.

Romans 3:20-28 and James 2:24 differ over faith versus deeds.

Exodus 20:5, Numbers 14:18, and Deuteronomy 5:9 disagree with Ezekiel 18:4,19-20 and John 9:3 about sins being inherited."
source-- http://www.talkorigins.org/indexcc/CH/CH101.html

C. Genesis' Incorrect Timeline.
Supposedly "infallible" Genesis has the natural timeline totally wrong.

"The creation account in Genesis 1 lists ten major events in this order: (1) a beginning; (2) a primitive earth in darkness and enshrouded in heavy gases and water; (3) light; (4) an expanse or atmosphere; (5) large areas of dry land; (6) land plants; (7) sun, moon, and stars discernible in the expanse, and seasons beginning; (8) sea monsters and flying creatures; (9) wild and tame beasts and mammals; (10) man."

"The real order is: (1) a beginning; (2) light; (3) sun and stars; (4) primitive earth, moon, and atmosphere; (5) dry land; (6) sea creatures; (7) some land plants; (8) land creatures and more plants and sea creatures; (9) flying creatures (insects) and more plants and land and sea creatures; (10) mammals, and more land and sea animals, insects, and plants; (11) the first birds, (12) fruiting plants (which is what Genesis talks about) and more land, sea, and flying creatures; (13) man and more of the various animals and plants."
source-- http://www.talkorigins.org/indexcc/CH/CH801.html


IV. Logical Objections to Blind Theism (a.k.a. Debunking Pascal's Wager):

A. There is no point in believing in a God, even if one does exist, when one knows nothing about this deity's nature or expectations. For example, God could be benevolent and care about one's actions. Or, God could be malevolent and care about one's actions. Or, God could be benevolent and not care about one's actions. Or, God could be malevolent and not care about one's actions. Saying "I follow the Christian faith just in case God exists" is utterly nonsensical. That would be like somebody saying, "I follow the Satanist faith just in case a malevolent God exists." With limitless plausible possibilities, there is no way one can "be on the safe side" in terms of not offending God. And thus, Pascal's Wager is a loser.


V. Moral Objections to the Christian Conception of God:

A. God's apparent bloodlust.
I'll quote the Scripture:

Now the LORD had said to Moses, "I will bring one more plague on Pharaoh and on Egypt. After that, he will let you go from here, and when he does, he will drive you out completely. Tell the people that men and women alike are to ask their neighbors for articles of silver and gold." (The LORD made the Egyptians favorably disposed toward the people, and Moses himself was highly regarded in Egypt by Pharaoh's officials and by the people.)
So Moses said, "This is what the LORD says: 'About midnight I will go throughout Egypt. Every firstborn son in Egypt will die, from the firstborn son of Pharaoh, who sits on the throne, to the firstborn son of the slave girl, who is at her hand mill, and all the firstborn of the cattle as well. There will be loud wailing throughout Egypt-worse than there has ever been or ever will be again.
Exodus 11 (1-6)

Rather than doing something to the Pharaoh for refusing to let the Israelites go free, God chose to murder every firstborn son in Egypt. What did the poor slave girl do to warrant her firstborn son being murdered? Did the slave girl set the Pharaoh's policies? Did the slave girl's firstborn son set the Pharaoh's policies? Punishing children for the immoral society into which they were born is simultaneously cowardly and cruel. Worshipping the God of Exodus is worshipping a God who apparently engaged in casual infanticide. It is amazing to think that God, who presumably has a totally unlimited pool of options, decided the very best option in this situation was to engage in infanticide.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Refuge for Depressed, Frustrated Democrats

I don't know about you, but I'm thoroughly tired of people like Ann Coulter demeaning the intelligence of Democratic voters. So, to refute her oft-repeated point, I post this...

The Top 10 national universities in the country, along with each district's Representative in Congress...

Harvard University--Michael Capuano (D)
Princeton University--Rush Holt (D)
Yale University--Rosa DeLauro (D)
University of Pennsylvania--Chaka Fattah (D)
Duke University--David E. Price (D)
Stanford University--Anna G. Eshoo (D)
California Institute of Technology--Adam B. Schiff (D)
Massachusetts Inst. of Technology--Michael Capuano (D)
Columbia University--Charles B. Rangel (D)
Dartmouth College--Charles F. Bass (R)

By my count: 9 Democrats, and only 1 (moderate!) Republican.

Two late-breaking addendums...

"On June 21, 2004, 48 Nobel laureates endorsed Kerry as they thought that he would increase the prosperity, health, environment, and security of Americans, attract talented scientists and engineers from abroad; and nurture a business environment that creates quality jobs. They criticized the Bush administration for reducing funding for scientific research, setting restrictions on stem cell research, ignoring scientific consensus on critical issues such as global warming, and hampering cooperation with foreign scientists by employing deterring immigration and visa practices."
Here

"But whites with college and post-graduate degrees believe most abortions should be legal by a resounding 63 percent to 37 percent. On gun control, less well-educated whites split evenly, while well-educated whites strongly support gun control, 66 percent to 34 percent."
http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/wp-dyn/A56905-2001Mar25?language=printer

Friday, September 02, 2005

My Prescription for Political Action in the United States

1. The government should get out of the marriage business and instead issue only civil union licenses. As an element of that, such licenses should be granted to homosexual couples, polygamous groups and incestuous couples, providing that they are all consenting adults.

2. The government should get out of the censorship business, and revoke the FCC's unconstitutional power to declare certain things "indecent" or "obscene." Indeed, not even state/local governments should have such authority. The standards should be very simple: If a real crime of some sort is depicted on the videotape or in the magazine, one may prosecute the crime committed.

3. Free trade policy should be fully embraced, and global free trade alliances sought. Tariffs and protectionism should be considered "dirty words" and never viewed as a viable solution to any problem.

4. Military spending should be drastically cut. The military should only be used for defense, and never for imperialistic purposes. With such a policy, the US would never have gotten involved in Vietnam, the Rwandan genocide, Kosovo, the current Iraq debacle, or the Mid-East peace process.

5. Drastically cut back foreign aid (perhaps to zero), particularly military/political aid. Slowly begin to withdraw from, or play a lesser role in, organizations such as NATO and other permanent military alliances.

6. Remove religion from the public square. No more "Under God" and no more "In God We Trust." No more swearing on Bibles in the government and no more publicly posted Ten Commandments. Religion, much like pornography, for example, must be isolated to the realm of the private.

7. Finally end the War on Drugs. Period. Legalize all drugs for adult sale/use, including substances such as steroids and ephedra.

8. Formally recognize that personal medical decisions are PERSONAL medical decisions. The government has no right to interfere with such things as abortion or assisted suicide.

9. Outlaw capital punishment. Any government that has the power to kill its citizens is too powerful. And, one must never forget that innocent people have been executed, and many people have been exonerated while on Death Row awaiting execution.

10. Cut back government spending on health coverage, with the goal of making it zero. The government footing one's health bills only gives the government more justification to interject itself into one's personal health choices. If one is responsible for one's own medical bills, one will have full freedom to make whatever healthy/unhealthy choices one wishes.

11. Since an educated populace is any country's greatest strength, renew federal efforts to make education more accessible, more affordable and of better quality. School vouchers will NEVER be a part of the solution; vouchers are part of the problem. After all, apparently, private schools have a right to teach fiction as truth (Intelligent Design).

12. Reduce our use of coal and oil. Work toward creating better means of producing energy. Aim for a time when the US will have no use for oil whatsoever. Then, we can truly free ourselves from Middle Eastern policy.

13. Crack down on illegal immigration. Deport illegals, irrespective of if they've been here for 2 days or 2 decades. Do not reward criminal behavior with amnesty or work-toward-legalization programs. Crack down on companies that hire illegals, and file lawsuits against such companies.

14. Secure the right of law-abiding gun owners to own firearms. Punish the crime: not ownership. While background checks are just common sense, making things illegal to all (criminals and non-criminals) is overly intrusive and unacceptable.

15. "Nanny laws" such as seatbelt laws and helmet laws are totally inappropriate with respect to adults. The government shall enact no law that is "for your own good" or "designed to protect you from yourself."