Monday, December 31, 2007


A while back I decided that I would have a set of New Year's resolutions this year.

In order to progress in what I am trying to accomplish in my writings, I need to branch out some and do a bit more work.

My resolution is to keep track of my progress on several projects on this blog.

(1) To cover at least two relevant news items in this blog that should be of interest to my readers.

(2) To add some detail to the Scrap Wikipedia entry on Desire Utilitarianism each day.

(3) To organize a short story contest on the theme that there is no God and that each of us must depend on our own efforts to survive.

(4) To move into video or at least into audio and present some of my ideas in a podcast.

(5) To finish a couple of books that I have been working on and get them into wider distribution than I have done so far.

I will try to make progress on each of these projects every day and keep track of that progress on this site.

Starting tomorrow morning.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Book Smuggling

I wish that I had enough money that I could afford to blow $1 million on favorite projects.

One of those projects . . .

Now that the Ontario school board has banned the books on which The Golden Compass was based, I would love to hire 3 college students, a beat-up van, and about 100 copies of the books in nice gift sets and produce a video.

The video would involve the three students attempting to smuggle the books into Toronto and, without getting caught by the authorities, giving away the books to children on the streets of Toronto - particularly near church or church-school property.

Yes, I know that the books are not actually illegal. However, the idea that a school board should prevent children from being presented with ideas that the Church does not like should have gone out with the dark ages. It is far better to be presented with different ideas and discussing them, then banning books.

Indeed, the Church seems to be going back to some very old habits - habits that we should only read about in history books - the history of the Dark Ages.

And post that video on YouTube.

Ah, the pleasures of being rich.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Chris Dodd: Standing Up for Freedom

Chris Dodd deserves the gratitude of freedom loving people around the world for standing up against legislation that will grant telecom companies immunity from illegal actions they may have taken under the Bush Administration.

Now, according to an article in the New York Times, the Bush wiretaps were not (as we were told) focused only on defending us from terrorists, but were used on a broad range of issues.

Yet, in the face of repeated lies, we are still giving the government the benefit of the doubt. With morally bankrupt people such as Rove, Cheney, and Gonzales in charge of these powers, and with no oversight, what reason is there to believe that the Bush Administration has not been spying on political rivals as well?

There may well be a reason why the Democratic leadership in Congress seems ineffective against this President.

Ultimately, it does not matter whether the Administration has engaged in this type of abuse. The fact is that they could have. The fact is that, if the Administation has the power to spy on others without any court oversight, that eventually some administration will abuse this power to try to control Congress, manipulate judges, and control the rest of us. Judicial oversight is required for the Administration to be called up short once it starts spying on its political rivals.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

House Resolution 847 Inciting Violence

I came across a post showing a press release from the Council for Secular Humanism denouncing HR 847 - a resolution "Recognizing the Importance of Christmas and the Christian Faith".

The press release included the statement:

Just days ago in the midst of the Jewish Festival of Lights, four Jewish men in New York City were attacked on the subway for replying to a group of ten people who wished them a "Merry Christmas" with a similar greeting: "Happy Hanukkah." For this, these men were first insulted, then beaten. It was a Muslim man who came to their physical defense. The actions of the Congress, by passing the resolution and thus expressing preference to the Christian faith over all the others represented by the diverse population of these United States, encourages this sort of behavior.

Sorry, but this is a non-starter.

This is as nonsensical as saying that the God Delusion (or my own Atheist Ethicist blog) is responsible for the Colorado shootings, or the next act of violence against Christians by an atheist that might some day occur).

It's an attempt to spread the blame beyond those who are actually guilty.

No . . . the people responsible for beating those four Jews are the people who beat the four Jews and any who explicitly endorse or cheer that type of violence. Blaming others who are not guilty only shows that "secular humanists" can suffer from the same sorts of moral blindness that some theists also suffer from.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Top 10: Challenge Religion

This is me offering myself a brief pat on the back.

Atheist Ethicist, my "other blog", just showed up in the top 10 of all atheist blogs according to Challenge Religion.

Okay, it's number 10. That's in the top 10.

My the time you read this it will probably drop out again. I have had a fortunate string of posts that have all attraced above average attention:

My post on Romney's speech: "Faith in America".

And my story providing More Perspective on the Pledge have been best sellers.

In addition, the number one post for my site for the fourth month in a row - my post that has exceeded the next five most popular posts combined, Ben Stein's "Expelled" is still drawing a fair number of people every day.

So, I thank my readers for making the blog Number 10.

Yet, the fact remains, I would rather be right than be popular.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Romney's Response to his Faith Speech

On Fox News "Hannity and Colmes", Mitt Romney responded to the criticism that his speech left out non-believers.

COLMES: You said freedom requires religion, religion requires freedom. But aren't there people who are very religious in countries that are not free? And aren't there people who have the freedom to have no religion? So I wonder if it's really true that religion requires freedom and freedom requires religion in every case?

ROMNEY: Well, that was not referring person by person, of course, Alan. That was a — that was a comment I made following the quote from John Adams, where he said this nation and our Constitution could not survive, could not work without morality and religion.

And his point, which I summarized, is that in fact, freedom in this nation, the greatness of this nation does require, in my view, a religious base, a conviction that there is a creator. That doesn't mean every single person has to be religious, but that overall, a recognition of the role of a creator is an important element of our morality and of our society.

And I think that long-term you'll see that this country remains a great nation, as we have a religious foundation.

So, what was his answer?

It's a bit like saying, "Water can be drinkable even if it has a few poisons in it. When I say that we need drinkable water, and drinkable water requires H20, I am not saying that every single molecule in the water has to be an H20 molecule. We can have a little bit of lead, arsenic, and other contaminants. However, for the most part, we have to recognize that these are contaminants, and that we cannot tolerate their existence beyond some basic trace amounts."

This is true of water.

To say that it is true of atheists in the community is still hate-mongering bigotry. It still says that Romney is running as the President who views atheists as poisons and contaminants that can be tolerated, but only in trace amounts.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Exploiting Violence for Political Gain

Vjack brings forth an excellent example of Christian morality, in the form of exploiting acts of violence in order to market hate.

It is hard not to draw a line between the hostility that is being fomented in our culture from some in the secular media toward Christians and evangelicals in particular and the acts of violence that took place in Colorado yesterday.

Tony Perkins is advising my (our) neighbors and co-workers that they need to hate and fear me (us) because I am (we are) bringing about the death of innocent Christians through our writings. The requirement, then, is that we shut up and quit writing in the name of realizing a more peaceful society.

Obviously Perkins suffers from a case of moral underdevelopment.

Here's what a moral person would do. He would ask himself, "What would I say if the situation were reversed?" He would ask, "What would I say if somebody who believed in God were to commit some unspeakable violent act, and then some atheist came along and said that all of theism is to blame?"

When he had the answer to this question, then he would know how to react to his own plan of blaming all atheism for the crimes of one individual. He would condemn anybody who would commit such an unjust overgeneralization.

That's what I do. I protest, in unminced words if some atheists were to argue that all of theism is responsible for some theist's terrorist acts.

However, as I said, Perkins is obviously morally underdeveloped - incapable of determining the right thing to do in these types of situations because, wherever he gets his morality, it is a poor and uninstructive source.

Well . . . it is a common characteristic among hate-mongers and bigots that they tend to be found more often on the morally challenged side of the human spectrum.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Atheist Strategy and Tactics

The writers at The Economist, in an article called, Believe It Or Not, wish to give American atheists some strategic advice.

But another failing of the irreligious movement has been its tendency, frequently, to pick the wrong fights. Keeping the Ten Commandments out of an Alabama courthouse is one thing. But attacking a Christmas nativity scene on public property does more harm than good. Such secular crusades allow Christians—after all, the overwhelming majority of the country—to feel under attack, and even to declare that they are on the defensive in a “War on Christmas”. When a liberal federal court in California struck the words “under God” from the pledge of allegiance, religious conservatives rallied. Atheists might be tactically wise to accept the overwhelming majority’s comfort with such “ceremonial deism”.

In some of these cases I agree. However, I believe that the most powerful Christian victories to date have been to put "under God" in the pledge and "In God We Trust" on the money and adopt it as the nation's motto.

These victories, more than anything, contribute to an attitude in which "atheism" is associated with being anti-American, unpatriotic, and an enemy to liberty and justice. It promotes a psychological duality - a belief among Americans that the world is divided into an "us" group that is under God and trusts in God, and a "them" group that does not share these qualities.

Furthermore, this is what makes atheists passive and submissive, accepting the authority of the dominant Christians and, though they may grumble and complain about Christian leadership, are unwilling to do anything to effect change. Having been put in their place through 12 years of public education and "ceremonial deism" telling them of their inferior nature, atheists have learned their place and have learned to quietly occupy it with only the slightest protest.

The first thing - the most important thing - that atheists need to do is to put a stop to the rituals that cause atheists to become so passive and submissive.

The reason that Christians protest moves to remove Under God from the pledge and "In God We Trust" as the motto is precisely because of the benefits that this gives them in creating a group of passive, submissive, subordinate atheists. They like the status quo. And, of course, a group of passive, submissive, subordinate atheists are not likely to make any serious move to change it.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Romeny's Speech on Religion

Today, Mitt Romney is going to give a speech dealing with his Mormon beliefs and the role of religion in government.

I wish to make a prediction - that the crux of Romney's argument will be, "C'mon theists. It's foolish for us to be fighting each other. We need to band together to fight the evil atheists and secularists."

This is the same Mitt Romney who said:

I'm convinced that the nation . . . needs a person of faith to lead the country.

He also said on MSNBC:

“I think I’ve found that people across this country want a person of faith to lead the country, and they don’t particularly care as much about the brand of faith as they do the values the person has. And my values are as American as you can imagine,” he said.

In matters of discrimination, this is no different than saying that the nation needs a man, or a white man in the White House, or tacitly endorsing a standard like, "people across this country want a Arian in the White House and I am an Arian."

In a post I wrote at that time, Mitt Romney: No Atheists in Government I mentioned several ways in which I would like to see people challenge Romney on this statement.

I am curious to see what he will say about atheists being qualified to hold public office in this speech today.

I am just as curious as to what the public reaction will be.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Beyond Belief II: Enlightenment 2.0

Last year, I wrote a series on the presentations at Beyond Belief 2006 - a 2.5 day symposium of mostly atheist writers and thinkers on the relationship between religion and science.

It was a 4.5 month project consisting of 2 posts every weekend, summarized in a post that I called Beyond Belief 2006: Summary.

The video for this year's conference, subtitled, Enlightenment 2.0 have now been posted.

I will, once again, be going through the presentation and writing an essay on each of the presentations, as well as any discussion topics that came up that I find a reason to comment on.

The Release of the Teddy Bear Teacher

The cynic in me is reluctant to be too pleased with the decision on the part of the Somalian government to "pardon" the teacher convicted of insulting Islam by allowing her students to name a teddy bear Mohammed. I do not know what went on behind the scenes. Was this, perhaps, an international 'kidnapping' - the Somalian government abducts a British citizen, and Brittian pays a 'ransom' in the form of some closed-door political deal in order to get her back?

The moral case has not changed. Those who called for the execution, those who argued for and defended the proposition that this teacher should have been punished, are deserving of condemnation and contempt. Those who are merely 'disappointed' in their claims or thought that punishment was an 'overreation' are giving credibility to some increadible moral absurdities.

The article contains this quote:

Her release came after two British Muslim lawmakers, Sayeeda Warsi and Nazir Ahmed -- both members of the House of Lords -- persuaded the Sudanese government that letting Gibbons go free would create international goodwill toward their country.

Create goodwill?

So, perhaps if Sudan were to arrest a few hundred more foreigners, sentence them, and then release them, they would be named humanitarians of the year.

At best, among morally responsible people, the act 'lessens the amount of international illwill that the country deserves', but it should, at least, create no goodwill.

Pardoning the teacher is a more moral option than a stricter sentence or even 'more of the same'. However, it does not change the fact that she should never have been arrested, and the charges under which she was arrested should not exist. The laws are still on the books, they are still a threat to anybody who should dare 'insult Islam', and for this alone Sudan is still worthy of condemnation, not 'international goodwill'.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Teddy Bears and the Somalian Embassy

Some people are out buying teddy bears, calling them Mohammed, and sending them off to the Somalia Embassy.

Actually, this is a good idea. Doing so states that one is willing to stand along side those who simply are not going to tolerate this type of nonsense - particularly the nonsense of demanding for the execution of the culprit.

If it helps to make things easy, here is a site where you can send a bear, which has the address for the Somalia embassy listed on the site.

It is a message that says that one will not be intimidated, and that one is willing to stand up against a bunch of barbarians who advocate the killing of a teacher on such rediculous pretenses.

Golden Compass and the Teddybear Teacher

I would like to point out a difference in degree, but not a difference in kind, between protests launched against a teacher in the Sudan and those launched against the film The Golden Compass in America.

A CNN article on the Sudan case states, "[Leafelets distributed earlier this week by Muslim groups] condemned Gibbons as an "infidel"and accused her of "the pollution of children's mentality by their actions."

At the same time, religious groups in America are charging Pullman, the author of the book series from which The Golden Compass is being taken, of being an atheist and, also, of poisonng children's minds.

The common thread among these religious outbursts - do not permit anybody to say or do anything that criticizes the religion. Those who do so should be punished.

Granted, boycotts are not as bad as executions.

But, like I said, the difference is not a difference in kind. It is only a difference in degree.

Interestingly, we can follow this pattern all the way back to Socrates, whose crimes against the city of Athens for which he was executived were, "Corrupting the youth and worhsipping false gods."

Sudanese Barbarism

An article on calls in Sudan to execute a teacher who allowed her students to name a teddy bear "Mohammed" contains the sentence:

The case put Sudan't government in an embarrassing postion - facing anger of Britain on one side and potential trouble from powerful Islamic hard-liners on the other."

Infact, they are facing some anger.

Thousands of Sudanese, many armed with clubs and knives . . . demanded the execution of a British teacher convicted of insulting Islam for allowing her students to name a teddy bear "Muhammad."

However, the embarrassment should come from refusing to stand up to a bunch of neanderthals who have nothing positive to contribute to civil society. Those who are not willing to defend civilized behavior will not have a civilization to live in.

Foreign Secretary David Miliband summoned the Sudanese ambassador late Thursday to express Britain's disappointment with the verdict.


No, the only expression that is appropriate in this case is one of 'condemnation'. It should be flat-out, uncompromising statement that, "You people are a group of barbarians who have no place in civil society." Because . . . well . . . those people are a bunch of barbarians who have no place in civil society.

"Those people" being anybody who defends punishing this teacher in any way.

There is no morality in a system that thinks that punishment in this case is at all justified.

Consider the fact that if the victim in this case, the teacher, were a Sudanese citizen - somebody whose execution would not create an international incident - somebody the British and American public could easily ignore - her punishment would have likely been far worse - possibly including death.

The message that the Sudenese people is giving is that they would be willing to inflict this punishment - and are making concessions only because foreign powers are involved.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Atheist Denigration Protest Day

I have just stumbled across the fact that the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals will be hearing oral arguments in the case against 'under God' in the Pledge this Tuesday, as well as against 'In God We Trust' on the currency.

The American Atheists: California is planning a 'rally of unity' at the courthouse that day.

Actually, atheists around the world should participate in a rally of unity on that day.

These two policies exist for one primary reason - because the American government has declared that nothing is more important in America than denigrating and alienating those who do not believe in God. "Under God" exists in the Pledge because the American government wanted to put atheists (those not 'under God') in the same moral category as rebels (not indivisible), tyrants (not with liberty), and the unjust (just with justice for all). "In God We Trust" occurs on the currency because the government wants to make it clear that "We" (as in "We the People") only includes those who trust in God - that those who do not 'trust in God' should never be thought of as "we". Every piece of currency tells the American people that atheists are never worth listening to because "We" trust in God, and "They" do not.

They particularly want to impose this attitude on children - particularly very young children, and including the children of atheists - because they know that the bigotries that a child learns at a young age are not easily unlearned when the child grows up.

In this, they are correct. The very reason that atheists are the least trusted group in America and why more people believe that atheists do not share their values is because our school system teaches no lesson with more vigor and determination than the lesson that atheists are not to be trusted and do not share 'our' American values. It is because this message is built into a pledge that many schools teach every day, and into a national motto that many schools now have hanging on every classroom wall.

So, figure out what you are going to do on December 4th to let it be known that it is time to end this history of making it America's national motto and national pledge to denigrate and alienate atheists.

It is time to put an end to this bigotry - and to quite the practice of making bigotry the first and most important lesson taught in America's schools.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Insulting Religion

Here are a couple of interesting headlines.

A teacher in Sudan is being charged with insulting religion and inciting hatred because she asked her children what to name a teady bear, and accepted their suggestion of Mohammed.

A Turkish prosecutor is looking into prosecuting a publisher for publishing Dawkin's book The God Delusion (for which, we must assume, Dawkins would deserve a worse penalty for writing it).

At this rate, these actions are heading towards a state of making people the world over afraid of saying or doing anything that might offend fundamentalist Muslims.

Where the real 'incite to hatred' exists is in a culture that incites people to hate and to potentially maim a teacher who accepts her students' name for a teddy bear, or to incite violence against the publisher of a book that challenges those who use superstition and nonsense to justify violence againt others.

This way of thinking is simply barbaric. It belongs in the history books, not in 21st century society.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Countering Ben Stein's 'Expelled'

I think it would be a good idea for the principle individuals who participated in the movie Expelled - Richard Dawkins, PZ Myers, etc. - to demand that those who produced the film make their entire interviews available to the public. With this, any accusations of dishonesty on the part of the film's producers can be easily verified or falsified. To the degree that it can be demonstrated that they took clips out of context and generally misrepresented the claims of these individuals, to that degree the whole movie can be discredited. This would at least show whether the documentary comes from people who have no qualms against misrepresenting the gruth, where it serves their interests and their views to do so.

Funding Education: Ben Stein's Expelled

PZ Myers has mentioned how Ben Stein's movie "Expelled" (which I wrote about under the clever title, Ben Stein's Expelled) seems to be financially well-backed.

Indeed, it is.

However, one has to remember that this is not a donation. This is an investment. The people backing this movie are people who do not mind profiting by selling razor blades to that subset of the nation that seems driven to slit this country's intellectual wrists.

My question is: Where are the people interested in funding a program to teach people the facts about evolution, and why this movie (and the claims made in it) are nonsense.

It would be a good time to do so. One could simply point out that it is time for some intellectual fair play - a need to 'hear both sides of the controversy'.

However, the first piece of education - the controversy is not over whether intelligent design is a better scientific theory than Darwinism. But whether intelligent design is science at all.

After all, Teaching students that intelligent design is a science is like teaching them that China is in South America. It's simply, flat-out wrong, and people who say otherwise only prove their own ignorance.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Atheists: Outsiders

Though, in a recent post, What Makes Us Moral?, I criticized a Time Magazine article by the same name, the article also contained an underappreciated truth.

The article described how treating others unjustly is made easier by casting those to be treated unjustly as 'outsiders' - as not part of the group.

The main objection to a pledge of allegiance to "one nation under God" or a motto of "in God we trust" is that it casts those who are not 'under God' and those who do not trust in God as outsiders - as non-members. This makes it psychologically easier to treat them as lesser beings, treat them in ways that one would not treat another insider.

These acts deserve to be condemned not as 'unconstitutional' or 'a violation of separation of church and state', but as flatly unjust and immoral. No person who claims to have any appreciation of right and wrong could sanction such a system, and no person who sanctions such a system can make any claim that their side has a better appreciation for and disposition to do that which is right.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Evolutionary Party

Definitely worth sharing.

A short poem.

Cosmic Evolution

The Goldan Compass: Responses to Religious Bullying

It appears that people are finally making some sort of protest against the attempts by religious fundamenalists to bully competing views into silence, which I had written about earlier in the week The Golden Compass and Religious Criticism

Now let’s say for example that the books are wildly atheist (which they aren’t); why shouldn’t they be? As someone else said, this is like going up to someone at a football game who is cheering for another team and saying “Hey, you can’t cheer for them... you have to cheer for my team! Grrr.” And surely that’s not nice... J. Sutherland

On a Catholic school board's decision to pull all copies of Pullman's trilogy from the schools:

After all, if the Catholic Church is so intent on stifling discussion of contrary perspectives that it will prevent access to them within its school systems, is it not denying its students one of the basic elements of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms – that is, the right to freedom of thought, to hold or consider other perspectives?Celia Featherby

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Taliban in Pakistan

Actually, yes, I do blame Bush as his administration for the current mess in Pakistan. Pakistan's Taliban at the Gates. If he had focused on finishing the job at hand, dealing with the Taliban and those who were actively seeking to do harm to Americans, instead of getting distracted in the Iraqi side show, we would would have likely been in a better situation than we are in.

As a result of Bush's actions and the thoughtless 'faith-based', anti-intelligence, anti-reason antics of this administration, the Taliban might be able to get ahold of nuclear weapons simply by overthrowing Pakistan.

Where will America get the resources to fight battle in Afghanistan and Pakistan and Iran and Iraq and in whatever other country where people decide, "America is vulnerable (thanks to Bush). Now is the time to strike."

But rational thinking - thinking based on reason rather than personal desire - was never this administration's strong suit. Indeed, they effectively ran their campaign on the slogan, "Let's put a likable idiot in the White House."

This is what happens when you give likable idiots the authority to make decisions for the world.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The Presidential Debates and Executive Power

The Daily Doubter recently informed its readers about the pathetic state of the Presidential debates so far . . . about how uninterested the Press is in asking candidates their position on the separation of powers.

Yet, this issue more than any other will likely determine whether future generations live in liberty or tyranny - the latter being the inevitable result of an executive that can do whatever he or she pleases.

Christian Moral (ir)Responsibility

I am asked whether I think that all Christianity should be blamed for the immorality inherent in the Byzantine empire that I alluded to in my last post.

Of course not. A person is accountable only for those actions he actually endorses. Few people today would endorse the Byzantine culture.

Modern Christians are responsible only for modern immoralities.

No modern Christian is responsible for Inquisition of the 1400s. However, many are responsible for the current iteration of the inquisition against homosexuals - a church-lead project to pursue policies that add misery and suffering to the lives of millions.

I find myself continuously thinking of a letter that several evangelicals sent in protest to one of their members advocating action against global warming.

Those who authored this letter - many prominent Christian leaders - protested that this was taking resources away from their inquisition against homosexuals. The possibility of severe harm to the earth costing untolled misery around the globe was less important to them than the need to continue this 21st century inquisition.

Of course, they said that the issue of global warming was controversial. Yet, they saw controversy only because they wanted to see it.

The argument, in fact was, "If global warming science is correct, we must divert resources away from our inquisition against homosexuals. We do not want to divert resources away from this inquisition. Therefore, global warming science must be controversial."

I do not hold contemporary Christians responsible for historic moral crimes because contemporary Christians do not endorse those historic crimes. However, to the degree that they endorse modern moral crimes, they can be held morally responsible.

Monday, November 19, 2007

The Original "Christian Nation"

I have spent the last few evenings listening to a podcast, 12 Byzantine Rilers on the Byzantine Empire - probably the original "Christian Nation".

It is striking how different that nation is from ours today - how different their 'morality' is from ours today.

It is also quite easy to recognize which society is the morally superior society.

It is not, as it turns out, the society in which the doctrines of Christianity were originally decided.

Investing in a Worse World

Several atheist blogs are commenting about a move from Reverend Ken Hutcherson to take over Microsoft to end its alleged contribution to 'gay rights'.

While engaging in ridicule, it is easy to ignore the fact that a preacher such as this can easily go on the air and gather tens of millions of dollars for any hate-filled cause he decides to launch.

This will not be nearly enough to take over Microsoft (though we must remember that a substantial portion of all investors are already hostile to gay rights), it is enough to build a Creationist museum or to launch any of a thousand differen hate- and superstition-promoting projects.

While, at the same time, pro-reason organizations boast that memberships in their organizations are now moving higher in the four-digit and up into the 5-digit numbers, with comparably anemic budgets.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

War Cost Lies from Congress

The [Democratic-led Joint Economic Committee] calculated the average cost of both wars for a family of four would be $20,900 from 2002 to 2008. The cost for a family of four would go up to $46,400 from 2002 to 2017, the committee said.

From War costs could total $1.6 trillion by 2009, panel estimates

This is a blatantly dishonest way of calculating costs used, in this case, for its propaganda effect in giving people a dishonest sense of the cost of the war and a dishonest appraisal of those who got us into it.

This 'statistic' is a lie, regardless of one's position on the war. It would be a true statement if the American tax system assigned taxes per head - if every person payed the same dollar amount each year to the government. Then (and only then) would it be honest to divide the total cost among the people equally.

However, some people pay more in taxes than others. Some people pay nothing at all. So their share of this tax burden will be proportionately less.

However, the Democratic leaders of this committee want to lie to you and tell you that this war is making you worse off than it is in fact. They want you (and every other family) to think that you would have been $20,000 wealthier if not for the war. They want to manipulate you into having the reaction that is reasonable to have in response to this $20,000 figure, rather than be honest with you.

I am not saying this as somebody who is fond of the war. My position has always been that, unless and until I get security clearance, I cannot make an honest assessment of the best way to proceed. Since I will not be getting that type of clearance, we need people in power who, when they do have access to that information, will make an honest evaluation based on the available evidence.

The people who produced this report are not interested in making and presenting an honest evaluation. They are interested in using sophistry and deceipt for political purposes.

Of course, the blame does not only rest with the Democratic committee that released this sophist propaganda, but with the news organizations who fail to see (and report) the deception behind these numbers. I would pay good money for a news organization staffed with people who have the intelligence to point out the deception behind claims such as this.

That's not the type of people I want in government.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Dishonest Campaigning

The complaints about the Clinton campaign planting questions in their audience is a legitimate complaint. The agents in this case try to generate the illusion that the questions come from the people themselves. The Clinton campaign has been caught 'engineering false beliefs' - in effect, lying for political purposes. From this we can conclude that the campaign is staffed by people who have no particular love of truth or honesty. We can expect them to carry these values into the White House.

If the American public has come upon a newly found hostility to dishonesty, let them at least show it by condemning all who have been dishonest.

Remember when a tape circulated that showed the Bush Administration planting questions among American servicemen in promoting the war in Iraq?

The Bush Administration has perfected the art of managed public appearances - showing up only before audiences guaranteed to be favorable to the President, confining protesters to 'free speech zones' out of sight of the actual event, removing people who wear T-shirts or drive cars with bumper stickers critical of the administration.

And yet we hear little in the way of protest here.

There are two ways to resolve this inconsistency. One is to cut both equivalent amounts of slack. The other is to give both camps equal amount of condemnation.

There must be a footnote somewhere in the Bible that I have never heard of that says that if a person mentions God or Jesus favorably a certain number of times per day, that the moral prohibition against bearing false witness, lying, and other moral crimes simply do not apply. At the same time these people claim that their religion gives them a moral compass that others do not have, they demonstrate how false it is by being unable to perform an honest act, or to condemn others in their click who are blatantly dishonest.

Morality is only required of others - of outsiders.

Of course, nobody is more dangeorus than those who think that morality only applies to others.

Limbaugh's Reckless Claims

Themaiden, in a blog posting I Can't Figure Out Why Anyone Takes This Guy Seriously reported on a hoax that claims to disprove global warming that Rush Limbaugh immediately reported to his audience as true.

Limbaugh has repeatedly shown that he cares nothing about the fate of others - that he is willing to put hundreds of millions of people at risk for the pure pleasure of having a radio show where he can do this. Yet, this guy stays on the air. In fact, he makes himself rich in performing this disservice to humanity.

The problem is not that he does not believe that global warming is man-made. The problem is that he does not care whether the claims he makes are true or false, where false claims put hundreds of millions of people at risk.

Yet, the real moral crime rests with those who feed him and keep him on the air - because they obviously do not care either.

The members of the culture that feeds people like this have no legitiate claim to any type of moral superiority.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Rethinking Privacy

Donald Kerr, the principal deputy director of national intelligence, says that Americans need to redefine privacy. He wants Americans to give up any claim to a right of anonymity (or keeping information about oneself out of the hands of others), and focus only on secure communications (having others not misuse the information they do have).

MSNBC: Intelligence Deputy to America: Rethink Privacy

The issue focuses on reports that the government has set up stations around the country that store every electronic communication - voice, email, web site access - on super computers that the government can then use to sniff out evidence of wrongdoing.

The problem comes when one asked, "What is wrongdoing?"

Humans have not changed. Political leaders tend to arrogantly presume that anybody who says anything that they do not like is guilty of 'wrongdoig'. Nixon went to his grave thinking that he did nothing wrong, that the wrongdoing was done by those who dared to challenge his authority.

Vice President Cheney and Karl Rove apparently think the same way.

Somewhere in this country there is a political tyrant just waiting to get his hands on the ability to sniff through a stack of emails and phone calls, culling those who would dare contest his reign.

Of course, he will convince himself that this is all for the public good.

When Hitler went into his bunker in Berlin to kill himself, one of the last things he said was, "The German people do not deserve me."

Because these arrogant tyrants cannot conceive of themselves as doing something wrong, it is a huge mistake to trust them to conceive of certain uses of this information as wrong. There is no limit to the barbaric acts that a would-be tyrant can conceive of as being "necessary for national security."

Look at the rhetoric this administration put forth.

"If you are not with us, then you are against us."

"You are either with us, or you are with the terrorist."

The term 'traitor' was launched at anybody and everybody who dared to question what the Administration was doing.

This is exactly the rhetoric that some future American Fuhrer will use to sniff through these emails and phone conversations for sign of 'subversives' who can then be rounded up, thrown in jail, held without charges and tried on secret evidence, tortured for information on what other 'subversives' are doing, merely because the President (and the President alone - with no checks and balances) has declared them "a threat to national security."

Who can then challenge such a person. As soon as they send an email or make a phone call to protest the actions of the Aerican Fuhrer, then they too will end up in one of these 'detention centers' for 'special interrogation'.

Americans had better think again about giving one branch of government alone, and the goons that the person who holds that branch might surround himself with, unlimited access to all of one's communications, with no oversight - no checks or balances. Giving a group that kind of power is quite literally the same as selling our children or grandchildren into slavery.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Oil Supplies

I saw in the news today that there was a huge oil discovery off of the coast of Brazil. Oil Discovery Rocks Brazil

Estimates are about 5 to 8 billion barrels.

So, our energy problems are over, right?

Well, I looked up how much oil we use in this world each day.

About 80 million barrels.

So, we'll burn through the equivalent of this huge find between now and the middle of next February.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

China's Bible Ban

I have argued that there is a moral dimension in holding false beliefs. Where there is no evidence for a belief, or even when there is easily accessible evidence against it, we can ask, "Why did the agent embrace that belief?" Chances are, he embraced it because embracing it fulfilled a desire of his. We can then evaluate the desire to determine if it is a good desire or a bad desire.

Of course, we immediately have the fact that the agent did not have a particularly strong desire for truth. A lover of truth simply does not embrace unsupported or easily disproved claims.

The falsehood in this case is:

The Catholic News Agency published a report in November citing the Italian sports daily La Gazzetta dello Sport and Spanish daily La Razon as saying that Bibles were on a list of "prohibited objects" in the Olympic village.

The official news from China:

"The Chinese government has never ever issued such a rule, nor any such statement," Liu said. "China's religious affairs authorities and the Beijing Olympic organizing committee have not - and could not - issue a rule banning the Bible in the Olympic village."

So, why do so many people embrace this fiction?

Because of hate. They want to hate atheists and, rather than base their hatred on any facts of the matter (because the facts do not support the hatred they want to embrace), they embrace lies and sophestry.

Because they want to love undeserved pity. Like the mother who poisons her child so that she can receive the sympathy of her friends and family, some theists lie about their victimization to solicit the sympathy of the general public.

These are not the qualities of a virtuous person.

Neither the disrespect for truth, nor the love of hate, nor lying to others as a way to solicit sympathy are qualities that we can ever expect to find in a truly virtuous person.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Dishonestly: The Anthony Flew Story

I have commented in a recent post on the Atheist Ethicist blog about how a theist reported love of honesty fails to materialize as any type of support of those who are honest or condemnation of those who are dishonest.

We find another example in their exploitation of the failing mind of a former atheist, Anthony Flew.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Removing Religion

Once again today I read an article about some atheists who were trying to remove religious symbols from the public square.

Ultimately, this description serves a political interest - and it is not the interests of secularists. It is a very biased description about what is going on that paints the Christian as a victim - which is exactly how they want to be described.

A more accurate description, as far as I can tell, is that the atheist is seeking to remove the church's hand from their wallet. Since we all pay taxes, then any attempt to use the public square to market any religion is, in effect, a tithe on all citizens - a forced tax to support the recruiting program for a single religion.

So, perhaps a more accurate description would be to say, "I'm not so much interested in removing religious symbols from the public square as I am in removing the preacher's hand from my pocketbook."

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Global Warming and Disease

It appears that the Bush Administration still prefers to see you and your loved ones (particularly your descendents) sick or dead than to see their friends lose a dollar in profits.

According to a CNN report, Sources: The White House Cut Testimony, the White House 'eviscerated' a report on the health effects of global warming from the Center for Disease Control. Apparently, this Administration wants to continue to hide the fact that its policies will kill and sicken many Americans.

Of course, their wealthy friends will be able to buy their way clear of these effects. They have enough money.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Hate Mongoring at Baylor University

In reading an article in The Lariat online, Atheism's moral philosophy not consistent with Baylor's mission, I get a feeling that must like like that a Jew would feel upon reading a missive talking about 'blood libel' and all of the other lies that have been used to condemn Jews through the centuries.

Dr. Roger Olson's article is filled with the falsehoods and fallacies that have been used to condemn atheists through the centuries - claiming explicitly that no atheist can live a moral life consistent with atheism.

Atheists can do good deeds, he said, but unless they hang the term 'atheism' on their good deeds and does them in the context of an organization that has 'atheism' in the title - it doesn't count.

So, it does not matter that Bill and Mellinda Gates and Warren Buffett decide to spend $60 billion on the world's problems. They did not put the word 'atheism' in their name, so it doesn't count.

I have addressed arguments such as this in Why Atheists Don't Build Hospitals (They do, they just don't put the term 'atheist' in the title), and The Good That Atheists Would Not Do.

Yet, I still think that Olson's article warrants the type of response that an article containing the lies of 'blood libel' would generate. Otherwise, there would be no incentive in people to quit disseminating these types of lies, and no incentive for readers not to accept them.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

In The Name Of Love

In letters section for USA Today, one writer wrote in comment to an atheist opinion:

What atheists do not get about Christians is that we love them. It is not OK with us for them to miss out on salvation and the daily blessings of knowing Jesus Christ personally. We will fight for their souls. And it is certainly not OK with us for atheists to say things that might lead others away from eternal salvation. Forever is a long time. Forgive us for loving you so much that we get a little feisty.

Actually, what this author is expressing is not 'love' - or, if it is, it is the same sort of 'love' that an abusive husband expresses towards his wife as he beats her or that the slave owner had for his slaves.

It is an arrogant presumption of a right to dominate and control others that the agent calls 'love' to make it more palitable. "They won't let me do this if I call it what it is, so I will call it love. That sounds better. I like that."

True love implies a true concern for the well-being of others, and that implies that the agent is worried about being wrong. A mother who truly loves her child wants to be sure that the person who is watching over the child will protect and care for her.

This is exactly what we do not see in those 'Christians' who 'get feisty' about the salvation of us atheists - an interest in looking at the evidence and asking, "Does this actually make sense? What reason is there for believing that I am helping these people, rather than harming them?"

Because there is no reason to look for. There is only faith.

However, look at how this faith works. What these people are actually accepting as a matter of 'faith' are their own perfection and infallibility - the impossibility that they could be wrong and that they had better double-check their work to make sure.

One of the problems is that there are billions of different beliefs about how to get into heaven. Assuming that one of them is right - there is no way to know which one. People who claim that there is a way to know still come up with different answers. Furthermore, there is the option that the way into heaven is to use the brain that God gave you, rather than give up your duty to think and consider the evidence, and that rejecting reason for faith leads to perpetual damnation. For these reasons, those who claim that they are fighting for my salvation out of love clearly have not considered what they are doing, or care about the possibility that they could be wrong and could be ruining my chance of salvation.

And in their arrogant presumption at their personal perfection, they give themselves the right to dominate others and compel their obedience.

In the name of 'love'?

I don't think so.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Excessive Presidential Power Threatens Democracy

This . . . was said by a member of the Bush administration?

MOSCOW, Russia (AP) -- The Russian government under Vladimir Putin has amassed so much central authority that the power-grab may undermine Moscow's commitment to democracy, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Saturday.

"In any country, if you don't have countervailing institutions, the power of any one president is problematic for democratic development," Rice told reporters after meeting with human-rights activists.

From CNN Rice says Kremlin's consolidated power endangers democracy.

This, from the administration in charge of signing statements to subvert the legislature, and executive orders to subvert both the legislature and the courts, that has moved judicial decision making from the courts to the Justice Department.

How stupid do these people think we are?

"That's Not My Religion"

An article on Fox News, Anglican Spiritual Leader Slams Popular Atheist Writers reports that Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams thinks that these atheists writers miss their mark.

"When believers pick up Richard Dawkins or Christopher Hitchens, we may feel as we turn the pages: 'This is not it. Whatever the religion being attacked here, it's not actually what I believe in,"' the archbishop said.

Actually, it is a very common defense mechanism for an individual, when faced with evidence that condemns his view, to answer, "That's not what I believe." It saves the ego - saves the individual from having to say, "Maybe I was wrong."

The fact is, the positions that these writers wrote about were very popular at the time. If people are now unwilling to admit that they ever held such views, then the world is a better place because of it. They will, of course, refuse to give these writers credit. But, then, the question of who gets credit is not actually as important as the fact that somebody has brought about real change for a better world.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Solar Power from Space

The Pentagon has just released a report that suggests that an effective way to avoid future wars would be for the United States to lead in the establishment of a space-based solar power satellite energy system. The effectts of such a system will not only reduce the chance of conflict over dwindling energy resources, as well as deal effectively with environmental problems such as global warming.

One of the interesting aspects of this report is the fact that the report argues for an investment being made for the purpose of preventing a war - not for the purpose of dealing with a conflict otherwise not prevented.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

The Swift-Boating of Graeme Frost

I am more than pleased that the moral outrage of The Swift-Boating of Graeme Frost has made the news.

I am less pleased that the nature of this moral crime has not been revealed as fully as it needs to be.

There will always be people who will post the deceitful half-truths that have done harm to this family. The problem rests with a culture that is more than willing to embrace half-truths, who care nothing about the truth, and who are willing to pass along this type of trash merely because they want it to be true.

Though liberals are not immune to this type of activity, I suspect that it is particularly common among those who are religiously minded who never seem much interested in digging below the surface of any fact. After all, the 'evidence' against the Frost family is hardly any worse than the evidence in favor of many of the things - young earth, creationism, the literal truth of the bible - that these people believe as a matter of course.

Be that as it may, the scum who did this harm would not have been able to do quite so much harm without a culture that embraced and fed half-truth and lies as an acceptable method of scoring political points. We can make our society a lot better if, instead, we learn to turn on and condemn those who think that there is merit in posting - or in accepting and passing on - half-truths and lies. These type of people make all of our lives worse than they would otherwise be.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Before the War

Interestingly, I was just reminded of something that I had written on March 17, 2003, at the start of the invasion of Iraq.

I had posted this on the Internet infidels Discussion Boards.

What if Saddam is telling the truth?


What if Saddam has no weapons of mass destruction?

What if he destroyed them as he said (because he knew that they would be of no use to him -- he could not use them, as he had done in the past, without foreign governments invading).

What if, the only reason he did not make it easy for the inspectors was out of spite.

What if his plan is to have the USA attack, and then embarrass itself by finding none of the items which the USA claims justifies the invasion?

I think that the chances of this are very, very small. But, this evening, it came to be as an interesting possibility.

Monday, October 8, 2007


I would like readers to consider an important fact about contemorary society.

Let us assume that I wanted to create a creationist museum, or build a new church, or create a road show to sell the virtues of religion in Africa. For all of these, I would have no trouble collecting money. Everything from megachurches to televangelists to religious magazines, I would have a huge set of resources to draw upon to raise money.

What if somebody wanted to do something on the other side of the equation? Where are the institutions to fund activities meant to sell non-religion?

One of the clear advantages that theism has over atheism is funding. Theists are more than eager to give up their money to spread the word of their religion. Atheists are not only shy about using their money and time to communicate to others, some are completely hostile to the idea. One thing that many atheists dislike about theists is the 'preaching' - so an atheist who 'preaches' is just as bad as a theist.

This is an excellent philosophy for making sure that the atheist voice remains silent, and to give the theist control of the microphone. This attitude turns the public debate between theism and atheism like a trial where only the prosecutor is allowed to speak, and the accused decides to simply remain silent when it comes to his own defense.

One should not be surprised if, in such a situation, the jury is more likely to convict than they would be if the defense actually speaks to the accusations made against them.

Without funding to suport the voice of reason, religious forces will continue to control the microphone. With religious forces continuing to control the microphone, the bulk of the population will continue to see theism as the dominant - and, through this, these beliefs will be seen as the most plausible.

I am writing this to suggest to readers to go on a campaign to raise money that will enable atheists to take control of an ever larger and louder microphone.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Video Games in Church

I have seen a few people post about the use of video games to draw young people to church.

For example, there is the posting in Scientia Natura, How lame can despirate theatards get?

And Phstyngula's laughing my evil laugh at those decadent churches.

Only, these types of marketing work.

It is like the business owner who scoffs at the fact that his competitor decides to advertise, saying, "Let them advertise. The inherent quality of my product will be enough to drive them out of business."

Or the political candidate who decides that he will not waste any time campaigning because, "as soon as everybody hears the quality of my ideas, they will certainly turn to me over my opponent."

Not . . . I'm afraid . . . in the real world.

My answer to those who want to mock marketing is to say, "Yeah, right. Marketing is a $300 billion industry in this country because it doesn't work.

So, go ahead and mock the competition that actually decides to campaign and to advertise and to market its products. This will, nonetheless, allow them to maintain their dominance. An unwillingness to do the same thing is a short strategy for helping them maintain their dominance.

Causes of Atheism

Atheist in a Mini Van pointed readers to an article that said that one of the causes of the growth of atheism was the events at 9/11. These events allegedly caused some people to give up on religion.

Atheist in a Mini Van expressed doubts that this was true - that few people in fact became atheists as a result of 9/11. In other words, there were few people who said in their mind, "9-11 happened; therefore, no God exists." She did not say that it never happened, only that it was a weak influence.

However, what 9/11 clearly caused was for some atheists - starting with Sam Harris - to stop their habit of sitting back comfortably and say "Religion is not important. I don't have to take a stand against it." For a number of people, 9/11 delivered the message, "Religion kills."

Of course, they already knew that. However, until 9/11, religion only killed people - strangers - and not even white anglo-saxon strangers "over there". Suddenly, religion killed people over here, and that was much more difficult to tolerate.

Of course, religion had been killing people over here as well - millions of people - by promoting ignorance and raising religious objections to medical research that could have otherwise saved lives, by promoting the suicide of homosexual teenagers, and the like. However, we had grown accustomed to this - had decided to live with it. After all, the problem of correcting this problem was just too big to worry about. We did not (or, at least, we believed we did not) have the power to change it, so we learned to accept it.

With 9/11, some atheists started to demand that their fellow citizens rethink religion. That voice was contagious, until a large (and growing?) number of people joined in. With this voice, some who were on the fence have climbed down off that fence on the side of atheism.

Every day we see reminders of the message, "Religion kills." Which feeds the message. Some people try to shout back, "Atheism also kills," but one does not have the daily reminders of atheism killing that one has of religion killing.

Unfortunately, I continue to worry about the fact that atheism does not prevent killing, and that there must be a vigil against the idea that religion is the problem that leads to the conclusion that anything a person can do to rid the world of religion is good.

In fact, the idea, "religion kills" is a bit too simplistic. "Irrational beliefs kill," and religion is only one set of irrational beliefs. There are others, and some of them are available to atheists. I continue to argue for broadening the battle to include not only the most dangerous beliefs within religion, but the most dangerous beliefs outside of religion as well. It would be foolish to be so blindly fixated on the former (religion) that the latter (non-religious wrongs) end up conquering us without us even knowing they are there.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Religious Messages in Public Schools

An article on Alternet, The Religious Right's New Tactics for Invading Public Schools mentions several ways, and several instances, where the religious right has tried to use the public school system to recruit children into their fundamentalist mythologies.

They spoke of valedictorians who have used graduation ceremonies as opportunities to deliver a religious message, and Texas' new "Religious Viewpoints Antidiscrimination Act" which says that schools must give students the freedom to inject religious messages into any student-lead school event.

Of course, the religious right is dominated by hypocrites who will only find these methods acceptable to the degree that they are being used to deliver Christian messages. Let somebody use these opportunities to deliver a non-Christian message, and let the howling begin.

It would be interesting, I think, for a valedictorian to introduce into his speech a claim that goes something like this:

There is no God, and the universe is indifferent to our survival as individuals and as a species. How well we live, and even whether we live at all, depends on our ability to understand and predict the real world. More importantly, because no God exists to protect us and answer our prayers, we must depend on each other. If we waste time and effort waiting for some sky daddy to save and protect us, we might not even notice the lost opportunity to save and protect ourselves. So, I encourage you, each day, to make this a better world for yourself and for those around you.

Of course, large numbers of the religious right will protest. However, they will also be exposed as the hypocrites that they are in doing so. And that, itself, may pay in dividends.

I would then like to hear this person say afterward, "I recognize that people come to a graduation ceremony to celebrate their child's celebration, and not to be preached at by people who have beliefs other than their own. I recognize that this is important. Hopefully, because of what I did today, other people will better recognize that as well, and will quit trying to interject their beliefs into these types of ceremonies."

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Boeing's Orbiting Gas Station

One of my concerns is the survival of the human race. This is combined with the fact that the universe is indifferent to our survival and will destroy us without a second thought. This means that it is up to us to take those steps that will reduce the possibility of our own destruction.

(This is in contrast to certain rapturephiles who are gleefully awaiting the end of civilizaiton.)

In this area, Boeing has proposed the idea of an orbiting refueling station.

One thing about a refueling station is that it can take deposits in any number of sizes. If somebody shows up with 100 gallons of fuel, and another person shows up with 10,000 gallons, they can be combined. The missions are simple, meaning that they are cheep.

The advantage of a fuel depot is that missions going further out into space (the moon, asteroids, Mars, Titan) can pick up the fuel from the station.

Also, a station can collect fuel from a number of different sources. We can expect that the first deposits of fuel will come from Earth. However, there is a possibility that somebody can figure out how to manufacture fuel on the moon or from an asteroid, and ship that to the refueling station.

I would like to combine this with another idea that I think is interesting - the idea of the government offering 'prizes' to organizations that can accomplish certain tasks, rather than making all space missions government projects (with government mismanagement, government cost overruns, and government need to spread the money across everybody's congressional district). With this type of fueling station in orbit, the government can simply announce a 'prize' to any company that delivers fuel to the orbiting station, and let the private entrepreneurs figure out how they can do this for a profit.

Those entrepreneurs will likely figure out ways to reduce the cost of getting things into space, or of using the resources that are already in space, in ways that NASA would never imagine, and could never get funded.

Red Skelton's 'Pledge' Case in the Classroom

A Dover-New Philadelphia paper Times Reporter carried an online article about a teacher Sharon Ricklic, who received an award fror being Ohio's 2007 Preserve America History Teacher of the Year.

The story mentions:

Ricklic uses a variety of methods to teach her students about American history. While students study the Pledge of Allegiance, she plays a compact disc by comedian Red Skelton in which he gives a recitation explaining the meaning of the pledge.

Unfortunately, I fear that what she plays is probably This piece, which is a propaganda piece in defene of 'under God' in the Pledge of Allegiance.

Since the Pledge, with the text 'under God' is a denigrating piece of propaganda whose purpose is to declare that those who are not "under God" ought to be considered as anti-american as those who would promote rebellion, tyranny, and injustice, it has no place in the public schools.

It certainly does not make Ms. Ricklic deserving of such an award.

I do not know all of the details of this presentation, of course. It is a historical fact that Red Skelton did make this presentation. At the same time, it is a historical fact that the words were added to the pledge to denigrate those who did not believe in God in the eyes of school children everywhere. So, one can wonder whether Ms. Ricklic's students are getting an accurate account of history, or whether Ricklic is arguing in favor of the denigration of any atheist students she might have.

Happy Sputnik Day

50 years ago today, the former Soviet Union launched the first satellite into Earth Orbit.

Many people who speak about today will discuss it in the context of the Cold War conflict between the United States and USSR. However, these mundane and earthly reasons are not why I think that this day is significant.

Before Sputnik, we (humanity, and all of the flora and fauna of earth) were limited to the surface of a small speck of dust in the cosmos. Sputnik cracked open a door that made everything else - the moon, asteroids, Mars, the moons of Jupiter and Saturn, and even other stars, available to us. Not only to us, but to every form of life that we decide to take with us (or can stow away).

The whole universe is now available to us.

That is something to celebrate.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Atheism, Antitheism, *theism?

In the online web site "On Faith", Greg Epstein made a distinction between atheism and 'anti-theism'.

While atheism is the lack of belief in any god, anti-theism means actively seeking out the worst aspects of faith in god and portraying them as representative of all religion. Anti-theism seeks to shame and embarrass people away from religion, browbeating them about the stupidity of belief in a bellicose god.

So . . . I have to ask:

What word do we use for the view that the worst aspects of faith and God apply to no religion. Because this seems to be a position that some people adopt.

It is as if to say that so long as one person does not have a particular quality, that religion itself is beyond reproach. It is as if to say that Dawkins and Harris are saying nothing worthy of concern, as long as only some religions fit their descriptions.

Which, of course, is nonesense.

So, what is the word we should use for holding that, for the good of humanity, there are some or many religious beliefs worthy of condemnation?

Atheist Convention

I read Friendly Atheist's recap of Atheist Alliance International with a great deal of frustration, bordering on anger.

What I read gave the convention the appearance of a science-fiction convention; a lot of talk, but absolutely no indication of any 'positive action'.

So far I have not heard mention, on this account or others, of any recommendation for positive action.

The convention gave a number of instances where the individuals could have actually done something useful.

They could have passed a resolution praising the students at Boulder High School for taking a stand against the Pledge of Allegiance, and/or they could have used their time at the podium to denounce Bill O'Reilly's response to that issue.

They could have protested the fact that two local stores refused to serve atheist customers.

If there was any actual attempt at the convention to take a stand on any specific real-world event, I would like to hear about it.

Friday, September 28, 2007


I found an entry over at Town Hall on Benefits of Religion Even a Skeptic Should Acknowledge.

The benefits, according to the article, spring from the observed fact that theists tend to more often report that they are 'happy' than theists.

There are, of course, two things wrong with such a study.

First, if a person were to take a poll comparing slaves in the early 1800s to their masters, chances are the masters will report more happiness. Also, it would not be unreasonable to expect that whites in the 1900s expressed more happiness than non-whites. One of the things that atheists have to put up with is the fact that they live in a society that constantly denigrates them and dismisses their accomplishments, insults them, and categorizes them as the 'anti-American'. They put up with daily rituals that intend to separate and ostracise them. Even when looking at a coin, they are reminded that they are outsiders and "We" are people who trust in God.

Second, happiness is not the only measure of value. I have written several times about imagining a person in an 'experience machine' where electrodes attached to the brain feeds one images. This person gets to believe that he is doing 'great things' when he is actually laying in a vat of goo being fed false beliefs about the world around him. He may be happy. However, this does not imply that he has a good life.

I have also used an example where a person is given two options:

Option 1: The option to believe that your child is healthy and happy while your child is, in fact, being mercilessly tortured.

Option 2: The option to believe that your child is being mercilessly tortured while your child is, in fact, living a healthy and happy life.

The first option will make a person happy, but no moral person would recommend to the world, "Okay, everybody, Option 1 is the morally best option."

Religious people are far more likely to develop thankful personalities not only because gratitude and praise for the Creator plays a role in nearly every literature but because people of faith know whom to thank.

People of faith do not know whom to thank. They thank an imaginary creature for the work of real human beings, without thanking the real human beings. When my wife went to the hospital with a 106.7 degree fever and left 10 days later with a pace maker, I knew who to thank - the doctors and researchers and scientists who spent their time studying the human body and discovered how to repair this type of damage. I know full well that the quality of my life depends a great deal on the contributions of those around me, and that the quality of their lives depends on me. That is why I am here writing this blog. People around me know full well that if they should do a good deed or show an act of kindness that I am going to thank the person who is truly responsible for those actions - and not give the credit for their good deeds to somebody who not only had nothing to do with it, but who doesn't even exist.

Traditional religions lay down useful, supportive standards – along with mechanisms for winning forgiveness when (not if) you fall short.

It is simply wishful thinking to say that religion offers any type of consistent standard. Even if one decides to believe in God the questions remain, "Which
God? Which scripture? Which interpretation of scripture?" A theist has a billion different interepretations of God's will to choose from.

More importantly, every one of those interpretations is nothing more than the wishes of those priests. Scriptures represent the prejudices and opinions of largely ignorant people, and gets as many moral facts wrong as it gets science facts wrong.

Indeed, one of the great failures of most religions is that they teach people to be content (happy) performing actions that are, in fact, immoral and unjust. They buy their happiness living a life where they do harm to others while feeling good about it, because they can convince themselves that the harms they do is God's Will.

Regardless of how boring religious services can sometimes seem, they provide one incontestable blessing: they provide a framework every week (or sometimes even more often than that) for people to establish the neighborly ties that constitute community.

This appears to be more of a function of finding others with which one can communicate as equals - who do not look down their noses with condescention at you. The larger the percentage of a population deny the existence of God, the easier it will be for those with this belief to form communities. Sweden, for example, is about 85% atheist and non-believers. Yet, I do not hear of any particular problems with Swedes being unable to form a community. There communities are simply centered around things other than church.

If happiness counts as one of those rewards —based on the gratitude, behavioral standards, and neighborly connection that religion promotes – maybe even cynical unbelievers ought to reconsider the advantages provided by participation in faith-based communities.

Happiness counts - but I would rather be a good person living a good life than a 'happy' person living in an exerience machine disconnected from the real world, and in particular with the real-world effects of my actions and the real-world benefits and harms that I might cause others.

I enjoy happiness - but not at the expense of truth, and not at the expense of others. The happiness found living in an experience machine doing harm to others while deluding oneself into thinking that it is 'good' is not at all tempting to me.

Individual Responsibility

In my morning review of the news, I came upon a story where a Louisiana prosecutor gives credit to Jesus for the fact that 20,000 (mostly black) protesters came to the town without incident.

As an atheist, of course, I would say that Jesus had nothing to do with this. Instead, I make it a point to hold people personally resposnible for that which they do - giving them praise when they do good and giving them condemnation when they do bad.

In this case, District Attorney Reed Walters' remarks are particularly troublesome. The people that Walters is unwilling to give credit to in this case is a number of black protesters. It is as if he is saying, "It is so unreasonable to expect that 20,000 mostly black protestors can descend on a town and behave themsleves that we must consider this to be a miracle. Something other than these protesters - something with supernatural powers - must be responsible.

Even after the incident, Walters was unwillinig to state that, "I pre-judged the situation incorrectly; these people were better behaved than I expected." Reather, he persists with his original prejudice in crediting Jesus rather than the people who were actually responsible for giving him his desired result.

Pulling Out Of Iraq

I am actually quite pleased that the leading Democratic Party candidates were all unwilling to promise that we will be out of Iraq by the end of their term.

An intelligent President will base policy on the available evidence. Every candidate should be well aware of the fact that he or she is going to be presented with facts that she or he does not have at this moment. To make a promise in the absence of that information is to say, "Whatever I do not know that I might learn in the future is irrelevant. It does not matter what else I may learn, my current (though incomplete) knowledge is sufficient."

Clinton's answer, "It is difficult to know what we're going to be inheriting," was entirely correct. It is a statement that says, "I do not have all of the information I need to make a decision, and I will not make that decision until I have the available evidence."

Some people think that they already know the right answer to that question. This is an arrogant, presumptuous, and irresponsible position to take.

This also explains why certain intangibles are important in an elected official. We will not be able to see everything the President sees when making a policy. So, the best we can do is to support a candidate whose character is such that he or she will do the right thing based on the available evidence, including evidence we will never see ourselves.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Local School Does Good and Other Stuff

A local high school is planning a protest against using school time to recite the Pledge of Allegiance tomorrow.

I hope they do well.

In another piece of good news, parts of the Patriot Act giving the President the authority to engage in warrantless searches and seizures without showing probable cause was declared unconstitutional today.

I don't know where the court got that idea. It's almost as if they think some part of the Constitution says:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.


I need to refer back to something in that Bill Mahar clip that I linked to a short while ago – something that simply does not sound exactly right.

Mahar lumped 20% of the population who has no specific religion under the heading ‘rationalist’. While I wish that this were true, it is not true.

Just because a person does not believe in God, this does not mean that he is particularly rational. And, in fact, the greater the numbers who do not believe in God, the more likely it is that those who become atheists will do so for the same reason that people become Christians today – because they unthinkingly absorb whatever views they pick up around them. The only difference is that they happened to pick up (in an unthinking and unreflective way) a different set of beliefs.

In order to be a rationalist, I would argue that some additional criteria are required. An individual has to have a familiarity with logic. He should not only be able to identify at lest the most central concepts in logic, but also be able to recognize at least the most common informal fallacies and actively worried about having a fallacy show up in his arguments – and embarrassed when one is discovered there.

Equating ‘does not believe in God’ with rationalism is a stretch.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Bush's Accomplishment

I have obtained reliable evidence of a threat that will destroy . . . not a few buildings . . . not even a city . . . but a whole state. The nature of this attack is such that it should be possible to move most of the people out of the damage zone ahead of this destruction. However, every piece of infrastructure – road, railroad, airport, home, business, and park will be rendered unusable.

Furthermore, you received intelligence on this threat at about the same time that people were warning you about Al Queida. Unfortunately, you did not care. You dismissed the news as unimportant.

This is the really interesting report. The people that these intelligence reports said would attack the United States – they were your friends and campaign contributors. In fact, any reasonable examination of the evidence would suggest that they put you in office precisely so that you could disarm the nation against their threat, allowing them to act with impunity.

Of course, these assailants were not acting on religious zeal. They were acting on pure profit motive. They saw a way to make a couple billion dollars, and all that it required was the destruction of one American state. And you agreed to be their front man, sent in to the Capital like a Trojan horse to destroy this nation’s defenses so that this attack could succeed.

Scientists now report that, over the course of the next century, America will lose 25,000 square miles of land due to sea level rise due to global warming. This is equivalent to the state of West Virginia . . . gone . . . totally destroyed. This figure only considers the land in the 48 contiguous states, and does not include the damage that will be done to Hawaii and Alaska.

The amount of land will be equivalent to that of West Virginia, but the quality of the land (the land value) will be much higher. This will be coastal land – coastal roads, coastal buildings, coastal parks, coastal businesses, homes, lives, and livelihoods.

We could have prevented this threat. We could have mobilized this country against it. It might have cost a couple of hundred billion dollars – though it probably would not have cost any lives lost or bodies mangled. But it would be worth it to protect this country from such a threat, would it not?

Oh, I forgot again. The people launching this attack were your friends and supporters. You worked for them.

I hope that you are proud of what you have accomplished.

Bush's War Metric

With nearly seven years of experience behind us, we know how the Bush Administration works.

Step 1: Decide what conclusion to support.

Step 2: Invent a metric or an interpretation of evidence that supports the conclusion selected in Step 1.

In Iraq, it appears that the Bush Administration has appointed a group of soldiers to spend their days building Republican Propaganda, giving each Iraqi death the spin that they need in order to count their strategy a 'success'.

In What defines a killing in Iraq as Sectarian?, MSNBC describes a team of military personnel who have been given a set of criteria for classifying deaths that, hopefully, will yield data that that be interpreted in ways useful to the administration.

Before the war, in the famous Downing Street Memo, the Bush Administration was quoted as saying that war is inevitable, and that the intelligence is being fixed to the policy. They are still fixing the data to the policy - selecting only that data that yields the conclusions that they like, and ignoring the rest.

Does it really matter how your neighbors are dying, whether it is a shot to the head or a shot to the body? They are just as dead. And you are just as likely to end up like them.

We really need an administration that has a respect for independent, peer-reviewed processes for collecting and analyzing data so that it can have an honest assessment of what is going on, and make an honest adjustment in policy that is tied to reality - rather than attempting to distort reality to fit a desired policy.

Monday, September 24, 2007

A Rationalist Litmus Test

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad spoke at Columbia University today. Among his remarks, he stated that he questions whether the holocaust occurred, and that his questioning the accuracy of these beliefs represents some sort of academic virtue.

In fact, he is mistaken. Academic virtue does not mean playing fast and loose with clearly documented facts. If an academic finds research that contradicts his favorite theory, then academic integrity means accepting that research and moving on.

As bizarre as it is to deny the existence of the Holocaust, it is really not that much different than doubting the age of the earth, the existence of evolution, or the science of global warming.

If some think that 'the science of global warming' does not belong on this list, I answer that they are the victims of a propaganda campaign. If holocaust denial were as well funded as evolution denial or global warming denial, then this too would be seen as 'controversial'. It's the amount of financial backing, not the quality of the evidence, that distinguishes these three items.

I recently commented on Bill Mahar's 'new rules' where he stated that he has a right to take people's wacky beliefs - including religious beliefs - into consideration when casting a vote.

It is a sentiment that I whole heartedly endorse - and did endorse on October 25th when I wrote, in Religion, Science, and Bigotry that anybody who believes that the Earth is less than 10,000 years old is almost certainly unqualified to hold public office.

I think that we need to create a world culture in which thinking stupid things automatically disqualifies a person from holding public office.

In fact, I would like to propose a litmus test for public office for rationalists.

That litmus test is based on how a candidate answers a simple question.

"Candidate X. In your opinion, how old is the Earth."

If the candidate gives any answer in the range of thousands to tens of thousands of years, that candidate proves himself or herself unfit for public office.

If the candidate gives a wishy washy answer that shows unwillingness to stand up to those who believe in a young earth, then that candidate is unqualified to hold public office.

Every candidate should be required to answer this simple question.

In fact, dear reader, if you can get a candidate to answer this question directly, consider coming here and posting their answer.

That question is:

Candidate X, in 5 words or less, to the best of your knowledge, how old is the Earth?"

Atheists and their Ethics

I still have some serious concerns with the "new atheist" movement, largely because when "new atheists" talk about morality they reveal that they get their morality from a place that is just as frightening as where the theists geti their morality.

Theists do not get their morality from scripture. This is obvious - given the large percentage of moral prinicples found in scripture which theists do not accept (e.g., working on the sabbath and charging interest).

They get their morality from "feelings", and then read their feelings into scripture, embracing those parts that "feel" right and dismissing the rest.

We can see where that has gotten us.

An atheist's "feelings" can be just as vile and corrupt as any theist.

Some theists attempt to give their feelings legitimacy by using scripture - that it was written in the Bible so it must be justified. This is a nice, convenient shortcut where an agent does not have to ask himself, "I feel this way about X, but how should I feel about X?"

Atheists try to give their feelings legitimacy by saying, "My feelings on this matter came through evolution. Therefore, they cannot be questioned." This gives atheist a parallel to the tactic of refusing to ask, "I feel this way about X, but how should I feel about X?"

Ethics is not the study of examining how one feels about something. I have no doubt that the slave owner, inquisitor, Nazi guard, jihadist, etc., all felt pretty good about what they were doing.

Ethics is about how we should feel about things.

And there is no legitimate inference from, "I feel this way about X; therefore, I should feel this way about X."

To the degree that atheists depend on their feeling for morality, I find them no less frightening than theists.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

New Rules

I suspect that some people accuse me of being 'soft on religion' because I reject the argument, "Some religious beliefs are X; therefore, all religious beliefs are X", and because I can understand how a person can believe an absurdity when they are surrounded by people who believe an absurdity.

However, it is perfectly consistent with the proposition, "Some religoius beliefs are X" that "Some religious beliefs are X".

And, so, I have nothing to complain about with respect to Bill Mahar's "New Rules"

As posted at Non Credo Deus.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Righteous Indignation

I have written quite a bit about the need to express condemnation when wrongdoing has been done.

This week, however, seems to have been a week for condemnation at anything that can be twisted into a reason to condemn others, regardless of the facts.

For example, a lot of people were upset at a student in Florida who attended a Kerry function who got hit with a taser. They want to make him a martyr for free speech.
So, when does 'free speech' become a right to interrupt others, deprive them of an opportunity to speak (when they waited their turn to do so), and to monopolize the conversation in a perpetual monologue? That's not free speech - it is quite the opposite of free speech, in fact. Mostly, this is due to people who have decided to look only at the video - the ultimate example of taking something out of context in order to get it to mean what one wants it to mean.

I am not saying that the taser was justified. I was not present at the event myself. I do not know the full context either. However, that does not change the fact that there is no sense in saying that this has anything to do with 'free speech'.

Then there is President Bush's statement at his press conference where he allegedly said that Nelson Mandella is dead. Only, anybody who listens to the press conference can tell what he was trying to say - that Saddam Hussein made it a point to execute anybody who could play the role in Iraq that Nelson Mandella played in South Africa. But, lying about what Bush said in order to score rhetorical points seems to be all the rage these days. Strangely, this seems to come from people who tend to get fairly indignant themselves when they catch members of the Bush Administration lying in order to score rhetorical points.

Third, a number of people are expressing outrage over an advertisement from MoveOn.Org accusing General Petreus of betrayal for fronting for the lies of the Bush Administration. Conservatives apparently want to assert that any accusation against the honesty and integrity of a member of the Armed Forces is an insult to the whole military. Sorry, no, it is not. This, too, is an example of distorting the truth in order to score rhetorical points.

If anything deserves outrage today, it is the people who take fake outrage at pretend offenses. This simply makes it that much easier for people to get away with real offenses. They get to hide in the noise - either committing real offenses without being noticed (like those who engaged in any of the 'protests' mentioned above) or, when noticed, get to dismiss criticism as just another example of mock outrage.

Is it too much to ask that people actually go through a little bit of effort to get their facts straight before they criticize others?

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Pentagon and Solar Power Satellites

The Pentagon, it seems, is interested in promoting a project to collect energy in space and beam it down to earth. ( Space Based Solar Power Fuels Vision of Global Energy Security )

The reason . . .

The Pentagon is anticipating two sources of violent conflict over the next 50 years; energy and water. If the United States can do something that will provide the people of the world with cheep energy, then there will be less of a need to fight wars over the energy. The Pentagon is investigating the idea that satellites in space that collect energy directly from the sun and beam it down to Earth will prevent war.

Over at my other blog, Atheist Ethicist, I have been talking about free rider problems. These are cases where people do not contribute what they should to a 'public good' because the benefits do not go directly into the investor's bank account. Instead, they are distributed among a wide population.

Investing in preventing future wars is an example of a public good. The people who will benefit from not having a future war will benefit whether they invest or not. So, everybody has an incentive to do nothing themselves, while waiting for somebody else to take the first step. So, nothing gets done, and everybody suffers as a result.

It will be interesting to see if this particular public good will get the public support it deserves.