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.