Happy Thanksgiving, Archie Bunker style

November 26, 2011

Greta Christina posted this amazing clip of a Thanksgiving religious debate on the show All In The Family. Damn, this show was brilliant and ahead of its time:


News From Around The Blogosphere 8.31.11

September 1, 2011

The pale blue dot--that's home. That's us.

1. Earth:  home to 8.7 million species – At least that’s the latest estimate. Two of each of them fit on Noah’s Ark. And if you believe that one, I’ve got a bridge in Brooklyn I’d like to sell you.

2. Sam Harris corrects David Eagleman about atheism – I was unfamiliar with the term, “possibilianism,” but I certainly recognize the position. Eagleman thinks he’s found a position in between atheism and theism; he’s wrong. As Sam Harris says, what he describes is by any other name…atheism.

3. Bill Nye teaches climate science to Fox Business’ Charles Payne   – Bill demonstrates in this clip what a superb science communicator he is. He manages to hold court and deliver a fairly lengthy speech without even once being interrupted by a Fox pundit. It’s remarkable! Even better, when Payne tries to move the dialogue away from the science towards a personal attack on Al Gore, Bill brilliantly takes a moment to first repeat his key message, that global warming is an indisputable fact,  before giving a perfect political response that manages to neither “defend” Gore, who denialists like to pretend personally invented the “myth of global warming” nor falling into the trap of saying something that might be later taken out of context to portray Gore as some wacky alarmist. It’s a perfect performance and a solid win for science communication. That’s why we call him “The Science Guy.”

4. An atheist billboard rejected in Nashville – So what was so shocking that it was too hot for Nashville?

“You don’t need God — to hope, to care, to love, to live.”

How dare those mean, ol’ nasty Gnu Atheists!

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This Week In God 8.10.11

August 10, 2011

1. Three great blogs moving – PZ Myers’ blog, Pharyngula, has moved from Scienceblogs to freethoughtblogs. Though he still posts some of his material at the old site, I’m not crazy about this move because because freethoughtblogs seems more atheist-focused whereas scienceblogs at least gives the impression of Pharyngula being more science-focused, regardless of whether the actual emphasis changes or not. Hermant Mehta has also moved his Friendly Atheist blog to Patheos, a site hosting blogs from many different religious and spiritual perspectives. I think this one was a good move because it gives Mehta’s atheist blog a great opportunity to gain readers among the religious, and this could possibly change some people’s views about atheism. And lastly, blogger Greta Christina will be soon moving her blog to freethoughtblogs. I’m fairly neutral about this because she’s already got a strong atheist readership, so I don’t expect much change one way or the other in terms of her readership.

2. Speaking of PZ Myers, he too has now publicly taken a position on the American Atheists’ lawsuit over the “9/11 Cross.” It seems that even that nasty militant atheist that Jeff Wagg today (I think quite unfairly) called the “FoxNews of atheism” in a tweet agrees with me that it’s just not worth the effort and that we’ve got bigger fish to fry:

I can understand that in principle it’s promoting religion, and I look at that random chunk of steel that forms a crude cross and can see that it is abysmally stupid to consider it a holy relic, but man, if atheists have to police every single act of stupidity committed by the human race, we’re going to get very, very tired. We need to pick our battles better, and this one is just plain pointless.

3. Stephen Hawking’s Curiosity refutes god on Discover Channel – You can watch the whole first installment at the link above…at least for now.

4. Jonathan T. Pararajasingham follows up his videos of 100 academics explaining their atheism with a 25-minute video of 20 academics and theologians explaining why they believe in god. The former is a wonderful collection of brilliant thinkers making intelligent arguments in favor of atheism while the latter is a depressing example of how motivated reasoning can poison the minds of otherwise intelligent people, causing them to make the most asinine and incoherent arguments to defend their indefensible faith.

5. Evolution wins out in Texas – Okay, I’m very late on this story. So sue me. The Texas Board of Education has unanimously come down on the side of evolution in a 14-0 vote, approving scientifically accurate high school biology textbook supplements from established mainstream publishers, rejecting the creationist-backed supplements from International Databases, LLC.

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Once again, ATHEISM IS NOT A RELIGION!

June 28, 2011
Martians shot1

Asantaism is a religion

A commenter recently posted a link to an interesting article about science that I actually think is mostly pretty good. One of the things that briefly comes up is the common canard that atheism is a religion, in a section with the headline, “Atheism is a religion, too!”

My problem with it is that it conflates what’s called “hard atheists” with “soft atheists” and as a result, creates a straw man argument against anyone who identifies under the term “atheist.” No prominent atheist figure I’m familiar with legitimately holds the absolutist position that they know for certain that “there is no Designer.”

And while I may be guilty of occasionally making off the cuff remarks that might give some the impression that that’s the position I hold, it certainly does not describe my actual position. And I find really annoying the fact that I have to constantly clarify this silly semantic point when nobody ever similarly accuses people who say there is no Santa Claus of being too dogmatically certain.

The author points to several quotes cited by creationists to justify the argument:

An advocate for Intelligent Design provided the following quotes from leading evolutionary biologists:

  • “Man is the result of a purposeless and natural process that did not have him in mind” (George Gaylord Simpson, The Meaning of Evolution);
  • “If humankind evolved by Darwinian natural selection, genetic chance and environmental necessity, not God, made the species” (Edward O. Wilson, On Human Nature);
  • “By coupling undirected, purposeless variation to the blind, uncaring process of natural selection, Darwin made theological or spiritual explanations of life processes superfluous” (Douglas Futuyma, Evolutionary Biology).

These are not scientific conclusions. These are statements of sincere personal belief by these authors, who doubtless feel strongly that their beliefs are consistent with their experiences as scientists. But they are essentially statements of faith, and they are out of place in a textbook.

The author goes on to acknowledge that two of the books mentioned are not textbooks but rather are opinion pieces, while the only one that is a textbook, Futuyma’s book, leaves out that quote in the current edition.

But there’s a bigger point here I’d like to make. Merely pointing to arguably audacious quotes that could, in their least charitable interpretation, be interpreted as implying the quoter holds an absolute certainty doesn’t actually prove that they do hold such absolute certainty. For instance, just because George Washington may have once said, “I cannot tell a lie,” doesn’t really mean that he truly believed he literally could not tell a lie, nor would any reasonable person assume such an interpretation. Sometimes public speakers use language that suggests greater confidence than they really hold. This is especially obvious in this age of media punditry. So what? To build an entire point around assuming people are as certain of things as they come off in their rhetoric is silly.

Sure, you can find some random atheists on the internet who will insist on the hard atheist definition of the term but random people on the internet are not legitimate representatives for all atheists; no one is. If the definition you apply to a label does not include all who apply the label, the problem is with your rigid definition, not with those who have adopted that label but don’t fit into your definition.

The fact is that the atheist position I hold, which I covered in my very first article, is simply that no compelling evidence currently exists to support the existence of any gods. That position cannot reasonably be confused for a religion because it neither comes with any dogma, nor is it immune to evidence. Show me compelling evidence for any deity’s existence and I’ll happily change my mind on the subject. Otherwise, you’ve given me no reason to change my position and therefore it would be unreasonable to accuse me of being immune to sufficient evidence. Scientifically speaking, if I’ve never been presented with such evidence, how could you possibly know I would refuse to accept it if it was presented?

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News From Around The Blogosphere 4.26.11

April 27, 2011

1. God is dead – Okay, not really because there is not such entity. But Sri Satya Sai Baba, a man who millions worship like a god because he fools them into believing he can perform miracles with simple parlor tricks is dead. I must say that if not for Sam Harris, I might not have even been familiar with this shamless con artist. Good fuckin’ riddance. Couldn’t have happened to a more deserving individual.

2. Scientists anoint new fly queen - If your as sick of hearing about that bloody royal wedding in limey-land as I am, you’ll probably enjoy this news item:

Masaki Kamakura, a biotechnology researcher in Japan, has identified the protein in royal jelly that turns female worker bees into queen bees, which are larger in size, more fertile, and live longer. So, like anyone else would do upon making this discovery, he tried to turn a regular fly into a queen fly. And it totally worked. It’s a huge discovery in the study of insects:

I guess that makes it the lord of the flies. Now if only we can figure out how to turn Anne Hathoway into the Queen of England. Don’t just sit there. Get on it, scientists!

3.  Measles outbreak linked to one unvaccinated person -

Nine cases in the state have been linked to exposure to one unvaccinated person who contracted the disease in Poland, according to the Salt Lake Valley health department. Epidemiologists have determined that the person exposed as many as 1,000 people this month.

Measles are so contagious that if one person has it, 90 percent of those near that individual will become infected if they are not immune.

There’s also  a major measles outbreak in Europe:

The World Health Organization said Thursday that France had 4,937 reported cases of measles between January and March – compared with 5,090 cases during all of 2010. In all, more than 6,500 cases have been reported in 33 European nations.

Another wonderful vision of a what the world will look like if ruled by anti-vaccine nuts.

4. “New” Atheist open letter strikes a nerve – The other day, Dr. Jerry Coyne wrote an open letter to the National Center for Science Education (NCSE) and British Centre for Science Education (BCSE), criticizing them for going out of their way to criticize more confrontational atheists. This led a number of such prominent atheists to responding in favor of Coyne’s position such as PZ Myers and Richard Dawkins. And now Roger Stanyard of the BCSE is firing back with a complete straw man position that just demonstrate how irrational the critics of confrontational atheists are when it comes to this one issue. His claim is that we want these organizations to embrace atheism when I don’t know anyone making that claim. I, like Myers and Dawkins, just want to see these organizations to leave religion out of the discussion entirely and remain entirely neutral on the subject. That’s all.

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Billy Ray Cyrus scared of atheists adopting highways

February 17, 2011

Discrimination and dehumanization of atheists are nothing new. It’s actually quite common. But rarely do we see hysterical atheist-phobia from celebrities on the level displayed by Billy Ray Cyrus, who despite apparently now having a stained relationship with his daughter, seems more concerned that atheists are maintaining highways. Apparently, when he and Miley Cyrus first drove to Hollywood for Hannah Montana, she noticed a sign reading:

ADOPT-A-HIGHWAY
ATHEISTS UNITED

And that’s when the Cyrus family took the notion of overreaction to grand new heights:

Just before moving out to Los Angeles, the whole family had been baptized together by their pastor at the People’s Church in Franklin, Tennessee. “It was Tish’s idea,” he remembers. “She said, ‘We’re going to be under attack, and we have to be strong in our faith and we’re all going to be baptized…’” And there, driving to work each day in the City of Angels, was this sign. “A physical sign. It could have easily said ‘You will now be attacked by Satan.’ ‘Entering this industry, you are now on the highway to darkness…’”

Do you really see it in such clearly spiritual terms — that your family was under attack by Satan?

“I think we are right now. No doubt. There’s no doubt about it.”

Dude, a simple thank you for keeping the highway clean would suffice. You’re welcome, by the way. Who knew Satan was such an environmentally friendly neat-freak?

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News From Around The Blogosphere 12.27.10

December 27, 2010

1. Christianity loses majority in England – For the first time, an annual British Social Attitudes survey suggests Christianity does not represent the majority of British citizens, with only 42% self-identifying as Christians while 51% now saying they have no religion. America is making progress in that area as well bu still has ways to go, as 26% of Millennials saying they’re religiously unaffiliated compared with 20% of GenXers and 14% of Baby Boomers.

2. What’s the harm in voodoo? - a Haitian mob has taking to lynching voodoo priests over the belief that voodoo is the cause of the recent cholera outbreak. It should be noted that Germ Theory was being argued as early as at least 1700 by physician Nicolas Andry as an explanation for small pox and other diseases and that John Snow contributed to the formation of the germ theory when he traced the source of the 1854 cholera outbreak in Soho, London. And for those keeping track, the Haitian cholera outbreak being blamed on voodoo is happening in the year 2010, over a hundred and fifty years later. That’s like attributing the dishwasher (1850), sewing machine (1851), and pasteurisation (1856) to demons.

3. I usually don’t like seeing children get spanked but PZ does it so well – Occasionally, PZ Myers posts a particularly egregious creationist email he gets and has his fun dissecting and demolishing its points. This time, it was an email from a creationist claiming to be a 12-year-old boy. Now normally I would say leave the kid alone as it seems overly cruel to publicly ridicule someone so young. But to the kid’s credit (if we take his age at face value), it’s fairly well written for a 12-year-old (minus some glaring typos) and it’s actually precisely the same arguments we hear from adult creationists all the time, so I can’t really fault PZ for using this email as chance to educate.

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