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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Church gets atheist billboard removed

July 20, 2011

NYC Atheists jumps the shark

July 9, 2011

Though very involved with various NYC-based atheist and skeptical groups under the banner of Reasonable New York, I’ve never been a big fan of NYC Atheists, which I’m far from alone in finding off-putting. NYC Atheists isn’t part of the Reasonable New York coalition and does their own thing, which is fine, but they’ve never shown particularly welcoming of differing opinions.

And recently I and others have taken issue with their threats to sue New York City for naming a street “Seven in Heaven Way” in honor of a group of fallen firefighters during 9/11 on the grounds that it violates separation of church and state. The problems with this action are multitude  not least that this is the most liberal interpretation of the First Amendment I’ve ever heard and that they’re opposing a monument to fallen 9/11 firefighters.

Well, after Hemant Mehta criticized the move, Jane Everhart, Director of Communications of NYC Atheists responded with ten points:

  1. The Brooklyn, NY reporter who wrote the original story (which has now gone worldwide, thanks to Reuters) got it right when she wrote that the “Seven in Heaven” street sign “endorses the religious view that afterlife exists.”
  2. Those who wrote about the Establishment Clause in the Constitution got it right — and wrong. It’s true that the First Amendment says merely that the state cannot establish a religion. However, case law has gone beyond that. In the Philadelphia case of Lemon v. Kurtzman (1971) the precedent was established that subsequently forced Alabama’s Judge Roy Moore to remove from his courthouse a standing monument with the 10 Commandments on it. The decision (later to be known as the “Lemon Test”) established that you cannot place religious symbols in public places where other people are forced to endure them. I.e., you can’t shove your religion down our throats.
  3. NYC Atheists is not concerned about any “bad” public relations we would get by filing a suit. We have found the opposite to be true: We got 25 new members in the first week the story broke. Apparently a lot of people who have been silent are encouraging us now with their money and their presence in our ranks.
  4. A lot of your blog people think seem to think that this is an “unimportant” issue. We did not choose this issue; it chose us. Once it broke in the newspapers, all hell broke loose. Nationwide! And now, Reuters has made it worldwide. I worked for 10 years in a New York public relations firm as a P.R. account writer/supervisor, and one thing I learned: the media controls what stories it wants to cover. You can send tons of press releases to the media and they won’t pick up on the story you want them to cover. So when they bring a story to you, you pay attention. This street sign story is important not because we say so, but because the world says so.
  5. This story is not about the seven firefighters who died — and not even about their families. We too honor the firefighters. That’s why we resent that they are being exploited as an indirect advertisement for a religious afterlife in a heaven that the dictionary describes as the place “where God and angels live.”
  6. The church has become expert at subliminal religious imprinting. And I assure you they too have a public relations office that, even as I write this, is pondering how to deal with our potential suit. We have already sued Bishop DiMarzio of Brooklyn’s Catholic diocese once for making robocalls during the last election to plug a candidate that was soft on clergy child-abusers. That case was thrown out of court. Brooklyn is heavily Catholic. We’re not afraid to sue again. Whatever it takes, we’re prepared to do it.
  7. We have said publicly that we do not wish to change the names of places like “San Francisco.” Those religious names were affixed a couple of centuries ago and have mostly lost all connotation of religon. Nobody thinks of San Francisco as the city of St. Francis. If anything, they think of San Francisco as the city-where-many-gay-people-live. Besides, that’s naming a city after a person, not after an idea or a religious precept. But, as Ken Bronstein puts it, we are now drawing a line in the sand and saying, OK, no more. No new religious “product placement” on our street signs!
  8. The “Seven in Heaven” street sign was paid for by the City of New York, using our tax money. As atheists, we pay taxes and we do not want our hard-earned money to be used to pay for an advertisement for a religious afterlife. You may ask, don’t the religious people also pay taxes? But that does not give them the right to put their religion on a public street sign. We cannot; they cannot.
  9. Are we denying religious advocates their freedom of speech? No. They can spout their religious aphorisms in their churches, in their homes, on their private property. They just can’t do it in public places where it constitutes forcing their religion in our faces. But nobody, nowhere, has complete freedom of speech. You cannot yell “Fire” in a crowded theatre. You cannot slander or defame somebody.
  10. Picture this. You, B.A. (before Atheism), are walking by the “Seven in Heaven” street sign with your 5-year-old kid. He says, “What does that mean, Mommy? ” You say, “It means seven brave firefighters died in the collapse of the Twin Towers on 9/11.” “Why are they in Heaven, Mommy?” “Well, that’s their reward, son, for being heroes.” “Will I go to heaven, Mommy?” “Well, um, if you are good.” “Will you go to heaven too, Mommy?” “Well, I guess so.” “Will I be there with you, Mommy?” You, bristling: “Well, look, I don’t know.”Do you want to go through that conversation with your child? I don’t. But that’s going to happen with scores of borderline-religious moms and dads. Look, if advertisements can get kids to eat Fruit Loops, advertisements can get kids to worry about heaven and hell. And there it is, staring at them: That ad up there on the street that says if you are good, you will go to Heaven and be with the Firefighters. Fruit Loops, anyone?

Sigh. Please allow me to retort.

1. The word heaven has been fairly secularized at this point. Does it have religious connotations? Sure. But a lot of phrases in our modern vernacular have religious origins. So what? The sign doesn’t need to be taken so literally. It’s just a nice gesture, like exclaiming, “Jesus Christ” to express frustration or saying “god bless you” when someone sneezes. Now I usually try to remember to say something like, “Zeus bless you,” but even I slip sometimes.

2. Now it’s true that later Supreme Court decisions broadened the definition of the Establishment Clause, but this is a fuckin’ street sign. I’m sure there are whole towns in America with religious-themed names. I’m not suggesting that that makes it okay. Ideally, the government would not issue a name with a religious context to anything but it’s hardly infringing upon the rights of people who don’t believe in a literal heaven like atheists or Jews. Whereas a Ten Commandments display outside a courthouse does suggest the endorsement of Judeo-Christianity, as the Supreme Court decided. A street sign is hardly shoving anything down your throat. Get real.

3. Hope that whopping 25 new people covers their losses with this dumb publicity stunt. And that’s what this is, a publicity stunt. So to claim you don’t care if it causes bad publicity is laughable. No other explanation can come close to justifying such a misplaced sense of priorities. This is NYC Atheists following the PETA model of fanatically caring more about getting media attention than what is actually best for the cause they claim to be fighting. Not only will atheists be seen as making much ado about nothing but you’re actually fighting a memorial to fightfighters who died during 9/11. This will be a spectacularly bad PR move. It will backfire and set back our efforts for acceptance in mainstream society. Fox News’ goal is to turn viewers against us, so why would any atheist organization want to feed into their stereotype?

4. The issue most certainly did not “choose you.” That’s retarded. Most activists learn to choose their battles. There are many more important battles we could be fighting without wasting our time on a fuckin’ street sign. How about the “In God We Trust” letters in New York City’s court rooms? Where’s the outrage about that? No, you’d rather attach yourselves like ramoras to a more newsworthy event for publicity.

5. No, for everyone who isn’t NYC Atheists, it most certainly IS about the seven firefighters who died. That’s the story the media will present because, let’s face it, that’s the narrative you’ve framed yourselves into, the atheists versus 9/11 fightfighters story. Congratulations. Nobody’s going to buy after this that you believe in honoring these brave men. If you did, they’ll say you should just let this one go rather than cause greater emotional distress to the families of these victims.And are we really going to get caught up in dictionary definitions? The dictionary also defines a marriage as a union between a man and a woman. Yay dictionary!!

6. I don’t think any of these religious PR departments are even remotely concerned about this potential lawsuit. They might even send you a present as a thank you for handing them such an easy political victory.

7. Now this is just a lame excuse to explain away your transparent hypocrisy. You have no interest in changing the name of San Francisco because it’s been here too long to be newsworthy, whereas this street sign is current news. It’s funny how you have no problem recognizing how dumb fighting a name is in one instance but not the other. True, nobody thinks of San Francisco as the city of St. Francis, but nor does anyone think literal of a literal heaven every time they see the word.

8. Regardless of what it was named, it’d still be using our tax dollars. Please explain again how this is personally affects your life or livelihood.

9. How the fuck did you get from the word “heaven” on a street sign to shouting fire in a crowded theater?

10. Oh my god (don’t sue me NYC atheists)! Bill Donohue is running the NYC Atheists! How else can you explain this lame argument that having to explain religion to a five-year-old child is offensive. This is exactly what Donohue and other homophobes say about schools recognizing homosexuality. They say their kids shouldn’t have to be exposed to it. And of course, if not for this one sign, those kids would never have found out religion exists. Poor you. Poor, poor you having to actually explain things to your kids. I feel your pain.

NYC Atheists has officially lost their fuckin’ minds. I don’t know whose interests they’re supposed to be representing but it certainly isn’t mine. Just don’t do it. It will fail spectacularly and the rest of us will have to suffer the consequences for this stunt.

Hemant Mehta also made a great point:

The reason the media is covering this story is not because it’s an important issue. It’s because it’s ridiculous to most people that anyone would be upset about a sign honoring firefighters who died on 9/11 and the media wants to capitalize on that public rage.

I’m all for getting media attention but not bad press. Our goal should be to steal media attention in instances where we’ll be framed as the heroes of the story. Or at the very least, as the victims. You never, never want to be the guy who goes up against 9/11 victims’ families. Any “Communications Director” who can’t figure that out is incompetent.

(Need proof? See: related articles headlines below)

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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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