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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30 years later, we still miss ya, John

December 8, 2010

Sam Harris & Michael Shermer crush Deepak Chopra & Jean Houston on Nightline

March 23, 2010

Although PZ Myers thinks watching the latest Nightline debate is a waste of time, I highly recommend it, particularly because Sam Harris in particular simply demolishes Deepak Chopra and the other woman. Actually, aside from a few needlessly drawn out stories that go nowhere, Jean Houston was almost nonexistent in this debate and I almost even liked her.

The real debate though was between Sam Harris and Michael Shermer against Deepak Chopra, who couldn’t have made more of a fool of himself. Even a guy in the audience during the Q & A session exposed Chopra’s ignorance.

The common theme in the debate seemed to be exposing Deepak as hack who incorrectly co-opts terminology from both science and religion in order to formulate his own brand of meaningless New Age gibberish. The debate was about whether or not the god concept has a future and Deepak refused to actually address the very topic he was invited to discuss, ignoring the god concept that 99.999999% of the world means when they talk about god in order to promote his own “god” in name only that has no resemblance to what almost everyone on the planet would consider “god.” So then why did you agree to the debate in the first place, Deepak?

This is like if I were invited to debate free will versus determinism and instead demanded that we discuss homeopathy, which I renamed “determinism.”

Deepak was also frequently corrected on his constant misuse of quantum physics as a justification for his incoherent magical claims.

Anyway, it’s a fun debate to watch, so check it out. Here’s the first part:

Oh, and check out Shermer’s post-debate debate with Chopra here. No, I didn’t accidentally type “debate” twice. Chopra and Shermer have continued debating a particularly idiotic claim Chopra made on their blogs.

The crazy in Haiti

January 17, 2010

In aftermath of this devastating act of god in Haiti, who are the Haitians praising? The hard-working people offering aid and relief to them in this time of need? No. The devil, as Pat Robertson says they turned to once before [true story]? No. If you said the very same god that they believe caused the earthquake in the first place, then congratulations cause you’re absolutely correct.

Prayers of thanksgiving and cries for help rose from Haiti’s huddled homeless Sunday, the sixth day of an epic humanitarian crisis that was straining the world’s ability to respond and igniting flare-ups of violence amid the rubble of Port-au-Prince.

Yeah, thanks god for giving us this earthquake. We would have preferred you’d given us a stable government and economy, but this is good too. Does the phrase Battered Wife Syndrome mean anything to anybody?

Beside the ruins of the Port-Au-Prince cathedral, where the sun streamed through the shattered stained glass, the priest told his flock at their first Sunday Mass since Tuesday’s earthquake, “We are in the hands of God now.”

That’s funny, cause I thought you were in “God’s” hands six days ago.

Sadly though, that’s not the only crazy going on in Haiti. There’s also voodoo. But as silly as voodoo is, even sillier is the fact that in the wake of this disaster, mainstream religious leaders in Haiti fear “the fatalism inspired by the voodoo religion would militate against recovery.” Am I the only one who thinks this sounds like Brit Hume’s fear that Buddhism doesn’t offer the kind of forgiveness necessary for Tiger Woods.

The death of the Catholic archbishop along with the destruction of the cathedrals will be seen as potent symbols of the failure of those religions to withstand an act of God, he warned.

Ever think that maybe “God” is trying to tell you something?

Fortunately, not everyone in Haiti is crazy as Richard Dawkins announced Unbelievers Giving Aid, a site devoted to raising money for charitable causes like Doctors without Borders and the Red Cross.

News From Around The Blogosphere 12.27.09

December 27, 2009

1. Indian couple raise controversy by not giving baby religious identityAalif Surti and Aditi Shedde refuse to label their baby with a religion for the birth certificate, as is required in India. It’s also required on other legal documents.

It wasn’t a spur-of-the-moment decision. “A few months into my pregnancy, we had decided that we would not give our child any religious identity,” says Aditi. “We are not against religion, but who are we to choose a religion on our baby’s behalf? We will expose him to the values of different faiths and cultures, and when he grows up he will be free to follow any faith — or none if he wishes.”

. . .

The couple had almost hit a dead end. There were four choices on the form — Hindu, Muslim, Christian and Others. Aditi says she did not want any of them for her child, as even Others required them to identify the sect or community. She argued with the officer some more and finally agreed on Others, but without any identification. “Others is just to facilitate the generation of the certificate. We know our child has no religion,” she says.

2. New Gallop poll says 29% of Americans say religion is out of date –  God is so yesterday. It’s all about sparkly vampires now.

3. Church of England’s new campaign to convert 2-year-olds

Children as young as two are to be targeted as part of a new campaign to recruit young people back to the church, the Guardian has learned.

The Church of England is planning its first concerted drive to engage under- 18s after admitting that it is comprehensively failing to connect with children and teenagers.

Wow, they’re going for older kids than usual.

5. Women sucked in by yoga cult

Say the word cult and many people think of Waco’s Branch Davidians or the horrific mass suicide in Jonestown, Guyana. It hardly seems likely that the term would apply to a chain of clean, airy yoga studios—a brand hyped on some local TV news shows, no less. Yet noted cult experts such as Steven Hassan, Cathleen Mann, Ph.D., and Joseph Szimhart say that Dahn fits the profile. “It’s very aggressive,” says Szimhart, an author of numerous studies on cults. “There’s an indoctrination process that quickly undermines free will.” Adds Hassan, author of Combatting Cult Mind Control, who’s talked to 85 former Dahn devotees: “Dahn has been flying under the radar. But it is one of the more destructive and harmful cults out there.” Hassan also believes that, because Dahn uses yoga to attract members, it has been successful at recruiting young women. “Many women use Dahn centers like regular yoga studios and go home to their normal lives when class is over,” Hassan says. But “a small portion become enmeshed like Lucie did. Of those true believers, many are young, bright, upper-middle-class women looking for their place in the world.”

I love child rapists

4. Fifth Catholic Bishop/child rapist protector refuses to resign – Bishop Martin Drennan’s got some balls! He is personally responsible for possibly hundreds of children being raped, somehow isnt’ going to jail for life, and has the audacity to deny any responsibility for his actions. It’s people like this who make me almost wish there were a Hell.

Creating God in your image

December 1, 2009

A new study on religious Americans by Nicholas Epley from the University of Chicago suggests that the will of God bares remarkable similarity to one’s own personal beliefs. It’s almost like a person is taking their own biases and projecting them onto some imaginary ultimate authority in order to justify their positions. I know. Shocking. Steve Novella also wrote a great blog on this as well.

This brings a few videos to mind:

Star Trek made him an atheist

July 3, 2009

I came across this great article that was linked to by Friendly Atheist and thought it was worth sharing. The writer discusses the atheist and humanist messages that have almost always been a huge part of Star Trek, and how Star Trek influenced his own atheism. In the article, he largely focuses on the common Star Trek theme of gods turning out to be just deeply flawed aliens. Two particular TNG episodes that I think were left out of the article were “Who Watches The Watchers” and “Devil’s Due.”

I do disagree on a few points. Namely, I think Voyager sucked, that DS9 wasn’t always easy on religion, and I can’t believe there was no mention of Star Trek V, which is CRIMINALLY UNDERRATED, especially within the context of a discussion about Star Trek and religion.

Let me take a moment to defend Deep Space 9. First of all, the main religious leader of the Bajoran people (basically their pope) was almost always treated as an opportunistic villain throughout the series. Second, like with the “gods” of previous Star Trek series, the Bajoran Prophets were nothing but an advanced alien race. And in the first season finale of that series, religious fanatics blew up a school because they thought their beliefs were being threatened when the teacher taught the secular, scientific interpretation that “The Prophets” were just “warm hole aliens.”

And with regards to Star Trek V, I frequently cite 3 quotes when debating with the religious. The first is:

“What does God need with a starship?”

Though I usually replace the word “starship” with something more appropriate to the discussion like, “What does God need with a blood sacrifice, etc?” Borrowing from IMDB, here’s the entire context of the excerpt, which concludes with my second favorite quote from the movie, uttered by Dr. McCoy:

Kirk: What does God need with a starship?
McCoy: Jim, what are you doing?
Kirk: I’m asking a question.
“God”: Who is this creature?
Kirk: Who am I? Don’t you know? Aren’t you God?
Sybok: He has his doubts.
“God”: You doubt me?
Kirk: I seek proof.
McCoy: Jim! You don’t ask the Almighty for his ID!
“God”: Then here is the proof you seek.
[Hits Kirk with lightning]
Kirk: Why is God angry?
Sybok: Why? Why have you done this to my friend?
“God”: He doubts me.
Spock: You have not answered his question. What does God need with a starship?
“God”: [hits Spock with lightning; then addresses McCoy] Do you doubt me?
McCoy: I doubt any God who inflicts pain for his own pleasure.

And the last quote I often use from this film is uttered by Captain Kirk within this exchange:

McCoy: We were speculating. Is God really out there?
Kirk: Maybe he’s not out there, Bones. Maybe he’s right here.
[points to his heart]
Kirk: Human heart.

It’s also worth noting that in addition to Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry being an atheist (or humanist), William Shatner shared story credit on Star Trek V. And Shatner too is an atheist:

“I’ve always had sort of an ironic view of life,” the 75-year-old Shatner said. “My belief system is that when this is over, it’s over. That you don’t look down from heaven and wait for your loved ones to join you. There may be some soul activity, but I’m not sure about that. But what I am sure about is that your molecules continue and in due time become something else. That’s science.”

Hand of God or just a big rock?

April 27, 2009

Paul Grayhek has found God. . .or at least God’s hand anyway. . .or at least a freakin’ rock that the gullible are willing to believe is the hand of God enough to pay money just for the rights to the rock (whatever the hell that means).

Grayhek discovered a pattern in the rocks in his backyard. . .a miraculous pattern. Now instead of recognizing that this is just pareidolia of the mind, he’s claiming a 9-foot tall imprint in the rocks is none other than the hand print of God.

And you can tell this has really touched his soul in a very profound way by how he’s decided to put “the rights” to it up for auction on eBay, which everyone knows is the place to auction off truly amazing artifacts. With 3 days left in the auction, the current highest bid is a whopping $250.

There are so many ridiculous things in this story. The first ridiculous thing is the fact that someone actually thinks that this pattern in the rocks is a miracle from God. The second is the fact that this guy isn’t actually auctioning off the rock itself, but merely the “rights” to the rock (whatever that means). And the third is that people out there are stupid enough to buy it.

There’s so much I could say about the blackhole of stupid here but I prefer to get to the question I know is on everyone’s mind. Yes, God’s apparently got smaller hands than Dr. Manhattan, and you know what they say about gods with small hands, right?

I also estimate that God’s foot probably isn’t as big as that of the statue on Lost:


God is 100% real!

April 7, 2009

Wow, I really hope this is satire:

Morality Without Gods

April 6, 2009

DangerousTalk’s blog today about morality discusses some of the problems with basing ones morality off of gods. Now the two greatest arguments that articulate the problems with doing so are not new. They go back about 2500 years: The Euthyphro Dilemma presented by Plato or Socrates and the Theodicy Problem of Evil presented by Epicurus. But this has all gotten me thinking about where morality comes from.

As exemplified in this following clip, evangelical preachers always create the false dichotomy of morality either being objective or subjective:

But the reason why Sean here would never have gotten to his whole Ray Comfort routine if he’d approached me is because morality is both subjective and objective, and is far more complex than someone with zero education in human psychology and biology understands. So the following is more or less my answer to Sean’s question of whether I think morality is subjective or objective.

It’s both. It seems morality has both biological and social components. Biologically, our “conscience” can be found in the pre-Frontal Cortex of the brain, which is our reasoning center. And when someone is born with a faulty pre-Frontal Cortex or receives serious damage to that region in the brain, we tend to see psychotic personalities, someone who either can’t distinguish right from wrong or simply doesn’t care.

monkey-and-birdBut then there’s the social aspects, which we find not only in humans but in other higher order thinking animals. Intelligent species tend to be social animals that recognize it’s in the best interests of everyone in the group to work together for mutual gain. Here they go beyond the mere evolutionary need of protecting the survival of the family genes to altruism towards a group that is not necessary genetically related. And by forming a social contract, they protect each other in hopes that it may be reciprocated when they need the protection. Now humans along with some other species take it to a whole new level by showing altruism towards total strangers as well as even towards other species. Sometimes monkeys will protect a bird and humans will try to save the whales. This is where sympathy and empathy for others comes into play.

But then humans go beyond morality based just on basic necessities. This morality has a foundation in what has been stated already but involves a trial and error process of figuring out what is best for the progress or success of human society. Here’s where human beings, and not gods, come together to form objective and subjective morals without any need of outside agency. And what we come to call “good” is merely what is good FOR US (society) and what we call “bad” is merely what is bad FOR US (society). For instance, allowing people to get away with murder is bad because it’d be hard to run a society when anyone can just be killed at any time, considering that one of the primary benefits to belonging to a society is mutual protection for those in the society. So society needs to create deterrents that keep people from going around killing people. That’s why we have law enforcement in the first place. If a god or gods could be relied upon to protect our interests and if we could be certain of the kind of reward and punishment system of Heaven and Hell after death, there would simply be no need for a civil law enforcement and judicial system among the mortals. So when the religious make the absurd claim that without god, people are free to sin, they completely ignore the presence of any earthly judiciary. As someone who doesn’t believe in an afterlife at all, I wouldn’t wish to waste my one and only existence in jail. But of course I mainly behave because I’m biologically predisposed to sympathize and empathize with those who suffer and because of the social advantages of behaving.

So contrary to the claims of evangelical preachers, it isn’t a choice between morals coming from the absolute authority of an outside agency or being arbitrary. To quote Jean Luc Picard from Star Trek, “There can be no justice so long as laws are absolute.” In fact, I’d argue that anyone who merely follows the orders dictated by an absolute authority is amoral or without morality. That’s why regardless of whether the god in the myth of Abraham originally intended Abraham to kill his son or if he planned to stop it all along, Abraham was not acting morally, and in fact was no better than a Nazi soldier pleading that he “was just following orders.” And of course the Book of Job is a perversial of justice when the just man is punished for the sole reason that he is a just man. This illustrates that the god of the Hebrew Bible is indeed willing to alter his criteria for who warrents punishment. Now there is no afterlife in the Hebrew Bible and so the worst punishment Yahweh dishes out is killing you or turning you into salt. But of course then comes Christian Bible, with the introduction of an afterlife. And as Christopher Hitchens often says, that’s where fun really begins. No longer is merely killing you a sufficient punishment but now regardless of how good or evil you are, if you simply don’t accept Jesus as your lord and savior, that alone is grounds for torturing you in a lake of fire for all eternity. Here’s where Henry David Thoreau’s immortal words require repeating: “Under a government which imprisons any unjustly, the true place for a just man is also a prison.” Sounds kinda like John Milton’s Satan who’d rather rule in Hell than be a slave in Heaven.

I’m sure I could go on further, but I’ll just leave you all with a quote from John F. Kennedy and the beginning of recent panel discussion  I attended called “Morality Without Gods.” The rest of the panel discussion can be found on YouTube.

“A man does what he must, in spite of personal consequences, in spite of obstacles and dangers and pressures. And that is the basis of all human morality.”

-John F. Kennedy