Monthly Archives: April 2011

Telling the Truth about Science and Religion

Thank you PZ Myers for telling it as it is. Science is, on a fundamental level, as incompatible with religion as truth is with bullshit.

He destroys the common belief that science and religion can support each other. Myers has no respect for people who merely compartmentalize their conflicting beliefs.

He agrees with me when I say that you either believe that evolution occurred as it is empirically observed–a natural process with no apparent direction and purpose–or you don’t. You don’t get to say that “Yahweh supervised it” or “Allah guided it,” or make any pseudoscientific and unfalsifiable assertion that somehow this process was directed to create homo sapiens in particular. Theistic evolution is a vulgar perversion of science.

There is to be no compromise on the part of science to accommodate the religious. Christians can pervert their religious beliefs, can change their interpretations of the Bible, can twist and change their positions in astronomy, geology, biology, medicine, etc. all they want. They can make Adam and Eve not literal people but metaphors for homo sapiens. They can say the flood was a myth. They can pervert their religion all they want to fit in with modern, secular science.

Scientists should never return the favor.

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I Miss Christmas

Sometimes we need to be reminded of our connection to the rest of humanity; we are all in this world together, and we should live each day with love and compassion.

You are listening to Vienna Teng, an Asian-American singer-songwriter who graduated with a degree in computer science from Stanford and decided to pursue a career in music instead. She has since released many best-selling albums and has been featured on programs like David Letterman and NPR’s Weekend Edition.

Her music is simply beautiful; both soothing and refreshing at the same time, it brings out her reflective and introspective nature. There are no overly-sexualized lyrics or nonsensical Lady Gaga “rarr rarr’s”. The lyrics are so incredibly human that they become surreal, blended in a perfect melodic unity. That’s what I call inspirational.

Too Sick to Speak and Staring at Death, Christopher Hitchens Addresses His Friends

Dear fellow-unbelievers,

Nothing would have kept me from joining you except the loss of my voice (at least my speaking voice) which in turn is due to a long argument I am currently having with the specter of death. Nobody ever wins this argument, though there are some solid points to be made while the discussion goes on. I have found, as the enemy becomes more familiar, that all the special pleading for salvation, redemption and supernatural deliverance appears even more hollow and artificial to me than it did before. I hope to help defend and pass on the lessons of this for many years to come, but for now I have found my trust better placed in two things: the skill and principle of advanced medical science, and the comradeship of innumerable friends and family, all of them immune to the false consolations of religion. It is these forces among others which will speed the day when humanity emancipates itself from the mind-forged manacles of servility and superstition. It is our innate solidarity, and not some despotism of the sky, which is the source of our morality and our sense of decency.

That essential sense of decency is outraged every day. Our theocratic enemy is in plain view. Protean in form, it extends from the overt menace of nuclear-armed mullahs to the insidious campaigns to have stultifying pseudo-science taught in American schools. But in the past few years, there have been heartening signs of a genuine and spontaneous resistance to this sinister nonsense: a resistance which repudiates the right of bullies and tyrants to make the absurd claim that they have god on their side. To have had a small part in this resistance has been the greatest honor of my lifetime: the pattern and original of all dictatorship is the surrender of reason to absolutism and the abandonment of critical, objective inquiry. The cheap name for this lethal delusion is religion, and we must learn new ways of combating it in the public sphere, just as we have learned to free ourselves of it in private.

Our weapons are the ironic mind against the literal: the open mind against the credulous; the courageous pursuit of truth against the fearful and abject forces who would set limits to investigation (and who stupidly claim that we already have all the truth we need). Perhaps above all, we affirm life over the cults of death and human sacrifice and are afraid, not of inevitable death, but rather of a human life that is cramped and distorted by the pathetic need to offer mindless adulation, or the dismal belief that the laws of nature respond to wailings and incantations.

As the heirs of a secular revolution, American atheists have a special responsibility to defend and uphold the Constitution that patrols the boundary between Church and State. This, too, is an honor and a privilege. Believe me when I say that I am present with you, even if not corporeally (and only metaphorically in spirit…) Resolve to build up Mr Jefferson’s wall of separation. And don’t keep the faith.

Sincerely

Christopher Hitchens

Christians Love Children?

Let me get this video straight. Christianity is dying. Why? Because Christians are not having enough kids.

Combine that claim with a barrage of accusations that secular society is prizing “prosperity” over children, and I can’t help but to post a response. Let’s make the facts clear:

A. You don’t get points by having more children.

Seriously. Being fruitful and multiplying is precisely the problems that have plagued so many nations.

B. Children are not mindless robots who should be indoctrinated into the religion of their parents.

It’s very disturbing the way people talk about children who either haven’t yet been born or are way too young to be able to decide their own religious beliefs. It’s very disturbing to hear children being labeled like that, as Muslims or as Christians or even as atheists. Why shouldn’t children be taught about every major religion and be expected to choose their own beliefs?

C. Society will not go back to the days when women were baby factories.

Believe it or not, but in free and prosperous societies–societies that you think devalue children–people (and especially women) can choose their own reproductive destinies. They can choose to pursue their dreams, their careers, their own lifestyle. They don’t have to get married at all. There are people who think that there’s something wrong with this, but there isn’t.

D. You have no idea why Christianity is dying in America.

Religion is dying in places like America because more and more people are speaking out against its innate absurdities. Improvements in science and education have hurt the claims of the religious. The world is also becoming more interconnected, and people can access information much more easily from many different sources. This free marketplace of ideas is precisely the environment in which religion does not thrive.

E. If you want to spread Christianity, you should give reasonable arguments and evidence.

Having more kids to indoctrinate is precisely the tactic you use when you realize you are losing the argument on the basis of evidence and reason.

The sad thing is that the people who heard that sermon probably nodded and agreed wholeheartedly. After all, what can we expect from people who have been told to obey and to act like sheep?

The Most Important Earth Day Message Ever

Carl Sagan showed us that in this demon-haunted world–a world of endless divisions, hatreds, and superstitions– we are all sitting on a pale blue dot, a mere momentary speck of sand in a universe full of stars. He challenged us to be reasonable and kind to each other, and he taught us that science is the brightest candle we can hold to the darkness of human conceits and biases.

Earth Day is a day when we should recognize that we need to keep this planet in order, not just environmentally but politically, economically, and socially. We need to keep Carl Sagan’s dream alive. And if the day ever comes that we discover that there is more to life than in our little corner on Earth, we’ll remember that Sagan knew it all along.

Kids Say the Darndest Things

Half of this video is filled with the same old Pat Robertson (he’s actually in the video) nonsense. These mistaken ideas include:

a) Majority always rules.
b) America is a Christian nation.
c) “In God We Trust” and “Under God” have always existed.
d) The Founding Fathers were Christians and were motivated by Christianity.
e) The “Creator” in the Declaration of Independence refers to the Christian deity.
f) The Ten Commandments is a good framework for morality.

If you suffer from any of the delusions above, I suggest starting to read about American history. You can start with the writings of the Founding Fathers, especially those of Thomas Jefferson, who actually drafted the Declaration of Independence. You can also read the entire Constitution, the very document that made this country. You can also read about the Red Scare (and the events that led to edits to the Pledge of Allegiance). You should also read the Ten Commandments and then try to explain how the first three commandments have anything to do with morality.

But aside from the terrible attempt of the creators of this video to maintain “balance,” there are some very good stories in here. Especially inspiring is the struggle of students to fight for their rights (to start a high school group or to go to a religiously neutral public school, for example) and the amazing work that the Freedom from Religion Foundation is doing around the country. We need more leaders like the brave kids (and their supportive parents) in this video to stand up for what is right.

A Hunk of Rock and Metal

“We live on a hunk of rock and metal that circles a humdrum star that is one of 400 billion other stars that make up the Milky Way Galaxy which is one of billions of other galaxies which make up a universe which may be one of a very large number, perhaps an infinite number, of other universes. That is a perspective on human life and our culture that is well worth pondering.”

-Carl Sagan

I Admit, I Was Wrong About Christians

I used to make the argument that there’s something fundamentally wrong with Islam because we know that many Muslims will instantly resort to acting like savages when a piece or art or cartoon offends them. After all, we don’t see Hindus burning embassies and organizing by the millions to shut down newspapers in democratic countries. We don’t see Jews blowing others up in response to Holocaust denial. We don’t see Christians acting crazy in response to artwork like “Piss Christ,” do we?

Well, as I read the Guardian online today, I found out I was wrong.

On Saturday, around 1,000 Christian protesters marched through Avignon to the gallery. The protest group included a regional councillor for the extreme-right Front National, which recently scored well in the Vaucluse area in local elections. The gallery immediately stepped up security, putting plexiglass in front of the photograph and assigning two gallery guards to stand in front of it.

But on Palm Sunday morning, four people in sunglasses aged between 18 and 25 entered the exhibition just after it opened at 11am. One took a hammer out of his sock and threatened the guards with it. A guard grabbed another man around the waist but within seconds the group managed to take a hammer to the plexiglass screen and slash the photograph with another sharp object, thought to be a screwdriver or ice-pick. They also smashed another work, which showed the hands of a meditating nun.

What a shame. Apparently, we can never count on religious people to keep their feelings under control. We must always be prepared for a kind of reaction that stems from the fact that these people think they know some amazing details about the supernatural. We must realize that any criticism of their power to do so could lead them to harm us.

Secular society is quick to condemn the actions of these fundamentalist Christians, but it must hold all religions to the same standard. If it is unacceptable for Christians to act this way in response to blasphemy, it is unacceptable for any religious group to riot, to destroy property, or to harm human life–no matter how their religious figures are depicted.

Big History

Many cultures and civilizations talk about “understanding their own history”, but there’s a common history that unites all of us.

The Double Standard

When a group of students set up a table at Larkin High School for Ask An Atheist Day, the principal didn’t think it was such a big deal.

“Kids could come up to the table and ask them questions,” Tuin said. “Students didn’t have to go up to them and talk. It wasn’t like a group came in to do a presentation.”

Exactly. Atheist groups have a right to have their own tables, just like any other student group in the high school. But apparently, some parents weren’t very happy.

“They were here to talk about atheism,” said Shavon Stanback of Elgin. “That’s totally unacceptable to me.”

She continued: “I’m a Christian woman. I believe in God. I believe in heaven and hell.”

While this woman is just completely outrageous, this attitude of “why are atheists here at all?” is very common.

I’ve been asked countless times why the SSA exists on campus, most often from people with the presumption that the group is pointless to begin with.

There’s also the double standard. The students at Larkin High weren’t even proselytizing. They were not going out and interrupting people in the halls or making announcements on the PA system. They weren’t confrontational at all, and they only made contact with people who chose to come and speak to them.

But for the mere act of having a presence, atheists are labeled as “militant,” as people willing to push their beliefs on others.

And when religious groups go further and actually proselytize (notably the Christian ones), they are seen as contributing to the overall discussion and stirring up valuable debate.