Monthly Archives: August 2012
Do you want a short list of inspirational freethought videos on a day when you want to feel inspired? Well, believe me, it was really, really hard to decide on these ten videos, and even harder to rank them. But here is the list, in all its glorious imperfection. Most of them have been posted on this blog. If you know of a video that you feel should have been included, share with us.
Science has saved more people this very day than religion ever has in all of history. It has been a light in a world of darkness and superstition, and is responsible for astounding improvements in the quality of human lives.
A collection of fierce diseases like cancer should be no challenge for modern medicine, but unfortunately, we aren’t at that point yet. Cancer continues to linger over all of humanity, remaining at the very top of the list in virtually every place for the most common causes of death. For those of us (like my family) who have seen people suffer through this disease, we know that cancer isn’t just a statistic. It’s an experience that tortures the human soul, that creates unwilling heroes and defeated victims, and that makes many people realize that no loving God could possibly exist.
The good news is that we’re fighting back, with effective treatments, cutting-edge research, and caring support–all motivated by our commitment to humanist principles and scientific integrity. Contrary to popular belief, cancer probably isn’t going to be cured in an instance. It’s going to be defeated one step at a time, one improved treatment at a time.
And we’re making a huge difference. The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society talk at SSA Con 2012 highlighted some important points that should inspire us all to become more active.
1) We are curing cancer right now. A couple decades ago, childhood leukemia and many other cancers were practically death sentences. Now, childhood leukemia has an astounding 90% cure rate. In all kinds of cancers, patients have seen dramatic improvements in the quality and length of life, especially when the cancer is detected early. However, progress has been slow for many other cancers, and cancer remains an extremely deadly disease.
2) We will one day phase out chemotherapy and radiation therapy. These treatments have been instrumental in our fight against cancer, and will continue to play a role for a very long time, but their side effects have a huge physical and psychological toll. Some newer, targeted therapies like Imatinib have been “super effective” against very specific gastrointestinal and blood cancers. The hope is to accelerate the transition towards therapies that involve taking pills that produce minimal side effects, leading to huge improvements in the quality of life for patients and their families.
3) New drugs are constantly being developed. Thanks to organizations like the Leukemia and Lymphoma society, new drugs go from clinical trial to fully approved all the time. LLS has been directly involved in funding research for over 40% of the recently approved anti-cancer drugs.
4) Patient education and support are making a difference. Cancer isn’t just about the patient’s disease. It’s about educating people so they understand their disease and what to expect. It’s about forming communities like LLS’s Family Support Groups. And it’s also about helping people in their financial circumstances. In an age where millions of Americans don’t have basic health insurance, programs like LLS’s Patient Financial Aid Program and Co-pay Assistance Program made treatment possible for tens of thousands of people (just in 2011).
How You Can Help
Right now, this is one of the most important things you can do.
The Foundation Beyond Belief has teamed up with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society on the Light the Night project to raise one million dollars. You can support us by donating, fundraising, or participating in the walk at a location near you. Donations from FBB teams will be matched by the Stiefel Freethought Foundation.
You can help out our Chicago-based SSA team by going to http://pages.lightthenight.org/il/ChicagoL12/ChicagoAreaSecularStudentAllianceFBB
At the very least, please donate and help us reach our $2000 goal and approach that $1 million national goal. If you’re near Chicago, join our team and walk with us.
Don’t worry. Inspirationalfreethought is staying put, and will still get just as many updates, if not more.
But do check out my new blog, Of the Hue of Wheat: http://hueofwheat.wordpress.com/
It’s a totally different topic, with a totally different tone. But it’s worth a read to see if you like it.
The following clip was produced ten years after Cosmos aired. It talks about nuclear proliferation, national boundaries, and the environment. His message is as relevant as ever.
Our yearning to explore the frontiers of space will continue to haunt us. We will, as long as we exist, continue the quest to answer the eternal question: are we alone in the Universe?
Curiosity (Mars Science Laboratory) is the next small step in our incredible journey of discovery. It will probe the Martian surface, looking for signs of life. It will look at the climate and geology of Mars to brief us for a possible human mission. It will use advanced, precision tools to look for biosignatures and detailed evidence of past water flows.
All of this is made possible by billions of dollars in investments, and the support of hundreds of millions of people around the world. But it is also the result of thousands of brilliant scientific minds that created its engineering marvels, from the radiation-proof computers that automate its functions to the rocket technologies that propel it closer towards the stars.
Curiosity is a reminder of the need to really, actually do science. Science isn’t just a nice-sounding word. It isn’t a political game. It isn’t something you throw money at (although that would be pretty nice). No, science isn’t easy. It means that some people will have to give their blood, sweat, and tears. It means long hours late at night, crying through physics in grad school or rechecking every little calculation you’ve made. It means asking tough questions and dealing with the chaotic unknowns of outer space, instead of getting easy answers from an ancient book. It means making personal sacrifices, and risking your reputation on a desire to go where few human objects have gone before.
If all goes well, we might see an inspirational scene like this tomorrow:
(Landing of Phoenix, May 2008)
Because I’m an atheist, I am able to touch the intricate fabric of reality. I am able to breathe every moment as close to reality as possible. For there are no angels, no demons, no pixies, no gods, and no fairies. There is but this natural world. And that’s awesome.
Because I’m an atheist, I am able to join a proud community of humanists. A community that prides itself with using effective methods to deal with pressing human problems. A community that doesn’t go around hating queers, women, and non-believers. A community that respects science, that embraces reason, that promotes diversity, and promotes service to all people. A community that generally acts better than most religious ones.
Because I’m an atheist, I disapprove of silence. I disapprove of people who sit and watch the world go by, without lending their voice to what’s right. I am shocked that people aren’t angry at religion, that people seem to always be more concerned about defending the reputation of their religion than standing up unconditionally for their fellow human beings. I am stunned by the amount of nonsense and hate that this society puts up with.
Because I’m an atheist, I can tell the truth about death. I don’t have to go around and do the unethical act of telling people that they have a second life after they die, when in fact I don’t actually know. I am able to tell people that as far as we can tell, this is the only life they have, and that this fact makes their life so much more valuable, and so much more meaningful.
Because I’m an atheist, I have a better idea of how much I don’t know. I am ecstatic about the edges of human knowledge, eager to explore new fields and learn about exciting discoveries. I am thankful to the researchers who toil day and night to bring us closer to reality, and look down upon those who think they know something just because it’s in a book.
Because I’m an atheist, I can be justifiably angry at our circumstances. I don’t have to make excuses for why the universe looks exactly like a cold, godless place. I don’t have to torture my conscience to explain why millions of innocent children suffer and die, despite desperate pleas and prayers from their loved ones. I don’t have to accept the unacceptable, love what is unlovable, praise what is monstrous. I don’t have to view cancer as “god’s will”. I don’t have to accept horrifying natural disasters as “mysterious”. As an atheist, I am glad that I don’t have to reason that poorly, be that dishonest about reality, or care that insufficiently about the suffering of others.
Because I’m an atheist, I promote actions that have an impact. It means no praying, no hovering about a magic pot, no rain chants, and no alternative medicine. No deluding ourselves about salvation. We have to take responsibility for ourselves. As Carl Sagan says, as far as we know, there is nobody out there there to save us from ourselves. If we want to make it to the stars, we have to make this a better, safer planet for the next generation. And we can start by doing things that actually work.
Because I’m an atheist, I know that life does get better. Despite having the privilege of living in a secular/liberal city, during high school, I never thought that the secular movement would take off like it did. I never thought that I would meet incredibly talented, loving, and genuine people in this journey called life. I never thought that the love of learning about reality would consume me, making me more curious, more awed, and more grateful.
To the young person–the high school skeptic, the passionate social activist, the curious mind in an oppressively religious community, the naive science nerd, the questioning philosopher, the ordinary teen–my message is this. Community is much bigger than the place you come from. You’ll see and experience things you never thought would happen.
Join us, and enjoy the incredible ride.