Blog Archives

Atheists are Dumb, Maybe Literally

If you are at the University of Chicago, you may have noticed that the Secular Alliance is currently having an event marathon: a Greta Christina Youtube clip day, a Greta Christina (yes the actual person) talk about Atheism and Sexuality, a “Transfaith” discussion with the Intervarsity Christian Fellowship, a movie night hangout, participation in a Speed Faithing event, and a cookie giveout/free hugs day. This is all within the next one and a half weeks! All of this requires a lot of planning and advertising so people can actually show up and have a great time at our fun events.

It was to our surprise that VP Alex Novet noticed that one of our flyers was heavily vandalized. Take a look here:

Sure, the flyer had a quirky (maybe even offensive) and funny slogan to it. Sure, it may have been a cheap way to entice people come to one of our meetings (using Satanic offerings like ice cream). Sure, we featured a feminist-atheist-queer speaker who loudly criticized the grotesque, extreme immorality that religion is uniquely capable of. Sure, we’re not everybody’s cup of tea.

But atheists are dumb? Really? Literally?

Are we less intelligent on average? Do we make stupid arguments? Do we as a whole act or think in idiotic ways? Is there even any evidence that atheist communities are in fact mindless communities who don’t think critically and intelligently about our world and our place in it?

I’ve had enough of this. What do you think?

Church Visit #1 and Nice Surprises

I, along with some heathen buddies at the UChicago Secular Alliance, are taking a tour of the many religious services around the Chicago-land area. We plan on going to Christian churches, Muslim mosques, Jewish synagogues, and more. We started our journey today at Living Hope, a small Presbyterian church that has its services at one of UChicago’s buildings.

First of all, the music was excellent. It was much more lively and eventful than the last church I’ve been to; a Jehovah’s Witness sermon literally bored me to yawning tears.

Most admirable was the community’s concern with violence and injustice in the local community. Though I don’t agree with prayer as a treatment for a serious problem, people at the church demonstrated that they were very aware of the insane amounts of shootings and criminal activities on our own streets. Inspired by this, I hope to speak to this topic and/or raise awareness at an SSA meeting.

After the sermon, the Pastor gave us a chance to have a Q/A session which was quite productive. We got to ask questions like, “how does faith impact your life?” and “Why do you pray?”

The first question I got to ask related to the service because there were quite a few instances when people prayed for people to get well in a hospital. I was wondering if people actually thought that their prayers would have an effect on the outcome. The answers I got, frankly, really surprised me.

There was a young lady who said she knew prayer worked because she or one of her friends (these things are always anecdotal, so bear with me here) had a miracle cure that was inexplicable. One day, a person didn’t need crutches anymore. The pastor also referenced a few examples in his life when people suddenly got better. I had no idea in this day and age, much less in an environment like the University of Chicago, people still subscribe to these superstitious beliefs about faith-healing. Of course, there was some discussion about scientific studies about the (non)influence of prayer, but few seemed to understand that virtually all the scientific literature pointed to the fact that prayer has no medical effect. Someone briefly mentioned this study which showed that only when patients knew that they were being prayed for was there an effect (and the effect was negative because of performance anxiety).

Anyways, the more interesting part of the discussion came when we discussed topics like morality and “finding hope as an atheist”. Nothing surprised me here, and the arguments on both sides were pretty standard. We got very very good questions from the Christians there too, like “How do you define good?” and “Where did we develop the ability to empathize?”

Of course, I’d be surprised once again. The pastor talked about how great it would be to survive one’s death and live into an afterlife. After all, we could do so much more than just try to leave a legacy here on Earth. My response was simply that, yes, although I find Hell an appalling concept, the idea of Heaven–the idea that one could survive death–is very appealing. It would be great if it were true.

The pastor then replied, “Oh. So you simply don’t see that the Resurrection shows that there is an after-life.”

“What? Did you say that the Resurrection proves that there is an after-life?” asking for clarification when I couldn’t believe my ears.

Do you see where this is going? Even if one could demonstrate positively that there was a Resurrection, there is no possible relevance to the question of whether there is an after-life.

I commented that I myself could be Resurrected, and everything I say could be nonsense. After all, there were many Resurrections in the Bible. Clearly, there was something terribly wrong with his argument.

So the pastor clarified that the Resurrection demonstrated the existence of an after-life because of who Jesus was. He was supposedly an exemplary moral figure, a man who made spectacular claims about the Universe, and performed many many miracles. He even predicted his own future. I found it quite odd that he admits that the Resurrection itself isn’t sufficient; it is only sufficient when it is couple with even more spectacular non-sequitur claims about being related to God, predicting the future, and performing miracles.

But how does that show anything? First of all, I can easily conceive of a (fictional) person who made the spectacular claims that Jesus did, did all the miracles, acted perfectly moral, and fulfilled many prophecies. Yet, he could still be the Devil’s assistant, sent here to trick men into believing an after-life.

But that’s not even the main problem with the argument. The most surprising thing is that this is a pastor advising people on what he believes based on a widely fallacious argument from authority.

Suppose Jesus said something demonstrably true like “for all right triangles, side one squared plus side two squared equals the hypotenuse squared”. It would seem like the pastor would like us to believe that the theorem is true because Jesus said it. I, and most atheists, on the other hand, think that propositions are true or false based on the properties of the thing being referred to (in this case, a right triangle). We believe therefore the only proper way to know if something is true is to study the thing itself (through geometry) and not by listening to authority.

Similarly, answers to questions like “is there an afterlife?” beg for study of the existence of the afterlife itself. We can try to study consciousness to see if it can possibly survive after death. We can refer to cognitive philosophy. We can look at studies of near-death experiences. Maybe the endeavor is futile, and we can’t know the answer.

But too many religious people say they already know, and that it is true because a figure in a desert said it was so, and because he:

i) had a mom who never had sex
ii) could turn water in wine
iii) claimed to be the Son of God
iv) was a perfect moral figure
v) etc. etc. etc.

If we imagine this list going to infinity, would that convince us? Would that convince you?

Always looking for surprises. Until next time, don’t keep the faith.

Liberal Relativism: What Religion Has Become

When reason and logic meet Christianity, this is what you get.

I’ve met and heard of people like John Spong many many times. They flood academic circles like the University of Chicago (and its Divinity School, for example).

It’s quite interesting that the religious people who have the most common sense are the people who stray farthest from their holy books. But this is what we need more of, not less. People like John Spong are much less likely to waste our time by doing things like teaching pseudoscience in public schools, trampling over the separation of church and state, kicking atheists out of the community, preaching the insane idea of salvation by faith, making nutty Rapture predictions, telling kids knowledge about God’s opinion on sex, aiding God’s intervention in the Middle Eastern real estate market, preaching misogyny and intolerance, claiming that your DNA can change if you believe in Jesus, etc. etc.

Christopher Hitchens once asked, “is there even a society that could not be helped with a dose of secularism, reason, and/or Enlightenment?”

SSA Poster Vandalized

Interestingly, when I was photographing the IVCF poster yesterday, I came upon something peculiar on one of our own posters for Superstition Bash. (SuperBash is a huge event put on by the UChicago Secular Student Alliance for this Friday the 13th.)

As you can see, it’s quite faint, and I barely noticed it. But there’s a giant “X,” written with white chalk, on our poster. You can see my chalked finger when I rubbed it.

Now, I never knew there were such ardent defenders of superstitious nonsense. Could it be the homeopathy apologists, or the true believers in Bigfoot? Some of us suspect it was either the crop-circlers or the fortune cookie addicts. I personally believe that it was masterminded by the fanatical practitioners of ESP.

Seriously though, whatever faith-based tribe you come from, drawing on people’s posters is not nice.

This is not the first time UChicago SSA’s posters have been defaced. The last incident involved a conversation with UChicago Bias Response that raised the question of whether the defacing was a “hate crime.”

In other words, we take stuff like this really seriously. And you should too.

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P.S. The Superstition Bash is happening on Friday the 13th of May, and you’re invited! There will be a FREE DINNER and AWESOME ENTERTAINMENT (featuring The Shaft, Occam’s Razor, Voices in Your Head), as well as a whole array of attractions and activities.

It’s sponsored by the Spiritual Life Office at Rockefeller Chapel. It is not offensive, and there’s no reason to vandalize over it.

I hope to see you there. Check out http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=167232626667710 for more information.

Theocratic Intentions on UChicago Campus?

Have any of my fellow UChicago classmates seen this ad put out by the Intervarsity Christian Fellowship?

You’ve probably seen the cheesy video from the National Day of Prayer Task Force that I previously commented on.  That’s exactly where the imagery in the poster is from.

The imagery of the buildings of the three branches of the United States government, shown with hands wrapped in Christian prayer, gives a deeply troubling message about what Christians believe is the connection between church and state. It’s also taking sides on a serious constitutional question, and of course, they are on the wrong side of it.

The apologists are going to spin this as an “interfaith” thing, a movement that is supposed to be some humanistic outreach to people of all beliefs and backgrounds. Don’t be fooled. The vision of the National Day of Prayer, as articulated by ads like the one above, is clearly stated on the organization’s own website:

In accordance with Biblical truth, the National Day of Prayer Task Force seeks to:

  • Mobilize and encourage personal and corporate prayer, regardless of current issues and positions (Colossians 4:2, Romans 12:12, Matthew 18:19-20, Joel 2:13-16, II Chronicles 7:14)
  • Preserve America’s Christian heritage and defend the religious freedoms granted by the Constitution (Deuteronomy 6:6-8, Proverbs 14:34)
  • Emphasize prayer for America and its leadership in the seven centers of power: Government, Military, Media, Business, Education, Church and Family (I Timothy 2:1-6)
  • Foster unity within the Christian Church (Psalm 133:1, Ephesians 4:11-13

They also describe who they are:

Our Task Force is a privately funded organization whose purpose is to encourage participation on the National Day of Prayer. It exists to communicate with every individual the need for personal repentance and prayer, to create appropriate materials, and to mobilize the Christian community to intercede for America’s leaders and its families. The Task Force represents a Judeo Christian expression of the national observance, based on our understanding that this country was birthed in prayer and in reverence for the God of the Bible.

In other words, this is a private organization that perpetuates the lie that this country was founded on Christianity. It doesn’t matter if there are hundreds of examples of what the Founding Fathers believed or wrote. It doesn’t matter if we point out that we have a secular Constitution and a separation of church and state. History and evidence mean nothing to them; they won’t be happy until they get the government to have a “holiday” just for their religion.

Apparently, it isn’t enough that private individuals keep their religion to themselves; it has to be recognized by government, connected to government, and embedded into government. Sometimes, it even has to be sponsored by government, which is exactly what the National Day of Prayer is.

The NDP Task Force is headed Mrs. Shirley Dobson, the wife of Dr. James Dobson. Dr. Dobson, head of Focus on the Family, is an influential evangelical Christian known for his right-wing views on marriage, homosexuality, and education. (He’s a sponsor of the ex-gay, “curing” homosexuality movement, for example.) NDP Task Force and Focus on the Family are officially independent organizations, but they were literally working together from 1991 to 2009.

Where does this put nonbelievers? Nowhere, really. The court cases are still pending.

We’ll just have to sit back and observe the government endorsement of religion.

We’ll just have to watch Christians pretend to support the separation of church and state.

Overt Christian Evangelism on UChicago Campus?

I thought that at a university where 50% of students identify as atheist or agnostic, I will never see such a day. Well here’s what I received from an IVCF email:

What is Contact Evangelism?

From 4th – 9th week, join us (MEIV and AAIV) as we go out in pairs for an hour each week to engage our fellow students on campus in conversations about God and their experiences with faith. It’s an amazing opportunity not only to live out what Jesus commanded us to do and be God’s presence on this campus, but to genuinely listen to them and share the joy and hope that we have in the inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade that God has set aside for us. (1 Peter 1:4)

Nice, isn’t it? Nothing better to complement the spring weather than highly-trained, motivated pairs of Christians (in the Quads, maybe?) telling us about the way of the true master in the sky. If it does happen (and I hope it does), I shall bring my video camera and make it a TV show.

Oh, and there’s more:

Why should I do it?

There are many on this campus who are broken and empty, and the knowledge of that weighs on my heart, especially in light of how we are people that were made for a love everlasting, and it is for freedom that Christ set us free (Gal 5:1). God has placed every one of us specifically on this campus to be part of his mission in redeeming and restoring our friends back to a relationship with him, and so I challenge us as a fellowship to go out this spring quarter and be the fragrance of life for the people who don’t know the grace and love that God has in store for them.

Apparently there are a minority of people on campus who have knowledge that no human being can possibly have. They not only know that we nonbelievers are empty and broken inside, but they also happen to know the correct religion, the correct God, the correct Holy Book, and super-duper amazing details about where you go when you die. And they are going to teach us the truth, two people at a time.

Stay tuned.

Witness a Secular Miracle

Did you know that, according to this blog, Sam Harris died a horrible death on April 1st? Well prepare to witness a miracle.

This Friday, April 8 at 3PM, Sam Harris will be alive and talking at the University of Chicago. He will be accompanied by hundreds of his disciples. It shall be recorded in history a couple decades from now, and this good news shall spread across the world!

This will completely and positively change the lives of those who witness his escape from death and bring the skeptics to their knees.

Keep Trying and Never Give Up

If there’s anything that new-age Christians and “liberal” religious people do, it is that they keep trying and they never give up.

I’m writing this somewhat in response to the graduate advisor for the UChicago Secular Student Alliance. He writes a blog called Sleeping in Sundays, and apparently this Sunday, he couldn’t find a better example of ignorance and dishonesty than from a post by Sam Harris, who, after citing a myriad of verses from it, merely concluded that the Quran gives “a unified message of triumphalism, otherworldliness, and religious hatred” and that Muslims who deny this are being dishonest.

Note that this in no way obstructs what Muslims in particular and religious people in general want to do anyways: interpret and metaphorize every verse that conflicts with 21st century morals. There’s no denying that this is what religious people do. But should this impress us?

The usual argument goes like this:

The reason that we have so many crazies (creationists, genital mutilators, suicide bombers, etc.) and backwards societies (theocracies, religious laws, religious education, etc.) is that there are a few fundamentalists. Why do millions and millions of people take to the streets to call for governments to shut down newspapers? Why do religious societies treat women so horribly? Why do we open therapy camps in this country to treat homosexuality? It’s the fundamentalists. They ruin it for everyone else. Simple as that.

How do they ruin it for everyone else? Fundamentalists: they aren’t as fancy and sophisticated as us. They don’t think about the text. They don’t look at context. They don’t look at history. And most important of all: they don’t “struggle” and “wrestle” with the text. They just give up.

The solution? Let’s have the determination to wrestle with the text. When there’s something in the Bible that is outrageous, you must be reading it wrong. When there are entire stories in the Quran that show the overwhelming superiority of Muslims over atheists, you must be ignoring history. Indeed, if you ever ever have an interpretation of a Holy Book that is upsetting, you just aren’t trying hard enough to contextualize it. The solution to all these social ills is to keep trying, to never ever give up.

When countless societies and millions and millions of religious people fail again and again and again at reaching the “correct” interpretation (one in line with secular humanistic values), let’s keep trying again and again and again to fix it, by wrestling with the text.

What He Learned at Straight Camp

An extremely entertaining guy, Ted Cox showed up at the University of Chicago at an event hosted by the Secular Student Alliance. He is a journalist who pretended to be gay in order to infiltrate multiple therapy camps designed to cure homosexuality. Of course, he’s really straight and an atheist, and he gives an amazing presentation about the history of the religious ex-gay movement and his own experiences.

Here’s a photo tour of our event.

His (beautiful) Powerpoint presentation.

 

Rubberbands were handed out to all audience members. Pourquoi je ne sais pas.

(Actually they were used in the straight camps so that you could fling the rubber band at yourself each time you had a sinful homosexual thought.)

 

It’s a crowded room…

 

Alas, we see him. He gets freaked out by the camera sometimes.

 

Our SSA President giving a short introduction.

 

He begins talking. What does he talk about?

 

He gives a warning/disclaimer to those faint at heart. I was about to leave when I saw “Jesus on a Dinosaur.” Oh the trauma…

 

“Journey Into Manhood” — the Christian straight camp that Ted Cox infiltrated.

 

A group of volunteers taking directions.

 

What they did was re-enact a therapy technique called the “Motorcycle.” It involves giving manly support to the person (via touch) in the middle while singing Christian music. Note: this is not meant to be sexual in any way. Apparently the audience didn’t do it right (we just giggled all the way through), and nobody was cured.

 

Our graduate student advisor looking very interested.

 

Scholars on the connection between the status of homosexuality and the role of women in the Bible.

 

Ted answers questions from the audience.

 

The post-event SSA dinner. Apparently Ted loves beer.

Happy International Women’s Day

Because of a rather unfortunate circumstance known as “being a student at the University of Chicago,” I have been too busy to write about the myriad of topics that I do want to cover. And I’m even late for this one.

But I hope you just had a great International Women’s Day. We in the West like to talk about topics like reproductive rights and “equal pay for equal work.” These discussions are really important, and they should by all means continue.

But let us not forget about less fortunate women in countries and cultures.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali said this in an International Women’s Day speech in 2006. She was specifically addressing the crime of honor killing.

Cultural and moral relativists sap our sense of moral outrage by defending the position that human rights are a Western invention. Men who abuse women rarely fail to use the vocabulary the relativists have kindly provided them. They claim the right to adhere to an alternative set of values- an “Asian”, “African” or “Islamic” approach to human rights. According to this point of view, when husbands, fathers and brothers seek to own us as their property, this is an expression of culture or religion and should be respected.

March 8th is Women’s Day. Every year on this day we celebrate our accomplishments and condemn our suffering. But one day isn’t enough. We need more than a day–more than a year or a decade. We would need a whole century to fight the ongoing gendercide against us.

Finally, we need a worldwide campaign against the cultures which permit this kind of crime. Cultures which endorse the physical elimination of girl babies, which do not feed and care for them, which deny women their rights over their own bodies and fail to protect them in any way from the worst kind of physical abuse–these cultures need to reform. They are not respectable members of the community of nations. Today, on International Women’s Day let’s name them and shame them.

Though not nearly as bad as others, my very own culture is also notorious for its gender bias. In places like southern China, obsession with having a son has led to an overflow of unwanted infant girls and a surplus of as many as 32 million extra males. The result is a society where many females have a dim future and where many males will not be able to find a wife, contributing to problems like human trafficking and crime.

Different places, different problems, same need for reform.

Societies must change, and we should start now.