Kansas rejoins 21st century

According to Red State Rabble, the Kansas State Board of Education has adopted a new set of standards that undoes the damage done by creationists, and assures that science classes will actually be teaching science. It was only a 6-4 victory, though, indicating the forces of politicized ignorance still have a strong presence there in the heartland. But for now, students from that state won’t find schools actually making them stupid, however much they may not appreciate it.

In commemoration of this event, one day after Darwin Day, allow me to post the following inspirational message, shamelessly ganked from somebody’s MySpace page.

Eeeek! Teh gayz! Run awaaay! (Part ∞)

Here are a few things we can say with confidence about fundies. 1) They really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really don’t like homosexuals. 2) They really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really don’t like evil librul Hollywood. 3) They really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really like feeling persecuted. 4) And (I’ll spare you the “reallys” this time) they like complaining, especially when there’s the possibility of putting facts #1-3 together, and the media happens to be paying attention.

Consistency is never a fundamentalist’s greatest skill, which is why they love to complain about all the vile sinful filth coming out of Tinseltown’s studios, and yet when one of those very studios puts out a movie about the baby Jesus during the Christmas season, none of them goes. No, they’re much more empowered by all the stuff they can point to to prove they’re the victims of an endless war against their precious values, stuff like The Last Temptation of Christ, Saved!, or Life of Brian.

This time the ire is being directed towards a little Canadian independent comedy, Breakfast with Scot. It’s about a gay couple, one of whom is a former hockey player for the Mapleleafs, who are raising an adopted 11-year-old boy who apparently enjoys dragging up himself. If you think fundies have been quick with the picket lines in the past, this time they’ve set a new land speed record for “reactionary.” Scot hasn’t even wrapped principal photography! And already, a fundie onslaught, led by San Diego-based lunatic and “former homosexual” (what, another one?) James Hartline, is underway.

It’s not enough that Hartline has the creepiest looking neck I’ve ever seen on a hominid. (Scroll down.) Just to give you an idea of the extent of his asshattery, he’s the kind of guy who says stuff like this and actually means it:

While Breakfast With Scot is seeking to pervert society’s standardized views on family, the film does more to reveal how intent the radicalized homosexual movement is in creating an epidemic of gender confusion to justify the institutionalization of its beliefs on transsexualism and transvestitism.

Remarkable how Hartline knows all about what a movie seeks to do, when he hasn’t even seen it, because it hasn’t even frickin’ wrapped! But of course, the question that all sensible — did I say sensible; how about simply “non-insane”? — people find themselves asking when confronted with histrionic homophobia of this sort is: how in the hell can a movie “pervert” an entire society’s “views” on traditional marriage and family? Let alone launch an “epidemic of gender confusion.” Just because a guy like Hartline is so out of his fucking nut that he can go see a gay-themed film and walk out of the theater not being able to tell the difference between men and women doesn’t mean the rest of humanity is similarly disadvantaged.

It’s the same fear-crazed thinking behind the idea that gay marriage is some kind of “threat” to traditional straight marriage, as if, the minute gay people are granted marriage rights, all heterosexual unions will be declared null and void, and all children will be shipped off in bright pink government-issued Winnebagos to indoctrination camps, where they’ll be subject to rigorous homosexualist training. Boys will be required to play with dolls, listen to ABBA, and get in touch with their feelings, while girls will be educated in the finer points of metalshop and power-tool use, have their hair cut into mullets, and upon turning 16, get their very own pickup truck.

Hartline certainly seems convinced that one little movie will have the power to demolish Western civilization.

The National Hockey League is now becoming a willing partner with the fringe elements of the radicalized homosexual agenda and their ultimate goal of worldwide sexual anarchy.

Worldwide sexual anarchy? Is that what gay people have been after all these years? Dude! And you’d think, with the push towards gay marriage, that what they’ve really been after is to, you know, settle down with someone they love as life partners, raise families, and live just like everyone else. Now I see, through the wisdom of Hartline, that that’s all just a ploy. It’s all about running around the streets like Bozo the Clown on meth, fucking everything you see — trees, lampposts, small foreign cars, indignant stray cats.

Where would we be without courageous men of action like James Hartline, watching out for our welfare though we mock him without mercy? Without Hartline heroically flinging himself bodily in the path of radical homofascianarchalistas, I might well have found myself unwittingly taking it up the old dirt road today while going out to fetch my mail! It’s the kind of thought that makes you want to hug your teddy bear…if doing so weren’t so gay!

I think I know where Capri Films, the producers of Breakfast with Scot would be: without the greatest publicity any indie film could hope for. I can only imagine how delighted they must be at the attention Hartline’s given their little movie, which will now doubtless ride a wave of buzz into the Toronto Film Festival and wherever else they choose to submit it. I can only hope that when I’m ready to do my first narrative feature, I can somehow manage to rub some unhinged fundamentalist the wrong way. It’s good for at least a limited theatrical release and a few hundred grand in DVD sales!

Happy 198th to Chuck D!

As Ed Brayton points out, February 12, 1809 was the day the world got both Charles Darwin and Abraham Lincoln. A great day for humanity indeed!

The Center for Inquiry Community of Austin hosted a wonderfully successful Darwin Day celebration at Book People on Saturday. I’ve posted 20 photos from the event, thanks to Marla Shane, at the CFI-Austin MySpace page (I think you have to be a MySpace member to view the pics), and the Daily Texan Online has a nice article as well, even if they make a bit too much hay over the “controversial” nature of evolution. (It isn’t controversial at all among actual scientists — duh.) So have some cake today to commemorate one of the most important scientists who ever lived! (Mmmmm…cake.)

Leileu: a follow-up

Turns out I do have a picture, courtesy of Hollye. RIP, ol’ girl.

A few folks have asked me about helping out Purrfect Hearts, Hollye’s shelter. Right now, she could use — as all shelters could — donations, particularly for litter, which you tend to go through stupefying quantities of when you’re taking care of fifty cats. You cat fanciers can make Paypal donations here. (Yes, I’m the webmaster for the shelter, so you can e-mail me with queries.)

In which I school a poor, dumb, well-meaning believer, and buy her a ticket to the Clue Train

Apropos of nothing, a believer named Beth showed up in the previous post’s comments, and offered up a series of banal arguments of the type that no informed Christian apologist would even waste time with. They’re Jack Chick dumb, which means their persuasive content is zero and that they’ve been on the “Refuted and Inactive” list for decades, if not longer.

My guess is that Beth heard these inanities at church, Bible study, or Sunday school, or read them on one of the more feeble Christian apologetics sites (or heck, even a Chick tract), and thought she’d drop by here to stump us with them, not realizing they’re DOA. She is now, for her pains, about to be schooled. Don’t worry, I’ll be gentle; I’m all for people who want to stand up and defend their faith to us doing so. But good grief, at least make sure you know what arguments not to make in the interests of not making a complete chimp of yourself. Consider this a public service.

Beth’s first paragraph:

Have you ever stopped to think that there is really no such thing as an atheist? To be adamant that there is no God, you must know everything that there is to know. You must have 100 percent of all the knowledge of everything in the universe. Let’s assume you have 1 percent (which would be high for the average person) of all knowledge. That means that you do not know 99 percent of all the things there are to know, so you are really agnostic, because you dont know if there is a God because you cannot know everything.

Problem #1: Beth is ignorant of the distinction between atheist and agnostic. But so are a lot of people, including many unbelievers, so I’ll cut her some slack here.

Agnosticism/gnosticism has to do with epistemic claims, ie., what one claims to know, while atheism/theism has to do with what one chooses to believe or not believe. Belief and knowledge are two different things. One can admit one has no firm knowledge of the existence of a god, and yet, for whatever personal reasons, choose to believe or not believe despite that lack of knowledge. I am agnostic in that I admit to lacking definite knowledge of God’s existence (and, if they were honest, Christians would have to categorize themselves thus as well). But, as I think the evidence and arguments I’ve heard to date in favor of God’s existence have been lousy at best and incoherent at worst, I choose not to believe in such a being, making me atheist. I am thus both agnostic (I don’t know) and atheist (I don’t believe).

The claim that one “must have 100 percent of all the knowledge of everything in the universe” in order to disbelieve in God takes idiocy almost to the level of criminal negligence. Honestly, Beth, whoever sold you this one ripped you off big time. You’ve suffered some serious intellectual short-changing here. You should demand a refund forthwith.

Take this sentence you wrote:

To be adamant that there is no God, you must know everything that there is to know.

…And replace the word “God” with any one of the following:

  • Zeus
  • Thor
  • Shiva
  • Amun-Re
  • Santa Claus
  • Tooth Fairy
  • Giant teapot orbiting the sun
  • Purple telepathic flying bunny rabbits on Neptune

Now do we see the stupid? If not, consider: no one alive is omniscient. Therefore, omniscience cannot possibly be any kind of sensible prerequisite for any knowledge claim. One must make knowledge claims based on the evidence we do have, which will always be incomplete. When presented with a claim, we must first weigh its evidence. The more extraordinary the claim, the higher the standards of evidence must be. If we hear a claim, and the available evidence to support it is poor, then, while we still may not have grounds to dismiss it entirely, we can still find it completely appropriate to refrain from believing the claim, at least until such time as better evidence to support it is presented. I do not have absolute, concrete knowledge there are no purple telepathic flying bunny rabbits on Neptune. Neither do you. So…do you believe there are some?

The issue here is something called burden of proof. Claims are worthy of belief once the evidence supporting them becomes sufficiently strong that to disbelieve is no longer sensible — not the other way round. Claims do not have the privilege of automatically being considered true just because no one knows everything. To those like Beth who think lacking omniscience does not justify disbelief, I ask, why do you think it justifies belief?

Beth’s second paragraph:

Also, I find it hard to believe that you dont believe that everything has a maker. What if I showed you my home – it is made of bricks and mortar, but then I told you that no one made it – it just appeared here by accident. That’s unbelieveable – just like its unbelieveable that the earth and everything and everyone on it just appeared here by accident.

Okay, I know I said I’d be nice, but…wow. The stupid! It burns!

I suppose that if there were any atheists promoting the idea that the earth and everything and everyone on it just appeared by accident, well, yeah, that would be a pretty unbelievable claim. Good thing no one’s making that claim, then. Beth is here essentially revealing her scientific illiteracy to us all, which, right now, looks like it’s clocking in at a solid 100%. There are, of course, no theories in any scientific discipline — physics; cosmology; biology — that take the form of, “And then suddenly, there was all this stuff, in precisely the form you see it today!” (In fact, the only place you’ll find that idea for sale is Genesis 1:1.) I know that, to the uninformed, the Big Bang theory might sound like just such a creation ex nihilo claim. But it isn’t. All the Big Bang theory describes is the event that caused our universe to expand into its current form; there had to be something to go bang in the Big Bang, after all. But what existed before…that, we just don’t know. We’re still working on it. Still, that lack of knowledge does not justify bringing in the old “God of the Gaps”.

The big irony here is that even as a metaphor, Beth’s argument is pigswill. Yeah, people built her house. But that would be people, not a person. So at best, the metaphor would be one favoring polytheism, not monotheism. And then there’s the little matter of her house-builders having come from somewhere themselves. So, if Beth wants her metaphor to be consistent, she has to recognize that the creator she proposes to be responsible for “the earth and everything and everyone on it” must have had a creator too! If, as she writes, everything has a maker, then so does the maker. And so does that maker. And so on. And so on. And…

The reality of the universe that science reveals to us is something vastly more glorious, intricate, fascinating, and awe-inspiring than the simplistic caricature presented by Beth here. It’s a shame that so many people like Beth have their sense of wonder in reality itself stifled and, in fact, suffocated by the gross misrepresentations and caricatures of science they are given by their religions. It’s a double shame that what sense of wonder they are permitted to have is yoked to inane superstitions about gods and angels and whatever else, none of which is a tiny fraction as magnificent as what the sciences actually teach us, and continue to teach us.

Last but not least, the problem with both of Beth’s paragraphs is that each one is a boilerplate logical fallacy. Paragraph one is the old argument from ignorance. Paragraph two is the previous fallacy’s red-headed stepchild, the argument from incredulity. One piece of advice that I would give believers like Beth, who wish to post here and show us the error of our ways, is that you’ll be dealing with experienced arguers h
ere. And if one thing reveals that you’re a deeply inexperienced arguer, it’s the clueless regurgitation of well-catalogued logical fallacies.

I’d suggest boning up on logical fallacies, and learning what they are, so that they don’t taint your arguments the next time you comment here. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself having your ass handed to you over and over again until you get it down. When Beth feels like she knows what she’s doing a little bit better, I invite her back here to try again.

Ted Haggard cured of teh gay!

Well, color me relieved! I was sure it was only a matter of time before Pastor Ted was going to start stalking playgrounds and shopping mall food courts looking for impressionable young lads (which, as you all know, is what people who have caught teh gay usually do). Or worse, wearing Prada and listening to Streisand. But, thanks to “three weeks of intensive counseling,” Haggard has proudly pronounced his manly manhood fully restored and unblemished by non-heterosexuality! “He is completely heterosexual,” boasts his good friend Paster Tim Ralph, which is especially reassuring, as it takes a pretty astute mind to spot the difference between “completely” heterosexual and, say, only 92.3% heterosexual.

With such effective Christian counseling services out there curing sad, misled sinners of teh gay with such “complete” efficacy, I sleep easily knowing our great country is safe once again!

Why life is special

I don’t have a picture of Leileu. It’s too bad. She was really beautiful. She was a six-year-old cat of a breed I can’t name, with lush, thick golden-orange fur you could rub your fingers through and through. She was really talkative when she was in a good mood. In the last few weeks, she hadn’t been in such a good mood, following the death of her littermate and playmate Molokai. She stopped eating and drinking, grew more and more listless. She died yesterday at a little after five in the afternoon. Just lifted her little head up, coughed twice, and died.

Leileu wasn’t my cat, but was in the care of my friend Hollye at her rescue shelter, Purrfect Hearts, which I’ve been helping Hollye launch. A number of cats come in sick, most get nursed back to health and find families, I’m happy to say. Hollye is stubborn about not giving up on any of them. There have been a couple of cats who were so sick that vets took one look at them, shrugged, and wrote them off. Nico is one of those, Earl is the other. They’re now the picture of bright-eyed health, and Hollye’s made them the shelter “house cats”. Then there are those you can’t help. We just don’t know why Leileu died, even after Hollye followed all the procedures she’d been advised by a vet to follow. But she died.

I’ve thought a lot about Leileu, not that I knew her particularly, but because I’m an inveterate animal lover, and because I was holding her not half an hour before she went. I remember she was purring. Why do I remember these little details? Because it was a life. To some it may have been just a cat, and therefore an inconsequential life. But it wasn’t inconsequential to her, nor to us.

One of the most unpleasant and hateful assertions religionists make is that atheists cannot appreciate life. They adopt the paradoxical view that life is meaningless unless it never ends, unless there is a heaven to which we all go to live happily ever after. This speaks to a deep existential fear of death, which, to be fair, most living things possess; it’s hardwired. But dealing with death by pretending that when you die you really don’t is, ironically, a cheapening of life. What makes our lives special is its brevity, its fragility. What makes us worthy of calling ourselves moral beings is the extent to which we recognize that this is true not only for us, but for other people — even those who don’t share our beliefs, our sexual preference, or our skin color — and our furry friends who share our planet, most of whom are helpless before us and thus rely on us for care and safety.

Christians wonder how atheists can be moral because they fail to recognize a fact we understand with clarity: this is all we get. If this is all we get, then it’s incumbent upon us to create a moral, peaceful world in which to live. Otherwise, we have squandered our only shot at life, and are destined to die with misery and regret. How is it so hard for them to understand just being good as a concept? To many of them, being a good and decent person isn’t enough on its own. There must be a divine father waiting in the wings with a reward for all of that goodness. No reward? Then why be good? It’s how they think, and it’s why they can’t understand why atheists can be good when we’re not getting any reward. Atheist morality differs from, and is ultimately superior to, Christian morality because atheist morality is not contingent upon the question “What’s in it for me?”

So what does any of this have to do with a dead cat? Because there are Christians and other believers out there who will wonder why someone like me should care. Well, I’ll tell you. I care because I remember looking Leileu in the eyes during the time I was holding and petting her, feeling her purring though her extremities — her feet, the tips of her ears — were already growing cold. I care because seeing Leileu curled up in her bed, where Hollye had laid her out after she died, I thought of my own death years (I hope) hence, the deaths-to-come of my dogs, my parents and other people I love, and how that meant I had to love them all now, even more than I already do, love them with every cell in my body, because this is all we get. I care because even if it was just a little cat, it was a life, and for me — if not for those with their self-satisfied sense of moral superiority and their Bibles — that is enough.

Leileu was a six-year-old cat with golden fur. She died yesterday. But I had held her and looked in her eyes. She was alive.

Note to IDers: Pack up, go home, show’s over

This has already made the rounds of several more highly-trafficked blogs than this one, but hey, never let it be said we ignore the big issues. The John Templeton Foundation — an organization whose agenda it is to make it appear as if there is some attempt within science to validate religion, and has tried to buy the prestige of the Nobel Prize by offering more money than Nobel recipients get (and bragging about it) to any scientist willing to pursue such validation — has published a letter in the Los Angeles Times smacking down the ID movement. If there were any more clear indication needed in the aftermath of Dover that ID is as dead as Vaudeville, this has to be it. Quoth the letter:

We do not believe that the science underpinning the intelligent-design movement is sound, we do not support research or programs that deny large areas of well-documented scientific knowledge, and the foundation is a nonpolitical entity and does not engage in or support political movements.

Yow! Smack dat ass! In one sentence, VP Pamela Thompson dismisses the whole ID movement as non-scientific and brazenly calls it on its true political motivations.

It’s important to note that a year ago, the Templeton Foundation did ask the ID camp to show them exactly what research was actually going on, in the interest of seeing if grants deserved to be given. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: it turns out no one in ID was actually producing any research to support it. Knock me over with a feather!

Non-Providencial Poetry

I received the following in my corporate e-mail today:

“Anyway”

People are often unreasonable, illogical and self-centered
   Forgive them anyway
If you are kind, people accuse you of selfish ulterior motives
   Be Kind anyway
If you are successful, you will win some false friends and some true enemies
   Succeed anyway
If you find serenity and happiness, there may be jealousy
   Be Happy anyway
The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow
   Do Good anyway
Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough
   Give the World the best you’ve got anyway


You see, in the final analysis, it is between you and God
It was never between You and Them anyway.

This wasn’t random spam. It was sent, to the entire company, by a Senior VP. It’s a beautiful poem, but whoever wrote the final lines, doesn’t have a solid grasp on the first line. They’ve completely ruined great sentiments by adding the concept of a God and an appeal to eventual, cosmic rewards for good deeds.

In the final sentence, replace the word ‘God’ with; Zeus, Jehova, ‘Whatever higher power you believe in, if any’, Magical Sky Pixies or Flying Spaghetti Monster and you’ll begin to see how absurd this really is.

If I had sent out this poem (to the entire company) with the last two lines replaced with; “Do good for its own sake — and not because you want a ‘gold star’ from some deity”, I would probably be writing my resume now, instead of a blog post.

If, instead, it had ended with “Do good for its own sake — do it because it makes you happy. Happiness is its own reward.” The poem would have been motivational, true and apart from a little sappy, who could really object?

Why is it so hard for people to see that appeals to a diety only serve to diminish the value of everything?

A flower can be appreciated for its own, natural beauty. To marvel at how wonderful ‘God’ is to have created a beautiful flower is completely backward. An omnipotent God could create beauty we could scarcely imagine; a flower so beautiful that gazing upon it sent one into euphoric fits. Flowers are beautiful, but they’re not miraculous.

If there’s an afterlife, isn’t this life just a place to wipe your feet until you get to the “real” life? Doesn’t the absence of a deity make this life infinitely more valuable? If there’s no cosmic justice, doesn’t that only encourage us to treat each other well, right now?

Let’s celebrate life. Let’s celebrate variety, diversity, knowledge, compassion, cooperation, good works, exploration, achievement and discovery.

No gods required.

Rick Perry suffers bout of temporary sanity

Rick Perry, the recently re-elected governer of Texas, is a complete tool. The religious right owns him so thoroughly he might as well walk around wearing a dog collar and tags. This guy has such brazen, naked contempt for the concept of separation of church and state that he actually signed both an abortion bill and anti-gay marriage bill in a Fort Worth church. He’s an unapologetic theocrat who isn’t shy about letting you know you’re a second class citizen if you don’t flash your Jesus Fan Club membership card on command. Like a lot of people in his camp, he’s even got his own Ted Haggard rumor, though unfortunately, there doesn’t appear to be any evidence to support it. (Though that didn’t stop the production of this hilarious bumper sticker.)

But Perry has gone and done something shocking. He’s actually gone against his Christian Taliban masters and issued an executive order requiring all girls entering the sixth grade in Texas to receive the HPV vaccine against cervical cancer.

Naturally, the anti-science fundie brigade is freaking out, because, in their quintessentially idiotic fashion, they have decided that the vaccine is not about preventing disease, but giving kids a licence for sexual promiscuity. Bimbette Cathie Adams of the Christian Right group Texas Eagle Forum reached this classically asinine conclusion: “Would they be more promiscuous? Chances are very good that they would be.” Yeah, well, speak for yourself, Cathie. Don’t you just love fundie “thinking”? In their world, every adolescent girl who gets this vaccine will suddenly experience an epiphany: “Wow! I’m innoculated against HPV now! And since things like my reputation or even my own common sense and personal tastes have never for one moment been an issue to me, this means I can go out and fuck everyone I see, starting with the high school janitor and working my way up through the whole football team and all the coaches.”

Yeah, Cathie. Sixth grade girls have just been itchin’ to put out like soda machines. And it’s only been the lack of this vaccine that’s held them back from their porn star aspirations.

As I’ve said before, fundamentalists just don’t seem to understand people very much, do they?

It remains to be seen what political punishment the Christian Right will exact upon their bitch for peeing on the carpet like this. Still, it’s rare when Perry does something that’s not only supported by sound science, but that’s actually for the good of the people of Texas he supposedly represents, and not just good for those clutching Bibles and scowling angrily. Perry’s bout of sanity may be only temporary. But it’s sure to have saved a number of girls’ lives.