Two disparate Christian responses to high gas prices

One of these is the usual parade of batshit crazy, and the other is a comparatively rare case of a church doing what we’re meant to believe churches do all the time: something good for their community. Makes sense that the latter is located in Austin, where people have a tendency to be pretty cool, even some of the religious ones.

In San Francisco, of all places, a bunch of dimwits staged a “pray-in” at a local gas station, begging Sky-Daddy to bring gas prices down. Prayer, as we all know, is that comforting act believers engage in that allows them to feel they’re dealing with problems without actually having to do anything. I can understand everyone’s frustration at four-dollar gas. But good grief, you fundies were the ones who gave this disastrous administration two terms in which to wreak the havoc we’re all now in. Praying to fix a mistake that cataclysmic isn’t a whole lot more than slamming the barn doors after the horses are all out, eh? Anyway, old Rocky Twyman, devout as he may be, ought to take a pointer or two from the Neumann family: when it comes to working, prayer has a fairly poor track record.

What does work? People helping people, that’s what. I’m perfectly happy to compliment anyone, religious or not, if they do something that shows a healthy community spirit and a willingness to do some real, effective good. And in Cedar Park, just north of Austin, the nondenominational HighPointFellowship made a deal with a neighborhood Exxon that anyone who turned up between 10 and 1 on Sunday could buy their gas for just over a dollar less per gallon, with the church making up the difference. Hundreds of folks took advantage, and the church ended up forking over about five grand.

Yeah, sure, they did it to get some publicity (of course they handed out flyers for their church to people waiting to fill up). But if a group like ACA had the spare cash to do something like this, we’d probably hand out flyers too. The point is, two groups of Christians saw a community-wide problem, and chose opposite ways of handling it. The San Francisco church chose an exercise in goofy futility, while the Cedar Park folks understood something a lot of us have been saying all along: One pair of working hands achieves more than 10,000 pairs of praying hands. Nicely done, HighPoint.


Okay, so I guess I now have the answer to the meaning of Life, the Universe, and Everything…if I could only remember what the question was. Oh well. Never mind. Instead, I’ll just post what I’ve decided to declare my birthday anthem this year, for your enjoyment. It would be nice if there were an official video for this song, but this fan-made effort is pretty decent for what it is. Have a good day. I will be.

Today on the show: Love

What is love, and why does it inspire so many cheesy songs? Is God love? Can an atheist believe in love without proof? Tune to “The Atheist Experience” on Austin Access channel 10 at 3PM central, and find out.

No links today, because it’s mostly going to be just me extemporaneous philosomophizering.

No, it was just natural selection

The Church of the Burning Stupid is keeping up its anti-science missionary efforts, as we can see here. This was submitted to the ACA Yahoogroup by one of its members who presumably lives in the area (Greeley, CO). He got it among his daily junk snail mail. It would be awesome if some educated folks could turn up to this farce and bombard the presenter, some dingaling named H.S. Rester, with awesome questions so that all and sundry could watch him squirm when he either cannot answer or simply resorts to the usual asinine creotard canards to do so.

The rest of the pamphlet promises to expose such horrors as “Evolution and the Antichrist Agenda” (that’s Wednesday), and advises attendees, “Bring Your Bible and Your Mind, You Will Use Both.” The latter won’t be used much or very well, but at least the pamphlet does remind attendees to bring it in the first place, which is thoughtful, since most creationists just leave theirs laying around wherever.

Rester claims to be a “Christian with a strong scientific background” but the pamphlet only says he has a “BA from an inter-denominational Bible College/Seminary and is now completing his Masters of Divinity.” It says nothing about, oh, you know, any advanced degrees in biology, biochemistry, or any of the other pertinent life sciences. So I suppose his “education” can be more or less dismissed, at least in terms of allowing him any actual expertise in the monumentally supported and unequivocally successful bedrock scientific theory he seems to think he can debunk with an ancient storybook. In terms of being able to parrot mindless twaddle and infantile myths handed down from 2000 year old sheep farmers and primitive clerics, I will only too gladly defer to his expertise. Just as I’m sure there’s some twat here in town with encyclopedic knowledge of every X-Men comic ever published. Nothing against such a person, just don’t pretend you’re a freakin’ biologist, okay?

The latest brilliant observation from Ben Stein and Dan Marvin

You learn something every day if you pay attention to the courageous freedom fighters for creationism. For instance, did you know the reason people pursue higher education and become teachers and academicians? It’s because they’re frightened people. Really, it’s true! Okay…it’s not really true. But Ben Stein says it, and it flatters creationists’ sense of victimhood and anti-intellectual smugness, so that makes it better than true. Because it doesn’t matter if something’s really true or not. If the creationists want it to be true badly enough, then it will be, and wanting things is so much easier than actually doing the hard work to earn them. For one thing, if you actually do hard work, you might find out what you want to be true isn’t really true after all. And that would be bad. So don’t waste your life actually learning things. Just believe, and leave the hard work to those pitiful academics. After all, they’re frightened people.

Kip Thorne at UT

Regrettably, I may have to miss this depending on what my schedule for that day looks like. But I wanted to post the information for the science-minded among you. This ought to be another good talk. It’s in the same lecture hall where Ken Miller spoke.

Date: Friday, May 2, 2008
Time: 3:00pm – 4:00pm
Location: WEL 2.224
Parking Info:
San Jacinto or Speedway Garages are probably best.

From the FaceBook page for the event:

Famous Physicist Kip Thorne to Speak About Big-Bang and Black Holes.

The Warped Side of the Universe: From the Big Bang to Black Holes

There is a Warped Side to our Universe: objects and phenomena that are made from warped space and warped time. Examples include black holes and the big-bang singularity from which the Universe was born. The ideal tool for probing this mysterious Warped Side is radiation that itself is made from warped space-time: “gravitational waves”. Thorne will describe the warped side of our universe and the quest to probe it with gravitational waves.

According to Discover magazine (where the tagline is from): Kip Thorne revolutionized physics, fixed up Contact, and straddled the Cold War divide.

Thorne’s research has focused on gravitation physics and astrophysics, with emphasis on relativistic stars, black holes and gravitational waves. A longtime friend and colleague of Stephen Hawking and Carl Sagan, he is the current Feynman Professor of Theoretical Physics at Caltech and one of the world’s leading experts on the astrophysical implications of Einstein’s general theory of relativity. He is one of the three founders of the LIGO project.

Thorne was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1972, the National Academy of Sciences in 1973, the American Philosophical Society in 1999, and (as a foreign member) the Russian Academy of Sciences in 1999.

With John A. Wheeler and Charles W. Misner, Thorne coauthored in 1973 the textbook Gravitation, from which most of the present generation of scientists have learned general relativity. He is also a co-author of Gravitation Theory and Gravitational Collapse (1965) and Black Holes: The Membrane Paradigm (1986), and the sole author of the best-selling book Black Holes and Time Warps: Einstein’s Outrageous Legacy (1994).

In 1975, cosmologist Stephen Hawking bet fellow cosmologist Kip Thorne a subscription to Penthouse magazine for Thorne against four years of Private Eye for him that Cygnus X-1 would turn out not to be a black hole. It was, so Hawking lost.

See, who says physicists never have any fun? Anyway, I’d wager this guy is probably a bit more knowledgeable about the whole Big Bang thing than whoever the complete fool was our foolish buddy Dan cutpasted from the other day. Once again, see an actual scientist who’s spent an actual career doing actual research explain why the blatherings of uneducated fundamentalists about “no evidence for this!” and “science requires blind faith too!” are deeply, pitifully stupid and wrong.

Oh noes! Big Science iz in ur Skool Bored, bashin ur Yung Erf Creashunists

Why oh why do they hate the Ceiling Cat so much? In what will doubtless be trumpeted as more suppression of “free speech” by Dr. Evil and the Nazi Darwinist Stormtroopers of “Big Science,” the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board took a big fat sanity pill and unanimously denied the request of the Institute for Creation Research to be granted certification to offer a master’s degree program in science education in Texas.

The reason is, of course, obvious. Young Earth Creationism is in about as complete a state of opposition to actual science as the movies of Pauly Shore are to actual comedy. There is just a contingent of ideologues among the Christian faithful who simply cannot comprehend that it is not the purpose of science to validate preconceived religious beliefs, however precious those beliefs are to those who hold them. And in their bleating over the supposed denial of any “free exchange of ideas” in an academic setting, they are, of course, failing to make another meaningful distinction: free speech and free inquiry are not synonyms for “you get to teach whatever you want, even if it’s false, if enough people believe it.” Each person is entitled to their own opinions and beliefs; what you are not entitled to are your own facts.

But at least the creationists can take some cold comfort in the fact they aren’t the only ones being oppressed by the dogmatic, iron fist of “Big Science”!

Why science is despised by religion

When I reviewed the movie Jesus Camp, I mentioned that I was surprised by weird opposition to global warming research which is displayed by the homeschooled fundamentalist kids. I thought, sure, I expect them to be anti-science to the extent that they’re opposed to evolution and believe in a young earth. But why global warming, exactly?

I guess that if you think the world is ending within one generation, then you might be disinclined to care about environmental issues that will cause problems for the next generation, or the one after. But “disinclination” doesn’t begin to describe the outright hostility that conservative Christians appear to have for the issue.

The study of global warming is a relatively recent field — compared with, say, evolution (150 years) or Newtonian physics (300 years) or even relativity and quantum mechanics (about 100 years). As such, it is a field particularly active in generating new data and interpreting what this data means. Like evolution, there is a scientific consensus on the big picture (global warming is real, it is a recent development, and it is in some significant way affected by worldwide human behavior) but the details are open to debate (i.e., what will be the particular short term and long term effects, and what policy actions should be enacted as a result).

This is a fundamentalist gold mine, because what anti-science religious folks love to do is highlight a particular controversy and then say “See? Science is unreliable because it’s changing all the time!”

Case in point:

Noted Hurricane Expert Kerry Emanuel has publicly reversed his stance on the impact of Global Warming on Hurricanes. Saying “The models are telling us something quite different from what nature seems to be telling us,” Emanuel has released new research indicating that even in a rapidly warming world, hurricane frequency and intensity will not be substantially affected.

“The results surprised me,” says Emanuel, one of the media’s most quoted figures on the topic.

From a scientific perspective, if you believe one thing and then later you recognize that you were mistaken based on new evidence, it’s simply part of the process. It’s an important component of intellectual integrity. Science changes, just like people do. In both cases, it’s otherwise known as “learning new things.” Dawkins sometimes admiringly tells the story of a scientist who profusely thanks the man who shows that he has long been in error about an important concept.

To a fundamentalist, on the other hand, this story is treated as an opportunity to dismiss the entire science of climate change. “Ah, so they were WRONG! Knowing this, how can we trust anything those scientists say?” In this frame, change is treated as a sign of weakness rather than a sign of improvement. While creationists often pay lip service to the importance of science (“Our beliefs should totally be taught in science classes, you Nazis!”), when science appears to contradict the Bible, they do more than argue against the theory; they denigrate science itself. I get the distinct impression that science is viewed as a threat because it is a competing method of knowing things in general.

I’ve heard numerous sermons — some on the radio, some live — where the theme appeared to be “Everything in life is garbage unless you have Jesus.” Often repeated in this flavor of sermon are verses such as Isaiah 55:8-9:

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

And 1 Corinthians 3:19:

For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, He taketh the wise in their own craftiness.

Human knowledge is garbage. So says the Lord. And since we can’t rely on our own poor knowledge, the default option available should be to look to the church for answers. If someone purports to say something that does not match what the church says, don’t listen to them, for their ways are not His ways.

Then along comes science.

Science proposes a systematic, reliable, testable method for gaining more knowledge over time. It is not based on the Bible. It is not inherently hostile to religion; it just disregards religion completely in the pursuit of understanding the world.

That’s not something the church can accept. It undermines authority-based teaching, and it removes the feeling of helplessness that Isaiah’s words are meant to invoke.

So as a result, a large body of work has grown around the effort to frame science as simply a competing worldview, devoid of merit in its own right. It’s not just fundamentalists who do this; post-modernist writers also get off on the idea that there is no such thing as reality. In their works, they reduce science to one of many “belief systems,” neither better nor worse than any other way of understanding.

To paraphrase George Carlin: “Same as God. Same as the four leaf clover, the horse shoe, the rabbit’s foot, and the wishing well. Same as the mojo man. Same as the voodoo lady who tells your fortune by squeezing the goat’s testicles. It’s all the same.” (Carlin, of course, was not talking about science, but about offering prayers to Joe Pesci.)

Science is a threat to religious beliefs not only because it sometimes contradicts them, but because it offers a way to be correct without relying on supposed magic powers.

Lore’s guide to logical fallacies

Although I love Lore’s ratings videos, I can’t give this one any higher than a solid B. Points off for a needless tangent on “Begging the question” while failing to explain what the term actually means.

Still, the effort to be funny while covering logic earns a recommendation from me.