New blogs by atheist women

Within the last few days we’ve been emailed by two different atheist women who have just started their own blogs. The first was Kafir Girl, an ex-Muslim in originally from Pakistan, who has decided to read the Koran cover-to-cover and blog the entire experience. I don’t know how far she’ll get, but her first post is filled to the brim with humor, sarcasm, and profanity. Should be fun.

The second was Microbiologychick, a self-described southern atheist college girl from Tennessee, studying… um… Russian Literature? No wait, I deduce that it’s Microbiology. Together with her friend Philosophychick (who is obviously studying Kinematic Engineering) she has started a blog called Atheist Girls.

I’m a fan of atheist women — the movement needs more diversity, and the ubiquitous Possum Momma has been a long term source of enjoyment for me. Not to mention my wife, who rarely blogs about atheism but sure takes good pictures.

Anyway, I’ve added both new blogs to my favorites section on Google Reader for now. Go say hi if you’re so inclined.

Correction: As she pointed out in the comments, Kafir Girl has not lived in Pakistan since she was 6; hence the fix to the first paragraph.

Say, where is that Chuck Colson guy, anyway?

I’m really not one to trash talk most of the time — I’ll leave that to Martin ;) — or keep score. But I have to observe that it has been a bit over a month since I posted a message to Chuck Colson, and almost three weeks since my last correspondence with Mike, who wrote: “They have seen your post, so it is hopefully just a matter of scheduling time for Chuck to reply to it.”

I don’t want to keep pestering Mike, it’s certainly not his fault. It’s not that there’s any big hurry, I’m just wondering if he still intends to respond. I’m keeping an eye on the Zondervan blog on my feed reader, just in case anything pops up and I don’t hear about it. So far, no comment.

I sure hope this means that Chuck felt he had to devote a lot of time and attention so he could appropriately address the reply that I worked so hard on. If that’s what it means, then I’ll be flattered. Certainly I would never stoop to suggesting that he decided that this whole “talking to atheist bloggers” thing was a bad idea to begin with, or that he’d rather sweep my post under the rug than publicize it.

Update, 7/10: Mike writes that

We’re getting close to having a response from Chuck. I just received an email from his assistant today that he has responded and I should have something soon from him. Once I do I’ll get it posted on the Zondervan blog. I’ll email you again once I get it posted on the Zondervan blog, just so you know it’s up. Thanks much.

Aggressive Atheist Extremists

Maybe you’ve seen the PhillyCOR billboard recently? Floaty clouds on a blue sky, with the text “Don’t believe in god?” on top, and “You are not alone,” on the bottom. It’s an invitation to disenfranchised atheists to get in touch with local humanist, atheist, free-thought or secular organizations in their areas. And it’s as inoffensive a message as I’ve ever seen from any atheist group. No attack on religion. No invitation to anyone to reconsider their beliefs. Just a note to those who already don’t believe, who think they’re on their own, to encourage them and let them know there are like-minded people “out there” who would like to get to know them and offer them camaraderie and community involvement. PhillyCOR actually even works alongside religious organizations to support charitable endeavors.

So, here again we have the age-old question: Is there any way—at all—that an atheist can express his opinion that won’t be considered an attack on or offense to believers?

The answer, PhillyCOR has now made clear, is “no.”

In an interview with Fox News, Family Research Council’s own Peter Sprigg had this to say about the board:

“This billboard in Philadelphia seems to represent a trend—a new assertiveness, even aggressiveness on the part of atheists.”

You heard right. Putting up a billboard to let like-minded people know you exist—people who often think they are utterly alone—is “aggressive.” The billboard represents—is part of—a trend of “aggressiveness.” Am I to assume that Sprigg has never seen a Christian billboard before? He should come to Austin, where he would be able to see several in a five mile stretch in any direction. And they don’t just appeal to other Christians—they appeal to everyone to come to church, accept Jesus, believe in god, convert to Christianity. Would Sprigg label Christians as a “hyper aggressive” group, then? I’m guessing not—but to be consistent, he actually would have to. If atheists today are “aggressive,” I can’t see how Sprigg doesn’t consider Christians to be hovering over the edge of “dangerous.”

Further, this man who claims atheists are being “aggressive” has the following to add:

“Atheists are very vigorous in promoting the separation of church and state, but with the extreme way that they interpret that concept, you would basically eliminate every mention of god from the public square, and that would amount to the establishment of atheism.”

First of all, it’s not about eliminating the mention of anything from any “public square.” People in the public square, speaking as private citizens, can say whatever they like. It’s people and institutions that are in any way representatives of government that cannot, and should not, promote any religious perspective—including the existence or nonexistence of any god or gods. That’s a little different, and perhaps a subtlety that is lost on people like Sprigg—although, if I am to speak frankly, I don’t believe it’s lost on him at all. I believe it to be an intentional misrepresentation—a strawman—intended to rile religious masses, because Sprigg knows that an accurate representation would not be nearly as compelling and effective in attaining that goal.

Free advice: When someone misrepresents their case, always, always, always ask “why?”

And while I am on misrepresentations, another interesting fact that Sprigg seems to conveniently have misplaced, is that one of the most active entities promoting separation of church and state is a group headed by the Reverend Barry Lynn, who often speaks on behalf of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. Since Sprigg’s group is so very interested in separation issues, I can’t imagine he is unaware of this. And yet, he promotes separation as an “atheist vs. theist” issue, in order to launch an unfounded attack on atheists and rally undeserved support to his own agenda to use the government, openly and unapologetically, to promote a worldview that just happens to align with conservative Christian religious ideologies.

Asking Sprigg to not use our government as a vehicle to push his religion onto others is somehow an “establishment of atheism.” I have pointed out before, but perhaps not at this blog, that asking that the government remove “under god” is in no way the equivalent of asking them to add “without a god” to the Pledge. Ensuring everyone, theists and atheists alike, is free from government sanctioned, promoted, or imposed religious ideology allows everyone, theists and atheists alike, the freedom to exercise their religion, or no religion, as they wish, by putting all religious ideologies on the same playing field—a field that is, and ever should be, found exclusively in the court of private practice.

The level of projection Sprigg employs is at least as bad as anything I have seen from any theist so far. He effortlessly scales the heights of hypocrisy as he accuses others of stepping out of line who are not, while he is guilty of absolutely all that he accuses. Ironically, even if atheists were guilty of all he accuses, they would be doing no more or less than their Sprigg-encouraged Christian counterparts, in so far as pushing their agenda via government and posting and promoting their ideology as far and wide as possible. So, how could Sprigg possibly criticize, even if atheists were guilty, without showing himself up as a raging hypocrite?

The real issue here is that Sprigg wants Christianity to enjoy special privilege and treatment from society, as well as from the government, without being able to actually explain why special status is merited. I would never advocate promoting atheism using the government. And yet, if I did, any criticism from Sprigg could be nothing less than stunning, as I’d be doing no more than he and his organization and religion are doing already (and have been doing for quite a long time).

It’s actually competition Sprigg fears—not competition from others asking government to endorse their religious views, too, but the competition that would exist if his own religious view was no longer allowed to use the government as a prop—if it had to exist, horror of horrors, on the same level upon which all other religious views and ideas are now safely relegated—far beneath his own. It isn’t that he thinks it’s wrong to empower and utilize the government to promote religious views at all. His actions illustrate that he very much supports using government to promote religious views and policies. They also illustrate, in no uncertain terms, that his real beef is that he wants his particular brand of religion to be the only one that gets to do it.

“Wanted”: In which I take a dumb summer action flick entirely too seriously

I saw “Wanted” over the weekend, and it was more or less what I was expecting: dumb action movie, neato “Matrix”-like special effects, pretentious effort to hammer home some kind of deep pop-philosophical message. Unfortunately, since this is a relatively new movie, I’m frustrated by my desire to talk about the things that bugged me about it. So here I am, blogging it.

So, this post is going to spoil the movie, a lot. If you haven’t seen it yet, and have the intention to, I would strongly recommend that you just stop reading this post, bookmark it, and come back here to discuss when you are finished.

Ready? Spoilers ahead, stop reading now.

Morgan Freeman leads an elite group of super-assassins called “The Fraternity,” which has been operating for hundreds or perhaps thousands of years. Members of the frat are periodically ordered to go kill somebody they never heard of. Most of them have several natural abilities which, for all practical purposes, are magical superpowers. They can slow down time, shoot bullets in such a way as to curve around obstacles, and there are magic hot tubs in the headquarters which can heal all wounds, bruises, and breaks within a matter of hours. And of course, they have the almighty power of Angelina Jolie’s Hotness, which is undoubtedly one of the deadliest forces on the planet.

It is eventually revealed that there is a loom, or a series of looms, which have a mystical hotline to some sort of entity which tells them who to kill. A persistent TCP/IP connection to the gods, if you will, forming a cloth-based internet. The looms weave bits of cloth which, due to imperfection in the threads, contain coded messages in binary form that identify the next target. (We can only assume that the frat has been aware of ASCII for hundreds of years.)

Nobody knows how the powers that be pick the targets; but we are given to understand that they have impeccable judgment about who will soon deserve to die. Angelina Jolie (a.k.a. “Fox”) explains that when she was a kid, a frat assassin failed to kill a target, and that target brutally murdered her father. So trust the loom.

The twist, though… hang on a second…

ONE MORE SPOILER WARNING: If the above description has not already turned you away from the movie, I’m really about to totally reveal major plot details!

The twist is that Morgan Freeman is corrupt and so is the organization. They stopped listening to the loom years ago, and now Freeman picks his own targets to suit profit and convenience motives. Devious! So in the end, the message is “don’t blindly trust authority” — which I approve of.

BUT, even as the plot exposes Morgan Freeman as untrustworthy, it still implies that the magic loom is always right to the end.

Now come on, this is a pretty transparent religious allegory. The loom is the Bible. Morgan Freeman is a fallible priest who reads the Bible and hides the truth from others. You can’t trust human religion, but you sure can trust the messages you hear direct from God. Okay, the analogy is flimsy, and maybe it’s not specifically the Christian religion that is being vindicated. But you know what I’m talking about; lots of people say “I don’t follow organized religion because it’s just man-made. But do believe in God and have a personal relationship” yadda yadda yadda.

Now here’s what I want to know. We’ll take it for granted that we can’t trust Morgan Freeman, because he’s a shifty old bastard anyway. (Although he did play God explicitly, twice.) But even knowing that, what on earth is our justification for trusting the loom? Just because it was right on at least one occasion?

Nobody in the brotherhood seems to know much or care about who the looms are connected to, or the mechanism by which the connection remains secure. What’s to stop Satan, or perhaps Loki, from setting up his own spoofed IP address that leads to a server that he controls? How do we know that the man behind the loom isn’t evil or capricious, or that he doesn’t just possess a wacky sense of humor?

Certainly, like Yahweh, there’s no indication that the God Of The Loom is periodically dropping by to explain himself to each member. So while you can argue that our hero was wrong to trust Morgan Freeman, you can’t really argue that he could have interpreted the message and been confident in the answer. In fact, the only reason he believes the loom is trustworthy at all, is because Fox (Jolie) tells him so by anecdote. Would that be enough evidence for YOU to start killing strangers?

Suppose it’s Loki. Loki isn’t evil, he’s just sort of “chaotic neutral.” No reason he can’t tell the truth sometimes and lie sometimes, just to maximize his amusement.

Or suppose it’s Faust. This characterization of the devil surely wouldn’t hesitate to pull the wool over the eyes of Fox, leveraging the tragedy of her father’s death to make her believe that it was somehow the fault of not killing enough people. Surely it’s right in character for him to say: “Look here. You want to avenge your father? You can have damn near omnipotent powers. Slow down time… kill people more or less with your mind… instant regeneration. All you have to do is sign right here.”

And that, in a nutshell, is a basic problem with believing anything based on faith. It’s not just fallible human translation that’s the problem. Even if you’re The Real God Of The Loom, and think some people need killin’, why on earth would you choose to communicate through a medium that is so abstruse, and obviously begging to be abused? And if you’re a mortal being ordered to kill somebody by a friggin’ loom, what level of extraordinary proof should you require before you actually accept that you’re being asked to do a good thing?

This is the Euthyphro dilemma writ large. You say you’re good because you’re doing what a god wants? Well, how do you know that the god is good?

A few other random observations in closing:

Those magical hot tubs are awesome. They can apparently bring people back from the brink of death most of the time. (Though, mysteriously, some guy dies dramatically right next to a hot tub and nobody thinks to dump him in there.) I think that if the goal of the Frat is to save the world, they would do a LOT more good by simply releasing the hot tub formula to the world and letting everybody benefit from it. I’m just saying, that seems a little more efficient than picking off bad guys one victim at a time. But no… we have to save it for newbies in training who need to recover because people in our organization like to intentionally beat the stuffing out of them.

Final point, memo to self: If 3 million dollars ever mysteriously appears in my bank account, the very first thing I’m going to do is set up a different account, that no one knows about, in a place with an excellent reputation for security, and transfer all the money out immediately. When somebody can put money in your account, they can also take it back. Duh.

*puke*

From the odious Billy Graham:

Jesse Helms, my friend and long-time senator from my home state of North Carolina, was a man of consistent conviction to conservative ideals and courage to faithfully serve God and country based on principle, not popularity or politics.

In the tradition of Presidents Jefferson, Adams and Monroe — who also passed on July 4th — it is fitting that such a patriot who fought for free markets and free people would die on Independence Day. As we celebrate the birth of our nation, I thank God for the blessings we enjoy, which Senator Helms worked so hard to preserve…

From a comment following Graham’s disgraceful encomium: “Jesse Helms fought for FREE PEOPLE??? (emphasis mine) Would those be the white people who wanted to be FREE of having to associate with black people?” Uh huh. Seems fitting that a homophobic, racist piece of shit should be eulogized so fulsomely by an anti-Semitic piece of shit, eh?

Whoops, there goes our Cuss Rating.

What will it take?

Christians often ask atheists the above question. What kind of evidence would it take to convince us of God’s existence? I’d like to turn the question back to them. What would it take to convince them that maybe God is just a product of their imaginations and wishful thinking?

Allow me to preface this with an unambiguous statement. People dying is never funny (well, okay — except for Pauly Shore), and posts like this are not meant as a “ha ha!” to believers in any way. But there’s a disconnect here that I’d really like explained to me.

Short version: Busload of evangelical Christians is swept off a bridge in San Salvador by a swollen river, at least 30 die. Was God looking out for those people? Did he sit back and let them die for a reason? How do believers square this kind of thing with the Problem of Evil? Really, I’d like to know how Christians process an event like this in such a way as to continue to permit themselves their beliefs in a loving heavenly father. Do these kinds of events — tragically affecting those whom you’d think God would be most inclined to protect — ever bring Christians a moment’s pause? Or is that all it is: a pause, before the rationalizations kick in? Or is there a convincing argument to be made in defense of God here? Doesn’t it seem like these kinds of situations would present God with exactly the opportunity for miraculous intervention that would silence the atheists of the world immediately with direct empirical evidence of his loving grace?

Just how silly are they over at RememberThyCreator.com?

Young-earthers are just about the most reality-challenged folks around. But over at the RememberThyCreator.com site — you know, the one with the silly poll that got spiked recently by Pharyngulites, hopefully teaching the RTC team a thing or two about what and what not to do on the intarweebs — they have just about the silliest set of reasons why people should “not accept millions of years,” but rather, presumably, 6000 years, as the proper age of the Earth. “Wow!” you must be thinking, “you mean they have actual evidence the Earth is young?” W-e-lll, no, not exactly. What they have is simply a list of indignant assertions that accepting an old Earth contradicts Biblical myths, and thus must be rejected out of hand. Here’s a sample:

The Bible clearly teaches that God created in six literal 24 hour days a few thousand years ago.

The Hebrew word for day in Genesis 1 is yom. In the vast majority of its uses in the Old Testament it means a literal day and where it doesn’t the context makes this clear.

Similarly, the context of Genesis 1 clearly shows that the days of creation were literal days. First, yom is defined the first time it is used in the Bible in its two literal senses: the light portion of the light/dark cycle and the whole light/dark cycle (Gen 1:4-5). Second, yom is used with “evening” and “morning”. Third, yom is modified with a number: one day, second day, third day, etc., which everywhere else in the Old Testament indicates literal days. Fourth, yom is defined literally in Genesis 1:14 in relation to the heavenly bodies.

You see the unimpeachable brilliance of their scientific methodology here: if the Bible says it, it’s true, full stop. Boy, and here we all were thinking that knowledge about how the world works took a lot of hard work and study. You know, decades of research, learning, field work, experimentation, trial and error, cataloguing your findings, revising them, publishing them, have them peer reviewed, going back to the drawing board when it’s been shown some of your findings are wrong and need further study.

Nope! Don’t have to do none o’ that! As the intrepid Dr. Terry Mortenson reveals over at RTC.com, all you have to do is check what’s written in a book of Bronze Age myths and legends, and voila, all you ever need to learn about anything is right there, and unquestionably true!

“But what about all that doggone pesky evidence we have that the earth is, in fact, billions of years old?” you ask? Never fear. It’s denialism to the rescue. Mortenson writes:

The idea of millions of years did not come from the scientific facts.

It was developed by deistic and atheistic geologists in the late 18th and early 19th century. These men used anti-biblical philosophical and religious assumptions to interpret the geological observations in a way that plainly contradicted the Biblical account of creation, the Flood and the age of the earth. The “deep time” idea flows out of naturalistic assumptions, not scientific observations.

Radiometric dating methods do not prove millions of years.

Radiometric dating was not developed until the early 20th century, by which time the whole world had already accepted the millions of years. In recent years creationists in the “RATE project” have done experimental, theoretical and field research to uncover … evidence and to show that decay rates were orders of magnitude faster in the past, which shrinks the millions of years date to thousands of years, confirming the Bible.

Mortenson’s bio tells us he has a Ph.D. in the “history of geology” from Coventry University in England. I’d very much like to know what Mortenson has published professionally. That he has retreated to the AiG stable indicates that his academic or scientific career has not been especially impressive, at least in terms of achievements as a working geologist. Mortenson’s achievements as an evangelical are not in dispute, as Googling him reveals nothing but page after page of creationist, Christian, and conservative sites, and nothing from any mainstream scientific source to show that the man has done anything in the way of field work at all. And the only papers Mortenson seems to write have titles like “Boundaries on Creation and Noah’s Flood: Early 19th century scriptural geologists,” and are presented exclusively at religious seminars and similar forums.

Given Mortenson’s lack of post-collegiate work in his field (he went to get a doctorate in “divinity,” so it seems clear he’s been focusing on that), it’s still kind of surprising he would collapse into a life of anti-science so completely. But what’s funny about the things he says regarding radiometric dating above is what immediately precedes it. He launches into a deliriously silly conspiracy theory, naming no names and citing no sources, that the notion of “deep time” was in fact concocted by “deistic and atheistic geologists in the late 18th and early 19th century” (!) with an agenda to discredit the Bible. All their scientific work was just in aid of promoting a predetermined agenda.

Can you say, “Project much?” It’s a common character flaw of creos that they project all their own least commendable traits onto those of us they hate. But this takes the cake. Who is this sinister cabal of Regency-era atheists and deists? Why would deists and atheists work together anyway? And how did it come to be that they gained such control over the geological sciences? Maybe Mortenson learned all this while getting his doctorate in the history of geology, and his dissertation is a blistering exposé of these people. But we certainly can’t know from reading this little article, and frankly, I have no interest in donating to AiG to get Mortenson’s full “brochure” promising further details. (Another blow against peer review! Brochures! The vanity press of the evangelical anti-science movement!)

We know, on the other hand, that YEC’s and other creationist “scientists” do all their work in the interests of furthering a predetermined ideology and shoring up preconceived dogmas. And if we didn’t know it before, we would now. Because the Wedge Document tells us so, and this little article of Mortenson’s tells us so. If it contradicts the Bible, throw it out. It’s wrong. Mortenson’s scientific “objectivity” could not be clearer, could it?

The RATE project itself was one of those desperate creationist “research” projects whose participants had decided in advance what results they would collect and accept. Far from debunking the validity of radiometric dating techniques, its methods were deeply flawed — not the least because, as J.G. Meert has pointed out, none of the project’s members had any expertise in experimental geochronology, nor had they published anything involving radiometric dating in the mainstream scientific literature. (Oh yes, but there’s that horrible Big Science cabal with their secret decoder rings and handshakes who expel these noble Christian scientists from their august pages. I forgot. Thanks, Ben.) ICR’s Grand Canyon Project has been taken apart on TalkOrigins, as well.

“Science” that is done to validate an ideology, whether extreme examples like Adolf and the boys looking for “racial purity” through eugenics, or merely pathetic examples like creationists hoping against hope for a 6000-year-old Earth (which they seem to think is the only kind their omnipotent God is capable of), always crumbles into chaos and confusion. Shoehorning the supernatural into the natural never explains anything, and always muddies the waters. Lately, we’ve had another creationist troll pop up here flogging the usual foolish notion that any “gap” in scientific knowledge is necessarily filled only by his God. But what’s at the heart of this isn’t science, let alone the spirit of curiosity and pass
ion that leads to scientific inquiry and the knowledge gained thereby. It’s merely the insecurity of the religious mind, seeking, in Isaac Asimov’s words, “a thumb to suck, a skirt to hold.” The idea that the universe might not be all about us is still deeply, existentially terrifying to most people.

But trying to cloak that insecurity in pseudoscience to validate it does no one any good. Better to admit — as so few fundamentalists can — that maybe you’re wrong, an attitude indispensible to any real scientific mind. And from that point, to see where the evidence actually leads you, which can often be in surprising and fulfilling directions.

There’s a gag from an old Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode that I’m reminded of here. In one dreadful movie, there’s a white-coated scientist working late in his lab, and one of the ‘bots riffs, “Wow, what a day! I invented Gaines Burgers and I didn’t even mean to!” Silly as that is, it does sum up what happens in real science, as opposed to the dogma-bound pseudoscience of the YEC’s. Often unexpected results lead you down entirely new and undreamt-of paths of inquiry. How tragically sad that there are those out there who think themselves scientists, may even have a shiny Ph.D. saying they’ve got the training for it…and who choose to throw all that away in favor of hiding behind the skirts of religion’s insecurities, and the lies that must be told continually to keep the rents in those skirts patched.

Poor babies! They just can’t win…

While Chris Comer is busy taking on the creos in court, back here on the intarweebs, some dippy YEC website with the delightful name of RememberThyCreator.com made the silly mistake of posting an open poll asking if creationism should be taught alongside evolution in public schools. The sheep were toeing the party line pretty reliably, if in very small numbers, until the day the poll came to the attention of the ever-playful PZ. RTC’s webmasters must have noticed the drastic spike in their usual traffic due to the Pharyngula Effect. And once they saw that the poll results were rather heavily skewed towards “No” (8,209 to 148, exactly), they decided to take it down. (Though the results are still up.) Awwww. And what’s this I usually hear about evilushunists “expelling” anyone who challenges their “dogma”?

Go get ‘em, Chris!

Chris Comer has sued the Texas Education Agency and its commissioner Robert Scott in federal court, on the grounds that the agency’s idiotic “neutrality” policy as regards “intelligent design” is unconstitutional and that her firing was thus illegal.

The policy was in force even though the federal courts have ruled that teaching creationism as science in public schools is illegal under U.S. Constitution’s provision preventing government establishment or endorsement of religious beliefs.

“The agency’s ‘neutrality’ policy has the purpose or effect of endorsing religion, and thus violates the Establishment Clause,” the lawsuit said.

Ms. Comer also said in her complaint that she was fired without due process after serving as the state science director for nearly 10 years.

Remember, all Comer did was forward an email announcing the CFI-sponsored lecture Barbara Forrest gave in Austin last November. For this, she was — what’s the word? oh, right — expelled.