Need another reason to go to the Reason Rally?

Oh, look who’s also going to the Reason Rally: goddamned annoying evangelical Christians. I’m beginning to feel like my long-standing personal policy of not intruding on their church services needs to be questioned, because man, is this ever arrogant and obnoxious.

Come join us there! We invite you to unite with us in a spirit of grace and truth (John 1:14, 1:18), ready to speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:15), with godly grace and wisdom (Col. 4:6).

This is not a counter-demonstration. We are going there to share Christ person to person as opportunity arises. We will not raise our voices. We will talk with those who want to talk with us. We will offer gifts and materials to all, but we will not press ourselves on those who do not wish to converse. Knowing that the way others may choose to gather near us is not entirely in our control, we will nevertheless attempt to avoid gathering groups larger than a handful of people.

If these people bother you at the rally, I recommend one of two choices: either tell them sternly to leave you alone and walk away, or — and this is the fun part — calmly and politely take their rubbish arguments apart with much soft-spoken malice and cruelty.

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. This gathering will certainly attract swarms of mindless parasites…this is just the first public announcement of their intent that I’ve seen.

(via Ophelia)

My enemies…exposed!

My efforts to crush yet another internet poll are being opposed by JT, who is leading the rebel insurrection to put Greta Christina on top.

Sure you could argue that there is a lack of diversity in the choices, but that’s the whole point: will you submit to the soul-crushing power of the empire (of course you will! There are no such things as souls!) and be allowed to live, or follow some spunky kid into defeat and ignominy and total destruction?

You know the choices. It’s JT:

(You will forget that JT is rooting for Natalie Portman.)

Versus me:

The choice is clear. Vote Pharyngula every day. Know the thrill of unbridled power.

Why I am an atheist – Mike Huben

At age 14, I was sitting in the St. Pius the 10th Catholic Church, and it occurred to me that the apostolic succession and pretty much all of Catholicism could really be founded on a game of telephone.

We all know of the game of telephone: an original message is passed on from person to person, mutating in amusing ways both accidentally and deliberately. Stories of Jesus could have started false (You should have seen the miracle he worked in the previous town!) or could mutate and optimize to most effectively dazzle audiences, even during JC’s lifetime. Not to mention the decades after until they were written down.

And now, 40+ years later, I realize (thanks to Pharyngula) that “provenance” is the word I have needed to describe my path through skepticism and atheism (or agnosticism.)

From 14 to 24, I didn’t encounter any skeptical or atheist literature. I argued vigorously with quite a number of creationists online, and thought that as an evolutionary biology student that I was pretty hot stuff. Until eventually some creationist (with more than the standard two neurons to rub together) claimed I was making up evolutionary just-so stories based on my authority and nothing else. And galling as it was, I had to admit it to myself. I had a provenance problem. But the bright side was that I looked at Creationists, and saw that their provenance problem was much worse and incurable. I could drop a few of my made-up arguments, limit myself to published science and identifying creationist fallacies, and I was fine.

One of the more noisome religious arguments I encountered was the accusation that science was due to pride, while religious believers were humble. I developed my own response based on provenance. Scientists, I would say, are the humble ones. Because not only must they restrict their claims to those based on evidence, but it must also be evidence that anyone else can confirm. The religious are the prideful ones: claiming that their prophets are the only ones with access to the truth. It’s a very common trick to accuse your opponent of your own sins, and thus one of the first we should expect from the religious.

Provenance also calls most philosophy into question. 99%+ of it is crap, for the simple reason that the provenance of its assumptions is unsupportable. A priori knowledge indeed! You don’t have to look far for “gut feelings” a la Steven Colbert. My favorite recent example of appeal to gut feelings is the first clause of the first sentence of the preface to Nozick’s “Anarchy, State, and Utopia”: “Individuals have rights….” That’s straight from his gut, an assumption of Natural Rights. He might as well be saying that individuals have souls for all the evidence he lacks. Some more modern philosophy, such as that of Daniel Dennett, does better by starting with reasoning based on the sciences, especially the biological sciences.

I used to think I was scientific and rational. Now that I know a little more about where my knowledge comes from, I know that I cannot depend on it without confirmation. When we start learning, we accept uncritically. After a while, we do start to test our knowledge for inconsistency and coherence with our own observations. But there is such a huge welter of knowledge that we cannot take the time to test it all, nor to re-derive it for ourselves. Imagine having to re-derive all the mathematics you learn in school. Mathematics that took the efforts of hundreds of mathematicians over thousands of years to create. So the vast majority of our knowledge is accepted on faith. What sense of “rational” is that? Rational turns out to be a Humpty-Dumpty word: it means whatever we want it to when we want to bash somebody else for not being rational. Is scientific any better? Maybe. Scientific provenance has to do with intersubjective confirmation of observations and how they match models or theories. At various times I have confused this with tribal loyalty to scientific knowledge. But very little of my life is actually concerned with doing science: usually I tend to use science as a censor for claims that I judge “unscientific”, such as homeopathy. Why do I trust science to be correct for such use? Not because I have confirmed all of the science I have learned, but because when ever I have tested scientific knowledge, it has stood the test of intersubjectivity. I have recapitulated the origins of the knowledge, the provenance, on occasion. So if I want to characterize myself as scientific or rational, it is at best relative to someone who is less so in a particular field.

Questioning the provenance of knowledge is perilous. After you discard the baby falsehoods such as gods and the rest of the supernatural and fictional crud, you quickly discover that pretty much everything else is also built on a foundation of sand. There is no ultimate truth or reality that we can’t question. We are left without even a foundation of sand: we are floating. What is left is reliable knowledge: knowledge that we can confirm intersubjectively, such as science. We can assemble that knowledge into a consilient raft without a foundation. That’s plenty to construct glorious social concepts of reality. We don’t need illusory anchors such as gods or religious beliefs: fictional whimseys can be enjoyable, but we don’t need to take them seriously to deal with the real world.

Mike Huben
United States

An anti-science cartoonist

AAAAAAAAAARGH! Someone is wrong on the internet, and I don’t know whether to scream or to facepalm! (I tried doing both at once, but then it just comes out as a muffled gargle.)

Please go look at this creationist comic called “How Darwin Got It Wrong”. It’s typical creationist garbage, and practically every panel is wrong, wrong, wrong…yet it purports to be an objective discussion of the scientific problems with evolution. The author, however, knows no biology at all.

Take this page (please).

[Read more…]

Why I am an atheist – Thomas Lawson

I’m an atheist because I don’t need what religions are selling. It’s all about death, really. No one wants to die. Scientists are working on extending lifespans and religious people are working on eternal life, reincarnation, etc. Isn’t one life enough? Sure, it sounds great to live forever, but it would get boring I’m sure. Everyone loves the idea of heaven because no one really thinks about it. I see this life as heaven. Heaven shouldn’t last forever. I equate it with a trip to Disney World. Would you really like to stay at Disney World for a year? A month? All expenses paid? It sounds great! But even little kids would be crying to go home before too long. It would lose its charm.

Now that I’ve had kids I look forward to that day (hopefully far away) when I can rest and look back on my tiny contribution to this special world. A world that happened to settle into a spot that was conducive to it creating life. How fantastic! And it will be enough just to say I was here. That I got to be born. That I got to live when billions of others didn’t even make it out of the womb. And that my genes (through evolution) will eventually be in every human on earth, just like our genes contain bits of ancient Egyptians and other Africans. No one thinks about heaven, but at the same time it’s all they want. But only if their lives don’t feel like heaven. I have what I need in this life. And it’s enough. And now I get to experience things all over again through my children. What better gift? But I’ll have had enough when I’m old. If I spent my entire life wondering where I was going when I died, I’d forget to live.

Thomas Lawson

Those so-called “fantasy role playing games— are non-Christian!

In email, Libby Anne passed along a little jewel from her youth: some radio propaganda against that horrible demonic portal to evil, Dungeons & Dragons. It’s a radio show called Castles and Cauldrons, with a special introduction from James Dobson, warning you kiddies about the dangers of those role-playing games and their non-Christian magic and mysticism, which will lead them into contact with demons and satanism. It’s a two-parter, with summaries of Part 1 and Part 2. Warning: it’s laced with commercials for Focus on the Patriarchy.

They play a version of the games I’ve never encountered. These games give you actual magic powers that allow you to summon demons and control people and eradicate your enemies and read people’s minds. They sure seem a lot more powerful than Christianity.

Learn to lobby — power to the godless people!

Mary was rather disappointed at this news — it came too late for us, we have already booked our tickets, and we have to miss it all. But you don’t! If you’re coming to the Reason Rally, you can also sign up with the Secular Coalition to get training in lobbying. Learn how to take the reins of power into your hands and change America’s course!

Secular Coalition to Flood Capitol Hill with Godless Voters to Lobby Representatives

Lobby Day for Reason: March 23, 2012

WASHINGTON, DC— The Secular Coalition for America today announced the Lobby Day for Reason, a free lobbying day for secular Americans to take place on March 23, 2012, on Capitol Hill.

The Lobby Day for Reason will offer secular-minded individuals a morning of free lobbying training followed by the opportunity to meet with congressional staff to discuss issues related to the separation of church and state. Lunch, snacks, and materials are included.

The event will coincide with the Reason Rally, expected to be the largest secular gathering in American history, co-sponsored by the Secular Coalition for America. Lobby Day for Reason is free and will begin at 8:30 am on March 23, 2012, at the Hyatt Regency, located at 400 New Jersey Ave. NW, Washington, DC.

This event will encourage and support secular and nontheistic Americans to speak out to the elected officials who were put in office to serve all of their constituents regardless of religious beliefs. The Secular Coalition will support these taxpaying Americans as they put faces to the nontheist and secular communities and tell their federal representatives that they are voters and are paying attention to issues.

The lobbying training will be led by Amanda Knief, government relations manager for the Secular Coalition.

"We want to have a wave of godless voters flood the halls of every congressional building to show all of America that secular and nontheistic Americans are here, that we expect our elected officials to represent our issues, and that we care about our country just as much as any American," Knief said. Only by participating in the very system that is working against our communities right now can we hope to change things.

While studies show that up to 15 percent of the U.S. population—or roughly 50 million Americans—are secular, the visibility of our community is still low. Secular Americans often hide their nontheistic viewpoints and ideologies because they fear persecution. A 2006 study conducted by the University of Minnesota’s Department of Sociology found that atheists are the least trusted minority group in America–many of the respondents associated atheism with immorality, including criminal behavior, extreme materialism and elitism. A 2011 study by the University of British Columbia found only rapists were distrusted to a comparable degree as atheists. The Secular Coalition is working to change this by making the voices of all secular Americans–atheists, agnostics, humanists and freethinkers–heard by the Administration and Congressional representatives.

2012 will mark the second consecutive year that the Secular Coalition will host a lobby day. The 2011 lobby day included more than 80 people making almost 50 lobbying visits in one afternoon. The Secular Coalition expects the 2012 event to draw even more secular Americans due to its timing the day before the Reason Rally.

To register or for more information, go to The Secular Coalition encourages early registration those who register early will more likely be able to have visits with their Senators’ and Representatives’ offices.

The Notorious PZ Myers

The Twin Cities Creation Science Fair was held last weekend. I was out of town, but flew back in on Sunday afternoon and actually thought about swinging north and dropping in to see what was going on, but decided against it: I was tired, and these things are sad and tawdry affairs, and they just make me depressed for the poor kids.

But Josh Engen was there. Apparently my name came up a few times while he toured the exhibits.

Finally, we came across a presentation entitled “Dinosaurs And The Ark.” The board had obviously been put together by a very young child, and the matriarch of creationism wanted desperately to protect it. This woman, whose nametag read “Julie Von Vett,” ungracefully positioned herself between the camera and the poster board and began staring at me in a way that reminded me of my grandmother.

“Are you planning to post these pictures on PZ Myers’ website?” she finally blurted out.

Me: “Excuse me?”

Julie: “You know PZ Myers, don’t you?”

I explained that I had no relationship with Mr. Myers and that my being there had nothing to do with him. But, it was obvious that Julie’s mind was made up. By then she was grilling me like a cartoon drill sergeant. Who was I working for? Why was I there? Etc. Etc.

After several passive-aggressive attempts to trick me into admitting that PZ Myers had sent me on a secret mission to disrupt her event, or perhaps that I actually was PZ dressed up in some kind of clever disguise, a small crowd of people slowly formed around us. Within a few minutes, I was surrounded by several aggressive creationists, and each one had a separate theory about my associations and purpose.

The most interesting accusation that was brought against me (and PZ Myers, and all of his readers by association) was that I was specifically there to make fun of children.

I’ve attended many creationist events. I never disrupt them or even recommend to others that they disrupt them: those visits are fact-finding missions. I also don’t encourage making fun of the kids — they are the victims. It’s good that some of them are trying to do basic science, but the fact that the organizers compel everyone to put bible verses on their posters is telling and deplorable.

But by gosh, next year, or perhaps the year after, I’m going to have to go to the Har-Mar Mall in February, just to freak these people out. Or maybe I can actually get by with commissioning a squad of undercover minions to go on a secret mission to infiltrate their science fair. Or perhaps openly — maybe we need a Twin Cities Creozerg?

Except for the sadness of dealing with deluded kids. That makes it so much less fun.