Why I am an atheist – Andreas

I’ve probably been an atheist my whole life. I wasn’t really raised in a very religious way. I got baptized, and had my confirmation when I was 14 years old. But still, I didn’t really believe that stuff. Confirmation was basically for getting money from my family.

But that doesn’t mean I never prayed.

Two years ago, when I was 16 years old, my father died – not suddenly, but slowly, because of cancer. This was not a pleasant experience. He had had cancer before, it was thought to be gone, then there was another tumor in his brain. Which caused a stroke, he was brought to a hospital, and then there he was, unable to move properly, unable to speak properly, completely helpless – which is terrible, but it was even worse for him. He never wanted to be dependent on somebody. But now he was. He still was completely conscious, he knew what happened around him. He could hear us talk to him, but he couldn’t reply properly. I could see how frustrating that was for him. I remember how we tried to understand what he tried to tell us, but ultimately we didn’t seem to get it. He tried to write it down, but there was no way we could read it. I remember when he was trying to tell me and my brother something, but still, we weren’t able to understand him. But then there was something we did understand. “Ihr seid doch so dämlich, ihr seid doch so unglaublich dämlich”, which roughly translates to “you are so dumb, you are so incredibly dumb”. When you could have seen his face, you would know how frustrating this was for him. He was angry, either at himself, or at us, or at the cancer. He was unable to speak with us, unable to say last words, unable to give last advice.

His condition got worse, and I don’t even know how long it was until he died. One month? Two months? When it finally happened, it was a relief. For him, and for all of us.

Why am I telling you this?

This was the time when I prayed. I prayed for a cure, for the radiation therapy to work, even when he got to the hospice, I prayed for a miracle. I probably didn’t really believe in God, but you try everything out, you cling to every glimmer of hope there is, however remote.

A day before his death, there was a priest with him, and he received the last supper. I was not there myself, but I wonder what he might have said.
“You’re going to Heaven, to a better place”?

Or “Do not be afraid, God is waiting for you”?

Is this a comforting thought? Anyway, why is the way to enter Heaven so painful, why do you have to suffer for so long? Why not just make him die now, why not help my father? Why does God not care?

I think that this was the thing that made me realize that there is no God. Definitely not. And even if there is, then he is not someone to worship, but someone to be repulsed of.

Some days before his funeral, the priest of our small city who was going to hold the funeral sermon was at our home. She asked questions about him, about his life, about what to say about him. My mother told her, and at the funeral, the priest basically repeated what my mother told her. Of course she did, what else could she say? But that made it clear to me: This woman did not know my father at all. She had no idea about who he was. And still, she acted as if she knew him, as if she actually cared.

When, some day, I’m going to die, I don’t want some stranger to talk about me. I want my family and friends to do that, people, who actually knew me.

Religious people don’t have a satisfying answer about why God allows so much pain and suffering. Either they say that God works in mysterious ways, which is basically admitting that they don’t have a fucking clue, or that it’s part of God’s divine plan (You can’t help but to wonder why an all-powerful, all-knowing and all-loving creator of the universe is unable to develop a plan that doesn’t require hundreds of millions of people to die to function). My favorite: In our confirmation lessons we discussed the issue, and after some weeks, we came to the conclusion: everybody has to decide for himself. Yea, great. I’m feeling much better already.

So, about one and a half years later, I discovered the splendid Astrodicticum Simplex blog of Florian Freistetter, which is the most known German science blog. Through him, I came to discover the awesome videos of Edward Current and Non Stamp Collector, I discovered The Thinking Atheist (from which I have some awesome T-shirts), I discovered your blog, Pharyngula, and later the Freethoughtblogs with Camels with Hammers and The Digital Cuttlefish (Bishops, And Pawns and What Would An Atheist Do? are so amazing, thank you for them!). I came to know Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris, I bought God Is Not Great and The God Delusion, and through Florian Freistetter I discovered great science books (I can’t really name them all), and Carl Sagan and his Cosmos. These people showed me a lot about our world, and why it is so magnificent, and why it can be so without a god.

But I also discovered more unpleasant things. I discovered how women in Islamic countries are being treated, how atheists suffer from a lot of prejudice in America, what parents can do to children because of their religion, how there a people like Ken Ham who are able to ignore all evidence and live in their own illusory (6000 years old) world, and even teach these views on children. I read parts of the Bible and the Qu’ran, and found out that these are books filled with violence, far from being divinely inspired, written by God. I found out about just how ridiculous some religious beliefs are (two words: Noah’s Ark).
But the thing that probably shocked me most was Harold Camping. This man brought people (besides bringing them to give him all their possessions) to actually kill themselves. He inflicted a fear of something imaginary in them, so strong, they saw no other way to handle it but to kill themselves. And did he show any remorse? Far from it, he said that the 21st May 2011 was merely the date where humans on earth are to be judged, and the final end of the world is said to happen 5 months later, on 21st October, which is (from the time I write this) in exactly 12 days. I don’t have any hopes, we’re going to have the same thing again, that is, people willing giving up their whole life because of their immense faith, and people like Harold Camping who have no problem with exploiting this faith for their own benefit, walking over dead bodies, and just not giving a damn. And maybe he even isn’t just not giving a damn, maybe he thinks he’s doing something good. If he were real, his God would probably be proud of him.

That’s why I am an atheist, and why I oppose religion.

“We are all without god – some of us just happen to be aware of it.” ~ Monica Salcedo

Andreas
Germany

The fake journal trend

It’s really easy to set up a completely fake peer-reviewed journal, which is a great boon to pseudoscientists, quacks, creationists, and con artists. They can be tripped up, though, since they aren’t aware of all the inside jokes and strange habits of scientists. Here’s one, a journal called “Molecular Biology”, that was exposed because they were a little to eager to recruit “editors”…editors who would never be called upon to edit anything, but would just provide a name for window dressing.

I’m delighted to inform you that Peter Uhnemann from the
 Daniel-Duesentrieb Institute in Germany was just appointed
 editor of the OMICS journal “Molecular Biology”:


http://www.omicsgroup.org/journals/editorialboardMBL.php


For those of you who don’t know Peter Uhnemann: he is a fake
 person invented by the German satirical magazine Titanic.
 They created an FB account for him to make fun of social
 networks (he soon befriended on FB with various German
 politicians).



For those of you who don’t know Daniel Duesentrieb: this is
 the German name of the Walt Disney comic figure Gyro Gearloose.



For those of you who don’t know the OMICS journals: these
 are junk journals spamming around invitations to join their
 editorial boards.

On their web page they say that

 “election of the “right” editor for a journal is one of the
 most important decisions made by OMICS Publishing Group …
 Editors, Executive Editors & Editor-in- Chief of journals
 must be senior researchers, e.g. chaired professors.”

 As it looks, Peter Uhnemann from the Daniel-Duesentrieb
 Institute meets these criteria.

If you accepted an offer to join the editorial board of this journal and are on this list, you might want to get off of it fast — you’re being associated with a spammy bit of fraud. I’m looking at you, Peter Duesberg.

(Also on Sb)

Why I am an atheist – George Harris

I was born an atheist. Fortunately my parents, and their parents let me decide what I thought of religion, while always explaining that they thought it was complete nonsense.

As a result I never took faith seriously despite attending Church of England schools, as there was never any evidence offered for the claims of the bible. I became less passive during adolescence when I reflected on the damage religion does to civilisation, and after September 11, my father and I became avid followers of the various luminaries of the Atheist movement.

There is no need to explain why I am an Atheist – it is my natural state and it falls on the religious to convince me why I should be otherwise.

George Harris

What’s Behe doing lately?

Epigenetics is a serious business, with many scientists and many conferences on the topic. I wrote a short summary of epigenetics myself a while back. So it was with some shock that I regarded this announcement from the Discovery Institute:

Richard Sternberg and Michael Behe to speak at epigenetics conference in Tampa Feb 24-25.

Really? They’ve been invited to a science conference? Which one, a Keystone Symposium, or possibly a Gordon Conference? I was horrified.

But no, it was just the DI padding their résumé again. It was this one.

It’s sponsored by a Christian apologetics organization called the C.S. Lewis society, and it looks like some kind of wacky newagey self-help conference. It’s titled “Shaping your DNA Destiny: Exploring Epigenetic Keys to Improving Your Health”, and this is the description:

We will focus on the physical and spiritual health implications of the discoveries that have been made about the “epigenetic software” that runs our cellular DNA. Also speaking will be Dr. Richard Sternberg. He is the biologist in the “Expelled” film who described to Ben Stein the harassment he experienced at the Smithsonian Institute.

Other speakers will give talks on spiritual health, and tips for good nutrition and exercise. We will have a special guest appearance from a couple who lost their son to suicide after being devastated by reading the book by Richard Dawkins, “The God Delusion.”

It’s being held at Calvary Baptist Church, with lunch catered by Chick-Fil-A. Sounds sciencey, all right. I’m really curious to learn how I can improve my health by modifying my epigenome, though.

Because Denyse O’Leary is so much nicer than Jerry Coyne

I could have warned him. Jerry Coyne had an interview on Skeptiko, that nest of feeble-minded credulity, that was a hilarious collision of reason with idiocy. The last time I looked at Skeptiko was when he interviewed Denyse O’Leary, on her ghastly book, The Spiritual Brain.

Strangely, that interview went smoothly and without any argument. Clearly the problem must lie with Jerry Coyne’s temperament.

Shaving with a baseball bat

Leonard Brand is absolutely convinced that science and religion are reconcilable, and that the two working together can generate a true and complete understanding of the world. He has gone to great lengths to show that religious scholarship can take the knowledge of science and use it to improve our understanding of his god, and that conversely, feedback from the Bible can enhance our understanding of the science. Brand even has a model of how this works.

Isn’t that sweet? He claims to be willing to modify his religious views to adapt to scientific knowledge. There’s just one catch.

He’s a freakin’ young earth creationist. The earth has to be young, Adam & Eve have to have been real people, evolution can’t have generated the diversity of life on earth billions of years before the Fall because there was no death until Eve took a bite out of the apple.

The Great Controversy and salvation story holds together only if moral evil (human greed, murder, theft e.g.) and natural evil (suffering and death from volcanoes, storms, and earthquakes) are the result of human sin. If life evolved over millions of years before Adam and Eve sinned, then moral and natural evil are not intruders in the universe, but were an integral part of God’s creation process. Efforts to contrive a way out of this logic have not been successful. For example, William Dembski tries to make evil the result of human sin, even though humans and sin (in the standard geological model) did not exist until after millennia of death and evil on earth. This simply illustrates the desperate efforts necessary if we reject a recent literal creation but don’t wish to put the blame for evil on God.

Although there isn’t space here for a full discussion, I will argue that the theory of large-scale evolution, with its millions of years for life on earth, is in direct conflict with Bible Christianity and the Great Controversy between Christ and Satan. If a literal one-week creation is not true, then there were eons of evil, suffering, disease, natural evil, and death on earth before the existence of any humans or any human sin.20 Also if the time scale in the Bible is not true, that undermines confidence in the truth of other parts of Scripture. These are among the reasons many of us hold to the biblical time scale and reject an evolution process that produces the major types of organisms.

Oh. So the syllogism works like this:

  • Christianity is falsifiable, and would be falsified if the earth were more than about ten thousand years old.

  • The evidence and science show conclusively that the earth is about 4.5 billion years old, and that animals were evolving half a billion years before humans appeared.

  • Therefore, argle-bargle ptang ptang zeeeeyooop wanka-wanka-wanka “DANGER, WILL ROBINSON” <*pop*> science must be adjusted to fit my dogma.

It’s not really falsifiable if you’re going to automatically reject any evidence that falsifies it, is it?

What follows gets worse and worse. Brand is trying desperately to show that creation theology can contribute to our understanding of the natural world, so he trots out a series of examples where he claims creationism has been enlightening. They are all embarrassingly bad.

For example, he discusses the Coconino formation in Arizona. This is a known eolian formation: it’s the product of windblown sand dunes becoming cemented and compressed in place. There’s tons of evidence that this is the case. They look like dunes, they’re made up of sand like dunes, they contain footprints of lizards and millipedes rather than clamshells and worm burrows, they’re desert dunes, mmm-kay? Creationists are convinced that they had to be formed by a global flood, though, so they strain to interpret some of those footprints as formed by reptiles, walking on the sea floor, entirely underwater. Galloping underwater, even.

The Coconino Sandstone (SS) in northern Arizona is interpreted as an accumulation of ancient desert sand dunes, which have been cemented into sandstone. The only fossils in the Coconino SS are fossil animal tracks. These tracks have been argued to be evidence supporting the desert origin of the Coconino sand deposits. However this evidence was investigated because of a desire to understand how the Coconino SS fits into a global flood process. The evidence resulting from this research can only be explained if the vertebrate animals made their tracks while entirely underwater.

You know, even if you find an occasional smudgy footprint that you want to pretend was formed underwater, you have to look at all of the evidence. And that shows that these footprints were terrestrial:

  • “One of the most common observations is that the tracks have bulges
    or sand crescents on one side, thereby proving that they were made
    on inclined surfaces” (Lockley and Hunt 1995).
  • Tracks showing possible loping, running, and galloping gaits are
    found throughout the Coconino Sandstone. These can only have been
    made on dry land.

  • Tracks of small arthropods, attributable to spiders, centipedes,
    millipedes, and scorpions, occur abundantly in the Coconino
    Sandstone. (Schur [2000] has some excellent pictures.) Some of
    these trackways can only be made on completely dry sand.
  • Raindrop impressions also appear.

This is exactly what I mean by cherry-picking. Creationists ignore the 99.99% of the evidence that refutes their hypotheses.

You know what makes this argument even more ridiculous? The author of this paper on the Coconino, which supposedly demonstrates that the formation was produced in a great flood, was…Leonard Brand. Yep, he’s only citing his own papers, and we already know his philosophy of throwing out anything that might conflict with his dogmatic Christianity.

Brand cites another example: whale fossils in Peru (Why is this haunting me lately? Creationists everywhere seem to be suddenly citing this one work).

In Peru the Miocene/Pliocene Pisco Formation contains many thousands of fossil whales, buried in thick sediments composed of the skeletons of microscopic diatoms, and in sandstone. Previous study by geologists and paleontologists interpreted the sediment as slowly accumulating, with sediment only a few centimeters thick being added each thousand years. Then a group of Bible-oriented creationists began to study this accumulation of fossil whales. They became quickly aware of something that did not catch the attention of previous researchers. The whales and other fossil vertebrates are exquisitely preserved, and this is not possible unless the dead animals were quickly buried, so that each whale was buried in weeks or months, not thousands of years

The paper is online. You can read it. Guess who the author is? That’s right…Leonard Brand. He actually has several papers published in reputable journals on the stratigraphy of this Peruvian formation; given his peculiar method of interpreting data, though, the journal editors might want to scrutinize his paper submissions more carefully in the future. He doesn’t mention young earth creationism in any of them, he’s extremely circumspect about exposing his most un-geological notions by, for instance, nowhere mentioning any dates at all, just blandly describing the depth and distribution of the strata. There is nothing overtly objectionable in the papers. But his interpretations elsewhere are dishonest. (By the way, why am I stuck writing about geology? I’m a biologist! We need more geologists to take this stuff on.)

He claims that these whale fossils are evidence of Noah’s Flood. That makes no sense. The whales are found scattered in different layers in a formation 240 meters or more thick, consisting “mostly of sandstones, siltstones, and tuffaceous beds” and diatomaceous mudstones. These are alternating layers created by different modes: tuff is the product of volcanic ash, for instance. These were not whales killed in a grand catastrophe, but the consequence of multiple deaths on different occasions in which the whale corpses drifted into shallow bays, settled on the bottom, and were covered by the precipitating skeletons of blooms of diatoms. This doesn’t fit with the flood model at all. And it’s from the Miocene/Pliocene! It’s about 5 million years old…a little fact he omits from all of his accounts.

Of course, that dating stuff isn’t too be trusted. He simply waves it away and predicts that someday we’ll have true knowledge that will allow us to fit the radiometric dates to a young earth.

Radiometric dating is still in stage 1 [“Conflict and confusion”], with some stage 2 [“Research in science and deeper Bible study, with hindsight”] research. We have not resolved the conflict, but we can make a prediction as to what we believe the outcome will be. I predict, based partly on faith (religion) and partly because of evidence (science) that some time in the future new evidence will show (science) that we are now seriously misinterpreting the radiometric data, and it actually gives only relative age, not age in years. Scientists who take this prediction seriously will be in the best position to understand the new evidence when and if it appears (science) before Jesus returns to earth.

There is no scientific evidence that radiometric data has been misinterpreted. He’s bullshitting us all with that.

But I’ve saved the best for last. Good scientists keep Occam’s Razor sharp and well-honed; you don’t get to just invent ad hoc excuses to stick by a falsified explanation. Adjustments to hypotheses are incremental, and we try only to advance them just far enough to still be open to testing.

Creationists have no such scruples, because they’re never going to have to test their hypotheses. Occam’s Razor is blunted or discarded entirely. So here’s my favorite explanation ever for God holding the sun still in the sky while Joshua fought a battle.

Lets now discuss Joshua’s long day. Certainly this is going too far, to actually think that the sun stood still that long, in spite of the totally predictable, finely balanced and very complex pattern of movement of the heavenly bodies. But on the other hand, how much do we know about the options that an infinite God has at his disposal? And maybe that sun trick wasn’t so disruptive after all. If I try to imagine how it could be done if I had no physical limits, but was not allowed to influence the movement of the sun or moon or the earth, here is a speculative suggestion. A system of giant mirrors could be used to deflect the sun’s image, so that from a human perspective the sun did stand still. Then later the mirrors could slowly move the sun back into its normal schedule. Did God do it that way? Of course we have no idea (God is certainly much more creative than us), but this scenario just illustrates how utterly futile it is for finite humans to think we can decide what God can or cannot do. He created the “laws of nature” and he knows how to use them to accomplish his will.

I’m imagining swarms of rocket-propelled angels holding an array of gigantic mirrors in space, steadily shifting and swiveling them to keep the sun focused on one spot on earth for an entire day. That god is one cunning engineer, capable of constructing astronomically colossal magic tricks in space to fool a few armies, but totally unable to provide adequate water supplies to his desert nomads.

The Poll of Childhood Pain

This is an awful poll: it’s trying to build a list of 15 Places Kids Should See Before 15, and here are the top 5 so far:

#1:U.S. Space and Rocket Center, AL

#2:Creation Museum, KY

#3:Smithsonian Museum of American History, DC

#4:Alabama Space and Rocket Center, AL

#5:Yellowstone Nationsl Park, WY

The Creation “Museum” was at #1 earlier, but it has begun to slide downward. How about pushing it further?

There is the problem that there are so many options that it’ll be hard to focus and knock out the Creation “Museum” — it has 700 votes already — so you might want to peruse the list and vote for any choice that has a chance at passing it by.

Why I am an atheist – Kathy M

I was raised by atheists. They let my grandparents take us to church when we were very young, but it made no sense. I think my parents wanted, out of some sense of fairness, to expose us to religion to form our own opinions. I even attended Catholic mass with family friends a few times, but from my 7-year-old perspective it was just crazy, all that stand up, sit down, stand up, sit down, and the mystery of the adults lined up to be fed by hand.

What hit home the strongest and earliest for me was when my father asked, “What kind of god would send you to hell forever just for not believing in him, no matter how good a person you are?” He and my born-again grandfather were forever arguing over religion, and my grandfather’s constant nagging about church pushed my parents away. It was probably my grandfather’s pushing as much as my parents’ atheism that influenced my views. I have never believed in a god.

In my teens, it was my turn to debate him. When I’d visit, he’d start witnessing, and so I’d tell him why I thought it was nonsense. It was lighthearted – he was a doting grandfather – but there was something sad about it. Why couldn’t he see how beautiful the universe is, having blossomed all by itself without some invisible prejudiced, jealous, capricious, demanding, tamtrum-throwing deity getting the credit? I tried to make him understand that all I asked was for him to respect my right to my own beliefs, as I respected his right to his. I suppose he thought of it as trying to save someone he loves, but how much can you love someone who you don’t respect?

Every time I saw him, the first thing he’d ask (as though he didn’t know the answer) was, “Did you go to church last Sunday?” One day in my 20s, just plain tired of it, I answered “Yes, and we sacrificed a goat and danced around the fire!” He never asked again. Last Christmas he griped about a gay marching band – predictably, he’s homophobic and blames his religion. I said, “If I were going to believe in a god, he or she wouldn’t hate anyone.” He said, incredulously,”IF you were going to believe in god?” “Yes, if I were going to believe in one, it wouldn’t hate anyone just for being who they are.” It amazes me that after all these years of making it explicitly clear, he still can’t wrap his head around the idea that I’m an atheist. It’s sad that our relationship suffered from his obsession. But on the positive side, I learned from it, and I haven’t imposed all that control and guilt and judgement on my own child.

So, I guess the moral of the story is: religion is also evil for elevating itself above everyone and everything else in your life – tainting and diluting and polluting what could otherwise be something joyful.

Kathy M
United States