Ray Comfort is gonna die

As are we all. But Ray Comfort imagines what his last words will be, and they’re quite a doozy—twelve paragraphs of god babble, more mindless regurgitating of his usual evangelical spiel, culminating in this:

So, please, repent today. Confess your sins to God, and then forsake them. Then trust alone in Jesus for your eternal salvation and God will forgive you and give you everlasting life.

So, as he lays dying of terminal logorrhea and metastasizing melodrama, Ray Comfort’s last thoughts will involve hectoring everyone else around him. He’s not a very nice person. I don’t think he’s even seriously thought about what death means, either.

I’ve had my own near-death experience. It happened last summer, when I was undergoing all these examinations for my heart. I had a stress test. And I failed it.

A stress test is where they make your heart work very, very hard while they examine it; I was put in a kind of exercise/torture device and told to start pedaling as hard as I could, while electrodes all over my naked chest were recording the electrical activity, and the doctor made sonograms of my heart, which I could watch as I worked up a good sweat. And it was reassuring: my heart was strong, unscarred, beating well, with no irregularities. I made it through the whole test and did well. Then it was over, and I got out of the device, and that’s when the trouble began.

I’ve got coronary artery disease. So although the muscles of my heart are in good shape, the blood vessels supplying them are clogged and constricted. What happened next was a peculiar sensation: my heart was starved for oxygen after that workout, and it started to fade out on me. It was like driving along on your car and suddenly the engine starts to gasp and splutter because it’s not getting any fuel, and I felt the same thing you would in such a situation: helpless, because no amount of pumping the gas pedal helps, nor can I will gas to the motor, and betrayed. I rely on that heart, I take it for granted, and there it was, failing me.

If I hadn’t survived this event, as you obviously know I did, I also know what my last words would have been, and they wouldn’t have been a prolonged screed about how everyone ought to be an atheist. They would have been, “I think I need to sit down.” And that’s what I did. I wobbled a few steps into the bathroom and flopped down on the toilet. There was absolutely nothing romantic or poetic about this.

And then I felt myself going. My guts went all watery, and I felt the unpleasantness of nausea with a flabby feeling that no, I wasn’t even going to have the strength to vomit. My limbs went all rubbery and limp. I kept sweating — a cold, clammy sweat. There was a roaring whisper in my ears, and all I heard as the doctors milled about was a distant “waa waa waa” sound. My peripheral vision faded, and it seemed like I was staring down a narrow tunnel.

And I was alone.

My wife was there, there were a couple of doctors and nurses present — let me tell you, if you ever have a cardiac event, do it while in a hospital while wired to every instrument that goes ping you can find — but they all felt distant and remote. And I thought, “So this is what dying feels like.” I felt no panic or fear, just a little sad about ceasing to exist, and I thought about the important things in my life.

I had married the love of my life, and she was standing there with me. We had had three kids, and I could see them all in my mind’s eye, and they were strong and smart and good, and I could trust that they’d be all right — my only wish was that I could see them one last time. I did not see my whole life flash past my eyes, but I did recollect a brief and simple happy moment, remembering when my children were small and they’d lift their hands to hold mine. There were no regrets, my job was done.

And then…the demands of cardiac muscle eased as respiration finally rose to meet them, and I felt my heart strengthen and pump solidly again. I wasn’t out of gas after all! It was just a temporarily clogged fuel line. We’ll get that fixed at the repair shop and I can keep going down the road for a good long while yet.

So I rise from the not-quite-dead-yet, but having taken one step down that path, and I can tell you that as the darkness descends, there will be no gods or angels rising to judge you. You’ll be alone, no matter how crowded the room, and the only judge you’ll face is yourself. There will be no authority looking over your shoulder and telling you whether your life was worthy or wasted, and if there were, its opinion would be irrelevant — all that will matter is that you can look back and find happiness and accomplishment. We live our lives for our life’s sake, rather than for illusions about rewards and satisfaction after we’re dead.

If your last thoughts are about haranguing everyone else about their theology, you’ve been living that life wrong.

Iowa billboard poll

Curse our sense of good taste and our willingness to disagree! The American Atheists have put up a billboard in Des Moines, Iowa, in preparation for the big meeting next month, and the local media have noticed and put up a poll. I’d like to say that we shall simply go in and crush this poll, except…they’re using the ugly yellow design with the weird tents and symbols. Which means that even if they like the content, many atheists will vote “hate them” for their lousy esthetics.

Oh, well. Go forth and sow confusion, then. That’s all these polls are good for, anyway.

What do you think of the new American Atheists billboards?

Love them
24%
Hate them
65%
Not sure
7%
I don’t know
5%

Students are “soft-bellied targets”

The animal rights loons are ranting again. These people are simply terrorists, as you can see in this quote from their odious website.

Every time a vivisector’s car or home — and, eventually, the abuser him/herself — blows up, flames of liberation light up the sky.

They’re quite proud of taking the unconscionably violent position. And now, just to show how low they can sink, they have announced a new target: our students.

Debuting The Soft-Bellied Target and New Resistance Tactics: Bringing the War to the Student Body

When we attack professors, we can only expect limited gains. They are deeply entrenched in the holocaust, have vested financial interests, and enjoy a network of support and protection. Students, however, have no round-the-clock police protection, no access to the FBI, and no access to legislators. The weakest link in the chain is the student body. Vivisectors-in-training can be shut down with relative ease.

They also are the next generation and it is our responsibility to ensure that they are the last generation. Unless we intercede now, the students of today will be the mutilators of tomorrow. Conversely, there will be no animal torturers tomorrow if we effectively eliminate them today.

How are they going to target these students? With intimidation. They are bragging about one example now, a young woman named Alena who mentioned wanting to follow a research career who they harrassed into at least saying she would abandon her plans (who may be just saying that to shut up the crazies, and who may also be a phony stooge of the haters), and they have a list of ways they are going after our students.

1. By and large, students pursuing careers in research science truly want to help people, not victimize animals. Their indoctrination into the world of laboratory torture is slow, methodical, and deliberate. While they are being groomed, we are obligated to intercede and educate these young scientists with truth. As Alena admitted, “I was naive…I really just did not know about all this stuff.” And she is not unique.

2. Students also need to understand that making the wrong choice will result in a lifetime of grief. Aspiring scientists envision curing cancer at the Mayo Clinic. We need to impart a new vision: car bombs, 24/7 security cameras, embarrassing home demonstrations, threats, injuries, and fear. And, of course, these students need to realize that any personal risk they are willing to assume will also be visited upon their parents, children, and nearest & dearest loved ones. The time to reconsider is now.

3. Like all young adults, college students are acutely concerned with how they are perceived by their peers. They need to maintain a certain persona if they wish to continue to enjoy the acceptance of their community. This makes them infinitely more susceptible to negative and inflammatory publicity than their veteran-mutilator counterparts. When education fails, smear campaigns can be highly effective. Abusers have forfeited all rights to privacy and peace of mind and, if an abuser-to-be should fail to make the correct choice now, NIO is here to broadcast all of their personal information. Remember, young people document every facet of their personal lives online. In about 30 minutes, we were able to compile an impressive and comprehensive profile for Elena.

Notice that among the tactics they advocate are car bombs, injuries, and fear. These are home-grown terrorists, nothing more.

If they think professors are protected, wait until they scratch an innocent student, though — their obscure organization will instantly become a pariah organization, everywhere.

Spamming me doesn’t work, OK?

I know you’re out there, and I’m laughing at you. Something happens to me occasionally: some clever dick decides that they’ll torment me by signing me up for all kinds of internet newsletters and advertising, so that my in-box will get flooded, or they sign me up for magazine delivery and then presumably chuckle at my discomfiture at receiving unwanted mail.

What they don’t understand is that I live in spamville.

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I get several thousand emails a day right now. Putting me on an acupuncturist mailing list, or the newsletter of a chiropractic cult, simply throws a few more drops into the torrent. I click on it once, add it to my list of software sorting rules (all mail from this address→trash), and it’s gone and never reappears. I can do this far more quickly and easily than you can sign me up. I have skills honed in an incident with Catholics a few years ago.

So sure, you can get a company to send me something like this a thousand times, and I’ll see it once, and forevermore, that company is dead to me. Meanwhile, what I’ve got is blog fodder.

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Acupuncture loons are churning out software to calculate magic points to poke the gullible? That’s just hilarious.

As for those who burden my poor mailman with pulp, that goes in two directions. Most of it just gets recycled, like the church newsletters and letters telling me to pay for prayers on their magic prayer rug. Some of it I rather appreciate: the person(s) who signed me up for those gay men’s magazines, for instance. They actually had intelligent analyses of political issues, with fashion tips. I felt guilty about taking those in and depriving a quality company of revenue, and cancelled those, but any others, I just recycle their money into the big blue boxes.

Anyway, I just thought I’d mention to the delusional harasser that yes, I noticed your recent effort to make a dent in my mailbox…for about 30 seconds.

Thou shalt not suffer a witch to inspect your junk in the airport scanner

Carole Smith is a Wiccan who worked for the TSA at the Albany airport. Her coworkers didn’t much care for working alongside a witch, so they complained.

…her former mentor in on-the-job training, officer Mary Bagnoli, reported that she was afraid of Smith because she was a witch who practiced witchcraft. She accused Smith of following her on the highway one snowy evening after work and casting a spell on the heater of her car, causing it not to work.

Well, now. If I were her supervisor and Mary Bagnoli told me that story, I’d be checking her locker for a bottle of hooch. What else, did someone at work complain that she turned them into a newt?

I am not the supervisor, though. What the TSA did, after hearing this story and struggling with a little workplace drama, was fire Carole Smith. It seems to me, though, that Smith was keeping her batty beliefs out of the workplace, while it was Bagnoli who was engaging in a little ludicrous harassment. Either way, I came away from this story feeling a little less secure.

CONvergence and SkepChickCon

I’m giving you advanced warning: the awesome science fiction convention, CONvergence, will be taking place in Bloomington, Minnesota on 30 June-3 July. You should go. Really. It will be fun, and I’m always telling atheist activists to go to a few science fiction conventions — they have mastered the art of being inclusive, interesting, diverse, and interactive. Even if you aren’t an SF fan, go to one and study the mechanics, they work.

CONvergence has another distinction, in that the Skepchicks have attached themselves leechlike to the larger con to run a skeptics’ track. So yes, you should go for the fun parties attended by strange people in exotic costumes and the panel discussions on how to survive Zombie Armageddon, but you can also sit in on entertaining and educational sessions on critical thinking and science.

Go forth and register now.

Events for this Thursday

Aaargh! Dueling events on Thursday night!

Oh, well, they’re easy to resolve spatially. If you’re somewhere near Minneapolis, you should attend JT Eberhard’s talk in Smith Hall at 7. He’s going to be talking about “Campus Preachers: An Excuse to Build Forts and Other Shenanigans”, so I’m sure there’ll be tips on what to do when Brother Jed comes to town.

I can’t go! I’m going to be in the Twin Cities on Thursday night, down near the airport, because I’m flying out to speak at Elmhurst College on Friday. But I’ve got another commitment for this Thursday night. I’m appearing on Virtually Speaking with Jay Ackroyd, a kind of talk show that takes place in Second Life. I’ll be tottering about with a poorly controlled avatar, and you can join in by creating your own avatar, or you can just listen in as if it were a live podcast.

So you can listen to me if you’re anywhere in the world, but you’ll need to physically come to Minneapolis to see JT.

Leaving creationism

We occasionally get threads full of deconversion stories here: atheists arrive at their conclusions by some very different paths, where sometimes it was an easy and natural transition, and sometimes it was painful, agonizing, and there are still deep wounds left from parting the ways with religion. Today, though, I’d like to ask a narrower question: How did you come to accept evolution?

Some of you will find the problem odd, because you’ve never believed in anything else. I know when I was growing up, despite going to Sunday School and all that nonsense, my church never mentioned the subject of evolution, either to approve or disapprove; my public school classes never discussed it, either, to their disgrace. I grew up devouring books on natural history at my local library, and absorbed the evolutionary explanations within them, only getting formal training when I entered college. It was quite a shock to me to discover what kind of absurd twaddle other people thought was real science!

But others may have been instructed early on in creationism as part of their religious upbringing, and the process of learning had to involve a lot of unlearning as well. Where were you on the continuum? Was your childhood science untainted by religious dogma, or were you a full-on bible-thumping young earth creationist, or something in between? How did you wrestle the myth to the ground and drop-kick it into the local lake?

Ken MacLeod was a youthful creationist who got better, if you need an example. He brings up another interesting point, a perspective that I share: once you recognize the fallacies behind creationism, you also realize that creationism’s promoters are not simply deluded folk — they are monsters of malice who are intentionally trying to undermine science education because it conflicts with their religious values, and they are perfectly willing to lie and slander to achieve their goals.

What quote-mining shows is that some people who produce creationist material are conscious liars. Behind these pseudo-science hacks are worse people yet. These are theologians who have the education to understand the conflict precisely. It’s not one between ‘science and the Bible’. It’s a lot more stark than that. It’s a conflict between a particular way of reading the Bible (what is loosely called ‘literalism’) and normal scientific method. There would be a certain integrity in acknowledging the conflict, admitting that there was no obvious resolution, and pointing out that we are not always given to comprehend the intent of the Ancient of Days. That at least would allow young people from these traditions to study biology and geology and astronomy without the constant arguments at home interrupting their thoughts like a buzz of static across their brains.

There’s one further ironic revenge visited on all this. A frequent complaint against the New Atheists is that they’re only arguing against fundamentalism, and ignoring the broader and more accommodating forms of religious belief. This isn’t exactly true, but to the extent that it is, they’ve hit a sweet spot in the market. When I rejected fundamentalism I didn’t turn to broader and more accommodating forms of religious belief. I didn’t start wondering if maybe there was something to be said for Anglicanism. I just went straight over to atheism. If this is typical, and I think it is, then there must be many for whom the New Atheist books are like water in the desert. We need no condescension from those who have already found an oasis.

I’ve interacted with a lot of creationists over the years, and one thing I’ve learned is that they aren’t necessarily stupid people: they are often accomplished, literate, successful in fields that aren’t science, and entirely capable of following some of the most byzantine threads of logic. And yet, when they are confronted with the logic of evolution, which is relatively simple and clear and also backed by impressive amounts of empirical evidence, they balk and begin to reach desperately for the worst arguments, striving to debunk the truth with dishonesty to an exceptional degree.

It’s one of the reasons I encourage students to listen to the other side. If the student has any knowledge of biology at all, they find the lies they use appalling and horrifying. And I do not hesitate to call them lies: they know better. Anyone who can ferret their way through the chaos of the Bible is smart enough to understand how to read a lucid Charles Darwin for meaning.

MacLeod’s last point about the New Atheists is also valid. Encountering fundamentalism was the trigger that woke me up to the follies and fallacies of creationism, but it also made the conscious blindness of less toxic religions obvious. Over and over again, I have witnessed the silence of the churches. Over and over again, a creationist rides into town, spouts his lies and nonsense, and who rebuts them? Usually, only the atheists. Even the liberal church congregations sit quietly, many of their members even attend these talks with muted assent, and the general attitude even from sects that don’t demand adherence to beliefs in a young earth is…let them abide.

I often hear the argument that not only is creationism bad science, it is bad theology. I don’t accept that argument at all. In part, it’s because all theology is bad, and if we’re going to start winnowing out particular religious beliefs on the basis of their nonsensical nature, we can’t stop with Genesis literalism — Jesus and Mohammed and Vishnu are all going to have to go, no matter how socially progressive their advocates might be. And it’s also because I see all those churches, each with their brand of theology, all almost entirely silent on the theological errors of their neighbors. Bad theology apparently doesn’t matter that much.

What?

Newt Gingrich is thinking about running for president, and has predicted the future:

I have two grandchildren: Maggie is 11; Robert is 9. I am convinced that if we do not decisively win the struggle over the nature of America, by the time they’re my age they will be in a secular atheist country, potentially one dominated by radical Islamists and with no understanding of what it once meant to be an American.

The next election is going to be hilarious, except for the painful face-palming.

A vote of confidence in Seed!

Good news, everyone — Our Glorious Seed Overlords have resolved those nagging financial issues and have caught up on their backlog of payments. I got a very satisfying check in the mail today. so everyone should say hooray for ScienceBlogs!

Six+ months of blogging income in one lump is rather nice, except for the dilemma. Should I spend it on the Orbital Death Ray Platform, or the Nuclear Submarine?