What is it with all the donuts?

First it was Stuart Pivar, deriving everything by twisting plastic toroids around; then it was Fleury, master of the swirling vortices, and then Andrulis, gyring and gimbling in the wabe. And now…The Thrive Movement. It’s completely bonkers. It’s got these high aspirations, striving to create a thriving world living in peace and harmony with nature and all that, and as far as goals go, it’s rather sweet. But then you watch the promotional video…

Ancient astronauts! Crop circles! Mysterious symbols! UFOs! David Icke and Deepak Chopra, mating! (Oh, OK, I made the last bit up…but they are both in the movie). Perpetual motion machines! Global conspiracies to bury the secret of free energy! People waving their hands over glowing CGI donuts!

Here’s their “science” proposal:

Let’s look to see how to use the lenses of the torus and the Global Domination Agenda (GDA) to optimize our solutions strategies.

In my view the GDA is focused on destroying individual wholeness and centralizing power over others. Surviving and thriving as individuals and as a species depends, I believe, on learning rapidly how to do just the opposite.

Through recognizing the wholeness of the toroidal energy form and the infinite abundance of the energy plenum we inhabit, we can have clean, inexpensive energy for everyone through “New Energy” technology. No war, no pollution, no combustion.

Further on, they announce that “Evidence continues to mount that we are all holons in a boundless holarchy, free nodes in a fully-interconnected, holographic and fractal universe of infinite energy.” None of this evidence is provided, of course. That would violate the first rule of kookery.

Let me tell you, though, I’m beginning to look on bakeries with great suspicion.

Why I am an atheist – Sarah Otto Marxhausen

I became an atheist for incredibly stupid reasons. To be fair, I was ten years old.

As soon as I started reading well at about age four, my parents started throwing books at me. Anything I showed the slightest interest in, I was allowed to read, and I tore through everything. When I was nine, I was given a huge ton of books to call my own after a family friend died and everyone decided that a lot of his books were appropriate for me. It was the complete Grimm Brothers’ fairy tales, plus some of the Lang fairy books, plus a lot of books about mythology:Greek, Norse, etc.

I read them passionately; I still believe to this day that a lot of those fairy tales are really genuinely cool stories. My family is and was very religious — my father is a minister — and so I was also well-versed in Christian mythology. I slowly started realizing that the supernatural forces in the stories I was reading were gods just like the god I went to church every Sunday for. And, honestly, a lot of the things the Christian god did were nowhere near as awesome or interesting as the things the non-Christian gods did. And since they were all gods, and worshipping god was the important thing . . .

I took what to me was the most logical step, and made up my own religion. One with really fucking awesome gods. I don’t really want to describe it, because it’s really deeply embarrassing now, as are most “profound” decisions that you make when you’re ten years old. They were awesome at the time, okay?

The important thing was that I was faithful. I made up my own rituals and obesiances, and followed them piously. I prayed to and thought about my religion all the time. I prayed – begged, really – for specific things to happen, and none of my prayers were ever answered, no matter how hard I believed or how rigorously I followed the ritual I’d created. I eventually came to the decision that my religion was obviously false, because it showed no results. And if my religion, with its incredibly awesome gods that was much better than Christianity, was false, then probably all religion was false. So I began atheism while sulking prepubescently about not having my prayers answered.

I did say it was a stupid reason.

I clung to that reason, though, through adolescence; in retrospect, I’d say I believed a good and true thing for stupid and awful reasons. Which, you know, happens a lot, maybe for most people, so I’m not beating myself up over it too much. But because I was already invested in the belief, I started to read about atheism in high school. Everything was so incredibly interesting — Christian theology is, in a lot of ways, like a long string of logic puzzles — that I got hooked. I became so deeply invested in those puzzles that I eventually got a BA in philosophy at a small religious university that specializes in theology and basketball. I got four years of theology classes there, too, and they simultaneously provided me with pleasure in giving me new logic puzzles to worry at, and distressed me because they also provided me with very loud classmates who would declare indignantly that it was wrong to question the Bible. Those courses also gave me good reasons to stay an atheist. Those logic puzzles almost inevitably worked out to disfavor the supernatural, and those theology courses that were intended to teach me about religion as a social force for good ultimately taught me a lot about how religion can be used as a bludgeon. I believe now the same thing I believed when I was ten – both versions of me are atheists – but now I have better reasons.

I have a very good theological education, and I don’t regret a minute of what I learned, even though some of what I learned was hard — particularly the parts where I was informed by classmates that I will never be anything but an godless dyke cunt because of my gender, my sexual preferences, and my religious beliefs. (They would, of course, never say those awful words, but it was … made clear. ) The unconditional love of my religious parents in no way prepared me for the way that other people would judge, and sometimes abuse me because I was unapologetic about having learned that religion was fiction.

I’m working on a PhD now in English literature (because that’s where the real money is, har, har). I’m starting to hate the process of academia, but I still love the work of unpacking texts. It’s a gorgeous exercise, to me, working with fiction; it means we, meaning those in the profession, are looking at lies to see how much truth we can get out of them. It’s sort of a game, a social joke, a logic puzzle. Knowing a lot about Christianity — about, in fact, all mythologies — is an immense gift for what I do. It is intensely frustrating, as an atheist, to teach a classroom full of undergraduates who mostly identify as Christian, but who are so deeply ignorant about the Bible that they cannot understand literary references to it. I can grudgingly accept that I have to explain the Trojan War so students can understand Yeats’ poems, but I get very angry when I have to explain, for example, the book of Job so people can understand TS Eliot to a room full of people who say they’re faithful Christians. They are prepared to believe in their religion no matter what, but most of them do not understand what it is they’re swearing fealty to.

Ultimately, I am an atheist because my lovely, loving, faithful Christian parents let me learn too much. When I asked questions they didn’t know the answer to, they would say, “I don’t know. Why don’t you go see if you can learn the answer?” And I would — sometimes poorly, but I would try to track it down. They are wonderful, loving people, and loving them has taught me that just because you think someone is wrong does not have to mean that you think they’re stupid. My parents are not stupid people, and they taught me to be curious and demanding in how I interpret the world, which I think makes them incredible parents. I am proud to say that they are such good and responsible parents that they helped make me an atheist.

Sarah Otto Marxhausen
United States

(Two today because I forgot yesterday!)

Why I am an atheist – Joseph

While I have always deep down been skeptical of the reality of gods and spirits, I spent much of the last twenty years of my life as a self-described pagan of one sort or another. Every so often, my own internal sense of self-deception would go off, and I would renounce the frippery of gods and magic and so forth, only to come back again. Why? The strongest thing religion– whether it be monotheistic or polytheistic– has going for it is a built-in social support mechanism. It makes life incredibly easy in the sense that one doesn’t need to go out and find emotional, social, or other forms of support. It’s there, with plenty of people who will accept you and praise you and call you “brother” for precisely no other reason than because you happen to be on the same arbitrary “belief team” they are. It is incredibly difficult to consciously remove oneself from that sort of supportive system.

I am an atheist because I have finally realized that wanting to believe something is not enough. I need to embrace that which I really do believe and make do with the consequences of that belief.

United States

Hey, Tennessee, why are you electing these ignoramuses?

Seriously, I don’t understand how people can be this stupid and uninformed and acquire high office in a democracy. When you look around your communities, shouldn’t you be promoting the smart, successful, well-educated people to represent you in your capitol, instead of picking the village idiot? Tennessee has at least a couple of dangerously flaming fruitcakes in office; and it’s not just that state (<cough> Michele Bachmann…). Here’s representative John Ragan explaining how homosexuality doesn’t really exist.

A person is a heterosexual because of the presence of genitalia of one sex or the other. No one except a very few with an exceedingly rare congenital deformity have both kinds of genitalia.

Get it, all you gay readers? You can’t be a homosexual unless you are born with a penis and a vagina.

And then there’s Senator Stacey Campfield. He has his own, private, special version of epidemiology, virology, and medicine that the damned doctors are unaware of.

Most people realize that AIDS came from the homosexual community. It was one guy screwing a monkey, if I recall correctly, and then having sex with men. It was an airline pilot, if I recall.

My understanding is that it is virtually — not completely, but virtually — impossible to contract AIDS through heterosexual sex.

His recall and understanding are deeply flawed. Everything is wrong in his statements.

Did you know you can be as stupid as Ragan and Campfield and still hold office in this country? We don’t have friendly burly men in white coats who gently lift them out of their chairs in their legislatures and take them off to a wonderful little school in pleasant surroundings for intensive remedial education in the sciences, after which they are returned to promote their peculiar politics, but with accurate information, at least, in their heads.

Friday Cephalopod: Cuteness!

The gang at Skepticon are running a poll to design the World’s Most Innocuous Atheist Billboard, and they’ve settled on the message — “Baby Animals Are Cute” — and they’ve got some choices for you to pick from. I thought I’d help and offer my own suggestion:

See? Far superior to the kittens and puppies they suggest, and it’s much more in the spirit of atheism.

DO NOT ARGUE WITH ME. Or Baby Octopus will devour you.

(Also on Sb)

The comparison to jabberwocky is inevitable

Lots of people have been sending me this paper by Erik Andrulis, and most of you have done so with eyebrows raised, pointing out that it’s bizarre and unbelievable; some of you wrote asking whether it was believable, at which point my eyebrows went up. Come on people: when you see one grand cosmic explanation that is summarized with cartoons, which the author claims explains everything from the behavior of subatomic particles to the formation of the moon, shouldn’t you immediately sense crankery?

It’s also getting cited all over the place, from World of Warcraft fan sites to the Discovery Institute (those two have roughly equal credibility in matters of science), so I had to skim through it. I read it with rising concern: Erik Andrulis is a young assistant professor at Case Western Reserve University, and he’s published entirely sensible papers on RNA processing. This paper is so weird and out there that it is either an attempt to Sokal the field of origins of life research, or the man is seriously mentally ill. Either way, this is not going to help his career in the slightest.

The paper is titled Theory of the Origin, Evolution, and Nature of Life, and just the sweeping grandiosity of that title should set off alarm bells. Here is the abstract:

Life is an inordinately complex unsolved puzzle. Despite significant theoretical progress, experimental anomalies, paradoxes, and enigmas have revealed paradigmatic limitations. Thus, the advancement of scientific understanding requires new models that resolve fundamental problems. Here, I present a theoretical framework that economically fits evidence accumulated from examinations of life. This theory is based upon a straightforward and non-mathematical core model and proposes unique yet empirically consistent explanations for major phenomena including, but not limited to, quantum gravity, phase transitions of water, why living systems are predominantly CHNOPS (carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus, and sulfur), homochirality of sugars and amino acids, homeoviscous adaptation, triplet code, and DNA mutations. The theoretical framework unifies the macrocosmic and microcosmic realms, validates predicted laws of nature, and solves the puzzle of the origin and evolution of cellular life in the universe.

Having skimmed through all 105 pages of this thing, I can tell you with confidence that it answers none of those questions. Just the fact that it is entirely non-mathematical and non-empirical (there aren’t any observations or experiments described at all), and that the entirety of the theory is built around diagrams sketched out by the author, should also tell you that this is not a useful or predictive theory.

It does not have an auspicious beginning. In addition to being constructed around cartoons and being a non-mathematical Theory of Everything, it has to introduce an elaborate collection of neologisms that make the whole paper painful to read.

In the theory proposed herein, I use the heterodox yet simple gyre—a spiral, vortex, whorl, or similar circular pattern—as a core model for understanding life. Because many elements of the gyre model (gyromodel) are alien, I introduce neologisms and important terms in bold italics to identify them; a theoretical lexicon is presented in Table 1. The central idea of this theory is that all physical reality, stretching from the so-called inanimate into the animate realm and from micro- to meso- to macrocosmic scales, can be interpreted and modeled as manifestations of a single geometric entity, the gyre. This entity is attractive because it has life-like characteristics, undergoes morphogenesis, and is responsive to environmental conditions. The gyromodel depicts the spatiotemporal behavior and properties of elementary particles, celestial bodies, atoms, chemicals, molecules, and systems as quantized packets of information, energy, and/or matter that oscillate between excited and ground states around a singularity. The singularity, in turn, modulates these states by alternating attractive and repulsive forces. The singularity itself is modeled as a gyre, thus evincing a thermodynamic, fractal, and nested organization of the gyromodel. In fitting the scientific evidence from quantum gravity to cell division, this theory arrives at an understanding of life that questions traditional beliefs and definitions.

Here’s a partial copy of his lexicon. It goes on quite a bit longer than what I’ve copied here.

Table 1. Gyromodel Lexicon

Alternagyre A gyrosystem whose gyrapex is not triquantal
Dextragyre A right-handed gyre or gyromodel
Focagyre A gyre that is the focal point of analysis or discussion
Gyradaptor The gyre singularity—a quantum—that exerts all forces on the gyrosystem
Gyrapex The relativistically high potential, excited, unstable, learning state of a particle
Gyraxiom A fact, condition, principle, or rule that constrains and defines the theoretical framework

Gyre The spacetime shape or path of a particle or group of particles; a quantum
Gyrequation Shorthand notation for analysis, discussion, and understanding gyromodels
Gyrobase The relativistically low potential, ground, stable, memory state of a particle
Gyrognosis The thermodynamically demanding process of learning and integrating IEM
Gyrolink The mIEM particle that links two gyromodules in a gyronexus
Gyromnemesis The thermodynamically conserving process of remembering and recovering IEM
Gyromodel The core model undergirding the theoretical framework
Gyromodule A dIEM particle in a gyronexus
Gyronexus A polymer of dIEM particles linked by mIEM particles
Gyrostate The potential and/or kinetic state that a particle occupies in its gyratory path
Gyrosystem A gyromodel with specific IEM composition, organization, and purpose
IEM Information, energy, and/or matter

I can’t help myself. You knew this was coming.

Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

Now I know that you are in lexical shock right now, but I’m about to make it worse. Witness the use of these terms in figure 1 of the paper, which will also reveal the kinds of diagrams he’s using.

“The levorafocagyre, in turn, is antichiral to the dextrasupragyre” is a nice sentence that about sums up the experience of reading this thing. Don’t believe me? Here are more excerpts that illustrate the grand, cosmic, and entirely uninformative nature of gyroexplanatory gyrobabble. Andrulis purports to explain everything from learning and memory (learning and memory by gyres, not the poor people trying to understand his paper):

The ultimate state of gyromnemesis is the stably adapted particle or gyronexus in the gyrobase. A particle thus adapts through learning and memory by completing one full cycle—a revolution— around the singularity. Taken together, gyrognosis defines IEM integration and assessment whereas gyromnemesis defines IEM storage and recovery. Finally, although a diquantal IEM (X”) undergoes gyrognosis as the gyrobase of a primary majorgyre, it undergoes gyromnemesis as the gyrapex of an alternagyre. Thus, gyre learning and memory are relative to the gyradaptive singularity.

To the formation of Earth’s moon:

Lunar Formation. The favored hypothesis for the formation of Earth’s Moon is from planetesimal impact on a proto-Earth proceeded by matter ejection, accretion, and gravitational capture [189,190]. However, the question of lunar origin has not been settled since there are competing, albeit antiquated hypotheses [191,192]. I also discovered the stunning admission that, “…shamefacedly, [astronomers] have little idea as to where [the Moon] came from. This is particularly embarrassing… [193].” The oxygyre models the Moon as a macroxyon that has a macroelectron within itself; this simple gyrosystem accounts for the known chemical composition of the Moon surface, oxides [194]. Regarding lunar origin, the macroxyon that is the Moon emerges from the macroelectron that is the Earth, concomitant with the emergence of Earth’s macroxyon [195,196].

Several additional points can be derived from this gyrosystem. First, the oxygyre explains water on and in the Moon [197-199]. Second, the gyrating effects of the macroxygyre model the rotation of the Moon on its axis. Third, the path of a less exergic macroxyon (Moon) around more exergic one (Earth) follows an ohiogyre path, or lunar orbit. Fourth, this oxygyre provides insight into how tidal cycling is linked to lunar orbit and axial rotation [200] since the Earth’s oceans (macroxymatrix) and Moon itself (a macroxyon) exert complementary attractorepulsive forces. Fifth, this theoretical union also helps clarify short-term chronobiological ([201]; see 3.8) and long-term geophysical [202] relationships. Sixth, the craters that cover planetary, lunar, and satellite surfaces [203-205]—most if not all of which are near-perfect circles—bear the signature of the macroelectron singularity and its strong thermodynamic force on the oxygyre [206].

You know what? That doesn’t explain anything!

While the strange terminology and nonsensical claims could be clues that this is an elaborate Poe of some sort, the story I’ve heard from some other sources is that Andrulis is not getting tenure and will be leaving Case next year, and that he seems to have a history of tuning in and out — so what this most likely is is a developing personal tragedy. I hope he gets the care he clearly needs; his other work suggests that this is an intelligent mind that is currently going off the rails.

Setting Andrulis aside, though, there are other problems here. How did this paper get published? It’s terrible: unreadable, incoherent, bizarre, and completely lacking in evidence or mathematical support. This is from the very first issue of a new journal, Life, which also contains a perfectly reasonable general summary of origins of life research by Stuart Kauffman alongside Andrulis’s ghastly dreck. There seems to be a complete lack of editorial discrimination at the journal; this is not the way to build a reputation. Or rather, it is, but not a desirable one.

And then there is Science Daily, which seems to be the source where most of my correspondents found this paper. Science Daily is an incredibly annoying source: all they do is republish, without any kind of intelligent assessment, press releases. They suck. What good is mindless regurgitation?

And finally, there’s Case Western Reserve University, which must bear a share of the blame. Where did the press release come from? Why, from the Media Relations office at CWRU. Somebody wrote the press release that begins like this:

The earth is alive, asserts a revolutionary scientific theory of life emerging from Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine. The trans-disciplinary theory demonstrates that purportedly inanimate, non-living objects—for example, planets, water, proteins, and DNA—are animate, that is, alive. With its broad explanatory power, applicable to all areas of science and medicine, this novel paradigm aims to catalyze a veritable renaissance.

It’s madness stamped with the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine seal of approval. If Andrulis did Sokal the journal, he also Sokal’ed the institution that employs him. Who wrote that bullshit? Do they have anyone competent review their press releases before they mail them out to the whole wide world? Was there anyone thinking in all the steps from crank professor to PR department to journal editor to reviewers? There were so many points where this crackpottery should have been detected and rejected, and it didn’t happen.

(Also on Sb)

Science Daily has informed me that they have removed the press release from their site, and that it should never have made it through in the first place.

Also, apparently Case Western has removed the press release from their listings.

Rhode Island is a big state for polls

Here we go again, yet another pointless poll in which Christians will strain to claim that putting a prayer in a public school is not an example of the state promoting religion. I’m tempted to let it go, because everyone who votes “no” in this poll is a dishonest idiot, and I could do with a good wallow in schadenfreude this morning.

Do you think a federal judge was right in ruling that the school prayer hanging on the wall of the Cranston High School West gym was unconstitutional?

43.7% Yes

55.7% No

0.6% I’m not sure

Public school posting a prayer = state endorsed religion. What is so hard for people to comprehend about that?

Indiana fails

Indiana is preparing to promote creationism in their science classrooms. A legislative committee has advanced a bill that endorses creationism and “alternative theories” to the vote of the full senate. So it’s not a law yet, but it’s advancing down the path.

Here’s the horrifying part: it was approved 8:2 by the Republican-controlled Senate Education Committee. This is a group that is supposed to be the gatekeeper for good educational practices; you’d think their job was to screen out the random wacky garbage that individual, ideologically motivated members of the senate might poop out. But in the state of Indiana, they’ve handed that job over to goddamned Republicans in a calculated effort driven by their Republican governor, Mitch Daniels, to overhaul the state’s educational system.

It’s practically Republican gospel to destroy the system of public education in the US. It’s always going to lead to tears when you put those bastards in charge.

(Also on Sb)

The absurd whiteness of Be Scofield

I’m tempted to simply dismiss Be Scofield as a smug, smarmy asshole, but I won’t; I’ll take on his arguments, because they are so stupid that I’m going to have fun tearing them apart.

Scofield has a new article, Reason and Racism in the New Atheist Movement, in which he basically accuses all New Atheists of being flaming racists who ignore their vocal claim to scientific reasoning to bash religion indiscriminately.

Scofield sets up his argument by trying to claim the scientific high ground, demanding the utmost rigor from the New Atheists. He’s going to slap us around with some sciencey-sounding buzzwords and sneer at us for failing to meet them.

Given that the New Atheists ground their arguments in science, reason and logic it behooves us to hold these conclusions to very high standards when analyzing them. It goes without saying that truth or knowledge claims should be supported by data, cross-cultural research and empirical evidence whenever possible. This should be measurable and certain principles of reasoning should be employed. Claims of this nature should also be scrutinized amongst a community of experts to try and reach a consensus before drawing conclusions. Unfortunately, the New Atheists fail tremendously in this regard.

Oh, really? Before addressing these claims, I would like to turn the tables on Mr Scofield. Tell me, which religion bases their knowledge claims on “data, cross-cultural research and empirical evidence”? Where are their “measurable” data? Do any Christian faiths, for example, bring their creeds to a council of scholars from Islam, Judaism, Shintoism, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Scientology to reach a consensus before drawing conclusions? Do they cross-check their interpretations with the Mormons, even?

Isn’t it peculiar how these apologists for religion so indignantly demand data and evidence from others, but never insist on it for their own claims?

It’s amazing how self-unaware the proponents of faith, including Be Scofield, can be. They are conscious that data and empiricism are valued by scientists, so they think that we should just ignore the absence of the same in their claims, and respond to scientists by asking for even more evidence.

The website Adherents.com currently lists that there are 4,300 different faith groups worldwide.

Yes, exactly my point. Which one has the evidence? Which one is true? And that is the crucial question.

Wouldn’t information need to be gathered from each of them before reaching scientific conclusions about whether or not the entire category of religion is harmful or poisonous?

No, because the test is so much simpler than that. You see, scientists have done the science — a few hundred years worth of intense scrutiny and experimentation — and the fruit of all that work is a fairly good (but of course, incomplete) description of the nature and properties of the universe. We know quite a bit about human history, the makeup of stars, early cosmology, geology, chemistry, etc., and we can look at those 4300 religions and ask how many of them describe the universe in a way that actually matches reality.

And the answer is…none of them.

They’re all wrong! They all sound like the guesses a totally ignorant bozo with a desire to manipulate people would make, and not at all like the insights someone with a genuine connection to a vastly greater source of cosmic information would provide.

So how do we know that the whole category of religion is harmful or poisonous? Because it teaches falsehoods about humanity and the universe around us. That is enough right there. We value truth. Teaching lies therefore does harm.

Apparently, Be Scofield considers truth to be unimportant and not at all a significant criterion for appreciating religion — otherwise, he’d be asking the same question of those faiths that he is so quick to ask of atheists. Therefore, I have to conclude he is being dishonest and disingenuous in demanding it of us.

Furthermore, what kinds of research questions would need to be asked? What sort of variables would be involved? Are there measures that could be agreed upon by a community of researchers to analyze what makes a particular religion harmful? Helpful?

How about, just as one example, this question: where did people come from? It’s an excellent question, and I’ll even give all those religious traditions credit for asking it. We know the answer, and it’s quite clear and sharp: we evolved from earlier species, by natural processes that we understand quite well. How many of those 4300 religions came up with that answer? I’m not familiar with all of them, but at least we can throw out all the ones that get it wrong, which I’m sure will be the majority.

Then we can ask another important question: how did they get the answer? What productive, testable process did they use to determine where people came from? If the answer is revelation, aka “pulling it out of their ass”, we can also conclude that their religion does harm, because it teaches dangerously invalid procedures for making and evaluating truth claims.

The truth and how we come to it are matters of importance, aren’t they, Mr Scofield?

Case and point: How can any of these New Atheists claim that the Dinka religious tradition of Africa is harmful? They’ve probably never heard of it, let alone conducted any sort of anthropological or sociological studies to determine the degree of harmfulness it poses to its members or others. Dawkins claims “I believe not because of reading a holy book but because I have studied the evidence.” I’d love to see the data and research he’s gathered to reach such sweeping conclusions about religion.

Oh. I confess, I know nothing about the Dinka. Sorry. Do they have the one true religion? Will Be Scofield go out on a limb and say, “Yep, the Dinka got it all right”? And then, of course, he’ll provide the empirical evidence that the Dinka god exists and is the one true god.

And again, Scofield doesn’t understand the nature of the evidence. Richard Dawkins has written many books summarizing the evidence; you can go to the bookstore and find even more science texts describing the studies done. They are studies of the objective nature of the world, not detailed studies of religion. If a religion claims the earth is flat, contrary to the evidence, we don’t need to do a detailed study of its theology to determine that it is a bad idea to promote that particular faith.

The game Scofield is playing here is thinly disguised version of The Courtier’s Reply — he’s demanding that we respect obvious nonsense and study it with all the fervor of a convert. We don’t need to. We have answers determined by reliable, independently verifiable methods, that don’t depend on gullibility and an upbringing in a particular dogma to accept. We can simply ask how well a religion conforms to reality.

And look, he continues with his demands that we appreciate ruffled flounces and puffy pantaloons!

Has he investigated the Japanese religion Tenrikyo? The Korean tradition Wonbulgyo? Have any of these atheists been to Iraq or Iran to interview any Mandeans? Do these atheists ‘know’ in some scientific way that the traditional mythological beliefs of the Inuit of the polar regions were harmful or led to more harm? Are Native American religious traditions really child abuse?

OK, Be, which one of these is the one true religion? Plucking obscure antique mythologies out of a catalog does not impress at all, nor does it compel me to want to dig deeper into them. It also doesn’t help your case; the top two religions, Christianity and Islam, cover over half the world’s population, so all I have to do is throw in Hinduism, Chinese traditional religion, and Buddhism and I’ve got the vast majority of cases already covered. If you’re going to pick some arbitrary tiny sect out of that 4300 as a sterling example of good religion, you’re going to have to a) make an actual case for its virtues, and b) your time would be better spent convincing Christians and Muslims to convert to it.

He also makes a very peculiar argument.

Would the researchers be all white, middle/upper class men like those that have predominantly defined new atheism?

I would agree that many (but not all) of the New Atheists are white, middle/upper class men, and I would also say that it is a problem. In case Be hasn’t noticed, there has been a lot of effort to broaden the appeal of New Atheism and get input and leadership from underrepresented groups. It’s also caused considerable tension within the movement.

But then, why does he then focus his criticisms on Greta Christina? She is white, but she doesn’t meet all those other narrow criteria? It’s very strange.

Also, meet Be Scofield: white, product of a $35,000/year education at a private liberal arts college. Gosh, look at the privileged white people arguing over who is more racist. I’m not even going to try. I admit that I’m a privileged white male, and when matters of racism and sexism come up, I will defer to those who have experienced its oppression. Which does not include the obliviously sanctimonious Be Scofield.

He’s also a liar. This is an outrageously false accusation:

When Greta Christina says that religious people should be actively converted to atheism or Dawkins likens religion to a virus that infects the mind they are effectively saying “we know what’s best for you.” This is the crux of the problem with the New Atheists. They’ve identified belief in God or religion as the single most oppressive factor in people’s lives and feel justified in liberating people from it because they have “reason” on their side.

If I see someone starving, I will say that hunger is the most oppressive factor in their life, and try to feed them. If I see someone sick, I will say that disease is the most oppressive factor in their life, and try to heal them. If I see someone enslaved or trapped in poverty, I will say that hardship is the most oppressive factor in their life, and try to liberate them. I know of no atheists who would claim that freeing people of religion is the most important issue in everyone’s life.

I can think of many religious people who will prioritize saving souls over saving people.

Furthermore, home foreclosures, poverty, homelessness, oppression, inadequate mental health and social services, poor health care and violence plague America. Whether we like it or not, religious organizations are often the first to provide the much needed spiritual, material and social services to this sick society.

It’s also that religious mindset that perpetuates the sickness. We have an overwhelming Christian majority in this country: so why don’t we have a national health care system? Why is there such great economic inequity? What faith tradition is insisting that women not have unrestricted access to reproductive health services? Sure, there are selfish atheists who take the wrong side in these arguments, but we’re a minority — you cannot list the serious problems we have and allow it to be assumed that the godless are responsible. This is a Christian-dominated country: those problems are a consequence of the failure of faith to provide solutions.

Many of these New Atheists claim that holding onto the belief in supernatural entities is absurd or irrational. However, there is nothing more absurd than whiteness, class oppression and patriarchy. Resisting these absurdities means a more nuanced approach to religion – one that recognizes the positive role it can play in undermining such systems of domination. Ultimately, it means relying upon relationships more than reason.

Believing in supernatural beings is irrational. Is Be Scofield claiming that they aren’t?

I’m sitting here all pale and white because of my ancestry: there’s nothing absurd about it, it just is what it is. Oppression of class and sex are also real and awful, and I oppose them — and strangely enough, a majority of atheists are liberal and progressive and also deplore them, while a majority of Christians are conservative and endorse them.

I also think relationships are important…but relationships built on equality. There is nothing healthy about a relationship in which a person claims a pretense of privileged authority on the basis of imaginary, untestable claims obtained from an invisible being. That’s why religion is universally harmful: because it rests on unreasonable claims that it claims cannot be assessed for their truth. It’s also pretty darned good at recruiting useful idiots like Be Scofield to defend its authority.

I haven’t tackled every single stupid claim in Scofield’s article, because I can tell that jaws dropped all over the atheist blogosphere at the appalling ineptitude and dishonesty of his arguments. Ophelia Benson and Greta Christina also ripped into him. I’m sure more of us will join in. Sometimes, smacking a fool is just so much fun.

Clearly, this is a politician discriminating against atheists

Oklahoma senator Ralph Shortey has introduced a bill targeted directly at the heart of the modern atheist lifestyle.

A Republican state senator from Oklahoma City introduced a bill Tuesday that would ban the use of aborted human fetuses in food, despite conceding that he’s unaware of any company using such a practice.

Freshman Sen. Ralph Shortey said his own Internet research led him to believe such a ban is necessary and prompted him to offer the bill aimed at raising "public awareness" and giving an "ultimatum to companies" that might consider such a policy.

Oh, sure, he can’t find anyone who actually eats unborn babies…but there’s his prejudice showing once again, in his denial that we atheists even exist. I am outraged.

And Mr Shortey has such a marvelous track record of great legislation!

He sponsored a measure last year to crack down on illegal immigrants by authorizing law enforcement to seize their homes and vehicles, and to deny Oklahoma citizenship to babies born to illegal immigrants. He also offered an amendment to a bill that would have allowed legislators to carry firearms anywhere in the state, including the floor of the House and Senate.

None of those passed, by the way.

Maybe Mr Shortey would have a better track record if he stopped being an idiot. But then he probably couldn’t get elected. The eternal dilemma of Republicans everywhere!