Monday, September 28, 2009

Yay for deities

Looks like whatever beneficent deity or deities may exist, they've been asleep at the wheel again. It's almost as if the universe as a whole does not care about humanity, one way or another. Scenes like this just reinforce stupid religious memes, and send theists scurrying around to find some reason for destruction that has befallen them. The simplest reason, that there is no god to stop or even care about these tragedies, always seems to escape them.

Of course, some people like to peddle a supernatural explanation for such events:

Felix Alcala is thankful for the medicines that will help his children fight infection and fever. However, he said what touched him more was the prayer of the counselor for him.

"I felt joy and a sense of hope when the counselor prayed for me," Alcala said. "Most of us have forgotten about God and maybe that is why we got the flood. It's a reminder for us to turn back to God."

Homeopathy kills again

At least this time, the parents were sentenced for murder. I don't care if adults forgo basic medical care to embrace unscientific, ill conceived folk remedies. It's their bodies, let them suffer and die needlessly if they so choose. But they should not be allowed to inflict the horrific results of their mindless pablum on their children.

Friday, August 28, 2009

More stupidity from Kent Hovind

Kent Hovind(the moronic creationist who was recently put in prison for tax evasion) is till spouting stupidity. This time, it is in regards to the situation at the Pace High School in Florida, where the principal, Frank Lay, is facing possible jail time for violating an agreement to cease religious activities on school grounds. In an open letter to Lay, Hovind suggests that Lay should remove evolution from his schools as well, as it is a religion:
If what I read on, June 4, is true, ACLU attorney Benjamin Stevenson said school officials have a responsibility to “protect the silently held religious views of others” and to be sure that no one will “impose their religious views” on others. One headline read, “Religion Banned from Santa Rosa Schools.”

If this is indeed what the court and the ACLU intend then you need to begin removing the religion of evolution from your school’s textbooks, tests, classes, and videos shown in class immediately! You certainly don’t want to be held in contempt of court!

What a stupid bastard. But this is to expected. What really hit was some of the comments, especially this one:
I am a high school science teacher in southern California. I agree with what Dr. Hovind has said above 100%. The public schools are hypocrites! They use the laws of the land to manipulate people into following their wicked agenda. Evilution is not science it is a religion.
This is from a user called "BadBob," who needs to be fired from his position as a science teacher immediately.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Irrational People Killing Each Other

Another installment of joy brought to you by that religion known the world over for its dedication to peace, Islam. This is the face of religion. This is the twisted, evil, wretched soul of irrational belief.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Continuing Examples of Speciation

As always, we only add more weight to the theory of evolution as time goes by.
Here is an interesting article about a bird species in the middle of splitting into two or more species.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Cuttlefish writes another cool poem

Found here:
I like my food spicy; some like their food bland.
I like an adventure; some want their lives planned.
My love is a woman who takes her own stand
While others want someone whom they can command.

While some treat their love like a delicate flower—
Watched and protected, locked up in some tower—
My love, I am certain, has shown she has power,
Which grows every day, and in truth, every hour.

My love has a power, which must be respected;
She’s earned it, of course, she’s not falsely protected
To make up for promises long since neglected,
Like some I could name, though that’s not unexpected.

My love is amazing; my love never tires,
My love, like a goddess, compels and inspires,
A muse to the people—like Dawkins or Myers—
Who wear on their sleeves scientific desires.

Some long for the common; we put our reliance
In methods where evidence earns its defiance;
We’ll climb till we see even further than giants—
The woman I love is a beauty called Science.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Jewish Violence

Isn't this lovely? Ultra-Orthodox Jews attacking a non-Jewish journalist for the crime of using a tape recorder on the Sabbath. Another monotheistic religion of peace.
Here's a quote I really loved.
They might be supremely religious, but their behaviour - to me - was far from charitable or benevolent.
Anyone who thinks that increased religiosity is positively correlated with increased benevolence has not been paying attention to human history, either ancient or modern.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Door to Door Evangelists

So, I was getting ready to leave my house several days ago, and I was confronted with four conservatively dressed young people(I would say from 18 to 30, maybe younger). They were handing out pamphlets, and the moment the lead young lady opened her mouth, I correctly pegged them as Jehovah's Witnesses.
They were passing out a single page leaflet entitled "How you can Survive the End of the World." Very catchy. I politely passed the pamphlet back and told them I was an atheist. To my surprise, they left. Normally, this results in an attempt to debate. Perhaps these youngsters had been told to avoid debate and only pass out literature.
I regretted passing back the leaflet, because I decided I wanted to see what oddball angle they were pushing this round. Luckily, I found one down the street.
It turns out that the JWs are presenting a series of conventions throughout the country called "Keep on the Watch." I am not certain if this is a new series or not. I imagine that the economy has reinvirgorated the snake oil trade as desperate and scared people begin to listen to anyone who claims to have answers.
I found a few references to this on other sites, as well, especially to the conventions they had in West Palm Beach.
It includes this lovely quote:

"We feel it is imminent," spokesman Richard Ferris said. "We can't really put a date on it, and the scriptures tell us that nobody knows days or hours, but we'll look at the signs as a theme of our convention and keep on the watch."

Jehovah Witnesses believe that while the apocalypse will be terrible for many, it will be the beginning of a better world for the faithful.

"The fighting against nations, we're seeing more earthquakes, you can look at the swine flu, all this, and it just points to the things that shows we are getting very close to what we feel is the end," Ferris said.

Going door-to-door with Bibles and informational packets has become a trademark for the Witnesses', and Ferris said there's a reason recruiting is such a major part of their religion.

"While we don't relish the thought of destruction that's going to take place, that's why we feel so strongly about door-to-door work and warning people," Ferris said. "If you knew a hurricane was coming, and you were the only one and you didn't tell anybody, it would be on your shoulders."

Next time, if I have time, I'll try to invite one of these poor people onto my porch to see how they are taught to defend against an atheist.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

More Creationism foolishness

Well, Dobson and his crew are trying an intensive small group indoctrination class call "The Truth Project." I'm sure it's old news to some, but I've just run across it. And it's chock full of the stupidity I expect from them.
From the overview section:

Lesson 5 - Science: What is True?

Science, the "systematic study of the natural world," brings to light innumerable evidences of Intelligent Design. But Darwinian theory transforms science from the honest investigation of nature into a vehicle for propagating a godless philosophy. (Part One)

A careful examination of molecular biology and the fossil record demonstrates that evolution is not a "proven fact." Meanwhile, history shows that ideas, including Darwinism as a social philosophy, have definite consequences – consequences that can turn ugly when God is left out of the picture. (Part Two)

So, we have an immediate attack on evolution, an outright lie("A careful examination...") and the fallacy of an appeal to consequences all within the overview. It doesn't bode well for the actual program. I imagine that they are trying to brainwash young adults with this crap primarily.
It's too bad that these people won't actually be presented with actual biology, or the readily found answers to their weak arguments and objections. I'm going to try to get a copy of this drek for a review.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Irrationality and Miracle Claims

The concept of irrationality has been on my mind a lot recently. A lot of atheists I know tend to blame religion for the problems we see. I think this is somewhat shortsighted.

To start, the definition I'm using for "rational" is:
relating to, based on, or agreeable to reason

So, to be irrational is to lack in that. Simply put, it is to be disagreeable to reason.

In my view, religion is irrational. It is a codified belief in unprovable concepts without evidence. I often talk to religious people of various sects. In my experience, religion encourages exactly the wrong way to approach reality.

I see this, for example, in claims of miracles. My default position is skepticism when faced with a claim of supernatural intervention. I am constantly taken to task for not assuming the truth of a miracle claim when that claim has not been substantiated. But I will not budge on this issue. I have some rules of thumb that I start with when evaluating supernatural claims.
  1. I do not start with belief and work to evidence. It has to be the other way around.
  2. I do not accept authority or antiquity as reasons for believing.
  3. If an event is explicable in natural terms, I am not going to ascribe supernatural causes to it.
  4. To prevent bias(emotional, personal or otherwise), an anecdote must be corraborated with empirical evidence sufficient to make a determination about the nature of the event.
  5. More generally, any event or item claimed as a miracle has to be open to skeptical investigation, or it is useless as evidence.
I'll expand on each briefly.

1. I do not start with belief and work to evidence. It has to be the other way around.

This means that I am not going to assume that a supernatural claim is true and then attempt to find evidence to support it. For example, the Shroud of Turin is often claimed as an example of a measurable miracle. The only radiological dating we have puts the date of the cloth's creation in roughly the 13 to 14th centuries. There have been calls for more in depth testing, all of which have been turned down by the Vatican. At best, the evidence points away from authenticity. At worst, it is simply too muddled as of yet to make a definitive statement about authenticity. And, so, I am not going to assume that this object is miraculous. This is aside from the fact that there is no evidence of supernatural composition, meaning that even if the cloth did date from the correct time period, it still doesn't constitute proof of a miracle.

2. I do not accept authority or antiquity as reasons for believing.

This is, for the most part, self explanatory. A religious group, making religious claims about an object, is the last group you should trust in regards to authenticity. They have a vested interest in maintaining the belief, and if their claims cannot be substantiated by an independent party, there is no reason to hold belief. So, noting that the Orthodox church holds that the "Holy Fire" event to be miraculous is useless.

3. If an event is explicable in natural terms, I am not going to ascribe supernatural causes to it.

This holds true for the Shroud of Turin, for example. Even if the cloth dates from the correct era, it will only constitute proof of a miracle if the image is proven to be impossible to generate from natural causes. As many people have made convincing duplicates of the Shroud using ancient techniques, it is no simple task to prove such a thing.
This also covers things like "miraculous" cures by faith healers. Unless the healing is impossible from a biological point of view(instant limb regeneration, for example), or that it is part of a testable pattern beyond statistical explanation(a priest who can cure cancers with a touch, for example), then it's useless as proof.

4. To prevent bias(emotional, personal or otherwise), an anecdote must be corraborated with empirical evidence sufficient to make a determination about the nature of the event.

An anecdote is not sufficient evidence, in and of itself, to determine anything. It has to be accompanied by some sort of empirical evidence verifying the claim.

5. More generally, any event or item claimed as a miracle has to be open to skeptical investigation, or it is useless as evidence.

This has to do with miracle claims like the Shroud of Turin and the Orthodox claims about "Holy Fire." In both cases, the church is denying independent investigators access to the relevant information. The Catholic church denies requests for further dating(and, indeed, a recent "restoration" of the cloth may have eliminated the possibility of such dating ever again). The Orthodox church refuses to allow scientific examination of the circumstances surrounding the annual "Holy Fire" event which is claimed to be a miracle.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Sheep, Sheepdogs and Wolves

I was recently forwarded an email about sheep, sheepdogs and wolves. The central theme was that the majority of people where sheep, who need sheep dogs to protect them from wolves. The author was making a point about honoring veterans and other military and police people. I didn't have a comment on that. If you want to read the essay, you can find it here.

I did, however, start to think about the imagery of sheep. It occurs to me that sheep get a bad rap. A wild sheep is a noble and dangerous beast in it's own right. Take this bit from the wikipedia entry on sheep:

"Wild sheep have very keen senses of sight and hearing. When detecting predators wild sheep most often flee, usually uphill to higher ground. However they can also fight back. The Dall sheep has been known to butt wolves off the face of cliffs."
- Wikipedia

The domestic sheep is bred for docility. They fare worse than their wild counterparts against predators. And when domestic sheep are set free, they quickly become more like their wild counterparts. It seems that it is the presence of the shepherd that makes sheep weak. And this is unsurprising, as shepherds only keep sheep for fleecing and food, a terribly apt metaphor in my mind. Come to think of it, if a shepherd is bad for the sheep, then a sheepdog is an agent of control to keep sheep in line against their own good.

I fault this author for one other thing. He claims that the 9/11 attackers were wolves. He is wrong. They were just sheep who followed another shepherd.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Academic stupidity

I try to be understanding of students. I know that society at large tends to downplay intelligence and science. I have little respect for people like Houston Friend(I'm going to assume that the person is male and, in fact, named Houston). I don't know Houston, but as he posts on the Arizona State University college paper website, I have gotten to know a little bit about him since he posted this interesting article complaining about a poor grade on a paper. Why did he get his poor mark? What excuse did his dastardly instructor use to tear down this poor person's paper?
I soon perused the plethora of red marks throughout the paper and began to notice generally why I did poorly. The principle reason I got a C was because I didn’t have enough “evidence,” as this particular paper required a certain amount of references to sources read throughout the semester.
That sounds perfectly reasonable. If the paper was supposed to be researched, arguing adequately in the realms of reason and philosophy relative to the subject instead of actually presenting evidence will not cut it. I wonder what the subject of the class was. I'm inclined to say biology, and I'll present my evidence soon.
Houston has some odd beliefs. Among them:
I think we have been accustomed to perceive intelligence as a product of one’s ability to present concrete evidence, especially scientifically. Not to say this is completely wrong or ineffective, but I think we must consider the possibility of metaphysical realities. And maybe, just maybe, we live in world that can’t always be explained rationally.
Well, Houston, the first problem is that we can, in fact, explain the world we live in rationally. The reason James Randi has never paid out his million dollar prize is because NO ONE has yet demonstrated a supernatural reality. No one has plausibly recorded an event which cannot be explained through science. This is the reason atheists exist. It is the reason I am an atheist. Pony up the proof, or walk away. I have no time in my life to entertain the delusions of people who can't or won't think rationally.
This seems like an odd thing to be arguing about. I mean, what class could he be railing about? I doubt an English class would require multiple sources throughout a semester(unless it was a scientific writing class, in which case Houston has even less of my sympathy). He leaves a clue, though:
So when the Intelligent Design theory is inevitably banned from discussion in all public schools, let us remember that science has led us to believe at one time that the earth was flat or that eugenics was a necessary study.
Ah, I see. It was likely a biology class. Why? Because Houston has complained about ID before, in this lovely article:
Ben Stein’s documentary “Expelled,” which opened in theaters this time last year, exposed the slow but effective disintegration of ID (Intelligent Design) in education, especially secondary education. The documentary clearly illuminates the fact that ID and evolution are essentially only theories, and that if professors have been fired for even identifying ID as on the same plane as evolution, that’s a concerning injustice.
Perhaps Houston ought to look into the facts about Ben's little "documentary."

Saturday, March 28, 2009

I can agree with Luther here

It's the truth.

Reason is the greatest enemy that faith has: it never comes to the aid of spiritual things, but--more frequently than not --struggles against the divine Word, treating with contempt all that emanates from God. - Martin Luther

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Ockham's Razor

What is Ockham's(or Occam's) Razor? It is a principal of thought, which is as follows:
"Entities should not be multiplied unnecessarily."

Now, this is commonly paraphrased as follows:
"The explanation of any phenomenon should make as few assumptions as possible, eliminating those that make no difference in the observable predictions of the explanatory hypothesis or theory."

And, finally, is boiled down to the idea that the simplest explanation for an event is usually correct.

Why do I bring this up? Well, I wandered by Jacob Stein's silly blog again. He had an entry entitled "God - The great explanatory principal." He starts with this line:
"[Occam’s Razor – the simplest answer is the best]"

The whole point of it boils down to this line:
"The simplest answer is: God did it."

He fails to see that suggesting a supernatural entity as a answer for the supposed problems he presents(all of which have completely natural answers to begin with) is a complete violation of Ockham's razor: he's suggesting an non-physical entity where one is not required for explanation.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Rape, Abortion and the Catholic Church

Well, it's old news by now. A 9 year old girl in Brazil turned up at a hospital complaining of stomach pains. She was examined, and it was determined that she was pregnant with twins. Apparently, she was sexually abused by her step father since she was six years old.
Now, this is a sad situation. The girl was deemed much too small physically to carry a child to term, let alone two. So, the doctors, with the consent of the mother, performed an abortion.
First, the Catholic Church in Brazil attempted to bring legal action against the girl to force her to keep the children. And after the abortion was performed, they also threatened to have her charged with murder.
Then, they excommunicated everyone involved in performing the abortion except for the girl, deeming her too young(yet, somehow old enough to bear children. Go figure). There was one glaring exception to the list: the stepfather.
You see, raping a child is not a sin that one can be excommunicated for in the Catholic religion. The man who precipitated this whole sad affair by sexually molesting a child in his care(and if reports are correct, her handicapped older sister as well) can return to perfect standing with the Church with a simple confession. Meanwhile, the mother and the doctors who were trying to protect her daughter and very likely save her life must seek the equivalent of a papal pardon if they wish(for whatever twisted reason) to return to such a cradle of filth.
I would hope that this incident has opened the eyes of some Catholics to the dogmatic insanity of their religion.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Failures of god

I was watching a TV show with my wife yesterday about people who survive horrific events. One of the authors interviewed was Ben Sherwood, for his book "Survivors Club."
I was fine with most of the show, until it got to the part about having faith. Even then, I could understand that having a belief that you can survive something can have a positive impact. However, Mr Sherwood immediately took the position that it was having the creator of the universe on your side that made the difference.
The case in discussion at this point was the story of Anne Hjelle. She was attacked by a mountain lion while biking with a friend. The lion grabbed her by the face, and later by the throat. Her friend held onto her, and kept the lion from dragging her away. Eventually, the friend's screams alerted two other riders who helped drive the cat away. Anne survived. Anne and her friend credit god with protecting them.
I wonder why god didn't care so much for Mark Reynolds. It turns out that the mountain lion had made a successful attack earlier in the day. This man was not so fortunate to have been riding with a friend, or to have had passing riders come to his aid. He died at the teeth and claws of that same lion, which fed upon him and buried his body.
Now, I obviously don't think that a god was watching over either victim. The story is perfectly explicable without that unfounded assumption. What made me angry was the fact that no one asked why god would watch out for Anne and not for Mark.