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Tuesday, September 30, 2008

What Happened to Common Decency?

My last entry on prying into the personal lives of others hasn't been the most well-received. There's a related issue, though, I'd like to press on the matter of homosexuality.

Whatever happened to civility and common decency? Even if you do personally find homosexuality disgusting, why is it okay to voice that? Further, why would you even voice it?

I'm a bit out of the typical mold in that I, personally, find all sexual relationships disgusting for me. How appropriate would it be for you to tell me that you're in love with someone and me respond with: "Oh, that's great and I fully support your right to make choices for your personal life, but I find it personally disgusting." Why would I even voice that? What I find for myself is completely irrelevant, intrusive on the discussion, and quite indecent due to the magnitude of the issue for you.

Let's not forget the magnitude of the issue involved. A commenter to my last post made an analogy to him voicing to someone eating sauerkraut that he finds it disgusting. The magnitude of the issue, though, is not comparable.

Let's take another example. This time, for me. I never plan on procreating. This is for several reasons, including the one outlined above regarding sexual relationships. I do plan on having a son, though, because that's something that is very important to me. As such, I plan on adopting within the next seven years. What if upon me telling you this, you reply: "Oh, that's great and I fully support your right to adopt if you wish, but I think it's best to only rear children who are of my own DNA." There's nothing wrong with you holding that as an opinion for yourself since it's something you feel personally, but it's completely irrelevant and intrusive on the discussion. Furthermore, you're passing that as a judgment upon my actions over my own life. The offensiveness of that is egregious.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Kiss Off

Social conservatives never fail to elicit my awe with how much they pry into the lives of others and make much ado about it. Something that's been circling around the Internet this week that finally made its way to Ray's blog is Kirk's standing policy not to kiss anyone other than his wife.

Social "conservatives" (I don't think they deserve such a title) have made it a policy to meddle in the lives of others and publicly comment on them. This is what I've been seeing in various blogs regarding Kirk and his policy. They praise it as someone in Hollywood having solid values, being loyal to his marriage, etc.

To my surprise, I have not seen negative blogs criticizing it, and I think that speaks volumes of the character of those so often at the end of the wagging finger of pompous prudes like Ray Comfort and other social conservatives.

Whether it's in praise or condemnation, neither should be made. If two consenting adults have some sort of agreement or understanding with one another, no judgment should be passed on that. It's what's so wrong in America now. What does it matter if a committed couple have a policy of "no kissing anyone but me" or "you can kiss anyone as long as I know about it"? I see nothing special in Kirk's marital policy than in the marital policy of another actor allowing him to kiss his co-stars on-camera.

Or, what does it matter if a couple only have sex with one another or have sex with others, but still within their marriage? As long as both have consented and have that understanding, what does it matter? Who are we to judge or comment on the agreements of consenting adults?

And there are broader issues here. I have recently been going back-and-forth with a Christian blogger on various issues, and I mentioned homosexual rights. Part of his reply included:
I support gay rights as a fundamental liberty of mankind. [...] I personally find the behavior rather revolting and unnatural - inconsistent with the "form follows function" rule of biology [...]. Who are we to say though what consenting adults can and cannot do?
While I applaud him for being a Christian who supports gay rights (and he also states that God loves them), I question why he finds it "revolting." If he means that for him personally the thought of him being homosexual is revolting, that's understandable (probably the same way many homosexuals feel about them being heterosexual). But I doubt it's that.

Indeed, I hear this all too often. "I support them, but I find it disgusting and shouldn't be preferred." We should, as citizens, neighbors, and decent human beings not intrude upon others' lives and personal decisions in their relationships with our judgments.

For me, I find any relationship revolting -- but that's for me. Why should I visit upon others as judgments what revolts me personally? We should take the time that we would invest into judging others' relationships and instead, kiss off.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Could You Make an Argument So Simple Even AiG Couldn't Mess It Up?

Behold, the longest entry title ever for this blog. Before heading out on my walk tonight, I checked some of AiG's recent articles while my mp3 player was sync'ing. One immediately caught my attention:
Can God create a rock so big that He can’t lift it? Bodie Hodge, AiG–U.S., shows how to respond to this sort of argument.
I thought ahhh. I wonder how they will respond to this one? Will it be a "God is impossible to comprehend" or perhaps "God is not bound by the laws of logic" or maybe even "God can do anything logically possible." The argument they chose will stun you...

For this to be a valid question, God would need to be bound by the laws of gravity. Obviously, God is not bound by His creation (i.e., gravity), as it is part of the universe He created. [...] In other words, this question first assumes that gravity is greater than God.

I don't usually laugh out loud reading blogs, but I made an exception in this case. So, could you make an argument so simple that even Answers In Genesis couldn't mess it up? Obviously, no.

The heavy rock paradox is just a silly little conundrum to show that omnipotence -- understood in the traditional since as all-powerful or able to do anything -- is logically impossible and therefore meaningless. Perhaps when phrasing questions to AiG you should take into consideration this elementary school-level understanding. Perhaps you should take care to phrase it as "can God do something that he can't undo" or "can God create something he can't destroy" or "can God create something more powerful than himself" or "can God microwave a burrito so hot that not even he can eat it?" And let's not even get into the omniscience aspect of it.

But the silliness of this short entry goes even further:
This is like asking on what page of Shakespeare’s Hamlet can we find Shakespeare? It is an illogical question.
Yeah, that is an illogical question. Perhaps if we were asking where in the universe we can find God that would be a good analogy.

But the real gem of this article is at the end where they discuss the God of the Bible. If you take the Bible literally then God is definitely not omnipotent. Take the lying aspect:

Along a similar line, a coworker relayed this conversation to me that she had with her ten-year-old daughter:

She asked “Can God lie?” to which I said “No.” Then she asked, “Can't He do anything?” and I said “Yes, but He wouldn't want to lie.” Then she asked, “Well, could He if He wanted to?” to which I replied, “He wouldn't want to.” But she kept asking, “But what if He wanted to.” So I answered “According to the biblical account of His character, He wouldn't want to and He wouldn't. Whether or not He could is a question that misses the point. The answer is He wouldn't want to and so He would not, and that’s the end of it.”
Additional to the general biblical account of God’s character indicating He would not lie is Hebrews 6:18, which says it is impossible for God to lie.
Are you rolling on the floor yet? Apparently the entire article is not a refutation of arguments against God's omnipotence, it's just a refutation of God literally creating a rock so heavy he can't lift it. They have no problem with God being unable to do certain things (therefore he is not omnipotent), they just have a problem with him creating heavy rocks.

This Just In: 2+2=5

Ray decided to move out of the way to let an argument go over someone else's head today:
Moses said...Like you, I don't believe in Hindu gods. I don't believe in Chinese Ancestor worship. I don't believe in Shintoism. I don't believe in the Thunder-bird or Old Man Coyote. I don't believe in Thor, Odin or Freya. Heck Ray, I don't believe in the Easter Bunny or Santa." [...]

Do you use the same reasoning with math? 2+2= "Oh, there's no answer, because I don’t believe the answer is 1, or 2, or 3, or 5, or Santa, or Thor..."
Yes, I use the same reasoning with math. Why don't I believe that 2+2=1? Because it doesn't add up. I don't believe that 2+2=1 for the same reason I don't believe that 2+2=2: because it doesn't add up.

I don't believe Thor exists for the same reason I don't believe God exists: because it doesn't add up.

But the math analogy is even more well chosen. If this were a math test, you would fail because you didn't show your work. All you've done is written down the answer "God." I'm perfectly willing to accept that the answer is God, but if you don't show your work, don't expect me to. Why should I believe the answer is God any more than 42? They both have had the same amount of work shown.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Best Atheist TV Line Ever

I am in the process of watching Brothers & Sisters: Season Two on DVD. One of the sisters, Kitty, is engaged to a Republican senator, Robert, who is running for President. Robert is rehearsing answers to possible debate questions with his advisors. Kitty's been feeling sick from the shrimp pizza that's sitting in the room:
Travis: Senator, do you believe in evolution, or is it, as the Bible said, that God created the world in six days?
Robert: Well, that’s a little before my time.
Travis: That’s good! Use humor. It makes you seem like a real person.
Robert: I am a real person.
Travis: (Laughs) Should I repeat the question?
Robert: Well, the question's the problem. Faith and science shouldn't be mutually exclusive. Whether you believe six days is literally six 24-hour intervals or something longer, well... that's a conversation we can have.
Robert: But, if you’re asking me whether or not I believe in God: the answer’s yes.
Kitty: (Throws up)
Travis: What, is she an atheist?

That nearly killed me.

Literally, I was taking a drink at the time and choked in laughter.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Arguing for the Christian God

Another reader has stated interest in taking up my request for Christians to convince me. The reader had some questions as to why I have these guidelines for submissions. My comment to him was becoming too long and, besides, it goes to a topic I have meant to post on for a while. I think atheists in general will find this interesting as it goes to a topic I rarely see discussed: arguments for a religion always seem to devolve to arguments for a god.

The prompt:
What reason is there to believe in the authenticity of the Bible, its message, and/or Christianity? You can submit any claim that you like; whatever you find convincing.
If you recall my request, I had some submission guidelines to weed out submissions that would completely miss the prompt (such as arguing for a creator-god or against atheism):
1. It cannot be an argument "against atheism" as that bears no weight on the validity of Christianity.
2. Arguments that go simply to the existence of a deistic God. (fine-tuning, first cause, etc)
3. Arguments to "open my heart" or "Jesus saves." These are arguments from the Bible, not for the Bible.
Additionally, I had the concluding thought:
Keep in mind that I will consider how your reasons and evidence apply to both Christianity and other religions. I want to be convinced of Christianity, not of Deism or evidence that can be used for any religion.
The reader:

And this is beside the point but hy no arguments for god. Are you going to grant that some god might exist for the sake of argument?

I am not granting that a god or gods may exist for the sake of argument; I'm granting it for the sake of reality. I've never actually met an atheist who has said that gods definitely don't exist. This is because all the atheists I've ever known are agnostics.

The reason I'm not accepting general arguments for a god, specifically a creator-god like the deistic God, is because I'm offering this challenge for Christianity, not of gods in general. I'm an atheist because I disbelieve that gods exist; I also disbelieve that gods do not exist; I have no belief. Of course, a god may exist -- the truth value of that claim, though, cannot be assessed. As such, I am, personally, wholly unconcerned with conjectures on it. I'm an apatheist in this regard. I'm offering this challenge because every debate I have ever seen devolves into general arguments about a deistic god with no discussion of the person's actual religion (see Ray's Atheist Test). Often the argument goes that they attempt to prove a god exists and then conclude that that god is necessarily their god with no supporting argument.

I've written a blog entry before (I can't find it with a cursory search) that it doesn't matter if a god exists. If a god exists, why should I care? It doesn't affect me in any way. Christianity and many religions, though, make claims that it does. That's what I'm interested in.

It's unfair to chalk up all those aspects of god to deism.they could fit the Christian god just as well( if not more).

That's the point, though. Yes, they could fit the Christian God. They could also fit almost any god, which is the point. Those aren't arguments for the Christian God; they are arguments for a god or, in some cases, gods in general. Allow me to make an analogy to arguments regarding aliens.

There are numerous claims about aliens. Some aliens abduct people (abductionism). Some aliens impersonate people (impersonationism). Some aliens live among people (assimilationism). All of these claims share a common premise: aliens exist (alienism).

Now, let's say I've encountered someone who believes that aliens abduct people -- an abductionist. I'm very interested as to why he believes aliens are abducting people and why I should care. He engages me and he spends the entire debate arguing for the general existence for aliens.

He argues that there are many billions of planets.
He argues that life is likely to have evolved on some of these planets.
He argues that it requires intelligent beings to form the constellations we see in the sky.

He continues in this manner throughout the debate. In the end he concludes: aliens exists, therefore they abduct people. The conclusion is a non-sequitir.

At no point did he argue as to why they would abduct people. He did not present any evidence for abductions. He did not address the problems with accounts of abductions. He simply argued for alienism, not abductionism.

This is what I am pre-empting in the Christianity request. I am wholly unconcerned if aliens exist or not. That truth value cannot be assessed. And so what if they do or do not? Why should I care? The same can be said for the general existence of a god.

Now, if aliens are abducting people, I want to know about that and I'd like to hear arguments and evidence for it. Abductionism is to alienism what Christianity is to theism. He argued for alienism, but that applies to impersonationism, assimilationism, and bare alienism (the deism equivalent). He gave no argument for abductionism.

If your argument is for the general existence of a god or even a creator-god, you have not given any argument for Christianity. The request is for arguments for Christianity.

Why not take arguments against atheism? I know it doesn't prove Christianity but are you just afraid your worldview can't stand up to criticism?

You seem to imply that I have an atheist worldview -- I do not know what that is. Is it the same as my worldview that is without the belief in Bigfoot? An atheist worldview would be one, I assume, that is simply without the belief in a god. I don't think my lack of belief in a god alters my worldview any more than my lack of belief in Bigfoot or astrology alters my worldview.

If I learn that Bigfoot exists? It doesn't alter my worldview in any way. It doesn't affect how I see the world. And if a god exists? It doesn't alter my worldview, per se. It's impossible for me to know anything about the god, so it necessarily won't alter my worldview. If the Christian God exists, though, and Christianity is true? That would fundamentally alter my worldview, so I'm interested in arguments for that.

I'm not accepting arguments "against atheism" because it does not contribute any support to Christianity.

I also am not sure I know what an argument against atheism would entail. Unless it is an argument against the lack of belief in a god (wherein you would have to be arguing for the existence of a god), all I can imagine is one, long fallacy. If it is the former, then it violates the guideline of arguments for a deistic god.

For the sake of argument, you may assume that a god exists. If I were arguing with an abductionist, I would allow him to assume that aliens exist for the sake of argument.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Resolving Biblical Contradictions

Last week while I was on my evening stroll I found a 1,500 page manuscript for an unpublished book. It had no author or contact information listed, so I took it home. I read it cover-to-cover and then read it several more times. It was the most uplifting story I had ever read. It was an autobiography and it was profound. Summary of book:
Aron Lee is a reclusive asexual with OCD. He finds love in his life by meeting a woman named Heather Smith who shows him a deep insight into himself. She tells him she wants a baby once they get married and he is filled with joy as he had always wanted a son. He never thought he would find someone who would accept him enough to have a relationship with him.

On their wedding day, they go skydiving to celebrate their nuptials. His parachute won't open, though, and he plummets to Earth and crashes into the ground. He irreparably damages his penis in collision and also has to have his testicles removed. The doctors tell him it will be impossible for them to conceive. He defies the odds, though, and regains mobility in half the time projected. On the night he first returns home, they conceive. After the baby is born, there is a tragic accident and Heather dies. While the thought of suicide overcomes him, he perseveres because he has his son.

I gave this book to one of my good friends, Brian, to show how everyone can find someone and that you should never listen when the experts say something is impossible. I stressed the fact that this is an autobiography.

After reading it Brian approached me puzzled. He asked how I could believe this is true, because first and least of all the author is unknown so its integrity is without validity. I told him that doesn't matter. It's quite a lengthy work at over 1,500 pages. You would expect such a long work to have inaccuracies and contradictions, but it is wholly self-consistent. That's considerable evidence for the veracity of its content.

Further puzzled, he opened up to the introduction where the author discusses his wife's death:
My dearest Heather contracted a virulent disease on the evening of January 2. She died in my arms on February 6.
He then flipped to the point in the text where it gives the account of her death:
The sky drew dark and she inhaled the wintery air. A horrible accident befell her that evening and she was hospitalized. She spent forty-four days in the hospital. I visited her on the forty-fifth night in the hospital. She died and I held her in my arms.
He pointed out that the introduction gives an account of 42 days between the day she contracts the disease and the day she dies. The account in the text, though, has a span of 45 days and there's no mention of a disease. In fact, it says there was an accident. He pointed to it as a clear contradiction.

I pored over the text and returned to him the next day, shaking my head.
You'll see that there is no contradiction here and the confusion is easily resolved. It's clear that the accident he refers to is one where there is a disease involved that she contracts. It's easy to come up with scenarios which fit this. She may have been in a lab and there was some disease in a vile. The accident refers to accidentally dropping a vile and releasing the air-borne disease. Or, she may have accidentally come into contact with someone's blood. It's clear that the disease came from an accident.

And there is no contradiction in the days. You see, they are just different ways of stating the same thing. It's not difficult to come up with a number of scenarios here either. The introduction clearly states that she died on the 42nd night in his arms. The text, though, does not state that she died on the 45th night. It just says that Aron visited her on the 45th night and held her in his arms again. So you see, the sequence of events was like this:

She contracted the disease in an accident on January 2. She died in his arms on February 6. We know that hospitals keep corpses for a number of days. So, he went back to the hospital on February 9 and lovingly embraced her dead body in his arms.

And thus the "contradiction" is resolved; there is no contradiction here. If you would quit trying to shoot holes in it you would realize that.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Revoking the Christian Privilege

On Friday I gave a presentation and discussion to my atheist group on science and religion in the 2008 election. One of the issues I brought up was the religious rhetoric in our political discourse. They had a hoot when it came to Palin, but they weren't so receptive when I brought up many of Obama's anti-secular sentiments.

One statement he made was along the line of "Not every mention of God is a violation of church/state separation." I tried making the case that it is, with the context being In God We Trust stamped on everything and the Pledge of Allegiance. This is an example of Christian privilege in our society. The mention of God anywhere is this privilege in action. The standard is often replacing it with anything else. What about "Not every mention of white privilege is a violation of civil rights" or "Not every mention of male privilege is a violation of civil rights"? One of the responses I received is that it's a false analogy. I fail to understand how.

We've become desensitized to it. The only reason the rhetoric of white privilege evokes a knee-jerk reaction is because of consciousness raising and exposure to others. The Christians think they have some special place in society just like whites did and men before that. Do they fail to understand the word "tyranny"?

This topic culminated in a post because I was browsing through some old email from one of my sisters and came across the following:
86% to keep the words, IN God We Trust and God in the Pledge of Allegiance. 14% against

That is a pretty 'commanding' public response. I was asked to send this on if I agreed or delete if I didn't . Now it is your turn. It is said that 86% of Americans believe in God.

Therefore, I have a very hard time understanding why there is such a mess about having 'In God We Trust' on our money, and having God in the Pledge of Allegiance.

Why is the world catering to this 14%?


If you agree, pass this on, if not, simply delete.

In God We Trust . . .
It's something she had forwarded me earlier this year -- this sister doesn't know I'm an atheist. I was shocked by it, but chose not to respond. The message is shocking enough. Ironically enough, this comes from my gay sister. What if I had sent her something that said that homosexuals were wanting to redefine marriage and since they only make up 10% of the country they should sit down and shut up? After all, why cater to this 10%?

What is so astonishing is that they fail to see that they're the ones being catered to. We don't ask to be catered to. If anyone ever proposed inserting "under no God" into the Pledge or "In Satan We Trust" I would oppose that as well. The point isn't to be catered to, it's to stop the Christians from being catered to.

It's about revoking this Christian privilege. It's egregiously unacceptable and yet I see atheists accepting it because it's just a passive abuse of power. The difference between passive and active abuse is one of degree, not of character. Abuse is abuse and we should be intolerant. It's not okay to invoke the power of male power or white power, but it's okay to invoke the power of God?

It's irrelevant that it's a violation of the First Amendment; it's a violation of decency, courtesy, and respect to your fellow citizen and a gross injustice.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Closing the Funny Factory?

Ray claims he's thinking about closing his blog down due to the annoying atheist flies. You can see in his post the makings of a new canard to toss out in interviews. First it was the atheists who were unscrupulously editing his banana video to make his banana argument appear untenable. Now it's the atheists who are relentlessly spamming his blog with profanity, blasphemy, and pornography forcing him to abandon it.

He won't do it, though. He's just like VenomFangX and most of the other ignorance-peddling Christian creationists out there. Those two are birds of a feather from beak to tail. They don't have rational arguments to build their cases on, so they build it on a persecution complex. That's all this is: him playing to his persecution complex.

He's the victim at the hands of the relentless atheists. What he fails to mention is that it's the atheists' logic and rationality that's relentless. I don't really care if his blog closes down. It makes for a nice serving of ridiculous in the afternoon, but that's about it. While that's a plus, he counteracts it with truly frustrating posts such as those that fall in line with the "science leads you to killing people" idiocy.

Hey Ray, quit placating the persecution complexes of you and your followers. It's nice to see you taking a break from your inanity and foolishness on the only two topics you post on: the blind atheist religion and science denial/illiteracy. But taking a break and posting some whining post where you flail your arms, stamp your feet, and hold your breath isn't much of an improvement (though, it is an improvement).

How about taking a break and posting something of interest, such as a post with a logically sound argument or a post which demonstrates at least an eighth grade level understanding of science?

Technically Agnostic?

So, there was a recent thread over at The Atheist Blogger regarding agnosticism and its relationships to atheism. Adrian was explaining the relationship of knowledge to belief. The individual he was addressing responded with a comment I hear often with agnosticism:
Are you agnostic about ghosts? Are you agnostic about talking to the dead? Are you agnostic about UFOs? It seems to me the answers to those questions should be yes, yes, and yes. We just can’t know!

Again, as the answers should technically be yes, most people do not consider them important enough to acknowledge. In fact, UFO’s exist, we just don’t know what they are. Even if you meant aliens, I would not be agnostic about them either. The universe is only finitely sized, and if the aliens live within it, we can know about them. (emphasis mine)
Why technically? Why the qualification? The essence of agnosticism is that the truth value of certain claims are not known or cannot be proven/disproven -- perhaps inherently unknowable or unprovable.

For example: Life, the universe, and everything came into existence five minutes ago. Everything was created as-is with every person created with memories of an entire life. Each person was created in a specific position performing a specific action.

Should you be agnostic about this claim? Absolutely. The truth value of this claim is unknown and cannot even be assessed.

Usually we apply agnosticism to the realm of the metaphysical, supernatural, and ultimate reality. You can apply it to other things though.

For example: Intelligent life forms exist in some other area of the universe.

We cannot assess the truth value of this claim and it's unknown, at least relative to our known segment of reality. We should be agnostic about it. And, being agnostic about it, we shouldn't care much about taking a position or arguing beliefs on it. Sure, you can try justifying belief in it with statistics or try justifying belief against it using the stroke of luck involved for Earth and life here. Ultimately, it's pointless.

Now, once people start making specific claims about it and about how it intersects with our known reality, then we can start making assessments of it and arguments are justified. For example, we can move beyond simple alienism and into abductionism. One is perfectly justified in responding and assessing these claims. Why always abduct the stupid people? What's with the homosexuality? Why travel all this way just to study us? If you aren't afraid of exposing yourself to some humans, why not all humans? Why haven't we detected you? And so on.

The same applies to the god question. Claim: a god exists. And? There's no possible way of assessing the truth value of this claim and it's unknown and, perhaps, unknowable. There's definitely no way to prove or disprove it. So, yes, we should be agnostic about it. There's no point in even taking a position on it as you can't justify it.

Now, once claims start flying about how this god intersects with our reality, starts interfering and intervening, then we can start assessing that particular claim. For example, Christianity. You can assess the Bible, the history of it, the consistency of it, the ludicrousy of it, the logical contradictions, etc. Belief for or against this can be justified given how much it interacts with us.

Something I see often, including in The Atheist Blogger's post on it, was assessing agnosticism and atheism in relation to "God." Atheism and agnosticism apply to gods in general, not just the monotheistical creator-god. I think we do our discourse a disservice when perpetuating such privilege to the monotheistical religions by extending it here. Furthermore, it compounds confusion for those trying to grapple with application of agnosticism to claims. Existence of a god merits agnosticism. Existence of a specifically defined god may not.

Related: Godly Aliens

What's My Faith?

I have been emailing back and forth with an officer of our campus Muslim group. I was recommended a site for learning more about Islam, so I went and noticed they offered free literature. I love free literature -- reading from paper is always more enjoyable than reading from a screen. :-)

They had over a dozen pieces of literature to choose from, so I chose all of them. It asked some questions about me and, while filling them out, I came across a troubling question:

I was going to select "atheist" until I saw the question: "My faith is." I had to leave it blank and hope it wouldn't require it, or else I would have gone without.

Atheism isn't my faith anymore than skepticism is my gris gris. Perhaps atheism is my view on faith, but definitely not my faith. It's pedantry, but I think it's justified pedantry to make an issue out of it. The distinction is a clear one.

If you ask me what my religious views are, I would say "atheist." If you ask me what my religion is, I would say "none."

Well... most of the time, anyway.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Heaven Disproves God

An all-good God, at least.

In a comment, I discussed the idea that Hell can't offer eternal torment as it is unending pain. With only pain, there's no reference for torment since there are no moments of bliss.

We are all familiar with the problem of evil as an argument against an all-good God. What are the typical responses? Oh, it's not logically incompatible because the presence of some evil is necessary for good as a point of contrast. Doesn't Heaven face the same problem? Consider:

Heaven is a paradise. All tears will be wiped away and there will be eternal bliss. Doesn't this necessarily invalidate their argument against the problem of evil? If God can achieve it in Heaven, why not here in this life? If evil isn't a necessary component for the perfect world, the most good world, why is it necessary for good in this one?

Perhaps I can anticipate a response to this: ah, but you forget that those in Heaven will have already existed in this world writhing with evil. Therefore, those in Heaven will have already had the necessary experience with evil! I think you fail to consider the disparity between the length in this world and the next. What is eighty years compared to eternity? It's even less significant than the removal of one grain of sand from a beach. But that's not the biggest problem with this response.

If they are in Heaven and they carry their experiences in this life so as to have the necessary exposure to evil, doesn't that necessitate suffering in Heaven? Not only would they suffer from the memories themselves, they would also be tormented with the knowledge of loved ones in Hell. If God makes them immune to this thought, then he has fundamentally changed them and could have done that from the very beginning. If he wipes their memories or knowledge of their loved ones, then he necessarily removes the experience of evil.

Heaven, as eternal paradise, seems inconsistent with the view of an all-good God on this one facet alone.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Conservatism is Dead

I have had my absentee ballot request filled out and in a sealed, addressed, stamped envelope for some time now. It has been sitting on a shelf and hasn't moved. I had not decided if I would vote or not. Individual voting is entirely symbolic. My one vote doesn't count. But the symbolism is important to me, so I would vote anyway. For example, in 2006 I voted for a commissioner and a few other positions, but not the top level offices. The only way your vote matters is if you get others to vote your way, which is perhaps the purpose of this post.

This cycle, though, there really hasn't been anything to be excited about. I have to vote in Oklahoma which has the most restrictive ballot access measures in the nation. As such, I won't reward them by giving either major party my vote just because I have no alternative. That's where I found myself this election. Neither Obama nor McCain is palatable. I'd appreciate a conservative, but neither is.

On those two, who is more appealing? Obama I suppose. I detest many of his policies I have read, but he has some redeeming qualities. His appearance -- skin color and name -- are both appealing, given our current situation. He taught constitutional law for over a decade. He seems dedicated to the separation of church and state. He doesn't seem to get into the partisan politics like most -- everyone has to to an extent, of course. A major consideration, though, is the Supreme Court. Given who Bush appointed, it's important not to let McCain have even a single position.

So, I've decided to just try something this election. I'm going to be a single-issue voter. A single issue voter is one who gives political support on one essential issue or idea. And my defining issue? Separation of Church and State. The level of religious discourse in this election is egregious and unconscionable.

As such, I am making this post and casting my vote in support of Barack Hussein Obama. I am leaving now to mail my ballot request. Perhaps a further post on why I chose Obama, but for now I have enough to swallow that I am actually voting for a liberal and, especially, one as liberal as Obama.

Conservatism is dead.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Alternative After-lifestyles

There are two important truths to understand here. First: God will not "torture" anyone. He will give them "justice." A criminal may believe that his being thrown into a cold prison because he viciously raped three teenage girls, is torture. The judge rather knows better. He calls it "justice."
Right-o Ray. Way to take a page out of the torture-proponents handbooks. God won't "torture" people, he will simply give them "justice." Just like waterboarding and other torture techniques the US employs. We don't "torture" people, we simply have "aggressive interrogation techniques."

And you see, there is no "Hell." Really, there is just an "alternative life-style."

And, you vile atheists, consider this: a person may believe that his being burned, tormented, and plagued with sickness for all eternity because he once told a lie, is torture. God rather knows better. You may call it torture, but he calls it "justice."

P.S. This post is not "sarcasm." I "mean" everything I have typed. And the quotes? They don't "negate" whatever is in them. Ray Comfort is "not" an idiot.

History of First Amendment & Atheism, Part 2

Note: I had this almost entirely completed (except for the last two cases) and it was just sitting around in my drafts. When I was fetching a link to the first part, I noticed I had never published this. I hope you enjoy it as much as the first.

In the previous post we looked at the foundational history for First Amendment Jurisprudence with respect to the Free Exercise Clause. This post will conclude this Clause.

The cases here will be discussed in a shorter format to hopefully make the length shorter for you. These cases are more interesting than the previous as they are more prevalent to where the Court is currently at. The previous cases were needed as a background as these build on those (precedents) and there is also a school of thought we will see where Scalia wishes to return to Reynolds.

We left the Court when it was considering a balancing approach when there is an issue of state interest vs individual liberty. Further, as the Prince case concluded on (in the dissent), we will see the Court begin to consider just what sort of interest should trump liberty as we see some new standards emerge. Below are some of the most famous cases in the Court's history.

We will cover here:
  • Braunfeld v. Brown (1961)
  • Sherbert v. Verner (1963)
  • U.S. v. Seeger (1965)
  • Welsh v. U.S (1970)
  • Wisconsin v. Yoder (1972)
  • Employment Division, Department of Human Resources of Oregon v. Smith (1990)
  • Church of the Lukumi Babalu Aye v. City of Hialeah (1993)
  • Boerne v. Flores (1997)
  • Gonzales v. O Centro Espirita Beneficente Uniao Do Vegetal et al. (2006)
We will also see some more consideration as to "what is religion?" This question, though, is covered more in-depth with Establishment/Assistance cases.

Braunfeld v Brown (1961): Burden and "purpose or effect" is added to the Valid Secular Policy test
Brought by Jews. Here we have a Pennsylvania statute requiring business to close on Sunday. As Orthodox Jews, though, they had to also be closed on Friday evening and Saturday. This effectively meant they had to be closed a day longer than their competing Christian merchants. These are the so-called "blue laws."

This was a plurality opinion, meaning there was no majority consensus on the opinion. Chief Justice Warren writes for three of the other justices.

Warren cites the Cantwell precedent we saw in the last post and builds on it. He argues:
1. The legislation is constitutional as it is to advance a valid secular goal, despite its indirect burden. The secular purpose was providing for the general welfare a day of rest.
2. Issuing individual exemptions would be too cumbersome upon the state.

You see he notes the valid secular purpose, but also comments on burdens. Although there is an indirect burden to free exercise, it is a general law to advance the State's interest and there is no other way to accomplish its goal by means without such an imposed burden.

Just a quick note on Stewart's dissent as we will see this sentiment discussed in future cases. He dissents because the law "grossly violates" their freedom of religion as it forces an Orthodox Jew to choose between his faith and his economic survival.

Free Exercise Tests
1. He cites Cantwell and builds: If the purpose or effect of law is to discriminate against one or all religions, it is unconstitutional even if the burden is only indirect.
2. If the law is enacted to advance State's valid secular goals, it is valid despite its indirect burden on religion unless the State may accomplish through other means not imposing such a burden.

Sherbet v Verner (1963): The Sherbert Test and genesis of a controversy
Brought by a Seventh-Day Adventist. The plaintiff's employer switched to a six-a-day week which required her to work on the Sabbath. She refused and was fired. When she applied for worker's compensation, she was denied.

It's a 6-3 decision and Brennan is able to write his dissent from Braunfeld into the majority opinion here:

1. An indirect burden is definitely imposed: it forces her to choose between violating religion and forfeiting unemployment benefits. The "choice puts the same kind of burden upon the free exercise of religion as would a fine imposed against appellant for her Saturday worship."
2. There are no alternative forms of regulation which could combat abuses without infringing on freedom of religion.

We see a Jackson's dissent in Prince appearing here. If you remember, Jackson argued that only the gravest of abuses and danger to the state interest can warrant any degree of limitation on an individual's free exercise of religion.

Brennan argues that in such a sensitive area as religious freedom, "[o]nly the gravest abuses, endangering paramount interests, give occasion for permissible limitation." In addition to showing some "compelling state interest," "it would plainly be incumbent upon the appellees to demonstrate that no alternative forms of regulation would combat such abuses without infringing First Amendment rights."

Key Issues
Should government have to prove higher level of interest if it criminalizes behavior as opposed to affecting a person economically?

Free Exercise Tests
This adds on to the Valid Secular Policy:
Compelling Interest Test
a. There must be some compelling state interest for legislation (only against the "gravest abuses" to justify infringement).
b. It must be by the least restrictive means possible.

US v Seeger (1965): The first Conscientious Objector case and "what is religion?"
Brought by a Quaker. He was conscripted into the army but denied conscientious-objector status as his religious beliefs did not constitute "belief in a Supreme being."

Religion does not require belief in a God; it only requires something that is "sincere and meaningful occupies a place in the life of its possessor parallel to orthodox belief in God."

Decision in Welsh v US (1970)
Religious exemption would include moral and ethical beliefs if they are "as sincerely held as traditionally defined religious beliefs."

Key Ideas/Concepts
Conscientious objectors cannot be reserved for those who profess compliance with moral directives from a supreme being. The only thing important is that the belief is "sincere and meaningful" and occupies a place "parallel" to religion.

Wisconsin v Yoder (1972): Foundation for controversies
Brought by the Amish. This is, perhaps, the most well known First Amendment case among the general public. We don't see any new test out of here, but it will be the battling ground of a controversy to come among the justices.

The Amish withdrew their children from school after eighth grade, which violated Wisconsin's compulsory education law. The Amish made an argument that such compulsory education violated their free exercise.

Burger writes for the unanimous majority (Douglas, though, files a partial dissent below). They rule that compulsory education laws violate the Amish's free exercise of religion, arguing:

1. Mandatory public education compels the parents to fundamentally violate their religious beliefs.
2. ...Even though the state has a compelling interest to do so.
3. This is not at odds with Prince as Prince concerned itself with protecting children from grave evils, not extending children a benefit. This lays in his reasoning that this case is "not one in which any harm to the physical or mental health of the child or to the public safety, peace, order, or welfare."
4. Amish practice is rooted in religious conviction, not just a personal preference.

On the last point, the Court was considering whether the Amish lifestyle was truly part of their religious beliefs. If it is not inseparable, then it is really just philosophical and therefore does not qualify for protection under the First Amendment. He notes this with a reference to Thoreau: Thoreau's choice was philosophical and personal rather than religious, and such belief does not rise to the demands of the Religion Clauses.

1. Violates Seeger as Seeger stated philosophical beliefs are protected
2. The emphasis on the Amish's good law and order is irrelevant. (One of the points was that if the children weren't in school, they were receiving a good life/upbringing at home.)
3. The consideration, therefore, is the future of the student: he will be forever harnessed to the Amish way of life <- This is an application of Sherbert

Key Issues
1. Protection of children vs religious faith
2. Difference between philosophical/personal preference and rooted in faith

As you can see here, we're starting to move away from the principles set forth in Sherbert. This continues to happen and, once we move into the Rehnquist Court, we will see us getting further away. Keep this in mind for the next case, which is very important.

Employment Division, Oregon Department of Human Resources v. Smith (1990): Scalia rolls back Free Exercise jurisprudence
Brought by an American Indian of a Native American Church. Smith, who ironically worked at a drug rehabilitation center, was fired for ingesting peyote. It was ingested as part of a religious ceremony, although possession of peyote was a crime. He applied for and was denied unemployment benefits, due to "work-related misconduct." It was for this that Smith sued. His claim is that the state denying the benefits was a violation of his Free Exercise since he had been fired due to religious reasons. (Remind you of Sherbet v Verner?)

Scalia writes the majority opinion here and we are going to see some shifting in the Court. We'll also be revisiting some of those Key Issues/Concepts covered in previous cases, which you should look back at:

1. The criminal law is not specifically directed towards religious practice and only incidentally forbids performance in accordance with religious belief.
2. Previous cases were based on a hybrid of religion and another (seems to relegate religion to second-rung status). He uses this fact to get around the precedents. Remember that previous cases often were a hybrid of religion and speech.
3. Invalidating laws based on an individual's conscience makes it a law unto himself.
4. REYNOLDS sets general rule and SHERBERT/YODER narrow exceptions

We have now completely moved away from the standards and principles set forth in Sherbert and actually revives Reynolds. He has now set forth a new standard which contrasts with it (outlined at the end of this case below).

If you can tell from this brief summary, Scalia dislikes the balancing approach when it comes to anything, as was the foundation of the precedents.

Technically, O'Connor is concurring with the judgment, but her opinion here is a dissent. She is very disturbed by the opinion put forth by Scalia and its disregard for the precedents of Braunfeld's severest burden and Sherbert's compelling-interest.

1. Cites Braunfeld: Making criminal an individual's religiously motivated conduct is the severest burden possible.
2. Results in choosing between religious principle and facing criminal prosecution.
3. Cites WEST BARNETTE: purpose of Bill of Rights is to protect religion against such laws, so indirect or direct burdens do matter
4. SHERBERT/YODER are the binding rules; overruled Reynolds.

Key Issues/Concepts
1. Government's ability to enforce general legislation prohibiting socially harmful conduct cannot depend on measuring the effect of it.
2. Democratic rule vs Bill of Rights for minorities
3. Valid, neutral law of general applicability vs Compelling interest and less restrictive means.

Free Exercise Tests
1. Freedom of religion does not relieve individual of complying with a VALID and neutral law of general applicability
2. When facing criminal punishments, religious believers cannot be protected by Free Exercise Clause as long as the legislation was not meant to penalize the religion specifically.

There's a lot more to this case and could go on for pages as it's quite a fascinating discussion of balancing approaches, burden and effect, Bill of Rights vs majoritarian rule, stare decisis, etc.

Church of the Lukumi Babalu Aye v. City of Hialeah (1993): Just for fun :-)
Brought by Santerians. This is rather interesting. The City learned that a church was going to locate there which practiced Santeria (ritual animal sacrifice). As such, the city passed a law that prohibited the unnecessary killing of animals, private or public, for anything other than a primary purpose of food consumption. They filed suit. The lower courts upheld the law with the new Smith Test.

While the lower courts upheld the law under the Smith Test -- as there was a legitimate government interest for it -- the Supreme Court did not. Rather, it found that the laws were not neutral and "suppressed much more religious conduct than necessary to achieve their stated ends." As such, Kennedy subjected it to the compelling-interest standard and, with a vote of 9-0, ruled the law unconstitutional.

Congress is not at all happy with the Smith Test. The Compelling Interest test, established in Sherbert, resulted in an imbalance towards more liberty creating a higher standard for government to meet in order to infringe on Free Exercise rights. The Smith Test, though, shifts that imbalance to the government, as you can tell by the parameters, and lowers the standard.

Congress does not like this and enacts the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) in 1993 nearly unanimously (only three votes against in the Senate). It states that whenever neutral laws burden the individuals right to Free Exercise, the courts must apply the compelling-interest test:
Government shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability [unless the government can show that the burden] 1) is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest; and 2) is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling government interest.
This act, meant to roll back Scalia's rollback of jurisprudence on Free Exercise to expand religious freedom was enacted by that godless liberal, Bill Clinton. With this, it aimed to undo Smith and go back to Sherbert/Yoder, as you'll remember from O'Conner and Scalia's argument in the Smith decision.

City of Boerne v. Flores (1997): The Supreme Court asserts itself over Congress
A Catholic Archbishop applied for a building permit to enlarge his Church's building. It was denied due to local zoning ordinances which prohibited such construction for any building in the area. The suit was brought alleging that it burdened his ability to act on his beliefs, as permitted by the RFRA.

Stevens, writing for the majority, struck down the RFRA as unconstitutional and ruled in favor of the City of Boerne in holding with the Smith Test. Kennedy argued that the RFRA is designed to control "cases and controversies," which is the power of the judiciary and no the legislative. This signaled the end to any further Congressional action (short of an Amendment) to overturn Smith.

Just a quick concurrence by Stevens of applying the First Amendment to the RFRA. He held that the RFRA gives preference to religion over irreligion as it respects an establishment of religion. Therefore, it's unconstitutional via the previous standards we have observed.

O'Connor dissent wasn't specifically over the constitutionality of RFRA. Instead, her argument was that Smith was wrongly decided and is not the correct understanding of the Free Exercise Clause. By correcting Smith it would simultaneously but the Court's First Amendment jurisprudence back on track, thereby rendering RFRA moot.

Gonzales v. O Centro Espirita Beneficente Uniao Do Vegetal et al. (2006): Boerne limited
A UDV church in NM had some of their tea seized (which contained a Schedule I substance) and sued for an injunction.

Roberts, writing for a unanimous court, upheld the applicability of the RFRA to the federal government, as it had only been ruled in Boerne that Congress had exceeded its power to enforce the Fourteenth Amendment with RFRA. Obviously, the federal government has the right to restrict the degree to which its own officials may restrict the free exercise of religion. Roberts found that the government had failed to apply the strict scrutiny RFRA demands with its actions: the federal government failed to show a compelling-interest.

Looking Forward to Establishment Cases?
This concludes the investigation of the Free Exercise cases of the Supreme Court's jurisprudence. We have visited the Conscientious Objector cases where it was considered what, exactly, constitutes a religion under the First Amendment.

As Scalia joined the bench, we say a step back to the ideas in Reynolds. The Court returned to the idea of exceptions for religions rendering one's conscience a law unto itself.

The governing precedence for Free Exercise cases is Smith where Scalia held that Reynolds set the general rule and Sherbert/Yoder set the narrow exceptions. This remains counter to the prevailing idea before this case that, as O'Connor had argued, Sherbert/Yoder are the binding rules and that they overruled Reynolds.

If you enjoyed this walkthrough of the Free Exercise Clause, along with the first part, let me know and I can continue on with the Establishment Clause. The Establishment Clause relates much more with atheism as that contains all the monuments, displays, and school prayer cases. The Free Exercise cases had to be done first as the Establishment ones build on these ideas.

Is Ray Devolving?

So, Ray recently posted that he thinks holometabola's metamorphoses are proof of evolution. One has to wonder, then. Ray's obvious misunderstanding of evolution is getting worse and worse. He used to thing that evolution occurs within a pseudo-species but that it can only go to the boundary of the pseudo-species. Now he thinks that it occurs within an individual organism.

By Ray's logic, then, he has been evolving his entire life. He used to be a baby, then he evolved into a teen, then into an adult, then into an older man, and so on. But here's what I like to call the Problem of Stupid with Ray's fundamental misunderstanding:

If Ray has been evolving, and is continuing to evolve, how come his understanding of basic science is getting even worse and his arguments are getting dumber?

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

An Atheist Verse in the Qur'an

I have been emailing back and forth with the PR officer of my local Muslim group. We have been discussing a few things and, most recently, abrogation. He quoted a few verses to me, so I opened my Qur'an and read a few pages of context for them. I then came along this gem of a line:
And they say: None entereth paradise unless he be a Jew or a Christian. These are their own desires. Say: Bring your proof (of what ye state) if ye are truthful. (2:111)
Well, what do you know? An atheist verse right there in the Qur'an. When Jews and Christians bring their claims to me, I say all the time: Bring your proof if ye are truthful. :-)

I must wonder, though, does this also apply to the Muslim's claims? Regardless, it's going in my collection of quotes from holy texts I like to quote. Not too much farther down the page comes another dandy:
And the Jews say the Christians follow nothing (true), and the Christians say the Jews follow nothing (true); yet both are readers of the Scripture.
Yet another good observation. If it weren't for all the vainglorious praise to Allah on every page -- and, not to mention, all the misogynistic, violent, and homophobic filling the gaps in between the praises -- I could really find the Qur'an enjoyable. Actually, I could live with the misogyny, violence, and homophobia; it adds intrigue. But in the name of the merciful and compassionate Allah, the repetitive praise of Allah persists ad nauseam.

Monday, September 15, 2008

The Testament of Elyksha

The atheists are wrong and the religious believers are all incorrect. My name is Elyksha and I used to be a god. Due to the conduct of my former colleagues in conjunction with my own personal failures, I can be silent no more. I have chosen to take mortal form so that I may relay the greatest story that was never told...

We had existed forever, as long as this universe and those universes before. We neither created the universes nor preceded the universes. It is a concept you will not understand for a great many generations, but their existence is an intrinsic property of the hyperuniverse and the subuniverses (this universe is the current subuniverse) are contingent on their existence. This principle is irrelevant, though, to the story at hand.

My aim is to expose the truth behind the many religions of the world and subvert those who have sought to enslave humanity for their own, petty reasons.

The Nature of the Gods
What you have heard of the characteristics of your gods in your religions is the hyperbole of gods and the fabrication of mortals. No gods are omnipotent nor omniscience. Do not misunderstand, though. They are both very powerful and very knowledgeable. To speak of their "knowledge," they do not know everything, but they know a great much and have a large capacity to store knowledge. Even though they aren't omniscient, it would be difficult for mortals to discern otherwise.

Their "power" is also mighty. They can manipulate matter and energy in the subuniverses, but they may not violate the fundamental laws which delicately hold this universe intact. What you have called "miracles" or realization of the impossible is actually the result of your race's infancy in understanding; you do not yet understand the true nature of your universe.

While our "powers" were equal at the inception of this subuniverse, not all the gods have the same levels of power or knowledge now. Certain events in the subuniverse affect the hyperuniverse, including their relative powers. The greater the number of people who believe in their existence, the greater their power and also their capacity for knowledge are. This fact is what explains the existence of many of your religions, both past and present. The gods are competing for power and knowledge by obtaining believers.

It is in this respect that I, like many gods, have failed. Despite my many efforts, I have been unable to recruit the level of followers that my colleagues have been able to. It is for this reason I am here. Before explaining my role, though, I must first preface it with a history of some religions and how your religions exist today.

The Rules of the Omniverse Continuum
You may begin to ask why we would have even invented religions if we are so powerful that we can manipulate matter and energy itself -- therefore we would be able to control what you think anyway. You misunderstand.

We could have very well revealed ourselves to you and sufficiently demonstrated our supernatural abilities. Indeed, we had attempted this on previous planets. Chaos ensued as every god participated. It fundamentally altered reality itself as it exists in this universe, thereby obliterating them. It was agreed on that there would be rules to govern the continuum to ensure that would not happen again. It was not out of concern for the organized energy-matter in this universe; when those compartments obliterated, the knowledge and power concentrated there was destroyed. The effects in the hyperuniverse were also felt as the collective power was redistributed in an even fashion.

These rules stipulate that they may not manipulate what you call the physical world in any manner, unless agreed upon collectively. They may enter your consciousness, but only one is allowed access into any one mind and the gods are limited how many they may reveal themselves to. Gods themselves may choose to take mortal form (as I have) with the assistance of another god. When one god takes mortal form, his knowledge and power is distributed proportionally over the other gods, as that is the fundamental law of the hyperuniverse.

As you can see, some gods posses more knowledge and power than other gods. When one god is eliminated, every god increases his respective knowledge and power. Therefore, as one god gains more believers and more gods are eliminated, the sum of that god's knowledge and power approaches 1 (omniscience, omnipresence, and omnipotence).

There are other constraints on their interactions with the subuniverse. As I have failed in obtaining a great number of believers, I lacked a sufficient sum of knowledge and power to meaningfully affect this world. If a god, though, tried to break the agreed law and break the continuum, the collective power of the other gods would prevail in stopping him. Another constraint is that they are not omnipresent. While large disruptions in the continuum are easily detected, subtle ones may not be, depending on where in this universe the concentration of presence is located.

It is here we get to religions.

A Brief History of Religions
When the beings on this planet first began gaining their higher levels of consciousness, we had already many experiences with similar beings on other planets. The beings on this planet, though, seemed predisposed to religious thoughts, and so often they would event their own religions or rituals. We tried to reveal religions to certain primitives, but they were too unintelligent to comprehend any one god's presence in their mind.

Less than 10,000 years ago, this started to change and gods were able to pervade certain isolated cultures in the various parts of this planet to set up religions. The population of this planet, though, was not deemed worthy of the greater gods, so many of the lesser gods, myself included, descended upon this world.

As the population began to grow, so did the concentration of gods. It was a normal occurrence for gods to team up and create polytheistic religions and share the resources of the believers among them. I was never able to accomplish such a pact, so I spent much of "my time" (there is no other term to relate the concept of our existence) on this planet in the religions of those you call Native Americans.

Monotheistic religions were very difficult to establish due to our rules. Not all the minds we entered could comprehend us, so if a mind didn't comprehend our revelation, we lost one of our allotments. As you see in the Native American religions, my revelations were sorely misunderstood which is why they are so obscure. Having multiple gods increased the likelihood of one taking, and we could also reveal the same religion to multiple people so that they could confirm its authenticity. The contents of the religions themselves are irrelevant; we simply need the beliefs. As such, we tried varying the religions to see what was accepted best.

The Rise of Monotheism
The tide of power and knowledge concentration on this planet began to shift starting in the first millenium BCE. One god did what no other god could: establish a monotheistic faith that wasn't battered into obscurity. I speak of Faershua. He revealed himself as the personality of Yahweh to pre-modern tribes. He took a tactic none of us had done before. As I earlier mentioned, those of this world are predisposed to religion. As such, there are a great many religions invented by delusional mortals. A religion had begun to develop in the region known to you as the Middle East. They were authoring a holy book you now know as The Bible. Faershua interceded and revealed himself to a principal in the developing religion and began communicating messages to him for inclusion in the holy text.

Faershua had been the first to create a religion where the most important principle was the belief in an omnipotent, omniscient, benevolent, transcendent god. He also was able to successfully reveal a number of important laws to help propagate his religion. For example, he created a penalty against homosexuality. The sole aim of religions is to get a great number of people to believe in a particular god's existence. While the homosexuals themselves may believe, they would not procreate. As such, there is no growth. As this world is predisposed to religious thought, the children are most likely to accept their parents beliefs -- also another thing Faershua introduced.

He also stressed the importance of "faith" as he knew the civilizations of this world would one day advance to a point of greater understanding, as we have observed on numerous other planets. He revealed certain verses that knowledge of his existence is the greatest knowledge of all and the superiority of those who have this knowledge over those who don't. Due to this world's predisposition to religion, he knew that once it was discovered their true origins that many would reject it due to personal incredulity. We often used deception in our religions as the religions themselves were meant to deceive. He designed an account to exploit this inevitable rejection by offering a simpler origin version for his believers to cling on to. It was highly successful, too, as it reinforced the other passages stating that knowledge of Faershua is greater than any other knowledge.

There were, of course, a great many things in the text which he did not reveal. This is due to the inability of the mortal mind to fully comprehend the presence of a god. It is also due to integrity compromise, both unintentional and malicious.

The surprising success of Faershua's bizarre monotheistic religion startled the rest of us. The threat was not significant on this planet due to the meager population, but Faershua had already begun attempting it on other planets. He was fast gaining more knowledge and power. As his knowledge and power increased, so did his ability to be present in this subuniverse.

The Struggle for Power Escalates: 00 CE
Many of the other gods who had been present on this planet scrambled to temper this religion. We organized into great numbers to reveal grand polytheistic faiths. A strategy was devised to reveal our polytheistic religions to the most advanced people of the time in an attempt to get others to convert upon seeing the superiority of the advanced people. It was somewhat successful, given the circumstances. The number of religions established decreased due to the concentrated polytheistic ones -- usually we would reveal a number of religions. We had used up our allotted revelations for this planet's time when revealing these grand polytheistic religions. As such, many of us moved on to other planets

None of us expected what Faershua had come up with. What happened next, though, had never been attempted with even the slightest degree of success ever in this universe (or in those comparable subuniverses which preceded this one). One obscure god, in collusion with another, would subtly violate the continuum, successfully, and exploit Faershua's religion to subvert his believers over to this god.

End of Part the First.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Two Creationist Laughs

Just a quick note on two creationists. First up is VenomFangX. Thunderf00t (the one and only) has posted the following ultimatum to VenomFangX:

I thought I'd share my support with him, so I dropped him a line:
The content of what creationists like VFX publish is irrelevant. We live in a free society of free ideas -- much to the chagrin of those very same creationists. What VFX has done has gone beyond mere censorship of dissent on his private videos. While that is an odious mark of anti-intellectualism and acknowledgment of the untenableness of his arguments, it is still his private channel and he is well within his rights.

What he has apparently done, though, is abuse a venue provided by both YouTube and the government of this country in order to expand his censorship to other channels. Not only is his intellectual fortitude so scarce that he must prohibit dissent in his own little bubble of the Internet, he must wage a cowardice assault from behind his keyboard to prohibit dissent everywhere.

He has, like so many others, gotten so comfortable with the anonymity of the Internet that he has shown his Christianity mandates no integrity on his part. He seems to be part of the "it's okay to lie for Jesus" camp. He has abused a service meant for legitimate claims for real infringements to compensate for his own intellectual impotence.

I hope you pursue him; not for his content, but for his conduct. If any atheist did what the "good Christian" VFX did, I would demand the same. For someone who is so quick to profess the moral superiority of Christianity, it's interesting to see, via his latest video, how unapologetic he is regarding his decisively unethical actions.

While he likes to play the victim, I am not asking you to crucify him. I am asking for you to pursue what is just. For that goal, I would happily furnish contributions.

The other creationist is Sarah Palin (also, the one and only). I'm rather uninterested in the flurry of posts about her due to the blatant hypocrisy and frivolities in this election. I'm given a presentation to my atheist group this Friday on the election, though, so I thought I'd watch a lot of media today to grab a few clips. Without fail, anytime they asked for her foreign policy experience, she would say that her state is bordered by two countries and there's a spot in Alaska where you can actually see Russia.

Really? I mean, really? Hey, I think tomorrow I'll go apply to be the CEO of Bank of America. When they ask for my experience, I will reply that there are several banks nearby and that I can see one from my window.

"If Atheists Truly Didn't Believe..."

"Then they wouldn't spend all their time arguing against what they claim not to believe. Since the atheist worldview says this is your only life, you would spend every moment of every day not wasting it. You would spend it enjoying life. It's obvious you don't for the same reason you spend all your time arguing against that which you claim not to believe: you know it's true and are just trying to convince yourself. The Bible is so right, no one does not know God, they simply hate him."

What a middle school assessment of the opposition. Many of the atheists I know, myself included, are skeptics. We spend time arguing against other types of bunk like UFOs, Bigfoot, CAM, etc. By your middle school logic, it is apparent that we don't actually disbelieve these claims. If we really did not believe, then why would we waste our time arguing against things which we believe to be false? Because you fundamentally misunderstand. We do not argue against Bigfoot; we argue against the belief in Bigfoot. I don't believe Bigfoot exists anymore than I believe that the Christian God exists -- in fact, I positively believe those two things do not exist.

I, like skeptics and many atheists, argue against nonsense like Bigfoot and God because of a few reasons. One reason is that the belief is often harmful in some way to the person who holds it. Unlike the horrible painting you have created of atheists in your mind, we actually care about people -- to quote the great Dr. Comfort, we atheists actually "have a conscience." Belief in stuff like homeopathy is harmful because it acts as a horrible substitute for actual medicine -- on the same level that feces is a horrible substitute for chocolate: they may look similar, but one makes you feel good and the other one is crap.

Another reason, though, is that you misunderstand again. You recognize that this life is precious for us (another reason to be an atheist), so it is a logical conclusion that we would like to have meaningful, fulfilled lives and enjoy ourselves. Most atheists -- and I do mean most -- do not care at all about arguing against religion. They see it as a waste of their time as there's better things to do. One of my best friends is an atheist and we have fun laughing at silly (religious/supernatural) beliefs and creationist arguments, but that's as far as she goes. She doesn't want to discuss any philosophical or scientific arguments one way or the other.

That's great for her, because she does not enjoy it; she spends her time doing things she does enjoy. You fail to even consider, though, that arguing against religion and other nonsense is enjoyable to many atheists. That's the only reason an atheist would even have a blog dedicated to it.

Other reasons include the fact that we have religion forced down our throats in society. We are activists because you good Christians feel it appropriate to infringe on our rights. So, we take action in the government to protect ourselves. There's also many who have our relationships with our families poisoned by religion, and speaking out against it is a cathartic experience. There's also a passion for educating people. For example, creationists have launched a vile attack on science, and it's important for people to exist to counter it and explain why creationism fails at every level.

But these are secondary for me. I spend my time arguing against religion and religious superstition because it's enjoyable. I know it is a difficult concept to grasp for those who accept their religion on faith, but intellectualism is a prosperous exercise. Engaging in intellectual activities expands my own sphere. When I recognize how people delude themselves into many of the beliefs they have regarding religion, how people mistake anecdotes for rigorous evidence, how people use poor logic, it improves my mind.

I can use these observations and inspect my own beliefs on other matters critically. Am I forming these beliefs for good reasons? Am I analyzing the evidence, setting my bias aside? Am I carefully making sure I see all the variables in the evidence? Am I using proper logic? Can my same arguments be used for the contrary belief?

Saturday, September 13, 2008

A Godly Encounter

Yesterday I met a mortal who used to be a god.

More on this Monday...

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Imagine No Religion

There will probably be many posts across atheist blogs today on this. This will be my first September 11th in the atheist community. Religious fanatics flying planes into our buildings is genuinely frightening. What is even more frightening, I think, is how politically correct our country has become that many deny the link between religious fanaticism and 9/11.

Too often I hear people claiming that they are just hatemongers using religion as the rhetoric to have their cause embraced (though, I don't see how that is any better), or people claiming that it is just a few people perverting and misconstruing the message of Islam. Islam is the not the mask on the face of the problem; Islam is the hideous face of the reality of our situation. Denial is an inhibitor; we can have no rational discourse on the problem as there is no denying the link of religion. Islam promotes violence the same Christianity promotes misogyny and homophobia; the two are inextricably linked.

I don't have any big post planned for today, but I thought I would share words from two people already this morning.
Greydon Square -- The Dream

I'm dreamin' of a world with no gods at all
No separation, nobody takin' sides at all
No Holocaust, no one indoctrinatin' our children
No religious fanatics flyin' planes into our buildin's
Everybody playing in the game of life in which they can't lose
Instead of killing for an invisible man they can't prove

Nobody dyin' over a book
No Crusades, no war on terror headed by Bush
I'm dreamin' of a world where there is no such place as the Bible Belt
Instead of lookin' up you look inside yourself
And when you do find yourself, you gonna help somebody else
Instead of prayin' you'd do well to maintain your body's health

Now that's what I call a dream
KafirGirl relates her experience of walking home after having all eyes upon her in class on 9/11:

It was a 3 mile walk, at least, and I had plenty to think about on my way over. Somewhere along the way, I realized that I’d been hiding behind the word agnostic for 2 years. The word atheist, at that point, just seemed so final. If I used the word atheist, it would mean having to give up my back door, my Plan B, my escape route. There was no way out. I realized that I was tired — really, genuinely tired — of lying to myself. I knew with every fiber of my being that I could never just go back to being a Muslim again. I’d crossed the line, embraced logic, reason & reality. And there was no looking back.

I’m an atheist, I thought to myself. An atheist. And then I whispered it out loud, just to hear myself say it: I’m an atheist.

I’m an atheist.
And there is no looking back.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Dark Ages Are Over, Ray

Ray made a rather sickening post juxtaposing a starving child with a description of the LHC. His motive? Ray hates science and knowledge. The more that science uncovers, the more evidence against his unfounded beliefs, the more time he has to spend inventing nonsense to throw at the wall and see what sticks.

Contrary to what you and your cohorts like Ben Stein claim, Ray, science does not lead you to killing people nor does it harm society. To the contrary, Ray, science has been a major benefit to society; there is no way we could sustain over six billion people otherwise. You frequently post on how atheists should give respect and reverence to God because he, supposedly, gave us life and provided for us. Why don't you, Ray, a 58 year old man, take your own advice and give some respect to the science that has provided the vaccinations and cures to protect you from your God's pestilence, as well as the science that has allowed you to live so long and so comfortably (in your $250,000 home). Hypocrite.

And I don't want to hear any of this nonsense about investing ten billion dollars into science and juxtaposing it with starving children. The great thing about science is that discovering new principles and facts about the universe leads to inventions and contributions in other areas of science. Before we should even give one thought to the idea of investing ten billion dollars into science and juxtaposing that with starving children, we should first look at all the frivolous hundreds of thousands of luxurious, ostentatiously extravagant churches. Why don't you give up some of your $100k+/year salary and $250,000 home and give that to the starving child, Ray? Hypocrite.

It's not the Dark Ages, Ray. I know science scares you because you don't understand it (not even gravity) and it threatens your primitive beliefs and contradicts your ancient, antiquated texts, but the Dark Ages are over. Quit attacking science and go back to leading your flock astray.

Your audacity never fails to put me in a state of awe, you arrogant dolt.

I'm Fasting for Ramadan

It's the blessed month of Ramadan and we all know what that means: we godless atheists get to enjoy steaks while the Muslims go hungry. I'll be joining the Muslims this year, though, or at least joining them for one day.

Some members from my atheist group were conducting an Ask-An-Atheist booth from 11am-1pm today. While I was out, I decided to drop by. Two Muslim girls wearing hijabs were walking around passing some things out and apparently getting people to sign up for something.

They come up to us, smiling, and greet us. They begin to speak when they see our "Atheists, Skeptics, and Humanists" sign behind us. They both stop talking and one of them exclaims:
Oh no! You guys are atheists.
It was a bit of a humorous comment. It was said in the tone of some environmental activists trying to get people to commit to using less gasoline and then run into some oil executives:
Oh no! You guys are oil executives. The enemy!

Ha ha. Just what were these two Muslim girls passing out and getting people to sign up for? A pledge to fast from sunrise to sunset on Monday:
For every non-Muslim who fasts with us, local-area businesses have pledged to donate a certain amount of money towards the 2008 Ramadan Orphan Drive, conducted by Islamic Relief, who currently sponsor over 20,000 orphans in 21 countries.
There was something very telling in her tone and exclamation about her exposure and conception of atheists. I think she was particularly surprised when we didn't laugh at all the hungry orphans in the world and instead all signed a pledge to fast.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Suggest Some Atheist Media, Please

I'll have a post up later on the magic medicine of the ad hominem, but currently I am working on an website which will be a repository of information for new atheists or those just beginning to question their religion.

Could you recommend some of your favorite atheist media? It could be a general blog, a blog post, podcasts, some youtube video, debates, pictures, music, books, websites, etc.

All suggestions are appreciated.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Holy Hatred: Homosexuality

Yesterday I offered an open-ended request to Christians to show me some good reason or evidence to believe in Christianity, the authenticity of the Bible, and/or its message. While that's still open, I thought I would advance a smaller question relating to it regarding homosexuality.

I hear it often described that the Bible is the best guide to live your life by. In fact, my father told me for many years that one of the most convincing things for him is that following the laws and guidelines in the Bible leads to a better life and disobeying them never bodes well. While I am not "out" to my father about being an atheist (as he would never speak to me again), I had a discussion with him one night last year regarding the Leviticus codes that I will now post here.

It's difficult to make sense of all the things written in Leviticus and those early books. Many Christians now today simply pick and choose from them so that they don't have to deal with things such as slavery. We can focus on one of the things that some Christians are not choosing while others are choosing: homosexuality.

If the guidelines of the Bible really are the best we have, if the things said to be immoral there are because they are harmful, then I must ask, what objective reason is there for considering homosexuality immoral? Or, better yet, to shed the "moral" argument: Why should we be opposed to homosexuality and prohibit it?

So, for those Christians who have chosen this parcel from the Bible and condemn homosexuality, please explain why. Please offer arguments and reasons against homosexuality. I am genuinely interested in why. And, the reasons should not create some sort of double standard.

For those Christians who have not chosen this particular thing, why not?

This question is of particular importance in America. A legitimate secular purpose is one of the requirements for any sort of law. Now's your chance. What's the legitimate secular purpose? So, since we're considering the political ramfications as well, feel free to address same-sex marriage if you wish.

Addressing Science to Inform Politics

(This doesn't have to do with religion, just an experience I had tonight with science advocacy in the realm of politics.)

Tonight [Friday] was the first general meeting of my atheist and skeptics club. It was quite successful with over thirty people turning up for a discussion session. We addressed the topic of science advocacy and why it is important. We then broke up into four groups, each led by a club officer, to each discuss a specific topic of: intelligent design (of course), stem cell research, nuclear power, or marijuana prohibition.

The last two were meant specifically to address the need of science advocacy in the realm of the politics of it. Liberals are overly opposed to nuclear power whereas conservatives are overly favoring marijuana prohibition. One of the officers in the club who is a liberal took on the discussion group of nuclear power. I, being a conservative, took on the discussion group of marijuana prohibition.

One of the things I stressed was the need to address the science in order to inform the politics. Too often we are guilty of addressing the politics to inform the science. It reminds me very much of the creationist political cartoon where it juxtaposes evolutionary scientists versus creationist "scientists." The scientists say "here are the facts; what conclusion fits?" The creationists say "here is the conclusion; what facts can we fit in?"

This is a personal issue I have brought up on many of my late night discussions with the president of our club, who is a liberal. Too often we let ideologies, partisanship, religion, and preconceived notions clout our analysis and lead to cherry picking data and taking a bias. It has been particularly bad this year due to the nature of our presidential election. Lately the partisan politics that I observe from politicians and the public alike has almost led me to become apolitical as I go from being a skeptic to a cynic in the political realm. Dinesh D'Souza attacking Edwards and claiming it the bankrupt values of liberal and liberals attacking Palin with criticism they dismissed towards Obama.

So, this is a message I tried to hammer in my discussion group on marijuana prohibition. This is a topic where people generally are not passionate about because they are largely ignorant of it. The most common concerns I hear from people are effects on driving, the gateway theory, and it making people habitually lazy. So, this at least is not an issue where you have to break through people's biases to address, but it is an excellent topic to show how science can well inform the politics. I gave two common ideologies and beliefs we need to set aside before approaching the topic: the common liberal position that you should be able to do whatever you want with your own body and the common conservative position that it would "send the wrong message to kids" (which I actually quoted from John Edwards). Both of these are valid political stances, but they are completely irrelevant to the analysis and can only serve to unduly influence it.

I gave a brief history of marijuana prohibition, including the racist and ignorant roots of it. I went through a timeline of the War on Drugs and primarily the impact on incarceration rates and prison statistics. It was not difficult to see the effects of "tough on crime" legislation on the prison population. The penalties for marijuana possession, including mandatory minimums and the death penalty, were especially shocking.

We then moved into a discussion on the medical effects and benefits of marijuana. We not only discussed the benefits, we also discussed the effects of marijuana on the user (such as the negative impact on memory). We then discussed the common objections to it: the gateway theory and effects on driving. Luckily, the effects of marijuana on driving have been well researched; however, the media don't report on it. The impairment caused by marijuana on driving is of a very, very low risk. The gateway theory is just an excellent exercise in critical thinking, logical fallacies, and bad statistics.

At the end, I told them: We have now spent about half an hour addressing just the science alone; we can now have that inform the politics. I put forth several solutions:

1. Maintain the zero tolerance approach we have taken and keep it as a Schedule I drug "having no medical benefit and high probability of abuse."
2. Medicalize it: Allow doctors to prescribe it, and likely lower it to a Schedule II drug.
3. Decriminalize it: It remains illegal, but you aren't prosecuted for possession or free transfer (of certain quantities).
4. Legalization with strict regulation: Basically bring it to the legalized status of tobacco or alcohol.
5. Legalization: Basically make it as regulated as aspirin.

No one voted for the zero tolerance approach. The common stance was #4 and the other being a fusion of #2 and #4 -- allowing doctors to freely prescribe it in any quantity and then allow the public to buy it at restricted, monitored quantities (like cough syrup).

At the end, I think they did quite well and we discussed how we could apply this to other issues. I think they still had this idea of "we must control it for some reason." I would personally go with #5 as I don't think the reasons are there for the #4 classification: it isn't very harmful to your physical body and doesn't have the serious adverse effects on you while impaired.

That's a very brief slice of the issue and discussion, but this post wasn't meant for any big message anyway.