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14
Aug

Religious nutjobs are doing something? Hey, let’s get those cameras rolling!

I submit for your consideration this news story from Jacksonville, Arkansas:

Jacksonville community gathers for back-to-school prayer (video on the linked page)

The first day of school marks a new beginning for students and Sunday, several members of the Jacksonville community decided to show their spiritual support.

“Three moms who are all public school employees here in Jacksonville just got together and kind of all expressed a need. We want the best for our children, we want the best for our students. I think like anywhere, there is poverty, there is abuse, there is all that negative stuff that our children have to overcome, ” says Stephanie Burrows, a fourth grade Jacksonville school teacher.

Burrows and two others decided to host a prayer walk, a time to pray at all 12 public school campuses for the coming school year.

“We put it out on Facebook, good ole Facebook, and talked to fellow friends and community leaders and as you saw at the turnout, this is what happens in Jacksonville when the community comes together especially when it comes to our schools and children, ” says Burrows.

Sarah McCormick teaches at Jacksonville High and says she has no problem praying at a public school.

“I think it’s separate, but very inspiring. And everything has its place but I feel like this is just a way that the community and all of us can show our support. Just another way, ” says McCormick.

How is it that story like this can air without a single skeptical voice being heard? Oh sure, there’s the token, “Hey, what about separation of church and state?”. You don’t hear anything at all about prayer never, ever having been shown to work, though. We can’t have people saying that on TV in Arkansas. It might piss somebody off. No, the whole feel of the story is warm and fuzzy, like it’s a good thing to be delusional. Where’s the other side to this coverage?

Is this bias just a one-off incident? Am I imagining things? Hell no.

‘God’s hands’ save Hooper boy after 21-foot fall on head

No one knows better than Cayden Rawson’s parents how lucky he is just to be alive.

The look from paramedics as they arrived June 5 after the Rawsons’ 11-year-old son fell 21 feet, landing on his head and side, told it all.

“It’s out of your hands,” Cayden’s mother, Amy, said in describing what the faces of the paramedics told her. “It’s in God’s hands.

“The fact that he wasn’t in 500 pieces was miraculous in and of itself. He landed on his left side in a heap of sheet metal pieces and cement.”

But now the family is realizing that Cayden’s brain may make a full recovery.

That’s a miracle far greater than they ever could have expected.

[…]

The mother said she’s sure those prayers resulted in a divine intervention that allowed him to heal.

“There is no other explanation,” she said. “We have amazing friends and family that cared and love him.”

Where’s the voice of the expert in this story saying there’s no evidence of magic? Where the statistician to explain that sometimes shit just happens? Where’s the coroner to show them the dead bodies of the thousands of other people that miracles didn’t happen to?

Isn’t journalism supposed to be impartial? Aren’t they supposed to get to the truth? What happened to both sides of the story? What happened to really digging in and getting to the facts?

Okay, maybe I’m being silly. It’s only two stories. Surely, I can’t find THREE stories from this month that blatantly peddle religion.

93-year-old preacher remains strong in faith

“One night I was taking off a bandage and a hunk of flesh just fell off, and he was bleeding,” she said. “I called for Willie to come dress it. I just couldn’t. I went next door to the church and started walking and praying, and a song just came out. It’s called ‘Just Keep On Trusting,’ and it was God encouraging me to keep believing him that everything was going to be all right.”

[…]

“He came in and put his hands right on the sores and started to gently pray,” Roberts said. “We prayed long into the night. When we rose the next morning, I went to check on Richard, and there were scabs all in his bed, and his skin was healed. There wasn’t even a scar on him. God healed Richard and he never had another problem with it. Like the song God gave me says, Jesus is the same today as he always was, and we can always trust him no matter how hard or long the difficulty.”

What the hell good are CoR’s “Good Without God” signs with stuff like this being reported all the time? We need to get some experts in the state together and start demanding that the media get rationality heard in these kinds of stories.

13
Aug

The Thinking Atheist’s Speech at FreeOK

11
Aug

Response to Theist Facebook Posts

The Arkansas Buzz Facebook page linked to a news story today about the United Coalition of Reason’s lawsuit against the Central Arkansas Transit Authority. There’s a court hearing happening today over the lawsuit, and so this is in the news again.

The Coalition of Reason wanted to put up their “Good Without God” ads on some Little Rock busses. The bus company gave them the run-around, and eventually demanded exorbitant deposit fees in case the billboard was vandalized. At the same time this was going on, the bus company was green-lighting ads for Christian organizations like it was nothing. Unfair treatment? That’s what the courts will decide.

And of course, Arkansas commenters were out in full force to display their opposition to this lawsuit.

Ok, atheists don’t hate God. We don’t think he exists. You can’t hate something you don’t believe in. What we do rage against is the numerous political actions taken by believers, who are not guided by reason in the slightest. I can see how you could confuse the two.

And isn’t it nice to see yet another Christian who looks forward to laughing with glee while we’re screaming in torment in hell? No sympathy for people who are going to be tortured? What the hell kind of religion is that? Mind you, I don’t believe in hell, but this statement does reveal a lot about this person’s character.

And the last comment above seems to imply that atheists are all immoral and trying to escape punishment by fooling ourselves. That sort of statement can only be made by someone who doesn’t know any atheists. Atheists are every bit as moral as anyone else. How dare you imply that I’m a bad person. I don’t answer to your God, and I am a good person.

And also, what’s up with talking down on even questioning God? Asking questions is bad? I don’t think so.

No one says the universe came about by accident. Go back to science class and study harder. There are laws that the universe goes by. What you see is a result of those laws.

Just because you don’t understand the universe, that’s not a good reason to believe a God exists. It’s a good reason to say, “I don’t understand this.” There aren’t “default answers” to life’s mysteries. Figure it out and get some evidence for it, or admit that you just don’t know. And if you want to believe in God, get some evidence for it. Ignorance isn’t evidence.

As to the prayer-in-schools lady: I need to be run out of town, eh? That’s real neighborly of you. Thanks a lot! What happened to loving and neighborly? And how would she feel about teacher-led Muslim prayer in schools? Just a thought.

As far as beating people over the head with their ways of thinking, drive around Arkansas for just a little while and look at all the religious billboards there are. Get some perspective. You have tons of media. We barely have any, and when we do request some, we get prejudice. Do you really think you have a right to speak your mind and we don’t?

This is a WTF if I have ever heard one. Those busses run religious ads all the time! The bus company was approving ads at the same time they were giving the atheists the run-around. Do you define “fair” as Christians being able to run ads and Atheists not being able to? Or did you just jump to conclusions because it’s okay to demonize atheists?

I’m sure you’d love that. We should just let you run roughshod over the country, denying gay and lesbians their civil rights, promoting creationism in schools, delaying climate change policies, and lobbying for the banning of abortion (because we all know a microscopic clump of cells has a soul!).

You see, sir, your beliefs do not live in a vacuum. You use your beliefs to inform your actions. And sometimes, I dislike those actions. When I feel your fundamental beliefs are flawed, I’m going to go after the flawed beliefs. It’s not because I hate you. It’s because I think the world would be a better place without your illogical actions.

9
Aug

Rationalizing Original Sin

t-rex1

There are a number of problems with the Adam & Eve story in Genesis. In the story, Adam & Eve eat the fruit from the tree and that kicks off the fall of man. Because they sinned, all their descendants(the entire human race) inherit a sort of corrupted humanity. Without further action, all humans would be damned to hell because of the sins of Adam & Eve. But with Jesus’ sacrifice, the sins are all wiped away and people can be cleansed of their original sin.

So, say you take this story literally. According to our current genetic evidence, there’s no point in human history where our population ever got lower than 10,000 people. We evolved together as a population from an early form of ape. So that’s a problem. You can’t take the story literally and accept the scientific evidence at the same time. This was actually talked about briefly on NPR this morning. I recommend it:

http://www.npr.org/2011/08/09/138957812/evangelicals-question-the-existence-of-adam-and-eve

There are a number of other problems from a science perspective, too. God creates light before he creates the sun, birds and whales before reptiles and insects, and flowering plants before any animals. That’s not the order science tells us things happened.

Not to mention, Science tells us there were many animals who lived only during different periods in our Earth’s history. The biblical account has all animals being created at one time. That’s totally different from the evolutionary account. Were there dinosaurs in the Garden of Eden? If so, why don’t we see human fossils in the same rock layers with dinosaur fossils?

Ok, fine, why not just take the Genesis account figuratively? It’s just a nice story to read. One problem: What about original sin? If Adam & Eve was just a story, then why did Jesus sacrifice himself? We wouldn’t have original sin without them. Did he die for nothing? Do we then not need to be saved? As you can see, taking this story figuratively totally messes up one of the core foundations of Christianity.

Another point: Why did God have to send Jesus to Earth to cleanse man’s sin? He’s all-powerful, couldn’t he have just forgiven us? It doesn’t make sense. And how can one man take on the responsibility for another’s mistake? If I murder someone, can my friend go to jail for me? I wouldn’t exactly consider that justice.

In fact, I think the entire idea of getting saved from original sin undermines personal responsibility. I think people should own up to their own problems. You know the classic problem. Murderers and child molesters get into heaven because they were saved before they died, but really good people are in hell because they weren’t saved. Not exactly what I’d call justice. It doesn’t even make sense as a moral system.

(Image taken from The Thinking Atheist)

9
Aug

Arguments for the Existence of God: Argument from Design

watch1

Today, I’d like to address another common reasoning people cite when explaining why they believe in God. Here’s my summary of it:

Everything is sooo complicated! Look at the trees! Look at the clouds! The infinite diversity of life on our planet! The innumerable stars! The human eye! Bacterial flagellum! This stuff is amazing! I just don’t see how any of it could have just come to be by chance. There must have been a God to create it all.

William Paley explained this idea about 200 years ago in his book Natural Theology with the watchmaker analogy:

In crossing a heath, suppose I pitched my foot against a stone and were asked how the stone came to be there, I might possibly answer that for anything I knew to the contrary it had lain there forever; nor would it, perhaps, be very easy to show the absurdity of this answer. But suppose I had found a watch upon the ground, and it should be inquired how the watch happened to be in that place, I should hardly think of the answer which I had before given, that for anything I knew the watch might have always been there.

In my experience, this is the #1 reason people cite for believing in a god. So what’s wrong with it?

Well, firstly, just because you don’t understand something, that doesn’t mean you get to make up an explanation for it. Yes, there are a lot of crazy things out there. We don’t understand a lot of it. When you don’t understand something, should you jump to conclusions about it? If you see a floating object in the sky, is it fair to immediately assume it’s an alien spaceship? The truth is, you have no idea what that object is. Without getting more evidence, the best you can say is that you don’t know what that object was.

Is that really so scary? Admitting we don’t know something? It’s okay to say “I don’t know”. Really!

Here’s the problem I have with this. The steps in someone’s mind when they think this through seems to go like this:

  • I don’t understand something.
  • There must be an all-powerful, omnipotent deity listening to my thoughts and guiding world events. That’s the only explanation.

Ok, let’s set aside the fact that this is a huge logical leap. You can’t use your own ignorance as proof of the existence of something. Saying god exists is a positive assertion. You need proof of it. Some kind of reason for thinking it. Not understanding how the universe works isn’t a reason. That’s just ignorance.

Using God as an explanation doesn’t work, anyway. It just pushes the mystery up one level. God must be pretty complicated himself. After all, he created an entire universe! By the same logic we’ve been using so far, we have to assume this complex entity needs a designer. So, who created God? How does he work? Was it another God? Does that god have a creator, too?

Another problem with this argument is that it isn’t specific to any one religion. You could just as easily use it to prove Allah exists. And Muslims do use this argument. That should give you pause. If you can replace “God” in your argument with “Thor” and the reasoning doesn’t break down, is it really a good argument?

There’s more interesting stuff on this here:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Teleological_argument#Formal_objections_and_counterarguments

(Photo by Aaron Geller)

8
Aug

Arguments for the Existence of God: Pascal’s Wager

Dice on a craps table

This post won’t be interesting at all to atheists. It’s mostly for the believers that happen upon this site. I’d like to address a common bit of reasoning put forth by theists for why I should believe in God.

The argument in question goes like this:

What if you’re wrong? If you believe and there is no God, when you die, you have lost nothing. But if you die and there is a God, there is everything to lose. Eternal punishment! Is it worth the risk?

There are a number of problems with this. Firstly, which God should I believe in? If I believe in the Christian God and it turns out the Jews were right, I’m still going to hell. If I prayed every day for 50 years to the Christian God and it turned out the Muslim god was the correct God, I could still end up going to hell!

This was most famously stated by Richard Dawkins in a youtube clip where he spoke at Liberty University (almost 3 million views on that clip, wow!)

People believe in many different kinds of gods, and this argument doesn’t specify which one it’s referring to. In fact, you could replace “God” with anything and the argument would be just as valid. I know that a Christian would balk at me trying to replace “God” in the argument with “Invisible Pink Unicorn” and calling it just as valid. But really, I don’t believe in God, and this argument is supposed to persuade me. It doesn’t help if the argument already assumes the existence of the thing it’s supposed to convince me of.

Another problem: I can’t just decide to believe in a God out of fear. I either buy the story or I don’t. So, what, am I supposed to pretend to believe out of fear of hell? Don’t you think a God would see past my ruse? Is that what God wants? Fake belief? I hardly think that would work. “Ummm… yeah… sure, Jesus. I believed in you the whole time! Now, let me in! Yeah, that’s the ticket.”

Lastly, I find the assertion that belief in God costs us nothing to be untrue. Many believers spend a lot of time in church (and a lot of money as well). Some believers even spend time trying to legislate beliefs which have no rational basis into law. This ends up causing real human harm. Your beliefs end up causing actions in the real world. So it’s not a “worth nothing” choice at all. Furthermore, is it “nothing” to go through the one life you have believing a lie? I don’t think so. My time is valuable. I do not give it up so easily.

6
Aug

Where do you get your morals?

There was a pretty good comment made recently by user bobbiedilbeck on the post about childhood indoctrination. My reply is kind of longish, so I decided to make it a new post instead of just a comment.

Hey I have a couple of questions and comments for you.
I am wondering what atheist believe happens to a person when they die?

You said, And hopefully we can teach her that she can be a good person regardless of what she believes.” What is your being a good person based on? Whose morals are you comparing them to? I guess what I am asking is, what is the standard of good and where do you come by that standard??

Just wanting a little culture.
thanks

Hi Bobbie.

Most atheists only believe what they have good evidence for.

For myself, I used to believe in souls and the afterlife, and I thought I had solid evidence for my beliefs. Nothing would convince me otherwise because I had seen things for myself that proved it. I’ve since discovered that each of the experiences I thought irrefutably proved the existence of souls and the afterlife actually had other explanations. There were things I did not understand, and I had jumped to conclusions and built an entire belief system around it.

As far as death, when you die, that’s it. Your brain is you. Once it stops working, you no longer exist. This is evidenced by research in neuroscience. Practically every part of human nature can be turned off by damaging certain parts of the brain.

Some may say they don’t want to believe this life is the only life they get, because an afterlife would be much better. I no longer base my beliefs on what I think would be cool. I try to assess reality as it is. I think the truth is more important than feeling good.

As far as how I know what is moral and what is not, that’s something that I decide for myself. Some of it comes from self-preservation, but a lot of it comes from the social contract we have with others. It’s part of living in a civilization. We all agree to treat each other like we would want to be treated. Without this social contract, we would live our lives in constant fear of terrible actions from others. So we treat others how we would want to be treated, and punish bad behaviors by others. The result is a relatively peaceful society to live in.

Take murder, for example. I would never murder someone. First of all, I don’t want to spend my entire life in prison. I’m dumb enough to get caught. But more importantly, I’ve seen the pain it can cause others. The death of an individual shatters the lives of each person that was connected to the victim. I wouldn’t want that to happen to me, so why would I want to inflict that pain on others?

5
Aug

The Stick and the Carrot


I saw this sign this morning. Don’t you just love it when you’re threatened on your morning drive to work? I’ve actually reviewed one of the sermons from this church before. I should do another one. They seem like fun people.

Let’s recap the lessons of this message, shall we?

  • I’m a bad person. You’re a bad person, too.
  • Believe what I believe, or you’ll be burned alive.
  • God created hell and the rules that cause you to go there. But you send yourself there by breaking the rules.
  • A god who allows torture is perfectly good.
  • We should worship the god that set up a scenario where people are tortured.
  • If you don’t teach your children these lessons, you’re a bad parent.
  • Being afraid is a great reason to believe in something even if you’re not sure it’s real.

Obviously these lessons seem ridiculous to me. So why do I feel like I need to explain why I think each of them aren’t true?  This country need serious help.

1
Aug

If you don’t indoctrinate your kids, we’ll do it for you.

Note: This story is personal. I probably shouldn’t be sharing it. I am sharing it, however, because many other people will have had this sort of experience. I think it’s important that they know they are not alone.

                                               

Last week, my two daughters (5 and 7 years old), went to their grandmother’s house for the week. My wife’s mother lives in Blueball, Arkansas (yes, that’s really a place), and it’s about a 2 1/2 hour drive from where we live. After my wife arrived in Blueball to drop off the kids, her mom said that there was a possibility the kids might be going to Vacation Bible School. My wife voiced her reservations. Once my wife drove the 2 1/2 hours back home, her mom called her on the phone and that possibility morphed into absolute certainty. The kids would be definitely spending the entire week at Vacation Bible School.

Now, my wife’s family knows that she’s an atheist. Or rather, to quote her mom, “She thinks she’s an atheist”. But we’ve never asked the relatives not to bring the kids to church. It’s free babysitting we’re dealing with here, after all. Who are we to argue with that? And besides, a little culture won’t hurt them. You can’t shield kids from religion forever. Maybe a little dose of it will fire up their critical thinking skills? But really, the biggest reason we never forbid this from happening is because we didn’t expect the rule would be followed. If we ordered them not to be exposed to church, we feared the relatives would just take them to church more often. Their eternal souls are on the line, after all. What’s a little white lie when eternal torture is at stake?

My point is, no rules were broken here. Still, though, her mom had to have known the kids would never have arrived at her house had she told my wife about Vacation Bible School before she left for that long drive. These things aren’t just dreamed up at the last minute. They have to be planned. So, it’s fair to say that she knew it was going to happen for sure way before hand. She chose not to mention it until afterwards.

The next day, the 7 year old called my wife on the phone. She was crying. She had been told a story at Vacation Bible School that terrified her. According to my daughter, the story goes like this: There was a magician in a town. Two men came to the town and were trying to talk about God. The magician tried to keep the two men from talking about God. Really bad things happened to the magician. My daughter refused to say what the “really bad things” were. After much crying and reassuring, my wife got her mom on the phone and there was a bit of back and forth yelling. Three hours later, grandma called back, and some half-hearted apologies were made.

We turned to our local atheist group for support. And supportive they were! There are around 70 comments on the facebook thread. One well-read individual in our group found the story the kids were taught: Acts 13:4-12.

4 The two of them, sent on their way by the Holy Spirit, went down to Seleucia and sailed from there to Cyprus. 5When they arrived at Salamis, they proclaimed the word of God in the Jewish synagogues. John was with them as their helper.

6 They traveled through the whole island until they came to Paphos. There they met a Jewish sorcerer and false prophet named Bar-Jesus, 7 who was an attendant of the proconsul, Sergius Paulus. The proconsul, an intelligent man, sent for Barnabas and Saul because he wanted to hear the word of God. 8 But Elymas the sorcerer (for that is what his name means) opposed them and tried to turn the proconsul from the faith. 9 Then Saul, who was also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked straight at Elymas and said, 10 “You are a child of the devil and an enemy of everything that is right! You are full of all kinds of deceit and trickery. Will you never stop perverting the right ways of the Lord? 11Now the hand of the Lord is against you. You are going to be blind for a time, not even able to see the light of the sun.”

Immediately mist and darkness came over him, and he groped about, seeking someone to lead him by the hand. 12 When the proconsul saw what had happened, he believed, for he was amazed at the teaching about the Lord.

This story wouldn’t make me cry. Then again, who knows how the person in charge of educating our kids interpreted this story? However he did it, our oldest child felt personally attacked by people she trusted. She was terrified that something bad might happen to her. She became paranoid and wondered if God had cursed her for not believing in him.

Our friend from the group also found online what we believe to be the lesson plan the church organizers were going by. My wife was able to prep our oldest child by phone what the next lesson would be, thereby lessening the impact. The day after that, my wife drove down there and brought them home early.

Now, we’re left to pick up the pieces. We’ve decided to begin showing our oldest daughter some bible stories before bedtime. We’ll also be including myths from other cultures as well. We’ll try to make it fun and interesting. And hopefully we can teach her that she can be a good person regardless of what she believes.

1
Aug

Hey everybody! Look at me!

20110801-100842.jpgDuring the Q&A at FreeOK, someone asked the panel of speakers what they thought of the Amazing Atheist. Their response surprised me.

The Thinking Atheist related that he felt The Amazing Atheist’s videos centered too much around himself. The implication seemed to be that there was a “look at me” vibe in the videos. I guess the feeling was that this detracts from his message.

I was shocked at this. He has some great videos. And that’s people main takeaway from them?? I was telling a friend after the conference that I never got that impression from The Amazing Aheist, and they said, “Really? He’s always promoting his books in his videos, and he even has a documentary”. I’d never thought of it that way.

The Thinking Atheist expanded on that, saying while it was a necessary evil that everyone on the panel had to promote themselves to get their message out there, he hopes that it isn’t “all about him”. It should be about the message and the community.

I put my real name and face on this blog, and I have a fear that this will be seen as a cry for internet fame. The real reason is that I want to put a human face on atheism. I want the theists I criticize to see that I’m one of their neighbors before they think about demonizing me. With so many atheists in the closet in Arkansas, I think it’s important. It’s my way of taking a stand.

You have to promote yourself to get your message read, but the moment you get excited when the hits start coming in, you’re being egotistical. I’m not sure how I feel about that.

Dusty Smith, of Cult of Dusty fame, recently lamented that he isn’t selling as many t-shirts as he would like. Making videos, doing podcasts, and posting blogs takes a lot of time. I don’t think it’s too unreasonable to want to get a profit from it. It doesn’t turn me off at all. Dusty’s videos are awesome. I look forward to every new one. What’s the difference between him and The Amazing Atheist?

But on the other hand, I only post stuff because I enjoy getting my thoughts out there. That, and people can’t delete my posts here when they disagree with them.

On another note, it was weird walking around the church at FreeOK and seeing Internet celebrities like Matt Dillahunty and AronRa in the flesh. There was a moment when I was coming back from the bathroom and had to pass between Matt and someone else he was talking to. I looked him in the eyes as I was walking past, and I could tell when he saw me that he knew that I knew who he was. I just kept on going, because who needs strangers accosting you all the time? It is definitely weird to have watched someone speak for hundreds of hours and realize they’re still really a stranger to you.