Friday, October 28, 2011

Disbelief is Not a Choice

Disbelief Is Not A Choice - Psychology Today 9/12/11

Terrific article highlighting the similarities between belief and disbelief. Disbelief is not something you actively choose. I love how the author compares it to homosexuality. Just as once you are old enough to have those types of feelings, you don't choose to be gay or not gay, you just are one or the other. For religion, although it's not quite apples to apples, Once you've been indoctrinated one way or have gained enough scientific knowledge the other way, you cannot choose whether you believe or not believe in a personal god. You either do or you don't, you can't fake it (to yourself).

If Richard Dawkins, perhaps the world's best-known atheist, had been born in the thirteenth century, chances are he would have been theistic, believing in one kind of god or another. But, having been born in the twentieth century, having experienced his life as he has, can it really be said that Dawkins chooses to be an atheist? His status as a nonbeliever is a result of his biological composition (particularly his brain function) combined with the knowledge he has gained through his life experiences. It really is not a choice at all.
If more individuals today are religious skeptics than in centuries past, that is mainly because accumulated knowledge has inclined more people toward such doubt. As Dawkins himself has said, it would have been harder to be an atheist hundreds of years ago, when so many mysteries about the universe had not been answered. Though skepticism has always existed (the history of religious skepticism is covered wonderfully in Jennifer Michael Hecht's Doubt: A History), the scientific discoveries of the last few hundred years have filled in so many gaps that the idea of a Grand Designer with some kind of special affection for humans seems more implausible than ever to many.
But this does not mean that today's religious skeptics choose not to believe. Instead, we can see that personal secularity is primarily the result of brain function combined with access to knowledge, information, and a social setting allowing disbelief. Given the right conditions, the result will be an individual who does not accept supernaturalexplanations.
Interestingly, we can see that in many ways believers don't really choose either, but when we consider theistic beliefs we see different causal environmental factors at work. Early childhood indoctrination by family, for example, is a key environmental factor that promotes such beliefs in many, as is the pro-religion conditioning that one receives from the community and broader society. Even if the overt promotion of religiosity by society is mild (which usually isn't the case in much of America), prevailing social views that disapprove of open disbelief will often discourage serious exploration of secularity.
Thus, although causation is always complex and the specifics are going to vary from one individual to the next, in general we find two interesting patterns with regard to the formation of religious belief and disbelief. That is, the major environmental factor that promotes disbelief (and discourages belief) tends to be accumulated knowledge, whereas the most significant environmental factor in promoting belief (and discouraging disbelief) tends to be family and social indoctrination.

Faith As Hocus-Pocus

Magicians Say Their Craft Makes Them See Faith As Just Hocus-Pocus - Religion News 10/27/11

Terribly fascinating article here. I saw a program a week or so ago on National Geographic Channel called Brain Games (check it out! - link below, but you may also view it On Demand or on youtube) and it discussed a lot of these same topics. How magicians use slight of hand and illusions to trick the brain into believing something magical happened. What really happens is the brain gets confused when things we usually associate with the world start to break down. Optical illusions and other illusions are really brain failures, combine that with distractions on our fragile attention span and we seem completely lost at how a "trick" works. Magicians really do have a unique understanding of how the human brain works and processes information in order to make a trick seem so impressive to the viewer. They need to know where those mental breakdowns happen to wow us. It's funny how when you really understand how something works, all the potential supernatural explanations just melt away into nothing.

The Brain Games episodes are really amazing at showing just how the brain perceives the world in which it is placed. It uses the available input to produce a picture in your mind of what it thinks is its best guess. Often times it can be tricked. It is also trained in a way that makes the most sense, but certain scenarios can cause a complete breakdown of our perceptions. It will blow you away!

National Geographic - Brain Games

He Moves In Mysterious Ways

Josh Hamilton: God Told Me I'd Hit A Home Run in the 10th Inning - SportsDay DFW 10/28/11

Yes, god spoke directly to you Josh. You would hit a home run in the tenth inning last night. But your team would lose the game anyways. God apparently ignored manager Ron Washington's prayers for that final out, but gave you the chance to show off for everyone before the cardinals came back to win in epic fashion. Come on. Isn't it more likely that you thought it yourself? There are plenty of times when I try to psych myself up for a tough situation and say, "ok, you are going to this and it's all going to work out" and then sometimes it happens just as you wished. But sometimes it also doesn't happen the way you wished. Last night happened the way you wished. You thought a good thought, cleared your head and let your physical ability take over. You saw a pitch and hit it, there is no room for god in that equation. The pitcher left the ball over the middle of the plate and you crushed it like the power hitter you are should. It seems to me that god shouldn't be so worried about personal accolades for athletes (although he sure gets a lot of credit), instead maybe he should have worried about that poor father who fell to his death reaching for a ball YOU threw into the stands, leaving his young son to grow up without his dad. Who knows how many other lives he could have saved had he lived, being a firefighter and all. Why would he do that? God should have told you not to throw that ball. Hardly seems loving and compassionate to me. He should care more about that firefighter and his little boy and his widow than about a multi-millionaire playing a game, hitting a home run in a losing effort, no? Mysterious ways indeed.

Josh, you are an amazing ball player and you've had your troubles with drugs and alcohol in the past, they are well documented. I know you've claimed that god cleaned you up, but if you didn't have the strong will and determination to clean yourself up on your own, you wouldn't have done it at all. Don't sell yourself short, you deserve the credit for resurrecting yourself from a dark place, and you also deserve credit for hitting that home run. You've worked hard to be a good, clean ball player. At the same time, also know that it wasn't god who caused that man to fall over the railing. It was a terrible accident and a tragedy for the family, but an accident nonetheless. Nothing supernatural in either case. If you are hearing voices in your head, you may want to get checked out, but most likely it was just you wishing for the big moment, to be the hero for your team and this time it worked out (albeit briefly). Next time, the coin may flip the other way.

Rangers Fan Dies After 20-Foot Fall - ESPN 7/8/11

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Science: What's It Up To?

Jesus Ween

Yes, it's true... the christians are trying to take over Halloween now too. They've successfully grabbed winter solstice and turned it into Christmas. Now they've got their original zombie, Jesus, and are trying to put a twist on a darker holiday by dressing in white and handing out bibles. I can't imagine it catching on, but it's got such a catchy name that will at least grab some attention. Halloween was always such a weird holiday growing up because when I was real little, my parents dressed us up and took us trick or treating. Once mom had her "transformation", halloween was suddenly evil and dressing up and going trick or treating was a no-no. We became the house on the block with all the lights off that didn't answer the door for other trick or treaters. It was one of mom's worst days of the year (easter is her favorite), and it didn't make any sense to me as a kid why we couldn't pretend for candy anymore like we used to. Thankfully there wasn't a Jesus Ween back then.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Our Future In Space

Great Panel Discussion on our future in space...

Neun und Neunzig Luftballons

Twin Balloon Airship Hits High Frontier - MSNBC 10/25/11

As the race for commercial rockets heats up to take over for NASA, another field of lift is also in the mix. High altitude balloons are making great strides as a cheaper alternative to taking lighter payloads into low earth orbit. JP Aerospace has become the first company to float an airship to near 100,000 feet with something that is powered and steerable, giving the project flexibility to provide launch platforms for smaller rockets, platforms for research, weather and data gathering missions as well as other applications like military reconnaissance. This gives us some pretty cool, cheaper options to get into space.

Airship Groomed For Flight To Edge of Space - MSNBC 5/21/04

(Tandem Airship - JP Aerospace)

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Atheist "Gaydar" - Preachers Who Are Not Believers

Preachers Who Are Not Believers - Daniel Dennett & Linda LaScola 2010

5 compelling stories of current preachers who have undergone earth-shaking changes in their beliefs. This is an incredible story that really makes you wonder what, in fact, the guy at the pulpit really thinks about what he is preaching to you and to the masses on Sunday. It certainly is encouraging in one respect to think how seminary studies can actually lead people away from god because they get to fully understand the whole thing, the history, how the book was compiled and edited, etc. I imagine it's VERY eye-opening for someone not ready for it. But you really do start to feel for these pastors and what kind of a sticky situation they find themselves in because they have devoted their whole life to something they thought would be a life-fulfilling venture of helping people and being inspirational.

You find that these people are locked in, fear of exposing themselves to their congregations and worse, their families. Also, many of them have little or no options financially to leave either, as their education was spent in something that they could never use anywhere else, not to mention housing issues and other factors that would be involved in leaving the church. These pastors are so dependent on the system, that they have no where else to turn, no one with whom to share, no network of people outside the parish. It is an unbelievable dynamic for which there aren't many clear options. Of course, the other side of the coin is that even though these pastors now know the truth about their own religion, because they are afraid to reveal themselves as frauds, they do not divulge important information that all people need to hear about their respective religions. It seems it is a sacred trust among pastors that they do not divulge the absolute secrets that they learned in seminary and the examples given by these specific pastors really tell the tale. The main reasons are the attendance numbers and the donations of parishioners. If they find out it's not true, many of them will stop going and then the church receives less in the coffers. The other reason is that they will be out of a job if everyone found out what they knew, and then what would they do?

It seems a double-edged sword, balanced by personal fear of their own situation becoming unstable against really doing what they set out to do in the first place: helping people find "the truth". I don't know if there are any anonymous support groups for these types of pastors, but I feel it is important to get the word out, regardless of the personal outcomes. Families can be torn apart, but when taken as a whole, this whole fragile world can be torn apart and lost for everyone by people who do take this thing seriously who have not heard the truth behind the myths. And that is a terrible risk to take just to try to keep your own little boat from rocking. My advice to these pastors is follow your heart and don't be afraid to speak up. The people who truly love you will still be there for you and the ones who loved you only for your beliefs were not true friends or family anyways. There will be amazing people waiting for you on the other side.

One of the pastors mentioned how he needed the congregation for fellowship with others and because he had great friends in the church, but you can have all of that without church too. There are some incredible people out there who are not tied down by religious dogma, or at least do not judge what others believe and you can have some amazing, rewarding and comforting friendships without god. Not only that, but the internet is filled with support networks for people "coming out" as non-believers. There are avenues to take that can really open some doors. I think of The Thinking Atheist, who was once a pastor or involved heavily behind the scenes just like the people in this study, who is now using his deep knowledge of christianity as a weapon for truth in the atheist community, he has built a successful website and does seminars and podcasts and has helped fuel this movement with important information that mostly insiders in the church are privy to, not to mention something that is worthwhile personally, intellectually and if there is a such a thing, spiritually... or the lack of dogmatic spirituality that is so freeing for the mind. Helping others (and yourself) find the way to the truths about the universe is extremely rewarding personally and culturally, and one of the main reasons I do this blog.

The Thinking Atheist - Website

A former Christian of 30 years (and former religious broadcaster) I finally started "thinking" for myself, ultimately rejecting the world view and lifestyle I’d once assumed as truth.
This site is a response to my own childhood indoctrination, the overwhelming wave of religious messages in our society, and the countless throngs who make ridiculous claims and dismiss skeptical voices with warnings of eternal torture.
Whether you’re religious or non-religious, I invite you to examine these pages, challenge superstition with an objective eye, take courage from the stories of others and embrace the charge to determine what is real, what is right, and what is rational.
Assume nothing. Question everything. Challenge the opposition.
And start thinking.

Finding Life Beyond Earth

Speaking of PBS and NOVA (is it possible to have a crush on a science program?), here is another awesome documentary that aired last week about the current prospects we have for finding other life out there in the universe, from Mars to Titan to exoplanets, we are searching in so many places that it is inevitable that we find something sooner or later. The fact that life is made from the most abundant chemicals available, and our understanding of how durable and flexible life can be in the most extreme environments, it really opens the doors to searching in some unforgiving areas of the cosmos for our fellow life forms. Once we find them, it will truly be a game-changer for mankind.

PBS - NOVA - Finding Life Beyond Earth

The Fabric of the Cosmos

Great new series coming to PBS/NOVA next week. A four-part installment hosted by Brian Greene, it will delve into some of the most perplexing issues facing todays' physicists from multiverses to time to space itself and other quantum mysteries, it should be an awesome series to watch. PBS has a preview of it if you follow the link below, but the 4 parts will air Nov. 2nd, 9th, 16th, and 23rd. Be sure to check it out!!

PBS - NOVA - The Fabric of the Cosmos w/Brian Greene

Friday, October 21, 2011

Clamour For His Crucifixion

Fresh Christ-Killers Jibe Ignites Jewish Fury - The Freethinker 10/20/11

Richard Williamson, an ultra-traditionalist catholic bishop from the Society of Pope Pius X has put the current pope in quite a bind. Pope Benedict has recently been putting in a major effort to increase church numbers by reeling back in segments of the catholic church that for years had seemed too radical, some who had even been excommunicated from the church were welcomed back. Williamson is part of a radical sect of catholicism that vehemently denies the holocaust ever happened and has some very extreme positions of faith, but in a recent blog post, he reopens a wound that Pope John Paul II tried to close by saying that the jews were responsible for the deicide of the christian god. B16 will have some PR cleaning up to do here, but he knew what he was getting the church into by trying to welcome these radicals back.

Williamson's Blog Post:

The killing of Jesus was truly deicide and that only the Jews (leaders and people) were the prime agents of the deicide because it is obvious from the gospels that the gentile most involved, Pontius Pilate … would never have condemned Jesus to death had not the Jewish leaders roused the Jewish people to clamour for his crucifixion.

I obviously have issues with this type of thinking. 1, it's extremely dangerous speech, inciting hate and anger for no good reason between competing religions. As if we didn't have enough to worry about on that front as it is. 2, there isn't any evidence Jesus even existed at all, so to go around claiming a group of people guilty for killing someone we're not even sure existed is just ludicrous. 3, it was pontius pilate in the story who condemned jesus to death, so if you want to blame someone, blame him above all. He had the final say. 4, jesus was sent here to die. If you believe the legends, then this was supposed to happen for the salvation of all people through his death on the cross. If he wasn't innocently killed the way he was, then there is no point to the story, no scapegoat for all of our sins. This is something that christians celebrate, so why vilify the very people you claim made this "wonderful story" come to fruition. Easter is one of the biggest holidays in christianity if not the biggest. The celebration of his death and resurrection is the basis for the whole religion. If he didn't die, then to be resurrected from the dead, then you have no story, no god, no forgiveness of sins, and the prophecy of his return and the destruction of all life on earth can't come true.

I'm not sure where to go from here other than to hope this jerk gets called out by his peers and put in his place. We have enough issues already with religion. Leave it alone.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Social Conformity Alters Memory

How Friends Ruin Memory: The Social Conformity Effect - The Frontal Cortex 10/18/11

I heard about this study on the ride home from work this afternoon and was totally blown away by its significance. Researchers tested the memory of individuals to recount details of a story three days after having heard it. Four days later they were asked more questions about it but were also supplied with details that other individuals remembered about the same event (these details were actually intentional fabrications supplied by the test team). The individuals were then much more likely to alter their own recollections with the new false information as a way to conform to group memory of the event. These findings have strong societal implications about blind conformity, altered historical perspectives and shows just how easy it is to dramatically change someone's beliefs. Great line from the study:

Altering memory in response to group influence may produce untoward effects. For example, social influence such as false propaganda can deleteriously affect individuals’ memory in political campaigns and commercial advertising and impede justice by influencing eyewitness testimony. However, memory conformity may also serve an adaptive purpose, because social learning is often more efficient and accurate than individual learning. For this reason, humans may be predisposed to trust the judgment of the group, even when it stands in opposition to their own original beliefs.

Of course, the findings of this study immediately point to the most famous cases of social conformity, of group misremembering, of propaganda in full effect, of the ability of a group of people to slowly change their story from fact to fiction without even knowing it (and sometimes with some group leaders changing the details purposefully to get the others to conform and believe non-truths). And that, of course, are the wild tales of the major religion's holy books. It is so easy to see how "divine revelation" to some became hearsay upon hearsay upon hearsay where the facts can get so twisted that you end up with things like a talking snake, a man living in the belly of a great fish for 3 days, a 40 day worldwide flood, a virgin birth and resurrection of the dead and all the other tall tales we now regard as holy (even stealing details from other stories and myths and making them your own are results of this). Couple this effect with generations upon generations, millennia upon millennia and you see where things can get tangled up. Conformity of the group, various social pressures from wars and influential dictators to missionaries and proselytizers and other church power to indoctrination of children all allow this process to take hold and manifest into something so wild and bizarre and unbelievable if seen by an outsider, into something held as the utmost truth and most reasonable explanation of what happened by the people within the group. Fascinating study, really eye opening.

Pray the Gay Away

Praying the gay away does NOT work...

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Quantum Levitation

This may be the coolest thing I have seen in a long time... Not really sure how to describe how it works, so I have attached an article below. The video clip is out of this world though!!

Quantum Levitation

Ratcheted Rivalry

The Religious Roots of Iran's Rivalry With Saudi Arabia - Washington Post 10/13/11

The Shiite/Sunni conflict within Islam is ramping up with the recent uncovering of the plot by Iranian operatives to assassinate the Saudi ambassador in Washington, D.C. It is a longstanding conflict between the two nations, but has much deeper roots in the sectarian beliefs of the two main versions of Islam. This article sheds a little light on the background of the conflict, but it bascially boils down to a power struggle to prove that their version of the faith is the correct one and that each speaks for the islamic world as a whole. It is a dangerous game that is playing with the lives of millions of people in the middle east, a cold war all in the name of religon.

Sikrikim Sickos

Zealots Attack Jerusalem Ice Cream Parlor, Shops - MSNBC 10/18/11

Just so we spread the love around to all the abrahamic religions, this piece exposes some struggles among the ultra-orthodox in Israel. A group by the name of Sikrikim are going around town, vandalizing shops they deem not conservative enough, yelling at 12-year old school girls for dressing too promiscuously. It seems no matter where you go, religious people just cannot stop judging others. It happens all over the world, and it becomes an issue when they take matters into their own hands. For the life of me, I just don't understand it. It's very frustrating for the rest of us to be constantly inundated with stories of this kind from all religions all over the place. If you are offended by modernity, then you should be a recluse. You have no right to go around trashing other people's property if they have different beliefs than you. Why cannot religious people keep their religion to themselves???

Great quote by one of the commenters to the article:
What does it say about what's going on in the mind of these religious zealots that they can't not see someone licking a cock when they see someone licking a ice cream cone.

Is Religion Above the Law?

Is Religion Above the Law? - NY Times 10/17/11

Fascinating look into the vexing issues facing the supreme court justices on how to balance the freedom to practice one's religion against the ministerial exception rules that exclude religious institutions from complying with general laws of conduct for all citizens. The author describes a case of a woman who was fired from her church job because she sued claiming disability discrimination. The ability to sue the church is apparently against Lutheran church doctrine (seems a convenient way to protect itself from any criticism in my opinion) and thus the dilemma presents itself. This is a relatively mild case, but there are lots of instances where these ministerial exceptions pose a problem to the foundational principles of this country where some special groups are exempt or above the law.

The first instance is taxation, obviously. There should be no special treatment for anyone on this front. Income should be taxed as such. The second major one is this rash of child rape and abuse by ministers that seem to be protected from the law by the clergy so they don't have to come forth with information or evidence that crimes have been committed. This is a serious breach of that trust allocated with these ministerial exemptions that assumes these practicing religions will do the right thing. This is an erroneous judgement to make as we see time and again people of the cloth behaving rather badly, touching our children and taking hard-earned money supposedly donated for good causes to gain wealth personally. This is not right and although these judges seem to have a hard time balancing the two ideals, there really is only one clear-cut answer for a pluralistic secular society. No special treatment can be given to these institutions for anything. They have shown repeatedly that they cannot be trusted with these perks of society, not to mention the fact that for some reason we deem irrationality and belief in supernatural fairy tales to be so special and so warranting of this elite status in our society.

It is high time we come to our senses and realize that these people are peddling nonsense and brainwashing our children with stories of hate, self-deprecation, bigotry and fear of others, providing unnecessary friction against the advances of science and our understanding of the universe we actually live in as they try desperately to impose the one in which they wished we lived in, not to mention causing all sorts of socio-political issues that arise from differences in creed, dogma and gods worshipped. This is not healthy for a society that needs to advance from the dark ages to something that could be really special. These types of special treatments continue the thought that these institutions should demand any sort of respect or reverence from us. The same reason that ho-hum religious followers give credence to the fanatic religious by not denying or speaking out against its absurdity. It's time that we call it for what it is... absurd. It's time we offer them no special treatment over other citizens. Treat everyone the same, how hard is that?

What about religions that refuse to recognize, and even consider impious, the distinction between the private and the public spheres? Can the state step in and say, “No, you’re wrong; that practice you’re worried about isn’t really essential to your faith; give it up so that a system of laws put in place for everyone isn’t destroyed by exceptions.” Doesn’t society, Justice Sonia Sotomayor asked at oral argument, “have a right at some point to say certain conduct is unacceptable, even if religious?”

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Importance of Unbelief

Stephen Fry is utterly brilliant...

Einstein Proves Einstein Was Right (Again)

Faster-Than-Light Neutrinos Might Be Explained By GPS Failing to Account for Special Relativity - Popular Science 10/17/11

Never mess with Einstein, Einstein is always right. In a stunningly simple explanation, Dutch physicist Ronald van Elburg has used Einstein's Theory of Special Relativity to explain why those faster-than-light neutrinos didn't actually exceed the cosmic speed limit. CERN scientists set the academic world ablaze a couple of weeks ago with their discovery of particles that seemed to move faster than the speed of light (around 60 nanoseconds faster). In this new report however, the study is exposed for having neglected the fact that the clocks were calibrated with a GPS system above the earth, so the relative positions of the clocks and neutrinos changed slightly as the GPS satellite passed overhead. The error rate calculated by van Elburg would be to expect about a 64 ns difference, enough to compensate for the results seen by CERN. Awesome. Einstein's equations are used to prove Einstein's equations are correct.

Light is such a weird phenomenon. While everything else we understand as relative speed, light is constant no matter what. For example, say you can throw a baseball 60 miles per hour. If you are riding in a car going 60 miles per hour and throw that baseball forward, the baseball will actually be traveling 120 miles per hour* (until gravity and wind resistance take over, but let's ignore that for this example). If you throw the ball the opposite way the car is traveling, it will appear to stand still (0 mph) before dropping to the ground. Light on the other hand does not function this way. If you shine a flashlight, the light will travel 186,000 miles per second. If you are traveling in a car going 60 mph and shine that flashlight, either direction the light will have a speed of 186,000 mps. The speed of the car will not add or detract from the speed of light. Wild.

This is exactly what I love about science (aside from the fact we get to discover new amazing things about the universe). What's true and what's correct always wins out in the long run. Someone can get interesting results that may change the landscape of what we think we know, and immediately it is subjected to peer review and criticism and testing to confirm or deny those results. Just because something sounds cool or may be exciting if true, doesn't mean it is so until it can be corroborated independently and proven so. Science cannot be bothered by what if's and hope so's, it is driven by what is's and how so's... Religion does not offer this same checks and balances in search of the truth of the universe. It holds rigid in the face of valid criticism.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Bible's Buried Secrets

Wow, very moving and informative history of the biblical texts of the old testament and how a monotheistic form or worship came to be for all three major world religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Weaving together the ancient biblical texts, archaeological discovery and cross-referenced against the other well-known histories of the region like egypt really helps piece together the puzzle of who exactly the ancient israelites were, where they came from, how the people came to be and how they constructed their texts and religion over the years... If this doesn't open your eyes I don't know what will. Well worth the watch, I promise you.

The Bible's Buried Secrets - NOVA

Friday, October 14, 2011

Orthodox Republicanity

What Will Orthodox 'Republicanity' Look Like? - Religion Dispatches 10/13/11

Fantastic article here peering into the subconscious of the current republican party. Ruprecht really hits the nail on the head here with a pretty accurate description of what's happening as the various factions of the republican party volley for position and power and quite a beautiful correlation to the early christian church in trying to determine what's orthodoxy and what's heresy. The author brings up the story of Tertullian who was born a pagan but converted to christianity later in life and became involved in the political banter of where the faith was going and what beliefs should fall under the umbrella or be considered heretical. Some excellent quotes:

“I believe it because it is absurd… I know it because it is impossible.” With these resonant words, Tertullian announced an entirely new way of making argument convincing, as well as an utterly novel way of imagining religious faith.
It was elegant in its simplicity: first, insist that the most convincing argument hinges on something unbelievable—then there is quite literally nothing left to argue about. In short, Tertullian insisted that the true Christian (of whom he believed there were precious few) must prove his or her bona fides by believing what is literally unbelievable.

As Laderman suggests, we may be witnessing today what a politics of Republicanity grounded in the necessary absurdity of belief will look like. And it is not always a pretty picture. But it’s important to emphasize just how Christian the culture of argument currently embodied in one portion of the GOP appears to be.
Or rather, just how Tertullian a portion of this emerging Republican theology has become. To make one’s argument hinge on absurdity is to escape the need to deal with what the old-school rhetoricians (of whom Tertullian was one, ironically) called “counter-factuals.”
If your faith is intentionally and even proudly absurd, you don’t need to bother with facts.

Yet there seems a very different way to respond to this most universal of all the absurdities of Republicanity: no new taxes, ever, because the government needs to start acting like a responsible family. Let us accept the metaphor for a moment. And then let us observe that the responsible household that faces the reality of the numbers (instead of relying on absurd faith-claims or lottery tickets)—the simple fact that it owes far more than it earns—very quickly realizes that it is time to take a second (or a third) job. It’s painful, but that’s what you do.
And, like it or not, the analogy for a second or third job at the governmental level is… new taxes. There’s nothing absurd or impossible here, just a sobering and somber mathematical reality.

Tertullian - Wikipedia

The Power of Prayer

Pray For the President? Yes, Thou Shalt - CNN 10/14/11

The Presidential Prayer team solicits donations in exchange for prayers rendered. I wonder what the return on investment is? No better than if you prayed to the sun or Thor or Zeus or Ra, I contend. $30,000 per month this group is raking in and laughing all the way to the bank, no doubt (as they are tax exempt for sure).

"We believe that prayer is the most important power in this entire world" Really? How did prayer work for Rick Perry when Texas needed rain this summer? Ironically, it finally rained when the Atheist Convention was held in Houston just a few days ago. I always thought it was futile, but if it helped the weak-minded feel somehow comforted or stronger, for personal reflection or what have you, all the more power. You use your time as you see fit as long as you don't include me in it against my will... But paying someone else to pray for something for you? That's really pushing it, isn't it?

Fantastic business model though, getting paid to do nothing

Matthew 6:5 KJV And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Freethinkers on the Ballot

Humanists, Atheists Drive For Wider Global Impact - Reuters 10/11/11

Great article describing the groundswell movement of atheist, humanist and freethought organizations around the globe. When so much of our societal disfunction can be traced to religious foundations, it is wonderful to see these groups growing in number as people start to realize what is actually happening in the world. There are some scary stories to tell, from apostasy in middle eastern countries to child sacrifice in africa to child molestation around the world to the israel/palestine issue, to the evangelical seven mountain issue here in the U.S., to death threats for cartoons, to 9-11, it has gotten completely out of control. It is great to see some people over in Switzerland with the guts to get into the political arena for the first time as a non-religious option for voters. What I would give to see that here! It is a good start and hopefully something that will come to pass around the world in due time.

"We decided we had to stand up and tell our politicians that it's time they recognised that there are a lot of non-religious people in their electorate," says 42-year-old Andreas Kyriacou, who heads the list.
"We, and probably a lot of Swiss people who have never thought about humanism or atheism, are tired of the influence the churches and religion still exert in this country," he said in an interview with Reuters.
"There is a group for Bible study in our parliament, but no cross-party humanist group, though we know many of the deputies are non-believers," he says. "On right and left, they prefer to keep their heads down."
And Kyriacou points to the failure of politicians to take a stand on social issues like assisted suicide and abortion, where the Catholic church in particular has strong views, and on the powerful place of religion in education in parts of the country.
His stance -- as measured by comments at other conferences around Europe over the summer -- reflects growing determination among humanists and atheists on all five continents to make themselves more visible and their influence felt.

Here is a link to an article talking about child sacrifice still happening in Africa... scary:

Where Child Sacrifice is a Business - BBC News 10/11/11

Black Death Exposes Human Evolution

Deadly Black Death Bug Hasn't Changed, But We Have - MSNBC 10/12/11

Exciting new findings that the horrific plague, Black Death which killed nearly 1 in 3 Europeans, hasn't changed much in the last 600 or so years. The real story is in the fact that humans have. This is as clear an example of a form of human evolution as we've ever seen. Tiny differences and variations in our DNA allowed some people to avoid being susceptible to the deadly bacteria and, obviously, those traits have then been passed along to descendants who are now not effected by it. Variation in genetic code from generation to generation allow certain differences to take root. As environmental conditions change around us, these variations can become advantageous to survival. Sometimes species don't have the ability to adapt and go extinct. Others have portions of populations that can adapt and they are the ones who continue life on this planet and take it in a new direction. We don't see it on a daily basis as these changes are so minute, but drastic events like meteors and plagues and ice ages really show how the whole process works with stunning clarity.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Christopher Hitchens Receives Dawkins Award

A Voice, Still Vibrant, Reflects On Mortality - NY Times 10/10/11

Hitchens lookin' pretty good considering how far along he is with his esophageal cancer. He is and always will be the man. Thanks for all you've done to open up our eyes and minds...

Qu8k Amateur Rocket Reaches 99% Atmosphere

Amazing footage from onboard cameras of Qu8k reaching 121,000 feet above earth... Nice job and thanks for sharing the incredible views!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

God Glasses

Great discussion on the the topic of seeing god in every situation, good and bad. From the Oklahoma Freethought Convention 2011:

Monday, October 10, 2011

Religious Affiliation is No Guarantor of Virtue

Which Holy Book is the Real Word of God?

There has been an awful lot of excitement this last week in the political arena for the comments made by Robert Jeffress about Mitt Romney and Mormonism. Would you expect the leader of an evangelical mega-church to say anything other than what he did about it by calling it a cult and suggesting that voters would be supporting a cult by voting for Romney over Rick Perry, the evangelicals number one candidate at the moment? It is a pastor's job to reject all other doctrines as false and evil when compared to their own doctrines. This really is no surprise. I guess most people would have thought he would have kept those comments to himself or at least to his sermons on sundays rather than throw it out into the media storm like he did, but he is a man of conviction I guess, whether or not you agree with his rhetoric. He was not afraid to back down on his views and that makes this race all the more interesting as we see how the various parts of the republican party try to sort out their religious/cultural/economic views. The evangelicals, the tea partiers and the republican establishment have some competing philosophies to hash out.

I hate to break it to you though, Mr. Jeffress, but it is a vicious circle of theology. The very reasons you reject Joseph Smith and Muhammad are the same reasons the jews rejected Jesus and Joseph Smith and Muhammad, and the same reasons muslims reject Joseph Smith and Jesus, and the same reasons hindus and all non-theists reject them all. All religions are cults, it is in the very definition of cult that you see religion being played out.

Cult, as per Merriam-Webb Dictionary:

Definition of CULT
1: formal religious veneration : worship
2: a system of religious beliefs and ritual; also : its body of adherents
3: a religion regarded as unorthodox or spurious; also : its body of adherents
4: a system for the cure of disease based on dogma set forth by its promulgator <health cults>
5 a: great devotion to a person, idea, object, movement, or work (as a film or book); especially : such devotion regarded as a literary or intellectual fad 
b : the object of such devotion 
c : a usually small group of people characterized by such devotion

Even wikipedia checks in with an interesting definition. While it also speaks of cultural relevance of minority infamous cults such as Heavens Gate or Branch Davidians, it very much speaks to a group of people whose practices or rituals seem bizarre or out of mainstream, but generally applies to any religious group that is authoritarian and exploitative and uses various forms of mind-control or psychological abuse to convert and keep its members. Sounds like every religion fits nicely into that cult definition, doesn't it?

Wikipedia - Cult

When I was growing up, my family made us attend an evangelical-style church after my mother converted from catholicism. It was many years later that I had a conversation with someone and the church that I attended was brought up. As soon as I mentioned where I went for services as a kid, the person immediately responded "oh, that place is a cult". I was mystified and immediately dumbstruck because it was all that i knew and hadn't really thought about it from another perspective at that point. Now I can see how churches like that really are cults. They control their flocks by keeping them afraid and ignorant of others and use such devotion in their beliefs and faith that they are no longer able to decipher reality from fantasy. Fact from fiction. Evidence from guise. They guilt people into joining by offering eternal life and salvation from the most heinous of sins if they just give themselves up to the group. They indoctrinate their children with little or no exposure to the outside world philosophically, theologically, scientifically and even historically. Don't try to question anything, or you will be ostracized and told that you are just hearing the devil.

Religions are cults. No way around it. We would all be better off without this systematic form of mind control that's been going on for thousands of years. At the very least, we had better get it out of our political debate though and leave the theology debates for the pulpits.

Interesting article here of an evangelical calling out Jeffress (seems like one of the few though):

The Evangelical Case for Mitt Romney, And Against Robert Jeffress - Washington Post 10/10/11

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Fibonacci Sequence


Fibonacci Series - Think Quest

I've Been Slimed

Can Answers To Evolution Be Found in Slime? - NY Times 10/3/11

Fantastic article about slime. Who would have thought that slimes can give us such incredible insight into evolution and the processes by which genes and traits get passed on for a group or species to survive as well as other insights into networking and connections and choice that make a species operate as efficiently as possible with current conditions. Well worth the read!


A Good Idea To Do Some Science

The Universe, Dark Energy and Us - NY Times 10/6/11

Nobel prizes were awarded this week for the discovery of dark energy, which accounts for roughly 70% of the universe. Amazing that we know that something is there, effecting the rest of the visible universe by causing it to speed apart from itself but we still have no idea what it is and why it is there. Combine that with dark matter and we're talking about 95% of the universe we have no idea about. Great line at the end of this article:

The case for investment in science often rests on the connection between technology and economic development, or national defense, or relief from suffering and disease. These are good arguments. Everybody wants to be rich and safe and immortal. But even in stringent times, it seems like a good idea to do some science to find out what the world is made of and how it works.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Don't Be A Mars Hippie

Great StarTalk Radio show live at the Bell House Theatre in Brooklyn, NY 9/15/11

Host: Neil DeGrasse Tyson
Co-Host: Eugene Mirman

Guests: Alan Alda, Kristen Schaal, Scott Adsit

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

You've Got To Find What You Love

RIP Steve Jobs
No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don't want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life's change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.
Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.

All This Angst About Cheese

Getting Over the Judging God, A Yom Kippur Reflection - Huffington Post 10/5/11

Really interesting jewish perspective on the high holy days, Yom Kippur especially. Yom Kippur is basically a holiday to self-reflect, to see where we fall short (sin) and to try to do better this go around (repentance). The author tackles this subject from a purely psychological one, not theological and he makes some excellent points and shares some universal truths.

Is it really such a healthy thing to feel oneself to be inadequate, judged and deficient? Does it really make us better people, or does it just make us tougher, more defensive and more judgmental ourselves? Does it comport with mystical experience, which radiates acceptance and compassion? Does God judge us, or only love?
I do not have a neat answer to these questions, but I want to suggest that while the judging God is an image of God that is experientially accurate, it is ultimately something to be transcended.
First, guilt is part of human nature, and not an entirely bad part; it keeps us honest, checks the ego, and reminds us that we all have the capacity to be selfish and cruel. The judging God, in this light, is simply the superego projected toward the heavens; it accords with our experience of remorse. And as a form of social control, it is an effective story that doubtless keeps many of us from acting on our baser instincts. It just needs periodic updating from time to time.
I remember, during my more observant days, debating whether to eat non-kosher-supervised cheese, a legal debate that goes on within the Conservative movement to this day. Believe it or not, I really racked my brain and searched my heart over this technicalhalachic issue. The rules seemed nonsensical. But was I just trying to rationalize doing what I wanted? Did God really care? Was the system out of whack, or was I being lazy and indulgent?
Today, the whole thing looks like neurosis. Yes, there's a certain nobility to suffusing every aspect of one's life with holiness and participating in a millennia-old tradition of law. But all this angst -- about cheese! Couldn't the emotional energy be better spent on giving more money to the poor, rectifying the sins of racism and sexism, or, well, just about anything? Is the sense of God's judgment helping us do what's right, or making us neurotic about anything and everything? 
It would be funny, if it weren't tragic. Because with judgment comes -- if we judge ourselves worthy -- arrogance, self-justification and the judging of others, or -- if we do not -- self-hatred, anxiety and defense mechanisms aplenty. We make ourselves tough, argumentative and always right because we fear that otherwise we will be found lacking.
When love, rather than judgment, fills my heart, I see a natural world which we are lucky to inhabit, in bodies which are miraculous in construction, and I feel loved in return. I feel the imperative to pursue justice, not out of judgment or toughness, but out of compassion. Terrible things still happen. But I feel God's presence in the companionship and response to such adversity, in intimacy, in love, in the healing and the mending. 

Yom Kippur - Wikipedia

Decline of Human Violence

History and the Decline of Human Violence - Scientific American 10/4/11

Really great Q and A with Steven Pinker, professor of psychology at Harvard and author. I always thought it was curious when people would claim we live in such a violent world, but all of the things I have studied about our human history shows that we were far more barbaric towards each other in the past than we are now and there is simply no comparison. You hear this a lot from the religious groups because this helps them sort out the "end times" prophecies in their heads, but they neglect how awful we actually used to be to each other. As Pinker states, "the statistics suggest that this may be the most peaceable time in our species' existence". Perhaps as the world gets smaller and people get more inter-connected with the rest of the planet, it appears more violent because we are actually exposed to everything at once, but the over-all effect on an individual is far better than it has ever been. We see it in the streets down in lower Manhattan, and we see it in the Arab spring, popular uprisings of non-violence like we've never seen before. People don't want to kill each other, they want to be free to do as they wish to make a better life and we are willing to work with others to make it good for all.

accounts of daily life in medieval and early modern Europe reveal a society soaked in blood and gore. Medieval knights—whom today we would call warlords—fought their numerous private wars with a single strategy: kill as many of the opposing knight’s peasants as possible. Religious instruction included prurient descriptions of how the saints of both sexes were tortured and mutilated in ingenious ways. Corpses broken on the wheel, hanging from gibbets, or rotting in iron cages where the sinner had been left to die of exposure and starvation were a common part of the landscape. For entertainment, one could nail a cat to a post and try to head-butt it to death, or watch a political prisoner get drawn and quartered, which is to say partly strangled, disemboweled, and castrated before being decapitated. So many people had their noses cut off in private disputes that medical textbooks had procedures that were alleged to grow them back.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

3-D Glass Printing with Sand

A 3-D Printer That Uses the Sun To Create Glass Objects Out of Sand - Popular Science 10/4/11

This is where technology and art really come together to do something awesome! What an ingenious idea to create a machine that can turn sand into glass. Using solar power with sun tracking ability, 3-D CAD software and a dream, Markus Kayser really did something extraordinary.

The Institution of Marriage

Marriage: According to the bible...

(click to enlarge)

Greed and the Pulpit

Preachers Confront 'Last Taboo': Condemning Greed Amid Great Recession - CNN 10/1/11

Interesting look at the current dire financial situation from the view of the pulpit. It seems that even there, there is political underpinning on opinions. If you understand that greed, corruption and deregulation are the basis for the collapse than you see how it should be easy to talk about greed and wealth inequality in this country being a huge issue to correct if we are to move forward. If you don't understand how the collapse happened, then it's easy to avoid talking about it. From a church's perspective, I would think greed should be right up there as a sin to detest along with homosexuality, but for some reason it is not. I see the correlation between churches acquiring their own wealth through "prosperous" congregants and not talking about greed and wealth inequality that's breaking this country right now. Why is that?