Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Mark Twain on Religion

Happy Birthday, Mark Twain! One of America's foremost literary geniuses, he also had some interesting things to say about religion. For more on his personal writings, check out the intellects section above.

So much blood has been shed by the Church because of an omission from the Gospel: "Ye shall be indifferent as to what your neighbor's religion is." Not merely tolerant of it, but indifferent to it. Divinity is claimed for many religions; but no religion is great enough or divine enough to add that new law to its code.
- Mark Twain, a Biography
We despise all reverences and all the objects of reverence which are outside the pale of our own list of sacred things. And yet, with strange inconsistency, we are shocked when other people despise and defile the things which are holy to us.
- Following the Equator

Man is a Religious Animal. He is the only Religious Animal. He is the only animal that has the True Religion--several of them. He is the only animal that loves his neighbor as himself and cuts his throat if his theology isn't straight. He has made a graveyard of the globe in trying his honest best to smooth his brother's path to happiness and heaven....The higher animals have no religion. And we are told that they are going to be left out in the Hereafter. I wonder why? It seems questionable taste.
- "The Lowest Animal"

India has two million gods, and worships them all. In religion all other countries are paupers; India is the only millionaire.
- Following the Equator

Alas! those good old days are gone, when a murderer could wipe the stain from his name and soothe his trouble to sleep simply by getting out his blocks and mortar and building an addition to a church.
- The Innocents Abroad

Monarchies, aristocracies, and religions....there was never a country where the majority of the people were in their secret hearts loyal to any of these institutions.
- The Mysterious Stranger

The easy confidence with which I know another man's religion is folly teaches me to suspect that my own is also. I would not interfere with any one's religion, either to strengthen it or to weaken it. I am not able to believe one's religion can affect his hereafter one way or the other, no matter what that religion may be. But it may easily be a great comfort to him in this life--hence it is a valuable possession to him.
- Mark Twain, a Biography

In religion and politics people's beliefs and convictions are in almost every case gotten at second-hand, and without examination, from authorities who have not themselves examined the questions at issue but have taken them at second-hand from other non-examiners, whose opinions about them were not worth a brass farthing.
- Autobiography of Mark Twain

My land, the power of training! Of influence! Of education! It can bring a body up to believe anything.
- A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court

We were good boys, good Presbyterian boys, and loyal and all that; anyway, we were good Presbyterian boys when the weather was doubtful; when it was fair, we did wander a little from the fold.
- 67th birthday dinner, 11/28/1902

I do not know what we should do without the pulpit. We could better spare the sun--the moon, anyway.
- Mark Twain in Eruption

I am quite sure now that often, very often, in matters concerning religion and politics a man's reasoning powers are not above the monkey's.
- Mark Twain in Eruption

Man is kind enough when he is not excited by religion.
- A Horse's Tale

Religion consists in a set of things which the average man thinks he believes, and wishes he was certain.
- Notebook, 1879

I was educated, I was trained, I was a Presbyterian and I knew how these things are done. I knew that in Biblical times if a man committed a sin the extermination of the whole surrounding nation--cattle and all--was likely to happen. I knew that Providence was not particular about the rest, so that He got somebody connected with the one He was after.
- Autobiography of Mark Twain

We don't cut up when mad men are bred by the old legitimate regular stock religions, but we can't allow wildcat religions to indulge in such disastrous experiments.
- "The New Wildcat Religion"

A religion that comes of thought, and study, and deliberate conviction, sticks best. The revivalized convert who is scared in the direction of heaven because he sees hell yawn suddenly behind him, not only regains confidence when his scare is over, but is ashamed of himself for being scared, and often becomes more hopelessly and malignantly wicked than he was before.
- Letter San Francisco Alta California, November 15,1868

I do not take any credit to my better-balanced head because I never went crazy on Presbyterianism. We go too slow for that. You never see us ranting and shouting and tearing up the ground, You never heard of a Presbyterian going crazy on religion. Notice us, and you will see how we do. We get up of a Sunday morning and put on the best harness we have got and trip cheerfully down town; we subside into solemnity and enter the church; we stand up and duck our heads and bear down on a hymn book propped on the pew in front when the minister prays; we stand up again while our hired choir are singing, and look in the hymn book and check off the verses to see that they don't shirk any of the stanzas; we sit silent and grave while the minister is preaching, and count the waterfalls and bonnets furtively, and catch flies; we grab our hats and bonnets when the benediction is begun; when it is finished, we shove, so to speak. No frenzy, no fanaticism --no skirmishing; everything perfectly serene. You never see any of us Presbyterians getting in a sweat about religion and trying to massacre the neighbors. Let us all be content with the tried and safe old regular religions, and take no chances on wildcat.
- "The New Wildcat Religion"

The Koran does not permit Mohammedans to drink. Their natural instincts do not permit them to be moral. They say the Sultan has eight hundred wives. This almost amounts to bigamy.
- The Innocents Abroad

Apparently one of the most uncertain things in the world is the funeral of a religion.
- Following the Equator

Zeal and sincerity can carry a new religion further than any other missionary except fire and sword.
- Christian Science

The altar cloth of one aeon is the doormat of the next.
- Notebook, 1898

I have a religion--but you will call it blasphemy. It is that there is a God for the rich man but none for the poor.....Perhaps your religion will sustain you,will feed you--I place no dependence in mine. Our religions are alike, though, in one respect--neither can make a man happy when he is out of luck.
- Letter to Orion Clemens, 10/19-20/1865

We have to keep our God placated with prayers, and even then we are never sure of him--how much higher and finer is the Indian's God......Our illogical God is all-powerful in name, but impotent in fact; the Great Spirit is not all-powerful, but does the very best he can for his injun and does it free of charge.
- Marginalia written in copy of Richard Irving Dodge's Our Wild Indians

O Lord, our father,
Our young patriots, idols of our hearts,
Go forth to battle - be Thou near them!
With them, in spirit, we also go forth
From the sweet peace of our beloved firesides To smite the foe.

O Lord, our God,
Help us to tear their soldiers
To bloody shreds with our shells;
Help us to cover their smiling fields
With the pale forms of their patriot dead; Help us to drown the thunder of
the guns With the shrieks of their wounded,
Writhing in pain.

Help us to lay waste their humble homes
With a hurricane of fire;
Help us to wring the hearts of their
Unoffending widows with unavailing grief; Help us to turn them out roofless
With their little children to wander unfriended The wastes of their
desolated land
In rags and hunger and thirst,
Sports of the sun flames of summer
And the icy winds of winter,
Burdened in spirit, worn with travail,
Imploring Thee for the refuge of the grave and denied it -

For our sakes who adore Thee, Lord,
Blast their hopes,
Blight their lives,
Protract their bitter pilgrimage,
Make heavy their steps,
Water their way with their tears,
Stain the white snow with the blood
Of their wounded feet!

We ask it in the spirit of love -
Of Him who is the source of love,
And Who is the ever-faithful
Refuge and Friend of all that are sore beset And seek His aid with humble
and contrite hearts.


There is one notable thing about our Christianity: bad, bloody, merciless, money-grabbing, and predatory. The invention of hell measured by our Christianity of today, bad as it is, hypocritical as it is, empty and hollow as it is, neither the deity nor his son is a Christian, nor qualified for that moderately high place. Ours is a terrible religion. The fleets of the world could swim in spacious comfort in the innocent blood it has spilled.

Mark Twain - Wikipedia

Colbert on Catholic Mass Changes

Colbert nails it with his wit, as per usual.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

What is the Square Root of a Pork Chop? A Discussion on Science

The panel features Richard Dawkins, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Ann Druyan and Victor Stenger.

Moderated by D.J. Grothe (of Point of Inquiry), it took place at the New York Academy of Sciences at a Center for Inquiry conference titled "Secular Society and its Enemies."

The panel discusses atheism versus science, science education, the nature of science, various strategies for advancing science in society, threats to science education including religion and popular culture, racism and sexism in science, and many other topics.

For more information, visit

The Evolution of the Eye

Many religious critics point to the eye, and in particular the human eye, as clear evidence for an omniscient "designer", but it is very easy to see how such a seemingly complex organ can be produced under natural selection as predicted by Darwin.

PBS - Evolution of the Eye

Evolution of the Eye - Wikipedia

Not A Lifestyle, It's Just Life

Beautiful commercial in Australia for marriage equality... It's time we let people who love each other be treated like we all would like to be treated.

Is There Anybody There?

From 1987, but much of its tenor still holds true to people of today. Great film on religious miracles, the paranormal and people's perceptions of the unknown (or what is unexplained to them)...

Monday, November 28, 2011

Why You Are (Most Likely) A Christian

Aside from a few modern-day converts from one religion to another or from no religion to some form of religion, most people practice the religion they do because their parents were of that religious persuasion, or it was tradition in their family to be of that religious faith. For the majority of christians, this reason is good enough to get by without asking any questions. I am christian because my parents are. But as you go back in time, trace the lineages, parent to grand parent and so on, you will find a startling truth about the history of the christian faith.

There have been a handful of important historical rulers and world events that shaped why your family, your ancestors, and thus you, are christian today (of one sect or another). It may frighten some to actually research the history of their own religions in this way, because it goes against the very nature of the way most people think their "good news" should spread from one person to another. Most often, it has not been accepted freely with enthusiasm. It has been forced upon the masses by war, conquest, edict, threats of death/harm, through slave trades, by suppression of paganism, apostasy, other religions and any church criticisms by the ones who held the power, and manipulated and controlled through the education systems throughout the middle and dark ages and even the enlightenment periods. Here are just a few notable examples of why and how you are probably some form of a christian today (versus any of the other world religions):

Constantine: Constantine the Great (CE 272-337) was a supreme general and ruler who created the great Roman Empire that would last for a thousand years. Christianity until that point was a very minor religion followed by a few tribes and nomads in the post apostolic era. It wasn't until CE 311 that Galerius issued an edict that officially protected the early christians from religious persecution. Constantine was Galerius' successor and because of his mother's inclination to the faith, he expanded Galerius' edict with one of his own, the Edict of Milan, which again officially protected early christians but also allowed them to recover lost property previously confiscated by that persecution. This allowed early christianity to get a foothold and throughout the course of Constantine's reign, christianity was given preference over ancient Greek and Roman gods and eventually the roman orthodoxy, the state's official religion was established for the entire empire.

Constantine the Great - Wikipedia

Charles 'The Hammer' Martel: Charles Martel (CE 688-741) was a French political leader and a brilliant military strategist during a period of decline of the roman empire. He is credited with winning the Battle of Tours in 732 by defeating a powerful, invading Muslim army that sought to conquer and convert the whole of Western Europe to Islam. He is credited with single handedly saving the west and thus christianity from the hands of Abdul Rahman al Ghafiqi, as most experts believe no other european army at that time could have withstood the invasion had Martel's army failed. The Hammer is also well known for being the grandfather of another very important person in this list, Charlemagne.

Charles 'The Hammer' Martel - Wikipedia

Charlemagne: Charles the Great, or Charlemagne (CE 742-814) was a french king and emperor of the Roman Empire from 768-814. With his connections to the papacy, Charlemagne used his power to re-unify the roman empire and expand christianity, with wars against the italians, spanish, bavarians, slavs and saxons among others, converting or killing all. It was under his rule that the roman orthodoxy really took over as a major power again in europe, this time monasteries controlled a renaissance period. Charlemagne is credited with leading a revival of learning, the arts and culture, knowing that an educated citizenry would lead to a much stronger empire. But it was only through the church that anyone could learn, and thus christianity was allowed to control the flow of information at that time and the power of the pope and regional pontiffs grew exponentially.

Charlemagne - Wikipedia

The Crusades: Once the power of the roman empire had been re-established with Charlemagne, throngs of warriors had no wars to fight. With the increasing power of the roman church, the Pope used this free army to suppress muslim expansion as well as to restore christian access to the holy places in its texts. These were declared "Just Wars". In 9 series of crusades from CE 1095-1272, christian warriors attacked muslims, converting or killing those that stood in their way and pillaging cities they captured. The pope granted these warriors 'plenary indulgence', which basically means a reprieve from any sin conducted during the crusades in the name of the lord and the cause against the muslims.

The Crusades - Wikipedia

The Inquisition: The inquisition refers to a series of tribunals of the roman catholic church (CE 1231-1860) used to root our heretics, to get them to repent and conform or die in agony. This was certainly a way to get people en masse to follow a particular religion. Fear of torture or death.

The Inquisition - Wikipedia

Mehmet the Conqueror: Mehmed II (CE 1432-1481) was sultan of the ottoman empire and presided over the fall of constantinople back to muslim hands from the roman christian empire. His empire was involved in various land conquests, and he is honored in Turkish lore, but he also had a very interesting take on the people he conquered. Unlike the christians who converted or killed those they came across, Mehmet the conqueror promoted tolerance of the religions of the people he conquered, thus allowing safe havens of christianity to exist in the arab world, by decreeing this in 1463:

"I, the Sultan Khan the Conqueror,
hereby declare the whole world that,
The Bosnian Franciscans granted with this sultanate firman are under my protection. And I command that:
No one shall disturb or give harm to these people and their churches! They shall live in peace in my state. These people who have become emigrants, shall have security and liberty. They may return to their monasteries which are located in the borders of my state.
No one from my empire notable, viziers, clerks or my maids will break their honour or give any harm to them!
No one shall insult, put in danger or attack these lives, properties, and churches of these people!
Also, what and those these people have brought from their own countries have the same rights...
By declaring this firman, I swear on my sword by the holy name of Allah who has created the ground and sky, Allah's prophet Mohammed, and 124,000 former prophets that; no one from my citizens will react or behave the opposite of this firman!"

Mehmet the Conqueror - Wikipedia

Early American Explorers: Once Europe's great powers established themselves (Portugal, France, Spain, England), they began to send out expeditions over the seas to find new trade routes to the orient to increase wealth for country and king (CE 1492-1700). Little did anyone know, there was a whole continent of natural resources and "savages" to plunder, convert, conquer and colonize. Many of the people who colonized the americas were religious puritans, seeking refuge for their own christian beliefs, especially after the reformation split catholic and protestant in Europe. The Puritan colonization (CE 1630-1800) meant that most of the new settlers were extremely orthodox in their religious views, thus setting the stage for the so-called "christian america" that we know today.

European Colonization of the Americas - Wikipedia
The Puritans - Wikipedia

Slave Trades & Missionary Expansion: As a corollary to the American colonization, the slave trade developed in Africa bringing african tribes people to the new world (CE 1441-1865), converting them to christianity and expanding missionary efforts to African as well as American natives.

African Slave Trade - Wikipedia

King James Bible: King James of England (CE 1566-1625) ultimately was responsible for spreading the christian word through the english translation of the bible in 1611. This allowed lower class individuals to be able to read the scriptures outside of the church. It is generally considered to be the most influential book in the world. There weren't many books that all people were allowed to read, the fact that the english translation of the bible was one of them, allowed the religion to grab further footholds on the commoners of the day.

King James Bible - Wikipedia

The Age of Enlightenment: Out of the dark ages came the age of enlightenment (CE 1650-1800), where much of europe was able to again focus on education, the arts, and culture. As with the enlightenment period during Charlemagne's time, this resurgence was made available, but ultimately heavily controlled and financed by the religious institutions, where much of the money, power and educational facilities were held. The result of this period led to the American Revolution and produced the first legitimate seeds of atheistic thinking by people like Denis Diderot and Thomas Paine, but ultimately the giants of the day, Isaac Newton, Mozart and others were heavily influenced by the church.

The Age of Enlightenment - Wikipedia

Just few important people and events in history are why most christians today are actually christians, as opposed to muslim, jewish, pagan or something else following any number of gods that have long since been moved to the shelves of mythology. Most people just go along with tradition, never questioning their beliefs because they trust what their parents teach them. I feel there should be a desire to know the real history of how their faith came about. You can feel good about a story and be comforted in your routines, and your parish, and your lifestyle, but there are some ugly truths that ultimately led you to believe what you claim to believe. These truths really tell an important side of the story to these types of dogmatic religions, they show how heavily influenced they can be by the hands of a select few with power. It hardly seems the work of some divine author when you look at the totality of it. The amount of people tortured and killed over it, the conquests, the inquisitions, the edicts of a handful of rulers and religious leaders.

It's a fascinating and truly eye opening tale and I encourage everyone to thoroughly research all aspects of their faith, including the history of it before deciding to commit all the way to it.

The History of Christianity - Wikipedia

Friday, November 25, 2011

The Testimony of Nate Phelps

The amazing story of Nate Phelps, son of the infamous preacher Fred Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church. Nate details his life growing up and his escape from the clutches of the delusions of his family. An extreme case to be sure, but there are shadows of his story that ring true in my life and in my own continuing struggle to escape from the weight of an over-bearing, traumatic religious upbringing...

The Pale Blue Dot - Thinking Atheist

Beautiful rendition of the Pale Blue Dot, the incredible perspective of our tiny planet in the vast cosmic ocean by Carl Sagan (and an inspiration for my life and this blog). The Thinking Atheist  did a magnificent job on this version. Well done.

Life on Earth in 60 Seconds

Great video showing a perspective of the timeline of life evolving on earth from the planet's formation 'til now. Complex life shows up pretty late in the game and based on projections of the sun's life, we really only have about 20 more seconds after the end of this clip before the earth is consumed by the red giant.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving!

Have a safe and happy holiday! 

The Emperor's New Clothes

Hans Christian Andersen in 1837 wrote this fantastic fable and there is a lot that can be learned from such a seemingly simple children's story.

The Emperor's New Suit - Hans Christian Andersen 1837

First, never trust a leader who puts himself before the best interests of the people. From the getgo, the emperor is described as someone who loves clothes and spends lavishly on his wardrobe, but no one seems to think anything of it. Always be sure to challenge your leaders to work for you, especially if they have been placed there democratically. Do not let them be sidetracked with vain ambitions or personal glory or personal financial gain. Their duty is to be steward and protector of the society so it can flourish.

Second, never trust anyone who makes fantastic claims without evidence to back it up. As the great Carl Sagan once said, "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence". The swindlers walk into town and prey on the emperor's fetish for apparel and sell him on "magic" fabric that would be invisible to anyone not deemed worthy enough or else just too stupid to see it. Just because something sounds great and you wished it were true, doesn't make it so.

Third, never go along with a ruse if it goes against your better judgement. The emperor's handlers and peasants were too scared about their position in the eyes of their ruler or the community, that they didn't speak up when they couldn't actually see the fabric. Many of them were forced to perpetuate the lie that there was this amazing new suit because of fear or because they felt like they should be seeing it if everyone else could see it too. This is a perfect example of a herd of sheep, blindly following the group or the shepherd without thinking for themselves.

Fourth, as the young child demonstrates in the end, it is always better to speak the truth no matter how harshly it may fall on the ears of the intended. If the subject is important enough, then everyone needs to be aware that a lie is being promulgated throughout society, either by people who knowingly choose to do so for manipulative reasons (swindlers) or by people so blind as to not see the truth or search for the truth themselves, or those who just pretend it is true to go along with the crowd (emperor and commoners), not wanting to disrupt a fragile balance.

I see a blatant correlation between this story and the perpetuation of the dogmatic religions that have plagued the human race for the last several thousand years. A few charlatans come around and start spreading rumors that they have this supernatural knowledge that only the chosen few can see or feel. It is an infinitely beautiful promise of redemption and ever lasting life, but alas there is no concrete evidence for it. With how little was known about the natural world and earth processes when these myths first took root, things that nowadays seem normal and easily explainable might have seemed truly horrifying and divinely authored to an ancient civilzation and those primal fears can be easily manipulated.

With enough persuasion over people's natural insecurities (being afraid to die, wanting to feel comfort in a violent, indifferent universe) the charlatans convince people of power to fall for their story who then use their power to spread this deceit to the masses. The swindlers then reap the treasures of society, laughing all the way to the bank. Some people follow along with the story because it is all they know, they were born into the tradition of believing it, never thinking that it could also not be true. Some people don't wish to question the veracity of the story because they fear retribution from the rest of the community or its leaders. Other people force themselves to pretend to see it because they think everyone else actually does see it and they don't want to be the only ones left out of paradise. For most of human history, there was no way to actually verify that these supernatural stories might have an ounce of credibility, but as scientifc inquiry and technological advancement push society forward, we now have the ability to describe nature in far greater detail and, in my opinion, in a much more eloquent and beautiful way.

With this knowledge now available, you start to get people like this child who do see the lies for what they are and try to call swindlers and religious leaders out on it. It is so obvious to those who actually seek the truth that the emperor indeed wears no clothes, but yet people bow down to him anyway. As atheists, agnostics, freethinkers, skeptics and scientists, it is our duty to try to set the record straight. To show people that they have been fooled all along by religious zealots who wish to prey on our greatest fears in order to control us for political and monetary gains. They have pulled the wool over our eyes to blind us from the truth... that we are mental slaves to what boils down to fantastic, unsubstantiated myth. Not only that, but because there are multiple myth stories and competing religions from various corners of the world, the threat of violence among the strict followers of one story against those that follow another story or none at all is very real and very dangerous. These are the stakes. It is the future of mankind that is on the line. We can either continue to keep the blinders on and follow the rest of the herd as we destroy ourselves and this planet, or we can stand up and say this is false!

Wake up society, and see that your emperor indeed wears no clothes!

If the businessmen drink my blood
Like the kids in art school said they would
Then I guess I'll just begin again
You say, "can we still be friends?"

If I was scared... I would
And if I was bored... you know I would
And if I was yours... but I'm not

All the kids have always known
That the emperor wears no clothes
But they bow to down to him anyway
It's better than being alone

If I was scared... I would
And if I was pure... you know I would
And if I was yours... but I'm not

Now you're knocking at my door
Saying please come out with us tonight
But I would rather be alone
Than pretend I feel alright

If the businessmen drink my blood
Like the kids in art school said they would
Then I guess I'll just begin again
You say, "can we still be friends?"

If I was scared... I would
And if I was pure... you know I would
And if I was yours... but I'm not

Now I'm ready to start

If I was scared... I would
And if I was pure... you know I would
And if I was yours... but I'm not

Now I'm ready to start

Now I'm ready to start
I would rather be wrong
Than live in the shadows of your song
My mind is open wide
And now I'm ready to start

Now I'm ready to start
My mind is open wide
And now I'm ready to start
And I'm sure you opened the door
To step out into the dark

Now I'm ready

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Full Scale Cosmic Perspective

Totally amazing scale representation of what we think we know about the universe... mind-blowing

Primax Studio - Scale of the Universe

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Intelligence Squared - Celebrating the Great Hitchens

Intelligence Squared event from 11/9/11 featuring Stephen Fry, Richard Dawkins and others celebrating the life of the incomparable Christopher Hitchens... enjoy

Intelligence Squared - Hitchens

Religiosity vs Societal Health

Many religious people claim that having no belief in god or the supernatural relinquishes them from following any sort of societal moral boundary. That if everyone were atheistic or agnostic, people would be running around killing each other, raping each other, stealing each other's possessions. Humans as a species have created consistent boundaries based on shared interests that promote the prosperity and future of the group as a whole. Couple this with the golden rule (don't do anything to someone you wouldn't want done to yourself or yours) and you get a pretty solid basis for rules of law that can be found across all societies and cultures, regardless of religion. It's pretty obvious that because of our tribal instincts as primates, group success based on moral boundaries was a prerequisite for the success of the species. Working together to achieve common goals forces us to rely on one another to succeed. You can only rely on people willing to follow basic boundaries for the group's survival or it wouldn't survive.

Not only is this innate in all of us, but many recent studies have shown that lack of religiosity in a country or culture actually leads to better societal health than ones with more strict religious considerations and undertones.

Religious Belief and Societal Health - Study in Journal of Religion and Society

Religiosity Highest in World's Poorest Nations - Gallup Poll

The Chronic Dependence of Popular Religiosity Upon Dysfunctional Psychosociological Conditions - Evolutionary Psychology 2009

Suicide, Religion and Socioeconomic Conditions: An Ecological Study in 26 Countries, 1990

I love how this caller gets stuck in his own logic, you can literally hear his heart breaking from 5:03 to 5:16...

Here's another well thought-out take on the justice/mercy loophole paradigm:

Friday, November 18, 2011

Jesus Christ, Monkey Crotch

Pakistan Bans 'Monkey Crotch', 'Jesus Christ' and Obscene Words in Text Messages - MSNBC 11/18/11

This has to be one of the funniest stories I've heard in a while. Who uses the term "monkey crotch"??? Ladies and gentlemen, please always be thankful for the freedom to speak your mind in this country. There may be A LOT that needs to be fixed here, but the founders got it right with freedom of speech as an inalienable right. Pakistan is playing this off as a way to curb spamming in text messages, but really? Jesus Christ? Wuutang? It's pretty obvious this is a way to curb speech in a country that is notoriously known for its middle age laws and rules.

The new rule set to go into effect will filter out any message that is found to be:

A) harmful, fraudulent, misleading, illegal or unsolicited

B) in bulk

C) without express permission of recipient

D) for commercial purpose

I have a few issues with this, obviously. The first is the very first word... harmful? harmful to who? by who? who decides what is harmful? This leaves a lot of room for interpretation and has serious implications for speech rights. Second is without express permission of recipient. When you get text messages from people, friends, family, you don't give them permission for each message. They send it to you and you get it. That's how it works.

Here is the letter (unverified) sent by the PTA (Pakistan Telecommunications Authority):

PTA Letter on Content Filtering

Section 8 of this report reads: "Based on the foregoing provisions and the dictum developed by the higher courts of Pakistan that the fundamental rights of privacy and freedom of speech and expressions guaranteed under the constitution are not unrestricted and are subject to reasonable restrictions imposed by law"

wow... scary

Here is a list of more of the words to be blocked, there are some 1500 total English and Urdu words to be blacklisted:

Medical terms to be banned:
Athletes foot
Daily usage words to be banned:
Religious terms to be banned:
Jesus Christ
LGBT terms to be banned:
Musicians/artists to be banned:

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Cdesign Proponentsists

The amazing trial of Kitzmiller v. Dover Board of Education in 2005 and the Intelligent Design vs. Evolution struggle here in the U.S. A landmark decision by a notoriously conservative judge, appointed by George W. Bush and Rick Santorum declared that "Intelligent Design" was nothing more than "Creationism" rebranded by folks who had no desire to further scientific education, but rather infuse christian doctrines into the science classroom.

The Ruling by Judge John E. Jones III:
The proper application of both the endorsement and Lemon tests to the facts of this case makes it abundantly clear that the Board's ID Policy violates the Establishment Clause. In making this determination, we have addressed the seminal question of whether ID is science. We have concluded that it is not, and moreover that ID cannot uncouple itself from its creationist, and thus religious, antecedents.
Both Defendants and many of the leading proponents of ID make a bedrock assumption which is utterly false. Their presupposition is that evolutionary theory is antithetical to a belief in the existence of a supreme being and to religion in general. Repeatedly in this trial, Plaintiffs' scientific experts testified that the theory of evolution represents good science, is overwhelmingly accepted by the scientific community, and that it in no way conflicts with, nor does it deny, the existence of a divine creator.
To be sure, Darwin's theory of evolution is imperfect. However, the fact that a scientific theory cannot yet render an explanation on every point should not be used as a pretext to thrust an untestable alternative hypothesis grounded in religion into the science classroom or to misrepresent well-established scientific propositions.
The citizens of the Dover area were poorly served by the members of the Board who voted for the ID Policy. It is ironic that several of these individuals, who so staunchly and proudly touted their religious convictions in public, would time and again lie to cover their tracks and disguise the real purpose behind the ID Policy.

NOVA has an incredible special on the whole ordeal and it is well worth watching:

PBS NOVA - Judgement Day: Intelligent Design on Trial

Here another great link with more detailed information about the case and its implications:

Talk Origins Archive - Kitzmiller vs. Dover Area School District

Charles Darwin - Wikipedia

On The Origin of Species - Charles Darwin 1859

Why Young Christians Leave the Church

Six Reasons Young Christians Leave Church - The Barna Group 9/28/11

Very revealing study of young teen and twenty-somethings and the reasons they no longer attend church. The answers are quite dramatic and really get to the heart of the matter, in my opinion. (Aside from the 3 main issues with christianity: A, it isn't true and can't be proved. B, it would be awful even if it were true. And C, even if it were true and not awful, there is still no reason to push it on anyone else.) Jerry Coyne over at Evolution is True has some great remarks as well on this study, but let's delve into all six reasons to see if we can't get a good idea of the issues concerning modern christianity and its struggle to retain membership with youth...

Reason #1 – Churches seem overprotective.
A few of the defining characteristics of today's teens and young adults are their unprecedented access to ideas and worldviews as well as their prodigious consumption of popular culture. As Christians, they express the desire for their faith in Christ to connect to the world they live in. However, much of their experience of Christianity feels stifling, fear-based and risk-averse. One-quarter of 18- to 29-year-olds said “Christians demonize everything outside of the church” (23% indicated this “completely” or “mostly” describes their experience). Other perceptions in this category include “church ignoring the problems of the real world” (22%) and “my church is too concerned that movies, music, and video games are harmful” (18%).

It's very obvious that the church goes out of its way to suppress outside opinion. As I mentioned in a previous post, one of the most serious threats to modern religions is the invaluable resource of the internet. Instant access to information on any topic and connections to people who aren't in your inner circle to compare and contrast philosophies. Talking with other people makes other view points seem more reasonable than your church would have you believe.

Reason #2 – Teens’ and twentysomethings’ experience of Christianity is shallow.

A second reason that young people depart church as young adults is that something is lacking in their experience of church. One-third said “church is boring” (31%). One-quarter of these young adults said that “faith is not relevant to my career or interests” (24%) or that “the Bible is not taught clearly or often enough” (23%). Sadly, one-fifth of these young adults who attended a church as a teenager said that “God seems missing from my experience of church” (20%).

Shallow experience at church. This is something I struggled with as a young person as well. Fighting the constant feelings that you are wasting your time there, that church is boring, and the sense that there seems to be no real feeling in it by anyone in the congregation.

Reason #3 – Churches come across as antagonistic to science.
One of the reasons young adults feel disconnected from church or from faith is the tension they feel between Christianity and science. The most common of the perceptions in this arena is “Christians are too confident they know all the answers” (35%). Three out of ten young adults with a Christian background feel that “churches are out of step with the scientific world we live in” (29%). Another one-quarter embrace the perception that “Christianity is anti-science” (25%). And nearly the same proportion (23%) said they have “been turned off by the creation-versus-evolution debate.” Furthermore, the research shows that many science-minded young Christians are struggling to find ways of staying faithful to their beliefs and to their professional calling in science-related industries.

The church is antagonistic to science, there is no way around this. We know it to be the case, with meddling into science classrooms with creationism/intelligent design, to denying evolution and climate change to an extent that they threaten national policy on these truly important issues. Young people see it. They see the evidence that makes sense to them and then they hear the church ramble on with the conviction that they alone know all the answers without any justifiable proof. That just doesn't fly anymore with people. It's off-putting.

Reason #4 – Young Christians’ church experiences related to sexuality are often simplistic, judgmental.

With unfettered access to digital pornography and immersed in a culture that values hyper-sexuality over wholeness, teen and twentysometing Christians are struggling with how to live meaningful lives in terms of sex and sexuality. One of the significant tensions for many young believers is how to live up to the church's expectations of chastity and sexual purity in this culture, especially as the age of first marriage is now commonly delayed to the late twenties. Research indicates that most young Christians are as sexually active as their non-Christian peers, even though they are more conservative in their attitudes about sexuality. One-sixth of young Christians (17%) said they “have made mistakes and feel judged in church because of them.” The issue of sexuality is particularly salient among 18- to 29-year-old Catholics, among whom two out of five (40%) said the church’s “teachings on sexuality and birth control are out of date.”

Sexuality and social judgement by the church is a constant hinder to social progress. There are real serious issues with underage pregnancies, STDs, homosexuality, etc., and the church prevents people from tackling these issues with statements of rigidity. No sex until you are married. Condoms are evil. Being gay is a sin. These stances prevent young people from being properly educated about their own sexuality and in turn, leads to issues that can destroy their lives. Young people are going to fool around as they begin to understand their bodies. Studies show that christians "experiment" as much as non-christians, so the fact that these kids aren't prepared for it, aren't given options and an understanding of what they are getting themselves into, leads to very serious consequences. Teen pregnancies, marrying someone you may not love just to satisfy the church - leading to high divorce rates - feeling bullied or having to hide your sexuality. It's no coincidence that pornography is a major issue with religious people, they have the same feelings as everyone else but have no way to deal with them publicly or realistically. The constant judging of sexuality is a real problem that can be avoided if it is dealt with in an adult manner.

Reason #5 – They wrestle with the exclusive nature of Christianity.
Younger Americans have been shaped by a culture that esteems open-mindedness, tolerance and acceptance. Today’s youth and young adults also are the most eclectic generation in American history in terms of race, ethnicity, sexuality, religion, technological tools and sources of authority. Most young adults want to find areas of common ground with each other, sometimes even if that means glossing over real differences. Three out of ten young Christians (29%) said “churches are afraid of the beliefs of other faiths” and an identical proportion felt they are “forced to choose between my faith and my friends.” One-fifth of young adults with a Christian background said “church is like a country club, only for insiders” (22%).

Religions, by nature, are exclusive. Each is the only true way to heaven, happiness, eternal life, salvation, etc. Other religions are false, because we say they are. Don't even listen to them either, because they are of the devil. Don't give credence to any dissenting opinion as it is evil in the eyes of god. Religions are cults, only the "in-crowd" will be saved. All others will suffer and die and be tormented for eternity. They make it sound so good if you just join them and give up your rational thinking and believe without any evidence.

Reason #6 – The church feels unfriendly to those who doubt.

Young adults with Christian experience say the church is not a place that allows them to express doubts. They do not feel safe admitting that sometimes Christianity does not make sense. In addition, many feel that the church’s response to doubt is trivial. Some of the perceptions in this regard include not being able “to ask my most pressing life questions in church” (36%) and having “significant intellectual doubts about my faith” (23%). In a related theme of how churches struggle to help young adults who feel marginalized, about one out of every six young adults with a Christian background said their faith “does not help with depression or other emotional problems” they experience (18%).

It is the very nature of religions to shun dissenters, skeptics and people who question the validity of their extraordinary claims. The bible my mother gave to me when I was a teenager, the NIV bible, has a prologue that basically states that as you read the bible you will no doubt find passages that don't make sense or that contradict other verses. In these cases, it states, that the reader should just ignore their inner feelings and understand that god will reveal himself to you in time and in his own way. Do not question the inerrancy of the word of god, because it is true and good. (except it is not, when you actually read it). They have built-in fail safes against doubters, that you are fighting inner demons and if you do doubt, you should instead have more faith to counteract your feelings. It is a logical (or illogical?) vortex that sucks you in and continually reaffirms blind faith over reason.

These are very stark admissions against christianity (although these really can be applied to all religions in the same manner). The culture is such that it cannot adjust to modern times, modern issues, modern scientific advancement and instead tries to squash inquiry, dissent. Serious questions and issues are never dealt with in a manner that is intellectually honest and open, adult and realistic. It is because of this that religions are slowly going the way of the dinosaur. As young people realize there is more to this world, that there is more information and knowledge about the universe (and from better, valid sources), that there are other ways to treat people who may be different from you that is not antagonistic, they begin to see a world that can be better for all people. A world without the judgment, deceit, and dangerous rules, a world open to discourse and exchange of ideas. A world without dogmatic religion... and it looks pretty good.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Time Lapse Earth

Amazing footage from the international space station flying over earth...

Friday, November 11, 2011

11/11/11 11:11:11

For all you geeks out there, here is a handy tool to convert text to binary code and back again... have fun encoding and decoding messages with your friends!

Roubaix Interactive: Binary to Text

Here's a special message for you to decode:

01010100 01101000 01100001 01101110 01101011 01110011 00100000 01100110 01101111 01110010 00100000 01110110 01101001 01110011 01101001 01110100 01101001 01101110 01100111 00100000 01110100 01101000 01100101 00100000 01010000 01100001 01101100 01100101 00100000 01000010 01101100 01110101 01100101 00100000 01000100 01101111 01110100 00100001 00100000 01001000 01100001 01110000 01110000 01111001 00100000 00110001 00110001 00101111 00110001 00110001 00101111 00110001 00110001 00100000 00110001 00110001 00111010 00110001 00110001 00111010 00110001 00110001 00100001 00100001

Any time written hh:mm:ss mm/dd/yy won't repeat for 100yr. Evidence something can be rare yet completely uninteresting. - Neil DeGrasse Tyson

Machines of the Gods

I watched this program last night on the History Channel, Ancient Discoveries: Machines of the Gods and it was really eye-opening. It really goes into detail describing how ancient temples and priests used complex mechanical devices, known chemical and physiological processes and what would amount to parlor tricks as ways to prove to the uneducated populace that gods indeed existed and were very powerful. It's amazing to see them in this light and how you can really relate these priests to being more like magicians and illusionists than conduits to the heavens. Using trickery to get people to attend your temple and have them give you money while you control them with fears. Sound familiar?

Thursday, November 10, 2011


When I was a kid, my parents used to have this thing called a "freebie". A freebie was basically a meal where we wouldn't have to say grace before digging in. Generally these freebies were smaller meals, or snacks, nothing too formal. Most often freebies occurred after church on sunday. Sunday mornings in our house growing up were a site to see. 6 people getting ready with one shower between us, going to 2 separate church services (catholic-dad and evangelical-mom). We kids were pulled between going to church with mom or dad, but eventually my parents settled on all kids going to church with mom while dad went to his own catholic service by himself first, then went to the evangelical service with the rest of the family. You've got to give him credit for sucking it up for the family by going to church twice every sunday (especially with that whole catholic/protestant angst). I always hated the fact the we had to choose between the two. I preferred to go to church with dad because he wasn't as crazy and in-your-face about his faith, but I couldn't stand the monotony of the catholic service and the memorization. It felt like it had no heart, like people didn't really care or understood what they were saying. At least the evangelicals had guitars and drums and stuff, as a kid I preferred that because it was at least slightly more entertaining. Anyways, I digress... After a long morning of church-related activities and passionate discussion between my parents about the sermons driving home, many times we would stop at Dunkin Donuts for a dozen donuts to have as a snack when we got home. These were always freebies and I always looked forward to eating them without having to say grace. This may be the reason I still have a sweet tooth for donuts, maybe subconsciously I associate them with that same "freebie" state of mind. We would even plead sometimes to get out of saying grace like it was a punishment, "please, mom can this be a freebie?".

The term freebie always had a weird connotation to it though, like we were getting away with something we knew we shouldn't be.  Like the other times when we had to pray to god, that those weren't freebies, that they were somehow charges or fees. Who decided that god didn't need to be thanked for a freebie like he should be thanked at every other meal?

When I was real little I remember reciting the catholic grace every time before we ate: Bless us, oh lord, for these, thy gifts, which we are about to receive from thy bounty through christ our lord, amen. Once mom had her "conversion" and was "born again", dad started saying grace for the family and would make it up on the spot at each meal. He was always an eloquent speaker and you could tell he really put thought into what we should be thankful for each time we ate. He would be sure to mention guests if they were over, and any special events coming up or recently passed, family members under the weather, etc. For real special occasions, he would even prepare notes or research topics to make a really impactful presentation of grace. Actually, they were quite beautiful. As much as I hated having to wait for the food (and wished for another freebie) and would feel totally self conscious about grace if we ever went out to eat, I do look back now and think about how nice it was to pause and really think about things we were thankful for in this life. I'm glad that my father took the time to make grace a thoughtful reflection.

Now that I am older and have since realized that there is no reason to thank an imaginary man in the sky for any of it, I still find it is nice to take a few moments (even quietly to yourself) and think about all the things that you are thankful for. Thankful for a job in this economy to be able to put food on the table, thankful for the hands that worked to bring that food to the table, thankful for the animals and plants that gave their lives so that we could have sustenance, thankful for the company and the conversation, thankful for the family members who mean so much to you, thankful to live in a country where you can be free to believe or not believe what you want, thankful for the men and women in uniform who sacrifice so you can enjoy those freedoms, all the reasons that make life good. While it is nice to have freebies, it is also important to actually take the time to reflect on all the good things in life. As thanksgiving comes up in a few weeks, when as a national holiday people are tuned in to be thankful for a day, let us try not to forget that mentality during the rest of the year. Grace before dinner doesn't have to be a religious thing. It can very much be a secular thing, a reminder that life is fragile and short so take the time to recognize the reasons you are where you are in life. Freebies are great, but take time to appreciate the things and people that sacrificed so you can live and be grateful for wonderful friends and family who make life enjoyable.

Stephen Colbert: The Bully Pulpit

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Coyne vs Haught... Science & Religion: Are They Compatible?

Jerry Coyne demolishes in this debate... skip to about 30:00 to get to the good part.

Sam Harris on Belief

Happy Carl Sagan Day!!!

Always loved this tribute by Symphony of Science to one of the great ambassadors of science in my lifetime. Thanks Carl for helping ignite that spark of cosmic curiosity in me. You will always be an inspiration and hero to me...

Carl Sagan 11/9/34 - 12/20/96

Cosmos Episodes streamed on Hulu

Symphony of Science

[Carl Sagan]
If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch
You must first invent the universe
Space is filled with a network of wormholes
You might emerge somewhere else in space
Some when-else in time
The sky calls to us
If we do not destroy ourselves
We will one day venture to the stars
A still more glorious dawn awaits
Not a sunrise, but a galaxy rise
A morning filled with 400 billion suns
The rising of the milky way
The Cosmos is full beyond measure of elegant truths
Of exquisite interrelationships
Of the awesome machinery of nature
I believe our future depends powerfully
On how well we understand this cosmos
In which we float like a mote of dust
In the morning sky
But the brain does much more than just recollect
It inter-compares, it synthesizes, it analyzes
it generates abstractions
The simplest thought like the concept of the number one
Has an elaborate logical underpinning
The brain has its own language
For testing the structure and consistency of the world
For thousands of years
People have wondered about the universe
Did it stretch out forever
Or was there a limit
From the big bang to black holes
From dark matter to a possible big crunch
Our image of the universe today
Is full of strange sounding ideas
How lucky we are to live in this time
The first moment in human history
When we are in fact visiting other worlds
The surface of the earth is the shore of the cosmic ocean
Recently we’ve waded a little way out
And the water seems inviting

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Cross Spangled Banner

Cross Spangled Banner

In one of the most flamboyant cases of religious (and christian) oppression, the religious right is at it again. This time, they are trying to take away the flag, the symbol that is supposed to unite us all and make it blatantly christian. Recent affirmations by the Congress on the mottos "In God We trust" and "Under God" have ruffled the feathers of many non-believers, secularists and other religious people who worship many gods as exclusionary and perplexing given the serious economic issues of higher importance, but this takes it a step further.

As Christians, America is our responsibility second only to the Lord. And America has forgotten God.
This Christian flag of the United States is designed to do away with an arbitrary element: the star, which is proudly used, too, on the flags of China, North Korea, Vietnam, Pakistan, Somalia, Bosnia and, sadly, more like these.
What better way for us to bless the very nation we have built with the one universal symbol of His virtue?
This flag is a small symbolic act that contributes to the course of history and can help bring salvation to millions — every Christians responsibility.
For God and Country.

This is taken word for word from their website. Wake up, people, and realize that there are those who wish to take your civil liberties from you to make this a theocracy. They are actively trying to make this a christian nation above all else and doing it on many fronts, from marriage equality to personhood definitions to bullying homosexuals, to national mottos to foreign policy on Israel and other important issues to science education, and now to flags. It's time to stand up and have your voices heard that this is unacceptable. We will not sit idly by while you defame the freedoms we hold dear and that this country was truly founded on, freedom from religious persecution... that what your sinister flag means: religious persecution. You might as well be defecating on it or burning it.

This is the pledge of allegiance as it was before 1954, when Americans in panic from communist russia added those slanderous words "Under God":

Asteroid 2005 YU55 Permission To Fly By

Your Guide to the Asteroid Encounter - Cosmic Log 11/7/11

The Asteroid 2005 YU55 will be the closest object to earth in nearly 35 years, coming within 0.85 moon distances as it whizzes by us later tonight. Fortunately, it poses no threat to hit earth or the moon and will be too small to see with the naked eye, but it should make you think that there are objects out there that can and will eventually hit us, so make the most of your time while you have it. An object the size of YU55 could cause some major damage if it were to impact the earth. It could destroy a city or cause a massive tsunami. If it hit the moon, it would be a spectacular light show, but nothing more. The asteroid is too small to have any real noticeable impact on out daily lives, it won't have any effect gravitationally, and won't affect the tides. The path is pretty well understood and it should pose no threat to earth in the future either, just something to get you excited about for a night and think about cosmic collisions and how we are completely at the mercy of the "heavens".

Cool shot taken by NASA JPL yesterday afternoon along with the current expected track...