The Power of Doubt or Messin with Fundies

In the past two months a couple of events have kept me laughing about the silliness of those who believe without really thinking about their beliefs. A religious coworker and a Jesus door to door sales lady have given me much amusement.

A few months ago I was working in an office where one coworker kept making religious references in almost every conversation. I didn’t say anything but he started assuming that I was a Christian that agreed with him. How presumptuous. After a week, it was time to end that assumption.

He started saying some creationist ideas about the Earth being only a few thousand years old. I said that I did not agree with that. The evidence shows a universe and Earth that are billions of years old. He then stated that he believed that every word in his bible was true. I asked him how he knew that it was true.

His reasons were that he believed the supernatural was true and that prophecies from the old testament foretold Jesus. The boss walked in at that moment and asked what we were discussing. I found out later from my boss that my coworker had been in trouble before for bothering people about religion. I replied that my coworker was trying to convince me that the supernatural existed. The boss laughed, letting me know that he was sympathetic to my point of view.

I replied to my coworker that the old testament prophecies were useless because the writers of the new testament had those writings available to them when they wrote the new testament. That was the simplest explaination. He said that he had never thought of it that way and would look this up. He never came back with another explaination.

For the next couple of weeks my coworker kept making these strange passive aggressive remarks about me going to hell when I died. I finally got tired of this one day, so it was time to teach this person a lesson, the parable of the abusive husband.

After he made his little remark, about burning in hell, I said that how could that possibly describe a loving god? That this was like a man being thought of as a good husband but he tells his wife that if she does not tell him that she loves him, then he would lock her up in the basement and torture her. How can this possibly be considered “loving”?

He made a little strangled sound, but made no reply. He never made those remarks about hell again. I thought the boss was going to high-five me.

Last Friday I was expecting a couple friends to come over. The doorbell rang and I answered it. There were two ladies in their 20s, dressed up and carrying their bibles like magic talismans. One woman started by saying “God is not responsible for natural disasters.” She then quoted something from John and from Timothy. Then she started with hinting that “dark forces” caused bad things. I guess she was talking about demons and the devil. Who knows? Perhaps like Voldemart, you can’t say it out loud?

I asked her if God created everthing. She answered in the affirmative, that yes he created everything. I asked the obvious “If he created everything, doesn’t he also create disasters as well?”

She replied somewhat uncertainly that she had never thought of it that way. I wanted to discuss this further, but she quickly stated that it looked like I was busy with my daughter and that they must be going and they must leave now. Hopefully they won’t come back. I shut the door and busted out laughing when I discovered that I had forgotten that I was wearing a set of fuzzy purple antennas that my daughter had put on me earlier.

Curiosity, An Excellent First Episode

I’m sitting here finally getting a chance to do some blogging while watching Curiosity, a new show on The Science Channel. This episode is hosted by Steven Hawking pondering if there is a god while surrounded by headlines where he is declared a heretic and he states that god is a fairytale. You can see the faint hint of a smile as he observes the headlines.

The entire episode is devoted to dispelling the god of the gaps argument. I was amazed that there was such a frank and open discussion about the question “Is there a god?” I highly recommend it. I love the conclusion.

I haven’t been blogging much lately or this year. I sincerely hope to change this. There have been developments on my last story about being an atheist in the ultimate foxhole (Cheyenne Mountain), evangelical Christian chaplains and America’s nuclear forces. If you think this is an explosive combination, I will be posting about an even more disturbing story. This story about a few military chaplains will be waiting for others to complete some possible legal actions before I can post anything yet.

Our Local Meetup Group Makes the Local Paper

To celebrate the 150th anniversary of Darwin’s On the Origin of the Species, the Antelope Valley Freethinkers had Dr. Matthew Rainbow present an overview of evolution for our members. Unfortunately, I was unable to attend due to an unforeseen family issue. The Antelope Valley Press covered the meeting and wrote an article about our group. I don’t normally post an entire article, but the paper usually removes the web version after a week, so I’m posting it before it is removed.

Locals look at Darwin’s book 150 years on

This story appeared in the Antelope Valley Press
Monday, November 23, 2009.
By JULIE DRAKE
Valley Press Staff Writer

LANCASTER – This year marks the 200th anniversary of Darwin’s birth. November also marks the 150th anniversary of the publication of Darwin’s “On the Origin of the Species.” The book introduced the theory that organisms evolve over the course of generations through the process of natural selection.

To celebrate, the Antelope Valley Freethinkers group scheduled a Darwin discussion and luncheon on Sunday for their monthly get-together. Club president David Dionne said they chose to celebrate the anniversary because Darwin’s book is one of the most important and influential scientific works in history.

Club member Matthew Rainbow, an AVC biology professor with a Ph.D. in molecular biology and biochemistry, was the featured speaker. Rainbow said that in the history of science, Darwin is even more dangerous than Nicolaus Copernicus and the even more dangerous Sir Isaac Newton. He noted that Copernicus removed man’s home – Earth – from the center of the universe.

“Darwin ratcheted it up a little, he did an even more serious thing,” Rainbow said. “What did he remove from the center? Man himself.”

Rainbow said that Newton, who believed in God, reduced astrophysics to a series of laws, whereby God works through laws.

“What did Darwin do?” Rainbow said. “Darwin basically took the most important question in biology – how did living things get here – and reduced that to laws … Darwin explained how the origin of species themselves can occur through laws.”

Rainbow said the origin of life itself is misunderstood. The professor, who described himself as a card-carrying, flag-waving evolutionist who is an agnostic half the time and an atheist the other half, said that even he believes the first cells may have been intelligently designed by what could be called a creator.

“I think that if this creator exists, he or she or whatever it is, obviously wants to remain unknown, if he exists at all,” Rainbow said. “The evidence now tends to suggest that they were intelligently designed.”

But Rainbow said that everything else in evolution, such as fish into amphibians, amphibians into reptiles and ape-like creatures into humans, is all well explained by evolution. There are three steps to evolution: mutation to DNA of organisms; altered embryological development; and natural selection.

“Darwin knew almost nothing about the first step … much less what DNA was,” Rainbow said. However, Darwin figured out the third step, that organisms constantly change. They pass on their traits to offspring and organisms exploded in growth.”

Dionne said the Antelope Valley Freethinkers is a diverse group comprising agnostics, atheists, secular humanists and other religious nonbelievers. The club began as an affiliate of the Los Angeles-based Atheists United and became a local, independent nonprofit organization this spring.

There are currently about 60 members.

Dionne said the group’s diverse membership includes independent thinkers from all different backgrounds and occupations.

“I really like finding interesting stuff for us to do and to talk about,” he said. “To connect and build friendships with people with the same world view I have.”

Dionne said the evolution of the club has been organic in the sense that it grows based on what members want. For the Antelope Valley Freethinkers, Dionne defined a freethinker as someone who bases their world view on reason, objective evidence and compassion, and who tends to be skeptical about supernatural things such as the existence of Gods, angels and demons, and the afterlife.

Dionne said that they strive to make their meetings interesting and entertaining. Past events include barbecues, picnics, movie viewing, board games, karaoke, and presentations on science and history. Members also volunteer in the community by participating in events such as the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service. They also raised more than $300 for multiple sclerosis.

Antelope Valley native Erik Gunderson, the group’s secretary, said he became involved with a similar group when he lived in Knoxville, Tenn., a few years ago. He joined the Antelope Valley Freethinkers when he returned to the Valley about three years ago.

Gunderson said that he enjoys the social aspects of the club in that he looks for a combination of fellowship and something interesting to think about.

“You get out of your brain what you put into your brain,” he said. “We have a group where you have interesting, educated, smart people to talk with, sharing their knowledge, sharing their ideas, (it) makes you more interesting, smart and educated yourself.”

Johann Olivier, the group’s treasurer, said that he enjoys the intellectual stimulation you get as a member of the group.

“People are not constricted by dogmatic ideas of how the world should operate,” he said.

For details, e-mail the group at avfreethinkers@yahoo.com.

jdrake@avpress.com

I bolded part of the story above where there port quotes Dr. Rainbow saying “said that even he believes the first cells may have been intelligently designed by what could be called a creator.” I hope the reporter is misquoting Dr.Rainbow because I can’t see how someone who describes himself as an agnostic atheist believes in intelligent design. Perhaps Dr. Rainbow was describing Darwin’s views rather than his own and the reporter misunderstood.

Other than this nit, an excellent article about the Antelope Valley Freethinkers. Way to go Dave, Kelly, Eric, Johann and everyone.

Weary of Such Continued Idiocy

Yesterday, in the LA Times, Charlotte Allen wrote an incredibly stupid piece of tripe entitled Atheists: No God, no reason, just whining. I was going to go through this dreck point by point with a rebuttal. Mike’s Weekly Skeptic Rant has already done this, and I’m just too weary of Allen’s imbecilic rantings to spend much time on it like Hemant Mehta and PZ Myers have.

Her first and only point that I’m going to address is this:

I can’t stand atheists — but it’s not because they don’t believe in God. It’s because they’re crashing bores.

Then why did she even bother writing the article at all? What was the point other than a sorry excuse of pathetic bigotry? Her points did not even make any sense and contradicted each other, as in these examples on a few scant paragraphs apart.

My problem with atheists is their tiresome — and way old — insistence that they are being oppressed and their fixation with the fine points of Christianity.

and

The problem with atheists — and what makes them such excruciating snoozes — is that few of them are interested in making serious metaphysical or epistemological arguments against God’s existence, or in taking on the serious arguments that theologians have made attempting to reconcile, say, God’s omniscience with free will or God’s goodness with human suffering.

So Ms. Allen which is it? Are atheists too interested in debating the finer points of religion, or not interested in it at all? You can’t have it both ways. If this is what passes for writing in the LA Times, I’m thankful that I have not wasted any money on a subscription.

Update:

My favorite takedown from the Young Australian Skeptics:

Charlotte’s opinion is noted, and stupid. Presumably she won’t spend the entire article talking about how boring we are then – after all, that wouldn’t be particularly interesting, would it?

Participated in an Interesting Pew Survey

A couple of days ago I received a letter about participating in a Pew Survey. This survey is being conducted by both the Pew Research Center and AAAS. According to the letter:

We are writing to ask for your help in an important research project jointly sponsored by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and the Pew Research Center. We are conducting a national survey of scientists to learn more about the experiences and concerns of scientists today. We are also surveying the general public about their views and attitudes regarding science.

You are among a small number of scientists whose views we are seeking. Survey topics include the motivations and goals of scientists in the United States today, challenges and barriers to the conduct of science, and opinions about scientific issues. Your answers will be kept completely confidential and used only as summaries in which no individual answers can be identified.

The Pew Research Center is an independent, non profit public opinion research organization, and AAAS is a nonprofit membership organization. Results of the survey will be released this summer and will be posted on the websites of both the Pew Research Center and AAAS.

So I decided to login and take the online survey. The survey contained various questions about global warming, evolution, stem cell research, and belief in a higher being. This is a strange combination for a survey, as it seems to pertain to topics discussed regularly on atheist and science sites. Perhaps we are having an effect on the national discourse after all, no matter how much some of the believers try to tell us to sit down and shut up.

Here are some example screen shots of the survey. The resolution was not very good, so if you can’t clearly see the question, double click to get a larger image. You can see that the questions don’t really have a variety of selections, most of them only allow a couple of selections only.


The two choices are special creation or evolution. At first I wondered about old earth and theistic evolution as choices for those who believe in a god who created life that evolved. But when I reached the other questions, they were about whether or not a god existed. So it looks like they are separating out the combinations of answers about yes views on the origin of the diversity of life.

As you can see, there are only two choices here. I guess the young earth creationists are out of luck here as both choices assume the evolution of life whether or not you believe a god guided it or not.

They leave out the option I would have wanted: All people should be vaccinated unless a medical condition precludes it.

I was a little confused, because the last option, Nothing in particular, can also mean atheist or agnostic. A lot of times I answer the religion selection on forms with None.

This one is fairly straight forward, but what about atheists who attend services to support a spouse or family?

Well, this one they mucked up in my opinion. They make a difference in spirituality and a belief in a god. But what definition of God are they using? Don’t a lot of people define a universal spirit or higher power as being God for them?

Well, it was interesting participating in a Pew Survey. They made it easy to login and take the survey. The results are supposed to be tabulated later on this summer.

"It’s About Fucking Time"

Seth McFarlane replies “It’s about fucking time.” to Bill Maher’s question about the popularity of atheism in the past couple of years. And the audience cheers like mad. Maher tries to says that his movie is the reason, but I don’t think so. It’s the internet that is largely responsible. I remember reading discussions about atheism on the early internet in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s on alt.atheism and alt.atheism.moderated.

Then Internet Infidels and IIDB (now FRDB) started up in the mid-1990’s and I was happy posting and meeting other atheists online. Now it seems atheist blogs are popular and the number seems to be expanding every day. Now, there are more dynamic sites like Atheist Nexus and Atheist Nation. Also people are meeting in real life and using Atheist Meetups. Local groups are becoming more common and I participate in most of these types of social interactions.