Saturday, January 31, 2009

America's Drug Policy: Just Another Religion

The arrest of President Obama's half-brother in Kenya for possession of a single joint of marijuana made national headlines. Why is this newsworthy?

Because America's drug policy and attitudes are like a religion: Incomprehensible, without any basis in science or fact, and most of all, justified by unsupportable black-and-white claims about right and wrong, morality and immorality.

How many people do you think die each year from marijuana, cocaine and heroin combined? If you're like most Americans, you probably think it's a lot – hundreds of thousands, some even think it's close to a million. The real truth? The total is well under 10,000 per year. Moreover, most of those are a direct result of the laws against drugs. If these drugs could be obtained legally, the death rate would be close to zero.

Why do I claim our drug policy is religious in nature? If we were concerned with the truth, we'd stamp out the real culprits:
  • Alcohol: 20,000 deaths per year
  • Tobacco: 350,000 - 400,000 deaths per year
Or, if we came to our senses and realized that prohibition is a phenomenally bad idea, we would at least have a sensible drug policy that regulated drugs according to the actual dangers. How about one more statistic:
  • Marijuana: 0 deaths
That's right – although there are occasionally one or two deaths attributed to marijuana, the numbers are so far down into the statistical noise that they're meaningless.

America's irrational drug policies are rooted in America's religions. We are a raised with hard-and-fast moral rules, handed down from God, which are absolute and unchallengeable. You aren't allowed to think for yourself. So when church leaders and politicians proclaim that marijuana is sinful and evil, right alongside robbery, assault and vandalism, who questions it? Not only do Americans go along with this idiocy, they defend it vigorously. While quaffing their beers and puffing their tobacco.

What else can explain a nonsensical drug policy that has cost America trillions of dollars over the decades, and produce nothing but crime and, more importantly, a widespread disrespect for the law?

America's drug policy is nothing more than another religion. It's based on unsupportable facts, contradicts well-known and widely available scientific facts, and yet a large number of Americans still believe it.

(For a GREAT resource on the real facts, check out Truth: The Anti-Drugwar.)

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Hallelujah! Christians can Legally Discriminate!

(Note to my readers: This article was originally a parody, but I decided it was over the top, and have withdrawn it. Here is a short note about the original news article.)

It seems there's a way to be exempt from normal laws prohibiting discrimination: Become a church! The California Appeals Court ruled that it's OK for churches to discriminate, because "as a private, religious organization" churches are exempt from normal laws prohibiting discrimination. Unlike other businesses, religions don't have to follow these laws that are supposed to protect minorities.

It seems a two girls at a Christian high school admitted to being in love and having a relationship, and were booted from the school. The court's ruling was apparently designed to be narrow; by declaring that a religious school is not a business, they can exempt the school. Unfortunately, this also exempts the school from ALL laws about discrimination.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Stop the Mudslinging!

Everywhere I turn, whether it's to Atheist blogs or Christian blogs, the dialog (actually, it's mostly monologues, but I digress...) is filled with mudslinging. Pointless, useless, divisive name calling, loud accusations and even louder defenses.

Here is one example, from a Christian on The American Spectator:
In America a similar campaign of bus ads reads: ""Why believe in a god? Just be good for goodness' sake!" while leaving the definition of what would be "good" in a world without a god rather unclear (though it is true that Marxism and Nazism gave us some idea). ... If man had in the past taken to heart the injunction that "There's probably no God," ... there would also be no art, science or civilization. ... Atheism produced the meaninglessness and worse of Nietzsche, an unintentional progenitor of Nazism, and then of Sartre, spiritual father of the Pol Pot Genocide, as atheism produced Communism in general, responsible for about 100 million deaths and ruined lives beyond count.
Do you think this diatribe is going to convince anyone to become Christian? Of course not, it's just self-congratulatory BS, a bunch of like-minded Christians slapping each other on the back. It alienates everyone else. Cuts off dialog. Ends the conversation.

But Atheist bloggers and authors are hardly any better. How many times have you read an Atheist blog or book about the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, or the Roman Catholic Church's official approval of the African slave trade? Or how many times have YOU written something like that? I know I have.

We have to stop comparing Christians to the Inquisition, and Atheists to Stalin. It's counterproductive and childish. There are and will always be good and bad Christians, Atheists, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Jains, Hindus, ... we're all humans, and we're all imperfect. And the truth is that in most cases, religion (or Atheism) is merely an excuse for persecution and war; the real motive is money and power. For example, everyone knows that the the Jews were driven out of Spain at the start of the Spanish Inquisition. But it wasn't really about Judaism, the monarchy was simply broke, and the Jews had to leave a huge amount of wealth behind, which the monarchy confiscated.

I have an idea: Rather than dwelling on the past, slinging mud at the other side, and congratulating ourselves at how clever we are, why don't we turn to education and enlightenment. Rather than alienate any religious readers who encounter our blogs, why not present them with logic and facts about religion. Let's leave the mudslinging behind – it's really not relevant to our mission – and get on with the task of spreading reason and fighting superstition.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Bush's Only Legacy: So bad, even racists voted for Obama

Could President Obama have been elected without Bush's incompetence? I'd like to think so, but realistically, I doubt it. I think it took TWO events to get Obama elected: His overwhelming competence, and Bush's overwhelming incompetence.

Racism is so widespread in America that I never thought Obama had a chance. He was clearly one of the most intelligent, articulate, well educated and accomplished candidates I've ever heard, a true inspiration. Yet, having lived in New Orleans, and spent considerable time visiting relatives in the farm country of Texas, I was skeptical. Even here in Southern California, the first house I bought in San Diego County had "CC&R's" ("covenants, conditions and restrictions") on the property that prohibited any Blacks or Jews from purchasing a home in my neighborhood (this clause had long since been declared illegal and unenforceable by the US Supreme Court, but the peculiarities of the law prevent the CC&R's from being removed from the property's deed, and in fact my neighbors were Jewish). The neighborhoods in the East part of our county are still a notorious hotspot of the Ku Klux Klan even today.

George W. Bush's legacy is horrifying: 150,000 civilians killed by American bombs in Iraq, hundreds of billions of dollars wasted, the world economy in a shambles, the United States' reputation as a moral and political leader completely in the toilet, domestic spying on law-abiding journalists ... the list is appallingly long.

Barack Obama was unquestionably qualified to lead this country, and I can't tell you how inspired I am by him. But I thought Americans were too racist to elect an African American president under normal circumstances. It took the utter chaos created by George W. Bush to make Americans angry enough to forget their racism.

I hope that now that the last barrier has been broken, we can put this racist nonsense behind. Won't it be a great day when candidates are judged purely by their qualifications?

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Hucksters for Christ

I've been neglecting my blog this week, but for a good reason – my book, The Religion Virus, was taken on by a publisher! It's very exciting, but now I have lots of work to do. Like getting back to this blog, and what better than a vigorous debate among friends?

Hemant Mehta poses a classic dilemma in ethics over at his blog, The Friendly Atheist: If you could make money by tricking Christians into buying fake Christian stuff, but then donated the proceeds to a charity (one that even Christians would approve), would you do it? Vjack gives a good summary of the ethical choices on his blog, Atheist Revolution.

I found this fascinating because I encountered something similar in real life, bit of a tangent to Hemant's dilemma: They just take the money and run. In this case, it's a Christian book publisher.

A high-school friend of my wife is a very born-again Christian, completely committed to Christ in every way. Even her casual correspondence with my wife (who the friend knows is Jewish) seems to contain a reference to Jesus in every other sentence. Jesus seems to guide her and shape her life on a daily and hourly basis.

This friend decided to write a children's book, a quasi-parable or something, about Jesus. The one-sentence description was enough to ensure that I never read the book. But back to my point: Not surprisingly, she couldn't get a mainstream publisher, so turned to "POD" (publish-on-demand) publishers, which typically charge the author anywhere from $200 to $800 to have the book printed. But this friend found a Christian POD company, one that appealed to both the author's Christianity and to the author's vanity.

The price? $5000! More than ten times the average for POD. Moreover, this Christian company led her to believe that they'd get her into bookstores, on Amazon, with book signings at stores, and big sales and profits. This is completely bogus; not even traditional publishers promise this, and no POD company can guarantee this sort of reception for an author.

"But wait!" you might say. "Maybe the book was really good!" So my wife decided to check this company out. She sent them this ridiculous email:
[My book] is a unique blend of science fiction with spirituality. It is about a group of humanoid aliens (called Godonauts) from another solar system who arrive on earth to bring the word of Christ the Savior. They reveal that Christ has spent the last two thousand years spreading his divine word to other planets and other solar systems. Their civilization is more evolved because everyone is united in their pure love and conviction in Christ the Lord. There is no war, no hatred, no poverty, and no sin.

At first they are not believed. Looking just like humans, no one even believes they are even alien. But they demonstrate their unique affinity with Christ by recreating his miracles - walking on water, turning water to wine, etc. They are invited to appear on a competitive reality show about magicians, and it is on live national TV that they finally perform a miracle so huge, that the hearts of everyone on earth open to receive the pure cleansing love of Christ. I do not want to reveal the full details of the miracle, except that it involves Jesus making a special appearance singing 'Amazing Grace'. Around the world soldiers lay down their arms and embrace their enemies. World leaders deactivate their hidden nuclear weapons. Mass baptisms take place in every country and nation, and it seems as though Christ's mission is finally achieved.

But ... peace and salvation do not last for long, as Satan's Warriors have been stockpiling nuclear weapons on another nearby planet called Zolton. When the Zoltonites discover that the Godonauts have erased all sin from earth, they resort to their most drastic and devastating tactic - to resurrect Eve via a unique DNA cloning technique, and to send her to earth with a deadly Apple of Temptation that will not only bring about the total downfall of all mankind, but will ruin everyone's chances of salvation and an afterlife.

In the exciting climax, Jesus pilots a fighter space jet and with the help of a small cache of true-hearted Christians, meets the Zoltonites head on. Hasta la Vista, Zoltonites.

The novel is 800 pages, and I have been told by my mother, pastor, and creative writing teacher at Divine Purity College that it is quite good. I am currently working on the screenplay adaptation. I envision Harrison Ford playing Jesus, Madonna playing Cloned Eve, and Mel Gibson playing the leader of the Godonauts.

It is only through my belief in Jesus our Lord and Savior that I was able to write and complete this book. I belief it has the potential to both inspire and entertain. Thank you for your consideration.
Guess what? In spite of the fact that this was comical on the face of it, and plainly not a book that would sell, this "Christian" publisher's rep wrote back to express their interest in this project. Their main concerns?
  • The book was "too long" at 800 pages (Duh!), and had to be edited down to 600 pages (or possibly split into 2-3 volumes)
  • The Zolton's evil plan to "ruin everyone's chances at salvation" was contrary to the publisher's statement of belief.
Note that there was nothing in there like, "This sounds like a pile of crap," or, "Are you nuts?"

So, to get to the point of this long blog... While Atheists are arguing about an interesting moral dilemma, "Is it OK to cheat religious people in a good cause," there are plenty of people out there willing to cheat Christians, apparently including other Christians, who don't even feel the need for a good cause. They're happy to just take their money. Sadly, my wife's Christian friend fell for it, largely due to the publisher's purported Christian mission.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Ten year old girls force to marry in Saudi Arabia

An Associate Press story quotes Saudi Arabia's most senior cleric saying girls can be married at age 10, and that those who disagree are doing the girls an injustice!
"Our mothers and before them, our grandmothers, married when they were barely 12."
The mufti goes on to say that a good upbringing will make girls this young able to carry out their marital duties (including sex of course), and that those who advocate laws against forced marriages of teen and preteen girls are following a "bad path."

Even more horrifying is that the mufti's comments were in response to a court decision that turned down an 8-year-old girl's request for a divorce from her 50-year-old husband. The case was brought by the girl's mother, but the court ruled that the mother had no standing in the case. The court instructed the girl to re-file the case when the she reaches puberty – she's old enough for marriage and rape, but not for divorce. Astonishing.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

The Five Dumbest Arguments for God

Today it's a bit of fun – my top-five stupidest arguments for God and/or religion. There are a lot more, but these are the ones that really bug me.

1. If it makes me really happy, it must be true

This is best captured by the Heaven meme: You make up some cool story that says, "You don't really die, you go to this magical place where you'll live forever in eternal bliss." And you tell this story, over and over, to little children. And they really, really want to believe it, because it's really a cool story! So it must be true, because it would make use really sad if it wasn't.

2. If I say it often enough, it must be true

Also known as Proof by Repeated Assertion. If people don't believe you, just say it again ... and again, and again and again, and get other people to say it, and pretty soon everyone starts to believe it. Most people want to fit in, to be part of the crowd, and if everyone else believes, and is saying something is true, then it must be true!

3. If everyone believes it, it must be true

This was, and continues to be, a serious claim by Christian apologists! They say that so many people believe in Jesus' divine birth and resurrection, in God and Mary, that it couldn't possibly be wrong. They claim that you could fool some people, or even quite a few people, but if millions of people believe something, logic dictates that it must be true.

So let me get this straight: If I can convince enough people that the moon is made of green cheese, then the moon will actually BECOME GREEN CHEESE! Very cool!

4. If you can't prove it's wrong, it must be true

Also known as, "You can't PROVE that God doesn't exist!" This argument is one of the favorites of theists when they're trying to prove that an Atheism is a "faith" just like belief in God. Never mind that this is a grave philosophical error that would get you booted out the door of your freshman philosophy class. It's been refuted so widely and resoundingly that Christian web sites caution "the faithful" not to use this argument any more ... but they still do.

5. If I believe it, it must be true

Seriously. I've heard people say this, although it's just slightly disguised: "We know the Bible is God's inerrant word, because He wouldn't lead us down the wrong path." Or, closer to home, I heard a Church of Christ member claim that their specific doctrine had to be correct, because "we trust God, and know He wouldn't mislead us."

I guess God doesn't feel the same about the rest of the hundreds of millions of Christians around the world who don't go to the Church of Christ.

Friday, January 16, 2009

President Bush, the World isn't just Good and Evil

One of my biggest objections to religion is not the specific beliefs, but rather the way of thinking, the tendency to cast everything into simplistic black and white, good and evil, right and wrong. This was amply illustrated yesterday by President Bush's farewell address:
I have often spoken to you about good and evil. This has made some uncomfortable. But good and evil are present in this world, and between the two there can be no compromise. Murdering the innocent to advance an ideology is wrong every time, everywhere.
But Mr. President, what about the innocents you murdered by invading Iraq?

At least six independent agencies have estimated of the deaths attributable to the Iraq war. The lowest reliable estimate puts the count at over 100,000 civilians, non combatants – more than thirty times the number of people who died in the World Trade Center attack of 9/11. In fact, the real number of deaths may be much higher, over 280,000 Iraqis who died. And the majority of these were killed by American bombs dropped from American airplanes and missiles, not terrorists.

Want even more horrifying numbers? Fifty five percent of the dead are women and children. By the most conservative estimate, that's fifty five thousand women and children whose blood is on our hands.

These were innocent people. Civilian deaths. Why isn't America horrified at this? Why is it that President Bush can be outraged by 3,000 American deaths, but not understand that when you bomb a country back to the stone age, hundreds of thousands of innocent people – children, grandparents, mothers, everyone – will die?

I believe that George W. Bush's religious background was at least partly responsible for these deaths. Accepting religious beliefs requires a suspension of logic, a belief in things that plainly are without a factual foundation. Children are deliberately taught to suspend logic, to trust feelings and emotions rather than intellect and reason. "Faith trumps reason" is an official part of all modern religions:
Divine revelation, not reason, is the source of all truth.
– Tertullian of Carthage (150-225 AD)
A man like George W. Bush sees the 9/11 attacks in black and white, good and evil. He is apparently incapable of understanding that war is also evil, that fighting evil with evil is never a simple choice. If he'd been raised without religion, would he have been wiser? Could he have seen that the choices were complex and grey, not black and white? I don't know.

But I do know that George W. Bush has demonstrated yet again that Christianity does not make a person more moral.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Safe Landing in Hudson River: Not a Friggin' Miracle!

I get SO SICK of God getting credit for heroic deeds of real men and women. Today it's the so-called miracle on the Hudson, when all 155 passengers survived after US Airways Flight 1549 lost power and was forced to crash-land in the Hudson River in New York.

If God deserves any recognition, maybe it should be for sending that flock of geese right into flight path of the Airbus A300. But it was the PILOT and CREW who saved that plane, through quick thinking, cool heads, and the skills they learned from thousands of hours of training.

God had nothing to do with saving that plane.

Those pilots spent enormous amounts of times in flight simulators, encountering almost every imaginable catastrophe. They practiced landing without power, without wheels, without brakes, without flap control ... you name it. They even practiced – yes – water landings. Before they got on that plane today, they already knew exactly what to do, how to do it, and when to do it.

This was no miracle at all. It was a highly trained crew, who long ago started preparing for exactly what happened today, and who, when the crisis arrived, held up under pressure, kept their heads, remembered their training, and executed what they'd been taught.

And once the cockpit crew did their jobs, the cabin crew did their jobs: They got everyone off the plane quickly and efficiently, and onto the rescue boats, before the Airbus A300 filled with water and sank. The pilots got them down, and the cabin crew got them off.

This was no miracle, it was a simple act of heroism and competence.

Well done, US Air crew! As for God ... thanks for nothing.

Krispy Kreme nailed by Anti Abortionists!

These idiots don't know when to just shut up and let something pass.

The Religious Uber-Right anti-abortionists are accusing Krispy Kreme of running a subtle pro-abortion campaign! Krispy Kreme's crime? An ad that says you can get your "donut of choice." I kid you not!

Apparently these nut jobs (The American Life League) have decided that the word "choice" can no longer be part of our vocabulary. Off limits. Not Politically Correct.

These people need to be hit over the head with a clue stick. Did they seriously not realize what a laughing stock this would make them?

Monday, January 12, 2009

LOL - Conservapedia on Atheism

Don't ask why ('cause I don't know...), but I took a look at the Conservapedia "encyclopedia" entry on Atheism, and was genuinely disappointed by what a joke it is. It's hysterical, but sort of sad, just how many ways the article is blatently biased, inflammatory, or just plain wrong. It would be funnier, but for the fact that this is a high-traffic web site with millions of readers who take it seriously.

(I usually provide links, but refuse in this case – I'm sure you can find it yourself – because I don't want to lend what little search-engine karma my blog has gained to the drivel on Conservapedia.)

I'm of the same philosophy as Arlo Guthrie:
I'd rather have friends who care than friends who agree with me.
So I was hoping that Conservapedia would have a well-crafted, thoughtful article on Atheism. What a disappointment! It is a total hack job, written by people mostly interested in slapping each other on the back at how clever they are.

Just a few of the more outrageous parts of the article...

They start off on the wrong foot by defining Atheism "is the denial of the existence of God." Most Atheists I know make no such claim, rather, we simply see no evidence for the truly extraordinary claim that there's a magical god in the sky. Alas, Conservapedia goes on to confuse things by calling the denial-of-existence camp "strong atheism," and calling the more common theists-bear-the-proof-burden by the dismissive title of "weak atheists."

So let me get this right: Atheists deny the existence of God ... but "weak atheists" don't. Hmmm, I guess I never swallowed the Anti-Rationalism Meme, otherwise this apparent contradiction wouldn't trouble me. Doesn't anybody check this stuff?

Things really heat up a few sections down. Just take a look at these headings:
  • Atheism and Communism
  • Atheism and Mass Murder
  • Atheism and American Charity (links to: Atheism and Uncharitableness)
  • Atheism and Immoral Views
  • Atheism and Suicide
  • Atheism and Deception
  • Decline of Atheism as an Intellectual Position
Does this sound like an "encyclopedia" to you? What a joke. You can just imagine the contents of each of these sections, don't bother reading it.

And how about this one:
Moral depravity: The history of the atheist community and various studies regarding the atheist community point to moral depravity being a causal factor for atheism.
It's so absurd I can't even be insulted.

It's too bad some serious intellectuals can't take control of Conservapedia and offer something challenging. I was hoping for a good argument, but not today. Just a good laugh.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Science versus Religion: Battle or Partnership?

How do you view people whose beliefs differ from yours? Is it a war, a friendly disagreement, an uncomfortable standoff, or a collaboration? Do you just ignore them? Do you actively try to convert them to your point of view?

Jennifer Wilding of Consensus, wrote an excellent summary of the five primary ways that religion and science interact, and I believe by extension, it also illustrates how religions interact with each other. It's an excellent summary that all thinking people should read and ponder. Wilding was writing to summarize the findings of a Kansas City Forums panel, which identified these five styles of interaction:
Warfare Model. Science and religion are incompatible, only one can be true.

Separate Realms Model. Science is about the physical world, and religion is about the spiritual/moral world, and there is no conflict since there is little overlap.

Accommodation Model. Religion is deepened through the discoveries of science.

Engagement Model. Science and religion are equal partners, each asking questions that enlighten and improve the other.

Theistic Science. Largely promoted by Creation Science advocates, this claims that science is mostly right, but that occasional miracles and divine intervention are possible.
(I highly recommend the original article (link above) for a more thorough treatment of these ideas.)

Which one am I? I had a surprisingly hard time answering this question. I seem to be spread about between the first three.

The Warfare Model appeals to me because in an absolute sense, it must be true. On any specific question about physical facts, there can only be one right answer. If religion claims one thing, and science proves another, well, religion is just wrong.

On the other hand, the Separate Realms Model seems to me to be orthogonal with the Warfare Model: If the realms really are separate, then the idea of "warfare" is moot. As an analogy, consider the word "justice." It's not a physical concept, subject to experimentation, proof, or disproof. It's a human concept, in a separate "realm" from science. So, in that sense, I guess I could accept that there are separate realms. On the other hand, I find that science is pretty good at explaining things, which leaves the "religion realm" pretty much empty.

The Accommodation Model is an interesting historical development. The Roman Catholic Church is the prime example of this: They are strong supporters of science, particularly astronomy and evolution. Their version of the Accommodation Model is, roughly, that science asks "how?" and religion asks "why?" Any time there is a conflict, science wins. In the end, the Accommodation Model seems to be to be a hybrid between the Warfare and Separate Realms models: Only one (religion or science) can be right; religion can't possibly refute a plain fact demonstrated by science, so religion is only left with its Separate Realm, which doesn't leave it much.

The Engagement Model doesn't impress me. I'm sure there are plenty of religious scholars who have valuable contributions to make, based on their extensive studies of history, ethics and morality. But if they'd devoted that same energy to a secular study of these same topics, their contributions would be so much more meaningful. Ethics based on false premises, especially those that ignore or deny humankind's animal origins and primitive instincts, are counterproductive.

That leaves, of course, Theistic Science, which is a complete nonstarter.

So I guess that means I'm in the Warfare Model camp. Which is odd, because I don't see it as a war. If I'd been in Jennifer Wilding's shoes (the author), I'd have called it the Incompatible Realms Model or Irreconcilable Realms Model, something less bloody. My goal is more of an educational campaign; the word "war" conjures up too many visions of battle and blood. That's not what Atheism is about.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Searching for Answers? Science Converges, Religion Diverges

"In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. ... It happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion."
– Carl Sagan
An article in my local newspaper starts with this amusing sentence, which illustrates the fundamental flaw in religion:
"Modern Christians are used to a world in which there is a seemingly never-ending supply of branches of the faith."
This simple sentence, and Sagan's insightful quote, shows the basic difference between science and faith:
Science Converges, Religion Diverges.
Faith and religion have no facts that can be tested objectively. You can't design an experiment that would test Christianity against Islam, and after careful research, discover that one was correct and the other wrong. You can't do an experiment that will prove God exists, or that Jesus was His son. You can't demostrate convincingly that Siddhartha Guatama really achieved enlightenment and became the Supreme Buddha. There's no objective way to prove that Muhammad was receiving Allah's own words. All of these beliefs are just that: beliefs, not objective, provable facts. They must be taken on pure faith.

This is why there are thousands and thousands of different religions around the world. Anyone can claim anything, and many do. Church leadership takes a stance on some moral issue, the congregation starts arguing, and pretty soon there are two churches. A new "prophet" comes along, and pretty soon you have a whole new religion.

It is very rare indeed to hear of two churches uniting, settling their differences, and discarding some of the "truths" they once held dear. In fact, the link to my local newspaper's article above is about a group that is trying to heal the rift between the Roman and Orthodox (West/East) Catholic Churches, caused by the "Great Schism of 1054" the split the church in two. I suspect they won't have much luck.

Science is just the opposite. A couple of days ago I wrote about the Clovis Comet hypothesis, which shows why science is exactly the opposite of religion.

The disappearance of the Clovis People was a mysterious event, one that inspired a number of well-conceived theories. Scientific interest, competition, and probably egotism, spured the scientists to investigate more, learn more, and get closer and closer to the objective truth.

And that's the difference: Scientific debate converges on the truth, because as we learn more and more, incorrect theories can be discarded, new theories can be proposed, and good theories can be made better.

Many scientific theories, such as Einstein's Relativity and Darwin's Evolution, are so well proved and so widely accepted that it is fair to call them facts, not theory. These are the endpoints of scientific debate, the "adult" theories, the questions for which science has converged convincingly on the objective truth. By this measure, the Clovis-Comet theory is still a "teenager," mostly grown up, getting serious attention, and overshadowing the competing theories, but still not convincingly proved.

Compared to these scientific theories, religion is not even a baby. It's not even in the game. Science will continue to expand our knowledge, to refine our understanding, to converge on truth. Religion will continue to diverge, to split, to wander. The task of religious philosophers seeking truth about their god or gods is hopeless.

LOL: Christians Demand "Proof" of Atheism!!

This is hysterical! Christians in London are demanding proof that God doesn't exist! That made me laugh out loud, the irony of it!

Jail Discrimination? Chattanooga Sheriff Encourages Proselytizers to Visit Jails

Here is another example of a misinformed Christian, this time county Sheriff Gobble of Chattanooga, trying to claim that we are a Christian nation. Unfortunately, Sheriff Gobble, probably with the best of intentions, is perpetuating religious discrimination against anyone who doesn't believe in the Judeo-Christian God.
I have opened the doors of the Bradley County jail to churches and ministries in our community who want to hold Bible studies for those who are incarcerated. Inmates are not required or forced to attend these studies and we do not give any preferential treatment to one religion over another.
Right. Nobody has to attend, but ...

First of all, Sheriff Gobble is flat-out wrong about the Christian roots of the country. Most of the founders were not Christians, they were Deists who explicitely rejected the divinity of Jesus. A few, such as Thomas Paine and possibly Thomas Jefferson, were Atheists.

More importantly, while I appreciate Sheriff Gobble's intent – I'm sure he believes he's doing a good thing – this is yet another example where Christians get special treatment, and possibly preferred treatment, in a country that is supposed to have true religious freedom for all. Not just Christians.

If Sheriff Gobble is a true Christian, he would invite representatives of any and all persuasions, to come and proselytize at his jails. Would he welcome me, for example, to come and explain to his inmates how they've been tricked by a two thousand year old myth that has led them into a world of irrationality, and possibly contributed to their criminal behavior? Would he welcome Hindus or Budhists who would turn his prisoners away from Christ? I'd be willing to bet money the answer is "No!" Yet, Sheriff Gobble would certainly welcome a Christian minister whose goal was to convert atheists to Christianity, or to renew the faith of "faltering" Christians.

That's discrimination, plain and simple, and it's illegal.

Here are two other blogs I wrote that you might find interesting:
More anti-atheist discrimination in the courtroom
I'm an Atheist, So Help Me God

Friday, January 2, 2009

How Science REALLY Works: The "Clovis Comet"

I get sick of religious people – mostly Christian fundamentalist and evangelicals – who simply don't understand science, and use specious and vacuous reasoning to "prove" that science is wrong, doesn't have all the answers, or (my biggest annoyance) that there is disagreement among scientists about issues that are well understood. But here is an example, one that illustrates science at its best, when scientists are offering opinions, hypotheses, and data, working together to converge on an objective truth.

The case in point is illustrated by this article about the Clovis Comet, which (according to proponents of this theory) killed the Native Americans called the Clovis People about 12,900 years ago.

But there is disagreement. Other scientists have proposed other reasons for the Clovis People's disappearance: Overhunting that led to a collapse of the megafauna, a sudden climate change, disease, war, and various combinations of these and other factors.

In other words, we don't know the answer yet ... there are still many competing theories about why the Clovis People disappeared. Superficially, it might even seem like the Clovis scientists are no better than religious people arguing about interpretations of the Bible: Many opinions, sometimes strongly held, heated arguments, often personal, factions that form and break apart ... scientists really are just humans, after all.

But this apparent similarity between science and religion is superficial. Somewhere, under all the facts, data, and speculation, there is a single truth, what actually happened to the Clovis People, and scientists have a methodology to get at that truth. They propose answers, they argue a lot, and then the search for more data, expand our knowledge, reject theories that don't pass muster, argue some more, dig some more ... and sooner or later, they usually converge on the objective truth. And when that happens, the data, the real facts, are all there for everyone to examine, and confirm for themselves.

The cool thing about Clovis-Comet theory is not that it's right or wrong. If it's right, it will solve a mystery that's baffled anthropologists for a long time, and yes, that would be cool. If it's wrong, it will be just another failed hypothesis in the long history of science.

This never happens in religion. You can propose a new interpretation of the Bible, and who is to say you're wrong? You can claim that it's really Thor, not Yahweh, up there in the sky, and who can say you're wrong? Neither you nor the Pope himself can present one shred of evidence. The argument will never converge. There is no objective truth for religion, no foundation. When religous people argue, they're arguing about opinion, and they can argue forever.

But when scientists argue, it's over facts, and sooner or later, the facts prevail. One theory will win out because it is true, and the others will be forgotten. And the scientists will then move on to the next question, to expand our knowledge even more.