Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Scientology and Atheism Unite!

Ok, I admit it — this April Fools joke fooled me for a few minutes! But it's a good one:
Scientology and Atheism Unite, 'sexy' worldwide demonstrations scheduled
It's very well done, and only when I blogged to learn more did I discover that the organization's leader doesn't seem to exist.

It was only when I realized that April 1st has already come in Australia, even though it's not here yet in California, that the light went on. Well done!

Monday, March 30, 2009

Evolution in Texas: Survival of the Fittest Creationists

In another example of religious evolution in action, Texas and other conservative states continue to be an embarrassment to America, as the ultra-conservative faction of their religious citizens push their long, destructive campaigns to inject religion into our school systems. The good news is that this time, Texas stood up to the creationists more than in the past, by rejecting the strong anti-science language that creationists were trying to put into textbooks.

Many atheists, and also many members of mainstream religions, know what a bad idea it is to mix religion and government, especially government-run schools, and have a hard time understanding the incredible tenacity of these creationist zealots. But it's not really much of a mystery.

When you look at religion from an evolutionary point of view using memetics (the evolution of culture and ideas), this sort of behavior is both expected and predictable. Evolution shows that traits that work are the ones that survive. Truth is not very relevant. And the sad fact is that churches and religions that fight education and knowledge are the ones that last longer.

The "science" and "history" of the Bible has been in large part shown to be wrong, yet it is still the foundation of Christianity and Judaism. If the biblical-literalism faction opens the door even a crack to this fact, it can only lose credibility. The only way to sustain these religious beliefs is to flat-out deny, even in the face of irrefutable and overwhelming evidence proving, beyond any reasonable doubt, that the Bible is wrong.

So back to the State of Texas: Using an evolutionary, memetic view of creationists, it's easy to see what's happening. The churches that cling to the inerrancy of the Bible are survivors. They are the ones that have the most appealing story. The prey on the ignorance of their converts, and fight knowledge at every turn. And it works: They gain membership, and the more liberal churches that accept that the Bible is metaphorical, not scientific, lose members.

If you view this all using cultural evolution and a "survival of the fittest" approach, it's obvious why Texas is still fighting creationism. Creationism is the "survivor" meme in the survival-of-the-fittest battle of the churches.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Self Indulgence: Two Great Book Reviews

Today I get to engage in a bit of self-indulgence and shameless self-promotion.

I was very pleased to get not one, but TWO excellent book reviews. The first was from Dan Barker, co-founder of the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) and author of Godless: How an Evangelical Preacher Became One of America's Leading Atheists (FFRF bookstore). Dan was kind enough to review my book and offer this endorsement:
An ingenious melding—a recombination, if you will—of genetics and memetics. Craig James has cracked open the mystery of Religion's tenacity. What Guns, Germs and Steel did for anthropology, The Evolution of Religion does for faith. It puts the pieces together into a fascinating, coherent model that makes sense!
Dan was also kind enough to give some detailed editorial comments and even point out a few typos.

Next came a review by Wes Unruh, author of The Art of Memetics (see the full review here), who writes:
This is a fascinating book, condensing the peculiar histories of religious texts and how decisions made hundreds and thousands of years ago still affect our cultural attitudes and beliefs ... James is nothing if not amusing, and his choice of quotes (and juxtapositions thereupon) make for compelling re-thumbing after you’ve finished the book. Seriously, Craig A. James has written an accessible book on evolution and religion that manages to explain memetics while being both funny and touching. ... I recommend leaving this book out where it can provoke conversations.
So, many thanks to both Dan and Wes for taking the time to read and comment on The Evolution of Religion.

Oh, and for my faithful followers, yes, that is a new book title. My publisher suggested, and I agreed, that The Religion Virus was a bit too confrontational. The Evolution of Religion will actually appeal to both theists and atheists, and I don't want to discourage any open-minded theists who want to learn the science behind the history of their beliefs.

First Speaking Engagement

Some random bits of news. I apologize to all my loyal readers for not writing all last week; it was a hectic five days due to my "day job."

I had the pleasure of giving a talk to the San Diego Atheist Coalition this week. This was especially significant to me, not only because they were a very attentive audience with lots of questions, but also because this was my very first engagement as an author. I've given plenty of lectures to scientific and engineering colleagues, but never before as an author talking about evolution and the history of religion.

And this weekend, I'll have the pleasure of meeting Hemant Mehta, author of I Sold my Soul on EBay, speak to the University of California at Santa Cruz (my home town), to the Student Atheist Coalition. I'm looking forward to a fascinating evening with the Friendly Atheist.

I hope this will be the first of many such talks. If you live in Southern California or the San Francisco Bay Area, and would like a fun and fascinating new way of looking at religion, whether your group is atheist, Evangelical Christian, or anything in between, get in touch. I'd love to hear from you.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Breastfeeding Grown Men: Too Many Fatwas!

It seems even the Islamic world is getting tired of the proliferation of ridiculous fatwas, and is considering regulation! This is a classic example of why religion and government don't mix.

National Public Radio (NPR) had a great story this morning, Concerns Grow Over Proliferation of Fatwas. These rulings by muftis, govern what is permissible under Islam and what is forbidden. Traditionally, a man would seek guidance, on a personal level, from a mufti, when he had some difficult question that wasn't covered by the day-to-day teachings.

But an "explosion" of fatwas on television and the internet has Muslims' heads spinning. The rulings are contradictory, confusing, and sometimes just bizarre. The most widely ridiculed was the "breastfeeding fatwa." Islamic law prohibits women from working alongside unrelated men, but a wet-nurse who breastfeeds an infant is considered related to that child, and is allowed to be alone with that man even when he becomes an adult. So a cleric from the highly-respected Al Azhar University issued a fatwa declaring that a woman would be allowed to work with men if she breast-fed each of them five times first!

The root of the problem goes to the very heart of why religion and government shouldn't mix: Who gets to be a mufti? And even if you can ensure that every mufti is qualified, you're left with a government with no checks and balances, no possibility of democratic control. Even if Islamic law was fair and good, the mufti would become an aristocracy, and history has shown that aristocracies inevitably become corrupt, either from within, or because the immoral and power-hungry are attracted to the job.

In an attempt to curb this comic situation, an Egyptian lawmaker is going from bad to worse: He is proposing that the government should regulate who can become a mufti. So Islam is already dictating law to the faithful, and now the government wants to regulate Islam.

Hey, I have a better idea. Why not keep the two completely separate? How about if the government is kept completely secular, and stays out of Islam's business. And in return, Muslims will stay out of the business of governing, and go back to teaching Islamic principles?

Friday, March 20, 2009

What do Religion and Racism Share? Fear.

Have you ever worried that the "dogs of color" are threatening our safety? Do you believe that black horses are less intelligent than white horses? Do you believe that black and brown cats are more likely to commit acts of violence than white cats? Or that dark-colored cows are more likely to get high by eating loco weed than white cows?

Why do these questions seem silly, yet for centuries, racist attitudes have persisted in America about people with certain superficial physical characteristics?

And what does any of this have to do with religious violence?

It has long been my belief that racism arises primarily out of fear — fear that the racist really is no better than those against whom he directs his/her irrational beliefs. Why don't we fear black horses, black dogs, cats, or cows? Because we know that we're their masters. We only fear that which is a genuine threat. We don't have to make any loud proclamations of our superiority to animals of any color, because there's no question which is the dominant species.

So when the racist starts proclaiming loudly about the inferiority of others, it is not a sign of superiority, but rather a sign if fear and weakness. When racists commit violence, it is a sure sign that they feel very threatened. In their hearts, they know they are wrong, and it frightens them.

Modern religions are showing these same symptoms. The recent hijacking of the United Nations, describe here very nicely by Pat Condell,

is an example of this effect. Various nations (apparently all Islamic dictatorships) are trying to criminalize "defamation" of religion worldwide – that's right, they want to criminalize free speech everywhere in the world if it might insult some religion.

This sort of reaction has, at its root, the same fear that the racist feels: Deep down, the religious people trying to ban defamation have no confidence. Deep down, they are afraid they are wrong. If their God was such a certain thing, they would have no need to be aggressively defensive.

Truth is immune to defamation. Say what you like about gravitation, relativity, quantum mechanics, or the roundness of the Earth, and it won't change the facts. You don't see anyone passing laws to protect these well-established branches of science. There is no need, the truth speaks for itself.

The aggressive, fear-based defense you see of Creationism, and now this anti-defamation attempt by Islamic politicians, is clearly a sign of fear. It shows that the believers, deep in their hearts, are not so certain as they'd like to believe.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Religious People More Afraid of Death than Atheists

According to this article on the BBC, those who are the most religious are three times more likely to receive intensive life-prolonging care, and are much more likely to die in a hospital rather than at home with their loved ones.

I know the Atheist community likes to point to studies like this and ask, "What are you afraid of?" It seems logical that those who believe in an afterlife would be less likely to fear death than those who don't. So Atheists are fond of implying that the faithful, by fearing death, show that their faith really isn't that strong.

I don't buy this argument. I don't think a fear of death should be held against anyone, whether religious, agnostic or Atheist.

In fact, it could easily be just the opposite: Those who don't fear death in the first place are far more likely to become Atheists. It could (for example) be that our desire to live, and our consequent fear of death, is more of an inborn trait, or something that we acquire as children as loved ones die. Who knows? And those who, for whatever reason, happen to fear death the most, would naturally have the hardest time accepting the Atheist's understanding of the world.

Death is a sad thing, no matter what you believe. To paraphrase Clint Eastwood in the movie Unforgiven, when you die, you lose everything you ever had, and everything you'll ever be. Your friends and family lose your love, your wisdom, and your friendship. Your coworkers lose your skill and knowledge. There is nothing good about death, except that from an evolutionary point of view, it makes room for the next generation.

I suspect that the truth about why religious people fight death so hard has very little to do with any lack of conviction in their faith. If anything, I believe it's the other way around, that their faith is (in part) inspired by their fear of death.

It takes a certain degree of calm and fortitude to be an Atheist. It's hard to accept that when you die, you're dead and gone. The desire for immortality — life here on this Earth with our friends and loved ones, not some abstract second existence — is strong in all of us, even if some of us don't believe it will come true.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Pope is a Murderer

There's no beating around the bush on this one. The Pope's stance on condoms is immoral, stupid, and will directly cause many thousands, perhaps millions, of deaths in Africa and other parts of the world. By declaring, once again, that condoms are immoral and forbidden to Catholics under all circumstances, the Pope is writing the death warrants for untold innocent men, women and children around the world.

How can a man who is sworn to celibacy possibly understand real human sexuality?

How can he be so totally disconnected from reality that he doesn't see the incredible human suffering he is causing? How can the Pope, in the year 2009, not see what is right in front of his face? Social scientists have proved that condom use is one of the very best ways to stop the spread of HIV/AIDS, and they have shown convincingly that abstinence programs have no usefulness whatsoever.

The modern Roman Catholic Church claims to be in touch with science. That's pure BS. They claim that science is responsible for the "what and how" and the Church is responsible for the "why". So, Pope, answer this: Why? Is your horror of sex just for its own sake so complete that you're willing to condemn innocent babies to die for it? Is sex so inherently sinful that it is only redeemed by the possibility of babies? So sinful that it is a capital crime?

Will the Pope go to the hospitals himself to watch the children die who might have grown up happy and healthy, but for his idiotic proclamations about the "morality" of using condoms?

I usually try to respect (though disagree) with other religious viewpoints, but today the Roman Catholic Church makes me sick. It is immoral to the core.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Was the Bible Written by Satan?

Pretend you're on a jury for a trial over who wrote the Bible: God is suing Satan, because Satan is trying to claim HE wrote the Bible! But the trial hasn't gone like God hoped – Satan has a really good lawyer, and he's making mincemeat of God's case.

First of all, if God wrote the Bible, wouldn't He make everything totally clear, succinct, easy to understand, and unfailingly moral? I mean, He is God, right? Surely God should be a pretty good writer, able to write clearly and concisely.

Instead of beating around the bush about Jesus' divinity, He would just say, "Jesus and I are one and the same." Instead of conflicting messages about marriage, ambiguity about homosexuality, apparent approval of polygamy and slavery, God would have written, "Don't have sex before you're married." "Marriage is only between a man and a woman." "Slavery is a sin." "A man may only have one wife, and a wife only one husband." And so forth. Gosh, it seems pretty easy to me, writing clear, unambiguous commandments!

Just based on poor writing and lack of clarity, it's not looking good for God and His lawyer.

On top of that, there's all that stuff about killing adulterers, expelling a couple from the community if they have sex during a woman's period, requiring a virgin who is raped to marry her rapist, stoning anyone to death who works on the sabbath, and so many more laws that are just plain immoral.

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, do you really believe that God wrote this stuff about Himself?

Now think about the reverse. What if you were Satan, plotting to do the worst thing you could? You're tired of tempting people into sin — corrupting people one at a time is inefficient. What could you do to amplify your evil? Why not enlist your victims to help you spread evil?

We all know that half-truths are much more dangerous than outright lies, that confusion is much harder to fight than clarity, and that we're all egotistical and want to believe we're better than everyone else.

The best way Satan could get his way would be to write a Bible that was filled with half truths, contradictions, moral ambiguity, appeals to egotism and a "chosen people," and confusing stories that everyone can interpret however they like.

Then, Satan would get his minions to convince the world that this "Bible" was the true word of God. Better yet, Satan would spread the idea that anyone who disagreed would go to Hell (very clever irony, given that he is Satan).

These half truths, contradictions and ambiguities would then start to do their work. People would interpret them differently, and begin to argue, and split into factions. Families would split. Villages would break into religious factions, with bitter hatred for one another. Whole countries would even go to war over this purported "Bible." People would be tortured and murdered when they failed to follow this "Bible," even if they were trying to do their best, just because someone else interpreted the Bible's crazy laws differently.

Satan would laugh with glee. What a wonderful trick he'd pulled!

Better yet, the fear inspired by Satan's Big Lie (about going to Hell if you don't believe) would cause good people to actually defend Satan's own writings! They would start a huge intellectual effort called "Christian apologetics," devoted to explaining why, in spite of the glaring errors, contradictions and immorality in Satan's Bible, it was actually all true, and was in fact the word of Satan's arch-rival, God. This would be Satan's ultimate achievement, that the humans that God created would actually turn against God and defend Satan's Bible!

So, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, what is your opinion? Who wrote the Bible, God, or Satan?

How to Go Crazy: Just Read the Bible

I started to write about Biblical morality and homosexuality, but after two frustrating hours of research, today's blog is instead about the tragedy of Biblical apologetics. The Bible has diverted Western humanity from real ethical progress for far too long, by forcing Christians and Jews to defend the indefensible.

It started with Sisyphus Fragment's blog about morals and the Bible. From there, I headed over to Religious Tolerance: The Bible and Homosexuality. I thought the Bible's stance on homosexuality was a slam-dunk ("It's an abomination!"), but I ended up quite dizzy trying to follow all the convoluted details, mistranslations, and contradictions. It turns out the Bible is quite ambiguous and contradictory. How can this be, if it's the word of God?

Then I ran into the story of Jacob's wives, concubines and children, something that God seems to have had a direct hand in, and was dumbfounded — how can Christians and Jews take this stuff seriously? A man lusts for a teenage girl, whose father agrees to the union but then slips the older sister into Jacob's bed? And then he argues that Jacob should sleep with her for just a week, and then he can have the younger sister too? Jacob ends up with two wives, but one can't have children, so she forces various of her slaves to have sex with Jacob, who doesn't protest about this arrangement. Wait a second, I thought Jacob was one of the good guys!

Still dizzy, I dug around a little more and found Homosexuality and the Bible, by the Rev. Dr. Walter Wink. Finally, one sensible essay! My sanity started to return. Rev. Wink thoroughly debunks the idea that Christians can or should take the Bible literally on matters of morality. First of all, it's plainly contradictory in many areas, and second, there are many Biblical laws that are just plain immoral.

But by the time I finished Rev. Wink's excellent essay, I was sad and angry about the Bible. It is a sucking quagmire of contradictions, but one that is believed to be God's word. This forces intelligent, honest, sincere Christians to defend the indefensible. Since it's indefensible, they have to spend a huge amount of time and energy concocting "work-arounds", convoluted arguments that purport to explain the inexplicable.

This is a very sad thing. If the Bible were instead plain, to the point, and self-consistent, these same sincere, moral, honest people could devote their time and energy to so many more meaningful activities. If you think in economic terms, we're probably talking about more wasted man-hours than any other single activity in history.

My favorite example of this is illustrated by Bart Erhman. In the Introduction to Misquoting Jesus, he recounts how he spent many hours writing a a complex and convoluted term paper for a class about the Gospel of Mark, trying to justify why Jesus said "when Abiathar was the high priest" when in fact 1 Samuel 21:1-6 plainly says Abiathar's father Ahimelech was the high priest. Ehrman writes that he was quite proud of his contorted logic; the Bible couldn't be wrong, and he'd figured out an explanation for this glaring contradiction! But his pride was deflated when his professor wrote one short sentence at the end of his paper: "Maybe Mark just made a mistake."

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Islamic Cleric: Boycott Starbucks, it's a Jewish Front!

This just in: Starbucks is a Jewish Front! All good Muslims should boycott Starbucks worldwide, and urge all their friends and relatives to do the same!

And how does Egyptian cleric Safwat Higa know this? Why, it's right there on the Starbuck's cup: That woman in the center? Starbucks claims that she's from Greek mythology, half woman / half fish, nothing more. But cleric Safwat Higa saw right through that ruse – it's clearly Queen Esther, queen of the Jews in Persia, from the Book of Esther in the Torah!

Do any Muslim people really take this seriously? Sometimes I wonder if these sorts of proclamations are just some sort of big joke that the whole Muslim world "gets", and they are secretly amused that the rest of us take it seriously. It's like some city boy wanders into a camp of cowboys, and one old cowpoke starts telling tall tales about the wild horse that threw him thirty feet in the air, but he managed to land right back on that horse, which surprised the horse so much he stopped bucking and became the quietest, most obedient horse on the range. And the stranger is wide-eyed, amazed by this tale, while all the other cowboys are laughing up their sleeves.

Or maybe not. Maybe the cleric is serious, actually believes this. But my real bet is that this is somehow a political move, not a religious issue. Cleric Safwat Higa stands to gain something by this proclamation, or one of his rivals stands to lose something. Or perhaps it's part of the broader economic war against the Western economic invasion of Egypt. Either way, I don't believe for a second that he really thinks the Starbucks logo is Queen Esther. The man is well educated, and far too wise and clever, to believe something that silly. I may not agree with him, but I'd never make the mistake of thinking he's stupid.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The First Christian UFO-Alien SYMPOSIUM

At last, the conference we've all been waiting for!
This groundbreaking symposium will be a sort of out-of-the closet affair for Christians who have noticed that certain Biblical passages seem to be about aliens, but where afraid to speak out.

Guy Malone, an author and the co-founder of Alien Resistance, a web site devoted to exposing aliens and their immoral, rapist ways, is organizing the symposium. Here are some of the exciting talks you can hear if you go:
Unholy Communion : The Spiritual Nature of Abduction Reports
ET's Message To Humanity - A False Gospel
Bible Physics & The Abilities of Fallen Angels
Alien Intrusion: UFOs and the Evolution Connection
I know I'm going to have to see the one on evolution – maybe I got this Darwinistic stuff all wrong. But here is the best part (reported by Roger Marsh):
This first Christian symposium on alien abduction, he believes, will gather together an elite team of authors and PhDs who are noted Christian experts for the UFO phenomena. They will present a strong case with evidence that what Hollywood depicts as interplanetary travelers - are actually fallen angels.
I sure hope I can make it!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

LOL! Roadside Crosses Declared "Secular" by Utah Legislature

Ha, here's a good one. Apparently in Utah, the state legislature has the ability to convert the Christian cross into a purely secular symbol! Why didn't we Atheists think of that years ago? Instead of being offended every time we see a religious symbol sponsored by the government, all we have to do is have the government vote to make it non-religious, and all our worries are over. No more discrimination!

That goes for Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, and everyone else, too! Now the government can put up crosses, and they're merely secular symbols. How can that offend anyone?

The cross is ... just a cross, right? An instrument of Roman torture. Say the Romans had chopped Jesus' head off in a guillotine (yeah, I know it wasn't invented yet, but go with me on this), and the Christians had made a guillotine their symbol, and Christians started marking their graves with little guillotines, so that pretty soon everyone knew that if you saw a guillotine by the side of the road, why, you'd think, "death," and you'd know someone had died there. And then the government couldn't put guillotines on public property, right? Because that would be government sponsorship of a particular religion. But hey, then we could just have the legislature declare that guillotines were secular, and that would be that!

Those Utah Mormons, so forward thinking, always one step ahead of the rest of us. Or maybe they're always good for a laugh.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Atheists Will be the Majority in Our Lifetimes!

The exciting new poll (USA Today) on America's shift away from religion is one of the most inspiring pieces of news I've read in a long time.

Fellow bloggers, THIS is why we're here. This is why what we're doing matters. It IS making a difference.

Atheists are rapidly headed towards becoming the majority of Americans. From 1990 to 2008, our numbers grew from 8% to 15% – that's a doubling rate of only twenty years, and it may be accelerating. To us, decades are a long time, but in the timescale of societies and history, this is a fantastically fast change.

That means most of us will live to see Atheists become the majority of Americans!

Atheists are already more numerous than all religious denominations except Baptists and Catholics, and within two years will easily pass the Baptists. A few more years and we'll leave the Catholics behind, becoming the single largest "faith" in America. Another decade or so and we'll surpass all Christians combined, and – easily within my lifetime – we'll be more than half of all Americans.

Which leads me to the point I want to make today: We bloggers and authors are the "sales force" for Atheism, and we need to learn one of the first lessons of sales: To be successful, you have to act successful. If you act like the underdog, people may sympathize, but they don't want to be on your side.

There is still plenty of discrimination, resistance, family shunning, and worse, against Atheists. And it's likely to get worse as the Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and other religious ranks shrink — their religions have had thousands of years to evolve, and have developed some exceptionally good "immune systems." We can expect plenty of hard work, and probably some unpleasantness, from the ultra-conservatives and evangelicals, as they try to keep their ranks from dwindling. We need to expose these violations of our rights and of common decency, to make sure they're not tolerated.

But at the same time, we need to adopt the attitudes of the winner. We need to blog as though we're already the majority. We need to stop hiding our beliefs, and just present them in a completely matter-of-fact way, with boldness and confidence. We need to flip society's attitudes upside down, so that Atheism is the norm.

My father was in a lawsuit with a big corporation once, a two week trial, and coincidentally, had just had a knee operation. His lawyer played it to the hilt. On the first day, he had my father dress in a wrinkled shirt and poorly-knotted tie, he really made a show of the crutches, limping into the courtroom with a tired, hang-dog attitude. Day by day, he dressed better. He used the crutches better, then switched to a cane. He stood straighter, combed his hair better, and looked more refreshed. By the last day, he wore a sharp new suit, crisp tie, and pressed shirt, he was barely limping, he stood up straight, talked with his attorney with confidence, and looked directly at the jurors with a smile. He won the case.

As a group, Atheists tend to present our side in factual terms, but leadership and "marketing" matter. We need to make people want to be on our side. It's time for the Atheist community to stop acting like the underdogs, and take on a new attitude of confidence and leadership, to help guarantee that we'll truly become the majority in the decades to come.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

The Nutcase God Strikes the Atheist

When I wrote my blog, What kind of nutcase God would create the stomach flu, I didn't actually have the flu yet, and was hoping that by being careful, I'd escape. No such luck. I spent Thursday night in the bathroom, sicker than a dog, and when I was coherent enough to think, pondering how any theist could believe their god or gods had deliberately created such a thing as disease in general, and the stomach flu in particular.

Disease is the one place where Creationism completely falls flat. I have never, not once, heard a good rationalization from any Creationist as to how disease could be anything but a cruel joke played by a nasty God.

The classical explanation is that we deserve this fate, due to the actions of Adam and Eve six thousand years ago. Somehow, I deserve to be punished for something I had nothing to do with, couldn't control, and was a nasty bit of entrapment to begin with.

But this explanation is deeply flawed: What about animals? They get the same diseases and suffer the same torments as we humans. How does God justify this cruel treatment of completely innocent creatures, simply because Eve took a bite from the forbidden fruit?

Aside from the obvious physical facts that contradict Creationism, there is a deep moral problem. After suffering through the stomach flu, I'll say it again: If the Creationists are right, then their God is a nutcase, cruel, evil diety. I can respect (but not agree with) some views of religion, but not Creationism.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Christians Almost Cause Mardi Gras Riot

Today, just a bit of fun: Hemant Mehta's fun blog about an Atheist at Mardi Gras reminds me of a near-riot I witnessed there, caused by Christians. I saw this while I was living in New Orleans for a few years.

You all know about the fun debauchery on Bourbon Street for Mardi Gras: A crowd so thick you're shoulder-to-shoulder, everyone partying, loud music blasting from every door, a lot of fun and drunkenness everywhere. And topping it all off is the hedonistic bead-exchange: Guys carry around beautiful (but worthless) plastic necklaces of beads, and use these as "currency" to convince the young ladies (and the more mature ones, too!) to briefly flash their naked breasts for the men's enjoyment.

Above the restaurants are apartments and party rooms with balconies, and these are where the real prizes are to be found. A woman will come out (usually surrounded by her friends), and shake her goods, and the crowd surges forward and bargaining begins. Men from the crowd start holding up their biggest and best beads, the lady will either shake her head in disdain, or wave for them to be tossed up, and finally when the deal is sealed, she'll make a big show of slowly revealing herself.

When you mix a bunch of sign-carrying Christian proselytizers into this debauchery, it only raises the circus value of the whole thing. Nobody takes them seriously, it's just another amusing side of the raw desires that are turned loose on Fat Tuesday. Unless they get in the way...

On this one fateful night, I watched a typical "unveiling" developing on a balcony, with the big crowd below going crazy. The woman on the balcony really knew how to work the boys, but this was something extra special – she made it plain that she would drop her pants if a couple of the guys on the street would give up their biggest and brightest beads. The men were throwing her lots of nice beads, but she would shake her head in disdain, and point at the ones she wanted, then turn and half-lower her shorts, revealing a bit of her derriere. The crowd started to turn on the two men with the prize beads (all in good fun), urging them in no uncertain terms to yield up the goods. And finally they did, the big, beautiful beads flew up into her hands, she placed them around her neck, gave a big smile and slowly started to wriggle her shorts down over her hips. The crowd went crazy, flashbulbs were flashing, the men were hooting ...

And then the Christians, who'd been waiting on the sidelines for this very moment, came marching through, a dozen strong, with big signs, blocking everyone's views!

Well, let me tell you, those young Christian fools were lucky they got away with their lives. The crowd turned from loud partiers to genuinely dangerous. Luckily, it was so crowded nobody could really move far, and the New Orleans Police, on their horses, quickly made an appearance (those guys know crowd control), and the whole thing was over.

Party on!

What kind of nutcase God would create the stomach flu?

Here is a dilemma for Creationists.

I'm bleary-eyed this morning because my wife caught the new stomach flu that's going around, and was sick the whole night. Two nights before that, it was my step-daughter, so sick she was barely coherent. And the source of this flu was probably their trip to Disneyland two days before that – lots of strangers, lots of crowds and lines.

Now I'm sitting here, more-or-less waiting to get sick, hoping I won't, but the odds are bad. I HATE vomiting, more than just about anything else in the world. Several decades ago I did a lot of sailing in the South Pacific, and early in the trip (before I had my "sea legs") we hit some strong weather and I got REALLY seasick. That was the only time in my life I didn't care whether I lived or died, and a couple of times dying seemed like the right choice.

So while I'm waiting for this virus to hit me, I have to wonder how a Creationist would view his/her impending dual with a virus. Since there's no evolution, (or to take the "liberal" interpretation, there is mutation, but not speciation), that means God must have created this virus. Why? What possible purpose could a stomach virus serve? God created insects that plague us, but they have a role in the ecology. Large predators try to eat us, but they're important in the ecosystem too. Fungi, bacteria, algae, ... most of the millions and millions of species (God was busy, wasn't He?) seem to have SOME purpose.

But a stomach virus? If God really created it, He must have a pretty cruel sense of humor. It serves no purpose. If it's God's punishment for something – Eve's transgression? – then God picked the wrong person when He infected my step-daughter. Her life is hard enough, as she faces a lifelong challenge with mental health, and she is the most innocent, loving, sinless person I can imagine. What possible purpose can a stomach virus serve in her life? Other than to amuse a sadistic God?

How can a Creationist see a stomach virus as anything but a cruel joke played by a cruel God on His innocent creations? Did I miss some passage of the Bible that explains this?

Creationists have a real dilemma on their hands. If the Evolution Science is wrong, then their God is sadistic and evil.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

If the truth is unpleasant, does that make it false?

One of the worst arguments for religion, yet very common and persuasive, is that if a belief has unpleasant consequences, it must be false, and conversely, if a belief has good consequences, it must be true.
"Atheists have nothing on which to base their morals." How does that prove God exists?

"Evolution says we're descended from monkeys!" And I hate the fact that my great-great-grandparents were slave owners. But that doesn't make it false.

"Without Heaven and Hell, people won't be moral." Maybe so, but that doesn't mean Heaven and Hell exist.

"Religious people are more generous, and give more to charities." Maybe they're trying to buy their way into Heaven?

"Without God, my life would be meaningless." It sucks to be you, I guess.
These are all variants on a them: If we really like some idea, then it must be true, and if we really don't like an idea, then it must be false.

This specious bit of "logic" is amazingly pervasive in the discussions about religion. What's even worse, most people don't even understand the complete irrelevance of their desires when trying to learn the truth. People honestly believe that their own needs and wants are relevant.

Even worse, this illogic has become an official doctrine of Christianity:
"Divine revelation, not reason, is the source of all truth."
— Tertullian of Carthage
The path to truth truth isn't always pleasant. We have to be willing to learn things that don't agree with our wishes, our morals, or our preconceived notions:
A scientific man ought to have no wishes, no affections, a mere heart of stone.
— Charles Darwin
It doesn't matter whether our lives would be meaningless without God; that has no bearing on whether he exists or not. It doesn't matter what our evolutionary roots are, our goal is to discover them. It doesn't matter whether we want to live forever or not, the fact is, some day we'll die and be gone, like it or not.

When you're talking to religious people, beware of this trap. It's easy to fall into, but it's also easy to avoid if you're just aware of it.