Friday, February 26, 2010

Children With Disabilities: God's Punishment for Abortion

Virginia legislator Bob Marshall is now telling women that disabled children are God's punishment for women who have abortions. What an evil idiot.
"The number of children who are born subsequent to a first abortion with handicaps has increased dramatically. Why? Because when you abort the first born of any, nature takes its vengeance on the subsequent children.

In the Old Testament, the first born of every being, animal and man, was dedicated to the Lord. There's a special punishment Christians would suggest."
So let me get this straight, Mr. Marshall. You're saying that if I do something awful, God will punish my innocent child? Inflict him with a mental disability that leaves him unable to care for himself? Or makes her schizophrenic so that she'll hear horrifying voices for her whole life? Or cripple him, or give her cystic fibrosis so that she'll suffocate and die before she reaches the age of 30?

Is that the God you worship, Mr. Marshall? Is that your idea of a kind, loving, just God?

But then, I shouldn't be surprised, should I?

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Evolution Breakthrough: Pre-Life Molecules That Compete and Evolve

This is really cool. Two scientists at Scripps Institute (right here in San Diego) created self-replicating, evolving, but non-living molecules.

Their experiment created ribozymes (ribonucleic acid enzymes) that can make copies of themselves without any help, and using just a chaotic bunch of basic molecules that might have been found in Earth's early history. As long as the raw materials were there, they went to work and made more and more ribozymes.

But it gets better...

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Press Release: Homeopaths Admit it was a Joke, Apologize

Today, in a stunning announcement, the North American Society of Homeopaths (NASH) admitted that the whole field of medicine called homeopathy was a big joke that got out of hand. "We were surprised how many people fell for it," said Manfred Mueller, NASH president, "I mean, who could seriously believe that some herb, diluted a thousand times less than a thimble-full mixed up in the Earth's oceans, could actually do anything?"

Liz Bonfig, Executive Director, told reporters that the joke all came apart when the British Parliament's report from the Science and Technology Committee finally came out. "We knew people would catch on one day, but the joke went on for years and years. Who would have thought we could keep it up this long?"

But with the Parliament's report, and the British government's recommendation to stop funding homeopathy, it was too hard to look patients in the eye without bursting out laughing. "We've been keeping a straight face for too long now, it was time to have a good laugh," said Bonfig.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Christianity will Save America, and Other Absurd Memes

Yesterday an anonymous reader left a comment that so intrigued me I can't let it pass:
"Interesting that Christianity is in decline in America at the same time that in many other ways the nation as a whole is in decline. On the other hand, Christianity is on the rise in China, Africa and other parts of the world. The decline of religion in America, which atheists take as hopeful, is really just another foundation stone crumbling before the whole building comes down."
Do Christians really believe this?  Apparently so. Which means it's our duty to deconstruct the argument.  Anon's claim just doesn't match the facts.  But it's also a cool illustration of memetic evolution, and how an idea that gets out of its ecosphere dies a sudden death.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Is Christianity Dying? Interesting New Data...

Is Christianity dying?  Are all religions losing adherents?  Here is something new I'd never considered before.

As a percentage of the whole population, the Christian population is losing, but the trend is slow.  The last time I wrote about this, Christians looking at the data could argue that the loss wasn't very important.  So what if Christianity is down a few percent?  A little proselytizing, a few revival meetings, and they'd be right back on top.

But it turns out it's much worse for the Christians than they thought.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Did Sex Create the Christmas Bomber?

Did Islam's unnatural and unhealthy teachings about sex turn a normal young Nigerian into a murderer and terrorist? Did a healthy young man's lust get twisted into self revulsion and hate?

NPR is doing a fascinating three-day in-depth biography of Farouk Abdulmutallab, the "Christmas Bomber" who hid bomb ingredients in his underwear and tried to blow up an airplane. And once again, I was struck by how truly perverse some religious beliefs are, especially regarding sex.
"I think this loneliness leads me to other problems. As I get lonely, the natural sex drive awakens and I struggle to control it – sometimes leading to minor sinful activities, like not lowering the gaze [around unveiled women]. ... This problem makes me want to get married to avoid getting aroused. The Prophet advised young men to fast if they can't get married, but it has not been helping me much..." – Farouk Abdulmutallab

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

How Christian Were the Founders?

Were the Founders Christians or not? Was the United States supposed to be a Christian Nation, or not? Evangelical and conservative Christians say yes, Atheists say no, and historians say it's more complex than that. But in my opinion, they all miss the simple truth, which is that there are two different questions that they're trying to mix together.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Christians and Science CAN Get Along

I like to find the more outrageous stories, the ones about Creationists who try to censor science in our school textbooks, or force their ancient morality on modern Christians and others. But today, I was pleased to find an article about mainstream Christianity, one that shows that you don't have to choose between religion and science. You can have both.

The Clergy Letter Project is gathering letters from thousands of Christian pastors, all asserting that science and their faith are not incompatible. As of today, they have over 12,000 signatures from Christians clergy, as well as 600 rabbis and Universalist ministers. That's a lot of clergy!

Not only that, they've sponsored special events for Evolution Weekend since 2005.

Sadly, the Christian Post, where the article appears, felt it necessary to quote, at length, a Christian minister who asserted in no uncertain terms that those who believe in evolution can't possibly be true Christians.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Danger! Pink Ouija Boards Corrupting Little Girls!

Here is another idiotic boycott of Toys 'R' Us and Hasbro by a Christian group. This one is about Pink Ouija Boards ... remember those? Remember how you and your 12-year-old friends used to get together in a dim room on a spooky, rainy night and scare yourselves? Great fun!

Toymaker Hasbro is now making a pink Ouija board, targeted at girls. The ads say, "It has always been mysterious. It has always been mystifying. And now the OUIJA Board is just for you, girl." They even updated it with a pack of questions for modern adolescent girls, like, "Who will call/text me next?"

Good marketing, if you ask me!

But wait! Didn't Hasbro realize that Ouija boards use real demons to answer your question?

Here's what Susan Brinkmann of Living His Life Abundantly International has to say:
Brinkmann points to the testimony of New York City policeman Ralph Sarchie, who has routinely assisted at exorcisms, and who says "innocent" board games like the Ouija board are immensely dangerous.

"There ought to be a law against these evil, occult 'toys,'" wrote Sarchie in his book "Beware the Night." "I can hear some of you out there saying, "Hey, I used a Ouija board and nothing happened." Consider yourself lucky, then. It's like playing Russian roulette. When you put the gun to your head, if you don't hear a loud noise, you made it. Same thing with the board: The more times you pull the trigger, the more likely that on the next shot, your entire world will go black."
Seriously, people.

It's just a game, and every adult knows how it works. Did you ever try to ask the Ouija board just one question that nobody in the room could possibly answer? Funny thing, the Ouija board doesn't know the answer either.

I guess for people who believe that there is a God and a bunch of saints and angels and such who listen to their prayers and alter the laws of physics of the universe to make those prayers come true, it's not a very big leap of faith to believe in evil demons and spirits too. But I still wonder, why is it always evil demons and spirits who infect an Ouija board? Don't good spirits have any power? Did God create some funny twist in the laws of the universe that only lets the bad guys infect Ouija boards?

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

9/11 Conspiracy Theories: Just Another Baseless Religion

Are 9/11 conspiracy theories just another religion, full of unprovable beliefs, with nothing but faith to sustain them? Why do these theories persist even in the face of convincing evidence that they are simply wrong or even impossible?

And don't these questions sound exactly like the same questions that atheists ask about religion?

There are literally millions of people who don't believe that 9/11 was carried out by a handful of terrorists. They believe something more sinister (as if it's not sinister already) must have happened. I'd guess that many or most Americans harbor at least some suspicion that the official story is a cover-up. Many Americans actually believe that 3,000 Americans were killed by their own government!

I saw a wonderful program on The Discovery Channel this week that completely debunked all of these 9/11 conspiracy theories. We're not talking about one good theory versus another, we're talking about annihilation. These 9/11 conspiracy theories are obviously, grossly, completely wrong.

Yet ... people believe them.

During the Discovery Channel's program, I had one of those "aha!" moments when I realized that 9/11 conspiracy theories are remarkably parallel to religion. It was when one of the investigators compared 9/11 to the JFK assassination. People just can't believe JFK was killed for no real reason. They don't want to believe that a single angry man could bring an entire country of 250 million people to its knees in grief and mourning. It's just too much, that one person could have so much power over our entire society.

Instead, it's much easier to believe that some vast, hidden, super powerful group arranged for JFK's assassination. It's easier to believe that history was changed, the dreams of millions were dashed, by a powerful, malevolent group of evil leaders, rather than a single deranged individual.

Those of us who study cultural evolution, the way that ideas (memes) form, evolve, and compete in a "survival of the fittest" contest, know that ideas spread not because they're true, but because people want to believe them. So with JFK, we have two competing memes: The lone-assassin meme, versus the hidden-evil-government meme. Which meme will be believed? Which meme will be told, retold, and spread through society? It's the one people want to believe, not the one that's true.

Here is the problem in a nutshell:
Truth only matters when the average person can tell the difference.
Conspiracy theories, whether they're about 9/11, JFK, the Masons, or the FDA, all thrive when the science behind the topic is too complex for the average person.

I am struck by the parallel between monotheism and conspiracy theories: People are far more likely to believe that there is a single person or small group "up there" who are in control. The parallels to God are striking.

Nobody wants to believe that when a tree falls on a family's car, or a hurricane smashes New Orleans, or an earthquake flattens Haiti, that it was just a random, meaningless event. They need to believe there was some meaning, some purpose, to the event. It's just too much to think that such devastation and grief have utterly no point to them. If God is in control, even if we don't understand His purpose, at least it's not random. It makes us feel better.

Conspiracy theories are the same. It's terrible to think that JFK died for no real reason, or that 9/11 killed 3,000 people and altered our country forever, just because a handful of men got angry. It's much better if we have a real enemy to fight, a powerful, malevolent, secret group that we can some day root out and eliminate. When bad things happen, we want bad people to be responsible.

And the truth isn't relevant, because the science and sociology behind the events of 9/11, or JFK's assassination, are just too complex for the average person.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Fox News: Helping Young Girls get AIDS

If I believed Satan existed, I'd swear he was running Fox news. Their reporting is worse than lies, and it is killing real children. Today's story:
"Planned Parenthood Pushes Intensive Sex Education for Kids as Young as 10"
Sounds bad, doesn't it? It's grossly misleading, but it's a snappy headline that appeals to their viewers.

But it gets worse. According to Fox, Planned Parenthood "demands that children 10 and older be given a 'comprehensive sexuality education' by governments," that similar reports "advocated teaching masturbation to children as young as 5." And to top it off, Fox quotes a Catholic spokesman asserting that Planned Parenthood's report is financially motivated because they "make money off contraceptives and abortions."

So what's the truth? The real report, which I encourage you to read yourself (PDF), starts by explaining that these ten-year-old girls (and younger) are child brides, sex slaves, and sometimes prostitutes. They live in countries where most girls will have sex, often forced, long before they turn eighteen.

Did you see that anywhere in Fox's article? No, because their goal is not to report news, nor do they care about helping these children.

From Fox's headline, you'd think Planned Parenthood was advocating that a middle-class ten-year-old girl in Chicago should be shown how to use a condom properly. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Planned Parenthood is advocating education for children, because these children are forced, by customs, economics, and poverty, to have sex far too early. Without sex education, many of these girls will die.

For example, from the article:
19-48%  Percent of young women whose sexual initiation is forced.
Or consider this (abridged):
Faha, 15, is 33 weeks pregnant. Married at 13, Faha was made to leave school as her husband would not allow her to attend. "I was sad. I liked learning and seeing my friends." After her baby is born, Faha would like to wait three years [when she'll be 18] before her next child. She will ask the midwife about contraception.
Does that sound to you like Planned Parenthood is pushing sex education on unwilling, naïve children, against their parents' wishes?

Or consider these facts cited in the Planned Parenthood report:
  • In South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, 40-45% of women age 20-24 were married as children.
  • In countries like Bangaladesh, Central African Republic, Chad, Guinea, Mali and Niger, more than 60 % of women were married or entered into a union before their 18th birthday.
  • One in 10 births worldwide is to a mother who is still herself a child
In fact, the report is not even about sex and contraception at all, it's about making education and human rights, including sex education and sexual rights, available to all, because educated, healthy people raise healthy families.

So what does Planned Parenthood actually suggest? A pretty reasonable list (this is just a sampling):
  • Make age- and culturally-appropriate sex education mandatory in school.
  • Enact and enforce bans on child marriage.
  • Improve education, especially for girls, so that they aren't forced into prostitution or marriage by economics.
  • Create jobs for young people.
  • Create community-based support programs for marginalized youths.
Did you get any of that from Fox's article? No, nor did most of their readers. Unfortunately, Fox has an audience of people who never dig past the headlines, so their twisted story will stick.

Thanks to Fox news and others of their ilk, Planned Parenthood will be further villified, funds won't be allocated ... and more 13 year old girls who could have had a chance in life will get AIDS or have three children before they're 18, simply for lack of knowledge. It's a terrible thing, and Fox "News" is helping to make it happen.

Monday, February 8, 2010

The Tea Party: The Sarah Palin Sycophant Party

Syc.o.phant – a self-seeking, servile flatterer; fawning parasite (From

I wrote off Sarah Palin the quitter, and decided she wasn't worth writing about ... but that speech at the Tea Party Convention was just too much to resist. What a circus of sycophants!

My favorite line from Palin's speech at the Tea Party convention: When asked what she'd do to improve national security, a key point in her strategic plan was to "pray for divine intervention." Seriously! She actually believes that asking for magical intervention from God should be part of our military and diplomatic strategy. If she is ever elected, we'll need some magic, that's for sure.

If Palin's fate as a non-candidate wasn't sealed before, it is now. The Republican old-boys network was really mad when she quit as governor of Alaska. They've been shunning her ever since as a viable political candidate. That's not to say they don't use her crowd-pleasing power and sexual attractiveness to pull in the votes and further their own agenda. But to the real power behind the Republican machinery, she's just a tool to be used as long as it keeps its shine, then discarded.

So, where does someone like Sarah Palin go? She's drawn, like a moth to a candle, to whoever will adore her, and now it's the Tea Party. They're the people who think in simple platitudes, the ones who dragged the Republican Party so far to the right that they lost the Presidency, the Senate, and the House, all in one vote. The Republican leadership, reeling from this disaster, is trying to get back to a more reasonable centrist platform. These Tea Baggers (didn't they even bother to learn what this means in modern slang?) started feeling ignored, so they're forming their own political party.

That's unforgivable to a mainstream political party. There's nothing worse in an election than having a third-party candidate split the vote. It's political suicide. Palin shot herself in the political head when she quit her job as governor of Alaska, now she's put another bullet through her political heart. She'll never be a Republican presidential candidate.

I guess it all makes sense. Simplistic politics, and a sexy bimbo to head your party. Why didn't I think of that?

Friday, February 5, 2010

The Family: Replace American Democracy with Christian Theocracy

The hubbub about President Obama's speech at the National Prayer Breakfast this week got me inspired to read about the shadowy group called "The Fellowship" that sponsors the meeting ... and I was stunned to learn who they really are.

"The Fellowship" (aka "The Family") is an actual Christian shadow government in America. I usually don't believe in conspiracy theories, but this group really exists, they're huge, they're secret, and they've been around since the 1930's. And the stories about them are not exaggerations.

Their goal? To replace democracy in America with a theocracy run by Christians. No joke. That was their founding purpose, and remains a real, if now distant, goal.

That's right, some of the very Senators and Congressmen who were democratically elected, the ones you voted for to represent you, don't believe you're good enough to vote. They believe democracy can't work, and that only a Christian government can save us. According to Harper's Magazine, "Declaring God's covenant with the Jews broken, the group's core members call themselves 'the new chosen.'"

And this isn't some fringe group. Its membership includes dozens of United States Senators and House members, even some Democrats, plus uncounted other government officials. They have their fingers in big business, banking, and even have lawmakers in a number of foreign countries. And of course, conservative Christian churches are part of their organization. Its leader, Doug Coe, is a charismatic but radical evangelical who regularly meets with government leaders around the world.

To give you a sense of their philosophy, consider this:
Jesus didn't come to take sides, He came to take over.
But wait, it gets worse. These guys believe that they are chosen by God. Seriously. They believe that God personally intervened here on Earth, altered our elections, specifically to help these men (they're mostly men) to get elected to high offices so that they could do His work.

This leads to an incredibly dangerous arrogance, a belief that you are right and that God has endorsed your political position. Is it any wonder that President Obama is having trouble with the conservatives? When you're appointed by God Himself, why should you negotiate? Jesus didn't come to take sides, He came to take over. They're right, everyone else is wrong, end of argument.

This is un-American, and bordering on traitorous. Their beliefs and actions violate the very core American values enshrined in the United States Constitution, in so many ways it's hard to count. We are a representative democracy, with a guarantee that the government will make no law respecting religion, or the free exercise thereof. We believe each person's vote is equal.

True patriots support the American Constitution, and the core beliefs it represents. Unpatriotic people don't. Traitors try to overthrow it and the values it represents. That was the original goal of The Fellowship. They are traitors to America, plain and simple.

If you'd like to learn more, read the transcript of Terry Gross' interview with Jeff Sharlet, author of The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power. There's also a decent, though obviously censored, article on Wikipedia.

(P.S. Happy Birthday, Mom!!)

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

What do Indian Grave Robbers and Atheists have in Common?

What does the atheist Dan Barker (head of the Freedom from Religion Foundation) have in common with two American Indian grave robbers who dug up a white person's body? More than you might guess!

Dan and FFRF are in the news again. They're well known for their hard-line stance on the separation of church and state in America. For example, last year the FFRF caused a ruckus when they responded to a Christian display at the Washington State Capitol building with a an atheist sign that closed with, "Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds." They did it again this year, prompting a lawsuit from an enraged Christian.

What does this have to do with grave robbing? Well, a few years back there was a darkly funny story about two young American Indian men who snuck into a graveyard and dug up a white woman's body, just to show whites how the Indians feel when whites dig up the Indians' ancestors. If whites can dig up Indian bones, why shouldn't Indians be allowed to dig up white people's bones?

This is so obvious it shouldn't have to be stated, yet even today Indian remains are not treated with the dignity that the American Indians' culture requires. Those two young men felt compelled to turn the tables on whites, and actually rob a grave. And quite predictably, there was outrage. But I hope their act of civil disobedience gave at least a few people a new perspective on what it means to desecrate the bodies of American Indians.

And that's exactly what Dan Barker and the FFRF are trying to do with religion in government. All Americans have a right to access their government, without any hint of religious bias. Christians in America are particularly insensitive to how their religion can give offense. Their purportedly innocent nativity scenes look cute and beautiful to a Christian, but to everyone else these displays are shouting, "You're going to HELL to burn FOREVER because you don't believe this cute little baby, who is actually God!"

The "winter solstice" display that the FFRF places alongside the Christian displays is deliberately designed to be edgy, to be slightly offensive. If atheists, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Jains and Buddhists can't walk into their state capitol buildings without passing a "You're going to HELL" display, it's only fair that Christians should be treated to an equal amount of unpleasant rhetoric.

"How do YOU like it when we treat you the same as you treat us?" That's the message that both the FFRF and those two Indians were sending, and I hope both messages sink in. Government and religion should be separate, and it's impossible to mix the two in any way without offending citizens.

(P.S. If anyone can find a link to the news articles about those two American Indians, or correct my memory, please send it along. I googled it a bit but couldn't find that particular story among the thousands of others about whites digging up Indian graves. It was probably ten or twenty years ago.)

Monday, February 1, 2010

Beware of Oprah!

Wow, it seems Oprah is dangerous to true Christians! She's one of those sneaky types who uses Christian terminology and ideas, and makes seductive claims that lure innocent Christians into paganism! Pantheism!

Worse, Oprah teaches a "hodgepodge of personalized faith," emphasizing the spirit within us all, urging us to listen to our conscience. And (*gasp*) there are many paths to God, not just the Christian path!

Can you imagine? What's Oprah thinking? We all know that thinking for ourselves leads to sin. And the Christians' God is the only god who has this Absolute Truth.

This would be funny if it were from the 1950s, but sadly, it was from a lecture given to 1,500 people at McLean Bible Church near Washington, D.C. last week. Christian apologists Josh McDowell and Dave Sterrett gave a lecture blasting Oprah's teachings, and "correcting" any incorrect theology she might have taught her listeners.

To an outsider, one of the most fascinating things about various religions is how you have to do things exactly their way, or you're out, going to Hell, damned forever. The sheer arrogance is stunning, and would be funny, except that these people aren't kidding, and they're not a minority.

I admire Oprah's philosophy even though I'm not a religious person. Many of my close friends and family share her views on spirituality and religion, and strange though it might sound, I think Oprah's view is very close to what atheists, agnostics and deists think, too. We all need to look inside to find the truth, to find our moral/ethical core, and to do what we know is right. Some look to a core essence that's larger than their physical existence, and some don't, but we all know that morality comes from within.

The arrogance, the sheer hubris, of these ultra-religious people, is offensive on the face of it. They are hugely and glaringly wrong, yet not only can they not see it, but they don't even know how foolish their claims look to most people. The idea that their particular brand of religion, among all the many thousands that people have invented around the world and down through the ages, is the only correct one, is so silly. How can they take themselves seriously?