Tag Archives: freethought

Seven Ways a Black Hole Can Kill You

One of the few things that most (and let me stress, most, not all) freethinkers have in common is a love for science.

Science is the tool that allows us to understand the universe. It’s the process that has allowed us to communicate over vast distances by typing into these little magic boxes (computers, I think they may be called). And, quite simply, it’s just really cool.

Obviously not everyone agrees with me. My own 11 year-old self absolutely loathed going to science class in school. But it can help to capture your attention if the particular scientific subject being discussed is entertaining or interesting. And there are few things as interesting or entertaining as contemplating your own morality and the destruction of the planet. Am I right?

If you think I am, check out the video below. Phil Plait, of Bad Astronomy and president of the JREF, gives an hour long talk about 7 ways in which a black hole can kill you.

So enjoy. And try not to panic.

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The Right to Kill Your Child

Although she doesn’t know it, that is exactly what Colleen Hauser wants.

Forced Chemo

Police look for mom, son who fled to avoid chemo

SLEEPY EYE, Minn. (AP) — A courtroom clash between medicine and faith took a criminal turn, with police around the country on the lookout Wednesday for a Minnesota mother who fled with her cancer-stricken 13-year-old son rather than consent to chemotherapy.

(…)

Daniel has Hodgkins lymphoma, a highly curable form of cancer when treated with chemo and radiation. But the teen and his parents rejected chemo after a single treatment, with the boy’s mother saying that putting toxic substances in the body violates the family’s religious convictions.

Colleen Hauser said she had been treating the boy’s cancer instead with herbal supplements, vitamins, ionized water and other natural alternatives — a regimen based mostly on information she found on the Internet.

Thanks to those dreadful interwebz, this poor boy’s mother has become convinced in the efficacy of a pseudo-Native American superstition called “Nemenhah”. Rather than letting the doctor’s treat Daniel she’s taken the boy on the run, where he will almost certainly die while taking vitamins and squatting in sweat-lodges.

What’s probably the worst fact of this case is that the Hauser’s have convinced Daniel of their nonsense. Though it’s hard to blame him. Undergoing chemotherapy is not a pleasant experience. It can often cause more pain than the patient has suffered from the cancer itself when the chemo treatments begin. And at the age of 13, how could a sick boy do anything but listen to his parents?

As strange as it may seem, I am not against adults refusing chemotherapy or other modern treatments. I’m not terribly happy when anyone makes a decision that ends up killing them, but an adult should have the right to do so if they can’t be convinced otherwise.

But a child doesn’t have that right. We recognize as a society that children don’t know enough and don’t have enough experience to come to decisions about their own safety. And as much power as parents do hold over their children, parents do not own them.

In Ancient Rome, the paterfamilias had ultimate authority over his family. He could put his children to death if they disobeyed him. But that is not the world we live in. You do not have the right to kill your child.

I just hope that the police find Daniel Hauser before it’s too late.

There’s a storm coming…a gay one…

As usual, it’s time for me to drop in with some light and simple humor to break up the deeper thoughts of my fellow FSGP bloggers.

Be scared, everyone. There is a storm coming. And it’s going to rain gay on everybody.

The Necessity of the New Atheists’ Methods

One of the criticisms of the methods of people like myself–the so-called new atheists–is that we will cause a kind of backlash from believers and others who are sympathetic to the effect of criticism upon the religious and otherwise theistic worldviews. A fair criticism that I hear from appeasers quite often.

But rather than address the arguments of appeasers, I want to address the importance of being willing to accept challenges to personal views. It is this that makes justifiable the reasons for people to be squeamish about the efforts of people like myself. And while I hold no unjustified delusion that I will be able to change this aspect of human psychology in any significant way, I might at least have an affect on a few people. This is all I can hope for.

I believe in perpetual self-challenge. I think that it is important to keep a level of skepticism and lack of resoluteness in my own ideas, in the hope that they will not crystallize into a kind of creed or stubbornness of my own views. It is this idea, and I share it with many atheists, that makes the claim that atheism is a faith absurd.

Let me stop and address that issue for a moment. I will admit that there are some people that I know and who are atheists for whom the nonexistence of god becomes a point of certitude that I find epistemologically irresponsible. They, understandably, laugh at the mythical nature of religious ideologies, but they sometimes go further and conflate these mythologies with the larger question of whether any god might exist. To conflate specific gods with the general question, in my opinion, is a mistake that is made by many an atheist I have known.

And so the claim that atheism is merely another kind of faith, while absurd when fully analyzed, has a kernel of truth to it on the surface. Thus, I understand that many caricatures of religiosity are not fair in the same way that caricatures of the angry, petulant, and intolerant atheist is based upon some unsavory few who make themselves look foolish.

Let me be clear here. I recognize that religious people are not all unthinking, boorish, ignoramuses who are all making the world a bad place. I recognize the importance of religious traditions in people’s lives, and the positive effects it can have on people. I also recognize that the idea of god is one of great inspiration to people, and that in many cases the idea can be beneficial to some. I recognize these things, and still see room for criticism of these ideas.

Why? Because I actually care about the truth. I would prefer to have true beliefs, ones that can be supported by the best methods and evidence that we have available. I think that this value of mine is important, and I would like it to be shared by people, if possible.

But there are barriers between this ideal world and the one we live in. People are largely pragmatic and are not concerned with the truth so much. They are more concerned with, and I understand why, things like where their food is coming from, raising their children, and simply enjoying their lives. No time for silly questions about truth about religion or deities. Oh, but they believe in them whenever an arrogant person comes along and says that they are an atheist. And suddenly this nonchalance disappears from their lives when someone who actually has thought about this issue comes along and calls it mythology. Then they become defensive.

What? unfair caricature? Sure, but in some cases this is precisely what does happen. And while there are many other caricatures I could have brought out, the bottom line is that there are many people in the world that simply do not think about these things and yet still believe them quite strongly. And to ask them why is apparently some great crime.

Why?

The reasons are many, and I simply cannot address this whole issue here. Much of it has to do with the fact that these ideas are generally inculcated during childhood, and therefore they are associated with emotions and relationships of supreme meaning to people. We have to remember that religion is tied to many people’s personalities in ways taht will not be parsed easily. And ultimately it may not be possible to divorce the religion from the person, but we can at least provide a template for keeping their minds sharpened in order to loosen the particular beliefs in the hope of them not blindly passing on the associations to their own children. This is, ultimately, a plan for the future more than the present.

The first thing that we need to realize is that our minds will tend to reject information that does not fit into our worldview. It is actually difficult to understand the idea expressed from a worldview that differs from our own because the idea just does not seem to fit into the model of reality we have created. A few days ago I quoted Soren Kierkegaard as saying the following:

One must not let oneself be deceived by the word ‘deception.’ One can deceive a person for the truth’s sake, and (to recall old Socrates) one can deceive a person into the truth. Indeed, it is only by this means, i.e. by deceiving him, that it is possible to bring into the truth one who is in an illusion.

I think that this notion contains a fair amount of merit. What this means to me is that we need to prepare ourselves to be deceived, at least in the sense Kierkegaard means here, in order to allow ourselves the possibility that we are ourselves subject to some illusion. We need to keep a tentative level of certainty concerning our beliefs and accepted ideas, as they may be shown to be incomplete (if not completely wrong) in the future.

(At this point I’ll link to a very good video)

And this is one reason I respect the scientific method so much. It is a method that encourages people to disprove the hypotheses we generate. It is a method that has incorporated this perpetual self-challenge and has allowed us to accept theories as provisionally true because no better explanation has been presented.

And so one strategy should be to make sure that people understand what the scientific method is and how it works. One pervasive idea I run into is that the opinions of science and religion are on equal epistemological grounding. They believe that there really is a controversy between evolution and intelligent design. They don’t understand that these two ideas arose via opposing methods, and exactly what this implies.

How will you know what you believe is true is justifiable if you do not submit them to the criticism they may deserve? How strong is your ‘faith” if it goes unchallenged? And what kind of challenge is it if you only pursue the argument from the side which you already accept? I just love how, when challenged, creationists will appeal to Answers in Genesis( or creationism.org, ICR or some other similar source), but almost never have even heard of TalkOrigins or can even define evolution correctly .

And as the understanding of this method, it will give a new tool in understanding how we understand, and it will allow people not just to use the resulting technologies of science, but to understand how it works. We should, in terms of our own beliefs, become so inspired by this method. We should become the “new philosophers” (as Nietzsche called them) that are willing to experiment and test our views against the world and to allow ourselves to transcend humanity so that we may one day become better, the ubermenschen.

We cannot simply crawl along in the hope that progress with just happen. The change begins with our own willingness to challenge ourselves. For if everyone is challenging themselves, then nobody has to do it for you, right. Actually, I’m not even sure of that. I still think that there will always be a need for others to challenge us as we do have blind-spots where others can see. Even the most ardent and honest attempt to be self-challenging can be supplemented with help from others.

And since I want active challenging of my own views, I feel comfortable in challenging others myself. And the first thing I will try to challenge is the defensiveness that arises in being challenged. The question, of course, is how. I don’t know completely. I only know that it must be attempted if we actually care about the people and the world around us. And along the way, make sure to pay attention to what others say, as the challenging process is two-way. Any good teacher will tell you that they learn from their students

There are people out there that will always resist criticism. Perhaps nothing can be done for them. But for those that may be willing to hear, but who are not being challenged, we must press on. I will continue to encourage people to challenge their beliefs, their worldviews, and their culture. If you have a better way–a better hypothesis–for how to deal with rampant irrational and ignorant beliefs, then by all means get to work.

So, that being said, bring on the challenges.

My Favorite Bible Verse

Many people think that because I believe that the Bible is fiction that it automatically means that I haven’t read it or that I do not like it. The fact is that I love the Bible… as a book if bronze aged fiction. As a book claiming to be divine and historical truth I think it is a pretty weak book. To demonstrate just how weak a book the Bible is on those grounds, I will take a page from one of America’s greatest patriots, Thomas Paine. In Paine’s work, “The Age of Reason part II” I discovered my favorite Bible verse. It seems that Paine found it amusing too:

“Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him. But all the women children, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves.” – Numbers 31:17-18

Out of all the verses in the Bible this one is my absolute favorite. The reason? It is the most indefensible verse in the entire Bible. Here God has ordered Moses to murder then entire Midianites village except the virgins and then to rape the virgins. I try to bring this verse to the attention of many Christians that I talk to and over the years I have gotten a variety of attempts to explain away this most indefensible verse.

One Christian response that I have gotten a few times was, “it was war and shit happened.” But if Barack Obama or George W. Bush had told our US Generals to take the troops into Baghdad and kill ALL the men and ALL the women except the virgin women and then to have sex with the virgin women (i.e. rape) we would surely think that our leaders were horrible people. There is no way our soldiers would even follow those orders because those orders would seem so immoral and would be completely illegal. The President would be impeached in a second and on trial for war crimes. But if God gave those orders (and he did according to the Bible) no one seems to have a problem with that? In fact, people would still worship a perfect being that gave such a completely morally reprehensible order?

Then I get the “Context” argument from many Christians who seem to think this the argument for anything an atheist like me has to say about the Bible. The Bible clearly gives the context for why God gave the order of genocide and rape. The Midianites didn’t “hate” the Jews. They didn’t care about the Jews at all. They worshiped Ba’al Zebul a fertility God. Yahweh (aka Yam) was jealous God (by his own admission) and decided to order his people (the Hebrews) to wage war. The raping of the virgins was like an extra fuck you to Ba’al Zebul. Yahweh is your God. While the Bible makes mention of sexual atrocities that Midianites committed in the name of their deity that was very clearly not the reason Yahweh gave for his command. Besides, what possible injustice could anyone do in which mass murder and rape would someone be considered Just? I can think of no possible context, which would bring me to the conclusion that, “Oh mass murder and rape was a well deserved divine punishment for those people.” Rape is one of the few things in which there is no justifiable context for.

Next we have yet another attempted defense of this indefensible verse. This horrific verse is old. It was in the Old Testament and not the New Testament and for some reason we should ignore some of the verses, which we really don’t like, that are in the Old Testament despite the obvious fact that God is supposed to be perfect and some Bible verses even say that he can’t change, these Christians are claiming that even though he ordered this horrific act (and many similarly horrific acts in the Old Testament) now he is different. If Hitler were alive today and didn’t bother to say that he was sorry for the Holocaust, but just went around and told people to “turn the other cheek” should we forgive him for the Holocaust? Let me ask, how many times in the Bible did Jesus say Rape and Genocide were bad? The answer is zero, zip, zilch, none, not a one. Instead, Jesus defends the actions of Yahweh (God) many times. He even stated:

“For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.” Matthew 5:18

The Christian claim that the Old Testament doesn’t count, but Jesus seems to think it does count. He seems to be saying that ever “jot” of it still counts. Besides, it is quite a big leap for God to claim that rape is cool and then to for him not to say anything against rape later and for Christians to somehow interpret that to mean that rape is sinful. Plus, Jesus always talks about doing his father’s work. If Yahweh were my father, I certainly wouldn’t be doing his work if he ordered genocide and rape to a bunch of people who worshiped Cupid.

And what about the big Ten Commandments? They are in the Old Testament and not a one of them states that, “Thou shall not rape.” Besides most Christians still think that the Ten Commandments are pretty worthy of following despite the fact that they are in the Old Testament.

Finally, some Christians claim that atheists take the Bible too literally. The whole claim to fame of the Bible was that it was written/inspired (through the holy ghost) by God the most perfect being to ever exist. Clearly, when the Bible talks about Jesus not coming to send peace but instead coming with a sword (Matthew 10:34) that is not to mean that Jesus is literally holding a sword. It is a metaphor. But what is it a metaphor for? If he had said that he came with a rose, I would assume that he meant love. But one does not love with a sword. A sword is a weapon of violence. Plus Jesus specifically stated that he didn’t come to bring peace. So that makes his metaphor pretty clear to me. And with my favorite verse, I think that story is supposed to be some sort of literal history and if that wasn’t the purpose, than I am at a loss for what such a metaphor would be saying. Moses is clearly the good guy in the story. We are supposed to be routing for him.

Fortunately, there has never been any evidence that suggests that the story of Numbers actually is a true account. Like the Mormon accounts of religious wars in the Americas, not one shred of archeological evidence has turned up to confirm these atrocities. But still, Numbers 31: 17-18 remains my favorite verse even though I am reasonably certain that it is a fictional account and that the Bible as a whole is fiction.

Check out my Daily Blog at DangerousTalk.net

Pi Day

As many of you may know, Saturday was March 14th or 3.14 or Pi Day. This is a day in which we should all celebrate math and science and make learning fun. Many in the greater atheistic community have wanted to create atheistic holidays to celebrate since we don’t really celebrate religious holidays. I don’t have a problem with that, but it should be emphasized that atheism is not a religion and so we don’t need holidays. Humanism can be considered a religion to some degree and so a humanistic holiday would make more sense. In any case, Pi Day should be such a holiday. I was a little surprised however to hear Congress discussing the holiday in open session. In fact, Tennessee Congressman Bart Gordon sponsored a House Resolution honoring Pi Day. Here Tennessee Congressman Lincoln Davis addresses the Congress:

The really surprising thing about this House Resolution is that 10 Republicans actually voted against it!!! It seems the love of math and science is something they felt they needed to vote against. No money was appropriated with this resolution. No laws were created or changed with this resolution. All this resolution did was honor Pi Day and encourage scientific education through a simple acknowledgement. Yet 10 Congressman made the conscious decision to vote against this acknowledgement. So I am going to “out” these anti-science Congressmen:

Utah Congressman Jason Chaffetz
Arizona Congressman Jeff Flake
Nevada Congressman Dean Heller
Illinois Congressman Tim Johnson
Florida Congressman Jeff Miller
Texas Congressman Randy Neugebauer
Texas Congressman Ron Paul
Indiana Congressman Mike Pence
Texas Congressman Ted Poe
Pennsylvania Congressman Bill Shuster

Please check out my Daily Blog at: DangerousTalk.net

Atheist Good Cop/Bad Cop Game

Please read part one of this blog Christian Good Cop/Bad Cop Game.

We all know that there are a wide range of people who believe very different things and yet all call themselves Christians. Some Christians are the Good Cop Christians, some are the Bad Cop Christians, and some are somewhere in between.

The thing with atheists is that atheism is a term that describes a lack of belief. So all atheists are different and the only thing we all have in common is that we all lack the belief in a deity. There is no atheist doctrine. Lately however, some atheists have started to form communities and groups. Some atheists have started to organize not only around our lack of belief but also around some common values like reason, education, science, and compassion for our fellow human beings. Despite our newly found organizational skills, we still are a rather disorganized group of people who have very different ideas on how to deal with our common problem (i.e. religion). In fact, we can’t even seem to agree on a term to call ourselves.

The point here is that some in the greater atheistic community think that we shouldn’t be openly critical of religions and should just educate ourselves and hope that those of the Abrahamic faiths reject their mythologies on their own before they destroy the entire planet and us with it. I guess we can call these the Good Cop atheists since they are the ones telling the Christians, Muslims, and Jews whatever they want to hear except of course that they now believe in God. I have nothing against these Good Cop atheists and sometimes I even use that strategy when talking about religion one on one with particular Christians.

But I must confess that I am probably more in what has been called the Bad Cop atheist camp. That is the view that we should let “People of Faith” know that we think their beliefs are ridiculous and dangerous. I think more often than not we should call them out and be critical of what they believe and how they behave because of those beliefs. I think that if someone doesn’t want to be ridiculed for their beliefs, that they shouldn’t have such ridiculous beliefs and then I wouldn’t laugh so hard at them for those beliefs. If someone told me that they believed that Elvis was God and that they saw Elvis last night in a 7-11 Convenience Store, I am going to tell that person that they are nuts. I don’t think I need to treat that person seriously and pretend that he has a valid claim on reality which should be treated on par with the claims of respected scientists who have evidence to back up their ideas.

Ultimately though we have to realize that whether someone is a Good Cop atheist or a Bad Cop atheist, there is a time and a place for both. In fact, I think sometimes we may need both at the same time and at the same place. Could you imagine if on one of those police shows, only the Good Cop came in to question the suspect? Or what if only the Bad Cop questioned the suspect? The way the game works is for both cops to question the suspect. So here in reality, we need the good atheist cops to tell the religious that they might be right (even though we are almost certain that they are wrong) and then we need the bad cops like me to lay out just how ridiculous their divine claims actually are.

Please check out my Daily Blog at DangerousTalk.net