Thursday, January 31, 2008

I’ve heard there aren’t any atheists in a Plague

Of course, the actual saying is, “there are no atheists in a foxhole”, a reference to the fact that the religious of our world can’t imagine that when under fire, during a war, with bodies piling up around, that anyone could possibly remain a non-believer. This is a logical conclusion actually. Well, remember that the person who believes so is scared shitless of death (in any situation) and thus can’t imagine that anyone else would feel differently.

If you really think about it though, it is just a very intense version of Pascal’s Wager. If the chances are very good that I’m going to die in this battle, shouldn’t I be willing to pray about it and shouldn’t I accept God (just in case)? The problem is, you can’t force yourself to believe something you don’t – even in a life or death situation.

I can’t say for sure how I’d react in such a situation. That is, I don’t know what level of courage I’d have. But even if my level could better be described as “cowardice”, and I was weeping, shaking and saying things like “oh, god, I don’t want to die out here”, it would have absolutely nothing to do with suddenly believing that there is a god and that I might get to heaven if I just say the right things (in the case of Christianity, that would entail repenting for my sins and accepting Jesus Christ as my Savior). I’m sure it’s from moments such as these, where known atheists have said things like that or like “heaven help us to make it through till morning” that god-believers use to imply that atheists don’t exist in those situations. But it would be like shouting “Fuck this!” and having people say, “See there, men are like that. They always have sex on their minds”!

In “The Plague” by Albert Camus, the characters were challenged by an unthinkable situation that none of us have ever been in (I don’t think. I know I have never experienced that kind of fear, loss and misery). The comparison to war is apt, and is a comparison that comes up a lot in his book. But only one of the characters in the book was concerned with god. And there was absolutely nothing out of the ordinary here. It was completely natural.

This is not to say that Camus suggested that many people in the town were not religious and did not pray about their situation. Naturally, in any such situation, god will insert himself (in a calamity which, presumably, he could have prevented in the first place). But Camus populated his story with people faced by an unreasonable, uncaring death – people that I as an atheist could fully understand and sympathize with. Fortunately, Camus gave us insights into how humans handle such tragedy sans god. There were no victories in The Plague. The plague won and then disappeared. But each man and woman carried on in their own very human ways, prostrating themselves before the powers of nature, but not before the supernatural.


UPDATE 2/1/08 - I failed to mention that this reading of The Plague was for the Non-Believing Literati. If you liked my thoughts, you'll love some of the others. Spanish Inquisitor has provided this mini-carnival of posts on the book and you can find all of the other great posts by starting there.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Allow this plug because "Shirley" we want to support her!

One of the first atheist blogs I ever stumbled across was Shirley's AtheistExposed2. She took a break from blogging and I wasn't aware she had gone back to it until recently receiving an email from her.

From her blog's header -

"A 49 year old government worker, 30 year closet atheist, is exposing to her friends, co-workers and clients her lack of belief in God. This is an experiment in humanity and tolerance. Hoping for a good outcome. Approaching in a non-confrontational manner. These are my friends, and I care about them. I hope they can accept me as I am. My goal is to help my Christian associates have the knowledge, that they know an atheist, and she's not a bad person."

I really enjoyed reading her posts, because her atheistic experience was both on a parallel track, but miles apart! We have been atheists for largely the same period of time. But she was living in silence for many years with the normal fears of rejection and problems. She finally "came out" and then started blogging about her personal experiences with friends and co-workers. I found it different from my own trials - and fascinating.

I'm happy to see her back and I hope you'll drop by and give her a little support.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Was it God? Or the Man on the Moon?

Right here you can see an interesting portion of a podcast from in which Josh Cohen takes the side of leaving religion out of politics. He may not go as far as some in the Atheosphere would, but I think he is fairly close to my own feelings on the subject. If you care to listen to the entire 1 hour "diavlog" you can find it here.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Gore Casts Challenging Shadow Over Democrats

Last Wednesday Al Gore released this short video stating unequivocally that gay and lesbian couples should be permitted to form legal unions.

If you haven’t figured out what Al Gore is up to, I think I have. I could be wrong, but I think Gore has decided to be the conscience of American politics, rather than run for office. This is not the only short “policy position” that he has tossed out there in the past several months, despite his clear decision not to run for office.

I don’t think there is a more sought-after endorsement among Democratic candidates, but Gore’s will not come free of political controversy – which is great thing. Gore has drawn some lines in the sand. Any Democratic politician who wants his nod, will have to step across those lines and associate himself or herself with Gore’s positions. These spineless ones always try to hedge their bets. Have you heard a single Democrat come out during the campaign and say anything close to what Gore just said? Of course not.

I believe that if either Obama or Clinton were to humble themselves before Gore and associate themselves with his positions, they would absolutely gain the Democratic nomination. So, (if John Evo knows so much), why don't they? Simply because of political calculations about how much potential harm it would do them in the General Election. This is cowardice, but there is nothing new about it. Each candidate would like to be able to sell themselves as the most perfect flavor of vanilla to mindless America.

The only way we "win" is if Obama and Clinton battle to a standstill (leading to a brokered Convention) and Gore is ultimately drafted by the Democratic Party. If you think that might happen you are probably a big fan of the lottery.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Keeping Up with the Inquisitor (and other odds and ends)

I’m looking back at my last two posts (the Tom Cruise Scientology videos) and cringing a bit. It’s not that they aren't relevant. It isn’t that we, as rational thinkers, shouldn’t take note of the irrational in whatever form it shows itself. It’s not that Scientology doesn’t fit that description perfectly.

But I’d rather focus on things that perhaps have been a bit overlooked in our rushed and complicated daily lives. Little did I know when posting the first video that this was already a huge Internet story and that folks from all walks of life (I’m guessing a lot of them Christians) were already tearing poor Thomas a new asshole. If I had known, I would have just allowed it run its own sordid course. It looks like something that I’d like to think is beneath my meager dignity. In my defense, I had no idea. I thought I was on to a hot new topic. I should have know better. A quick Google search would have set me straight.

Then I stop by Spanish Inquisitor’s blog yesterday and it’s almost as if he’s mocking what I have been doing in relation to what I should be doing. Then again, if he and I only posted things like this, we’d both have one reader on a regular basis – each other. Not that The Inquisitor is bad company, if you only get to pick one.

So here are a couple of stories that are, I sincerely hope, more along the lines of what I try to focus on. I hope all 3 of you find them as interesting as I did.

The first is an article that came to my attention via Phillychief (who knows what a geek I am. He often tips me off to things of this nature. I hope he doesn’t end up giving all of the cool shit to Inquisitor)! From Science & Technology, it’s called “First fruit mimicry by a parasite reported” and if you happened to read and enjoy Carl Zimmer’s book, “Parasite Rex”, you should really find this interesting. And if you haven’t read the book – why not? I’ve been recommending it for months. Don’t you do as I say?

The next is a very short video. It was an intelligence test of an Orangutan. When you are watching it, remember that Orangs live in an environment where this behavior would never have come in handy and there is no way it learned this in a cultural setting.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

It's a miracle!

Someone has captured on video exactly what my mind was processing while watching the Tom Cruise video!

This is from "Late Night With Craig Ferguson". For greatest enjoyment, view it after watching the video in my previous post.

Tip of the sombrero to Bob the Bug Guy (an actual exterminator), life-long buddy, confused theist and lurker at my blog!

Friday, January 18, 2008

Jesus Christ isn't the only problem. There's also Tom Cruise.

It's often been said that Christianity should not be the only target of secularists who want a society that operates as a rational process. It is said, and yet the topic nearly always goes right back to Christianity. There is a very good reason for this; at least for those of us in the free-thinking community of the USA. They certainly do represent the biggest group of irrational thinkers in our country.

Scientology is positively a fringe religion and a free-thinker feels almost like he's beating up an annoying kid when targeting them - if it were not for the fact that there are a number of well-known celebrities who have been indoctrinated and, worse, working hard to suck others into their strange world. If you don't think it's a world nearly as bizarre as the one lived in by the death-cult we call Christianity then just watch this video of Tom Cruise.

As a tease, here are a few of the things you will hear and see:

"I'm there to help... We're there to help"...

"You're either on board or you're not on board"...

"WE are the authorities on...getting people off drugs...on the mind...on improving conditions...rehabilitate the criminals...bring peace and unite the cultures"...

He self-importantly whispers nearly the entire conversation in a reverential way about his warped philosophy and occasionally breaks out in manic laughter (particularly right at the end... spooky). "It' OUR responsibility to educate... to create the new reality".

Whispers - "I know... I know..."

Nail me to a cross.


Update 1/20: Exterminator pointed out that the video was yanked by You Tube. They are famous for doing this on "controversial" videos. So I kind of expected it. Nevertheless, as soon as one thing comes down, another goes up and I have re-embedded a video that's a little longer. If you want to just see the interview part, slide forward about half-way through. Please let me know when they censor this one!

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Huckabee Vs. Democratic Theists

There has been much said about not voting for a Democrat if they give any reverence to superstitous beliefs, like Hillary saying she prays daily or Edwards stating that his faith is the most important part of his life. Better, some say, let the enemy we know (Republican theists) win the election than have a supposed ally in office who then supports the idea of "faith".

Mike Huckabee said this in the most recent Republican debate:

"[Some of my opponents] do not want to change the Constitution, but I believe it's a lot easier to change the constitution than it would be to change the word of the living God, and that's what we need to do is to amend the Constitution so it's in God's standards rather than try to change God's standards,"

We (as a country) screwed around and allowed Bush and his Christian world-view to do more damage to this country than has been done by any President in the history of the Republic. I don't think this is a time for standing your ground on some higher principle. If a guy like Huckabee gets elected, we might as well change the name of the country - along with the Constitution.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

I guess George W. Bush must be the Pope

When I came online tonight, my eye (trained from experience to spot the obscure science article) spotted this:

A company that devised a way to make embryonic stem cells without destroying human embryos Thursday urged President Bush to endorse the technique.

Massachusetts-based Advanced Cell Technology reported on Thursday that it has grown five batches of cells using the method, which is adapted from a procedure to test embryos for severe genetic diseases. Called preimplantation genetic diagnosis, or PGD, the procedure involves taking a single cell from an embryo when it contains only eight or so cells.

The technique usually does not harm the embryo, which is frozen for possible future implantation into the mother's womb. The team, led by ACT scientific director Robert Lanza, similarly froze human embryos and used the single cell that was removed as a source of human embryonic stem cells.


"This is a working technology, so it's here and now," Lanza told, "and it can be used to increase the number of stem cell lines available to federal researchers immediately. We could actually send these cells out to laboratories tomorrow."

Lanza hoped the cells would pass muster with the Bush administration, which is opposed to stem cell techniques that involve harming human embryos. Currently, only a limited number of human embryonic stem cell lines have been approved for federally funded research.

"If the White House approves this new methodology, researchers could effectively double or triple the number of stem cell lines available within a few months. Too many needless deaths continue to occur while this research is being held up," Lanza told Reuters. "I hope the president will act now and approve these stem cell lines quickly."

Talk about your "loved it/hated it" article!

Why should science need the approval of "W"? Let me put it another way - Does science need his approval? My weak understanding of the Federal law is that institutions receiving Federal Funding for stem cell research are precluded from techniques that cause the destruction of an embryo (GOD forbid we should destroy 150 cells in the pursuit of saving some little girl or 40 year old man from certain death). But if this technique can be used on embryos to harvest stem cells without its destruction, why do scientists, at such institutions, have to meekly await the ruling of Pope George?

Tip of the sombrero to Phillychief for Pope George!

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Hillary Clinton's "Experience"

While listening to the election results from New Hampshire tonight and the accompanying analysis, one of the most striking statistics I heard was this one. On the Democratic side of the primary, people who thought "Experience" was a very important factor in their vote went 70% for Hillary and 5% for Obama.

This is absurd, but highly predictable. Hillary has made a huge point since the beginning of her run to talk about her "35 years of experience in politics". I know that if you repeat a questionable piece of data enough times, it starts to get a certain amount of traction. You can see this clearly in the lies and distortions made repeatedly by creationists. They say something like, "there are no transitional fossils" over and over and over. While this hasn't been true for at least 100 years, and every year we find more of them, it works. Oh, not everyone is taken in by it, but you can bet a lot of people believe it just because it is repeated so many times. How can it be untrue if I keep hearing it?

Hillary has been a Senator for the same amount of time as Obama. Yes, she was also the wife of a governor and President. And, in all fairness, there is a certain amount of experience to be gleaned from that. But it's not the same as if she had been a governor herself. It's really that simple. Their "experience" is really quite similar. Neither of them is in the same league as guys like Biden and Dodd. Both have enough experience to be credible Presidential candidates. Neither should beat the other 70% to 5% in the "Experience" factor.

First "Beyond Belief" Recommendation

I posted last month about the 2007 Beyond Belief conference in La Jolla, CA and said in the comments that I would have some occasional recommendations as I work my way through all 20 hours or so. I wouldn't expect many people to be as geeky about the whole thing as I am. I could already have offered a couple. I thought at the time that perhaps I should wait until I finish and then go back and pick out 3 or 4 of the best ones. But I can't wait!

I have to start with this one, which I found completely fascinating. If you don't care about cosmology and physics, you can pass. But if theories that come out of these sciences regarding the origins of the Universe are as fascinating to you as they are to me, and if you have ever listened to Sean (Physics) Carroll (tip of the hat to Ordinary Girl for originally introducing me to him), then you will probably want to look at this 20 minute video of him explaining his personal theory of eternity - and how, perhaps, all of this did not start with the Big Bang. Unfortunately, no embed is available, so just click here to get started. Enjoy the short, strange trip!

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

At the risk of boring The Exterminator...

...who said in a comment on my last post "By the way, though, I'm now officially bored with the "controversy" between evolution and Genesis", I have something to add that I hope we can all take some hope from!

Exterminator cleverly suggested a few things we could ban creationists from participating in for as long as the claimed their beliefs to include a 10,000 year old earth void of evolutionary biology - "should not be allowed to (1) purchase any products not mentioned specifically in the bible, (2) do any jobs not mentioned specifically in the bible, (3) participate in any activities not mentioned specifically in the bible, (4) use any health care products or avail themselves of any medical services not mentioned specifically in the bible, and (5) vote in any elections (since democracy is not mentioned specifically in the bible, and, in fact, is implicitly disfavored.)"

I have another suggestion. It is simply to continue educating people. Not everyone will get on board. But when you reach a critical mass of about 2/3 it really marginalizes all of the wackos and prevents them from enacting legislation that adversely effects the large majority of rationalists.

Fairly recently (certainly within my lifetime) all poll results indicated that the majority of Americans believed the Universe had been created as is by a supreme being. While I don't think science operates via polls, I do accept scientific polls as an indicator of peoples' understanding of the natural world, which is very important.

This is the latest poll results, which I actually was pleasantly surprised at: 61% of Americans accept evolution as a reality. The article says:

Respondents also were more interested in hearing about evolution from scientists, science teachers and clergy than from Supreme Court Justices, celebrities or school board members. A key finding from the survey: There is a relationship between people's understanding of science and their support for teaching evolution.

Respondents were asked three science questions: one related to plate tectonics, one related to the proper use of antibiotics and one related to prehistory. Those who accurately answered questions on these subjects were far more likely to support the teaching of evolution in schools.


Scientists accept evolution as the best and only theory that accurately explains how humans and other species came to be so diverse. The theory is supported by many studies in many different fields of science. Intelligent design is a thinly veiled creationist argument designed to make the public doubt the theory of evolution, according to nearly all scientists and a 2005 ruling by U.S. District Court Judge John E. Jones III in Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District.

Anyway, I found it hopeful based on my life-long experiences of the lack of understanding on the part of my fellow Americans. If this has changed a little, it means that those of us in the rationalist movement have made some headway and can make even more. Let's keep doing what we do best, and hope for the best.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Intelligent Design - Yapping terriers of ignorance

2 excellent videos on evolution vs. intelligent design are here for your enjoyment and education. The second one has been much discussed in the Atheosphere, and is the PBS Nova documentary “Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial”. I thought I’d post it for those who might have missed it at the time of broadcast. I don’t think PBS has repeated it since then.

The first one may be less well known to those of us on “this side of the pond”. It is a documentary from the BBC, “A War on Science”. I took the title of this post from something Richard Dawkins said in the video.