Saturday, December 29, 2007

An Enlightened ‘08

I can’t say that ’07 was a particularly good year for me. I don’t think it was a great year for the world either. But there were a few bright spots and one of them was making the virtual acquaintance of many members of the Atheosphere.

Having lived most of my life open about my atheism but with very few people to share my thoughts on it, this has been a liberating experience and I want to thank everyone who has visited this blog or kindly responded to my comments at theirs.

A few have any become more than virtual acquaintances, having exchanged emails and, in some cases, phone conversations. I include you among my rather small group that I call "friends".

I look forward to exchanging ideas with all of you in the coming year, as well as with others we will meet. I know that our contributions to the ideal of living as free-thinkers, unrestrained by dogma and superstition are meager. But all we can do is carry on. It’s another year in paradise.

I think one way that we can make a larger impact on the world, while blogging, is to make our thoughts more personal. I have a tendency to intellectualize without bringing home the point of how it impacts me personally or the individual experiences I have had in my life that brings me to my philosophies. I struggle with this, and I've noticed I'm not the only one. I'm going to try to focus on this a bit more next year. There are things that I prefer not to talk about, but I think I can contribute more by doing so - and I'll probably be helping myself as well. I think most of us would agree that blogging is therapeutic, even if we never convince another person that belief in gods is a waste of ones life.

Hopefully 2008 will be see a tiny bit more enlightened world. Happy New Year and thanks to every one of you.

John Evo

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

I wanted to go there before this

My niece (who is going to be rich) asked me recently where in the world I’d like to go for a vacation if I could just up and do it. Without hesitation I said – New Guinea. She was a bit baffled, never having even heard of it. After I explained it to her she shrugged and said, “OK, John. When I’m rich, I’m going to send you there!” What a great kid. That was Thursday. Friday, I saw this story on and it just adds to my desire – and I think you’ll understand why.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Disturbing, Raw... Real

I think almost everyone in the Atheosphere has now listed their "Top 20 Albums". Everyone but me. And I'm not going to be doing it here despite several tags. I've said about as much as I'm going to say in the comments at places like No More Hornets, Tales of an Ordinary Girl, The Apostates Chapel, etc.

One thing I did notice is that (I guess due to the age range in the Atheosphere) there were very few current artists listed. We do have a couple of younger members like Lynet over at Elliptica, but I don't think she has put up her list yet. I have to say that I think some current music is as good (from my twisted perspective) as the things we were listening to 10, 20, 30 and 40 years ago.

Here's someone you may be familiar with. I was not. When I saw this woman, the two things that came to mind for me were 1. Janis Joplin and 2. If I were back in my "clubbing days", I'd go see her!

The first clip is a regular music video and the second one from a concert. I think you'll really get the Joplin analogy from the second one. Her name is Amy Winehouse. And I like her.

Friday, December 21, 2007

God snores as another Sparrow bites the dust

The first thought I had upon finishing the Sparrow (by Mary Doria Russell, and the latest reading by our group – The Non-Believing Literati) was an echo of a recent comment. I’m not sure who wrote it. I’m not sure what blog it was on. But it was, essentially, “why can’t there be some great atheist literature that starts and, especially, ends with the premise – the whole idea of God is absurd?”

Oh sure, there was great doubt about god in the Sparrow. But the nagging feeling I was left with is still – "oh yeah, there is a god. We just don’t comprehend It’s ways."

That is so deeply intellectually bankrupt. If the God of the Christians and the God of protagonist Emilio Sandoz is this far beyond our limited understanding, wouldn’t it be better to proceed with life minus the trappings of a god we can never hope to comprehend?

I thought I might have missed something, so I felt compelled to read the interview with Russell in the back of my copy of the book. What a surprise to find out that she used to be an atheist, had a kid, and resurrected belief – jumping from Christianity to Judaism!

I guess she at least brings a lot of science to her belief. She accepts evolution. She even seems to accept the evolution of consciousness (a leap that many other theists are unwilling to make). But, sadly for her, god still looms out there someplace. And that "someplace" can't even be too far away for Russell. She realized that the morals she needed to pass on to her offspring were morals that came from religion. Uh... no they aren't Mary! There is plenty of evolutionary evidence that "morals" were around before any god-like mythologies popped up.

All three of the books we have read so far, while essentially rejecting fundamentalist notions of religion, still can’t make the final short leap into reality. I sincerely hope the book I have chosen for our fourth reading can do that much for me. Is it really too much to ask?

For those who didn’t see my earlier post on the subject, the current reading for The Non-Believing Literati is The Plague, but Albert Camus. I’m not sure I’m looking forward to it. I learn from everything – it’s a matter of will. But I know I’d be learning a lot if I was reading deGrasse Tyson’s “Death by Black Hole; and Other Cosmic Quandaries”. It beckons lovingly…

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Humans Massed, Ready for Extinction had one of the best Science Saturdays I have seen this past week. I’d strongly recommend the entire 1 hour talk between science writer extraordinaire Carl Zimmer and University of Washington Professor Peter Ward, who has also authored some 15 books. His most recent has shot up on my "to read" list and is called Under a Green Sky. Ward is a paleontologist and has spent much of his career studying mass extinctions. He is a fascinating interview; articulate, knowledgeable and fully aware that his audience may not share his expertise.

I am also linking you to what I considered the most important part of the “diavlog” and I hope, if you don’t want to watch the entire hour, you’ll click on it and watch this shorter segment. If anyone does, please leave a comment about what you think. I’d love to discuss the issues he brings up.

You may think you know about past extinctions and what would be the probable cause of a future one, but some of the scientific understanding seems to be shifting. Just to tease you a bit – it’s not necessarily the “impact” or the “warming” that Ward thinks will directly cause the extinctions. He also gives some fascinating insights into the science wars that go on whenever a new hypothesis causes a re-examination of the orthodoxy.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Pat Condell - "Pimping for Jesus"

I've posted Pat before and I'm quite sure I'll post his videos in the future. Just the other day, I was looking for an interesting video to put up here (a sure sign that I have nothing much to say). I went to Pat Condell's page and started watching a few of the dozens there. They were all good. In fact, something he said got me thinking about something and before you know it I actually had an original thought to share with you.

A tip of my sombrero to SeƱor Exterminator who directed my attention to this particular video. It's quite topical, dealing with the upcoming U.S. Presidential Primary race and some assorted issues that we tend to talk about nearly every day here in the Atheosphere. Pat is a comedian, but I find myself more astonished at the clarity of his thinking and usually end up angrier than anything else. It's funny in a sad sort of way, because it's so spot-on true.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Why Creationists need not obsess on the evolution of life

I’m amazed when Biblical and Koranic literalists blow themselves into a typhoon over the science of biology. Life, including Homo sapiens, is but a small part of our scientific understanding of the universe that clearly runs contrary to their beliefs. Why all the fuss from some trucker from Kansas who wants to teach his kids that cows were made exactly as they are right now, in such a way as to be nearly totally for the benefit of humans? Don’t they realize that there are many other problems with their myth? Science learns more and more (almost daily now), bringing a great amount of certitude as to how things came to be as we currently observe them.

For instance – “God created the earth”. Why obsess on whether man has chimpanzee as his closest living relative, when science is quite positive about how the Earth was “created”? Wouldn't that be a larger problem to confront? I suppose they could claim that science is just having some insights into how God created the Earth, but such acknowledgment would still put them in the uncomfortable position of having to deny the literality of their sacred texts.

We know that this particular “creation” is merely a work in progress. Is god still creating the Earth? The Hawaiian Islands continually pop up and grow larger. Iceland is being ripped apart. The Himalaya Mountain range is growing, California is splitting off from the North American continent, etc. The Earth has reshaped over and over and continues to do so. The livable atmosphere has varied greatly.

“In the beginning” there was nothing habitable on the planet at all. After it became habitable, it wouldn’t have immediately been survivable by humans and cows. Only microorganisms could have existed in the original habitable environment.

These are scientific facts. Shouldn’t these facts bother biblical literalists as much, or even more, than evolution? And yet they seem to act as if the only obstacle to a biblical understanding of the universe is this damn annoying idea that the atheistic Darwin came up with. It’s just one more of those strange anomalies in dealing with theists.

Amazing Earth Part 1

Amazing Earth Part 2

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Creationists plan British theme park and I'm ambivalent

This story from today's Guardian Unlimited:

A business trust is looking at sites for a Christian showplace to challenge the theory of evolution

The latest salvo in creationism's increasingly ferocious battle with evolution is about to be fired in Lancashire. Not in a fiery sermon preached from the pulpit, but in the form of a giant Christian theme park that will champion the book of Genesis and make a multi-media case that God created the world in seven days.

The AH Trust, a charity set up last year by a group of businessmen alarmed by the direction in which they see society heading, has identified a number of potential sites in the north west of England to build the £3.5m Christian theme park. (More)

I actually have mixed feelings about this.

I'm really sick of the United States being the laughingstock of Western Democracies when it comes to religion. For many years nearly all of the European and Asian democracies have had a great time making fun of the "fundamentalist Yanks" and the absurdities of religious interference on public policy. It's kind of fun to see it happening to one of them - right in the home of Charles Darwin, no less.

But then, common sense overcomes me, and I realize that it is (and always has been) a battle of the community of reason worldwide. I've always had a problem with nationalism, racism, tribalism and sexism. I judge people by how they think and behave and set aside other differences that do nothing but create barriers between otherwise like-minded Homo sapiens. It's the same problem, shared by all rational thinkers.

Friday, December 14, 2007

But Virginia, it might not show up until AFTER Christmas!

Since I’m roughly forty percent of the way through our current reading of The Sparrow, I obviously won’t be posting about it at this time. Hopefully I can work my way through it next week and write something. Meanwhile, try not to take offense that I don’t comment on your essay. I won’t be reading anyone else’s until I post. (I did not read the post at No More Hornets! I just scanned the title and Virginia's letter).

But, it is my month to pick a book for us to read. I was struggling over a couple of different books that I have read and enjoyed but finally decided to go with something completely new to me. I consulted a few secular book sites in search of the right thing. They had many good recommendations but the one I settled on was touted by several sites as an excellent book. I’ll leave that to our readers! As always, new members are welcome to join in and read along with the group (and ahead of me). Just contact The Exterminator if interested (or me and I’ll pass it along to him).

The next book for the Non-Believing Literati is The Plague, by Albert Camus. I will assume that posts on it can start appearing on January 31, 2008, unless The Exterminator has a different schedule in mind. Personally, I wouldn’t mind us doing one every 2 months. I’m probably the slowest reader in the group and 6 weeks is (obviously) a tight squeeze for me with the other reading I do. But I leave that to the boss.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Beyond Belief 2007, Enlightenment 2.0

The Beyond Belief conference, in La Jolla, CA last year, provided some of the most entertaining and educational videos I have seen. I will be completely honest and tell you that I have just started watching this year’s conference, which took place at the end of October and early November. So I can’t exactly recommend it to you in good conscience, other than to say that I look forward to seeing it, based on last year.

The videos are broken up into 5 sessions, each two or three hours long. Here is the link to The Science Network’s page covering Beyond Belief 2007. Near the bottom of the page, you can go directly to which ever session you want to watch.

Among many other speakers, you will find Francisco Ayala, Sean M. Carroll, Pat & Paul Churchland, Daniel Dennett (missing from ’06 due to a heart attack), Sam Harris, Sir Harold Kroto, Rodolfo Llinas, PZ Myers, John Allen Paulos, Carolyn Porco, VS Ramashandran, Michael Shermer, Lee Silver, David Sloan Wilson and, once again, hosted by Roger Bingham (who was positively brilliant in last year’s conference). If you are not sure if this is your cup of tea, you might click here and get an explanation of what Beyond Belief 2007, Enlightenment 2.0 is all about. Knowing the general interests and intellectual capacities of most of the bloggers I associate with, I can say there is little doubt you will find some, or all, of this very interesting.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Life in the Dead Zone

200 million years ago, the super-continent Gondwana (Africa, South America, Australia and, crucially to this post, Antarctica) was teeming with ancient life including, naturally, the dinosaurs. That continent broke up over many millions of years into the four present continents. But this means, of course, that dinosaurs once roamed Antarctica. So did countless other creatures. Back then, it was not positioned at the far southern tip of the planet and it was quite warm.

It’s amazing now, when you look at aerial pictures of the rugged continent and hear stories of the hardy scientists (and others) that live months or years at a time in the harshest climate on Earth, to think of all of these animals roaming and making a good life of it. But survive, thrive and evolve they did.

But here’s what I think is the really exciting part of all of this. Our abilities to explore and extract from that continent grow exponentially along with the rapid increase in all of our technological ingenuity. In the coming decades, we can expect some absolutely astonishing discoveries coming from Antarctica.

In the mid-nineties, a team lead by William Hammer of Augustana College dug up some dinosaur fossils. Only recently have those fossils been thoroughly examined and described. It transpires that we have a brand new genus and species of dino! Here’s the story. There should be plenty more such finds in the years to come. Some of them might make this one seem positively minor.



I also wanted to point readers to this list that I recently came upon over at on their Science Saturday “diavlog” between science writers George Johnson and John Horgan (two regulars). John Horgan was one of those responsible for compiling this particular list, called The Stevens Seventy Greatest Science Books.

From Horgan’s statement about the list:

We at the Center for Science Writings began compiling “The Stevens Greatest Science Books” in late 2005. Written primarily by scientists but also by philosophers, historians, journalists and other worthies, these books stand out for their subject matter, rhetorical style and impact on science and the rest of culture. Although our original goal was 100 books, we’re stopping at the “Stevens Seventy,” which has a mnemonic ring to it. Also, we worried that a larger list might seem boastful, like a list of “My 100 Closest Friends.”

I know I have more reading to do than I can handle, and I figure many of my friends do too. Still, I love good books about science so it’s nice to find resources like this one that I can look at and maybe occasionally add a book.

Pinker on “The Stuff of Thought”

If you have considered reading Harvard cognitive scientist Steven Pinker’s recent book “The Stuff of Thought”, you might want to listen to this in-depth interview with him. Don’t worry, he doesn’t give away the shocking surprise ending! The interview is done by The Guardian Unlimited for their Science Weekly program.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Creationism Revisited

British atheist Ricky Gervais used to be an ardent believer in evolution. But then he got the facts from the bible and shares them with us. Personally, I'd already read it. Still, the way he examines the arguments for Creationism, well... if you are anything like me, you'll give the theory another chance. This is very convincing.

Friday, December 07, 2007


Item #1

I'm so happy! I just received my first Reason's Greeting card this year!


The picture on the inside is the cutest little angel you've ever seen. It's a sperm with wings and a halo!

Much thanks (and Merry Christmas!) to my friend Spanish Inquisitor.

Item #2

Olbermann lets loose with one of his immediately classic "Special Comments" that he does every couple of months. Along with accusing "W" of being a "bald faced liar" and saying that he has "no business being President", says this:

"We have either a president who is too dishonest to restrain himself from invoking World War III about Iran at least six weeks after he had to have known that the analogy would be fantastic, irresponsible hyperbole, or we have a president too transcendentally stupid not to have asked, at what appears to have been a series of opportunities to do so, whether the fairy tales he either created or was fed were still even remotely plausible."

Item #3

I'm a little surprised that Phillychief didn't beat me to the punch on this story, "Fox & Friends launched a salvo in the War on Christmas Monday, attacking an atheist group's "tree of knowledge" erected in front of a Philadelphia courthouse alongside a creche and menorah, while ignoring a 32-foot tree dedicated to "commercial attraction" in the same public square."

Hmmm... weren't we just discussing this sort of a public display representing the atheist viewpoint recently?

Item #4

By special request, from The Exterminator, two of the greatest Bob Marley songs ever -

Get Up, Stand Up

I Shot the Sheriff

Item #5

Have a great weekend. I'll be desperately trying to catch up on my reading for the Non-Believing Literati. Our essays on Mary Doria Russell's "The Sparrow" (sidebar) are scheduled to be posted on, or about, December 15. This book was picked for us by Ordinary Girl. I have a feeling The Exterminator will be asking me to make the next pick, but we'll see in a week or so!

Time for the Middleman to Leave

Oh, stop panicking! I'm not going anywhere. At least not right now.

No, the title is in reference to an article I just read that I wanted to point out to you. It was written by BlackSun over at Black Sun Journal. As you might guess, the title of his post almost knocked me out of my chair - Getting Rid of the Middleman.

Fortunately he wasn't lobbying for my removal from the Athesosphere. The "middleman" in question goes by a different name - God. Here's some of what he says in the post:

"But religion has created an artificial need for divine love, divine compassion–which sounds all well and good, even transcendent, until we realize that it’s a backhanded compliment. If we acknowledge the need for divine love, for example, it’s inescapable that we therefore distrust human love. So when we invoke god in conversation, we are essentially devaluing ourselves and whoever we are talking to. Take for example these statements which are so ingrained in the language that even many atheists use them: “God knows.” “Oh my god.” “Goddammit.” And of course the ever-irritating “god bless you,” “god willing” and “With god all things are possible.”

"Let’s purge the language and our thought of these disempowering middleman phrases and concepts."

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

It’s the most wonderful time of the year… But is it Christmas?

Do you love the season, starting in mid December and culminating on the 25th (with some celebrations continuing on to New Year’s Day and some others even through January 6th)? As these days approach, perhaps your thoughts turn to family, friends, feasts and drinks (hopefully even alcoholic ones)! You may enjoy setting up a tree and decorating it (and everything else) in glorious red, green and white. Do you place a lovely wreath upon the entrance to your abode? Colorful lights are everywhere. Friends tack up mistletoe above a doorway. Carolers are out and about, singing songs while wishing all good cheer and peace. The Yule logs on fire warm the night. Gifts, both humble and extravagant, are exchanged with relatives, friends and even casual acquaintances. Have you told late night tales to toddlers about a jolly old elf who delivers toys and goodies around the world? Is that your idea of a wonderful Christmas?

It is wonderful. But it’s no more of a “Christian holiday” than Halloween is. Every single one of the above “Christian” traditions is ages old. In fact, they were with us many eons prior to the putative birth of Christ. All of these pagan traditions, drawing from a number of European and Middle Eastern societies, were shamelessly co-opted by the Catholic Church in the centuries following the fall of the Roman Empire. The nativity scene and some new songs featuring the baby Jesus were worked directly in to the old celebrations. Even the suppositional date of his birth was mysteriously stipulated to be right at the same time as the pagan merrymaking.

Personally, I’m not selfish. The festivities of the season are lovely and even my fellows who are Christian are invited to participate. Just as long as they refrain from claiming they invented it. When they (inevitably) do, they should be politely informed of the facts. This should be done totally within the spirit of the season, of course.

Why, you may ask, would the church do anything like that? Christians represented the “one true god” and could just as easily have said his birth was in mid-March and came up with unique ways of celebrating it, without stealing pagan traditions. Well… no, they couldn’t have done that.

The problem is that the celebrations of Saturnalia and Winter Solstice were so incredibly popular that there was absolutely no way for Christian leadership to attenuate them. And you know the best thing to do when ya can’t beat ‘em. The Catholics determined to slap the unknown date of Christ’s birth right on top of the old pagan holidays and “order” everyone to keep the party rollin’. And roll on it has done, just as one might expect of such a great holiday. Even the “reformed” Christian churches, of more recent centuries, hasn’t put an end to the revelry.

And you have to give it to those pagans – they didn’t stop right after the first of the year and recommence liquidating “non-believers”. In large, they didn’t care much about other people’s gods. In fact, if the deities were any good, they’d include them with their own gods.

I don’t believe any more in the gods of the pagans than I do the god of the Christians, Jews, Muslims or anyone else. On the other hand, a good party is a good party. And one that is based on love, peace and brotherhood is as good as it gets. We just need to know that it all started long before Christ was born.

So when you see me on the streets and twitter “Merry Christmas!” you know what I’m going to do? I’m going to give you a beaming smile, grab your hand and shake it. Then I’ll bellow, “and a wonderful Winter Solstice to you”! And now, you’ll know exactly what I’m referring to. And when fretting that Christmas just doesn’t seem to mean what it once did, you’ll know – it never really meant what you assumed it did.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Taboo Words - A Self Exam

I started writing this as a comment to a post by The Exterminator over at No More Hornets. The post is “My friend ‘Fuck’: A Tribute”. Having seen it after it had already been up a day, I was mildly surprised that a post with that title would have only six comments! But I felt sure that Philly Chief would be one of them! And, had I given it a thought, I could have predicted his opening paragraph. What I could not have predicted is that all of the other comments were from females. There’s some vestigial sexism for you! I admit it.

I'm having a little different feeling about this than Exterminator. I'll tell you why and I'd like to hear what all of you think.

I seldom use the word "fuck" in writing. In hundreds of posts around the Atheosphere and on my own blog, I would be surprised if you could find it more than 3 or 4 times. I'll probably use it more during the course of this post than all other times combined. I use it more when talking, but even then it depends on the company.

And that brings me to my thought process on using it. First, I should admit, I grew up in a house where the word was never permissible under any circumstances. I obviously grew out of that, in much the same way as I grew out of god. But it would be silly for me to deny that there is quite possibly some residual hesitation because of that. Because I'm pretty self-aware I don't think it's a big factor. I've whispered, said, shouted, "FUCK" enough times in my 54 years as to convince me of this.

But I'm aware of the power of the word over others. So, in company that I either don't care if they are offended or know they won't be, I'll use it as frequently as called for. In other circumstances, including the Atheosphere, where I know my words will reach all kinds of sensibilities, I'm more restrained in the use of it.

Exterminator brings up Steven Pinker's latest book "The Stuff of Thought" and some of the things he says about "fuck". Pinker said a lot of interesting things about the word and “taboo words” in general. One of the points he makes that resonates strongly with my own desire for personal restraint is that taboo words are used many times to take control of the thoughts of others. What does he mean by this? Because of the ancient aspects of taboo language in the brain, when one hears a taboo word, they have no conscious choice available to ignore it. Ones attention is riveted on that word – enjoy it or hate it.

To me, that feels like a power play and I try not to make power plays on people if it isn’t absolutely necessary. When I’m speaking or writing to a wide audience, I don’t know who might be effected, but that very fact makes me more reserved. Pinker: “Thanks to the automatic nature of speech perception, a taboo word kidnaps our attention and forces us to consider its unpleasant connotations. That makes all of us vulnerable to a mental assault whenever we are in earshot of other speakers, as if we were strapped to a chair and could be given a punch or a shock at any time”. I don’t do things the way I do because of Pinker, but what Pinker says reflects the gut level feeling I already have. In fact, Pinker doesn't particularly advise restraint!

Pinker talks about another aspect of taboo words that relates to my own usage. One of the reasons for using curse words is the cathartic value of blowing off steam. In talking about brain mechanisms that may play a role in cathartic swearing, he says:

One of them is an electrophysiological response that kicks in when people notice they have just made an error. It emanates from the anterior cingulate cortex, a part of the limbic system involved in the monitoring of cognitive conflict. In public, cognitive neuroscientists call this response the Error-Related Negativity; in private they call it the Oh-Shit Wave”.

After describing the so-called “rage circuit”, a part of the brains of all mammals, he goes on to explain a hypothesis about cathartic swearing.

A sudden pain or frustration engages the Rage circuit, which activates parts of the limbic brain connected with negative emotion. Among them are representations of concepts with a strong emotional charge and the words connected to them, particularly the versions in the right hemisphere, with its heavier involvement in unpleasant emotions. The surge of an impulse for defensive violence may also remove the safety catches on aggressive acts ordinarily held in place by the basal ganglia, since discretion is not the better part of valor during what could be the last five seconds of your life. In humans, these inhibited responses may include the uttering of taboo words. Recall that the Rage response in animals also includes a fearsome yelp. Perhaps the combination of a firing up of negative concepts and words, a release of inhibition on antisocial acts, and the urge to make a sudden sharp noise culminates in an obscenity rather than the traditional mammalian shriek. (Of course, when people experience severe pain, they show that our species has also retained the ability to holler and howl.) Cathartic swearing, then, would come from a cross-wiring of the mammalian Rage circuit with human concept and vocal routines.

I can see the strong relation between this description and my own way of using “fuck” and other swear words. When speaking, I’m much more likely, in anger or pain, to blurt out one of them almost as an instinctive reaction. I still attempt, on a conscious level, to moderate the release of the words based on the people within earshot. Sometimes I’m successful with this, other times not! Certainly though, when writing I am in full control of my emotions. This is not to say that emotions don’t play a part in what I have to say. Clearly you could go back and point out posts to me in which I was obviously effected by emotions while writing. But I don’t blurt out. My thoughts are much more finely crafted in writing than in speech.


Most of us have heard the story about “fuck” being a thing from the Middle Ages where, in order to have sex, one needed the King’s approval. Fornication Under Consent of King was a placard to be affixed to the bedroom door, and later it was abbreviated as F.U.C.K. This is nothing more than urban legend for the roots of the word. It’s actually a derivative of a Northern European word for “thrust”. (Pinker, 2007)

Thursday, November 29, 2007

All those missing hours

I had two problems. I've been running short of time on nearly everything I do lately and I knew that one of the things I had to do was an overdue update of my blogroll.

As I looked at the new (for me) blogs that I have been regularly visiting in recent weeks, it became very obvious where all my missing time was at! Seems like I have 10 blogs to add to the blogroll. I'm too tired to add them all on the sidebar tonight, so I'll just name them and add them in the next couple of days.

Thanks to all of you for providing me with hours and hours of interesting, enlightening and, in many cases, educational reading.

In no particular order, except the first - which I have spent so much time at that I'm a bit waterlogged. Then again, I am the Majority Whip there, so my presence is required.

1. The Meme Pool
2. Primordial Blog
3. An Apostate's Chapel
4. Completely Baffled
5. The Greenbelt
6. Infidel753
7. Return of the Prodigal Blogger
8. An Atheist Homeschooler
9. Elliptica
10. EnoNomi

"Stermy" Mania Sweeps Through the Aethosphere!

Don't be left out of the fun! What, you say you haven't heard? The First Monthly Stermy Awards for excellence in writing on topics of interest to readers of the Atheosphere have been released!

So get over there right now. You might have won. If you didn't win, you can read the posts that did win and maybe develop some inspiration for next month.

And, NO.... I was NOT one of the winners. Some really stupid technicality.... anyway, everyone KNOWS that I'm not a sore loser. My warm congratulations have been posted in several places and there is not ONE word of bitterness. Not ONE word. And I can write those last two sentences with a clean conscience because I read Pinker and you don't.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Common Agenda of Atheists

Infidel753 put up an interesting and thought provoking post called "Internet insularity" (Nov.27). It was so intriguing that Ute went to her blog and riffed off of it. And now I’m going to do so also, though on a different point that the one Ute was particularly interested in.

What got me going was this, from what Infidel said to The Exterminator in the comments section of his post:

"That's certainly true, though I'd argue that atheists are not a "community" in the sense that Christians or Muslims are. All we have in common is a lack of belief in one particular thing. There's no reason to think that that implies commonalities on anything else -- as I like to say, what's the common agenda of all people who don't believe in unicorns?"

This is standard wisdom that most of us have acknowledged as a general truism about atheists. Sometimes instead of “unicorns” its leprechauns, fairies or teapots orbiting mars that are used as examples of this axiom. But we all know what’s meant by it, and tend to agree that it is so. We are not united, because atheism is not a religion. It is intuitively accurate to make the assertion. I’ve done it myself - probably many times. But is it true?

Am I exceedingly optimistic or do we certainly seem to agree on an astounding amount of topics? Ever since I started blogging, and interacting with other bloggers, I’ve noticed that I have relatively few serious disagreements with fellow atheists. And I mean on any subject, not just on the supernatural. My single biggest disagreement has probably been with Philly Chief, who seems to believe (erroneously) that it's better to be a Kansas City Chiefs fan than a Green Bay Packers fan! It may well be true that getting a group of atheists to all do the same thing is like herding cats. But cats are still obstinately similar to other cats!

What I’m going to suggest here is that the sweeping majority of atheists share something else besides the default view of the universe as being godless. I think what this 'certain something' is, happens to be the very thing that led most of us to atheism. People who see the world for what it is, and not some fantasy view, are employing free-thinking, reason, rationality, and common-sense. And even if they do not earn their living in the sciences, they fully accept the Scientific Method as being the greatest tool ever devised by the human mind for arriving at accurate answers to the questions we have about the universe. We didn't just stumble into atheism. We didn't become atheist because we hate life or because we desire being different. Becoming an atheist, for most of us, was a natural progression from a method of viewing life.

People who think this way are bound to arrive at very similar conclusions to any number of controversies. The general principles of Humanism are derived in no small part by the use of these intellectual tools. While atheists can, and do, disagree on various aspects of a Humanist agenda, nearly all are “on board” to varying degrees. I don't think I've ever exactly defined myself as a Humanist. But from everything I've heard about it, I am in agreement, by and large. And that means we have an answer to Infidel’s question: what's the common agenda of all people who don't believe in unicorns? It is a Humanist agenda, even if we don't describe ourselves quite that way.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Things I never got to...

Each time I see an interesting article that is at least peripherally related to what I blog about, I bookmark it with the intention of writing something about it. I looked at my “blog ideas” folder and discovered that they have kind of piled up. I figure I’m never going to get around to doing them justice. If something isn’t a big enough imperative for me to sit down right then (or very soon afterwards) and do some writing then it’s unlikely I will do it. Based on this self-analysis, you may rightfully infer that these articles are not worth your time. They might not be but, just in case they deal with a subject you find particularly fascinating, I’ll list them with a brief intro and you can follow-up if you want.

First is an article that concerns studies done on people who “blow off steam” by venting to others about their problems. Conventional wisdom would have it that venting is good for us. Philly Chief may be our resident expert on venting and I would love to see what he thinks about this article, Quit Complaining – It May Make You Feel Worse. It says it’s not a good idea – at least unless it’s done the right way!

So what on Earth's the big attraction? provides a list of the great attractions of the U.K. and of the world that visitors are typically underwhelmed at, once they get there. Science writer Bill Bryson explains what’s wrong in our view of these sites.

Why not rile you up a bit? Did you know that For Many Kids, Faith is the Key to Happiness? Well, that’s what the study done here seems to show. Have fun dissecting the problems with this view. I have several responses. One would be, how does the study account for the fact that most religions equate happiness with belief in the religion and anyone answering questions about happiness would tend to respond that they are, indeed, contented and joyful. After all, if they aren't - there is either something wrong with them or with the religion!

Back to more reality based material, I bet not too many readers will be surprised to know that it isn’t just humans that have a big old soft spot in their hearts for infants. The study on Rhesus Monkeys seems to confirm it in Even Monkeys Go Ga-Ga Over Babies.

A guy I have raved about often leads you through a nice video that was on the New York Times. Sean B. Carroll tells us where we are at in 2007 with The Science of Evolution. This is a really short video and, if you are interested in what he is talking about, search my blog under his name and it will take you to other longer videos with him. Personally, I can’t get enough of Sean, so if you run across any other videos with him please notify me!

Speaking of evolution, just how confusing is the ancestry of modern Homo sapiens? It has become very perplexing as the old “straight line” (Afarensis to Habilis to Erectus, etc) has changed drastically in the past 30 years. The Human Family Tree Now a Tangled, Messy Bush. Again, read where we are in 2007 as we are forced to deal with the reality that it’s not a simple, straight line answer.

Continuing on this theme, but on a different form of life – bacteria that could be 600,000 years old! This story is from a few months ago and you may have seen it. If not, are you interested in reading about The Oldest Living Thing Found In Ice? Find out what this tells us about evolution and about the chances of finding life beyond our planet.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Atheosphere - What's the Use?

First of all, take a look at this tangentially related article from LiveScience a couple of days ago -

The social networking site of choice is related to a student's race, ethnicity and parents' education, a new survey indicates.

The finding "suggests there's less intermingling of users from varying backgrounds on these sites than previously believed," said study leader Eszter Hargittai of the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern University in Illinois.

Hargittai surveyed more than 1,000 freshmen from the University of Illinois, Chicago.Results show:

Caucasian students prefer Facebook.Hispanic students prefer MySpace.Asian and Asian-American students were more likely than others to "socialize" on Xanga and Friendster. They also used Facebook.Asian and Asian-American students are least likely to use MySpace.
(Remainder of Article)

There's no surprise from this study that people tend to aggregate among similar others in lifestyle and philosophy. So this intersects with thinking about my blog, and what I would hope to accomplish with it (besides the obvious - that writing out my thoughts helps me develop my own thinking, is relaxing and is an excellent way of relieving some of the quickly accumulating societal angst).

Would I love to convince even a few theists to second-guess their view of the universe and start living a life based on reason? Of course I would. Is it a realistic goal for my blog? Absolutely not. We've all seen dozens of blogs that seem dedicated to dissuading readers from a belief in the supernatural. I may add a grain of medicine to the glass of skepticism that some theist has been sipping at anyway and might then be a more potent drink that helps him towards recovery. But it's going to be extremely rare and unlikely - because that type of reader spends very little time at blogs like ours. I still keep such people in mind while writing, because you never know when they may happen by, and my tone and information can either assist or detract from someones journey to the land of reason.

That said, it seems like there's something else I can focus on that really can help a certain group of people. These people are the ones who are most likely to seek out my blog (based on certain key-word searches they might do, or clicking on my link from a similar blog). These people could be called "the choir" as in "Your just preaching to the choir, John. What's the point"? Here, my friends, is the point:

The Exterminator commented on my blog and his, directed at The Chaplain, Ute, JP and others who fit the bill:

"It's nice to have you folks openly joining the dialogue. I don't know whom you're gonna thank this Thanksgiving, although I have a pretty good idea of whom you're not gonna thank. But I'd like to thank you for helping me realize that our little blogs might actually do some good."

Right On! Say it, Brother! There are several of us in this loose knit group of atheists who have been non-believers for years and basically live our lives completely out in the open. While we encourage others to be able to have the freedom we do, we realize the extremely convoluted life situations that others find themselves in and that not everyone can do what we have done - at least not immediately. We don't snub them - we embrace them as brothers and sisters. We have an opportunity to provide them with a community that they may have no where else in their lives. Be it 2 hours a day or 20 minutes a week, they know a place they can go where others think like they do. The folks there are friendly and caring. The members are happy to give personal insights to situations they had 20 or 30 years ago that may apply to something the visitor has been going through this week.

I think I already do this. I think a lot of us do. But I believe we can focus on it a bit more and actively search for these brothers and sisters. You can read it in their blogs if you just take the few minutes to go to a couple new blogs every day and read what's on their minds. Why not invite them to join us. There's no exclusivity at this party.

We already have the community. The Exterminator and Spanish Inquisitor, in particular, have created an extremely friendly environment for meeting and discussing issues related to reason, common-sense, skepticism, rationality, agnosticism and atheism. Additionally, the Exterminator came up with a great project that can be a tool for uniting free-thinkers in a common activity - The Non-Believing Literati. If you haven't joined, maybe you should think about it. There's no great expectations (the book or the pressure). You needn't participate on every book. You are free to pick and choose. And I know Spanish Inquisitor is a bright enough atheist to come up with some other tool for creating a stronger community - especially since he can relate to newer free-thinkers better them some of us other "old timers".

So I'm just throwing this out into our arena of thought to see if others want to make this particular focus more intrinsic to what we are doing by blogging. I'm sure I'll make more of an effort in this area and hope many of you will join me.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Clinton Would Hang

WASHINGTON - Former White House press secretary Scott McClellan blames President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney for efforts to mislead the public about the role of White House aides in leaking the identity of a CIA operative.

In an excerpt from his forthcoming book, McClellan recount the 2003 news conference in which he told reporters that aides Karl Rove and I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby were "not involved" in the leak involving operative Valerie Plame.

"There was one problem. It was not true," McClellan writes, according to a brief excerpt released Monday. "I had unknowingly passed along false information. And five of the highest-ranking officials in the administration were involved in my doing so: Rove, Libby, the vice president, the president's chief of staff and the president himself." (Entire story)

I've been calling for the impeachment of George Bush and Dick Cheney for nearly two years (since the story broke about the illegal screening of the phone records of millions of American citizens). I know it's highly unlikely that the cowardly Democrats will actually do the right thing and, at the very least, launch a series of hearings concerning the several issues that could be considered potential impeachable offenses (all of which, I can assure you, are much more vital to our country than a President lying about whether or not he had sex with an intern).

Bill Clinton would never have done the many unconstitutional things that Bush/Cheney have done. But had he, we would not only be having hearings and impeachment proceedings, but there would be Republicans clamoring for the death penalty for treason. I'll bet you thought I was being rhetorical with the title of this post, didn't you? I'm not in the least. I honestly believe that at least some of them would be actively claiming that the outing (and lies afterwards) of an undercover agent of an American intelligence agency is a capital offense. And you know what? I think I'd agree with them. But it doesn't matter what you or I think. Bush is laughing at us and at our Constitution.

Monday, November 19, 2007

When an "A" Just Isn't Good Enough

I think I know what his reason was. He comes into the Atheosphere and thinks, "what the hell should I call myself"? He's been going to all these blogs displaying a big, bright, red "A" and thinks, "Yeah! That's it! I'll call myself 'A'". At least that's the fantasy story I've concocted for how the owner of The Meme Pool came to style himself. For all I know, it could be the first initial of his first or last name. It might be that when he was a kid, everyone called him an "a-hole" and it stuck. Maybe he was always the brightest youngster in class and always got "A"s. Or it could be in honor of one of his heroes, Albert (on the left).

I started bugging him about it a week or so ago. I hate it. I can get no mental image on him (imaginary or not; who cares?) when he tags himself with "A". The other problem with it is that in responding to him, it invariably sounds awful and appears that I've made grammatical error - "If you give is a moments thought, A, you'll understand what I mean"!

He said he would do something like I did recently and set up a poll for a new designation. He even received a recommendation from me and another one from The Exterminator. He's now off for his Thanksgiving festivities, but he was kind enough to leave a poll on the upper left side of his blog. Won't you take a moment to go over there and vote? Please - no... PLEASE vote for anything other than "A"!

Afterwards, if you want to re-cast me as "Label Anal", we can discuss it.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

"Darwinian Society" or "The Church of Natural Selection"?

Sacred Slut over at A Whore in the Temple of Reason recently posted a very interesting entry called “Peaceful Easy Feeling”. If you haven’t read it yet, I highly suggest going over there and enjoying it. Doing so now would add context to what I’m writing about.

Some of us took mild exception with her decision to attend what is, in her words and theirs, a “humanist church”. I should say that I have no “right” to take such exception. Slut can handle her atheism in whatever way she thinks works for her (and her husband) in her life. Anyway, one thing about us atheists – we don’t believe in following some dogmatic principle that tells you what you can and cannot do. Most of us subscribe to a view of humans as intelligent creatures that are fully capable of living a moral and happy life without the interference of supernatural power. Beyond that, how it’s accomplished, no one much cares or, for that matter, has any business instructing others on.

But we do blog and comment in the spirit of an interactive community and it isn’t necessarily a bunch of self-congratulatory dialogue about how much more intellectual and superior our world-view is, over that of theists. We write these things to provoke thought and discussion and to hopefully assist each other along life’s path. While Slut doesn’t know me well, I assume she knows me well enough to correctly discern my motives in writing this.

My initial comment to her included this – “'Semantics', despite its derogatory connotations, has its place in framing the world and how we both see ourselves and want others to view us. How many times have you had to rebut the argument that "atheism is a religion"? Wow, how much harder to do so when you go to a self-described "church"?”

Understand that this is a fully secular gathering that Slut and hubby are attending. Here is their laudable “Mission Statement” - To serve the personal and social needs of those who follow the Humanist Religion of Freethought by offering a basis for moral values. We do this by working for a world with peace, justice and opportunity for all.

Man, I have zero problem with that kind of group. And if it gives Slut (or anyone who desires this type of community setting) a “peaceful, easy feeling”, a sense of place and a way to realize their ideals then I would strongly encourage this type of activity. I’d sure rather see the vast majority of our fellows attending a church like that, than any other religion I have heard about. Certainly it’s a hell of a lot better than a church with members handling poisonous snakes, speaking to each other in imaginary languages, conning money from members for faith healings, etc.

I can only speak to the issue of what works for me and why. Up until a very recent time in my life, I’ve gotten along quite well without any sort of group affiliation regarding my status as an atheist. Only through the great people I’ve met since blogging have I finally “joined” a group. I have to admit, I like this a whole lot better than simply living my life to best of my ability, as a non-believer. Even prior to this, I know I would have completely understood Slut's longing for a community setting.

As much as I enjoy this community though, I know that those who would stifle our efforts at encouraging others towards a life of humanist, free-thinking, skeptical rationalism would use anything against us that even appears to make sense to those sitting on the proverbial fence. Among their arguments is the one that we, in fact, are just another religion. Presumably ours is somehow associated with demons. I’m quick to point out that I no more believe in their devils and demons than I do in their gods.

But, personally, I just don’t even want to give them any ammunition. By calling my group a “church” or a "religion", I feel like I’m playing in to their hands. To me, it’s a small price to pay (not getting tax shelter) to call it a society, organization, club, or anything but a church.

Miriam Websters Dictionairy gives 5 definitions for the noun "church":

1: a building for public and especially Christian worship

2: the clergy or officialdom of a religious body

3 often capitalized: a body or organization of religious believers: as a: the whole body of Christians b: denomination c: congregation

4: a public divine worship

5: the clerical profession

I don't know how anyone else might read these, but I can't pick out a single one that I can parse enough to somehow defend against a theist who tosses it in my face and claims, "yes sir, your Atheist friend Slut seems to accept that you guys are just as religious as we are". I can still defend the concept that atheism isn't religion, but it would be a small semantic point that I would necessarily cede.

I just thought I'd put my feelings out here for further discussion if anyone wants to. May Darwin bestow his blessings on you.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Here's To Pip

I’m a cat lover. I have been since I was a kid. Now, at 54, I think I probably enjoy their company even more than I did as a youngster. I like animals period. We have 2 dogs and 2 cats. I feed the squirrels who hang around in my back yard, and always make sure there’s a little left for the birds to get their share as well. But cats are my favorite. Here's my two.

There’s just something about their style. I appreciate their independence and their finicky eating habits. I like the fact that my cat is smart enough to jump up on my desk and stare at me for a treat, and if that doesn’t do the trick, he’ll jump up on my shoulders and stretch out across them; but he ain’t rollin’ over for nobody! I like that they enjoy my company but aren’t breathlessly begging for attention with tongue hanging out, drool slopping down, and tail viciously slapping back and forth. They would rather just follow me in to the next room (usually about 2 minutes after I move), then casually curl up in a comfy position not far from my hand, in case I feel like reaching out to them. And I really enjoy the expression, when talking about trying to get a group of atheists to do anything, that it is “like herding cats”. Yeah! Cats. You gotta love ‘em. Unless you have one of those cat allergy things going on, in which case I fully forgive you if you don’t see this my way.

So you might be wondering, “who is this Pip”?, and you might be guessing that he’s one of my cats. He’s not. Pip was a wonderful pet and friend – to our friend The Exterminator and his wife. Pip passed away this week and my thoughts go out to the Exterminators. Here’s what The Exterminator had to say about their cat:

“The cat's name was Pip, after the Dickens character in Great Expectations. We began feeding her when she was still a small feral kitten hanging with her mother in our backyard. We thought she was a male, both because of her aggressive behavior (see the stereotype there?) and because neither one of us had ever known a female whose coat was such a bright shade of orange. Hence the name. The kitten had great expectations, indeed, because she used to scratch at our back door trying to get in the house. For some reason, she didn't want to be free to roam in the wild; she wanted to be where the food came from. It wasn't long before she did get invited in for good, which is when we discovered that the anticipated male parts were missing. But both my wife and I really liked the name Pip, and we imagined that the kitten seemed to respond to it."
Like Exterminator, both of our cats are adopted. I encourage anyone who can, to give a cat a good home. If you are going to do it, may I also recommend getting an adult cat from your local animal shelter? Cats in shelters are going to be euthanized after a fairly short time if no one steps up to give them a home. Adults are the hardest for Animal Control officers to place. It’s understandable that someone is usually looking for a kitten. After all, there are few things in life as adorable as a kitten. But the fact is, they are only kittens for a very short time anyway. With a kitten, you never know what their adult personality is going to be like. Adopting an adult doesn't have to mean it has to be old. Even an 8 month old cat is already too old for most people looking for a "kitten". You can play with the cats available at the shelter and see if you and it are a good fit. When you take it home, it will already know how to use a cat box. And you are probably saving it from a death sentence.
Here are 4 of about 40 adult cats currently available at our local shelter. The chances are very great that one or more of these will be euthanized soon.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Free Your Mind

Here's a short video salute to the blogs of the Atheosphere. Play along as we look for blogs we know. I spotted "tales of an ordinary girl" and "EnoNomi". Name others you see in the comments.

Tip 'o the hat to The Exterminator for cluing me in to the video.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Waterboarding = Torture

If you believe there might be some semantic wiggle-room that would let us off the hook, you should try it yourself sometime and see that there is no hiding from the awful reality that our country is torturing people. Listen to what Olbermann has to say about Daniel Levin, a former Bush administration official who just had to find out (the hard way) if our country uses torture, and what the logical consequences of Levin's patriotism should be.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The Results Now Go To The Supreme Court!

With "John Evo" only winning by four votes, what other choice do we have? This is closer than Florida. "Happy Hominid" has been examining the poll code and thinks he found errors. It's all too confusing.

No, I'll abide by the results. I respect the will of the people. You know, they say for every vote there were actually 100,000 people who had an opinion they didn't express. Wow. I'm so honored that nearly 2 million of you read and care about this blog.

"My Profile", backspace D, backspace I, backspace M, backspace dash, "Save Changes".

John Evo I am.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Neanderthals and mtDNA

Creationists have a fun little game they like to play with transitional fossils. For instance, with hominid fossils, they look at the older ones (from the Austrolopithicines up to early Homo) they simply declare, “nope – that’s an ape”. For the more recent hominids (Homo heidelbergensis, antecessor, Neanderthal, etc) they say, “nope – that’s modern human”.

The physical evidence is already slam-dunk to contrary. But we have more. We have DNA. What? You didn’t know we have DNA on extinct species? Well, it turns out that Neanderthal DNA has been recovered (some of it only about 40,000 years old). So that DNA (particularly the mitochondrial DNA; the DNA that comes to us directly from our mother – virtually unchanged) should be pretty much the same as a “modern human”, right? Hmmmm… let’s see.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

The Meme of Four

I’m not a huge meme fan, but I will do them now and then. I got tagged for the Meme of Four by The Greenbelt and I’ll go along with this one. Hell, it’s Saturday night. You think I’m having FUN or something?

4 jobs I have had:

Chopping cotton
Delivery driver
Marketing Manager

4 movies I love to watch over and over

Ground Hog Day (now tell me that doesn't make sense)!
12 Monkeys

4 places I have lived

West Los Angeles
San Diego
Clovis, CA
Hollywood, CA

4 TV shows I enjoy watching

Real Time with Bill Maher
Steven Colbert
Curb Your Enthusiasm

4 places I have been

Puerto Rico
Dominican Republic
Jackson Hole, WY

4 Websites I visit daily
McClatchy Washington Bureau
The Young Turks

4 favorite foods

Tito’s Tacos, Tacos (what else?) Culver City, CA
Chinese Friends Kung Pao Chicken, L.A. Chinatown
Apple Pan Hickory Burger, West L.A.
Original Tommy's Chili-Cheese Burger, Echo Park, L.A.

4 places I’d rather be

New Mexico

4 blogs I tag for the Meme of Four (and just like The Greenbelt said to me – feel free to blow it off)!

The Meme Pool (that's fitting, too)!
Completely Baffled

Friday, November 09, 2007

A Fitting Pseudonym

Back in the day as my daughter would say (referring to some ancient time like 3 years ago), I used to post and comment under my real first name - John . I just shrugged and thought, that's anonymous enough. Plus, if I ended up at the blog of a gorgeous prostitute, she'd feel completely comfortable with me.

A few months ago when I discovered Spanish Inquisitor (neither prostitute, nor gorgeous) and started commenting frequently there, I discovered the obvious flaw in my thinking. There are a whole bunch of John's out here. As a guest at his blog, I quickly switched to John B. for a while. Then I noticed most people use the names of their blog. Evolutionary Middleman seemed too long. EM seemed too short. But Goldie John decided that John Evo-Mid was JUST RIGHT!

But it looks really odd and doesn't say anything. What the hell is an "evo-mid"? The Exterminator has referred to me in a number of ways. Some I won't repeat. I kind of like one though - John Evo. That's an easy change to make and no one who is familiar with me and my comments will be thrown off.

Then again...

Over the years I've posted hundreds of comments at sites like the Skeptics Society, Richard Dawkins, and The Young Turks and I've always posted under Happy Hominid. It's a little weird and offbeat, which I like. It says how I see myself. I'm a hominid - indicative of my acceptance of our evolutionary past (did you know that "Homo sapiens" drives fundies absolutely nuts? "I'm not a Homo! And I'm not a Homo sapiens... I'm a MAN goddammit... er... oh Lord. Please forgive me for using Your name in vain, but this goddamn atheist... oh SHIT!" But I digress). The "Happy" part of it is kind of ironic, because I'm not all that happy. I know we aren't supposed to say that, because "we" can live full and happy lives and do it without gods and all that crap. But what the hell, I'm not all that happy. It isn't going to change how I feel about the universe. Plus, I really DO try to be as happy as I can be. Most regular readers here would probably guess that I'm a fairly happy guy. So whether I'm forcing it our not is really irrelevant.

I thought though, that I'd leave it you. On the sidebar is a poll with some possibilities. "John Evo-Mid", "John Evo", "Happy Hominid" and "This is the most self-indulgent poll ever" Please click on one sometime between now and Tuesday. We'll all be able to see what the winner is and I swear to go by it and not change it anymore (except I refuse to call myself "This is the most self-indulgent poll ever". If that one wins, then I'll go with second place.

I feel like this post is bringing out my feminine side. Hmmm.... I kind of dig it. Weird.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

If THIS is the Future...

...then it's a good thing THIS ol' fart wasted many hours playing Playstation 2!

Very short video. If you haven't seen or heard about the new Mercedes Benz SCL 600 then your jaw is about to drop.

Get ready for 11 year old car thieves who can run circles around the cops.

"Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial" on NOVA

I received the following email from NOVA and, since it's about something that is extremely interesting to me, thought I'd share it with the millions who read my blog. Don't believe I have millions? Well, you want me to take your word that there is a god and I want you to take my word that I have millions of visitors. I think that's a fair exchange.

On Tuesday, November 13, NOVA will be presenting a special two-hour documentary on the Kitzmiller v. Dover case, the first legal test of intelligent design as a scientific theory. "Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial" uses trial reenactments and interviews with expert scientists as well as with Dover parents, teachers, and town officials to capture the story behind the controversy that erupted in Dover in 2005. We think readers of your blog will be interested in the show, and we hope that you'll consider posting about it!

I've attached our press release and e-card to this email and I invite you to check out our companion Web site, You can also watch a preview of the show on YouTube:

"Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial" will premiere Tuesday, November 13 at 8PM ET/PT on most PBS stations. Please check your local listings to confirm when it will be broadcast near you:

Thanks, and please let me know if I can provide any additional information on "Judgment Day."

Kate Becker
NOVA Promotion

I'll be extremely interested to see how much attention they give to Eric Rothschild's brilliant cross examination of Michael Behe, considered one of the turning point moments in the trial and a big part of Judge Jones' terrific decision in on the side of reason.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007


My recent posts on alternative medicine (specifically homeopathy) inspired this. Here’s the idea. I’m going to outline “what I accept and what I don’t” without detailing the reasoning that led to my stances. There is no doubt in my mind that some people who I’m very close to philosophically will disagree with a number of my positions. You can make a comment attacking my position, and I’ll defend it. But even better (if you have a strong disagreement), take that idea back to your own blog and articulate your position on the topic in a new post.

For me, reason and rationality are not just how I arrive at a default position about gods (that there is no good reason to accept one; and thus my atheism). It goes much further than that in my life. I live by it. I sincerely attempt to apply the principles of reason to each and every decision, choice, proposition, etc that passes my way.

Atheism is really just a by-product of reason. There are many other consequences of rational thought, and the lists below give a good glimpse into the many subjects that have been effected by it in my life.

Just because a friend of mine is an atheist doesn’t mean that he or she sees every issue in the world like I do. We see one part of the world the same. This is one strong piece of evidence that atheism is not a religion and why atheists (when trying to get them on to the same page), are said to be “like herding cats”. We have no book of laws and values. The closet thing we have to a common value might be reason itself.

Reason leads me to reject many claims. I recognize that skepticism can be a hazard in and of itself. Some people who label themselves “skeptic” actually believe some very unusual things. This is because we are free to doubt every claim made to us. Because of that, I never use the word skeptic as a stand-alone term for my world view. I prefer “rational skeptic” or that I practice “rational skepticism”. And yet, I fully accept that most of the people I like and respect will also use reason to come to an entirely different viewpoint on certain topics. I think the difference between two atheists and two theists is that we are not locked into a dogma that would preclude commonality and coming to a mutually accepted resolution. I don’t see how a Muslim and a Hindu could have this same sort of dialogue about differences in dogma.

Here are two lists. Feel free to disagree with me on any topic from either list (knowing you people, that was about as gratuitous a statement as I could make)! As I said in the beginning, I’m not going to outline how reason leads me to my positions and will only do so if challenged. So to make this more than John’s self-congratulatory writing, you need to attack the ideas!

The first list is things that reason demonstrates to me are not true (some would be bad if they were true, others are simply bad to believe as true – because, in my opinion, they are not).

Gods of any kind; Angels; Devils; Souls; Spirits; Wraiths; Phantoms; Specters; Afterlife of any kind; Demon Possession; Demons; Exorcisms; Efficacy of Prayer; Miracles; Adam and Eve; Garden of Eden; Noachian Flood; Birth of Christ to a virgin; Resurrection of Christ; Creationism; Intelligent Design; Big Foot; Abominable Snowman or Yeti; Lock Ness Monster; Vampires; Werewolves; Zombies; The Bermuda Triangle; Homeopathic remedies; AIDS Denial; Vaccination Induced Autism; Chelation Therapy; Alien Abductions; Flying Saucers; Crop Circles; Alien Visitation of Earth; Area 51 alien spacecraft and bodies; Ancient astronauts; Ghosts, apparitions or poltergeists; Haunted Houses; Witch Craft; Sorcery; alchemy; Tarot card reading; Astrology; Fortune telling; Grand conspiracies; Illuminati New World Order; Holocaust Denial; Faked moon landing; Telepathy; Out of Body experiences or OBE; Premonitions; Paranormal; Psychokinesis.

The second is a list of things that reason has demonstrated to me to be evidenced, or to be valid tools in leading to truths.

Human Induced Global Warming; Modern (Western) medicine; Alternative fuels; sustainable living; Diplomacy over war; Genetics; Physics; Cosmology; Astronomy; Biology; Evolution; A common ancestor for all earth life; Evolutionary Psychology or Sociobiology; Population genetics; Evolutionary Developmental Biology; The Fossil record; Transitional fossils; Chimps as closest living relatives to Homo sapiens; Radiometric dating; 13.7 Billion year old universe; 4.5 Billion year old Earth; 3.5 Billion years of life; Hundreds of billions of stars in the Milky Way; Hundreds of billions of other galaxies in the universe

It may jump out at you that the “negative” list is a lot longer than the “positive” list. In my mind, there should be an even greater variance. In the universe of all ideas, there are thousands of bad ones for every good one. Anyway – have at me!


Update 11/8 - The Exterminator has an interesting response to the concept of rationality.

The Amazing Randi on Homeopathy

Two videos

James “The Amazing” Randi explains Homeopathy

And the $1,000,000 Challenge test

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

There's No Such Thing as "Alternative Medicine"

Well... there is, but I don't think you really want to mess around with it. "Try applying this simple test–when you have crushing chest pain and shortness of breath, who do you want to call: the GNC guy or an ambulance?"

I read this article entitled "Alternative Medicine Redux" at a blog I visit occasionally. I like spending a little time at blogs written by actual professionals in the various fields of science. Some of them actually write as well as "WE" do! And since they are writing, with technical knowledge, about subjects that are both fascinating and valuable to learn more about, I pop in and out at places like The Whitecoat Underground, from which I bring you this article about homeopathy, chelation therapy and other so-called alternative treatments.

This particular post really hit a chord with me because I've been dealing with my wife and her friend and their bizarre fascination with homeopathy. They haven't listened to me (idiot that I am) so I sent this article to them in the hopes that someone else might make headway. Here's how this article starts. I hope you'll find it interesting enough to go read the full post.

The secret answer is that there is no such thing as alternative medicine. You don’t believe me? Why not–I am a doctor…

There are several ways to define alternative medicine, and sometimes it is contrasted with “complementary medicine”. CM refers to treatments that “compliment” traditional medicine, while AM refers to treatments that stand in the stead of mainstream medicine. CAM is a broad category used to refer to both.

So what’s my problem? How can I say that there is no such thing?

Because “mainstream” medicine is medicine that works. It has been studied, tested, deployed, followed, and it is proven to do what it says. Alternative medicine is any treatment that is not yet, or may never be, mainstream. If it is found to work, it becomes mainstream very rapidly. If it is not proven to work, it remains “alternative”.

So, I guess there is, after all, such a thing as alternative medicine. It is any treatment that doesn’t work. Why would anyone want that? Alternative Medicine Redux

Monday, November 05, 2007

Come out... or COME OUT!

Everyone has a right to handle their belief or disbelief any way they choose. Most of us secularists would be quite satisfied with The Religiosas if they would simply believe whatever they believe, but keep it tucked away in their back pocket to use exclusively for personal guidance in day to day living. That being the case, and us generally being people who are free-thinkers living by the Golden Rule, it may seem fair that we not be hypocrites and simply do exactly that with our own atheism.

In fact, during the recent discussion of this post by John at Spanish Inquisitor, one of our fellow bloggers Philly Chief had this to say to that very point:

Part of it is I don’t see why it always has to be brought up. I won’t hesitate to admit it if asked, but I don’t go out of my way to broadcast it to anyone. Outside of my mother, my family has no idea where I stand on religion, politics, or many other things. Plus, I’d be a hypocrite if I was constantly yelling “I’m an Atheist!” since I always complain about people spouting their religious beliefs anywhere and everywhere.”

Now I should back up just a bit. The comment I made that set this whole thing in motion was that I think as atheists, we will have a hard time making headway towards creating a secular society if those of us on the leading edge of it are unwilling to tell others what we think. I mentioned that blogging is terrific but that you have a much greater impact in your daily life with personal interactions.

So now let me say immediately that I completely agree with Philly Chief’s comment. I’m not for aggressively spouting off our atheist viewpoint in every situation that confronts us. That is definitely not what I meant. Certainly I have been one of those who ask for a civil discourse with most theists; as mentioned in many posts and comments.

Nor do I want to make my atheists friends feel uncomfortable about how they have chosen to deal with their rational world view. I understand.

I’m proposing that most people who keep their atheism from friends, family, in-laws, co-workers, neighbors, do so from fear. I think it is fear of consequences like loss of friendship, angry confrontations, loss of prestige, loss of employment, and physical abuse. None of these concerns are to be taken lightly, and that’s why I say, simply, I understand. I’ll just share my own life experience in the hopes that it can be helpful to someone, somewhere who has struggled with what I’m talking about now.

No one in my personal life has any doubt about me being an atheist. I don’t shout it from the roof-tops. I don’t turn every religious discussion into an angry “but that’s just bullshit” discussion. I don’t turn my back when my wife’s church calls me up and says, hey, we need a basketball coach; can you help?

To the contrary, I mostly keep what I think to myself. But during the course of any extensive human interaction, I find it impossible for me not to say what I think – in a perfectly appropriate way. And so, over time, everyone knows where I stand. Additionally, I say little things right away in new relationships to lay a clear but non-aggressive framework for the future. For instance, if someone who doesn’t yet know me well says, “Billy is sick and we’d appreciate your prayers”, I always reply along these lines – “I don’t pray, but my thoughts are definitely with Billy. Actually, if there is anything I can do to help you folks while he’s down, please let me know”.

I’ve had Christian friends say to me, “Hey John, you’re more of a Christian than most of my fellow Christians”. I think that’s a wonderful compliment – because I know what they are saying. They have an expectation of how a follower of Christ’s teachings should interact with the world, very few do it and they see me doing more decent things than a lot of those people.

No one who knows me is fearful of talking to this atheist. They know I wish only the best for them and their family. They know I will strongly, but respectfully, defend my position. If they just have questions about atheism, I’ll patiently answer. If they want to hone their “skills” as a religious apologist and hanker for a friendly debate, I’ll give it to them. But I never use it as a wedge between them and me.

I have no idea if I’ve lost any relationships or jobs because of my atheism. It was certainly never obviously the case and I prefer not include in my mental life-script a non-existent harm inflicted on me. We all have a certain amount of friendships that disappear over the years. For sure I’ve never lost a true friend because he or she believed in god and I didn’t.

I have never been physically attacked. I’m not going to say that this could never happen to an atheist. There are nut-jobs all over the place who are perfectly capable of doing harm to another human being for any real or imaginary reason. I can either hide my atheism from them in hopes of not giving them yet another reason to be violent, or I can live an open life, knowing that there are a thousand other things that I could suffer violence from. I choose the latter. I don't think of myself as brave. It's just a matter of probabilities and the odds are way in my favor. When was the last time you read a news story about a group of believers attacking an atheist?

I know there are families that are not like mine and will turn their backs on a member who breaks with the family faith. I think this is probably the one I understand and sympathize with the most. I’m not sure how to give anyone encouragement in this situation and few of us want to be estranged from our own family. I will say that in most cases reconciliation is possible and will happen over time if you are willing to put in the work. It’s very difficult for a person to continually turn away from a loved one who does nothing to deserve it. And, just because we think we will be ostracized doesn't mean we will. Fear directs the mind towards the worst possible consequences.

My family (including in-laws) is generally a very credulous group – primarily leaning towards fundamental Christianity. I have a sister-in-law who is a doctor and doesn’t accept the fact of evolution! We kick religion around from time to time, with me always getting in the best kicks. They love me. They can’t get enough of old John. Sometimes I wish they could. I’m pretty sure that if my in-laws ever burn anyone at the stake, it would be my wife for divorcing me. Unlike Charles Darwin, I have never had a desire to protect my spouse from my apostasy. This has been the hardest part of my atheism – my wife and her desire to raise our two kids in faith. Our compromise has been for me to allow it, but also never missing an opportunity to tell them about the real world. I’ve actually been more accepting of this compromise than she has – but we would all figure that, wouldn’t we?

People are much more accepting than we think they will be. It’s easy to have this misconception because, listening to their dogma, they seem utterly inflexible. Yet much of that rigidity is conceptually utopian and when it comes to actual practice with people they know and like, it softens considerably. It's those nameless, faceless atheists out there that they really depise. You may find that you lose nothing, gain aplomb and actually assist others along the path towards reason. I'm fine with my friends who choose to keep themselves partially closeted. I just want them to see that it's fear that keeps them there and to encourage them not to allow anxiety to dictate their lives.