Archive for August, 2016

No it’s not Nearly the Same

August 31, 2016 Leave a comment

I just gave up on a facebook argument. I surrendered, and as much as I want to click on the notification and try, once again, to make the case I am not going to. There’s too much tu quoque going on and way too much fairness bias. So I’m done. I quit, and am moving my problem here to this blog.

The conversation was of a political nature which is something that I try and shy away from on this blog since I want to concentrate on the atheism and religious issues. Yet there were some points that blend in nicely. So I suppose some background is necessary:

The conversation began with a friend of mine asking what is “alt-right?” Before even entering my comment I knew what I was getting into. My friend is a conservative Republican and most of the people that comment on her posts are as well. However I thought to myself, “it’s not going to matter, the alt-right is objectively terrible.” I have commenters on this blog that identify as right wing and for the most part the conversations are typically fine. There’s always that one person that’s a bit extreme, but when you write about religion you’re going to find those people. It’s all in the game.

Predictably the conversation degenerated into various accusations that “the left does it too” which is true, but not in the same fashion as people like Milo Yiannopolis and the whole gamergate fiasco. How dare someone criticize a thing they like?

Anyway, the conversation kept going downhill, and I repeated one simple mantra, “I’m not having a political discussion, these people are terrible and Republicans legitimize them with their presidential candidate.” This was mostly going ignored but my goal was just to explain what alt-right was and where they existed: in the conspiracy dregs of the internet.

One commenter extolling the virtues of the straw argument tried to claim that the left does this type of thing more. They oppress and harass out-groups, are more exclusive than the right. Now this is a great example of not being aware of the world at large or just not seeing the faults in your own position. Since the Christian fundamentalists identify with the right, we can basically throw this comment out. Where is this occurring? Show me the left wing oppression of an out-group.

The religious right has been persistently crying about the end of civilization when one of the largest “out-groups”: homosexuals has been steadily gaining rights for the last ten years. They’ve been condemning them to hell and in some cases execution (thankfully, no one has tried to implement their recommendations). This same group of religious zealots has been screaming for a ban on people fleeing war zones because they don’t worship the same god as they do…well they do, but the refugees just worship that same god in a different manner. Are these the examples of their inclusionary attitudes towards other people? The LGBT and atheist population is riddled with stories of persons being shunned by their families and communities for the crime of being who they are. This is not inclusion, it’s the exact and literal opposite.

Again, this isn’t necessarily a political statement, but don’t come crying about oppression by one group if your group is attempting it. I’m still waiting for some kind of evidence of religious oppression in this country. I’ve been promised it from those who believe that they are being oppressed. One church getting closed for the crime of being a church, or a pastor being arrested for the crime of being a pastor. It hasn’t happened, and under this administration it’s not going to. It would have happened by now, unless Obama is planning some kind of November surprise, but I’m not holding my breath.

One of the amazing things that I’ve learned over the years of having these arguments is that there is one request that I can make that shuts down the conversation, “show me an example.” It’s not shifting the burden of proof, as they are making the claim. Now with the religious examples they’ll point to the threats a pizza place received and that’s legitimate. Sending death threats or implying that the place should burn down is wrong. However, if we put that kind of behavior on a scale and weigh them out one side is tipping the scale much more than the other. And again, what the liberal atheist side is lacking is support from authority figures legitimizing that kind of behavior. My problem with the alt-right is that now they have a presidential candidate that gives credence to their claims.

To be fair, Trump has not, to my knowledge come out as anti-gay. He’s not said anything directly or even indirectly but he’s stood with people like Pastor Manning and Robert Jeffress who have both spent their time calling homosexuals demonic and paving the way for the anti-Christ (which according to the Bible isn’t a specific person it’s more of an adjective). I’m willing to entertain the exclusion by atheists but someone must give me a specific example of the oppression. Searching for it just brings me to a host of Christian zealot sites that are complaining about having to tolerate the non-believers in general. They miss the point that allowing other people the same rights as you is not oppression.


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Encounters Redux

August 24, 2016 Leave a comment

I wouldn’t say that I grew up isolated. Not like a Mormon or a person in one of those odd cults in Texas. Just that I was raised in a environment where everyone that I met was like me: Catholic and Irish. Even if they had German or Polish last names, they still traced their ancestry to some kind of Irish immigrant probably coming over during the famine. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, something this post is actually about, but it is a fact of my upbringing. What it does mean is that my worldview for a good majority of my life was the same as literally everyone I knew (and literally, literally; not figuratively, literally). Some of the people were Republicans, most Democrats, some liberal, most conservative; but those differences were largely negligible. My perspective was that all of those differences were topical because underneath all of it was that we were all Catholic. All of my social interactions were with people that had the same routine–school Monday through Friday, church on Sunday. Since we were Catholics, it also meant that every service was the same too. The readings didn’t change from building to building, only the priests diatribe in the middle of it. We had the same view coming from the same place–Rome.

The drawback to this singular perspective was that no one really prepared me for encounters with people from other groups. Every person raised in religion is taught the same thing, “this way is the truth, all of the others are just different shades of wrong.” The Protestants were mostly right, but they just failed to recognize the true authority on religious matters. The Muslims were half right they just made up that last revealed word of god and deny the god nature of Jesus, but their rules and history is ok. The Jews, again mostly right, just needed to go one step further. The Buddhists and Hindus? Just completely wrong, but if they heard our story they would know the truth. This is done without any kind of justification, I mean don’t tell me why it’s the TRUTH, just tell me it’s a matter of faith that it is, that turned out well for me (actually I think it did). The only real instruction we received was that they believed the wrong way because they were told the wrong way was true. They did this without appreciating the irony of it. Sometimes we would get a brief history of the other religions but mostly it was just that they were wrong. I’ve said it numerous times: the religion you have now is most likely the product of geography and family. What we grow up with, we think is normal. It’s like the smell of someone else’s house, it’s strange to us because we don’t live in it. However, if you are going to say “truth” there ought to be reasons for it.

I don’t want to give the impression that I was actively isolated. No one purposely kept us from talking to others. There was no one in town to run out the heretics and heathens. It’s just that there weren’t, or, more likely, they just didn’t make themselves known. I can remember one house on my block that didn’t decorate for Christmas, but that could have been for a number of reasons (i.e. there were a lot of retirees around as well). The first Jew I met was in college, the first Muslim in graduate school, I want to say that I attended Catholic school with a protestant but I can’t be one hundred percent on that memory. The first real person I can remember that was not Catholic, and was not even a Christian, was my pediatrician who was a Hindu. It’s not like we got into it, I was a small child and he was a good doctor. It’s a mark of a bad doctor to try and enforce their religion on their patients or to take a visit as a time to proselytize. It doesn’t matter what religion the doctor is, read the oath–the physician is supposed to help with illness, physical illness, and keep their mouth shut. One time I wished him a “merry Christmas” and was scolded for it. I wasn’t supposed to say it because he wasn’t Catholic, but I was a kid and it was Christmas season. Isn’t the sentiment what counts (which is why I fail to understand why people get so upset when you tell them “Happy Holidays” but that’s a different post).

It’s not just lack of exposure that’s the problem. Not being aware of other traditions has its unique downside, but when everyone thinks the same it means that no one thinks any differently. Yes, pure question begging from a philosopher, but what that means is that no one is prepared for the outside perspective. You don’t get the arguments against your way of thinking, and those are supremely important to understand.

In undergrad, I met a woman. She was an atheist and I was wholly unprepared for this. It wasn’t like we had relationship issues because of her non-belief, but when she asked me why I believed, I had no answer. I mean, c’mon it’s obvious, isn’t it? That’s what everyone knows, right? She wasn’t pretending, which is something that I get asked and am equally offended by. I questioned her reason for being moral, I mean, why not? I was taught from the first moments that I could be, that one is moral in order to please god and gain paradise as reward, or at the very least avoid punishment.

I remember distinctly the retort question that she asked, “Is that what you would do?”

This question was asked in response to me saying, “if there’s no hell and you could get away with it forever why wouldn’t you kill someone?”

No punishment, no crime. That’s not really the moral choice, I’m chasing a carrot and avoiding the stick; she’s avoiding murdering someone because she simply doesn’t want to do it, because it’s wrong. This person wasn’t an immoral monster, she was just a regular human being who didn’t share my beliefs and this was so completely out of my worldview that I had to seriously begin reconsidering all of the judgments that I had made. I had been taught that atheists are people that rejected god’s love, will, or whatever. No, they weren’t that, they were people that denied His existence. That’s not rejection of morals, ethics, or anything. The difference is important because when pressed I couldn’t answer any better than “that’s what I believe.” When asked why it was what I believed the answer of “that’s what I was taught,” was a hollow answer. I knew, and I assume she knew, that it meant nothing.

Without the conflict of ideas, the butting heads, there’s no way to strengthen a position. Remaining isolated in a world that only shares one belief may seem like a bastion of security, but the world is a big place and it wants in. It will find a way in and then those isolated people have to either shut their ears and eyes singing lalalala or they have to realize that not everyone shares their opinion. They will have to realize that those who don’t aren’t bad people, nor are they necessarily wrong. They may also have the exact same justification for their beliefs as the isolated people do, “it’s what we are taught is true.” Then what happens? The questioning.

If they weren’t isolated they’d be prepared for the counters to their “the book is always right,” or “the eye is supremely complicated.” Without knowing that other people can come at them with “mustard seeds aren’t the smallest seeds and don’t grow into trees” and “we have explanations for the eye” the religious are just going to lose out. I had to question, because the answers I was getting weren’t good enough and the book didn’t make sense (Noah’s ark was the story I just couldn’t believe). Only through the mixing of perspectives can we ever hope to find what’s true, or at the very least, what is false.

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August 17, 2016 Leave a comment

So today’s post is about writing the blog. I almost think I’ve exhausted this topic. Now, I’m sure that there’s plenty more to talk about but for the last several weeks I’ve been having a hard time writing about anything. I sit down during the precious few hours that I have when the one kid is asleep and the other is minding her own business (usually), and…nothing. It’s like a weekly bout of writer’s block with specific concentration on this subject. I’ve said a lot, I’ve been posting about atheism specifically since 2012. Four years later it’s like I’m spent.

I’ve run out of things to say…well new things. I’ve covered the gamut from personal experiences to philosophical analyses. I know that this bout is temporary but what I don’t understand is where it comes from. It’s not like I don’t get the news: I listen to three atheist podcasts, I regularly check news items on religion, I read plenty and perhaps that’s the problem. Each time I sit down to write something I end up thinking, “no that was covered in Cognitive Dissonance yesterday.” In fact, I made a specific decision to stop listening to the podcast “Scathing Atheist” on Mondays because the diatribe section kept influencing my own writing of this blog.

Part of me wants to end the whole thing–the concentration on the subject not the blog itself, but another part of me realizes that perhaps I’ve done some kind of good with this thing. For awhile, it was being cross published in a Danish news site and that was pretty cool. I’ve actually got two subjects that are atheism related that I’m going to cover but one of them requires a substantial amount of research and the other is related more to the holiday season. I can’t do either yet.

With all of that being said my posts going forward are going to get a bit repetitive. I realize that I have, within the last year, accumulated more subscribers. This is probably due to the Danish website, so I’m going to begin retreading my older posts about what turned me away from religion. For longer subscribers, the very few that are out there, I’m not going to simply be reposting. I’m going to rewrite them with the same central theme. Going backward through it over the last few days/weeks I realized a few things:

The first is that there were much better ways to write it like I tell my students, the first draft is never the best one. Most of those posts were at least second drafts but it wouldn’t hurt to go over them to refine the prose. The second is that in between those posts were a lot of other kinds. At the time I was just writing to write, but now I do that on the PC. So one week we might have a “Road to Atheism” post and before the next one is a series of other ones including Philosophy papers I was submitting to classes, my Twilight series that I abandoned when I read a teenage girl’s blog and realized she was doing a much better job of it than I, and some political stuff that doesn’t really fit (2012 election).

I’ll be clear about the types of posts when they come up labelling them “redux” after the mess that was the Apocalypse Now recut, though I think my posts will improve rather than become a slow moving mess (seriously the follow up with the Playboy Bunnies just stalls out the movie). We’re also going to add in a book review of something that I found when moving dealing the problem of evil, however I have to read that book first.

That’s the plan, sorry for the filler post but I was tearing out my hair trying to think of something.


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August 9, 2016 Leave a comment

I don’t deal personally with a lot of literalists. In my entire teaching career I’ve only had two in my classes. Mostly it comes up with evolution which I quickly extinguish because I don’t teach biology and it was never on topic to begin with. It’s only tangential to the topic as I introduce some proofs of God’s existence and both times Creationism was brought up is because I don’t count, “the bible says its true” as a proof, it’s not it’s question begging. I know I’ve had more literalists in my courses than I’ve talked to because I have all of my INTD students take a belief quiz and one of the questions is whether or not the Bible is literally true. Again, I don’t directly cover it, except to point out that a Bible literalist would also have to be a flat-Earther.

I’ve never had the direct confrontation with a Noah’s Ark person. Literalist or not, people believe this story as though it really happened. This is because it’s one of those stories that get taught to children. Because it’s a fun story about a vengeful angry god who genocided the entire planet minus eight people, but it has animals so there’s that. That’s the hook, it’s why there are coloring books, pop-up books, and a veggie tales movie that all celebrate the time that Noah saved the animals…ignoring all of the people that died, including the little children who were also wicked and full of violence (to be fair, my 2 year old is full of violence). If you’re an adult you kind of know this story is bullshit. A world wide flood just isn’t possible. Some people claim that it was a regional flood and while that’s more plausible, it’s still not a story of a thing that happened.

However, enough people do believe it that the state of Kentucky gave a whole bunch of tax breaks so that Ken Ham’s ministry can charge 40 bucks a person to walk inside a big boat. As of right now there are no animals in the boat, just some stuffed ones, and a lot of empty space. Now, I haven’t been there I’m just reading reviews of it on Yelp and other sources, but from what I gathered even Christians thought that it was a rip off (although almost universally everyone agrees, even the atheists, that the boat is huge and impressive looking). Some reviews by Christians are even disputing how close to the Bible the entire experience is, which is funny, because it’s in-fighting between literalists.

Anyway a recent episode of Cognitive Dissonance raise a great point about the story. Typically the best evidence against the historicity of the account is to point out a few animals: the Turkey, the Penguin, and most things that live in Australia. Not one of these creatures could have been on the Ark as they couldn’t have made the journey. The Turkey, native to North America, isn’t capable of making the flight for instance. The penguin would have died on the way there from the temperature. These are problems for the story. Let us ignore those for now. Let’s pretend that they don’t matter and buy Ham’s ridiculous “kinds” explanation where he states you don’t need all of the dogs, just one dog (because they evolve?), the same with lizards and birds as well.

This is a similar explanation that Apologists (which is the most apt word for them) give in the story. They either claim something like Ham’s explanation or just “jingly keys” away. I’m willing to concede the point for just this one time. Just to be clear, I’m going to ignore the fact that Ostriches, Emus, and Kiwis–all flightless birds–we’re able to get to the Ark in time for the flood. I’m repeating it because it’s actually hard to write that down. Let’s also ignore the impossibility of the construction, that a 600 year old man (950 according to the Quran) built a 450 foot long boat, half the length of a modern US Aircraft carrier, with only one 18 inch window in it for ventilation, by himself. Also, it must have smelled terrible. We should also ignore that the boat, made out of cedar wood, would not have survived 150 days at sea. An empty ark, maybe, but a full ark would have capsizing problems due to the weight pushing it low enough for waves to get into that one window (Youle et. al 2013).

Other things to ignore are the food supply. The people are fine, they can just start eating animals but the carnivores pose a problem. You need approx. 2.5% of an animal’s mass in food to keep it alive per day. So your cow needs about 41 pounds of food (2.5% of 1660lbs-the average weight of a cow) per day for 150 days. With carnivores it’s more complicated because if the animal needs 2.5% of its weight, you need a comparative number for its food to keep that alive. For example a Puma (native only to the New World) weighs about 200lbs and requires 5lbs per day of food. Yet that 5lbs of food needs to be kept alive and will require its own 2.5 percent of whatever animal it is, remembering that a simple 5lb animal won’t suffice as it’s not all edible. We’re going to ignore that hastily researched point. Maybe, as Gary Larson in the Far Side pointed out, that’s what happened to all of the unicorns and dragons, both of which make post flood appearances in the Bible.

The problem that gets ignored, that DissonancePod raised, was the plants. God commands Noah to collect the animals but there are many plants, i.e. nearly all of them, that could not survive underwater for 150 days. They wouldn’t be able to survive being buried underneath the sediment that allegedly covered the dinosaurs. Did Noah collect cacti? California redwoods? Plants are numerous and they can’t be reduced to kinds like animals can. Sure maybe the errant fungus can survive, but we have too many plants in the world that make this story reasonable. Pineapples take forever to grow and are difficult to do so, there’s simply no way that this could have happened. Yet, most notably, plants don’t move. Noah has to physically traverse the planet in order to gather these samples. Just staring out my back window I can see about a dozen unique plants and the Bible is telling me, well nothing. The plants aren’t mentioned. At least Veggie tales explained how the cucumber survived.

Literalists can’t go to their source book for this information so they’ll probably have to resort to deus ex machina for an explanation. If that were the case, then why even bother with a boat in the first place.


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Sunken Costs

August 2, 2016 Leave a comment

It’s ok. You can admit to being duped, misled, or even flat out lied to. It’s also ok to realize that you’ve grown out of a thing that you once believed. Things change, as a journal article I once read began (I forget which one), and so do you. Changing your position, changing your perspective, these are things that morph into different positions and perspectives and it’s fine. As an atheist I know something about change. While we might all be born non-believers the vast majority of atheists I know were taught religion and then left it. There are very few that were never given it. I used was raised Catholic and remained so well into my twenties. In high school, I seriously considered during my sophomore year of joining one of the religious orders. What happened with that? Like Katy Perry sings about, I kissed a girl and I liked it. This entire blog, for the last several years has detailed how I changed my perspective on religion, what the final straws were and why I am now a firm un-believer.

That was fine. Yet this entry isn’t about my journey, it’s about you, the reader, who are on the fence. It’s about literally any idea, position, or perspective that you have firmly held that you are now beginning to doubt. It’s about that last hurdle, that last big problem that many of us have when we have to consider altering our entire identity. I get it, I really do, because it’s not merely about whether you go to a place on Sunday or Saturday evening for an hour or more. It’s not merely about what food you can’t have, or what food you are supposed to have. Because what most people fail to understand is that this kind of change requires a change in your identity. It requires a shift not only in how others view you but in how you view you going forward. In some ways it requires a break from the past you that makes up the present you.

That’s the hardest part. Ask a smoker why they don’t quit. All of the objective evidence points to it being an unhealthy habit that increases your risk of getting lung cancer and possibly heart disease (though the studies that originally pointed to heart disease have some other issues). Sure, the addiction to nicotine is one factor, but they can get nicotine from other sources. No, one of the larger obstacles is that they identify themselves as a smoker. That’s what they do, it’s so regular that most of them don’t realize when they have their first smoke (in the morning I guess). There is a psychological component, they are smokers. This is true even for the most casual of the religious, the once a month and on Christmas Christians, the not-so-into-it Muslim, the Hindu that shrugs about Karma and doesn’t eat steak but doesn’t understand why. These people may be different in devoutness from their fundamentalist zealot companions but that one hurdle of identity is the thing that they all share. Again, even after shedding all of my religious duties: no longer going to church, no longer accepting the transubstantiation thing, no longer believing that I needed someone else to get forgiveness from a third party for a second party offense (yeah the sacrament of confession is that convoluted), I still refused to identify myself as an atheist. I used a whole slew of synonyms “humanist,” “secularist,” “materialist,” and then combinations of those words because most people don’t understand what they mean and probably think that it’s just some new agey thing. I was so reticent at people finding out about my actual new identity that I would rather they identified me as a thing that I openly despise now.

It becomes more difficult the longer you are in it. This is known as a “sunken-cost” fallacy, in which the more you put in to a thing the less likely you are to admit that it’s wrong. Think of a car you bought for 6k, and spent 6k on repairs for. That car is going to cost you even more in repairs down the line, but rather than admit that the car is a POS you keep with it. If that doesn’t work think of the last time you were in a relationship with someone long past the point where it should have ended. Why didn’t you leave that person? You probably just wanted to give it one more shot, but how many ‘one more shots’ was it? It’s because the time you spent, you don’t want to admit was wasted.

Just because you spent so much time in something doesn’t mean that you were an idiot. It’s a learning process, and life isn’t a game that you win or lose. You just have to recognize that the past is past. People might make fun of you, but if that’s the only reason you’re still in something you no longer like or that you get no meaning out of, then you’re being held hostage by your pride. Admitting that you’ve made a mistake, even if that mistake was your entire life is not foolish. Foolish is keeping to it just because you want to save face. On our side, the side of non-believers, we aren’t going to make fun of you: deconvert on your deathbed, de-convert after joining a cult, de-convert because My Little Pony made you seriously consider the legitimacy of miracles: that’ll be weird but it’ll be interesting (in all fairness I don’t know any religious group that turns away a person because they have some strange reason for wanting to join–aside from Judaism but they just want to make sure…three times). The most recently de-converted are often the most passionate about it, and their knowledge is still fresh, we can use that knowledge. It’s helpful (there’s a reason we’re always at the top of religious knowledge surveys). Just don’t stay converted because you think you’ll look like an idiot.

I’m not looking for recruits, I’m not a church. Nor is there even an atheist church to speak of. I just want to extend a hand to those people that think either that they are alone or that there is no one like them. You aren’t, and there are. We’ve been through it, nearly all of us. There’s no shame in admitting you were wrong.



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