Saturday, November 29, 2008

A Man Died But I Got a Great Deal

I was appalled to hear about the temporary employee who died in a Long Island Walmart as a result of being knocked down and trampled by Black Friday shoppers. That shoppers don’t seem to care who dies or gets injured as long as they get a good price on a wide screen TV reinforces my worst opinions of the human race. The mob not only killed the man who was trying to open the door that was ripped off its hinges by the pressing crowd, they also knocked down and stepped on several employees who tried to reach the fallen coworker, and when employees asked people to leave because, due to the death, the store needed to close, shoppers refused to leave because they had waited a long time to get in.
I’ve often observed shoppers being so self-centered that the health and safety of everyone around them were of no consequence so long as the shopper got what they wanted. Fortunately, bumps and bruises were usually the worst result of these interactions, but it looks as though that the occasional death causes no more concern for such persons.
For me, there is absolutely nothing in Walmart that is worth even slightly hurting another individual, but what do I know, I’m an atheist and atheists, I’m told, have no morals. While lately, atheists have been in the news as the cause of everything from bad weather to bad politics, the odds are pretty slim that atheists represented more than a small percentage of the mob, and the odds are very good that the majority of the mob identify themselves as Christians, no news service or pundits would ever suggest that the cause was related to Christianity, even though the whole event was connected to a Christian holiday.

Ghosts Can’t Exist, Because I Said So

One area where my views are at odds with most of the other atheist bloggers and forum participants whose writings I have read is on the subject of ghosts. Atheists tend to be skeptical and only believe in things for which they see evidence, and that pretty much describes me too. But where I diverge from the majority is that I have seen the evidence of ghosts. That being said, I have no way of presenting evidence of what I believe to be true.
As you are probably aware, my belief in ghosts actually put me at odds with lots and lots of theists also. There are plenty of good reasons to be skeptical about this subject; the paucity of evidence, the persuasive arguments of doubters, the long history of charlatans in the paranormal field, and fear of the unknown. The only people I have a problem with are those who flatly refuse to consider the possibility that ghosts are real.
Among atheists it is fairly common to believe that if there is no deity and religion is invalid, then there is no afterlife. Obviously, if there is no afterlife, the spirits of dead people can’t be running around. Then there are some Christians who believe that all people go to heaven or hell, so anyone still hanging around must be demons (personally, I’ve never seen any evidence to suggest that ghosts are demons). Other people have never seen evidence, have always associated paranormal claims with side-shows, hippies and magic acts and can’t believe anyone could take such things seriously, and lots of people have lots of other reasons that I either don’t remember or never heard. The thing is all the people who refuse to consider the possibility of ghosts could summarize their attitude as: Ghosts don’t exist because I say so.
What the heck, I can’t even convince some people that sushi is good so I can’t be surprised that I can’t sway them about ghosts, but I’m frustrated that the those insistent that ghosts don’t exist shut down all conversation on the subject. What I really want is to start a dialog with other open minded skeptics about possible explanations for this phenomenon that may lead to a greater understanding of nature, but refusal to consider the possibility pretty much kills that discussion.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Is It Sometimes OK for Christians to Lie?

I posted this in the Rational Responders Forum, but if anyone blunders onto this blog, please leave a comment here:
I hope some of the theists out there can enlighten me on this matter: I was recently loaned a copy of "The Case for a Creator" by Lee Strobel and as I read, I checked the footnotes. What I found was that every single quote from a credible scientific source that I checked in the first three chapters (I gave up after that) was taken out of context and/or a misrepresentation of the source material. Strobel gave quotes from scientists as examples of evolution text books advocating atheism, when the quotes were actually from articles written about atheism, not evolution, and not included in any text book. He edited quotes so they appeared to say the opposite of their original meanings, he read things into analogies that were never intended, and he farmed quotes from other ID books rather than going to the primary sources. Furthermore he interviewed “open-minded scientists” (his term for ones that are open to a possibility of a creator) who all actually come from the Discovery Institute where the main goal is to promote creationism, and who published Strobel’s book. That doesn’t sound open-minded or unbiased to me. Don’t take my word for it, check for yourself.
Over the years, several creationist Christians have loaned me books that argued against evolution and all the books have followed the same pattern. I don’t blame the readers, they have no reason to assume that the authors are intentionally deceptive, but as one who has read the sources that are being quoted, the lies are blatant. Also, if Strobel read the source material he quoted, then he knows that misrepresentation was his intention. So, my question is: Do Christians think that lying is acceptable, as long as it helps them reinforce their religious doctrine? Do the Ten Commandments only apply when truth helps you win an argument?
I ask this partly because atheists like me, are often told that without religion they have no morality, yet I don’t need the threat of eternal damnation to know lying is immoral. So why do the producers of books (and articles and videos and websites) written by Christians, published by Christians and marketed primarily to Christians think this is acceptable and within the framework of good Christianity? By the way, can anyone direct me to an honest creationist book?

Beware: Dangerous Stupid People

Barack Obama has received an unprecedented number of death threats since winning the election. Some of these, as expected, come from racists, but there are a bunch of other crazies lining up as well. Some of the biblical end-times people have decided that Obama is the Anti-Christ, which they aim to prove by selectively cherry-picking the book of Revelations and to further back up with infinitely misinterpretable (and nonbiblical) quatrains of Nostradamus. Then there are the people who think Obama is a socialist and think that socialist and Stalinist are synonymous terms. Next are the ultra-conservatives who think that any Democrat, or just about anyone else who disagrees with them, is a blight on the land and should be eradicated. There are a bunch of other types I could list, but the scariest ones are just dangerous stupid people.
Dangerous stupid people listen to pundits like Shawn Hanity or Bill O’Reilly, who say everyone should be scared of Barack Obama because there’s no telling what he might do. Dangerous stupid people don’t stop and think that pundits like Shawn Hanity or Bill O’Reilly are self-serving egomaniacs who only care about high Nielson Ratings and don’t give a damn whether their inane blather is misinterpreted as suggesting that that the President-elect of the US is a threat to the American way of life.
Pundits like Shawn Hanity or Bill O’Reilly don’t care if their inflammatory, hate-filled rhetoric incites dangerous stupid people to kill a man who could prove to be a great President, just because the pundits’ job is to criticize Democrats, but they have nothing to criticize yet (because Bush is still the President!). Instead, pundits like Shawn Hanity or Bill O’Reilly choose to play on the fears of dangerous stupid people who haven’t the mental capacity to differentiate between the verbal masturbatory spew of pompous sociopathic blowhards and genuine warnings of impending disaster. So if anything bad happens to the President-elect, the pundits need to be imprisoned as accessories to murder.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Bush Can’t Stop Ruining Things

George W. Bush, who became almost invisible in the run up to the election, has reemerged in an effort to insure that any future President will have to work damned hard to push him from the pedestal of “Worst President in History”. Bush’s philosophy has always been; what’s good for Exxon’s CEO is good for America, but I don’t understand why he thinks every piece of open land, every tree, and every wild animal is bad for Exxon’s CEO. His departure from the White House may be like the Russians retreating before Napoleon; leaving nothing but scorched earth all the way back to Texas.
House Democrats are currently trying to find way to prevent Bush from relaxing rules protecting endangered species so their habitats can be destroyed by development. He’s also trying to reduce the distance that big polluting industries can be built from National Parks, and change the way air quality is measured to disregard spikes in poor air quality. Maybe his next move will be to make the Grand Canyon into a toxic waste dump. He may as well since the pollution will be so bad that nothing can be seen anyway.
I don’t know if Bush is just trying to be decisive, but only capable of making wrong decisions or if he’s trying to leave a legacy comparable to the asteroid that ended the Cretaceous Period, but the results are about the same. I was looking forward to Obama as President; I just hope we’re alive to see it.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

I. D. Effect

Testimony by former students of John Freshwater, and teachers who subsequently dealt with those students, stated, in the Freshwater termination hearing, that the creationist content of the curriculum caused the students to doubt the value and veracity of science. One of the students who took the stand was Jewish, demonstrating that creationism in the classroom effects all students; not just those whose religious convictions align with a literal interpretation of Genesis. This is disturbing to me for a couple of reasons.
In the 2006 PISA international science test, the US ranked 19th out of thirty nations tested; well below average. Yet it indicated that only Switzerland spends more money per student than the US and, with one of the highest percentages, 38.8% of our students believe they will be in a science related job by age 30. This seems to indicate that although we do a lousy job of teaching science, we do a good job of convincing our students that we are preparing them to be competitive in a high tech world. An awful lot of our kids will be surprised and disappointed when they end up serving hamburgers to the high tech workers that got the real science educations. I saw the results of our educational system when I worked for a biotech company 15 years ago; a lot of US applicants were losing out to people from overseas in the most demanding jobs.
So, what does this have to do with Freshwater? We already have demonstrated that we are below average at teaching science and we know that a fair percentage of those kids will be told Sunday morning to disregard whatever information they were taught the previous week, under threat of eternal damnation. The last thing our kids need is a science teacher exacerbating the situation. Who knows how many potential gifted scientists were steered away from finding a disease cure or inventing a flying car by the propaganda from one teacher.
The other thing that bothered me was that a Jewish boy was convinced that conclusions drawn from the scientific method were irrelevant; but that the views of someone else’s religious beliefs were relevant. There are several non-bible-based religious centers near Mount Vernon, so it’s possible that Freshwater’s classes could contain children of Hindus, Buddhists or a few other religions that don’t have anything to do with the Bible. How would it feel for a student from a Hindu household to be told that he or she was required to be familiar with the first chapter of someone else’s religious book as part of their science curriculum? Would the Christian students in Mount Vernon mind aligning their scientific curriculum with the Bhagavad Gita?
What I’m trying to say is that we owe our children the best education money can buy and that should make them the most learned students in the world. Our schools don’t even come close to that goal and we have people investing huge amounts of money and effort in propaganda that undermines that education. The “intelligent design” proponents have no interest in science education; their only goal is to prosthelytize for their religion. That is unethical, unconstitutional, and incredibly self-centered. The creationists are destroying our educational system and the future of our children simply because they believe it will earn them more brownie points with God.