Tuesday, January 31, 2012

African American Atheist Sign

The American black churches are seriously cultish and black atheists here & in Africa are *not* popular.Found this encouraging sign on reddit:

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Baptising a Dead Atheist

Mitt Romney's family baptised his atheist stepfather into the mormon faith after his death.

Now there is a bit of (twisted) logic to doing genealogical research to "save" your ancestors who never heard of Mormonism, but this guy was a staunch atheist to his dying day.  Yep, until that day, but apparently not afterward.  And rather than merely pray for his soul, they had a ceremony with a family member standing in for him.  ... or rather enduring water torture for him.

They did it at the temple in Salt Lake City, at a baptismal thingy that has cows supporting it.  Does the congregation moooo when the thing has been done?  I hope so because if dad-in-law's spirit does indeed live on it was probably LOL'ing at the ridiculousness of it.

Wouldn't God prefer people who actually believe in him as ummm  believers?  What could be the purpose of baptising a dead atheist against his will?  You wouldn't baptise living people against their will (unless you're Mother Teresa).

Could the Mormon religion be any stupider? 

I did have to chuckle at the highest-rated comment to this article (so far):
I'm not surprised at all. I baptized a pet squirrel once after he died. He's waiting for me on the other side. I was screaming, "DON'T GO TOWARD THE LIGHT". But it was all too late

- resident, somewhere in America, 29/1/2012 23:04

If mormons would baptise their pets, I'd be a little more sympathetic toward them.  After all, my pets have more cognitive facilities than the fetuses they worry about.  I think they deserve a place in heaven.  They would howl if the heavenly angels sang out of tune, though.  They hate that.


Saturday, January 28, 2012

Indiana Taliban Marches On

The Huffington Post covers the next step taken by the Indiana Taliban.  Incredibly, the ridiculous bill  has passed its second step, passage in committee.

Kudos to the Huffpo for including a video of Richard Dawkins.

It's so humiliating to live in a state where such idiocy is respected.  Coincidentally, the state is having a hard time attracting high-tech industry to build factories.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Book Review: The Bible Unearthed

I was inspired by the video I reviewed awhile ago, The Bible's Buried Secrets, to look for a readable book on the findings of Biblical Archaeology, or more properly, Middle East archaeology that happens to include places mentioned in biblical stories.  I wanted to dig into the details a bit.  The video is very vivid, as you'd expect, but the details fly by too fast to catch them, and anyway the book is usually better than the movie!

Refreshingly, it begins with a review of the main stories of the Bible, not assuming the reader has studied the Bible enough to know even that much.  Next they review biblical scholarship, also assuming no prior knowledge.  They don't get into the weeds here, just enough to set the stage for The Big Questions that archaeologists will tackle.

One of the first chinks in the armor of biblical inerrancy was when people realized (or dared to point out) that Moses couldn't possibly have written the story of his own death.  This took about 2500 years.  Then, scholars noticed that there were duplicate stories of many of the "early" stories in the first books of the Bible.  They teased apart the minds behind the words based on stylistic analysis and deduced that there were two traditions, one from Judea and one from Israel.  This makes sense.  The two parts of Judaism were separated for a long time as two kingdoms. 

Curiously, the authors are against the theory that there was an original version of all these stories that dates to the unified period of Judaism.  I don't know how the two halves of the religion could have come up with the same stories (varying in details) independently, but rocks don't lie and that's what I was reading the book for.  If I can find a readable book on Biblical textual criticism, I'll post a review here.

So anywho... after a summary of the main points in the "history" contained in the Bible, they give a run-down of all the findings of archaeology and history that point to the eighth century BCE as the likeliest time of the writing of the "history." 

Archaeology disproves some of the Bible through anachronisms uncovered in digs.  Camels are domesticated in the Bible long before they are domesticated in reality.  Capital cities are capitals in the Bible when they are still only tiny towns.  Products are traded before trade routes are established.  People are mixing before they meet.  And the only time period for these references to make sense was about the eighth century. 

My first thought, and apparently this is what everyone thinks, is that some eighth century editor threw in some touches for realism.  Nope, it turns out that after the destruction of the northern kingdom of Israel, Judah ... at just this time... was consolidating power and establishing itself as the heart of the Jewish people.  References to place names associated with the historic kings was a way to include the various segments of the population within their realm.

The book goes through the "history" as presented in the Old Testament, compared with the history that archaeologists are discovering.  Over and over the eighth century seems to be the period of the final edit, if not the wholesale writing, of the Old Testament.

Particularly interesting is the contrast between the kingdoms of Israel and Judah.  Israel, to the North, experienced periodic migrations and "exodus" based possibly on climactic changes.  When the situation was good, the people settled down and farmed.  When not so good they became nomads and traveled with their animals.  The design of settlements reflects the lay-out of the tent cities they set up as nomads, and which nomads still use today. Later, the kingdom grew in numbers and land mass, culminating in a great kingdom, the Omri dynasty, headed by Ahab, husband of Jezebel.  Yes, those two!  They erected fabulous walled enclaves for palaces and administrative buildings, dating from the ninth century BCE.  This is about 100 years after Solomon's rule over his "great kingdom" headquartered in Jerusalem to the South.  In contrast to Ahab's accomplishments, Solomon's Jerusalem was a small town without much of a building program.  And yet the Old Testament portrays just the opposite:  Solomon's kingdom was rich and well built.  Could someone.... say, 8th-Century BCE King Josiah... be rewriting history to portray his kingdom as having more historical merit than the competition?

The book weaves the archaeology together with the Biblical stories (sometimes too much of the stories) and makes the history of the royal lineages of Israel and Judah much more interesting than the Bible makes them!

All of this stuff was new to me, so I appreciated the authors' assume-nothing approach and his overview of both the Bible and the history of "digs" around the "Holy Land."  People have been looking for proof of Biblical accuracy for almost 200 years, and at times they thought they'd found it.  This book tells you who did the digs, who is currently working a site, and what the scholars think about it all.  So while not scholarly, you can track down further information from scholarly sources with names and sites right at hand for searching.

I have two complaints.  One complaint is that some of the maps and charts are hard to read on a Kindle, which is a pretty minor thing but they are helpful because of the large number of names and places that come and go, and some come back.  The other is that they frequently refer to "ages" such as Bronze Age I or Iron Age, as if everyone knows when those are, and doesn't give a chart to line those up with the findings discussed in the book.

Searching the web to find cool pix for this blog entry has been a real adventure, making me appreciate this book even more.  The "Biblical Inerrancy" literalists of course want all the archaeology to go their way and they're quite upset by scholars who claim the writers of the Bible may have gotten a few details wrong... or even *gasp* made stuff up!
I also appreciate honesty of the archaeologists who have to be feeling heavy pressure to throw the data in the direction of the Bible.  It's not just the Christians who want the Bible to be 100% true.  Israel's very existence is predicated on the belief that this is historical land that belongs to the Jews.  And yet they support the archaeology that's undermining some of that "history."

This book could be used as a textbook in college level Bible history courses, but I suspect it's not being used that way.  That's a shame.  Christians are so good at rationalization that they could certainly incorporate the truths uncovered by archaeology and yet still believe that God doesn't lie to them.  I would respect a Christian that could do that much more than the ones who insist it's 100% true despite being riddled with errors, inconsistencies and as it turns out, political propaganda perpetrated by Josiah and later kings to justify their ambitions and unify the people of Israel.

Wikipedia on this book
Wikipedia on Tel Megiddo, one of the coolest places ever, also known as "Armageddon"

Find a Dig:  You can volunteer to help on a dig and get academic credit!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Your Faith is a Joke

I've never heard of this guy before but he's brilliant.  His name is Pat Condell and he's a British comedian.  This video isn't particularly funny but it's the straightest straight shooting I've seen in a long time.   We need more Americans speaking out like this, but we are surrounded by more bullies than the Brits are.  One day I'll feel I can post this to FB using my real life name, but for now I'll settle for posting it here for other atheists to see.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Superstitious People =/= Stupid People

I made the mistake of not being near my remote control when one of The History Channel's infamous stupidities started to run.  I wound up watching Ancient Aliens, a show about early people who "may have had contact with extraterrestrials."

If you are not familiar with the depths to which The "History" Channel has sunk, here is a quote from the "Ancient Aliens" episode about underground cities that I saw:  "If there were extraterrestrials that visited Earth in the distant past, could they have looked like Ant People or Lizard People?  The Answer is Yes."  

Because of course the Hopi of Northern Arizona couldn't possibly have invented the image of lizard (or snake) people or ant people using just their imaginations!  They must have seen some in order to create art like this!

Or...  a human could have had sex with a lizard and created monstrous looking babies that got strung up like skinned goats.  Sure, why not?  And could a bunch of scifi geeks pull E.T. stories out of their asses rather than settle for natural explanations?  Yep, methinks yep yep yep.

What sucked me into this show was a fascinating archaeological find I hadn't heard of before:  Derinkuyu.  It's an eleven-level underground city, fed by a natural water source and ventilated by an ingenious system.  Or genius.  The obvious answer to the question of why people would make such a place is to hide from invaders.  A bunker.  We still have them. 

But oh nooo... bunkers are too vulnerable.  So they propose that people from ca. 1000 BCE were hiding from the next ice age, having survived the last one of thousands of years ago or somehow knowing about it despite being very stupid.  So... people can pass along memories over millenia, but they can't develop an engineering system.  Or maybe they were hiding from sky aliens!  Yeah, that's it!

Inevitably, they bring up Von Daniken, who popularized this ancient visitation theory and inspired a slew of crackpots who believe that they are brilliant but ancient people were stupid. 

There are other "underground" people too, in Ecuador and the Yucatan.  Besides claiming that these cultures have come up with ideas tha they couldn't have come up with on their own, they denigrate them by referring to legends as if they must certainly have been inspired by aliens.

The Mayans scared their people with images of animals and objects drawn from life: jaguars, bats, knifes, and possibly a river of blood.   Was the cave that held these things created before or after the book that describes them?  Does it really matter?  The Book of the Jaguar Priests references a bunch of gods coming down from the sky (on a road, not from a space ship), ergo we should think there were E.T.s influencing these people.  If there were E.T.s then why do the Mayans depict only animals they would have seen in their environment?

Why can't the Mayans have been inventive enough to come up with the idea of people in the sky without actually seeing some?  The sky was pretty easy to observe but not very easy to understand.  Almost every culture came up a population of sky people in their pantheons.  The people of ancient cultures had the intelligence to transmit their knowledge via language, to organize into societies, to build large cities, cultivate land, and domesticate animals.  They didn't have the knowledge or technology to explain the Cosmos correctly, but they did have the imagination to come up with satisfying stories.  They didn't need any outside help.  They were every bit as smart as we are.

The "Hollow Earth Theory" is introduced toward the end of the show, because of course you have to have seen the rest of the nonsense in order to be lulled into a properly gullible state of non-mind.  Who is their authority for this?  Edmond Halley.  Yes, of course because we know his comet we should therefore believe all of his other (unsupported) ideas.  Somehow there are huge openings into the middle of the Earth at each pole without all the water and ice falling into it.  Verne's fanciful story, Journey to the Center of the Earth, comes up too of course.

How's this one?  Admiral Byrd's plane flew over the North Pole was taken into the hole by a tractor beam and he got lectured to by aliens who are our protectors.  Washington, D.C is hiding his secret by claiming he was really at the South Pole, not the North Pole.  uhhh sure.

What really maes my blood boil is the assumption that modern people  are capable of coming up with fleshed-out fairy tales but not people of thousands of years ago.  Why believe it's impossible for ancient people in South America to make precisely built pyramids, but not for people in Egypt?  Why take the position that people who could figure out how to make buildings above ground couldn't figure out how to make them underground?  Anyone who has seen an animal burrow into the ground for protection could have come up with the idea of a bunker.

I want this hour of my life back, but at least I learned about Derinkuyu which is a pretty cool place.  I wish the "History" channel would interview archaeologists and anthropologists and real historians instead of "UFOlogists" and other crackpots.  You know, people who say "We don't know" and stop there. 

As a history buff, I am frequently amazed and awed by stories of the accomplishments of people who have been dead for thousands of years.   My reaction to their accomplishments is roughly parallel to the awe I feel when I learn something about the natural world.  I don't need to add something supernatural or extra terrestrial to the story.  I don't need to diminish the truth by putting some bigger mind to work on the problem.   Early people were pretty darn amazing.  They left behind some fabulous artifacts and intriguing mysteries.  They also created us, so they couldn't have been that stupid.

Anyone who believes superstitions today is stupid, or at least lazy, but we can't assume that because people thousands of years ago believed in sky people that they didn't have the intelligence to carry out impressive building projects.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Should I protest?

Today I went to a management training seminar thing, and on the whole it was rather interesting and entertaining.  The presenter was an independent contractor with a good sense of humor & paced things really well.  Also...

So I'm all smiley and happy at the end, and have a few thoughts about what to do next with a situation at work.  Everyone is packing up their bags.  I put the presenter's business card in my bag.  I'm telling the other people at my table that it's been nice to meet them. I decide to sign up for the presenter's weekly e-mail.  It's all good.

...and then the presenter's final words to us are "God bless you."

Nobody had sneezed.

So... I'm totally offended like, why end a good session with an insipid Christian sentiment?  I could complain to our HR department guy who runs these things, or send an e-mail to the presenter, or I could keep quiet about it. It was just the one line when half the room wasn't really paying attention anymore, but it was uncalled-for and irrelevant to the session.  Any thoughts?

Monday, January 16, 2012

William Lane Craig is a Dumbass

It had to be said.

Some atheists have taken this fool so seriously that they engage in formal "debates" with him.  Why bother? 

The basic idea here is that debates can prove something, which of course they can't.  They are like football for dickless geeks.

There, I said it.  Debates are stupid.

The entire field of Philosophy, which spawned the "debate" format, is bullshit.  Engaging in the sport of philosophical "debate" is a waste of time.  People who make their reputations in this sport are dickless geeky dumbasses. How do I know this?  It's properly basic, of course.  It requires no basis in other beliefs.  Facts, either.  Why? Because I say so.  If I assert it, it is true.  Word.

N.B.:  Please note that the people who engage in this sport are *NOT* women.  That alone should tell you that the sport is a waste of time.

The basics of debating are thus:  Something is proposed.  The opponent attempts to smack it down.  Onlookers then argue about who won: their guy or the other side's guy.  It's always "our" guy.

There are two sides.  The winning side and the losing side.  Neither side is the "right" side.  And of course there can't be a third side, because philosophers can't count past two.

Take for example, the two-hour marathon of William Lane Craig vs. Christopher Hitchens, introduced with sports analogies, held in a basketball gymnasium at a Christian "college."  WLC says he is a "professional philosopher" here.  That alone should disqualify him from the realm of "People Worth Listening to."

I forgive Hitch and other atheists for engaging in this sport, because nonsense like Craig's opinions shouldn't go unchallenged.  WLC's fan club uses his hackneyed arguments to hide from the reality that they are believers because they have been born into a believing society.  If all they have to fall bac on is WLC's position, then watching someone with a mind take on his simplistic ravings may deconvert them.

Having heard a lot about WLC's debating skills, I decided to watch this video.  I really don't see how anyone could say he's a good debater.  Must be something in the rules.  Maybe he's the designated shitter and he's making four-point baskets before the checkered flag comes down.  Some arcane rule that isn't self-evident.

To spare you the agony, I'll summarize his performance:

Despite being a "philosopher, within a few minutes Craig's referring to astronomy and the Big Bang, which can't be uncaused because it's absurd to think of something being uncaused.  Of course something can't come from nothing, except God, which can come from nothing because uhhh god is nothing?   He'll cite science then delude himself that he's debunking it by logical argument rather than scientific observation.

Well isn't that conveeeeeeenient.

I think it's absurd that a "professional philosopher" has an opinion on astronomy.

This is the Cosmological argument.  Oh wait, that's what he calls it.  It's also called the Kalam argument, named after the medieval people who came up with it hundreds of years before Mr. Brilliant said it.

His other trick is unsupported "musts."  The universe must have a cause, and that cause must be beyond space and time, and it must be personal (because it would have to be either abstract numbers or a mind - there is no third option of course).  I guess all these "musts" come from his assumption that to believe otherwise is absurd.  My answer to all these "musts" is "why not?"  Well, no, my answer is really "You're such a fucking dumbass."  (This is why I can't be a debater.  Sometimes the ad hom attack just rolls off the lips)

Then he introduces the Teleological Argument, which then morphs into the Cosmological argument, because that's really all he has.  He's probably aware that "teleological" is often followed by the word "fallacy."  The fine-tuning of the universe to create things just as they are is something he believes has to come from a mind.  He throws around scientific concepts and constants, and claims life could not exist without them.  Apparently, in his smarter-than-you thinking there couldn't possibly be another universe in which life doesn't exist.

Physical necessity, chance, design.  (He uses his thumb plus two fingers to count them!)  He claims the life-supporting universe couldn't possibly exist by chance.  Apparently, while pursuing his philosophy degree he has studied statistics and astronomy such that he knows more than statisticians and astronomers.

Then we move on to The Moral Argument. If God does not exist, then objective moral values do not exist.  Objective morals exist.  Therefore God must exist.

Yes, he said it with a straight face.  He apparently believes that his morality can't be the product of his culture or genetics.  Note, he is wearing a wedding ring, which my coworkers have told me is forbidden in many churches because of some quotation in Timothy and Peter (books that Bart Ehrman says were forged, btw).  He is violating someone else's objective morality right there!

So...  it's "absurd" to believe that something came from nothing but it's not absurd to believe that a supernatural being with a big ego and a bad temper whipped it all up just for our amusement so he could test us with temptations he knew we couldn't resist (because he made us and he knows everything so he knew we'd fail) just so he could be born and then let himself be killed so he could tell himself to forgive the creatures he made for being as he made them.... something like that.

By his "reasoning," it's not absurd to believe those things. 

But apparently it is absurd to believe that storytellers, scribes, scholars, popes, or anyone else involved with the compilation of the Bible could have made shit up.  He takes the stories of the gospel as sufficient evidence that the Christian deity is in fact the one that fits the needs he laid out in the other "arguments."  He doesn't bother to lay out the shortcomings of the dozen or so other creators of the universe.  This would go against he black-or-white thinking of the well-honed debate skills of Mr. Absurd.  If G is true then G's book is true.  G's book is true, therefore G is true.

Yes, his arguments really are that stupid.  And improperly basic.  You'd think that somoene who has devoted his life to apologetics and philosophy would come up with something more original.

His arguments boil down to "God is true because I believe God is true."  I remain unconverted.

So now that I've summarized the dumbass's "points" for you, you can skip over the bullshit and go right to the Hitchslaps:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4KBx4vvlbZ8

Sunday, January 15, 2012

God Cares About Stolen Cars


Indianapolis, Ind.

A Crawfordsville couple's Jeep was lost but now it's found, and they say God is to thank.

On December 9th, Jared and Angela Pickett's Jeep disappeared from their Crawfordsville apartment.

"It was like I wanted to cry and then I wanted to be mad," said Angela Pickett. "But I'm like, 'who can I get mad at?'"

They were partially mad at themselves. Jared Pickett left his keys inside the Jeep between running errands, and he couldn't lock his driver's side door because he'd just replaced it with mismatched a dark green one...
After a week of praying for the best, the family began to lose hope...
"I had just come to the conclusion that we weren't ever going to get it back," Jared Pickett said. "We were going to have to cancel our family vacation that we were going to take this summer, so that we could replace the vehicle that we had got stolen."

Those plans changed Friday. Angela Pickett was at a youth convention at Calvary Tabernacle in Indianapolis. Before worship, she got lost while driving in search of breakfast. Her GPS took her to I-465 and she decided to get off at 10th Street. A few minutes later, she drove past Allison transmission and saw what appeared to be her husband's Jeep parked in a small parking lot.

... "I was in shock. I just texted all my friends. I'm like, 'I just found my husband's Jeep,'" Angela Pickett said. "It was a miracle. God led me to his Jeep."

Jared Pickett admits he had a hard time believing it until he saw his Jeep completely intact. Despite a mess left inside, he also found some valuable tools and his National Guard helmet left behind.

"Thank goodness," Jared Pickett said. "I couldn't believe that they didn't steal anything."

uhhh they stole the Jeep!  Maybe the GPS in the Jeep was as lame as the GPS in their car and the theives got lost too.

This was a very lucky thing but eventually that Jeep would have been recovered.  They would have credited Gawd if the cops had found it too.

I think the thieves prayed for a Jeep to ride around in while they smoked their weed or looked for their dealer.  Then, they came across this Jeep with the keys inside and thought "Hallelujah, God wants us to steal this Jeep."  So then they took their joyride, got lost, and parked it in a lot where a better vehicle was there for the taking.  God led them to that vehicle too.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Indiana Taliban wants YOU!!!! (if you're a child)

Well aren't they special?  They want to make it possible for schools to force children to say the Lord's Prayer... unless they or their parents object, which of course any child would be willing to do despite facing rejection, bullying, and discrimination...   I look forward to the inevitable dispute over which version to use.  Debts or sins?  Forever?  Or forever and ever?


or read the original bill:

A BILL FOR AN ACT to amend the Indiana Code concerning education.

Be it enacted by the General Assembly of the State of Indiana:

SOURCE: IC 20-30-5-4.6; (12)IN0251.1.1. --> SECTION 1. IC 20-30-5-4.6 IS ADDED TO THE INDIANA CODE AS A NEW SECTION TO READ AS FOLLOWS [EFFECTIVE JULY 1, 2012]: Sec. 4.6. (a) In order that each student recognize the importance of spiritual development in establishing character and becoming a good citizen, the governing body of a school corporation or the equivalent authority of a charter school may require the recitation of the Lord's Prayer at the beginning of each school day. The prayer may be recited by a teacher, a student, or the class of students.

(b) If the governing body or equivalent authority requires the recitation of the Lord's Prayer under subsection (a), the governing body or equivalent authority shall determine the version of the Lord's Prayer that will be recited in the school corporation or charter school.

(c) A student is exempt from participation in the prayer if:

  1.  the student chooses not to participate; or
  2.  the student's parent chooses to have the student not participate.
How does a child choose not to participate when we socialize them to obey their teachers?  How does a Catholic first grader know that they are reciting the "wrong" version of the Lord's Prayer?  How does a child recognize spiritual development from parroting words they don't understand?

...and What the FUCKING FUCK FUCK?????   Someone voted for these idiots who are proposing a bill that can't possibly pass.  What traction will they get from that?  "Hey voters, instead of trying to attract factory jobs so you ignorant slobs can buy bigger TVs, I proposed an unconstitutional bill!"


Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Take *that* William Lane Craig!

A brilliant smack-down of the Cosmological bullshit argument, especially as parroted represented by the bullshitter philosopher, William Lane Craig: