Friday, May 31, 2013

June 1 Link Roundup

How did the turtle get its shell?  I had no idea the subject was divisive amongst biologists but I love how this story unfolds.  Scientists took a new look at old evidence based on the discovery of new evidence.  This story would be a great example to tell people who believe that scientists are "dogmatic."

And the dark side of evolution: collapse of ecosystems.  In Brazil, deforestation has reduced the number of birds, which has reduced the size of seeds, which could cause the rest of the forest to fail to thrive.

New book, Bible Bullies, looks at the bullies and their un-Christian policies, from the perspective of liberal / mainstream Christianity.

Stats on religion of immigrants to the U.S.  14% nones

The local paper publishes an ignorant rant about the local creationist professor.  I hope this is the bottom of the barrel.  If there are people here that are more ignorant than this guy they probably can't put pen to paper.

Picture of the week:  Weather Channel Storm Chaser vehicle, which got too close to a big one, got picked up then dropped and rolled several times.  No fatalities but I suspect all the passengers needed a change of underpants:

Video of the Week: Lip-Synch to Tom Lehrer's "New Math"
Who says Math Club kids are geeks? This guy rocks

Jessica Ahlquist Interview

The brave teen has won a First Amendment Award at the Playboy mansion, and she was interviewed for the web afterward:

Monday, May 27, 2013

Reading the Children's Bible While Drunk

And now for something completely different, reading about the spritis after imbibing of the spirits. He's not as funny as he wants to be, but then again he's drunk and consider the material.

Atheist Bible Study: Jesus Gives Up The Ghost & Is Buried by Joe Dixon

The Resurrection, Part I:

Saturday, May 25, 2013

May 25 Link Round-up

St. Denis face-palming the hard way
In France, a right-wing nutjob commits suicide in Notre Dame to protest gay marriage.  Really.  You can't make this shit up.   The best part: he put the barrel of a gun into his mouth.  Was that a message or a Freudian slip?

Wolf Blitzer tries to get a godly soundbite out of a young mother who survived the May 20 tornado, and it turns out she's an atheist.  Whoops!  (Don't try to find this on CNN's site.  Somehow they didn't archive it)

Ricky Gervais tells twits people on Twitter to do something instead of praying for tornado victims.  Twitstorm ensues.

An introverted mathematician achieves superstar status (in that field) for solving ages-old problem.  He credits perseverence.  God gets no credit.

Faith-healing-killing couple accused of third degree murder for the death of a second child.  Their pastor blames them... for a "spiritual lack."

Indy 500 Week includes prayer and Catholic masses.  If you want to drive in circles at 200 mph you're fucking insane to begin with.  Why would God protect you?  Check your tires instead, dumbasses!

Google in the Galapagos!  Cool!

Cornell study of WW2  veterans finds they are more religious if they experienced heavier combat.   Is this lovely quote a swipe against atheists or the internet?  "They don’t see themselves as an isolated person surfing on the Internet"

Home-schooled kid kills two siblings.  Besides the anti-science indoctrination, I disagree with homeschooling because it gives the parents double the time to fuck up their kids psychologically.

Seth Andrews, The Thinking Atheist, has been disappeared from the history of the Christian radio station where he used to work.

ACLU warns Ohio school system to drop plans to add creationism to their curriculum.

14-year-old kid with an IQ higher than Einstein, giving a TED Talk for Teens.

Evolution in action: cockroach variety losing its sweet tooth.   The best news in the article: there is a species of cockroaches that lives in ant nests.  That gives me some Schadenfreude.

Video of the Week: How to Spot a Liar
(posted for anyone tempted to watch a video of William Lane Craig)

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The Local Paper on the Ball State ID Course

BSU prof accused of preaching Christianity

MUNCIE — Ball State University is investigating a complaint that one of its assistant professors in the department of physics and astronomy is preaching rather than teaching.The Freedom From Religion Foundation, whose mission is to act as an umbrella for those who are free from religion and are committed to the principle of separation of state and church, filed an objection to Eric Hedin’s teaching.

...But Provost Terry King, a chemical engineer and the university’s chief academic officer, said, “Faculty own the curriculum. In large part, it’s a faculty matter. But we have to ensure that our teaching is appropriate. All I have so far is a complaint from an outside person. We have not had any internal complaints. But we do take this very seriously and will look into it.”

I hope they really mean that!  They interviewed Jerry Coyne, who first brought this to light:

It appears Hedin “presents a non-view of science in a science class,” said Coyne, author of the book “Why Evolution is True.” “The students are being duped. It’s straight theology with no alternatives. It’s a straight Christian intelligent design/creationist view of the world, which is wrong. It’s not science. It’s not that it’s not science, it’s science that has been discredited. It’s like saying the Holocaust didn’t happen.”

If you've been following this story from Coyne's blog, you already know that the syllabus from a comparable course by Hedin is online and that the chair of the department acknowledged the Honors course syllabus that Coyne forwarded to him.  Nobody's making this stuff up. Hedin is teaching non-science.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Hallelujah! A Bible survived a tornado!

SHAWNEE, Okla. — The buzz of chain saws is a welcome symphony in Pottawatomie County Monday, the day after a deadly tornado ripped through Shawnee. Lance Carter weathered the storm in his neighbors basement.  When he emerged, his home and five acre property of 17 years were almost unrecognizable.
Ross stumbled across that same family Bible; it was still open to the very same page, Isiah chapter 32 which reads, ”A man will be as a hiding place from the wind, and a cover from the tempest.”
Alexander and Spurlin rode out the storm a mile away.  Their Bible, it turns out, didn’t go quite that far.  The Bible only made it about 100 feet from home.  The Word, is now back with its weary owners, thanks to the kindness of two strangers.

 I suppose if someone finds a copy of Green Eggs and Ham they would just throw it into the trash, which is a shame.  It has a much better message.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

May 18 Links

Try this quiz:  Professor or Hobo?

Atheist literature will now be placed alongside Gideon bibles in Georgia state park campsites.  I wonder how many other states have permitted bibles in their lodges.

Great atheist letter in response to a letter blaming atheists for "moral decay."  This is from the border between Indiana and Kentucky - one of the hickest places in the country.  It's refreshing to know that a person can be born there and still be able to think.

Hidden concentration camp drawings on display in Berlin.  Holocaust deniers will probably have something to say but at least Germans can see what great art they denied the world by killing so many artists.

Irish Quaker woman declared a "righteous gentile" posthumously.  I'm not surprised a Quaker could be a righteous gentile, but I'm surprised one could come from Ireland!

There's a new book on my reading list:  Bible Bullies.  Before I read it though, I think I'll check my blood pressure.

Meanwhile, Rand Paul, named for one of the most famous atheists in history, is courting fundamentalist Christians.

Muslims to Tea Party: Welcome to Our World.  Is turnabout fair play?

Blasphemy charges against a Christian teacher in Egypt should remind Christians of why it's a good thing that the U.S. is not a Christian nation.

...edtied to add:  Herbal medicine doctor convicted of fraud.   Not really a religion, but people who have fallen for herbal/holistic/naturalistic claims cling to them despite all evidence to the contrary, so they are no better than fundies in my opinion.

Video of the Week: Dusty Smith rips apart the Christian video "The Thaw" and its many lies. For those offended by the f-word, well, sometimes it's the only appropriate word to describe shit. Sorry.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

FFRF writes to Ball State about creationist "astronomy" course

Jerry Coyne posted the letter and some commentary on his Why Evolution is True blog:

I doubt a lawsuit will have legs, but I'm glad to see them taking action on a phony professor who does a bait-and-switch number on students who register for a science course and get a religion course.

Thank you, FFRF and Jerry Coyne!

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Another High School Hero!

Why I Sued Northwest Rankin High School is a letter from a courageous 16-year-old who sued her high school for forcing her to attend a Jesus-drenched assembly.  In the lawsuit she is referred to only by initials, but today she came out with the post at the American Humanist Association site.

Key quotation: 

"I am not an angry atheist. As a matter of fact, I am not an atheist at all. I hold many Christian beliefs and values, and I do not mean to attack the religion or its message. Instead, this is a case about our constitutional right to be free from the government promoting these religious beliefs."
Damn straight!  You can't have a "Christian" school without defining what is Christian and what is not.  This means Catholics who don't believe the tenets of a Baptist minister could be forced to be preached at by one anyway.  It means Seventh-Day Adventists could be told they're not true Christians if they don't go to church on Sunday.  It means that children who find themselves mumbling the "wrong" words at the end of the Lord's Prayer could feel disenfranchised or offended.

Settlers from England certainly knew the sad English history of "official" religions switching back and forth and the murders committed because of it.  No "Christian" is free if any Christian can declare they know which Christianity is the best one.  They knew that "Bloody Mary" murdered Protestants.  They would have known about the Inquisition, too.  And then some of them were deists....  There's no doubt whatever that the Founders wanted the church to stay out of government and vice versa.

So anyway, good for her for standing up for the Constitution and her (and her parent's) right to decide whether and how to worship without bullies in her school forcing it on her.

hat tip: Jerry Coyne's Why Evolution is True blog

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Food Nazis: A Rant

This isn't an atheist topic at all, but as a skeptic & pet-owner, I have to vent about a category of credulous fools that drive me crazy on the interwebs and in person.  They are what I call food nazis.  They are one subtype of the "Issues" flame warrior.

They are against all things "unnatural" or not "organic."  They lobby against genetically modified foods... that is, those that are modified through laboratory manipulation of DNA, versus the "organic" food they eat that represents hundreds of years of genetic tinkering through breeding and cultivation.  They want only pure foods in their bodies, which is fine.  They usually have mysterious maladies that apprently come from eating the same foods the rest of us ate growing up.  They don't want to eat anything they can't pronounce, though they are able to learn to pronounce "edamame" and "acai." They think they will live forever due to their superior nutrition despite scant evidence that food additives other than nitrates will or can cause cancer.  I've actually been told by a woman with fibromyalgia that she will long outlive me.  AHA!  Take THAT!!!  My question: she's in such pain from worrying about whether she's in pain, why would she want to live that long?  (Or will it just seem like she's living longer because she's in pain and she never has any fun?)

The food nazi will lecture you about what you should be eating based on their flimsy diagnosis of you.  A food nazi I had the displeasure of working with several years ago lectured me about eating eggs for breakfast.  She knew the nutritional content of everything I ate and insidiously asked me "ohhh that smells good what is it?"  And then when I tell her... WHAM!  "That's got cholesterol and calories and fat and..."

To which I answered "What the hell do you know?  My cholesterol is 93 so shut up about what I eat and mind your own business!  You're not my doctor!"  (Yes, I said it, and loudly, too)

There is another kind that I really can't abide.  Pet food Nazis.  These people are convinced that feeding raw food to their pet is superior to any feeding method any pet owner could choose, anywhere.  They are, in a word, zealots.

The diet is aptly called "BARF" for "Bones and Raw Food" or "Biologically Appropriate Raw Food."  The followers of this movement insist that their feeding method is better because it's more natural.  Pointing out to them they they are falling for the naturalistic fallacy (or appeal to nature) falls on deaf ears.  Informing them that cats and dogs have been eating the cooked leftovers of their owners for thousands of years falls on deaf ears.  Reminding them that evolution requires only that individuals of the species "survived" just long enough to reproduce and in sufficient numbers is the reason for wolf evolution, not anything in their diet, falls on deaf ears. 

They do respond to a call for proof.  Pointing out that there have been no scientific studies proving their point raises the spectre of Big Food Companies "owning" the vets who do the studies and sell the kibble (despite the fact that most kibble is purchased in stores).  I challenged the manufacturer of one of these raw food diets to conduct a study and they insisted it would cost too much money.  Really?  They have oodles of rabid followers who would gladly pay for bloodwork & stool samples to give them more ammo when they try to shame fellow pet owners into jumping onto their bandwagon.  And how hard would it be to pay a veterinary school to survey pet owners bringing in pets with cancer to see what the pets are eating?  Wouldn't most vet schools jump at the chance to grab some easy grant money? I thought they were easily bought and paid for.

They are as bad as scientologists and their demonization of psychiatric meds. 

The thing is, just as with human diets, there is some truth to the claim that diet and health are connected.  Human food nazis such as the twit I used to share an office with are only too happy to tell you what is in your food and what it can do to or for you.  They read "Prevention" magazine and shop at Whole Foods and listen to NPR, which never has ads for McDonalds or Skittles.  They are superior to the rest of us and they will live to be 100 years old and delight in the fantasy of going tsk tsk to us at our funerals.   We normal people will die young from horrible diseases and on our deathbeds we'll say "You were right.  I should have eaten edamame!"  This fantasy keeps them going as they nibble on their tasteless grub.

There is also a raw food fantasy about human foods, that ignores the fact that we've been cooking for eons.  It's the "cave man" or paleolithic diet.  There is zero evidence that this is good for modern humans.  I was in Paris for a few weeks and almost every cafe serves raw hamburger.  Blech.  The French may have the enzymes or antibodies or whatever for digesting that stuff, but I wasn't going to risk it.  Fortunately, they also have McDonalds in Paris.  (Yes, I did it!  I went to McDonalds in Paris!  Subway, too!)
Yes, that's a raw egg!
Animals, such as ourselves, certainly can live to old age, and diet can play a part, but evolution didn't dictate that.  Evolution doesn't really care if we live to old age, except perhaps that men can continue to inseminate women well past the age when women undergo "the change."  But it's not necessary for survival.  Humans only need to live to about 12 to 20 to pass along their DNA, unless grandparenting turns out to be essential to training the young-uns, in which case 40 will do.  In cats, dogs, and other canids, the individual only needs to live to be about 7-8 months old.  Any old diet can keep all of these species "alive" in an evolutionary sense.

The other thing they don't get is that cats and dogs are different species.  YES!  They are!  Cats are much closer to their wild ancestors than dogs are.  They can't survive on table scraps as dogs can.  Dog fanatics will cite books or articles written about cat nutrition and draw a false equivalence. These nutters will also draw an equivalence to people that's totally wrong.  For example, xylitol will cause hypoglycemia in a dog but not at all in a human.  Diabetic humans can eat xylitol and it doesn't affect their glucose level, but a dog could die from hypoglycemic shock from chewing on a stick of sugar-free gum.

So... they may be right.  They may be wrong.  There may be no difference at all between cooked and raw diets, assuming the kinds of foods eaten are the same.  Their own personal experiences are all they need.  Have there been any people or pets killed by salmonella?  Would any of the food nazis who forced their food fetishes on those victims be posting online?  NO!  Would people who died from food-borne pathogens be flame warriors on interwebs forums?  NO!  Dead people can't type!  Would food nazis who got cancer admit that their food fetishes did them no good?  NO!  So we have a biased sampling of opinions based on naturalistic fantasies, erm fallacies.

Eating vegetables & fruits, keeping weight under control, not smoking, not drinking (or not drinking much) are commonsense "rules" for people to follow.  I avoid nitrites because they've been shown to contribute to leukemia.  I avoid fish because I don't believe in strip-mining the ocean for a sandwich, and anyway they swim in their own pee and who knows what pollutants are in them?  (hey, I try to be rational but fish are just plain icky)  My bird gets all-natural food because the company that makes it is careful to balance nutrients he'd get in nature.  (He's a zebra finch - about the size of a mouse).  I wouldn't claim superiority without proof, though.  I just go with my gut and my own best thinking.  If scientific research proved me wrong I'd go with other recommendations in a heartbeat.
Then there's Hitch's example. Despite being genetically disposed to pancreatic cancer, he did everything "wrong" and yet didn't seem to be whining about his decisions after he got sick.  The food nazi I had to endure at work tried to convince me I'd live to be 100 if I ate like her.  I told her I probably wouldn't, but it would feel like 100 years.

Is it wrong to call them "Food nazis?"  Well consider that the Nazis were also health fetishists.   They were anti-tobacco before anyone in the U.S. was.  They made a few good points.  "Racial hygiene" was a repulsive outgrowth of this focus on health and purity.

Not that food fetishists in the U.S. are going down that path, but ya know... they should just shut up about their

So to all the food nazis out there, when you wag your finger at me, I just might show one of mine to you.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

May 11 Links

Herb Silverman on how or whether government should define religion

Jerry Coyne summarizes the Pew Report on the Muslim World.  The news isn't good.

Some Jewish women want to wail at the wailing wall.  Lots of Jewish men don't want them to do it.  The military has to intervene to let them.  Crazy.

The Black Ladies of Los Angeles buy their Sunday best from a Jewish Iranian clothier... and never on a Saturday.  I have to admit, I have always admired black lady church clothes.  Nobody does it better, and apparently the black ladies of Los Angeles are the best of the best.

I can see my house from here!  Live stream from the space station.

Unintentionally funny church signs  (found via reddit atheism - yes, I went there!)

The Dark Side of Home Schooling (found via the Richard Dawkins Foundation:  The Dark Side of Home Schooling)

last-minute addition:  Boston pediatric psychiatrist barred because of diagnosing "sprititual" disease.  They won't report which church Dr. Kam took his patient to.  Why?  Shouldn't people be warned away from this dangerous church, too?  (h/t Religion Clause)

Video of the Week: "The Storytelling of Science" hosted by Lawrence Krauss with a stellar panel of sciency atheistic types.  Be sure to make time for the second part. Neil DeGrasse Tyson goes ballistic!

Part Two:

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

God Works in Mysterious Ways? Seriously?

Like everyone else I think the rescue of the three women in Cleveland is a great story.  Waiting for years for her moment, perhaps earning the trust of her captor in order to create such a moment, Amanda Berry screams to a passerby, who comes to her aid and calls 911 on her behalf.  The police respond, rescue the other two women and the child born into that horrible situation, and now the captors are behind bars and the women are with their families.

The aunt of one said: “I will tell you this because I was there to see her- all three girls. God works in mysterious ways. It’s just unbelievable, unbelievable, these girls, these women are so strong; stronger than I am."  Did she work in her praise for god just out of a sense of duty?  I wouldn't give that callous asshole one iota of thanks for letting the perp have "free will" to deprive three others (and then his rape-daughter also) of theirs.  What kind of "good" god is this?

First of all, God could have given this man ALS or crippled him in a car wreck, preventing him from being able to snatch three girls off the street and systematically rape them.  Or he could have blessed him with visions of His goodness and inspired him to join the priesthood (where he would rape little boys instead).  Or He could have just caused the guy's mother to have a miscarriage and prevented the whole thing.  How many mysterious ways could God have worked on this problem?  A bajillion, at least!

Did "He" choose to do any of those things?  The wise and loving father who looks after the innocent?  NO!  He looked over the guy's shoulder while he was raping those girls!  Or he closed his eyes, or maybe he put all his energy into rigging baseball games in favor of the team with the most prayerful people on their side.  He certainly didn't lift a finger to help these girls.  He could at least have prevented an innocent baby being born into the situation.

This is the classic Problem of Evil.  If god is all-powerful and omniscient and omnibenevolent, then why didn't he intervene?  Either 1)  he's not all-powerful or 2) he's not omniscient or 3) he's not benevolent.  Option four:  he could intervene but chooses not to is hardly a characteristic of a god worth worshiping but people will defend him with that line.  As Tracie Harris said on The Atheist Experience, "If I could stop a person from raping a child, I would. That’s the difference between me and your God."

Coincidentally, the niece's name is Gina DeJesus.  Hallelujah.  I can't imagine keeping that name after what she's been through.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Deconversion Stories of Famous Atheists

Dan Barker, former evangelical preacher and now co-president of the Freedom from Religion Foundation.  His autobiography is Losing Faith in Faith and he also wrote Godless: How an Evangelical Preacher Became One of America' Leading Atheists.

Bart Ehrman, Biblical scholar who trained to be a pastor and became an atheist.  He peeked behind the curtain and found out that the Wizard was a fraud.  Most of the video summarizes the main problems in the transmission of the books of the Bible and early debates about Jesus:

Seth Andrews, former Christian broadcaster and now podcaster and speaker, wrote Deconverted: A Journey from Religion to Reason.

Jerry DeWitt, another ex-pastor (Pentecostal), wrote Hope After Faith: An Ex-Pastor's Journey from Belief to Atheism. He is the first graduate of The Clergy Project, started by Dan Barker and Richard Dawkins to give closet atheist pastors a safe place to discuss transitioning to secular life.

Teresa Macbain, also a member of The Clergy Project. She came out despite certain unemployment, and she is now a speaker and Public Relations Director for American Atheists. (Mute until she is at the podium b/c there's terrible feedback):

Matt Dilahunty of The Atheist Experience:

Michael Shermer (blog post): he read up on evolution in order to debunk it, and became a skeptic and atheist

I don't know if this guy is famous but he ought to be!  He tried to convert "natives" and they deconverted him:

And the classic, "Why I am Not A Christian" by Bertrand Russell (not read by him):

His answers to lame questions in an interview. His deconversion is part of the interview:

Friday, May 3, 2013

May 4 Link Round-up

Moon Landing Faked!  Why People Believe in Conspiracy Theories  Skeptical article in Scientific American ... not by Michael Shermer

 Real paleontologists visited the Creation Museum.  Fortunately they were not left speechless.

The survey says:  Christians are more like Pharisees than like Christ

PZ Myers destroys the aquatic ape hypothesis idiocy.

10 Things Most Americans Don't Know About Themselves

Interview (.pdf) with the author of Paleofantasy: What Evolution Really Tells Us About Sex, Diet and How We Live

Florida freethinkers win the right to distribute atheist literature in a Florida school system.  The schools had allowed a group to leave Bibles on a table for students, so freethought literature will now be available as well.

A printable electronic ear has been developed so borg people can now be their own ipod.  Add Google Glass to become a total Borg, but it may not last:  Google Glass:  Too Dorky to Live?

Rep. Randy Forbes tells Congress that the Obama administration is waging war on Christians in the military.  Politifact says Mostly False:  "This did happen in at least one briefing at a reserve center in Pennsylvania. The Army says it was a mistake -- made by an individual, not the command -- that was corrected upon the first complaint."

Westboro Baptist "Church" threatens to picket George Jones' funeral.  They're trying so hard to make conservatives hate them.  Why isn't it working?

More affinity fraud, this time pastors in Toronto, who bilked their congregation of $9 million Canadian (it's still a lot of money even if it is Canadian)

It's Buddhists vs Muslims in Sri Lanka and Burma, with Buddhists adopting violence contrary to their religion.

Richard Carrier reviews a book with mythicist arguments against the historical Jesus so you don't have to.  Really.  Doesn't sound like a very good book.  Carrier's review is good reading, though.

Video of the Week: The Four Horsemen in Conversation (Dawkins, Dennett, Carrier and the late great Hitchens)