Category Archives: RELIGION

Mmm, smells like scorched earth!

So, there’s a bit of drama going on in atheist circles dubbed “gelatogate.” The Angry Astronomer has a decent, and not very angry, explanation of the deal on his blog; but in brief, here’s the deal:

Christian local businessman pops over to the annual free “Skepticon” conference to see what’s going on. Thinking, understandably so, that it might be all about skepticism on UFOs and ghosts and whatnot (which it somewhat is), he’s treated to a few minutes of Sam Singleton’s parody act of a holy-roller revivalist sermon, not promoting gettin’ saved, but parodying religion and promoting skeptical atheism — and the crowd participating in the parody by, not yelling “amen!,” but rather “goddam!”

So, said Christian businessman runs over to his neighboring gelato and smoothie business and posts a sign reading:

“Skepticon is not welcomed to my Christian business,

where it remains for anywhere between 10 minutes (he says) and two hours (others say), possibly violating the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The near immediate result? Atheists with access to the Intertubes (purt near ev’rybody), went apoplectic and completely decimated his online rankings on such social media services as Urbanspoon, Yelp, and Google reviews. I mean, decimated. (Although, will taking a store’s ranking down to 1 star, or 5%, or whatever on one of these, really harm a business? Especially in a town that’s not very social media savvy? Meh, doubt it. But it’s still something that would make a struggling businessperson’s stomach turn to water.)

So, he posted an notpology on his Web page: a very thinly veiled “please lay off, m’kay?!” apology. After that made the rounds of critical mockery, he posted an extensive and reasonably sincere-sounding apology over on Reddit, where his infamy across the world was begat. Some atheism/skepticism bigwigs and muckymucks accepted the apology. Others did not. Boy-howdy, did they not. And this is where my opinions on the matter begin….

As this drama played out, plot twist by plot twist, my own views changed somewhat with each new development.

  • Posted the sign: I freaked-the-flip out.
  • I learned he posted it after watching some undeniably inflammatory and reverse-offensive Sam Singleton: I nodded my head sagely and with tee-pee’ed fingers murmuring, “Indeed. Quite understandable, wot!”
  • The notpology: “OMG hes such a lyingjerk!!1!”
  • The full apology: “Ah, good show, old bean!”
  • JT Eberhard’s non-acceptance: “Yeah! Totally! We ride!… whoa… wait a second… Really?”

See, JT Eberhard’s a quickly-growing muckymuck of atheism in his own right. He’s the driving force for the first three years of Skepticon and is a very vocal opponent, and mockerizer, of religion. And nearly all the time I agree with nearly everything he posts (although, I find his frequent use of profanity completely unnecessary and juvanile… but whatchya gonna do). Yet, I’ve decided that in this late stage of this already getting old issue, his approach (the first “non-acceptance” post linked above, and his ironically-titled follow-up: “We Have No Choice But To Invade Gelato Mio” is wrong and likely do to far more harm than good. (But FSM help the person who tries to suggest JT might be wrong about something, unless you already happen to be in his inner-circle of friends. You take your metaphorical life in your hands. But, here goes….)

There is a time and a place and a need for bulldog firebrands. And, in JT’s day job, I rather think his style of take-no-prisoners scorched-earth approach is necessary! As he’s “a campus organizer and high school specialist with the Secular Student Alliance,” I believe he has to work on a daily basis dealing with some absolutely terrible bigotry from people in positions of unquestioned authority toward kids who have little to no defense against the religious intolerance they face. He has to defend students’ rights, legal and ethical, to express their beliefs and even form legally-allowed student clubs and associations which are constantly under attack from school administrators. Atheist students, especially those still in the closet and in much need of vocal and voracious support, need people like JT and his “give no quarter” single-mindedness. And I celebrate him for it!

But, there’s also a need, and a time and a place, for choosing one’s battles, deciding when discretion is the better part of valor, and allowing the “enemy” to slink away with a noggin-bump, instead of nuking them from orbit and then salting the earth for good measure. Yes yes, I know, JT’s actual demands are:

“Tell me bigotry is unacceptable.  Tell me offense is not the same as breathing life into prejudice.  Tell me that punishing somebody for disagreeing with you or thinking your beliefs are silly is immoral.  And tell me you will make a donation that will actually help make the world a better place rather than inviting us to patronize your business for an insignificant discount.”

…and they’re not unreasonable demands, really. (Well, there’s valid debate over whether demanding a struggling small business owner [who is likely in great debt and probably not even paying himself a wage — if the average situation of small business owners is applicable in this guy’s case] make a large personal donation is unreasonable or not. Although, I can see how that 10% discount the guy’s offering might be seen as patronizing and a cynical ploy to simply help his business.)

But it’s not just the demands themselves as much as it’s the inflammatory approach and words JT uses. The demeanor, the tone, the insults, the mockery he uses, feels to me less like a noble battle, and more like curb-stomping the local bully after getting a lucky break and jumping him when his back was turned. And while in the battlefield of protecting students from bigoted school boards and principals and teachers, for the sake of establishing proper laws and rules and making sure they’re enforced, one does not concede the battle until the other side gives unconditional surrender. But in the battlefield of public opinion, media, the general public, that approach does the atheist “movement” far more harm than any possible good.

In the minds of the general public, they see a situation where a local businessman does something, and are shown by the outraged minority that the something was discriminatory and bigoted, we now have the upper hand. We now are seen by many people as having rights and that there is discrimination that goes on, and the general public (including liberal Christians), now have the seed planted in their head that discrimination’s not cool and we’ll call them on it. They themselves may not disagree with the bigotry, but at least they may be thinking about the repercussions of it and may even be questioning the bigotry itself as something they never really thought about before. It’s not a big win, but it’s progress.

Then, the guy apologizes, and the atheist community at-large generally, and publicly, accepts it. What happens? The general public and the liberal Christians have their preconceptions of the angry, religion-hating atheist challenged! We’re shown as reasonable, ethical, diplomatic, and perhaps even calmer and more sane than your average holier-than-thou religious leader and spokesperson who appears on FOX News. Now they’re more willing to listen to what we have to say, to consider our positions, to truly rethink their bigotry and not just the outward acts of discrimination. Now they’re willing to concede issues and work with us in other issues.

But then, what happens when prominent atheist spokespersons demand heads on spikes? (Metaphorically.) The walls redouble in size, the shields go to maximum, and the us-versus-them mentality is reinforced. The general public and the liberal Christian (which, really, by and large, are greatly overlapping Venn Diagram circles), believe their preconceptions are well-founded and continue to ignore our valid complaints and criticisms.

If we let this one bigoted business owner go, probably not having had a real change of heart but just a show of one, what do we really lose? If we accept his sincere-sounding apology and let him off with tail tucked between his legs and a stern “Okay, off with you — but we’ll be watching,” is that really so terrible if it means we gain great PR and the willing and open ear of millions of other people? So he’s not beaten into submission — but will anything we do really, possibly, change his “heart”? Do we seriously think that we can possibly convince this guy he was truly wrong by continuing to berate and insult and bash him and demand things of him? Will that make him, and many like him, watching this, see the light? Have a true conversion?

No, it will not. No amount of continued battle against him will truly change him or others, and will only harden them all to us. But diplomacy, some forgiveness, leniency, will not only be more productive to our cause in the long run and on a wider scale, but may actually do more good in setting this guy on a path to the real and sincere atonement that is currently being demanded at the point of a verbal spear.

*blog post image taken from this lifehacker post: “Venting Frustration Will Only Make Your Anger Worse.”

Response to Deceptive Leafleteers, and Christianity in General

Okay, forget what I previous wrote about Bertrand Russell. In fact, forget everything I’ve written here about religion. One of the best responses I’ve read to evangelicals and their tactics and arguments is this one I came across on Facebook today by a fellow named Conrad Hudson. Below is his post:

Deceptive Campus Leafleteers

Was feeling feisty today so stopped to reprimand some street preachers who were giving out information on Jesus under false pretenses. If your message is that good, you shouldn’t have to deceive to spread it. The first one took his tongue-lashing with dignity and silence. The second one to stop me only wishes he did. You asked for the story, here it is.



Guy A:  “Would you like a basketball schedule?”

When I turn this over, it looks like a religious document. Why did you offer me a basketball schedule and then give me a religious document?


“Because it’s important.”

If it’s so important, why didn’t you offer it to me directly? Why did you try and sneak your message in on the back of something else?


“Because then people wouldn’t take it.”

Yes exactly. And yet you have today decided that I don’t have the mental capacity to make my own decisions on what I do and don’t want. You’ve taken position of arrogance that you know so much better than I, what I need, that you’d rather trick me in to chancing upon your information than give me a chance to make my own decision. Can you see why I might find that disrespectful to me and my fellow students?



Further, if this message is so important, if it truly is backed up by evidence, if it bears fruit in the lives of those who embrace it, then it should be able to stand up on its own. The message of God shouldn’t need to trojan horse to be considered by his own creation.



You’re not here to help give me information about the basketball season, you’re taking advantage of my desire for that information to give me something else, something you want to give me, but haven’t given me an honest proposal which I can decide on. If you were a business that would be called bait-and-switch, and it would be illegal. But you’re not selling anything, so it’s not illegal, it’s just dishonest, and frankly hypocritical for a follower of a diety who commands truthfulness. I think these issues are important, and I like talking about them, but I’m not going to take your information because I don’t appreciate the way you’re approaching my campus.



Stay warm, and take care.


And I walked off.  Then, this other guy starts making eye contact with me at the other end of the block. I don’t cross the street on my own campus to avoid people, and they were over there anyway.

Guy B: “Hi there, would you like a basketball schedule?”

No, I wouldn’t, and as I explained to your friend, here’s why….lists off an abbreviated version of the above.


“Can I show you a scripture that explains why I’m doing this?”



“I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life. – John 5:24 so it says here that God gave us the Bible so that we could have everlasting life.”

Ok, that’s very nice that he said that’s why he wrote the Bible, but if another book also says it was written so I could have everlasting life, how do I know which one is true? What evidence should I base that judgment  on? Isn’t it reasonable to expect evidence to be available in order to decide which book or claim to put faith in? You would probably say that God gave you the ability to reason, so would you agree with Thomas Jefferson who once said, “Question with boldness, “Question with boldness, even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the [the use of] of reason, than that of blind-folded fear” or faith?”


“Do you believe in God? How about Heaven or Hell?”



“Can I ask how you came to not believe?”

Sure, I found a lot of things that made sense if God existed, it explained a lot of mysteries, but there were some things that didn’t quite fit with the real world too. So I started looking, not for things that I could fit in to the assumption of God’s existence, which there were plenty, but for evidence that implied God did actually exist, specifically and necessarily. I didn’t find any, so I decided that belief was unjustified.


“Can I share some more information with you?”

If it’s that evidence that God does exist that I mentioned earlier, I would be most excited to hear it, yes please!


Proceeds to try and claim the bible’s internal writing prove it’s divinity. 

Freshly armed with historical facts from Dave Muscato’s talk at SOMA, I proceed to rip each argument apart, and growing weary of countering each argument as it was brought up in response to the previous one’s failure, got him to admit that:

a) The fact that Darth Vader’s rise to power was prophesied by the Jedi does not mean the Star War’s canon is real

b) Harry Potter’s internal consistency and the accuracy of its manuscript to the author’s intent is not good evidence for its reality.

c) The age of the Iliad does not justify using it to create a belief system

d) His evidence was no better than theirs


Sooooo, let’s try and get back to the original question, do you have any evidence that I should accept the proposition of God, Heaven, and Hell?


Of course he wanted to try more and more approaches instead of admitting he didn’t have any evidence, so I took the opportunity to force him to admit the following, none of which he was happy about but was forced to concede because they were based on his own words and flowed naturally from his attempts to defend the Bible’s contents. 


a) God is really emotional sometimes, and his temper get’s away from him and needs to be talked down


b) We are more loving than God. The Bible says 1) God is love 2) love is not jealous 3)God is a jealous god. So we are expected to love our fellow human beings more deeply than God loves us, because he embodies only the agape form of love and does not hold the full range of positive feelings toward us that other forms of love require.


c) God’s patience with the men, women and children murdered and the virgins raped by the Israelites was slightly less than it currently is with us. A patience that apparently causes him to do absolutely nothing for more than 2000 years despite promising to be basically “right back” (Matthew 16:27-28)


d) Jesus was not that worried about keeping families together nor advocating peace. Having previously insisted that not a single thing in the bible was metaphor or figurative, he simply promised to look in to this passage in Mathew 10:

“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn ‘a man against his father,  a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law— a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household. Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.”


e) He would never punish his child with fire, death, or permanent shunning, based on whether or not they choose to obey, even if he had provided a way to avoid it, he would not continue to stoke a fire in his house for the express purpose of irreversable punishment but God is just to do so.


f) God created hell, and continues to allow it’s existence for the express purpose of punishing people with it, even though he could create a less horrific option at any time, or simply let someone die and have the absence of heaven be the punishment.


g) God killed himself, to satisfy  a debt he owes to himself, because of a contract he made with himself, which being capable of all things he could change at any time since we already established he’s capable of being two contradictory things at the same time. Further unless God is subject to a universal morality outside himself, there is nothing compelling him to use blood in order to alleviate sin,  a crime, punishment, and recompense all defined by himself.

He tried to claim that because God set up this contract before mankind existed it wasn’t immoral. I pointed out that

1) he could have easily chose a less gruesome, more loving option, one that didn’t so coincidently line up with desert tribes animal sacrifice customs, and

2) making a decision before a circumstance presents itself does not alleviate one of moral responsibility, as he readily agreed that making a decision to punch all people wearing red shirts in the face before having noticed he was wearing a red shirt would not absolve me of punching him in the face now that he had violated my rule.


h) Jesus did not actually make the greatest sacrifice ever made, since he knew he was going to be resurrected. Even though he would only be resurrected if he was sinless, he was both incapable of sin and fully aware that he would not sin so his sacrifice was less than that of any human who’s ever given up their life for another with no promise of immediate resurrection. (he really didn’t like that one, but wasn’t willing to admit that Jesus could have sinned or been ignorant in order to get out of it)


i) That even though his opinion doesn’t matter, and it’s not his judgment  it’s God’s, he does have to agree that it’s justice for a human to suffer in hell for all eternity if they have sex out of wedlock, even if the rest of their life is completely virtuous. He has to hold that belief or contradict God.  (It would actually be more virtous if he was simply afraid of God’s wrath, avoiding a bully’s beatings, but he’d rather be a pious accomplice in this entirely unequitable sentence.)


j) He has no actual justification for preferring his translation of the Bible over all the others, besides that it better aligns with the teachings his church believes.


k) If his friend owed him a debt and he intended to forgive that debt out of love he would simply forgive it if it was in his power, without setting up a perpetual punishment for failure to comply. But God isn’t getting rid of the debt, namely the death that is the wages of sin and the damnation that follows, he’s demanding obedience in exchange for the debt, if you fail, you get put on a payment plan that never ends.


After each of these, I offered to return to my original question of what evidence existed that suggested God is real. Anything that we should look to that is not used by any number of other supernatural claims, that actually implies why his belief is true.


Finally he had had enough and I needed to get to class, so he offered to give me information to get in contact with his Pastor to hear more.

I kindly, but honestly explained that thus far he’d failed to offer even a single bit of evidence of what I originally requested, so considering that he represented his church and seemed well versed in it’s teachings, it didn’t suggest that my time would be well spent rehashing this conversation with his pastor. But I gave him a SOMA card and earnestly encouraged him to contact me if they did in fact have any evidence, as I would eagerly accept legitimate evidence for God and Jesus and humbly repent.


He didn’t want to do that, he wanted me to call  his pastor because he was a busy guy and it would be better if I called him.

I asked him, do you have any evidence on which to assume that I am in fact less busy than your pastor? He didn’t but wanted to insist that it was me who was ‘checking out’ so I took the opportunity to make him admit one more thing:


l) the fact that his pastor wouldn’t call me but would take my call meant that the decision was not in fact mine, but ours, meaning that if his pastor did have convincing evidence to share he was making the decision not to share it with me, and let me burn in hell, since I was most willing to listen.


With that he reluctantly took my card, and I encouraged him to call or email me should he come across that evidence we’d been searching for today.


Look I’ll give this guy credit, the conversation was incredibly civil and well-intentioned. He knew his pitch well, and knew scriptures by chapter and verse. He stood out in the cold and talked with me for some time, and I thanked him for his sincerity and care but also pointed out that despite all that love and concern he was showing by being out here, he was somehow able to simultaneously believe that I deserved to burn in hell forever if I didn’t sign the license agreement on the Yahweh/Jesus v2.0 software installation, and I found that a disturbing thing for him to think about another human being. Realizing he was simply outmatched today (it didn’t take much, I’m no theologian, these are glaring issues for someone with a critical eye), he agreed that it was simply his belief, he believed it on faith, and didn’t have an external reason for having faith in that instead of something else or nothing at all, he simply thought faith was a good thing to have, and this was the thing to have faith in.


We said cordial goodbyes and shook hands.


The lesson here is that you shouldn’t debate consumer feedback on your marketing tactics. 



Here is the website of the church these gentlemen belong to.

They are building their own little empire right here in Kansas, with mass printing, for sale of course, based on the promise the secret to getting in to heaven. They are contructing a new 700 seat church building and have their own education system from elementry through university where “Degrees offered include pastoral theology, elementary and secondary education, missions, and church ministry.”


It looks like it was no fluke that the nice gentlemen I spoke with knew his stuff, Barnabas Smith is the Assistant to the Pastor at  Heritage Baptist Church.

The Platonic “Why I Am Not a Christian”


Freethinking, and atheism itself, is as old as ancient Greece and Rome with Epicurus, Seneca, Emperor Marcus Aurelius. . . . But there are few comprehensive essays critiquing the idea of a creator omni-god, Yahweh and Jesus in particular, that’s as thorough and reasoned as Bertrand Russell’s 1927 essay, “Why I Am Not a Christian.”

What he wrote in that famous essay is nothing new, not today and not even in 1927 — but he examines the basic and common claims for God, the “first cause” claim, the moral argument, the justice argument, from design, etc., and dismantles each one. Then, goes on to touch on how the teachings of Jesus are not nearly as wise and good as people like to think.

While many writers since Russell have written exhaustively on these subjects (and more, such as the ontological argument for God and the Kalam first cause variant), Russell’s essay serves as a hallmark on the topic.

I imagine a theist reading this and quipping, “You’re treating Russell’s essay as dogmatically as you accuse believers and our Bible.” Big difference between what Russell wrote and the Bible: these standard arguments in favor of atheism, unlike revealed religious scripture, don’t have to be told to you or taught — anyone capable of reason and logic can come up with the exact same thoughts as Russell, independently and in solitude. In fact, a great many atheist, including myself, have done exactly that. Before I even heard the names Dawkins or Hitchens or Bertrand Russell, as a believer questioning all I’d been taught to believe, I’d come to all the same conclusions as Russell (and Epicurus and Seneca and Hitchens), and eventually discovering, “Hey! What I thought were great insights, are old hat! Millions of non-believers have arrived at the same conclusions I have — except some of them have written them into exquisite books.”

Everyone is born an atheist, with lack of belief in any gods. The luck of what culture you’re born in and what parents you’re born to, determine what revealed, unquestionable dogma you’re indoctrinated with. You’d never know anything about hell, Jesus, Yahweh (Kali, Allah, Buddha, Confucius, Krishna, Zeus, Pele, etc.) unless someone told about it and taught you to believe it as truth. But you can be born into any religion, any culture, with any background, and if you give it honest thought, you can come to the same realizations on your own as these great thinkers.

Be it resolved…

This has, without a doubt, been an absolutely terrible, horrible, no good, very bad year. Probably the worst one, evah! (The only, and I mean only, bright spot was I finally got my Masters Degree in English . . . and even that’s pending until next year when I pay for and turn in super-expensive copies of my thesis and pay the rest of my school bill — not counting, of course, student loans I need to start paying on.) The badness is butting right up to the very end of the year in the last days. There’s been serious financial difficulties; there’s been a scary person, terrorizing my private and work life because they were offended by a political opinion I expresses online; there’s been legal scares; I’ve failed to make any progress on any of my writing career goals; our beloved family pet died; and the turmoil associated with completing my previously mentioned thesis. This year can’t end soon enough.

With the coming of this completely arbitrarily demarcated new year and new decade (contrary to popular opinion, decades begin on “1” years, e.g.: 2011, not “0,” e.g.: 2010), I need to make some serious changes; I need to refocus, re-prioritize, and start anew. As someone I don’t recall said, “If you want things to be different, you must do something different.”

Part of my problem is frakkin’ Facebook. It’s an evil, evil bane on productivity and a facilitator of my getting distracted and bent-out-of-shape about subjects that, while are important, serves only to make me upset and completely unproductive in regards to what’s even more important in my life: my nascent, budding writing career that I hope to make into a viable “second job,” with aspirations of it being my main job within a couple/few years.

In addition to the craptacular events that have sideswiped me and/or made me utter a general “WTF, world? W. T. F.?!” every other week, it seems, I recently read a blog post by writer/director Kevin Smith: “SMonologue #2.” The first half he discusses “Clerks 3” and the cost/process of investing in a movie idea and making it happen. But the important bit is the last half, in which he writes:

Continue reading Be it resolved…

Atheism Resource

It’s official, I am now a regular contributor to the new, up-and-coming blog site for atheism advocacy: Atheism Resource.

Their… er, I guess our tagline, is: “Big questions deserve big answers.” In that spirit, my first offering over there is a two-part essay on atheism and its role (or lack of) in determining ethics and meaning to life. Big enough for ya?

I end the essay with what I think is one of the best observations about appreciating life from the humanist perspective, by Paul Kurtz.

Well, go check the site out, it has some great contributors (me notwithstanding), including the incredible and impressively intelligent and well-read (if somewhat crass and crude) JT Eberhard. He’s embarrassingly young for being so enviably sharp and effective, and even lives in the same town as I do. While I will always be some curmudgeony blogger, I fully expect JT to become one of America’s foremost advocates for rational atheism. People will one day in the not-too-distant future be including Eberhard in the same breath as Dawkins, Hitchens, and Harris.

Anyway, I hope I can add something of value, or at least interesting, to the discourse. T’would be cool for Atheism Resource to at least place around the likes of The Friendly Atheist and Debunking Christianity. (…whom we need to get plugged by on their sites, hint-hint, Adam. *grin*)

Hmm, maybe we can be looked at as the BoingBoing of atheism?

Darnit, Jim, I’m a doctor — not a faith healer!

(This is the 10th edition of my Alpha Course reaction. For the first and all past posts, see the Alpha Page.)

Hopefully this will be a short post as well; I don’t seem to have that many notes for this session. I think Nicky is kind of winding down a bit as he’s coming to the end of the course.

One side remark: In small group, it’s been brought up a few times that people wished there was an additional, more advanced course than Alpha. There is. It’s called seminary school. It’s basically this, except in Greek. 🙂

Well,let’s get right to it….

Does God Heal Today?

Right at the beginning of the video, Nicky starts talking about what’s called, “words of knowledge.” This is basically any kind of information a person believes they receive from God/Holy Spirit about another person, their ailments, their concerns, etc. In Nicky’s example of experiencing an American faith healer, John Wimber (more on him in a second), the preacher handed out words of knowledge like, a woman here has a bad back, a man here has a back that’s been hurting him, etc. No way! A huge room full of people, and there are some with bad backs? You need the Holy Spirit to tell you this? The preacher then mentioned “a woman who’s barren.” According to the CDC, 10% of women can’t conceive. Tell a congregation of people that “there’s a woman whose barren,” and if there’s more than 10 or 20 people, you’re going to get a hit.

Speaking of “hits,” these words of knowledge are really nothing more than “cold reading.” It’s basically where psychics and faith healers, throw out vague, ambiguous, somewhat common ailments, names, information, that will likely hit on someone in the audience, fishing for a response.

Continue reading Darnit, Jim, I’m a doctor — not a faith healer!

Sending humans to do a deity’s job.

respect(This is the 9th edition of my Alpha Course reaction. For the first and all past posts, see the Alpha Page.)

After last week’s monster of a post, you’ll be glad to hear that this week’s will be shorter than usual. But first, a couple of semi-related things I’d meant to refer to in earlier posts but missed.

In the last post, I briefly discussed (due to the subject of “speaking in tongues,” or glossolalia), the concept of left and right brain hemispheres, and how one controls language and the other is the emotional center. Sometimes the emotion, to convey it to others or even to express it for one’s self, the language centers of one half of the brain need to be bypassed in order to “speak” directly to the emotional regions of the right-brain.

Well, here are a couple of absolutely fascinating videos which address this dual-brain dichotomy.

I Can Smell Your Spicy Brains!

The first is an excerpt from a show about the brain, and features Alan Alda interviewing a doctor and a patient who has had the connection allowing the two brains to communcate, severed. The results are fantastic:

There used to be a model of “understanding” the human, the personality, called dualism, that was the accepted and simply assumed model since Plato at least. Philosopher René Descartes did a lot of work on the subject, so we’ll often hear it refered to as “Cartesian dualism.” It’s basically this: The brain and the mind are two separate and distinct entities. The mind is a result of the spirit, or animae, and operates with the influence of, but apart from the physical brain. Of course, this belief, utterly philosophical (and religious) and not based on any hard evidence, makes sense to those who believe in the soul, spirits, ghosts, etc.

The problem is, we know without a doubt that everything about the person, behavior, personality, wants and desires, fears and memory, are all derived from the physicality of the brain. We know this because the brain can be manipulated, whether from internal damage (disease, stroke, etc.), by injury, and by experimentation (surgery, drugs, focused magnetic resonance), and any changes can create marked and stark changes in the “person.”

Continue reading Sending humans to do a deity’s job.

Spirit in the sky. Now with lots of videos!

(This is the 8th edition of my Alpha Course reaction. For the first and all past posts, see the Alpha Page.)

Oh boy. I’m going to try to keep in reigned in, but this is going to be a doozy edition (as if the previous novels haven’t been). Wife and I attended the weekend Alpha retreat which included three Nicky videos and discussion sessions after each one. Plus, there’s the whole weekend experience surrounding it to talk about.

Camp Galilee

As I’ve mentioned in past posts, I went to Camp Galilee Methodist Church Camp when I was a teen. It was a very formative, wonderful experience, and the crest of my religious belief. Saturday, we had two Nicky and talk sessions (one of which rather emotional), and nice bonfire. So Sunday morning, after a terrible sleep on a horrible mattress in a rather nice cabin, I was exhausted. But after a tasty breakfast, everyone went down by the lake for a devotional and I stayed up at camp to read a bit from Paul Kurtz’s Affirmations: Joyful And Creative Exuberance; a humanist “devotional.” Then I had a moment to write this:

It’s 8:30 on a beautiful morning here at Camp Galilee. It’s overcast, cool, slight breeze, the tease of rain in the air. For me, that’s a perfect morning. I’m sitting on a park bench maybe 200 feet from the pavillian where when I was a camper here, 15 years ago, we had our nightly services and testimonials and music and song. I gave my testimony as a Christian there at age 17. It was sincere, and I felt I was filled with the Holy Spirit. Now, I know it to have been a very human, very wonderful, self-created emotionalism. It was an incredible feeling, one that I can just touch with the “tips of my fingers” when I performed in plays, sometimes when I watch an effective play or movie, hear a particular song. It’s an awesome feeling, this kind of pathos, no less wonderful because I had it in during a period of religious delusion. I actually treasure that time; I’ve come to terms with it. I’m glad it’s in my past, and I feel I now understand the emotion better, and I’m extremely glad I can have bits of it when I can enjoy touching art or feel awe and wonder at some amazing aspect of the universe. And having that past experience, I can relate better to other humans who continue to feel that emotion in connection to a religious belief. I can understand their not wanting to even entertain the idea of giving that up. The shame of it is, though, that one does not need to give that feeling up. And, like the “mysteries” of the universe, science, reality, understanding it does not eliminate the wonder and, dare I say, goodness of it.
A formation of Canadian geese just flew over, honking the entire way. A few moments ago I heard the call of a buck. All around me is the sound of the wind through the trees, dead leaves shifting and tossing, and nuts falling from trees to crash to the ground or bonk on a roof and roll off. Earlier in my life I used to do this — sit and just listen to nature. It was the best part about camping as a Boy Scout, taking those moments. I’m thankful for this moment right now, this feeling of refueling.

Just a few more words about camp before I move to the meat of the weekend:

Continue reading Spirit in the sky. Now with lots of videos!

The devil’s in the details.

(This is part 7 of my, a non-believer’s, reaction to The Alpha Course, an introductory course into Christianity. The beginning is here, and the previous entry, part 6, is here.)

(Update: I just read Stephen Butterfield’s reaction to this night’s topic — if you have to read just one, read his! It’s much better written and entertaining, and the core of our reactions are almost identical!)

(Update 2: I just discovered my iPhone’s WordPress app renamed my blog post the same as a previous post. I just fixed it. Sorry for any confusion.)

Was thrown for a bit of a loop at first: we were supposed to do the section on the Holy Spirit this night, but evidently the two-part Spirit section is being saved for the “retreat” this weekend. This night we discussed Ol’ Scratch, El Diablo, Mr. Mephisto, Dick Cheney, or, the devil.

Before I get into mocking, er, critiquing this night, a word about this weekend’s retreat. I’m looking forward to, in this extended and casual setting, to maybe get into some real discussions with people. I hope so. On the other hand, being a weekend in which people have to drive for 2 hours and spend half a weekend out in the quasi-woods, I have this slight guilt-pang that makes me not want to ruin anyone’s weekend by being a caster of doubt and skepticism. (In a moment, you’ll see why after this night, that lack of desire to spread guilt is increased.)

Which leads me back to the difference I see between Alpha host Nicky Gumbel and the fellow classmates. I have no problem saying that Nicky seems like one of the nicest fellows you could meet, and I would love to spend a day with him. But make no mistake, he’s the enemy. He’s a promulgator of bad reasoning, uncritical credulity, logical fallacies, and out and out lies. Yes, lies. You can’t be as steeped in Christian apologetics as he obviously is, and not have encountered factual contradictions to the things he’s telling earnest listeners as truth. For example, using Tacitus, Josephus, etc. as “contemporary sources” for the historical events of the gospels, when that’s demonstrably, factually not true.

Continue reading The devil’s in the details.

Does God guide us?

(This is part 6 of my, a non-believer’s, reaction to The Alpha Course, an introductory course into Christianity. The beginning is here, and the previous entry, part 5, is here.)

I’m going to try something new this time and write my reaction less than 5 days after the event. Like, the next day, maybe. Well, I’ve started it the day after session 6, but I have recordings of Stargate: Universe and Caprica calling me….

(Update: I failed. See mid-way for a bonus Interlude.)

How Does God Guide Us, Nicky attempts to explain in this session. In general, this was a session full of special pleading and bad rationalizations. Which is a shame, because Nicky seems like a real nice guy, but his logic and critical thinking skills are nearly non-existent.

He starts by telling us that the Bible is a clear-cut explanation of what God’s will is. Nevermind that the Bible is neither clear-cut nor direct, and is responsible for a great many bloody conflicts among Christians over how the Bible should be interpreted. The book has been translated and re-translated into English alone scores of times, each one with some significant differences in literal meanings let alone what someone can infer from them. And countless denominations of the one religion have branched off with different interpretations of key passages. Like I mentioned last essay, putting your instructions in the form of a book written by many authors is probably the least wise method of communicating to your loved children, that I can think of.

Continue reading Does God guide us?

Don’t confuse human ability with miracles.

(Update: As usual, Roger Ebert does a far better job discussing the issue; and, he has person experience with it.)

As I write this, the last of the Chilean miners, trapped underground for more than two months, has been rescued successfully! I can’t even imagine the trials they must have faced, and the joy and relief felt by their family and friends must be overwhelming.

It’s a wonderful, amazing accomplishment of human determination, courage, and ingenuity. What it isn’t, is it isn’t “a miracle” as many are professing.

I understand that many say things like “it’s a miracle!” figuratively, and don’t actually mean a deity has altered the laws of reality to willfully change events in the world in ways that can’t be explained in any naturalistic manner — which is what a miracle is. Some people throw the term around when they really mean to say something is wonderful and amazing (as this story is), without thinking about the physics-altering nature inherent in “miracle.” I and other non-believers have been known to exclaim a “thank God!” now and then, but we shouldn’t be accused of being closet believers.

But there are many who do refer to the Hand of God when they say this rescue is a miracle, and I find that horrifically insulting, belittling, and dismissive of the enormous work, toil, cost, tenacity, and bravery of those who did all the work and shouldered the cost of the rescue.

What kept the miners alive was that there were caches of food and supplies placed throughout the cave because hey, mining is dangerous and collapses happen. Humans thought to do that.

Some of the men were well-experienced professionals who had the skills and abilities to keep them organized and calm and able to ration and stay positive.

Human skill and industry drilled the air and supply holes down to them. And enormous human skill and labor went into drilling and constructing a rescue tube and cage that worked flawlessly.

Human compassion and ability kept those men alive and saved them. Human skill and ingenuity has continued to battle nature and make a dangerous industry somewhat less so, not divine intervention: how far mine safety has come. (Ironic article source.)

If the mine had collapsed and an unknown person appeared among them from nowhere, staying with them and helping them through the 69 days, only to disappear before the rescue tube was finished, that’d be miraculous. If their store of food literally never depleted, that be a miracle. If the ground had shook and a perfectly straight tube opened up from the surface to the miners on its own: miracle. If the 33 miners had suddenly been poofed to the surface, instantaneously, definite miracle. But instead, every component of what saved them was purely natural, explainable, human. Wonderful and amazing! But human nonetheless.

And to give credit to an unseen force that has no marks of having done anything, is to crap all over the very human bravery and fortitude, intelligence and experience, strength and will everyone involved added to the rescue. We should rightfully be celebrating life saved, as well as human qualities that help us, more often than people realize, rise to the occasion!

Same with when someone says, “God/Jesus/angels/happy-thoughts fixed my organ/cured my cancer/brought me back to life.” No, ungrateful: a staff of humans who spent years and ridiculous money in medical school and nursing school, and years in residencies and practice, who read journals and attend conferences to learn latest techniques and treatments, and who spent significant time and energy and effort on you and your condition, fixed/cured/saved your whatever.

If a deity is to be thanked for being responsible for the rescue, it should also get the blame for the collapse:

The Instruction Manual?

(This is my reaction to session 5 of the Alpha Course. The first reaction and explanation is here, and last week’s is here.)

Well, I hate to say it, but I think I may have to give this session short shrift; it’s been a week, (such a week), and all I have is my scant notes on the session. (No wonder Stephen Butterfield uses a tape recorder.) And the worst part is that this session is the one I finally spoke up and got involved in conversation!

Ironically, I can impart less about that small group time than any other as I was so busy being involved, I didn’t write any notes. But I’ll try to see what I can recollect. In any case, I’m sure you’re not too disappointed, dear reader, considering the novellas I’ve been writing for my last four session reactions!

So, this session was entitled, Why and How Should I Read the Bible. Nicky Gumbel makes a summary argument for why to read it with the points: It’s the most popular book, the most powerful book, and the most precious book.

First of all, the fallacy of the appeal to popularity can be dismissed by simply pointing out how popular Harry Potter, the Twilight series, Stephen King, and Greek myths are 3,000 years after their original believers, but the popularity of these things makes no difference upon the reality of the material. Popularity does not make a thing truthfully valid. Hey, the Koran is as popular with almost as many people, does that increase its validity and necessity?

Continue reading The Instruction Manual?

Prayer? Cheese! Ah, that’s power!

(click to read)

(This is part 4 of a 10-part reaction to The Alpha Course. Part One: Twisted history; Part Two: The cruel illogic of substitutional atonement; Part Three: Faith makes mountains of of molehills.)

This week’s Alpha Class was on the power of prayer. This was a particularly… interesting.

But before we get into it, some preliminary info: As you may know, uber-blogger Friendly Atheist mentioned my blog recently! In the comments, someone mentioned a much better British atheist blogger who chronicled his own Alpha Course experience: Stephen Butterfield’s “Alpha Course Reviewed”. If you’re here to read a non-believer’s reaction to Alpha Course, go read his! He’s a better writer and actually had dialog with other attendees. If you’re here reading this because you know me, still go read Stephen’s — it’s better and he writes with a sexy British accent. 🙂 I’ve only read the first few posts of his; I want to be able to write my own reactions unaffected by a better one.

And now, before I discuss problems with prayer, another interlude:

Continue reading Prayer? Cheese! Ah, that’s power!

I am the Alpha and the… Beta.

I’m working on the fourth installment of my reaction to the Alpha Course, (which will feature the concept of the efficacy of prayer!), but I wanted to make a quick post that’s a little meta.

First, I got a mention on Friendly Atheist! OK, full disclosure: I asked him about it. 🙂 But he was kind enough to make a mention on his site. I’ve been a reader of Friendly Atheist for quite some time now, and I’m quite the fan. So, I’m gleeful.

From the comments on that post, I’ve discovered that a lot of atheists and other non-theists have come in contact with the Alpha Course. And their reactions have generally been similar to mine. But one person posted a link to a blog by a fellow (Stephen Butterfield) who’s also been posting his reactions to the course — and it’s fantastic! He’s so much more succinct and clear and interesting to read than my babbling rants. His 2nd post, “Why Did Jesus Die?”, is really a great read. One of the reasons is because Stephen actually engages his discussion group in challenges and dialog — something I’m having a very hard time trying to do. But his doing so makes for some fun, and educational, reading. Check it out!

Oh, and I just came across a link I blogged about a couple of years ago, on the subject of God “never gives more than you can handle” drek. That sentiment keeps popping up in discussion. Here’s an essay I read in ’08 that I think is the best response possible to that canard: Reasonable Doubt About the Problem of Evil/Needless Suffering As A Test

How Can We Have Faith; How Do We Debate Ideas?

(This is part three of a, likely, 10-part reaction to The Alpha Course. For an explanation of the course and a reaction to “Who Was Jesus,” see part one: Explore the Meaning of… Bitten Tongues. Night two was “Why’d Jesus Die?“)

Before I get into this night’s topic, “How Can We Have Faith,” I wanted to break away for a moment for…

An Interlude: Ideas, Identity, and Debate

I write these posts like I write all my blog posts — very stream-of-conscious. I write as fast as I think it, and I pretty much never edit. What that often means is that my musings tend to get tinged with a goodly amount of emotion and a lack of refinement. And reading through my posts, that often results in a certain negativity, snarkiness, perhaps an insulting attitude. And recognizing that in the writing, I want to state in no uncertain terms: I attack the idea, not the person who holds the idea.

Before the evening began, after we ate, a high school girl asked if she could ask all of us to consider judging at an upcoming speech and debate tournament. I jumped at the chance; it’s been years since I judges debate. When I was in high school, debate (and drama) was my life. I wasn’t great by any means, but I loved it, and it was really the only thing (aside from role-playing games and reading sci-fi/fantasy) that I had any interest in. And, appropriately for this Alpha Course reaction, and my reaction to my reaction, I recall some very important life lessons I gained from four years of debate.

Continue reading How Can We Have Faith; How Do We Debate Ideas?

Why’d Jesus Die?

…To get to the other side! HEY-OHH!

(This is part two of a (potentially) 10-part series on my response to the Alpha Course. Part one, with an explanation of what all this is, is found here: Explore the Meaning of…Bitten Tongues.)

(Post-pre Script: I’m finishing this at 3am and don’t plan on re-reading to proof-read, so please forgive errors and typos.)

So, night two. The first night I walked out with a thinly repressed feeling of ire and frustration. The second night felt like relaxing into the second half of a root canal. You know there’s no escape and it must be done, so you just relax into the Novocaine masking the pain, and allow yourself to float until it’s over.

OK, that was harsh; it wasn’t that bad, I just like the analogy. 🙂 Let’s just say it wasn’t as bad as last week, but I still had face pain from keeping from eye-rolling all night. It’s a few days since that night, so my memory is a little hazy, but here’s what I can recall from my notes:

So Nicky opened up this night’s video with a fatuous attempt to use an old George Carlin (or is it Sam Kennison?) comedy bit about how odd it is that people wear crosses. It’d be like wearing an electric chair or a hangman’s noose. He was trying to make a point as to why Christians revere the cross, which is this night’s theme of explaining why, allegedly, Jesus, allegedly, died as a gift to us all. But his reasoning (which are as old as apologetics itself) is barbaric (despite trying to deny it) and illogical.

The Problem

Explore The Meaning of…Bitten Tongues

This last Wednesday I began attending a 10-session weekly Bible study course at the behest of my wife who wanted to involve my non-belief outlook and feedback. I’m going to give it one more shot, but if this first session is any indication of what the rest of it’s going to be like… *sigh*

The course is called Explore The Meaning of Life: The Alpha Course. by an English Anglican priest, Nicky Gumbel. Evidently, he’s taken this course, which has been around for decades, and turned it from being an introduction for new Christians into a study for people outside the faith looking to understand more about Christianity. (While I’m by far no expert, I can safely say that as a non-believer, I already know more about Christianity than I ever did as a believer and more than most of the life-long believers in the class.)

Here’s the nightly setup: provided food, then a video, then break into small groups (15-ish people each) for discussion. Let’s just say the food was OK and then it was downhill from there. Seriously, though, I went in with a positive attitude and hope for the best! I had reservations whether I’d feel comfortable speaking up at all, (aside from introducing myself, I didn’t), but I didn’t have much apprehension about the content. Until 2 minutes into the 30-minute video.

Continue reading Explore The Meaning of…Bitten Tongues

Atheist Meme of the Day: Society does not need religion

Today’s Atheist Meme of the Day. Pass this on; or don’t; or edit it as you see fit; or make up your own. Enjoy!

It is simply not true that society needs religion. Countries with high rates of atheism tend to have high rates of happiness and social functioning. This doesn’t prove that atheism makes a society work better, but it does show that we don’t need religion to be happy or good.

Pass it on: if we say it enough times to enough people, it may get across.

Atheist Meme of the Day: “You can’t DISprove God” is not an argument FOR God.

Today’s Atheist Meme of the Day. Pass this on; or don’t; or edit it as you see fit; or make up your own. Enjoy!

“You can’t absolutely prove that it isn’t true” is a terrible argument for God. Just like it’s a terrible argument for unicorns, fairies, Zeus, and the three- inch- tall pink pony behind my sofa who teleports to Guam the moment anyone looks back there.

Pass it on: if we say it enough times to enough people, it may get across.