It might not get better after all.

I love the “It Gets Better” campaign, started by newspaper personality Dan Savage. The message he has to deliver though, that bullying and oppression that you might experience by coming out as gay or transsexual or any other non-hetero orientation will eventually wane as others mature and learn to embrace plurality, might be… shall we say, inaccurate? Via sinned34’s blog:

President Obama to gay victims of bullying: “It gets better.”

Family Research Council to those same kids: “No, it doesn’t, you goddamned queers!”

Yeah. Really. Hardly any exaggeration there.

I honestly wish I was joking about this, but here’s the mailing the Family Research Council sent out recently.

EGADS! A homosexual extremist! I fully expect Dan Savage to strap on his pink Hello Kitty AK47 and bomb churches with fragmentation grenades shaped like dildos now! And I’m sure his terrorist attire would match his pumps, too! Seriously, people on the right throw around the word “extremist” to mean “people who advocate things that we don’t believe in”. It’s a pejorative that’s lost all meaning today, such that when you point to religious fundamentalists who stockpile guns and bomb buildings and call them extremists, the word just doesn’t capture their extremism any more.

The Family Research Council is not an extremist organization by any stretch of the imagination, but they are a religiously motivated single-issue political organization built around the idea that the only Biblically-acceptable family unit is one of man and wife, and any other family unit is evil and immoral. The people making up any non-heteronormative family unit are equally evil and immoral according to these chuckleheads.

Homosexuality, despite all the bloviating by these fools, is probably genetic.

The Family Research Council is therefore casting as a “moral failing” something that these children can no sooner control than they can control their handedness or hair color. Sure, you could train yourself to write with your right hand despite your natural inclinations; sure, you could dye your hair; but neither action will change your genetics. The fact that some really old book can be interpreted as saying that homosexuals are evil, doesn’t mean that anyone with that particular confluence of genes is actually evil. There’s nothing immoral (in the sense of “objectively harmful to society as a whole”) for people to be attracted to whomever they’re genetically predisposed to be attracted to. The only argument I’ve ever seen that might make it objectively harmful to society is one where you extrapolate out homosexual behaviour to the populace as a whole — if everyone were to switch to homosexuality, the human race would stop breeding and would die after a generation.

But that’s not what anyone’s suggesting here; what we’re suggesting is that we accept that proportion of the population whose genes direct them to be attracted to the same sex. We’re suggesting that you just live and let live. Love who you want to love. Tolerate who doesn’t love what you love. Be intolerant of people who are intolerant of others for stupid reasons like what genes they happen to have. Treat homophobes the same way as we’d treat someone who called being left-handed immoral and sinful. It is incumbent upon us to achieve a more perfect morality than the morality handed down by some goat-herders in the Middle-East who knew less about genetics than they did about the shape of the Earth or the orbits of the planets. We’re better than those morals. We deserve better than those morals.

Unless we can stomp out this bigotry, this intolerance, this hateful adherence to really old prejudices, then it might not get better. It’s up to us. Do we want it to Get Better? Because if we let bullshit like this slide, then it might not get better after all.

It might not get better after all.

Paul Baird vs Sye Tenbruggencate Round 3

When a debate begins with an opening statement like this one, you know it’s going to be a doozy. And this is actually Paul and Sye’s third go-around.

I’d like to thank the viewing audience for taking the time to join us for this debate, I’d like to thank Eric Hovind for hosting this debate in the Creation Today Studios, I’d like to thank Paul Baird for his renewed and apparent undying interest in debating this topic with me. I’d like to thank my brothers and sisters in Christ for their prayers and support but most of all I’d like to thank my lord and saviour Jesus Christ for giving me the opportunity to represent Him before all of you today. Today Paul and I will be debating the existence of God. Since this is our third go around Paul is well aware that my line of argumentation is that the proof that God exists is that without Him you can’t prove or know anything. Proof requires knowledge, truth and absolute laws of logic to name but a few, none of which can be accounted for outside of the God of Christianity. I submit that the only way one can know anything to be true is by or through revelation from God. But Paul and I both claim to know things. A few days ago Paul, on Pauls blog he affirmed that very thing when he said and I quote “The one area of my worldview that seemed to be a problem is much less so, i now know how much I don’t know, which is rather comforting in a strange way”. Well Paul admits that he doesn’t know much he admits that he knows some things but how can Paul know anything since it is my claim that God is a necessary foundation for knowledge.

Bare assertion == truth! I say God is necessary for knowledge, ergo if anyone claims to know anything, God must exist!

It only gets worse from there, but Paul is more than up to the task. Good read.

How much more ground will Sye cede before he abandons presuppositional apologetics? My guess: all of it. He will cede every inch of ground before he abandons the notion that by presuming he’s ceded no ground, he automatically wins any argument.

Paul Baird vs Sye Tenbruggencate Round 3

A few podcasts from this weekend on skepticism and atheism

Meant to get these up on Monday, but I was hoping for a chance to listen to them first. Unfortunately, I’m now on a road trip to PEI for work, in the car with some coworkers, and am probably expected to interact with them rather than holing myself up in my iPhone’s ear buds. So, I’ll just queue this up to post while I’m on the road.

Having met Desiree Schell at Science Online 2010, I can tell you she’s a witty, warm and clever human being whose podcast Skeptically Speaking is always worth a listen. She generally tends to stay out of atheist arguments, because it honestly seems sometimes that both sides are presenting less than their best faces — with the most popular and eloquent firebrands on each side trending toward significantly less than civility in the argument. However, on the weekend, she discussed with Greg Laden and Mike Haubrich the intersection between skepticism and atheism on Minnesota’s Atheists Talk Radio. I didn’t get to listen to this live in toto, but I’ve heard snippets of it while the live net stream would allow it.

It’s well possible to come to either belief via the other first. I was an atheist who “believed” (loosely) in karma as a teenager, but grew out of it and into true skepticism the more I researched various nonsense religions and realized the similarities between them and the “whack-a-mole” nature of various other strains of bullshit pseudoscience. No matter how many significant pillars you sledgehammer out from under a fundamentally unfalsifiable or unscientific belief system, the people who believe it are going to prop it up with some other makeshift prop or simply hang it from a sky-hook so that no evidence against it may even be considered. How many conversations have you had with someone who earnestly believes “The Secret”, or Scientology, or homeopathy, or astrology, Christianity, or anti-vaccination, where no matter what piece of evidence you present that runs counter to their claims, no matter how damning the evidence against, their faith in their flavor of nonsense is at best static, at worst strengthened? Ed Yong blogged about this phenomenon recently, in context of Harold Camping’s failed rapture predictions and his doubling-down. Camping’s now saying “the Rapture happened but nobody was worth saving; God in his mercy is sparing us the tribulation and the world will end on schedule in October.”

Science doesn’t work like that. When presented with evidence to the contrary, science is not static — scientists may dig in their heels if they have a vested interest in their theories, but science itself will self-correct over time. Some scientists, like the unbelievably awesome Scicurious, swallow their pride and admit when they’re wrong, when they’re fooled, when they were making judgments with insufficient evidence or having seen only those papers that support a position but none that refute. In scientifically minded circles, this gains you popularity — not to enforce lockstep, but to reward selfless humility for the betterment of the sum of human knowledge.

Scicurious and Desiree discussed this event and its repercussions Sci encountered for having unabashedly admitted when she was wrong about bees and cell phones, on Desiree’s podcast the same day that Des did Atheists Talk. They also discuss, given the studies that have been put out recently, the idea that cell phones reduce sperm count or fertility. The whole idea that cell phone radiation can hurt you is a good example of whack-a-mole pseudoscience. Remember Science vs Garlic, and the comments thread that ensued? Frankly, the discussion didn’t go anywhere but to the same few sources and the same specious claims about low-frequency electromagnetic radiation, none of whom were anywhere near scientific consensus on what a cell phone can and cannot do to your body. I should have gone back to it, but my wedding day was impending, and I honestly got distracted.

At least the science is still coming in, and it’s still saying this nonsense is nonsense. If I had gotten the chance to send in a question, it would have been this:

How long must we humor people repeatedly suggesting the same thing over and over again, and perform tests of all stripes to conclusively prove their beliefs wrong, when they’re just going to come back and find some new way to suggest it again despite it being thoroughly refuted? It’s like this XKCD comic. At absolute best, you’ll get organizations like the WHO looking at all the studies, shrugging and saying the data’s inconclusive, but that one can’t rule out the possibility of cell phones causing X disease. At worst, you’ll get exactly the same, only the media will also report it as though a link was found between cell phones and cancer. When do you get to say “enough is enough?”

I ask that question often on this blog, about a lot of things. I never get a satisfactory answer.

Oh, by the way. Desiree is a Canuck. As though there wasn’t enough to love!

A few podcasts from this weekend on skepticism and atheism

How strawman arguments and shitty authors undermine #atheism

I haven’t read anything by Anthony DeStefano aside from his anti-atheist screeds on various news journals like USA Today, but I have no doubt merely by looking through the title list that he is a man of deep conviction in that which he cannot see. He’s written a book for children called Little Star, all about how the baby Jesus is very tiny but is our Lord. He’s written a book for grown-up children about how awesome a place Heaven is. And he’s written a book about all those things you can’t see but that the Bible assures you are really really real. And since you know other people believe it, they must really really REALLY be real.

So today we have a Serious Author writing a Serious Article in a Serious Journal about how atheists are superstitious “Materialists” who are simply incapable of comprehending that the parts of this natural world that we haven’t figured out yet are actually impossible to decipher, because God wants it that way.

Of course, it’s not quite fair to say that atheists believe in nothing. They do believe in something — the philosophical theory known as Materialism, which states that the only thing that exists is matter; that all substances and all phenomena in the universe are purely physical.

What nonsense.

We’re off to a running start.
Continue reading “How strawman arguments and shitty authors undermine #atheism”

How strawman arguments and shitty authors undermine #atheism

Huckabee wishes Americans were converted to Christianity at gunpoint

How else can you interpret this “joke” about David Barton’s communicating about religion? And this from a crowd that’s convinced — CONVINCED — that educating children about science is, in effect, indoctrination.

Stephanie Zvan comments extensively on the matter. And this Huckabee character is one of your more serious contenders for President!

“In politics, as in religion, it is equally absurd to aim at making proselytes by fire and sword. Heresies in either can rarely be cured by persecution.”
some guy who never amounted to anything important in his life

Hmm. There’s an election coming up. I oughtta ignore American politics for a bit and focus on Canadian politics, given how short our election cycles are, huh?

Huckabee wishes Americans were converted to Christianity at gunpoint

God’s Wife Asherah

I’ve been having a very busy, very work-filled week, and I expect it will continue until I stomp out some odd bugs with our new mail implementation. Despite all this totally unbalanced work/life balance, I saw this article recently on Time: Fertility Goddess Asherah: Was ‘God’s Wife’ Edited Out of the Bible?

This isn’t the first time I’ve seen this. There’ve been books galore about the evolution of modern Christianity from its Sumerian predecessor religions, and their scholarship is unquestionable. I don’t doubt for a second that the Bible has, in being retranslated time and again, been changed to monotheism from its polytheist roots. Here’s an excellent video detailing a good deal of the evidence for this hypothesis. Give the video a chance; he’s not the most polished speaker, but the content is amazingly well-researched.

The Abrahamic God is a construction — an evolution, if you will — from earlier mythologies. It was not created in toto via inspired revelation via any actual deity. My question is not “why did God’s wife get the short end of the stick”, but “why aren’t monotheists flapped by this evidence for the existence of other deities, evidence which is on par with what they claim to be irrefutable evidence for their beloved deity Yahweh?” Seriously, if you accept the Bible as divinely inspired, were earlier drafts also divinely inspired? Were the drafts, with its other gods, wrong? How do you reconcile that “divine revelation” was actually different then, so materially different that your own foundational texts are unclear or uncertain about the object of your faith?

God’s Wife Asherah

Wherein my subconscious brain invents a religion

I had a very strange dream last night. It was strange enough that I remembered it, which is one thing, but also enough so that I felt the need to run to my computer and write it all down.

Because humans have a tendency when describing dreams to attempt to force them to conform with reality, or to force them to make better narrative sense, I am abstaining from actually editing what I wrote at 4 am after roughly five hours of sleep. That it is as coherent as it is, is uncanny.

On visit to NB, on walk, father takes sister and I to a church he just joined. Glass first floor, windows all around, swipe card access. Stairs upward of cement, include several missing steps near the stairwell (intentionally) — you have to somehow pull yourself up using the guardrail. Guard posted at first floor at a desk, only he’s just this big pleasant guy in a light blue robe. Once at the third floor, we realize it’s Torvuism — “first church of sentient beings”, worshipping gods. (I know such a thing doesn’t exist. My dream was weird. There’s Tarvuism, which I assume is where the dream came from, coz of a video posted a few weeks ago to Skepchick.)

They worship the prophet Helen Keller, who appears to them (each of them) as a “hive” — never got the details on that. Preacher starts out with “praise be to gods”, and on some alien tangent. Sister and I look at each other and kinda boggle a bit. Sister breaks the silence first, asking father, “wait, you’ve seen Helen Keller?” Dad nods. I add, “not just a movie about her?” and consider asking what he knows about her. People around us start getting suspicious. Sis says “You realize she doesn’t exist, right?” I add quickly, “no, she existed, but definitely not as a prophet for aliens. Really, Dad? Torvuism?” Jen says “Frickin Torvuism! Wow!” We start to get up to leave. Preacher realizes something’s up.

Two people start nattering to each other very near where we’re leaving — pews in front of us — about how they knew some atheists once, and how they absolutely had to scurry out of the building because they were too unholy to stay for long, and how they’re tools of Satan (guess it borrowed from Christianity) — complete with throwing up devil horns with one hand (this woman was dressed in shades of red and black and I couldn’t see her face, but she had thick glasses and a black beehive hairdo). I deliberately make sure my pace is exactly measured as though I was at my ease, but still want to get gone.

Sister pauses at stairwell door while I say, “in fact, name me an atheist that doesn’t believe in God, but believes in Satan?” The women say “None of them do, but that doesn’t stop them from having no morals and being corrupted by Satan.” I stride toward the exit a bit quicker now, realizing the priest’s on his way down (this is a big place of worship — for some reason, pews are aligned perpendicular to where preacher was, maybe whole building wrapped around with pews like that, with preacher in middle — not sure, details starting to fade). As I’m on my way to the door, I say, “My morals are superior to those of any religion, because they are dependent on my empathy for humans, and they can change in different situations — they are not dependent on a foundational text that was written once and can never change even when the morals they prescribe are totally immoral, like those of yours against homosexuals. I hope you all have a pleasant evening, it’s been fun seeing this.”

Priest hot on our heels, Jen and I enter stairwell, jen jumps down flight of stairs through the gap in the floor, catching the guardrail in a really slick bit of acrobatics. I have to follow her. People at first landing of three wonder what’s going on, Jen makes it down to second floor really quickly where guard is, priest hits stairwell and yells down to the guard to stop us (who for some reason say “Damn college freshmen!” and starts to get up to grab Jen. She slips past him. I realize I’m on second floor still, he’s below me, exit’s on the other side. Only way past him would be to go over the guardrail, land all the way on the first floor and tuck and roll toward the glass walls, do a 180, and make it to the swipe card doors. If they even stay unlocked now that the alert was raised. As I was at the very last second before I’d have to jump if I ever hoped to make it past the guard, without getting caught by the priest behind me, I woke up.

Seriously. Wow.

Yes, the sidebar about Tarvuism on Skepchick was actually written in the original note. All I did, for presentation here, was added two paragraph breaks. I swear on my honor, every detail in this note was in the dream in as much fidelity as I could manage. I returned to bed roughly 20 mins after typing this up, and promptly fell back asleep.

Whaddaya think? Funny farm material?

Wherein my subconscious brain invents a religion

My Formspring brings all the hits to the blog

Seriously, a disproportionate number of blog hits are going to an old post wherein I syndicated from my Formspring account a bunch of random Formspring questions. It’s not particularly interesting, or informative, or even remotely deep. But it’s got almost four times as many hits as the next most read post, due to its high placement on Google for the search terms used in its title.

And since I’m a total blog-hits-whore, I might as well try to duplicate my past success!

If you want to ask me an anonymous question via Formspring, there’s a box on the left column for just that purpose.

Would you rather be really hot or really cold?
As in, hypothermia or hyperthermia? Or just having the temperature gauge a few degrees on either side of “room temperature”? Because when really cold, I can put on layers. And when really hot I can take them off. I suppose it’s a matter of scale. But I’d probably rather be hypothermic than hyperthermic if forced to choose how to nearly die.

If you could change your name, what would you change it to?
My short list is Dirk Manly, Brock Samson, or Penis Largehuge.

What’s the first thing you think of when you wake up in the morning?
“*grumble grumble* coffee. Wait, first, need to pee.”

What the the thing you regret saying the most, what has come out of your mouth that you wish you could take back?
Saying “I’d do anything for you” to someone that, in retrospect, didn’t deserve it.

when was yr first love? 🙂
I was 16. The girl I fell for was a compulsive liar. Not a very happy end. First loves never work out quite right.

people, people facing laptops (or screen if it matters), who is the prettiest woman in the world?
Every woman I’ve met is pretty in some way or another. Physical attractiveness isn’t everything. (Well, okay, there have been some women with absolutely no redeeming qualities whatsoever, but I’m trying to be optimistic here.)

If you could eat one kind of vegetable, what would it be? Pretend that the color of the vegetable tastes like a corresponding body fluid (red = blood, yellow = urine, green = fungus or something)
First, you’d be dangerously nutritionally deficient if you only ate one kind of vegetable, and second, you’re trying to turn me off of that vegetable after saying it’s the only thing I can eat. I call shenanigans.

What is your favourite season?
Fall, when it’s still warm out but the leaves start to turn.

Favorite movies in horror, scifi, comedy, drama, indie, and overall?
Horror: Army of Darkness. I don’t go in for anything gorier than that.
Post-answer amendment: also, Shaun of the Dead doesn’t really count as horror, but it is fantastic.
Sci-Fi: Firefly/Serenity. If you limit me only to movies, it’s difficult to just say Serenity, but I’ll stand by that.
Comedy: Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. Pure AWESOMESAUCE.
Drama: Casablanca.
Indie: Don’t watch them often enough. Last good one I saw was Diary of a Nymphomaniac. Though, Run Lola Run was really good.
Overall: The Princess Bride. It’s got it all! 😀

The last thing I do before I go to bed at night is __________________.
Brush my teeth. Well, technically, immediately after that I get undressed, and immediately after that I pull the covers back so I can get in bed.

“Reality is worth defending, it’s worth getting angry about.” My FB ‘religion’ is now something I grabbed from a comment on ‘friendlyatheist’. “Atheism isn’t a religion, it’s a personal relationship with reality”
I love this quote. The next time someone calls their religion a relationship, I’m so using it. Great find!

If you’re opinions are always so great, why doesn’t everyone agree with you?
Because then I’d be the founder of some sort of dogmatic religion, and then my opinions would be inherently worth less. Seriously, what kind of passive-aggressive bullshit is this? I don’t want everyone agreeing with me! I’m sure I’m wrong about stuff, I just want people to bring proof when they say so.

are your parents atheists too?
No, my parents were both religious. I believe my mother was raised Baptist in her hometown, and my father Catholic in his, which if you weren’t aware are both splinters of Christianity. My mother moved to live with my father in another province, and I was brought up Catholic in my hometown, which was 95% Catholic. My father is still pretty religious, and I only told him that I’m an atheist last year. My mother broke contact with us when she divorced my father and left to live in the States with some guy she knew from the internet, and I’ve been ignoring her attempts to restore contact since, so I don’t know what she is any more, as far as religion is concerned.

then what triggers you to be an atheist?
I believe the evidence is insufficient for any specific god(s) that people have postulated. Atheism is pretty much just the fallback position — if you can’t prove your god exists, and if the evidence contradicts your specific god, then why believe in any god at all?

I do still have mental traps wherein the concept of god that I’m talking about, is often the monotheistic Abrahamic god of Christianity, Islam and Judaism. Because that’s the framework I was brought up in, that’s, to me, the most easily disprovable god. I am agnostic about gods like pantheism or panentheism, mostly because no evidence is presented either for or against, but I default to “why worship such a being” when presented with no evidence for. I’m atheist about specific gods, like Yahweh the Abrahamic god, because certain things have to be true for such a god to exist that just plain aren’t true.

My Formspring brings all the hits to the blog

Say it with me: theism and gnosticism address different questions.

I absolutely love QualiaSoup. Chicken soup for the atheist’s soul uh… brain, that guy is.

I’ve argued in the past, in some effective and some ineffective ways, that atheism and agnosticism are not mutually exclusive, and that not having made up your mind on whether there’s a god or not does not mean you get to claim you’re “agnostic”. To be agnostic, you must have the belief that the existence or non-existence of all possible gods cannot be definitively established — that the concept of “god” is fundamentally unknowable. To be atheist, you must merely lack a belief in gods.

It’s perfectly acceptable to believe that it’s possible to know of a specific god or gods, and yet not make up your mind on whether you believe in any specific ones. In that case, you’d be gnostic, but you’ve yet to address whether you’re a theist or an atheist.

It’s also possible to expressly disbelieve in every concept of god yet postulated by human beings, as each of them make claims that are demonstrably false, and yet leave the door wedged open a tiny crack for the possibility that some god may one day reveal itself, or be revealed through repeatable scientific experimentation, unequivocally. In that case, you’d be an agnostic atheist, as I am.

It’s also possible to dismiss the concept of deities as childish and impossible under any circumstances, and be a so-called “strong” atheist. You in this case would be an gnostic atheist — you believe that it’s possible to know with certainty that there are no gods, and you believe that there are no gods.

And yes, it’s also possible to decide that you don’t know whether gods exist, and you don’t know whether it’s possible to prove them. I posit that this position is not “true agnosticism” but rather a form of willful ignorance. You don’t know, and don’t care. Every time your mind turns to the possibility of a deity, you shrug and go “dunno”. You don’t expressly believe in a particular god, so you’re not a theist, but you don’t expressly doubt that there are gods, so you’re not an atheist. However, because you lack a positive belief in gods, you’re a de-facto atheist.

There are lots of different variations on the theme. Not all of them require any positive belief at all. Notwithstanding this, there are idiots out there that believe that atheism is a religion (and apparently make a pretty penny by poisoning this well) — that you have to accept a dogma, and that you have a positive belief in science as a deity. And maybe there are even people that do fit this description. But to assume that every atheist believes in science dogmatically and religiously, is as closed-minded as to assume that every theist believes in the specific deity and dogmas of Christianity. Since both are demonstrably false, someone who accepts the latter but not the former, is showing themselves capable of gross doublethink. The subcategory of human beings that fit the description of “atheist” are much more expansive than most people (and some misguided dictionaries) will lead you to believe. This subcategory includes almost everyone who answers “none” to the Religion question on a census form, by mere dint of their not believing in a god. That is, unless they answer “none” when they DO believe in a deist god, or a theist interventionary god that does not belong to a specific religion.

This is a problem of education, and like most problems of education, there is a faction with a vested interest in sowing misinformation — those that wish to paint us atheists as dogmatic religious extremists. And as unlikely a correlation as that seems, pretty much any lie can become the truth if it’s large enough and repeated loudly enough. None of us stand to gain anything from having our position mischaracterized — not even (and especially not) theists who think themselves intellectually honest philosophers.

Say it with me: theism and gnosticism address different questions.

Kilmeade doubles down on Bill O’Reilly’s bigotry

So Bill Orally managed to offend Whoopi Goldberg and Joy Behar on The View so badly that they walked off the set before the commercial break. What got them in a huff? He said the so-called “ground zero mosque” should not be built, because “Muslims killed us on 9/11”. Never mind that it’s not a mosque. Never mind that the link is tenuous at best between the terrorism and the religion behind it.

Then. THEN.
Continue reading “Kilmeade doubles down on Bill O’Reilly’s bigotry”

Kilmeade doubles down on Bill O’Reilly’s bigotry