The story just broke recently where it turns out congressman Pete Stark doesn’t believe in god.

It’s about time. The majority of presidents lately have been christian, and the last Unitarian president I can recall is President Taft. I don’t think there has been a high ranking “infidel” (agnostic/atheist) since President Abraham Lincoln.

I hope this helps push more non-believing congressmen to feel comfortable coming forward and announcing their true beliefs. Statistically Atheists are 14% of the population (29.4 million as of 2001 by the American Religious Identification Survey), so it would make sense that proportionately there may be as many as 74-75 agnostic/atheists in congress (534 seats -house and senate- multiplied by 0.14)…

I think this sort of reveal could go a long way towards helping change the current American views on Atheism… Yes, atheists are the most hated and distrusted minority in the country, and we are considered by many to be a greater threat to America than terrorists.

Every study ever conducted on the subject has demonstrated that atheists/agnostics are actually among the most moral, upstanding people in a society (by far the lowest rates of crime/murder/rape, violence, teen pregnancy, abortion, stds, divorce, and other social problems).

This blog may be a bit rushed, but the point is that this may finally help push religious people to become more tolerant of the non-religious. Maybe then the non-believers won’t be so openly discriminated against.

And maybe, just maybe, we can follow the founding father’s ideals of keeping a high wall of separation between church and state.

Mike

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I’m sure many of you have already heard the story about James Cameron producing a documentary where they investigate a tomb uncovered in 1980 which some suspect housed the body of Jesus and his family (including his mother Mary, wife Mary Magdalene, son Judah, and Mathew – there are apparently 5 other coffins in a neighboring tomb yet to be identified). According to the film-makers this is supposed to be a celebration of the life of a great man, however christians have already begun a public outry, declaring that the film-makers are attempting to undermine christianity.

To be fair, if Jesus didn’t resurrect the game is over, that’s the core tenant of the christian faith – it’s understandable they’d be upset… IF the documentary made a good point. But we don’t know yet what points it makes! Of course we only know very little about the documentary, but this hasn’t stopped christians and alleged bible scholars from attacking it head on.

Yes this is an old find (1980), and one which has been covered before 11 years ago with a BBC documentary which proved ill-researched and not particularly well founded in science, archeology, or anything of that nature. Yet allegedly there is new evidence and new arguments to be made on this site.

And this is the key point. They claim to have enough new evidence to propose that makes this tomb worth investigating again. By all accounts this won’t be a retread of the defeated BBC documentary, but something challenging and new. Cameron assures us, “It doesn’t get bigger than this. We’ve done our homework; we’ve made the case; and now it’s time for the debate to begin.”

Of course already christians are trying to combat this, before the documentary has come out or even been seen by them. If you are an intelligent individual this should raise some red flags for you. If they haven’t seen this documentary, then how can they know all the claims forwarded and effectively combat them?

The answer is simple: They can’t. They’re making this shit up in a preemptive manner to discredit the documentary any way they can. Or they’re relying on what they do know of the Tomb to try and (mistakenly?) predict what the arguments will be and discredit those.

Bold words to be sure, but very probably true – the church does have a long and illustrious history of smear campaigns, misinformation, distortion of evidence, and so on… They are exceedingly efficient at it, the complete lack of understanding for evolution and the perpetuating of misconceptions being just one glaring example.

I will say this: Reading a book by its cover is the province of fools and the ignorant. If going in with an open mind will challenge your faith, then you seriously need to re-evaluate your faith.

Forgive me if I sound harsh, but these people are essentially laying a verdict on a movie before it’s release (with no pre-screenings either) or trying to debunk an argument that’s not even yet been forwarded. It is, in concept, utterly absurd.

As I’ve said before, religion thrives on misconception. To repeat a quote of mine that became popular among my debate team, “christian churches are made of straw” – of course referring to the Straw Man Fallacy (also known as the “Fallacy of extension.” And this seems to be what many of these religious scholars are actively doing. Misconceptions are already abound, spreading like wildfire among those who are committing much the same fallacy and not realizing that their concerns are apparently going to be specifically addressed. These misconceptions are as follows:

1. Those were all common names at the time – so what? It’s probably coincidence.

From what little has been revealed, the answer lies in probability. It turns out that those names weren’t as common as expected and when you factor in the specific combination it becomes much less probable. Andrey Feuerverger (professor of statistics and mathematics) recently did a statistical analysis based on how often each name appears during that time period, its frequency, and to be conservative he allowed for the possibility of the name being more frequent than we know. Even then the odds of all five of those names being together is at least 600 to 1 against. That means the probability of this being the correct tomb and not sheer coincidence is a surprising 99.84%!

Let me repeat that, the statistical odds of this being more than coincidence are 99.84%. Something of course glossed over (or somehow missed?) by those attacking the film.

2. What are they going to do with DNA testing? There’s nothing to test!

They are using DNA testing to examine the family relationship and see who is directly related to who. We know that they’ve determined Jesus and the one thought to be Mary Magdalene are not related – which indicates they’re a couple if not spousal. It should go without saying that this alone really changes the odds of this being coincidence with all things considered. They are not using DNA tests to compare with living persons, the shroud of Turin or other such farcical things…

Now I am not staunchly defending the documentary, nor am I taking a particular stand in either direction at the moment. What I am suggesting and really advising is that people hold off until they see the damn documentary before they go making arguments.

Personally I don’t necessarily agree with the ideas being forwarded (I’m rather of the opinion that he never existed, not even as a mortal human), but I am willing to go in with an open mind and see the evidence presented and make assessments based on that.

I encourage others to similarly wait, see what the arguments and evidence are, and THEN make your decisions.

For more information, please refer to these (mostly) unbiased articles:

Discovery’s article on the subject:
James Cameron discusses the film:

Here’s an example as to how journalists are falling into the trap of letting their personal believes affect the way they write and portray the story, look at this (note the absence of documentary claims but focus on the counterarguments):

Yahoo News article:

Or if you really want to see the bad, look to Fox News.

Again the whole point is to not jump to conclusions and listen to the morons defending faith without even seeing the damn thing. It may be easily falsifiable, but wait and find out.

Yours in reason,

Mike

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I can respect Tom Cruise as an actor…

Sure he plays pretty much the same role in every movie (the cocky jackass who finds humility, loyalty and other virtues), but he plays that one role very well!

Yet riding on the hype of War of the Worlds he announced to the world that he was, indeed, a nutjob and basketcase. Professing faith in scientology he offended rational people everywhere.

My current feelings for Tom Cruise are best represented by this picture:

This just perfectly sums up Tom.

This came out of a brief photoshop lesson and it seems so perfect, so… him. We’ve got the purple crown with a strange symbol (it’s really a wristband and symbol for the Bleed Purple Foundation) which is pure silliness contrasted with a stern and perceptive staring into the distance look (good ol’ Tom is keeping a watch out for the minions of Lord Zenu). We have a yellow background to contrast everything even further.

Yes, this is the prophet of scientology. This is the man that, in 2000 years, people may actually be worshiping as a demigod or the son of some diety. They will say he healed the sick, he defeated the robot uprising unwittingly unleashed by Microsoft, he died and came back to life in his true alien form, and so on. That the whole religion was created in 1954 as a bet will be long forgotten. There is no science, only TOM.

This picture is the future folks. Peace.

Mike

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I just read this News story about this young woman who was raped and called the police. They responded to help her and found out she had an outstanding (very old) arrest warrant so they threw her in prison instead. The worst part is that a jail employee refused to give her the proper morning-after-pill within the right time frame in order to ensure she gets pregnant because of his religious convictions.

As messed up as it is for the cops to arrest her immediately after being raped for some old charge (they could have helped her and then arrested her at a later date once the rape had been resolved), and despite all the extra weight this is going to heave on top of the already significant emotional and psychological damage the poor woman is going through, people working the jail prevented her from taking a doctor recommended (and standard issue in rape cases) morning after pill.

I do not know wordpress’s regulations on cursing, but I have to say that’s fucked.

When people sometimes ask me, “Why should you even care about religion and what other people believe? Just ignore it.” my response is usually, “I can ignore their belief, but I can’t ignore or allow the idiocy and behavior that stems from their belief.” And this is a perfect case in point.

This man tried to ensure the rape victim would become pregnant from a rape because of his religion conviction. He is trying to force his own beliefs on the shattered victim of a traumatizing event. He obviously doesn’t care about the harm this would cause to her and everyone she’s connected with, he doesn’t care about the legal ramifications, he just wants the mandate from his ancient literature mythology to be carried out.

THIS is the problem I have with christians, they adamantly try to force you to live by their way, and their archaic sense of purpose that is wholly incompatible with modern society and life. How can this idiot think he has the right to force that fate upon a young woman he’s never met?

Of course the rape may not bother him since the bible actually promotes rape and gives instructions on how to kidnap a woman and force her to be your wife (I will provide bible passages if you doubt this). According to the bible, rape and murder and such are fine – just don’t interfere with conception.

I may be crude or sound hypocritical for this, but this man needs to be pulled out and beaten for his incompatibility to exist within human rights and the law.

At the very least the bastard should be fired.

I’m wondering if anybody else has comments on the issue?

Mike

The trouble with Evolution is that everyone *thinks* they understand it.

– Richard Dawkins

This has come up recently, I was informed about a speaker in my area who could “scientifically prove” that evolution is false. Of course anybody with comprehension of science and the scientific process (less than 30% of you if you’re American) knows how ridiculous this is, for reasons I’ll get into later.

I have seen and heard these speakers before, and they prey on the misconceptions and ignorance of their audience. They exploit the perceptions of those who are faithful and have very limited knowledge of the principles of evolution. They only reinforce what the faithful want to believe, they assuage cognitive dissonance with fallacies – and the faithful blindly accept the distortions because it makes them feel comfortable and secure in their beliefs. It’s very probable that the speakers themselves fully believe what they’re saying, but the issue is that they don’t understand evolution at all. It’s easy to persuade somebody with no knowledge that something is wrong.

I am not trying to attack or disparage the faithful or these speakers, I am instead pointing out that many of them don’t really “get it.” Indeed the general level of education in America is pathetic with surveys showing almost 48% of the population believing humans co-existed with dinosaurs (Chapter 7 – “Science and Technology: Public Attitudes and Public Understanding”, Report: Science & Engineering Indicators – 2003, National Science Board, National Science Foundation, April 2002)…

I’m glad I come from a family of scientists and have taken many unversity courses in anthropology and other such research so I know more than the vast majority of Americans.

Almost every other developed country accepts evolution more than we do, and consequently they are better educated on evolution than we are (we are on the bottom of both charts). Is that a coincidence? Certainly not. We live in a religious society that mistakenly sees evolution as a threat to faith, and it is easier to defeat something you don’t understand. A great many of the scientists who study evolution are religious and they don’t perceive it as a threat to their beliefs, and they actually understand it.

Now I won’t actually get into the evolution vs. creation debate because there is little hope of changing people’s minds. What I will do is illustrate many of the fallacies committed by these speakers and evangelical advocates against evolution.

The most important thing about science is that it’s not a belief system. You often see the faithful mistakenly align science as a belief, and you sometimes hear about some speaker who “proves evolution wrong scientifically”. Evolution has never been proven wrong scientifically, and if it was it would be from a scientist, not some evangelical speaker.

The truth is that science is its own harshest critic, scientists are more skeptical of science than the faithful are, that’s the nature of the beast. The very structure of science is to make a hypothesis and do every thing imaginable to prove it wrong. If it can’t be proven wrong (based on strictly empirical evidence and study) it becomes a theory. If it is absolutely unbeatable and incontrovertible then it becomes a law. If there was anything that legitimately disproved evolution than it would cease to be or undergo severe revisions to be consistent with new data. Darwin was wrong on a number of things, scientists were the ones to find his mistakes and change the theories (NOT the evangelicals). Indeed evangelicals like to use the outdated Darwin models and argue against them, ignoring or not knowing that they’ve been out of date for the last 100 years.

So let’s get in to some of the common myths you see…

Myth: Evolution is just a theory.

Essentially true, but dismissing it as “just a theory” a grave distortion of what a scientific theory is. A scientific theory is not the same as a hypothesis, it is not a guess by any possible stretch. A theory is an organized set of information that has been confirmed repeatedly and not yet proven untrue. A theory is demonstrated to be true, it’s observable, repeatable, and far more supported and confirmed than any guess. Of course evangelicals like to distort the word “Theory” to make it sound weak when it isn’t. Here are some more examples of scientific “theories:”

Quantum Theory: This deals with subatomic particles and some crazy stuff, it is the reason we have cell phones and computers.

Stress Theory: This is the theory that allows engineers to construct buildings, bridges, roads, planes, cars, etc. It works.

As you are probably in a building and on a computer, your very situation in life at this moment is hinged upon scientific theory. Should you pretend your computer doesn’t exist and never cross another bridge because it’s “only theory”?

Oh and it’s only the mechanisms through which evolution is accomplished that are theory. Explanations such as genetic drift, natural selection, mate selection, those are the theories of the mechanics of how evolution works. Evolution in itself is a biological fact.

Myth: Evolution doesn’t explain how life started.

True. But then it was never meant or intended to. No scientist worth his degree has ever claimed that evolution indubitably explains how life sprang into existence. Evolution is the study of the way life changes, adapts and evolves over time and from adversity. Being analogous it explains how the leaves fell from the tree, not how they came to be in the first place. The idea that “evolution doesn’t explain where life came from so it’s wrong” is as stupid as saying “We don’t know how human civilization started so recorded history is all wrong.”

The notion that life arose from inanimate matter, the “primordial ooze” or “primeval soup” the abiogenesis hypothesis. Note that it’s a hypothesis and NOT a theory. It’s an educated guess. Now you see why creationists like to use the origin of life argument? It’s easier to defeat an untested or unproven hypothesis/guess than it is to even begin an attack on a scientific theory. This is an example of twisting words and misguiding people.

Some people also like to clump evolution together with the big bang theory which is completely absurd. They are completely different scientific entities.

Myth: We evolved from monkeys.

False. This is a misconception perpetuated largely by that drawing of apes becoming man… which if I recall was originally drawn to mock Darwin, it was part of an early smear campaign to discredit him by distorting his theory. It is with great irony (but not surprising in a religious country like the USA) that it has become a symbol of evolution.

According to evolution we did NOT evolve from apes, we simply share a common ancestor many millions of years ago. We both evolved from Pierolapithecus catalaunicus. You can actually say that Apes evolved from humans and be equally incorrect.

Hell, there are very distinguishable differences in the ethnicities of humans, both in appearance in genetics, and that came about over a couple hundred thousand years of separation… Imagine if we had continued without mingling or seeing each other for several million years – the differences between whites/Asians/blacks/etc. would have been astounding, we’d eventually have become different species. Imagine if technology was lost and the planet surface was divided by impossible crevasses and the west coast, the north and the south were all separated for millions of years – we would be completely different with the Southerners probably becoming something like Morlocks.

Myth: Evolution is random.

False. Random chance is very contrary to the principle of Natural Selection, which is one of the fundamental concepts of evolution. Members of a species that are less suited to survive die out while those more capable thrive and expand. There is nothing random about it, life under evolution progresses in a natural and logical manner.

We all have genetic differences and mutations that are chance, (you might be taller or shorter than the rest of your family, may have more hair, a better brain for math, a unique allergy, may be double jointed, and so on) and these differences make us stronger or weaker in certain areas. Natural selection actively selects which strengths are suited for survival in an environments and which aren’t. There is a very small element of chance, but selection is the opposite of random.

No, we did not develop eyes at random, we developed eyes over an exceptionally long, gradual process of trial and error. Eyes were not spontaneously or miraculously generated, and there was never “half an eye.” Eyes began as a simple cluster of cells that were sensitive to light and they slowly increased in complexity and capability until they were able to see directions and eventually colors and complex shapes.

To be taken step by step through how this could have occurred, watch this segment from an instructional lecture (it’s like a British kid friendly show from 1991) by Richard Dawkins called “Climbing Mount Improbable.” He demonstrates exactly how something as complex as the eye evolved through natural selection (and then goes on to explain wings and camouflage).

To flip the fallacious “watch maker argument” around, watches were also not created at random. The creation of the watch was a slow and gradual process of trial and error, of experimentation and exploration. Like the lightbulb it took many attempts and a lot of revision before it was finally done right. No watch maker magically popped into existence and started crafting watches on his first go. The watch itself had to evolve.

Myth: Complex things don’t come naturally:

False. For reasons above.

Myth: Evolution isn’t testable or repeatable.

False. Evolution has been observed in a number of species and it is testable and repeatable with bacteria and other simple, short lived lifeforms. Even kids can do it. When I was in high school my biology class genetically augmented and evolved some ecoli strains.

For a solid example refer to: (Weinberg, J.R., V.R. Starczak, and D. Jorg, 1992, “Evidence for rapid speciation following a founder event in the laboratory.” Evolution 46: 1214-1220) For more observed instances of speciation, refer to this FAQ.

It should be noted that nobody has been able to spontaneously generate an entire new species out of thin air or inanimate matter.

Perhaps one of the strangest things was the advocates for “intelligent design” were the ones to frequently (and mistakenly) accuse evolution of being untestable or unrepeatable when their own idea was utterly impossible to test, observe, repeat, or prove. Fortunately the intelligent design craze seems to have died down a little since most religious leaders (including the Pope and the Vatican) have openly said that it’s absurd and not a science by any possible stretch.

And those are just a few of gross misconceptions and egregious misunderstandings of evolution. I may get into more at a later date.

Now on another note…

Here’s an interesting thing… If you think about it, Evolution has to exist for the bible to be true. IF there were an Adam and Eve (there wasn’t) and they began as the only two humans on the planet (they weren’t) that doesn’t account for the wide genetic differences and variations across the human spectrum. Let’s say they were Arabic: dark brown hair, brown eyes, and bronze skin… if there is no evolution then where did the Asians come from? Where did the blacks come from? And the whites? The Filipinos? The Eskimos? Etc. Even if they had been originally very different (Adam was black and Eve was pale white with blonde hair and blue eyes) there is still no possible way for their descendants to have developed very different eye colors (brown, green, blue, grey, black, etc.), hair colors (different shades of brown, black, blonde, and red), skin (we all know the differences here), facial features (the features between whites, blacks, Mexicans, arabs, Asians and so forth are visibly obvious), sizes (heights and weights) and so on without evolution. It’s not possible… unless of course evolution is true.

Hell, if the story of Noah was true we’d all be descended from him and his family, which would guarantee even less genetic variance (particularly as it – according to theists – occurred not that long ago) as they were certainly all similar in race, and appearance. So where could all these vastly different humans come from?

And another(even less related) thing. If the great flood apparently wiped out all life on the planet except for those on the ark, then how come christians point to “many cultures have stories of a great flood” as evidence that it happened. That other cultures still existed disproves the great flood in the first place!

Food for thought.

-Mike

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