What Atheism Means To Me

I’ve started actually calling myself an atheist now, rather than an agnostic. The reason is, no one describes themselves as an agnostic about the Easter Bunny or Santa Claus. The reason? There is not a shred of evidence for either. It is insane to be agnostic about the Easter Bunny. The same is true for the biblical God. There is no proof whatsoever that there is a Yaweh out there. Faith is dumb. By that I mean, there is no more reason to have faith in God than there is to have faith in the Easter Bunny. Note I am not calling people with faith stupid. Most people with faith are upfront about the overall irrationality of it. They simply choose to put aside this irrationality. That’s fine. For me, I see no reason to set this irrationality aside.

So I’ve reached the point where I do deny the existence of the biblical God because there is no reason not to. The Bible is mythology, it’s inconsistent, contradictory, vague and largely incorrect on many issues. There is no reason whatsoever to use the Bible as the basis for faith. You may as well use any mythology. They are all equally valid in their invalidity.

Now I do acknowledge (and have written about) the fact that science cannot answer where this universe came from or why. We don’t know where the energy came from. We don’t know why we are here. I don’t think science will ever be able to answer those questions. But neither can religion. Religion brings us no closer to understanding these questions. God did it? Why? So he could love us? Why? Who created God? Why did they? Religion does not get us any closer to understanding this, the biggest mystery of our existence.

Atheism, as I view it, is not about claiming there are no answers to these questions. We came from somewhere for some reason! Atheists are people who have decided that worship of a mythological deity is a shallow and fanciful answer to these questions. Fear of such a deity is silly, pandering to them is silly and believing they care who wins a football game, gets a raise or decides arbitrarily who lives and dies is silly.

So, yes, religious folks are silly. I suspect that many of you know this and are in denial about it. I also know that many of you really believe, in your heart, that Jesus, God, Allah or whomever is there, loves you, and cares deeply for you. You think somehow this gives your life hope and meaning. I completely respect your right to do this. I do question it, though.

Atheism is not about losing hope, it’s about rejecting your parent’s dogma, it’s about being open to other possibilities, it’s about accepting the mystery of our existence instead of clinging to the mythology of our ancient ancestors.

Not scary at all.

What Atheism Means To Me

Another Letter to a Christian Nation

OK, so I’ve actually read A Letter to a Christian Nation now and I have to say, it is a very well done book. He’s obviously preaching to the choir in my case. It is very harsh on religion, of course. He goes so far as to say that science and religion are completely incompatible. No punches pulled. It almost makes me a bit uncomfortable at times even though I agree with him on 100% of it. The discomfort comes from knowing a lot of very smart people who believe in God. I think, in their minds, they know that their beliefs are not rational in a scientific sense. They are accepting that they are setting aside their skepticism in a way they don’t for the easter bunny.

Sam Harris, in this book is talking mainly to hardcore Christians who are anti-choice, anti-gay, anti-separation of church and state, etc. but there is a message for religious moderates too. You are not being honest with yourself if you don’t face head on some of the major and detrimental inconsistencies of virtually all religious views. For example, it is deeply evil that Catholics would rather doom people to die from HIV/AIDS than cooperate with the distribution of condoms. Most Catholics I know oppose this view of the church and yet call themselves Catholics. They are complicit in that travesty.

It’s worth a read even if you disagree with him because it really gets the wheels turning.

Another Letter to a Christian Nation

Vote for Balance

The bottom line is: it can actually work better when we don’t always get our way. Compromise is good. It is a check and balance. We have a brilliantly designed government in that it has checks and balances. These become ineffective when one party controls all branches of government and is willing to sacrifice the integrity of our system to gain advantage for their particular political ideology. It’s lame when the Left does it and it is lame when the Right does it. Dammit, we are Americans first and Democrats, Republicans or Greens second. We should all agree on that. Put the system first and your ideology second. We all do better when we all do better.

The Right Wing pushed us too far. They are good folks and they mean well but they go too far when left unchecked. The lack of meaningful compromise has not served us well. You don’t have to change parties or make long term commitments, you just have to cast a vote that you think will lead to a better, yet sustainable, United States of America.

The message we are going to send to Bush is that, yes, we are paying attention and talking the talk isn’t good enough, you have to walk the walk. It’s not politics when you are a leader, it’s policy. We are not cool with fiscal irresponsibility. We are not OK with less constitutional rights. We think it is fucking insane to send the world the message that we would weaken the Geneva Conventions in regards to POWs. Dot, dot, dot.

So vote for balance. A Bush White House, in partnership with a Democratic congress, may be a recipe for healthy compromise. Americans, when asked, believe that we are best off when there is a balance of power. Let’s vote for that. Today. Go vote, right now, for balance.

Vote for Balance

A message to fundamentalists regarding science

This was written by my friend and lawyer Mark Sondreal. Mark also wrote a piece that I posted here a while back called Abortion and the Right to Privacy.

I was recently engaged in a discussion with a man when the topic turned to evolution. He stated that he was a Christian and therefore did not believe in evolution. I attempted to explain my belief that Christian beliefs and evolution are easily reconcilable. He indicated his belief that the story of creation as set forth in the bible was the literal truth and that anyone who didn’t believe in the word of God could not be a Christian. As I didn’t want to be dispatched with the jawbone of an ass, I left the conversation at that.
I believe that the man I was speaking with could be accurately described as a “Fundamentalist Christian”.

Here’s my message to all you religious fundamentalists (Christian or otherwise) out there regarding science and religion. Religions should not attempt to alter scientific theory to fit belief systems. My position is supported by the absolute folly of past attempts to stymie science by religious organizations. For example, back in the day, the church threatened Copernicus for theorizing that earth orbited the sun because such a theory was at odds with the position of the church. Copernicus’s works were not published until after his death in 1543 because he was afraid of being tried for heresy. The church officially forbade publication of Copernicus’s work until 1822. Can you say stupid?

Scientific methodology is designed to accurately describe our physical world. The fact that a particular scientific theory does not fit perfectly within a belief system does not make the theory wrong, it simply requires adherents to that belief system to exercise a bit of mental flexibility. For example, just because the bible says that the world was created in seven days does not disprove evolution. Maybe the creation story in the bible is not meant to be taken literally, or maybe the passage of seven days took a lot longer fifteen billion years ago.

Here’s the logic. If you believe in a “just God”, you must believe that God wants us to know the truth about our world because falsity is at odds with justice. The truth about our physical world is revealed through scientific study. It follows that a “just God” would want us to engage in critical thought processes inherent in the scientific method. Therefore, it is the duty of God’s followers to pursue reason. Fundamentalism belies reason and is therefore counter to God’s will.

I would submit that people who can’t reconcile scientific fact with their religious beliefs are either intellectually lazy or irrational. Unfortunately, I have yet to meet a fundamentalist who is capable of rational thought when their belief system is threatened.

p.s. I apologize for the self-righteous tone of this piece. It’s just that ………. I’m right.

A message to fundamentalists regarding science

Bush Does Not Represent Me At All

Go read micadelic’s comments for some context.

First of all, on bias. On the editorial side, I agree that the NY Times leans decidedly left. I also believe that is their right. I do not believe they bias their news reporting. Fox does try to be fair at times but there are many shows that are a weird mix of editorial and news and that is super dangerous. I don’t mind if Fox leans right on editorial stuff but when you present news with an editorial bias, it is lame. I do not believe any (credible) news organization does this to the degree that Fox does. I also don’t think CNN leans left at all. Amy Goodman at Democracy Now! has a great video about how CNN and all the others were great big cheerleaders for the Bush administration during the combat phases of the recent wars. There was virtually no anti-war voice on any national media.

On the war. What you and Bush miss, in my opinion, is the fact that most of the people who are hurt by our actions are not terrorists. Bush doesn’t get that. 99.9% of the people hurt by the “war” in Iraq are not terrorists and they are not necessarily anti-American. Now throw in the context of Zionism and colonialism and Arabs are super duper sensitive to having US/UK boots on the ground. This is understandable. What do you say to this? If we were only hurting terrorists we wouldn’t be having this argument.

Finally, when Bush got elected I said to myself “Let’s have a little faith in all of these smart and well-meaning Right wingers and see how they do.” I was not hoping for failure by any means. One of the first things he did was renege on his promise to regulate carbon dioxide emissions from power plants. He told us one thing and did another. It didn’t exactly bolster my faith. Then with 9/11 came a pseudo-fascist agenda of spying on American citizens, trying to undermine the Geneva conventions, secret prisons, a ridiculously expensive war based on false pretenses (whether known or unknown), a campaign against same-sex couples, a statement that we should teach creationism in schools, a repeated agenda to drill in Alaska, something few Americans support, a belligerent attitude towards our allies such as France…the list goes on. I gave Bush a chance to prove that he represented me and he told me in no uncertain terms that he does not.

So, yes, at this point, Bush does virtually nothing I approve of. He chose that, I didn’t.

Although it may seem otherwise, I AM loyal to the US and my hardline opposition to this administration is an attempt to nudge them to the Left. Bush was elected by a slim minority yet he turned his back on the 48% on this side. He could have been a uniter and had he tried we would have a lot less to bitch about. Instead we hear about the “political capital” he earned and his intention to spend it. Fuck him. Bush is loyal only to his constituency, something that is unbecoming of a President. I can’t even attend one of his appearances because I won’t sign a freaking loyalty oath or whatever.

You are a smart guy and I respect your point of view. I can’t share it.

Bush Does Not Represent Me At All

Vegetarians and Factory Farms

Let’s face it — life depends on death. We can’t live without killing. We kill animals, plants and jillions of little tiny organisms every day, no matter how conscientious we are.

In my opinion, killing animals for food is not evil. The domestication of animals was very important in the development of civilization. Taking wild game and raising animals for slaughter is natural and necessary. (I know there are some who argue with the “necessary” part of that statement.)

But something has changed recently in human history and it has moral implications. This is the factory farm. Until recently, animals were raised by family farms and the care of the animals was something near and dear to the hearts of the farmers. Even with large herds, there was a direct and personal involvement in the well-being of the animals by those who tended them.

Animals do feel pain and they can be made to suffer in many ways. They can express this suffering so they are obviously self-aware enough to know they are suffering. As a moral society I believe we absolutely have a duty to treat animals humanely. I vote with my dollars when I can on this issue. I, as a consumer, will pay more for products that treat animals better, such as free-range chicken. But the market doesn’t always reward moral imperatives. It’s the role of government to get things done, especially in those instances where the market fails.

I’m not a vegetarian but I sympathize with many of their ideals. We should demand the benign treatment of animals both as consumers and as citizens. We should not let our food production descend into a nightmare of billions of tortured creatures so we can pay a few cents less per pound. This should be self-evident.

Vegetarians and Factory Farms

Creationist Non-Logic

The schizophrenic retard known as Phyllis Schlafly points out how incapable the creationists are of logic.

Here is what is funny. First she seems logical and says:

The issue in the Kansas controversy was not intelligent design and certainly not creationism. The current Kansas standards state: “To promote good science, good pedagogy and a curriculum that is secular, neutral and non-ideological, school districts are urged to follow the advice provided by the House and Senate Conferees in enacting the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001.”

Sounds good, right? No one is trying to shove creationism down anyone’s throats, we just want secular, science-based teaching, right?

But scroll down and she reveals her true agenda:

Intelligent judges are beginning to reject the intolerant demands of the evolutionists.

Who..the…what…the? A minute ago we all agreed but now all of a sudden we advocates of secular, science-based science are intolerant, demanding evolutionists?

This woman, with no scientific training and a religious view that “[we] were created in the image of God” has just decided that the overwhelming consensus of virtually all biological scientists is intolerance in action!

W.T.F. These people just can’t seem to grasp that we do not have an agenda of evolution, we have a body of scientific evidence that supports evolution. We are not anti-religious or anti-creationism except in that there is no evidence for creationism. These morons want to “teach the controversy” where none exists!

Yes, let’s fill in the gaps of evolution and see where that leads us. Maybe it will lead us to creationism. But to claim that there is any scientific basis for creationism at this point is a complete, utter and premeditated lie.

This should not be a political issue. It’s morons like Phyllis Schlafly that make it one.

Creationist Non-Logic

Why We Blog

Why are we all doing this? Why, why, why? Why are we subjecting ourselves to the intimate scrutiny of others? People blog things they would never tell strangers or enemies. They accept the praise and suffer the insults of the ornery citizenry. Some wanna get out. What is the point of all this?

It’s really cool that blogs have become discussion areas. It’s publishing and its community all at once and it is fantastically successful at it. It’s almost what I envisioned the Nets to be in the Ender’s Game world — a virtual, chaotic debate forum where issues of the day are decided. Personalities are born and have influence and gain power solely through their participation, perhaps anonymously, in the discussion. The discussion is now largely online and largely in the blogsphere.

Attention is doled out meagerly. Very few people read most blogs. Yet in an instant someone can link to an obscure blog post on slashdot or digg or the dialykos and, boom, a zillion visits a day and a possible revenue stream.

A revenue stream. This is probably music to most of our ears. Financial independence from blogging is certainly compelling for most and possible for some. But selling ads is not necessarily the business many of us want to be in.

But even without zillions of visitors, many blogs make an impact. Local impact that isn’t local. The interconnections are like neurons, making the connections themselves just as important as what they are connecting. This is a chorus.

Where will that lead…? I don’t know. This discussion has started in a deeper way than could be achieved prior to the present day Internet. As the capabilities expand, I suspect the discussion taking place “online” will be virtually the only discussion taking place. I don’t mean, of course, to say that people won’t meet in person or engage in normal daily intercourse, but the debates of the future, on policy, and politics, will occur in what the blogsphere will become, whatever that is. There will always be big media companies but their influence will be muted. We have people on the ground now.

So I think we do this to change the fucking world. You talking about your cat and me getting mad at creationists or talking about astronomy is going to change the world. The game is on. Slowly, painfully, with many steps backward along the way, we have a real forum for ideas now.

Someday we will have a President of the United States who gained their influence solely through their interactions with the public network.

We blog to change the world.

Why We Blog

The Middle East

I’m not an expert on the Middle East and wanted to learn a bit more and spent some time with Wikipedia’s entry on the history of Israel. It is pretty in-depth and can lead you down a lot of different paths on all of the different wars and attempts to peace over the last 100 years. Israel became an independent modern state in 1948, only 58 years ago.

The surrounding Arab countries have never been happy with this. Israel has had to repeatedly defend itself from attacks by Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon. It has maintained its independence, frankly, though the use of superior military power.

The Arab governments have, over the years, made peace with Israel, perhaps most notably Egypt in the late 70’s. This unfortunately lead to the assassination of Anwar Sadat, the Egyptian president, by his own people.

This is all to say that this is a very, very tricky situation. In a nutshell, some Arabs feel, and will always feel, that Israel unfairly occupied their territory and then defended it only through the help of the UK and the US. Thus, in their minds, these three military powers, the UK, the US and Israel have unfairly used military might to create and defend Israel at the expense of the Arabs who had lived there under the Ottoman Empire for 600 years.

Israel, on the other hand, has been a recognized sovereign entity for 58 years. Regardless of the complexities of unraveling thousands of years of history and animosities, Israel should not have to repeatedly defend its right to exist. It does exist. Period. No amount of war will make it un-exist. Any modifications to borders or ownership of lands will need to happen via diplomatic negotiations. Like it or not, the US, the UK and Israel will not let it happen any other way.

So what’s the answer? What’s fair? What’s rational and what will address the humanitarian and political issues that this situation continues to create?

I’m idealistic, I know, but with irreconcilable differences, the only hope is compromise. That, unfortunately, means no one is happy. Everyone gives a little. I think the rest of the world is just aghast that extreme views on both sides continue to doom innocent people to die. How many more people have to die? How much more suffering needs to be inflicted? It’s not helping. The death and the suffering are not getting anyone any closer to their goals. It is time for both sides to compromise.

This is why Bush’s arrogant idiocy in invading Iraq was so stupid. This was already a super tricky situation and he sent the bull into the china shop. Now those Republicans idiots are using the latest conflicts between Israel and Lebanon to start their war with Iran. Meanwhile Israel, because it had tens of people die from renegade attacks by Hamas and Hezbollah, is killing thousand of people in return. They are invading another country.

Let’s face it: Hamas and Hezbollah are terrorist assholes with their heads so far up their ass they can’t breathe. They continue to work against their own best interest at every step of the way. They get further and further from their goals and more and more of their people suffer and die.

But the other side of the story is just as bleak: the US and Israel have their heads so far up their ass they can’t breathe. They continue to work against their own best interest at every step of the way. They get further and further from their goals and more and more of their people suffer and die.

The crux of the whole thing is the fact that Israel has the Palestinians under their thumb. A two-state solution has to be figured out. It should have been figured out a long time ago. Bush has not only not tried to get such a process going, he has worked against it by inflaming anti-American and anti-Israel sentiments in the Middle East. I personally think that Bush wants this all to happen so we can continue to occupy more and more of the Middle East and, in his fucked up mind, continued to kill Muslims. They think this is a war that must be fought. They are wrong: it is a war that should never be fought.

So to recap:

1. Arab countries have to recognize Israel’s right to exist and must eliminate violent dissent from any internal organizations.
2. Israel, the US and the UK need to make a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict an utmost priority.
3. The Palestinians need to negotiate and agree to a two-state solution in good-faith.

It can be done. Some day it will be done. We need to work on making that day soon. Yes, it is very, very hard. It can be done.

The Middle East