Friday, February 17, 2012

The Murder of Giordano Bruno

On this day (February 17) in 1600, Giordano Bruno, a mathematician, philosopher, astronomer, and Dominican friar, having been found guilty of heresy by the Inquisition, was stripped naked and driven through the streets of Rome, then tied to a stake in the Campo de’ Fiori and burned to death.  What was his horrible crime? He put forth the conjecture that other stars were suns like our own, and that they could each have planets like our own, and that those planets (gasp) have life. Such is life in a world without separation of Church and State.
Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

For more information about this fascinating individual, see the following:

Executing someone for heresy is and always has been an act of murder, pure and simple. There is no legitimate justification for it.

When I first started writing this post, it at this point transformed into a diatribe against modern threats to separation of Church and State, and those such as Gov. Rick Perry, Rep. Michele Bachmann, Newt Gingrich, and faux-historian David Barton who keep endeavoring to return us to the bad-old-days of theocracy, culminating with the surreal spectacle of House hearings this week on the topic of birth control in which no women were included among the witnesses, a disgraceful display of the reproductive rights of women being trampled by religious orthodoxy. However, the more I wrote, the more angry I grew. I suppose that, for now, I should just leave it at that....

Thursday, February 9, 2012

How Knotty

While doing the pirate thing, it was inevitable that I would get into studying knots, not that I ever mastered them (although I am justifiably proud of the knot-work I did on the Pride O' Bedlam's flagpole). So I was quite pleased to see this little video crop up today on my Facebook feed....

This video quite naturally lead me to the contributor's YouTube Channel, "Tying It All Together", and his website, Knots galore!

UPDATE: (March 22) And this.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Comments on "Sh#t Christians Say to Atheists"

There has been an Internet meme circulating of late, the posting of videos entitled "Sh#t ____ Say to ___", illustrating preposterous things commonly said by the members of the social subset in question. One that caught my eye recently was this one, made with tongue-in-cheek delivery by atheist activist Ashley Paramore of the Secular Student Alliance:

 Yeah, it sounds about right. Well done, Ashley. I've heard quite a few of these myself. Here are my responses. (Not to Ashley, of course. She's sharp, and already knows all of this stuff.)

"But you're so nice."

Why thank you. I'm sure you are nice as well. But whether someone is nice or not has absolutely nothing to do with their religious beliefs. There are nice atheists, and there are atheists who are jerks, just as there are nice Christians/Jews/Buddhists/Muslims/etc., and there there are Christians/Jews/Buddhists/Muslims/etc. who are complete jerks. People are people. Some are bad. Some are good. And there is generally no correlation between that and their religious status. I have lots of friends who are atheists, and they are all nice people.

"So why do you hate God?"

I don't hate God. I just don't think God exists. Why would I hate an entity which doesn't exist. Do you hate Athena? Do you hate the Tooth Fairy?

"So you worship the Devil then?"

No, that would be Satanism. Atheism and Satanism are mutually exclusive. Atheists reject all superstitious beliefs, including beliefs in gods, devils, angels, and demons. It would make no sense to worship an entity which does not exist. Worshiping Satan makes no more sense to me than worshiping God. Or Odin. Or Hathor. Or door-to-door vacuum cleaner salesmen (who at least have the virtue of existing).

"You don't. But you believe in Satan? No?"

I just explained that.

"Look, I understand that you are just going through a phase, and that deep down you really do believe."

For some people, that might very well be true. I can't speak for them, though. For me, it is most certainly not a phase. I've been a non-believer for over two decades, now.

"But you still believe in Jesus, right?"

There may or may not have been an historical figure upon whom the Jesus of the Bible was based. Sadly, there is no historical evidence of this beyond the fact that Christianity got started in the first place. There are no contemporaneous accounts by anyone who met him or witnessed events associated with his life. In fact, that are no contemporaneous accounts by scholars living in the region that even mention him at all.

If he existed, and if the Gospels are even halfway right in how they depict him (keeping in mind that the oldest of the Gospels, Mark, was written no earlier than 70 AD), then I'm sure he was a nice guy with some great ideas about how people should treat one another. You know, loving one another, helping the poor, all of that good stuff.  I can get on board with that. (Of course, it depends on which Gospel you read. Each one depicts a Jesus with an entirely different personality. It really is interesting to read the Gospels in the order they were thought to be written and see how the personality depicted changes, as well as seeing the way in which each version of the story embellishes upon the previous version.)

But all of the supernatural trappings? Virgin birth? Healings? The Feeding of the Multitude? Resurrection? I don't buy it. Neither did Thomas Jefferson.

By the way, Jeshua (‏יֵשׁ֡וּעַ‎), (the original Aramaic version of the name "Jesus") was a very common name in 1st century Judea. It wouldn't surprise me at all if there were more than one itinerant Rabbi going around by that name.

"Come on, you were never really a true believer."

Ah, the old "no true Scotsman" argument. It is a logical fallacy. And completely irrelevant to the issue at hand.

"Look, I know you think you've been saved, but you really just need to go to a saved church. Come on."

My issues with religion go beyond the dogma and practices of any one denomination. I'll pass on the brainwashing/indoctrination session, thank you very much. Been there. Done that.

"But how can you even love if you don't believe in a god?"

"But how can you even breath if you don't believe in little angels working your lungs like a bellows?" Or, how about this one? "How can you even walk if you don't believe that the Earth is sitting on the back of a giant elephant?" Yeah, those questions make about as much sense.

We are hard-wired by evolution to love. It helps us get along, and it helps perpetuate the species. The capacity for love has no connection to religious belief.

"Wow. Your life must be bleak and meaningless." 

Why? I create my own meaning, rather than waiting to have it handed down to me by some Cosmic Overseer. And I see beauty in life, and in the wonders of the Cosmos.

"Isn't it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it too?"
Douglas Adams

"The Cosmos is all that there is or ever was or ever will be. Our feeblest contemplations of the Cosmos stir us—there is a tingling in the spine, a catch in the voice, a faint sensation, as if a distant memory, of falling from a height. We know we are approaching the greatest of mysteries."
 Carl Sagan, "Cosmos"

"So what exactly do you believe in, then?"

I believe in reason. It works, and has a better track record than any other worldview in terms of gaining an understanding of, well, everything.

"But, no, you see, this is exactly what you don't understand. It's that it takes MORE faith NOT to believe in God."

This argument is the biggest load I've tripe I have ever encountered, and holding such a bizarre position requires completely ignoring the definition of the word "faith." Not believing requires no faith at all. My disbelief is rooted in a complete and utter lack of evidence for the failed God Hypothesis. Faith doesn't come into play here in any way. The very concept of faith is abhorrent to me, since faith, by definition, is the abandonment of reason.

You might perhaps counter here that I said earlier that I believe in reason. Isn't that a contradiction?

No, it isn't. I believe in reason, but that belief is not based on faith. It is based upon experience, upon a Bayesian confidence inspired by past performance. I can observe reason working, and working well. Faith? Not so much.

"So why do you even bother to live?" 

I refer you to my earlier response about life being bleak and meaningless.

"What if you are wrong? Eternity is a really long time, and Hell's hot."

Amazing how people continue to trot out Pascal's Wager, even though that old chestnut has been thoroughly discredited in numerous ways. As for Hell, there is no evidence whatsoever for its existence, nor any evidence that there would be anything of me to go there once I die.

"It's not meant to be taken literally. Have you ever even read the Bible?"

Yes, I have read the Bible. And the more I read it, the more glaring its errors and contradictions appear. (All too frequently, I find that atheists tend to be more familiar with the Bible than most Christians, not so much in terms of being able to quote passages verbatim, which has little bearing on actually understanding the content, but rather knowing of its historical development.)

There are plenty of Christians who do take the Bible literally, and they are some of the scariest people out there. But even taking bits and pieces of it literally is giving it more credit than is due. By and large, it seems to possess about as much historical accuracy as Grimm's Fairy Tales.

"But how can you be a moral person?"

This is based upon the misconception that morality HAS to come from God. Religions teach morals, but morals do not originate with God. They come from human beings, human beings who understand that, in order for people to survive together in a community, each member must follow certain rules for behavior. This is the origin of laws, which are the formalize representations of the rules of morality, originally codified by the State in an archaic era when Church and State were inseparable entities. The power of this arrangement was that if the fear of punishment by the state was inadequate to dissuade misbehavior, the threat of punishment in the afterlife was frequently sufficient to do the job.

But these rules were not handed down by a deity. They were crafted by human beings who recognized that one shouldn't go around killing other people, because they might just as easily go around killing you. They were created by people who wanted to remove doubts about parentage, since inheritance laws were frequently built around paternal bloodlines. They were developed by people who recognized that, in a pre-refrigeration technology desert climate, eating pork and shellfish was quite probably a public health risk.

I don't need God to tell me these things. I know that it is wrong to kill people or to hurt them. My parents taught me that, just as their parents taught them. And it makes sense to follow that rule, because treating other people badly makes it more likely that they will treat me badly, just as treating them well makes it more likely that they will treat me well. The Golden Rule is sufficient as a core for morality, and it need not be handed down from Heaven/Olympus/Valhalla. It makes sense as a basic rule to live by for people living in a society with others, bound together by the Social Contract.

"I mean, if there's no God, there's nobody to tell you that you shouldn't go running around and start killing people, right?"

See my previous response.

Frankly, it scares the willies out of me when I hear Christians say that their faith is the only thing keeping them from going on killing sprees. Such people seriously need psychological help. Their imaginary friend is the only thing keeping them from being a mass murderer? Yikes! Get help! Quickly!

By the way, if morality comes from God, why do atheists make up less than 1% of our prison population, when atheists represent a substantially larger percentage of the overall population?

And don't throw the Nazis in my face. The Nazi party frequently used religion in their propaganda to bring the German people to their way of thinking. The Nazis hated atheists, banning their writings and imprisoning and executing them right alongside Jews, homosexuals, and Communists. As for those Godless Commies, while it is true that Marx was disdainful of religion, and atheism was the official position of the Soviet Union, the evils perpetuated by the Soviet regime were rooted in the cult of personality surrounding Lenin and Stalin (itself a variant of "religion") and the abuse of power inherent in an authoritarian system (just as it is inherent in authoritarian theocracies).

"Well I think you'll change your mind when you have kids of your own."

And why would that be the case? This seems to be a rather bizarre and vacuous argument.

"You're going to go to Hell."

As mentioned earlier, there is no evidence whatsoever for its existence, nor any evidence that there would be anything of me to go there once I die. In the immortal words of Mark Twain:
"I do not fear death. I had been dead for billions and billions of years before I was born, and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it." 

"I'll pray for you."

You are at liberty to do so. It literally is the least you could do.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Misleading Newspaper Articles on Climate Stir Firestorm

Astonishingly misleading OpEds published over the weekend in the Wall Street Journal ("No Need to Panic About Global Warming") and Daily Mail ("Forget global warming — it’s Cycle 25 we need to worry about (and if NASA scientists are right the Thames will be freezing over again)") have stirred up a hornets' nest. There is no need for me to dissect the rampant (and long-debunked) misinformation contained in these propaganda pieces. Others have done so quite effectively: