Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Critical thinking is like washing your hands

In Uncategorized on June 6, 2009 at 5:11 am

This is a repost of a post I did back in 2007… I only bring it up because I got another one of these emails.. this time from my Dad… DOH!

My mom always used to tell me “Wash your hands before you eat”, or “Wash your hands WITH SOAP after you use the bathroom”. I’m sure your mom did too. This is of course good advice, washing your hands with soap and water reduces the chance that you will get a bacterial infection or catch a virus.

So I was surprised the other day to get this email from my Mom:

Subject: Fw: moons

Two moons on 27th August

27th Aug the Whole World is waiting for………….

Planet Mars will be the brightest in the night sky starting August.

It will look as large as the full moon to the naked eye. This will cultivate on Aug. 27 when Mars comes within 34.65M miles of earth. Be sure to watch the sky on Aug. 27 12:30 am. It will look like the earth has 2 moons. The next time Mars may come this close is in 2287.

Share this with your friends as NO ONE ALIVE TODAY will ever see it again .

This of course, is a viral email. A viral “meme” if you will. Anyone who knows anything about anything will read this, and if they think about it more than 2 seconds, they’ll realize it’s a load of hogwash. Mars is NEVER as big in the sky as the moon, it usually looks like a small red star it’s so far away.

But I suspect, my Mom didn’t even really read this email. Which means she fell right into it’s trap. She skimmed it, and sent it to me, because “He likes astronomy and stuff”. The virus had achieved it’s goal, it reproduced one more time.

However, when it got to me, I read it skeptically, like I do everything. I washed my hands, and it killed it. This virus wouldn’t spread past me.

Critical thinking is something you have to do always, and you have to practice it, because it doesn’t come natural. Just like washing your hands, it should become a habit.


Little Rock gets it’s own "Beware of Dogma" sign.

In Uncategorized on December 24, 2008 at 5:36 am

Earlier today I received an email from the Arkansas Freethinker’s mailing list written by Lee Wood Thomas. 
It looks like our little burg of Little Rock, Arkansas has gotten one of the FFRF’s “Beware of Dogma” signs.

Reasons Greetings Everyone,
Lately I have not been emailing the group, but I thought this was worth the exception.
Earlier today I was interviewed by Fox 16 regarding our “Beware Of Dogma” billboard
that’s up now next to the Main Street bridge traveling from Little Rock’s River Market
heading into North Little Rock. The reporter told me that the story would run at 5:30 and
9pm tonight, Tuesday. I just saw the tail end of the 5:30 piece and it seemed as if
it was the lead story, which is great. I wanted to tip you all off in order that you may
tune in during the 9pm broadcast to catch it, or even set your DVR’s.
The official press release from the FFRF was issued today, which is officially HumanLight
and Festivus, I also issued the local press our own release stating our intentions for
erecting this billboard.
If you were unable to attend this last weekend’s HumanLight celebration but would like
to have your picture taken with others from this group, the FFRF has sent out postcards
announcing that we will gather (again) this coming Saturday at noon for another group
photo. We will gather in the US Bank parking lot at the foot of the main street bridge
in North Little Rock. It’s right in between where Main Street forks apart it’s north and
south bound traffic.

After a bit of searching, it looks like FOX16 has posted it on their website.

DayPortPlayer.newPlayer({articleID:”70868″,bannerAdConDefID:”96″,videoAdObjectID:”95″,videoAdConDefID:”35″,playVideoAds:”true”,autoPlay:”true”,accPos:”CCTVI.VIDEO.LOCAL”,accSite:”KLRT”,rootCategory:”0″,playerInstanceID:”27574A89-06D1-CD92-4444-22719C5099EC”,domain:”video.fox16.com”});

Story Here

Below are some links to other stories on the sign.

Arkansas News

Arkansas Times

Creationism in the Classroom. This is what I was afraid of.

In Uncategorized on May 22, 2008 at 2:11 pm

I’ve been thinking for a while now that evolution isn’t being taught in an appropriate manner in school classrooms. I based this on the fact that when I was in high school back in the late eighties, we got almost no coverage of the topic in biology class. Well, now we have evidence in the form of a survey funded by the NSF. Here’s some choice quotes.

The research, funded by the National Science Foundation, also revealed that between 12 percent and 16 percent of the nation’s biology teachers are creationists, and about one in six of them have a “young Earth” orientation, which means they believe that human beings were created by God in their present form within the past 10,000 years.

The majority of teachers spend no more than five hours on human evolution.

Only 23 percent of teachers strongly agreed that evolution is the unifying theme for their biology or life sciences courses, though the majority of teachers see evolution as essential to high school biology.

This seems to mirror my experience in my High School. Now, I wonder what is the solution to this problem? Should we be firing teachers who teach creationism or intelligent design in class? Even if we did that, that doesn’t help promote the teaching of evolution, they could simply skip both evolution and creationism. I wonder if there’s room for a public watchdog group? Could this group make surprise visits to biology classrooms to make sure evolution is being taught? Would that even be allowed?

I don’t have the answer, but I would like to do something about this problem. I think the proper teaching of evolution would go a long way to removing fundamentalism from religion in the United States. It’s also becoming very important for the financial well-being of the United States, as bio-tech becomes more and more important.

Follow the link for the full story from LiveScience.com

Creationism Creeps into U.S. Classrooms


First Freedom First Simulcast now online

In Uncategorized on April 8, 2008 at 11:25 am

The First Freedom First simulcast, hosted by Americans United for Separation of Church and State and the Interfaith Alliance, is now available online. I was lucky enough to see this in person in Little Rock, and we had a decent turnout, about 40 people. Now you can share this with other people and get the word out that we as Americans, regardless of our religion, or lack of religion are protected by the first amendment, and that this right is under attack by a certain segment of the religious population in this country.  The program was interesting, the token atheist representative was author Susan Jacoby, also Kevin Bacon and his band “The Bacon Brothers” did a couple of really good songs.

Take a look at the video and be sure to share it with others.

http://www.firstfreedomfirst.org/simulcast-event/watch/

Atheist Bible Study – The Second Creation Story

In Uncategorized on November 26, 2007 at 5:54 am

One of the things I found out in reading Genesis, was that there are actually two creation stories. The first thing I noticed about the second one is that it seems to be written in a completely different style. It is almost as if the two stories were written by different people, and were sort of “glued” together to form the beginning of Genesis.

The second story does not follow the “7 days” approach to creation of the world, but instead quickly goes through the creation of the earth and the heavens, the animals and plants, and creation of Adam from the “dust of the ground”. He also does the trick of making Eve our of Adam’s rib. No messing about here, as the point of this story seems to be what happens AFTER creation.

Once man and woman are created in the Garden (naked mind you, this will be important later), the “serpent” shows up. It also tells us that God made the serpent. The serpent tells us that God told Adam and Eve not to eat from a particular tree in the garden, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. So I’m going to assume that Adam and Eve do NOT know the difference between good and evil at this point. So the snake tempts Eve and she eats the fruit. So my first question is… how is Eve “tempted”? I mean, she has no idea what is ‘good’ or ‘evil’. In fact, here we see something that seems to conflict.. The bible says…

So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate.

So wait. She doesn’t know what is good, but she can see that it’s “good” for food, and that it is a “delight” to the eyes? Isn’t that seeing the difference between good and evil? Let’s take an apple for instance. We KNOW that an apple is pleasing to the eyes, and tastes good. In fact, BECAUSE an apple tastes good, we find images of apples pleasing. If we had no idea if an apple was good for you, or poison, we would have no opinion about the “goodness” or “badness” of an apple, the exact same state that Adam and Eve find themselves. They have no idea if eating the apple is a good thing or a bad thing. They know that God told them not too.. but how do they know God is good? How do they know the snake is evil? The point I’m trying to make here is that Adam and Eve cannot be held responsible for eating the fruit. If God doesn’t give them the knowledge of good and evil, then they would not know how to behave at all. They wouldn’t know who to believe or not believe. So, whose fault is it? Sounds to me like God can take the blame here, or maybe the snake… but God created the snake… it says so right in the scripture:

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal hat the Lord God had made.

I guess the question becomes, is “crafty” a good thing or a evil thing? Why would God make such a crafty creature? Why would God create beings that cannot know the difference between right and wrong and then tell them NOT to do something? It seems like entrapment to me.

So anyway, Eve eats the fruit, then gives it to Adam who eats it as well. Then God gets all pissed (did he not know this was going to happen?) and throws them out of the garden. He also curses the snake and tells it “upon your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat”. This is plain weird, as I have no idea why snakes should eat “dust”. As far as I know, they don’t do that.

He also gives women pain in childbirth (could they have children painlessly before this?), and kicks them out of the garden otherwise they might now “eat from the tree of life and live forever”.

Is God worried man will become as powerful as God if he lives forever? How can God be worried, isn’t he all powerful and all knowing?

Another curious notion is that Adam and Eve now suddenly realize that they are “naked” and they are ashamed and hide from God. Why is nakedness so important?

Now, during all of this, I haven’t even mentioned the biggest question I have about this story. I can sum it up like this; Do you really believe this happened? But this is really most atheist’s biggest problem with the Bible in general. We just don’t believe that this stuff happened the way it is described. I hope that all of posts don’t devolve into this, but so far it’s not looking good. The next stories I’ll be writing about are the Cain and Able story and then it’ll be on to Noah and the Flood.

So, Christians, do you REALLY believe this stuff actually happened? Is this a huge parable or metaphor for something else? If so, I’d sure like to know what, as it seems fairly obfuscated.

Highlights from Hemant’s talk at Harding University

In Uncategorized on October 29, 2007 at 2:38 pm

Last night at Harding University, my wife and I attended Hemant Mehta‘s talk. For those who don’t know, Harding University is a Christian College sponsored by the Church of Christ.

Hemant’s talk drew a fairly large crowd, I think it even surprised him. His talk was very engaging, and presented in Hemant’s unique ‘friendly’ non-confrontational style, which is one of the things I admire about him.

After the talk, one of the professors from the university, Monte Cox, had a ‘discussion’ with Hemant, however it seemed more like an impromptu debate to me. He asked some good questions for the most part, but some of his questions seemed as though he was really grilling Hemant. He was asking some pretty heavy handed philosophy questions to Hemant. I felt this was a little out of line, since the professor had read Hemant’s book and should have realized it isn’t a heavy book on the philosophies surrounding the atheism/theism debate. I feel Hemant is more the “everyman” of the atheist world, He is not Dan Dennet, Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris. Hemant is more down to earth and this professor should have realized that and asked some questions that were more on topic.

Then they opened up the floor to questions. Some of these were typical of what you would expect. There was an old man who asked him the “747 question”. Some questions were much better questions, like a gentleman who works with kids in special education and asked about “purpose” and “meaning” in life. I think Hemant handled these questions well.

The best part of the night in my opinion was actually after the talk. Several students came up to talk with Hemant and ask him questions. Among these were a group of Harding students on the more “liberal” or “moderate” side of Christianity. These students were more interesting in having a dialogue. Most of these were already familiar with the basics of atheist thought. After the talk, these students, Hemant, my wife and I went across the street to a small coffee shop and sat in the cold drinking coffee and having some of the best dialogue I’ve ever had with Christians.

However, it was obvious to me that these students were the minority at Harding. One student, John, commented as the night came to a close that he was glad he got to talk about some of these issues because if he spoke about these things in school, he would probably get kicked out.

This made me realize something. We atheists have something in common with these moderate Christians. The fear we sometimes feel when in places where fundamentalist conservative Christians are in high numbers, is the exact same fear these students feel. The same fear of speaking up and speaking your mind. The fear of free thought and inquiry. In the U.S., especially in the southern United States, freethought, skepticism, doubts and other such “virtues” of the skeptic, humanists and atheists, is severely repressed. I respect and admire these students for what they were saying. I would proudly call them “freethinkers” a label I usually only reserve for atheists.

I’d like to thank my new friends, for a wonderfully engaging night of discussion. I hope we can do it again sometime.

Here’s a link to Hemant’s write up of the night:

Friendly Atheist » Highlights from Harding University

Friendly Atheist in my neck of the woods

In Uncategorized on October 25, 2007 at 1:31 pm

Hemant Mehta, known as the “friendly atheist” and author of the book “I sold my soul on ebay”, will be speaking at Harding University in my home state of Arkansas. My wife and I plan to attend.

I’ll be speaking about the book at Harding University (a Christian college) in Searcy, Arkansas (about 50 miles north-east of Little Rock) this Sunday evening in the Heritage Building’s Cone Chapel at 7:00 p.m. (local time).

The event is free to the public!

More information can be found on Facebook.

Atheist Bible Study – In the Beginning…

In Uncategorized on October 18, 2007 at 5:49 am

I’ve finally begun my reading of the Bible. So far the biggest problem has been finding time to actually sit down and read some. I’ve made it about half way through Genesis so far. Remember that I’m trying to read this critically, so this will probably be slow going. I’ll be taking each “story” so to speak and posting my reactions to it. Trying to post something on an entire book probably won’t work (except for maybe some of the shorter books).

So, on to the first post!

Genesis – The creation stories

Everyone knows this stuff right? Well, I thought I knew all about this, but I’ve discovered lots of stuff I never saw before in reading the accounts of creation this time through. Truthfully, in my church this stuff was only talked about when I was really little in Sunday school, and then it wasn’t from the Bible directly. We used to have Bible study booklets we read out of. Also, since this happened when I was a child, there wasn’t much questioning going on, after all at this age I still believed in Santa Claus too.

One thing I didn’t realize, is that the Bible contains two accounts of creation. The first one is the one that starts with “In the beginning”. Most people are tangentially familiar with this one. It’s the one that takes place over seven days. So I’ll talk a bit about each one, posting my impressions. At the end of this, I’ll posit some questions I have.

Account #1

Right off the bat I’ve found something peculiar about this one. And it’s not even the seven day thing, although that in itself is a can of worms. It’s this bit in the 6th verse:

And God said, “Let there be a dome in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the water from the waters. So God made the dome and separated the waters that were under the dome from the waters that were above the dome. And it was so. God called the dome Sky. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day

Okay. Dome? I’ve looked this up, and in some translations this is “expanse” or “gap” or “firmament”. This sounds an awful lot to me like flat earth stuff, with a dome representing the sky. Which is what you would expect from a mythology this old. The thing that really threw me for a loop was this idea of waters ABOVE the dome. What the heck are they talking about? My best guess is this. I try to imagine what it would be like to not know about the earth being round, or that the sky isn’t a dome. Well, it LOOKS like a dome. And it’s blue during the day. Perhaps they thought the reason the sky was blue, was because there was water “up there”. If you stand looking at a lake or ocean, the water appears blue, so perhaps this is where the idea comes from. Let’s continue, there’s another clue I found.

And God said, “Let there be lights in the dome of the sky to separate the day from the night.

Wait, didn’t I mention? God creates day and night on the first day, but waits until the fourth day to create the Sun and Moon. Now some people might say “First contradiction!”. But I rather don’t. What I see is this… Isn’t it possible that these early people saw the day and the night being separate from the Sun and Moon? After all, if you’ve ever watched a sunrise you’ll know that it starts getting light WAY before you ever see the sun. And the Moon isn’t related to day and night at all, as it is up sometime in the daytime. This ties in with this “water above” business. The blue of the sky has NOTHING to do with the Sun in these people’s minds, it’s blue because in the daytime, the sky is blue, because of the water above it. At least that how it seems to me.

This account continues with more of the same strangeness, talking about creating all the beasts, etc. Then he creates Adam.

So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them, male and female he created them

So, there are some footnotes here.

The translators here have taken liberties. It says in Hebrew, that “humankind” is “adam” and “them” is “him”. But of course, this wouldn’t make much sense if it said it created him and then said he “male and female he created them”. It just doesn’t read well. But, if this is truly the translation of the Hebrew, why is the text being changed?

Since this post is a bit long, I’ll stop here and post my thoughts on Account #2 later.

I’ll skip right to questions I have. Christians and Atheists are welcome to chime in with comments and answers.

Questions

1. Do a majority of Christians believe in the seven days thing? If so, how do you explain that? If you are a Christian who believes in Evolution, how do you reconcile that with the seven days thing?

2. Does this account indeed show that these people believed in a flat earth? And if this is written from that point of view, what does that say about it being the “Word of God”?

3. Why does God have to “rest” on the seventh day? Can omnipotent beings get “tired”?

4. And finally, If you are a Christian and you take this story to be only figurative and not literal, then what is the point of this story? What is the point of it talking about details such as the water above and below? In essence, why is this even in your book?

Bible Quest – An atheist goes to the christian bookstore

In Uncategorized on September 29, 2007 at 1:40 am

Well, I’m on my way to my project to read the whole bible from cover to cover. I’d first like to thank everyone for all the suggestions on what bible to get. After reading all the comments on my blog and over at Hemant’s blog http://friendlyatheist.com, I’ve decided to pick the New Revised Standard Version. However, I will be using the excellent parallel bible online I found at http://bible.cc to cross reference translations when I have questions.

So, last night, my wife and I went to Mardel’s Christian bookstore. Why did we go to a Christian bookstore, when we could have went to Barnes and Noble instead? I’m not sure actually, I think my wife thought it would be interesting, or, painful for me, or something. Anyway, once inside Mardel’s, we were faced with an entire wall full of bibles. I would say 1/3 of the wall was KJV, and another third was NIV. Where was the NRSV you say? That’s the interesting part.. the other third was “Other Bibles” . They had exactly 3, count ’em, 3 copies of the NRSV. I’m confused as to why this bookstore didn’t have more copies of this translation, maybe a Christian can post in the comments and explain it. Anyway, I settled on a modestly priced ($12.99) NRSV by Hendrickson Bibles, (in conjunction with Oxford University Press). This copy also includes the Apocrypha which should be interesting.

Anyway, I hope to start reading soon. I’m going to get a notebook so I can take notes as I go. Hopefully it won’t be too long until my first post.

The Atheist Bible Study Project

In Uncategorized on September 25, 2007 at 4:25 pm

A few weeks ago, my wife and I were discussing religion, in particular Christianity. We were talking about our experiences in the church and how we became Atheists. We came to the realization that since I grew up in the Methodist church, a relatively liberal denomination, that I actually hadn’t read as much of the Bible as my wife had. In all the bible study I had ever been in, the lessons were carefully chosen. So, she challenged me. I needed to read the whole thing. All the way through, cover to cover. So that’s what I plan to do. I’m going to be reading the Bible all the way through and posting about it on my blog as I go. I’ll be talking about my impressions, and the questions I have as I go. Feel welcome to respond in the comments, atheists and theists a-like are welcome.

Before I start however, I come to an important question. Which version of the Bible to read? There are lots of translations, so it might be difficult to choose. I could go with the most common one, the KJV. I asked an Episcopal friend of mine, and he suggested the New Revised Standard Version, but I’m wary of that, as the NRSV and some other newer translations contain “gender neutral” language, which I feel isn’t a very good way to do a proper translation of the text.

So, what Bible should I read? I’d love to hear from Christians and Atheists about which one. I’ll try to make a decision soon , because I’m kind of excited (and a little daunted) about starting this project.