Tuesday, October 27, 2009

This video will stifle thinking

I'm sure some people will find the title offensive, but hear me out--or don't. I'm not sure I care at this point. If I don't lose a couple of friends on Facebook after this, I'll be surprised, but my hope is that I can tell my side of things without being limited to a few hundred characters on someone else's profile.


The above video offended me, but not half as much as the Facebook cause invitation that included it, nor as bad as part of the conversation with a friend of a friend after I commented the friend's post. Following me so far?

The cause that used this video as its rallying point was "Put Christ Back Into Schools". As an activist for the separation of state and church, this cause represents the opposition, and I definitely would never support it. The Founding Fathers saw religion as a matter of private conscience, not to be entangled with the state. James Madison, often called the Father of our Constitution, said on the subject: "Church and state must be kept separate to preserve the purity of both." He also labeled Catholicism the worst form of government, since religion and state were intertwined. He was not opposed to Christianity; in the same letter where he criticized the Catholic church, he labeled Christianity "the greatest religion"; he just thought it should be separate from government.

Many of our Founders were only nominally Christian--definitely not of the fundamentalist variety (Patrick Henry, a fundamentalist, was not invited to the Constitutional Convention, and Noah Webster had not yet converted), and the signers of our Constitution were overwhelmingly for separation of state and church. They only included mentions of religion in the Constitution to exclude it from government. In Article VI, they mandated that religious tests would be forbidden for "any office under the United States." They created the Free Exercise Clause, which must necessarily guarantee both the right to free exercise of religion and the right to opt out. They also included the Establishment Clause, which prohibits Congress from creating laws respecting the establishment of religion. The Fourteenth Amendment applied the Constitution's guarantees of rights to the States.

Schools are state institutions. As such, the state cannot use them to show favoritism to a particular religion. They cannot establish Christianity as the official religion to be taught in schools, and it would not be to the benefit of anyone to do so. There is no religious sect in the United States that represents a majority of citizens. Catholics represent the largest sect, but they fall short of twenty percent of this country's population. They used to exceed the numbers of Southern Baptists and nonbelievers, but given the loss of congregants after the pedophilia scandal in recent years, they may be closing that gap. Nonbelievers represented the third largest religious identity in the United States as of the American Religious Identification Survey of 2001, and follow-up surveys confirm that their numbers--our numbers, because I am among them--are growing. If we had the organization and enthusiasm of the religious folk, we'd be a political force in this country.

We nonbelievers pay taxes, just like the rest of you. Chances are, since we're statistically more likely to have college degrees and higher incomes, we're actually paying higher property taxes than you, as well, which means we are supporting the schools to a greater degree. Imagine our dismay when Christians want to put religion into the schools! My question to these Christians is: which religion do you teach? You do not believe the same way. Do you teach the contextualism of the Catholics, or the fundamentalism of the Southern Baptists or Pentecostals? There are several versions of the Bible; which one do you use in the curriculum? Any answer you give will displease someone, and chances are that the someone will be a Christian of a different stripe.

I live in the Detroit Metro area. This area has a large Muslim population, mostly to the south of the city. My part of the Metro area has a large Jewish population. Where do these populations fit into the picture of putting "Christ back into schools"? These aren't small populations of people, but they are much smaller than the population of nonbelievers. We nonbelievers represent one in seven people, most of whom will apparently only admit it to pollsters. We're coming out of the closet in greater numbers, largely due to socializing on the Internet, planning face-to-face meetings through email and various websites, and the courage of a few outspoken activists who don't mind being in the public eye. We have long been persecuted, and when we do speak out, the opposition often tries to shout us down. I was told by a Clawson, Michigan City Council member, "We don't need your particular brand of non-religion in our community." I had that message in email, and I kick myself daily for not printing it and handing it to the Detroit Free Press. After 90 minutes of deliberation and more atheist voices present than Christian, the Rochester Hills City Council decided to go forward with a religious display in one of their public buildings, based largely on a survey done by a fundamentalist Christian radio station, WMUZ (that couldn't be biased, could it?). We meet with all sorts of insults and demands for us to shut up, but I'm not shutting up. I have every right to opt out religion.

What bothers me most about this sort of campaign involves the expressions of persecutions Christians voice because they can't have their religion taught in public schools. Religious people have 350,000 churches (approximately) in the United States, representing 1200 Christian sects alone, let alone Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Shinto, and other sects in this country. Nonbelievers outnumber all but two of your 1200 sects, but since we're not as organized, we often find ourselves alone when challenging things that force our children into indoctrination.

Okay, I'm going to go back to the video for a second and get it out of the way. The video is a flash representation of an email that began circulating on the Internet in 1996, according to Snopes.com. I first received it in my inbox in 1998. The story contained in the video has some additional comments at the end, and I'll get to those, but basically, the video is the classing straw man fallacy. It creates a scenario that wouldn't happen in reality, then knocks it down with faux inspiration. There is an evil atheists professor, or at least a right bastard, whose "goal" is to make everyone into a nonbeliever by the end of this required course. It's a philosophy class with 300 people in it, which is amazing to me, given the size of my philosophy classes at Kent State, which doesn't have a small student body. I had that many in my Biological Principles class, and more than that in both my Psychology and Sociology courses, but in Philosophy? It's a general education elective that not as many students take as the alternatives. In any case, the "hero" of the story is this Christian freshman who has to take the class for his major. That's also amazing, since a core course at the freshman level is usually just a prerequisite, and won't go into anything like apologetics or metaphysics, other than to go over them briefly to get students acquainted with the material.

So our "hero" basically prays every day of the semester that his faith won't be shaken, no matter what anyone says. What bothers me about this behavior is that even well-known apologists (e.g., Thomas Aquinas) encouraged people to think about their beliefs critically--to question everything. If this course was required for this freshman, chances are that his major was actually Philosophy (forgetting of course that it's an urban legend with roots that go back many years before the Internet), so going into the major with no desire to think critically about faith seems like an exercise in futility.

Here are my several problems with this video:
  • No professor should ever belittle the religious beliefs of students. At the very least, it invites lawsuits; at worst, it violates not only university policy, but also state laws.
  • A student whose beliefs have been belittled should stand up for himself or herself; I would go right to the Dean if a professor had been belittling atheists for choosing not to believe.
  • It's a completely unrealistic story that's being passed off as true. "Thou shalt not bear false witness" comes to mind here.
  • After the video is where the real problems begin. First, it tells people to pass it to everyone they know, which makes it a chain letter, and therefore undesirable on email servers everywhere. Second, it asks people to pass on a blatant LIE as fact.
  • The video asks: "Isn't it funny how simple it is for people to trash God and then wonder why the world's going to hell[?]" I found this statement offensive, because this video is essentially blaming nonbelievers for everything wrong with the world. It's also claiming that the "world is going to hell", but there has never been a time when it wasn't, really. Things were worse during the Great Depression. Children who went to school for the first several decades after the bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki lived in fear of nuclear holocaust. Nazi Germany and Communist Russia were no picnic. The Dark Ages were full of war, persecution of everyone the Church didn't like, disease, famine...every time had its disasters and problems. We live in the most exciting--and scary--time in human history. We have a choice regarding whether to make things better or not--and it's not the Atheists getting in the way of it. Scientists are overwhelmingly in the Atheist or Agnostic categories, as are college professors. These aren't people who make war or plot to steal from unsuspecting first-time homebuyers. These are the people who educate others and invent things.
  • Next, we get: "Isn't it funny how we believe what the newspapers say, but question what the Bible says?" Well, no, that's not peculiar at all. Newspapers have pictures to back up what they say, and I'm still skeptical of the print. Newspapers do get it wrong sometimes, but they are reporting on what's happening in the here and now; they're not our only source, after all, and we can check their information against other newspapers, online sources, and television. I prefer to rely on NPR, C-SPAN, and the actual words of the named sources for my information. If I read a report on a major court decision, I can read the actual decision online after a simple Google search. As for the Bible, we're talking about different versions (the Catholic, the King James, or the NIV? Which one?), and we're talking about self-contradictory, Bronze Age myth, full of magical, mystical, miracles. Am I supposed to believe that a virgin gave birth to a baby boy, that a man walked on water, and that another man survived a few days in the belly of a sea creature without being digested? Am I to believe that there was no other way to get rid of all of the wicked humans in Noah's time than flooding the entire planet, taking all of the innocent animals with it? Am I to understand that all of the babies of all of the wicked adults were, themselves, wicked? We could go into my many issues with the Bible, but I need more than a blog entry--unless it's a novel-length blog entry.
  • "Isn't it funny how everyone wants to go to heaven, provided they do not have to believe, think, say, or do anything the Bible says? Or is it scary?" Okay, there is a law someone just brought up to me today regarding rape victims. If a girl who is not already engaged is raped, the rapist (if caught) must pay the girl's father a fine, then marry the girl and never get divorced. That's in the Bible, along with a large number of laws we don't follow today. There's another law that says if you have a drunken, unruly son, you are to take him to the elders and have him put to death by stoning. There is still another law that makes women unclean for three weeks out of the month, basically. Women are unclean for twice as long when they have female babies as when they have males. In the New Testament, women aren't allowed to teach in the church. Do you really want to go there? I'm not saying there's no good stuff in the Bible--Jesus had some good things to say (none of them original to his teaching, except the doctrine of hell)--but even Jesus commanded his followers to hate their families if they don't believe. I'm so glad my family doesn't hate me. By the way, those of us who don't believe in the concept of heaven don't have a desire to go there.
  • "Isn't it funny how someone can say, 'I believe in God,' but still follow Satan?" Huh? I don't say I believe in any god, and I definitely don't follow Satan--I don't have a believe in him, either.
  • "Isn't it funny how you can send a thousand jokes through e-mail and they spread like wildfire, but when you start sending messages regarding the Lord, people think twice about sharing?" Yeah, well, sometimes you get these emails in your inbox at work, and you don't think it's very professional to pass them on--or, at least, that's what should cross one's mind when receiving emails like this at work...but that's where I first saw this message. Even if you're not at work, you should understand that not everyone believes as you do, and you may offend someone who had no quarrel with you in the past. You have a right to your beliefs, but your right to believe ends where it gets pushed onto me. Do you think I've never had Christianity shared with me? The person who sent me the invitation went to Catholic school with me. What she doesn't know is that I gave up Catholicism even before I entered college, and that I sought out Christianity in different forms until I realized that it was all myth, no different from any other mythology I had studied in the past. I did tons of research, and I read the Bible twenty-seven times, cover to cover, in a few different versions, with thousands of references back to various verses over nearly two decades of discussion and debate with Christians. Reading the Bible for comprehension was probably the single biggest contributor to my rejection of faith.
  • "Isn't it funny how the lewd, crude, vulgar, and obscene pass freely through cyberspace, but the public discussion of Jesus is suppressed in the school and the workplace?" Now, this argument represents the logical fallacy known as the "red herring"; it misdirects the attention of the reader away from the real issue. News flash: the "lewd, crude, vulgar, and obscene" do not circulate at work or school--or they shouldn't. You can get in big trouble circulating material like that through either of these places. By the way, if you think the Bible is free from these things, you have not--HAVE NOT--read it. There's sex, genital mutilation, incest, genocide, animal sacrifice--it's full of blood, violence, and mature sexual content. Reader discretion is advised. It's not what you've seen on television.
  • "Isn't it funny how someone can be so fired up for Christ on Sunday, but be an invisible Christian for the rest of the week?" Wasn't there something in the New Testament that went something like, "Pray not on the street corner as the Pharisees do; nay, pray ye in the closet, that is in secret." Also, wasn't there something about living by example? In any case, I have no problem with you living the example of the Jesus character in the Bible, but I do have a problem with you shoving it in my face constantly, as if no one has ever done that before in my 19 years as an Atheist (16 out of the closet--well, 9 to my immediate family, but 16 to my friends and co-workers).
  • "Isn't it funny how when you go to tell someone this, you won't, because you're not sure what they believe, or what they will think of you for telling them?" Okay, here's the deal: if I was bashing your religion, which I haven't before this invitation came to me, I could understand you standing up for it, but what this video is asking you to do is some unsolicited, unwelcome preaching. That's very different from standing up to persecution (and you Christians are so very far from persecuted in this country--try walking a mile in an Atheist's shoes--and an outspoken, out-of-the-closet one, not someone hiding in the closet). Never mind that what you're passing on is a complete fabrication.
  • "Isn't it funny how I can be more worried about what other people think of me than what God thinks of me?" And here's where we come to why I don't like evangelical Christianity: there is no empathy involved here. You have no consideration whatsoever for other people; you can't live and let live. You could very easily live the example of Jesus, only sharing when people ask you about your faith, or you could post your profile comments and inspirational (to you and other friends of yours) messages, but to actively pursue me to join a cause that you know--or should know--that I won't support, then proceed to tell me how we all need faith, how our children need faith--that's another thing altogether. I live fine without faith, thank you very much.

People probably think I shouldn't be offended by this video, and you know what? I would have ignored it completely if it hadn't been for the invitation to join the cause. In any case, it got worse after I commented. I sent a private message to the person who invited me, but then I posted a reply to another friend's post. Here are the points brought forward, and the counterpoints to them:

"This was a video to give people the chance to think about what they believe in...real or not, it makes a good point."

If the point is to stand up for yourself when others put you down, fine, but that's not the only point that was made, and some of the other points were quite offensive to me.

"...that is fine we all have our own beliefs..."

And yet, you posted a video that invites people to preach to others, not bothering to care at all what they think--that's the same kind of bullying the fictional atheist professor was engaging in during the story.

"My beliefs are VERY STRONG, as I'm sure everyone elses are...no matter what they are!!! MAY GOD BLESS YOU ALL."

Actually, I live without faith. I don't find it to be a value. It's arbitrary. Some people have faith that includes discrimination against homosexuals. Some have faith that interracial marriage is a sin. I can't respect that kind of faith, and I don't see faith itself as a value. I consider the actual values you practice as the measure of your character, not simply what you state your faith to be, because faith not only is it as varied as believers are, but it is also not always consistent with a person's actions. The parting shot wasn't exaclty welcome, either, but it wasn't offensive as, say, blaming Atheists for the "world going to hell".

Enter a friend of the friend, to whose post I replied. She finds the video unrealistic, too, but still thinks it's a video to get people thinking. I disagree wholeheartedly; I think it's a video to get people to act without thinking. I think the main message of the video is to tell people to preach their Christianity to other people without consideration of the beliefs of others--even the differing beliefs of other Christians.

The friend of a friend goes on: "This country was founded by Christians, who believed that people have the right to practice their personal beliefs and religions without persecution...and to protect you in your beliefs as an atheist."

Atheism isn't a belief, but a rejection of it. I digress.

"The majority of the people of this country do believe in a god, so why should the majority suffer because of the minority?"

Suffer? Suffer?! Are you kidding? You have strong social networks, you have churches, you have your own houses; you can meet anywhere outside of work or school; you could preach from the streetcorner legally, and yet you want to have a captive audience to whom to preach your beliefs. That's what you have in the workplace and in the schools. Why should I be subjected to your preaching where I work? I'm there to do my job, not to worship with you. Why should my child be indoctrinated into your faith, or even bother learning about it, when she's only five and can't understand it? You are welcome to teach your own kids what you want, but leave mine alone.

Also, as I've pointed out, you are in a minority sect, no matter which sect is yours, from Catholic to Seventh Day Adventist, from Lutheran to Pentecostal, from Episcopalian to Presbyterian, you are in a minority. Whose religion do you propose we put into the schools? It's either going to be some generic, watered-down version that trivialized what you actually believe, or it's going to offend more than just the Atheist parents. Most separation lawsuits--I may be repeating myself here, but it bears repeating--have been brought forward by religious parents of students who were part of a captive audience at school.

"Maybe it shouldn't be taught at school, but kids should not be punished for praying at school either!!!"

Um...if they are disruptive to the learning process, they most certainly should be. They can pray silently at any time. "Pray not on the street corner..." They can pray at home, they can pray at church, they can pray before and after school, and at during lunch. Why do you want them to pray aloud and have everyone join in with their ritual? News flash: students who want to do this are in the minority. We had them in two of the three high schools I attended, and they were a small group in both cases. Most people thought they were too self-righteous to hang around.

"I know my next comment will upset you and I truly mean no disrespect, but what is so wrong with your children being exposed to spirituality?"

My child has autism. Exposing her to spirituality is like exposing her to nuclear physics; she won't understand it and won't bother with any part of it, except as part of maybe a scripted act. Even if she was neurotypical, I would not want her exposed to religion any more than she already is. I don't care if she sees someone praying, but getting her to join in is reprehensible to me, until she can comprehend what's going on and decide for herself. If she does decide to embrace faith, I want her to be thinking for herself, not having someone else do the thinking for her.

"They should be able to make their own decisions, especially when they become adults."

Do your children live without rules? I doubt it. In my house, no one is exposed to religion unless they can first comprehend it.

"I am not mad at you for being an atheist and I would never insult you, I just feel sad that you do not seem to be open-minded regarding it. You don't have to believe, but I am tired of the minority wanting to have God's name removed from so many things because of the minority!!! That is not right, either. Maybe next time, just delete, if you are tired of seeing it...that is what I do, or turn the channel, etc. God Bless you."

Do you realize that "God Bless you" is actually insulting to Atheists? In any case, I do not have an open mind to exposing my five-year-old daughter to something she cannot possibly understand at her age and with her special needs. I did approach religion with an open mind, and I came to the conclusion that it's not for me. If and when my daughter does get to the point where she is an independent thinker, I hope she learns everything she can about everything she wants to learn about--I'm not going to restrict her exposure then. At this point, it would just be imitated acts and scripted speech--does that qualify as spirituality in your mind? I doubt it.

As far as having your god's name removed from things: do you realize that the Pledge of Allegiance and our paper currency didn't have "God" until the anti-communist hysteria of the 1950s? That's right: in 1954, when McCarthyism was in full swing and religiosity was equated with patriotism, "God" was added to the Pledge ("under God" was not part of the original) and to our paper money (it was added to the coins in the latter part of the 19th century, but by a stealth maneuver on the part of two members of the National Reform Association, a group that failed to add an acknowledgement to Jesus to the Constitution).

This post wasn't as insulting as the next from this friend of a friend. I'm not going to go through the whole next post from the person who sent me the invitation. I just want to comment on one part of it:

"...for those who don't believe that's fine too...just don't try and change my beliefs either..."

Have I ever sent you an invitation to an Atheist event? Have I ever tried to go over my problems with the Bible before now? Have I ever posted a link on my profile that indicated that I thought religion should be abolished, that you're a fool for believing, or anything of the sort? Have I ever invited you to join a cause that had to do with Atheism? No. Why? Because I figured I'd respect your right to believe as you do. It's obvious that you find your faith important in your own life, and I can deal with the posts regarding your own opinions or feelings on the matter, but when you invite me to join a cause that clearly rolls over atheists and their children, how do you expect me to react?

This next bit is where it gets really offensive to me. The friend of the friend steps back in:

"Greg, is there a particular reason why you don't believe in God? Is that to [sic] personal to share? Sometimes I am ashamed of myself, because I do not proclaim Christ as my savior enough. I resent people thinking that my belief in Christ is some sort of crutch, or an ignorance...or that I am a 'sheep' in a herd of blind mind control, fairytale, etc. I believe the Bible is the inspired word of God, and no I do not think anything was lost in translation, the Dead Sea Scrolls prove that. Greg, please do not be offended, I am not trying to change you...it's just tha tI have found most people that don't believe were 'abused' by someone with religion, etc. and of course being a Chrsitian, I would love for you to find the joy and love of God! plus, you kind of started it by disproving the truth in the video! :) Isn't this fun? lol"

I'm sure some atheists have insulted you, especially if you've argued with some online. I try to tell my fellow Atheists that ad hominem (personal) attacks do not help our reputation or help us to make our points; they only serve to make people angry and make us look angry ourselves. I have not insulted you. I have only pointed out that a video posted by two of my Facebook friends--that I would have, again, ignored if it weren't for an invitation to join a cause--was nothing but an urban legend. I find it incredibly odd that anyone would support the distribution of a video that passes off as fact something that is demonstrably false, but that aside, I did not, at any time, call any Christian a fool, part of a herd, ignorant, or anything else as part of the posts I made.

No, this is not fun for me, but I am making a stand because I want to make it clear why I'm offended. Telling me that most atheists you know have been "abused" by religion in some way belittles the intellectual journey many of us have undertaken to get to where we are, philosophically. It took many readings of the Bible, a great deal of research, a great deal of reflection, and many, many civil debates and discussions before I finally let go completely. I didn't want to reject my faith when I first understood the Bible to be fiction. I went to Bible studies. I sought preachers and people I found to be good examples of Christians. I went to various churches. It was inevitable, though: the more I read the Bible, the less believable it became, especially in light of extrabibilical research I'd done. The religion of the Hebrews was no different from that of any other surrounding culture, which made me wonder why the Hebrews considered them to be pagans or Gentiles. I found many contradictions, even within the same books of the Bible. I came to understand that even the evidence for a historical Jesus is flimsy at best. I don't go around trying to destroy the faith of others because of what I've found, but I expect others to leave me to my intellectual freedom.

The most common follow up questions are these two:

1) Then how did we get here?

I don't know. The difference between you and me is that you've created an answer or accepted an answer; you don't really know, either.

2) Where does your morality come from? The assumption here is that there can be no morality without gods--or, more specifically, the Christian god. I consider all gods to be myths.

My ethics come from empathy, which is innate in humans, as is altruism. We're an empathetic and altruistic species from an early age; we learn to go against this nature.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Hit and run comments

Here's a comment someone recently left regarding an older post entitled, "I wish Sarah Palin would just go away":

Anonymous said...
you are just afraid of her because she has good intentions and you and others
like you.who wont work and just want a handout are afraid that the handouts will
dry up..Ps she is not going away..........

I love that people who tell me I'm afraid of whatever it is I oppose and make their comments anonymously. Don't they see the irony?

No, Mr. or Ms. or Mrs. Anonymous, I am not at all afraid of Sarah Palin. I don't think she's electable. I just think she's utterly annoying and woefully ignorant. I don't know what "good" intentions you mean; she's a pro-censorship theocrat who wants to privatize all public services. She has a "Damn the environment and full speed ahead" attitude that isn't good for the world ecology. She hasn't a clue when it comes to foreign affairs, and she has gotten behind the secessionist movement in Alaska--which borders on treason, as far as I'm concerned. Nope, I am not afraid of her. I am disgusted by her, and even moreso by amount of attention she gets in the media. She is a non-story. Get over it. She's probably run in the primaries, but her primary run will fall flat on its face. Of that, I'm certain.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Be thankful that I have a job right now?

Warning: this post might make me sound like an arrogant person. I'm going to try to make my case without coming off as too self-centered, but I might not be able to pull it off. For that, I apologize in advance.

I can't tell you how many times I've been told to be thankful that I have a job since everyone finally realized that the economy is beginning to resemble the Great Depression. It bothers me every time I hear it for several reasons.

First, if it did not make business sense for my employer to keep me, I'd be gone. It's that simple. If I did not help to bring new revenue into the company, if I did not work to lock revenue in through technology offerings that can't be replaced easily or inexpensively, if I did not work hard enough to exceed expectations, it would make sense for my company to let me go. However, I fought hard to get this job in the first place. They rejected me. I worked to find out why, because my interviews went very well. It turned out that my employer at the time, who fired me because I was looking for another job, vindictively gave me a bad reference. I produced three new references for my employer, and I ended up with the job. I worked hard to get good at what I did, became a go-to person in my department in a matter of months, received a promotion in a few more, moved to the field, was promoted four years earier than the company standard for my position, and brought in many millions of dollars in new revenue for my company by helping to close business through the integrated technology solutions I offered.

Secondly, there's the implication in the statement, "Be thankful you have a job," that I should be thankful to some sort of deity for my employment. I have three problems with that notion. The first is that I am an Atheist, so I find it offensive on that level; why should I be thankful to something I consider a myth? The second is that no deity is doing my work for me; I am responsible for the excellent work I'm doing for my company. The third is that the responsibility for all of the unemployment that currently exists rests squarely on human beings, and telling me to be thankful to a deity for my job is taking that responsibility away from them. They need to be held accountable if they committed any wrongdoing, and the mistakes that they made that caused the current economic conditions need to be identified in full and corrected.

Finally, I worked my ass off to make myself stand out in my company. I went above and beyond with nearly every account I've touched, only refraining from doing so when the company had limitations on how I could implement their techonology--and even then, I provided excellent service. I pride myself on the job I do, and I wouldn't want to be associated with mediocre work. Now, that said, there is a scenario I can imagine where my company would get rid of my group altogether. I think they would be shooting themselves in the foot, and my colleagues in sales agree with me on that point. Even if it would happen: what? Am I supposed to be pissed off at someone because I don't have a job anymore? I would be, but it would be at the human beings who caused the mess in the first place.

I truly feel sympathy for the people who are currently unemployed, who are competing with so many people for the very few jobs that are out there right now. I have been unemployed and dirt poor, so I know how it feels. When it happened to me, I at least had minimum wage jobs available to me. Now, people are competing with hundreds of applicants for the same entry-level job. People are competing with a couple thousand applicants for professional and management positions. It's a grim situation, and I am sort of lucky I made the right decision to get with the right company when I did. The reality of the situation, though, is that I would still be able to find work in this harsh environment with my unique skill set. I wouldn't want to try; I'd rather keep my current position, but if I had to find something to do to survive, I could.

It is my assertion that anyone who is willing to be productive should be gainfully employed. The way to get to that point is through sound economic policy. We are responsible for coming up with that policy and enforcing it--we humans, and no one else.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

I've changed my mind about Republicans shutting up

I wrote an entry some time ago, just after the election, about how Republicans should just shut up, because that's what they told us Democrats to do after the elections of 2000 and 2004.

Now, I've changed my mind.

Please, please, please keep talking, Republicans. The entertainment value is overwhelmingly abundant and wildly, hysterically funny.

With Michelle Bachmann, Glenn Beck, and Michael Savage out there spewing conspiracy theory nonsense, with Limbaugh putting his foot in his mouth and Gingrich following suit, you're making 2012 that much easier.

And you have my full support in your willingness to run that farce of a candidate, Sarah Palin, again. As much as I really hate to see her in the news (she is so freaking annoying), I will take the splitting headaches just to watch your efforts go down in flames again.

Look, I'm going to be serious for a second. If you really want to be a viable party, if you want to be the party I thought I was voting for when I voted for George H.W. Bush (how wrong I was), then you have to get rid of the religious lunatics in your leadership. You have to get rid of the conspiracy theorists and the lying, hateful conservative talkers. You have to get rid of the free market ideologists and start engaging in capitalism with rational controls and protections for labor. You do not have to become Democrats, but you do have to get rid of the uncompromising ideology.

This country is not conservative. You did not lose because you weren't conservative enough, as some people would have you believe. You lost because you RUINED THE COUNTRY. That's right. You voted in irrational ideologues who had no business having access to the Treasury, who had no business deciding science policy, who had no business legislating their religion on us, who had no business passing bills of attainder (Terri Schiavo ring a bell), and you expect us to care when you throw your stupid little tea bag parties, where you whine and cry about how you're getting taxed unfairly? Most of the people at those parties received a tax cut under Obama's plan, and the only people whose taxes were raised had them go up four percent. Boo-hoo. I'll take a four percent tax hike for my income to go up to $250,000 per year.

The bottom line is that the more the crazies howl and scream, the more the rational Republicans out there--and I know some personally--will abandon them in favor of more compromise and more rational policy. There is nothing wrong with being fiscally conservative; I don't want the country to spend more money than it takes in, either. My problem with these recent protests is that all the protesters were nowhere to be found when Bush and the Republican-controlled Congress put us into that first ten trillion dollars worth of debt. They did nothing about it. Hypocrites.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Goodbye, Shadow

Last night, I had to put down the first dog I've ever had, Shadow. He was a good dog, and I'll miss him. Anyone who has had a dog in the family understands.

My first thought when I got up this morning was that Shadow wasn't going to be part of my daily routine anymore. I wouldn't be letting him out of his kennel to go outside. I wouldn't be filling the water dish for him; I wouldn't be feeding him.

Shadow loved getting the newspaper. We have had a newspaper box next to the mailbox since we moved into our new home last year, so it's rare that he was getting the paper anymore, but that's something he won't do again.

It's for the best. His quality of life wasn't good anymore and keeping him around would have been selfish of us. We tried to save our cat, Fritz, when he only had a fifty percent chance of pulling through with a liver problem, and after a lot of expense, the heartbreak came anyway, and Fritz suffered the whole time. I didn't want to put Shadow through it. His hind legs stopped working properly last night. Everything he loved to do--chasing squirrels, getting the paper, playing fetch--all depended on his legs. He had skin issues, and he'd been listless, as well.

I sat there with his head on my foot, as he had lain so many times during our down time every evening for so many years before this past year, knowing I had to put him down, not waivering in that decision, but hurting over it anyway.

My wife and I went together, and we both had our hands on him as he died.

I really couldn't have asked for a better dog. He was lively for so many years, but also very obedient. Somehow, he knew his yard's boundaries without anyone really showing him, ever since he was a puppy. He was a great watchdog for a long time. When he went to the vet, they let him have the run of the place.

I know lots of people have lost their animal companions and that my situation is not unique; I know plenty of people, including me, who have lost human family members recently, too. I just had to write about it a little.

In loving memory


pick of the litter

aka "Pouting Pooch"

aka "Crazy Pooch"

aka "Shadow Bear"

aka "Shadow-roo"

"Throw" was his favorite word.

"Go get it" was his favorite activity.

I will never forget the time when Shadow went to get our paper, didn't find it, and went somewhere to get someone else's. To this day, we have no idea where he went to get that paper.

I will never forget the big dog's bark that came out of his mouth at seven weeks.

I will never forget how he'd growl a warning when Heather acted like she was going to pinch him.

I will never forget how he jumped up and down on the bed with Heather in that hotel in Tennessee.

I will never forget how excited he became about going for rides.

I'll never forget how he howled when he was left alone.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The Daily Download: Ursuline

I signed up for eMusic, and now I get their free daily track. So far, I am sad to report that I'm not impressed. I haven't received a standout track yet.

Today's download, Ursuline, by Malajube, has a couple parts that sound like music, but the rest of the song sounds like the musicians just began playing their instruments together pointlessly. The intro isn't terrible, and there's a mellow interlude that works for me, but the rest of the song is chaos. Maybe that's the point, but it didn't turn me on at all.

I will only say this once: don't let my critique of any song dissuade you from trying it out and enjoying it. Like any art, music is a subjective thing; different people are going to enjoy different sounds. I'm just hoping for a song I can enjoy one of these days. It's been like getting a lottery ticket. You have a small chance to win millions, but every chance to be disappointed.

Friday, March 20, 2009

The Scarlet A

Today is the official "coming out" day of the OUT Campaign. I have been an out-of-the-closet, outspoken Atheist for fifteen years now, so it's not my coming out day, but I thought I would show support.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Someone stole my daughter's CDs

My wife left her car unlocked accidentally when she came back to town Sunday evening, and overnight, someone got into her car and took a CD holder, mostly full of my daughter's favorite music.

Now, I'm not sure what the motivation would be to steal out of someone else's car in the first place, but once the thief discovered that the CDs had children's music on them, would it be unreasonable to think he/she might just quietly return the stolen items? Just leave them on the porch when we're not home?

I'm expecting too much out of someone who is unscrupulous enough to steal someone else's property in the middle of the night, I know, but man...I'm just so angry and saddened by this violation of our privacy.

People who have read this blog in the past know that my child has autism. She craves structure, and if certain music isn't playing when she wants it played, chaos ensues. Now, we do have some measure of discipline with her (she knows what "no" means and will often listen), but neither my wife nor I should have to deny her the music she likes because some jerk decided to come onto our property, open my wife's car door, and sift through her things in the console in between the seats, hoping for something valuable.

I'm sure the thief isn't going to read this article, but on the off chance that you are that person, are you happy? Are you happy with the copies you stole, which we made so we wouldn't damage the originals? Are you happy that you stole a kid's favorite music? Is your own kid enjoying it now?

It's just stuff. It is really just stuff. But hey, a person who would take my kid's stuff out of my wife's car might not care much about how wrong it would be to break into my house and take more of my kid's stuff. The thought of explaining to my kid that her favorite treasures are gone (little plastic toys she carriers around and collects; nothing very valuable to anyone but her, really) just makes me shudder, because she's not going to stop crying and screaming for awhile, and I'm not really going to be able to make her understand. She understands "broken", but not "gone", really.

A worse thought is that this person could break in when we're here, or when I am gone and my wife and kid are here, and do who knows what to them.

So now what? I'm thinking of canvassing the neighborhood, leaving a flyer on every door that explains exactly what this theif did. If nothing else, it will make the neighborhood aware that there are theives around. At best, someone might turn the culprit in to us.

I really just want my kid's music back. I can burn the CDs again, but it would be nice to know if this thief has a conscience.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Catholic Cardinal Knocks A Straw Man Down--I Think

I will admit that I am one of few Atheists, it seems, who has not read anything written by Richard Dawkins. Sorry, Mr. Dawkins, but I just haven't gotten around to it. I think you'd just be preaching to the choir with me, so to speak, anyway. I did watch "The Root of All Evil", which is a Dawkins video, but I haven't touched the books. I think I've read enough books on evolution that I just have to keep up with the journals, and I'll be okay.

In any case, some Cardinal spoke on how evolutionary theory doesn't conflict with Catholicism, and he said something that floored me:

"We believe that however creation has come about and evolved, ultimately God
is the creator of all things," he said on the sidelines of the conference.

But while the Vatican did not exclude any area of science, it did reject as
"absurd" the atheist notion of biologist and author Richard Dawkins and others
that evolution proves there is no God, he said.

"Of course we think that's absurd and not at all proven," he said. "But other
than that ... the Vatican has recognized that it doesn't stand in the way of
scientific realities."

Now, wait a minute there, buddy. There's an "atheist notion" of biologist Richard Dawkins and others that evolution proves that your god doesn't exist? What?!?

Someone out there enlighten me, because I'm having trouble understanding why this Cardinal would say such a thing: did Richard Dawkins ever say that evolution proves that no god exists? I ask because I think he's setting up a straw man here. It would be absolutely absurd to say that evolutionary theory has anything to do with whether or not gods exist. It's not a question biologists would address when talking about evolution, and I seriously doubt Dawkins would ever say it.

Hey, maybe Dawkins did, though, but I'd have to hear his side of the story before I accept the word of someone who was part of the hierarchy in an institution involved in the biggest cover-up of child rape in the history of the world, as far as I know.

So anyway, great, the Catholic Church is all about the Darwin. So what? That's news? Did you really have to reiterate it after accepting evolution and teaching it in your schools for decades? That's right: I went to a Catholic high school in ninth grade, and we learned about evolution in that class. My teacher--and I'm sorry that I don't remember his name, because some of the things he said really stuck with me--said on the first day of class or close to it: "We will not be talking about creationism in this class. If you want to talk about creationism, go to the theology class down the hall. It does not belong in this classroom. You are here to learn about biology."

Mr....Ryan?...summed it up perfectly: biology should be taught in biology classrooms, not creationism. Creationism isn't science.

A couple other things I remember about Mr....oh, hell, I don't remember...was that he would say "Right there, in flashing green neon lights," while making flashing gestures with his hands. I also remember that he was the only teacher who noticed I was torn up inside when my mom had her brain tumor. He took me aside outside of the classroom and asked me what was going on, and I told him. My grades sunk the rest of that year in other classes, but at least I know he was on my side.

My friend Pete and I bought him this bowtie with little whales printed on it. He was a great sport; he wore the thing with a smile. Man, that guy was a good teacher and a good guy. I wish I could remember his name, because I'd thank him for teaching me evolution the right way the first time, and for being such a great teacher.

Anyway, the point is that evolution has been an accepted subject in Catholic school biology classrooms for at least twenty-three years, and I would suspect several more before that. Was there really confusion on how the Catholic Church stood on evolution as recently as Darwin's 200th birthday? And did the Cardinal who made this statement really have to bring Richard Dawkins into his statements? Of course the Catholic Church is going to think it's absurd that evolutionary theory disproves their god! Even if that were true, the Catholic Church would collapse virtually overnight, right? No god, no Catholicism. No more cover-ups of child rape.

I'm not just trying to make cheap shots at the Catholic Church by bringing up the pedophilia scandal. I am really, really angry that the Catholic Church not only didn't really do anything about the child rape, but also actively covered it up. Here's an institution that has missions that educate, feed, and clothe children around the world. Here's an institution that helped my dad's family to get to America when they were poor and struggling in a war-torn Germany. Here is an institution that has hospitals, including children's research hospitals. They have so much potential to do so much good, and they let something like child rape mar any chance they have at a decent reputation. I disagree with the Catholic belief system (and every theistic belief system), but I could tolerate Catholicism if they didn't cover up child rape--and if they didn't try to actively involve themselves in political decisions that affect people's private lives, but the child rape is a far more serious issue.

All they would have had to do about the child rape was to defrock the priest and turn them in. If they were so concerned about the doctrine regarding keeping confessions secret, they could have issued pennance that demanded that the offenders turn themselves in. There is just no excuse I'd accept. If they'll cover this sort of thing up, would they also cover it up if a priest went around stabbing children? I have to wonder.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Putting words into the mouths of Atheists

A long time ago, I voted Republican. I actually voted for George H. W. Bush (not his idiot son) twice. It's a decision I regret, and the words in the image above that I saw on RepublicanOperative.com reinforced the reasons why I regret that decision. George H.W. Bush once said that he considered atheists neither patriots nor citizens. If I could retroactively take away my vote, I would do it for that reason. I haven't voted for a Republican since.

Theocrats have taken over the GOP completely. They're the reason I never registered as a Republican, and they're the reason I will probably never vote with the GOP again, even if they do get rid of their corruption problems, their lie machines, and their ideology of supply-side economics. They obviously don't want the likes of me under their political tent.

That said, let's parse this statement, shall we?

"Atheism: the belief..."

No. Atheism is not a belief. It is a reaction to beliefs. Atheists do not accept the claims of theists. That is all that atheists have in common. There is no system of beliefs. There is no requirement to know anything about the origin of life or of the universe. All that is required is that we do not hold the beliefs of theists to be true.

"Atheism: the belief that there was nothing and nothing happened to

No. Atheists do not have to believe anything about origins at all. We don't have the answers regarding how the universe came to be. We don't know anything about what happened before the universe began to expand. I argue that theists do not, either, but they fill that gap in their knowledge with a god or gods. Atheism, again, is simply not accepting the claims of theists. All I had to do to become an atheist is read the Bible, do some research, and realize that the book is not consistent with reality. After I was through with the Bible, I examined other religions and found them equally lacking in substance. It's all about faith at some point, and I have not found faith to be a useful tool in my life. What I have found is that faith keeps some people from accepting empirical evidence, requiring them to have a separate set of facts from everyone else.

"...and then nothing magically exploded for no reason..."

No. Theists believe that nothing magically exploded. Theists--well, Jewish, Christian, and Muslim theists--believe that their god magically spoke the universe into being. Yes, he spoke, and the universe came to be, according to their mythology. If that's not magic, I don't know what is.

The "no reason" part is about right; unless someone can prove the existence of gods, I'm not seeing a point to the existence of the universe. It just is, and I'm in it, so I deal with it the best way I know how.

"...creating everything and then a bunch of everything magically rearranged
itself for no reason what so ever into self-replicating bits which then turned
into dinosaurs."

No. There's no magic necessary. All life took was carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, and a few traces of other elements, plus energy, plus time, to exist. Theists believe life came about through magic. Humans were created from clay and life was breathed into them, according to the theology of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. That's magic. According to evolutionary theory, life changed over time, present life had common ancestry, and life is very, very old. Dinosaurs didn't come along until well after the first life. The first life was present around three billion or so years ago, and it didn't even become multicellular until around six hundred million years ago. That's a very long time for genes to recombine and mutate, and for genetic material to be added, which happens with each reproduction. Again, however, atheists don't have to know anything about evolutionary theory. All atheists have to do is not be convinced by the mythology that life magically came into being after being formed in clay. Well, human life, anyway. How the rest of life came to be, their holy books don't say. They just say that they were created.

"Makes perfect sense."

What makes perfect sense is to say that I don't know how the universe came to be, I don't know exactly how life began on this planet, but I do know that I don't have to accept theistic explanations that clearly do involve magic. To recap, theists believe:

  1. Their god spoke the universe into being from nothing.

  2. Their god breathed life into a clay statue of a man and caused it to live.

Theists absolutely must believe in magic to believe these things to be true. Atheists merely have to say that they have no evidence for magic, have no conclusive evidence regarding origins, and have no reason to accept the claims of theists as anything other than myth.

Friday, February 27, 2009

A Message To Ray Comfort re: Richard Dawkins

Dear Ray,

I am probably not the only atheist out there saying these words to you in one way or another, but I have to get this off my chest and out in the open: there is a huge difference between someone not taking you seriously and someone who is afraid to debate you.

It has long been the policy of Richard Dawkins and other luminaries in the field of biology to refuse to debate creationists, because meeting creationists in the court of public opinion gives the appearance that there is an actual conflict in the scientific community between evolution and creationism, and there's not. It confuses an already woefully scientifically illiterate community, and it does not do anything to advance the knowledge of anyone. It's a colossal waste of Richard Dawkins' time to meet you on your terms, and worse, it could do more harm than good for the scientific community, especially in the United States, where there is a constant political push to take the teaching of evolution out of biology classrooms.

Come on, Ray, admit it: this whole thing was a ploy to grab publicity for your new book, right? It's pretty transparent to me that no matter what happens, you have gained more free publicity from this stunt than you ever would have if you'd simply have stuck to the Christian radio and television circuit. This story brings your book into the mainstream, whether Dawkins debates you or not. I wonder if you researched anything about Dawkins before you challenged him. Why not Hitchens? He engages in debates all the time with Dinesh D'Souza, for example; he'd probably debate you. You picked the famous atheist with the no-debate policy instead. Coincidence? Maybe, maybe not, but you do have a history of insincerity.

I remember well your debate with the Rational Response Squad members on national television, if I can even call it a debate. You used the time to preach and quote from the Bible, rather than doing what you said you came to do: use science to prove the existence of your god. That move wasn't surprising to me; after all, I was one of many atheists who watched that banana video of yours, where you demonstrated clearly for the world that you don't know the difference between natural selection and human cultivation. You got one thing right: the banana as you described it and demonstrated it is intelligently designed; you just got the designer wrong. Humans made the banana what it is today, as is true with just about every crop we now consume. We did similar things with dog, cat, horse, and pigeon breeds. I mention pigeons because Darwin mentioned them in his book to explain how we can modify species through artificially selecting out traits we desire in that species, then going into how nature selects for traits by limiting the ability to survive to reproductive age.

By the way, I have a bone to pick with World Net Daily and everyone who has repeated their announcement that you bumped Richard Dawkins from the number one spot on Amazon. First, Dawkins' bestseller was there for how long? Since it came out? How long was your book in the number one spot, Ray? I went to Amazon to check the rankings, and by the time I read the article on WND, your book had fallen to number five. Not that it matters much to me, but it's just something that people keep repeating, and it didn't last long--although I wouldn't be surprised if all of this free publicity helped keep it close to the top longer than it would have been there otherwise.

I have to hand it to you, Ray: you know how to market yourself well. I have to say that I'm personally insulted by the title of your book, and when I read the sample page, where you say that atheism is the epitome of stupidity, I was rather disgusted, and certainly wouldn't buy it after reading that little piece of incivility.

I'd still debate you for ten grand, though. I could put the cash to good use.

Greg Reich

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Why are so many Christians obsessed with the "sins" of other people?

I've read the Bible many times--twenty-seven that I can remember, all before the age of twenty-four. I have read many verses hundreds of times, having read in church as a teen and later, after rejecting religion, to refer to then when apologists used them as arguments. What I can't remember reading in the parts where the Jesus character is traipsing around Galilee is any mention of forcing people to stop committing sins.

Of course, to me, "sin" is a meaningless concept; it requires a transgression against a deity, and I don't have evidence of deities; they're all man-made myths. I suppose it could be extended to include transgressions against other people, but that's not common usage.

In any case, so many Christians seem to want to apply their concept of sin to the law, in spite of the fact that there is nothing attributed to the Jesus character that suggest that they should force other people to their way of thinking. I remember something about "Judge not, lest ye be judged." I remember something about not pointing out the mote in your neighbor's eye while ignoring the log in your own. I remember things about giving all your money to the poor, about loving your neighbor and your enemy, turning the other cheek, and so on and so forth, but I just can't seem to recall a word about forcing other people to stop sinning.

Before someone brings up the notion that Jesus didn't disregard Old Testament law (forgetting for the moment that I have no reason to buy into the idea that Jesus actually existed), let's remember that he saved a woman accused of adultery from stoning, and forgave her for her sins.

Jesus would be a really cool character if it weren't for the doctrine of hell, the weird story about him cursing a fig tree, the doctrine of hell, and the talk about hating your family if they don't believe. The values his character advanced in the Bible were humility, love, forgiveness, and charity. These, of course, are all things just as easily attributed to empathy, and do not actually require moral teaching. The concepts of turning the other cheek and loving your enemy are a bit more difficult, and seemingly counterintuitive.

Of course, I didn't create this post to be a cheerleader for Jesus; my point is that if you're going to call yourself a Christian, why not follow the teachings attributed to him and leave other people well alone? Yes, you're commanded to witness to people, but you're also supposed to proverbially shake the dust from your feet and move on when people don't listen to you. You're supposed to hang out with the sinners and live by example among them, not legislate your morality on them. Persuasion and example: that's what I got out of what I read in the Bible.

What prompted this post was a story about how a priest was arrested for praying and passing out literature in front of an abortion clinic. I suspect there's more to this story; he was probably obstructing the entrance while doing these things, which you're not supposed to do anywhere. If you're going to protest abortion--or anything else--you can't do it on private property, especially if you're obstructing the entrances to a place of business or medical services.

My question to Christians is: how is it your place to judge abortion clinics, and how is it your place to keep women from getting abortions? You believe it's murder, sure, but that's you judging other people, and carrying out your judgment. If you really believe in eternal rewards and punishments, then you'll let your god take care of things and worry about yourself, as the Jesus character in the Bible told you. "Judge not, lest ye be judged." Don't point out the mote in your neighbor's eye. There's a log in your own. Maybe.

For my part, I want abortion to stay safe and legal. I don't think I should have control over a woman's decisions about her own body, and I think she should be protected from the will of others over decisions regarding her health and private life. I don't think anyone really loves and embraces abortion, but all of the alternatives a woman has with unplanned pregnancy are difficult, and the situations leading to that decision have complications and issues, as well. There's inequality in sexual relationships, for one thing. Males do not have to make a decision that involves either an invasive medical procedure, physical changes to the body followed by a grieving process, or a life taking care of a child, often before becoming financially stable or educated enough to have marketable skills.

Let's face it: abortion is invasive. What woman would do it for fun? Women who do choose it as an option are already scared, have conflicting emotions, and are often alone in making that decision; you're compounding the situation with protests and guilt trips. What is worse is that if abortion were outlawed, we'd be back to women--young, scared, often not well-off--going to drastic measures to give themselves abortions. They'd either be done by back-alley doctors, or they'd be self-induced with coat hangers, chemicals, or other dangerous methods. Some Christians out there cheer on that risk, but they're forgetting about how they're supposed to be without sin if they're going to cast stones. I haven't met a Christian yet who says that he or she is sinless. Abortion should be safe and legal, from my perspective, because I don't want women to suffer and men aren't equally responsible for the consequences of pregnancy. From the Christian perspective, I would think abortion should be safe and legal so that women would have the chance to be forgiven and "saved" sometime before death. I don't want to presume to think for Christians, so I'm asking: am I off base here? After all, "Jane Roe" became a Christian, right?

The second option, adoption, comes with its own issues. Statistically speaking, pregnancy has more risks than abortion. More women die of complications from pregnancy than from complications from abortions. A woman's body is permanently affected by pregnancy carried all the way to term. Then, there's the possibility of grief from giving the baby up. I was adopted. I met my biological mother. She grieved for about two years. Now, in her case, she wouldn't have aborted me, but it still should have been her choice (and it was, in Ohio, in 1971, when she would have aborted me if she had chosen that option), and if she had, I would never have known.

The third option, having the mother raise the child, is expecting a lot out of women who are most likely not at a point in their lives when they can handle it financially or emotionally. It's not easy to be a single mother--just ask any single mother with little means to raise children. Unwanted children are more likely to be abused. The children often grow up without fathers. Now, I'm not saying that fathers are always a good influence, but if a couple is in a stable relationship, it's so much easier to raise one or more children. There's usually more money, the husband and wife can take turns with the children or adopt separate responsibilities to make each other's lives easier; it's definitely a better situation than single parenthood without support. It is possible to raise a child successfully in a single-parent household. I think my half-sister turned out fine, and I know several other people from single-parent homes who are okay, too. Support from other family members and from friends made all the difference, though. It should be totally up to the woman to judge whether she has the means, stability, and emotional support network to raise a child on her own.

Single mothers are often put down by Christians. I remember Dan Quayle doing it; Pat Robertson and other televangelists do it; ordinary, average Christians do it. I have heard Christians speak in hushed, shocked, affronted tones about the young woman who was pregnant, who was going to have the baby. I have heard them asking: who is going to support that child?

You. Christians, if that woman is in your church, it should be you. If you're going to be pro-life, be pro-life. Step up and take care of the ones who are born, rather than focusing on the unborn and the "sinning" mothers. Babysit the child while the woman goes to work, help her with advice that comes from experience raising children, and forgive her for her "sin" of promiscuity. After all, it is not for you to judge. Right?

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Ray Comfort Offers Money to Debate Richard Dawkins?

Ray Comfort offered Richard Dawkins, who has quite a lot of money already, to debate him in public.

It is my opinion that Ray Comfort does not sincerely want to engage Dawkins in a formal debate. Oh, I'm sure he wants to appear in public with Dawkins, but I'm dead sure he doesn't actually want to debate him.

The last time Ray Comfort offered to "prove" the existence of his god in public, it was in a debate on ABC with two members of the Rational Response Squad, Kelly and Sapient. Comfort promised he would only use science, but what he did when he came up to the podium was preach. That's it.

Ray Comfort has proven himself to be someone who is only seeking to promote himself and his material, and he is using atheists to do it. When he had the chance to engage in a sincere debate with atheists in front of a national television audience, he chose to forego debate and engage in proselytizing.

I am still of the opinion that the Rational Responders should have walked off in disgust, but it's easy to talk from the peanut gallery. I've been on television and on the radio, and I can tell whoever will listen that it's so much different when you're actually there. And hey, Kelly was just...okay, I'm gonna stop there before I get in trouble with my wife.

I hope Richard Dawkins flat-out refuses, and makes a statement about Ray Comfort's track record of insincerity when it comes to debates. It's a ploy for Comfort to make more money, and nothing more.

I'd debate Ray Comfort for $10,000 dollars in public, but that would be to my benefit, not his; he's actually famous. I'd give him a taste of his own medicine, though: I'd shamelessly self-promote. Why bother trying to engage the guy in serious debate when he's just going to preach?

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Alexandra Pelosi's Documentary: A Review

By now, this news is a bit old, but I just watched Alexandra Pelosi's documentary on HBO, Right America: Feeling Wronged, and I wanted to give my take on it.

At the very beginning of the documentary, Pelosi lets us know that the views expressed by the people on the campaign trail are not representative of Republicans in general. She's right, but the people she caught on film do represent the remainder of the country that actually approved of the job George W. Bush was doing till the very end of his term.

There are two types of Republicans that do seem to be typical. The first is the type that wants to make sure that their taxes do not get raised. These Republicans are not the super-wealthy; they are usually small business owners who have voted Republican for years, who remember when the GOP was all about small business, and not large corporations. They are stuck on automatic when it comes to voting (just like some Democrats will automatically vote that way), so they don't recognize how far the Republicans who actually have had power have deviated from the fiscal responsibility and--dare I say it--the social liberalism that used to be part of the party line.

The second type of Republican makes up the majority of the party now. These are the social conservatives. They are vocal, and they vote on the issues of abortion (their number one motivation), faith, homosexuality, and maybe guns--although guns aren't a requirement for this bunch, if they're sincere about being pro-life. In any case, this type of Republican believes Christianity is the only way, and that their morality should be legislated on the rest of us. They will vote Republican because the GOP has recognized that using the faith of this crowd secures their votes.

Now, the type of Republicans Alexandra Pelosi interviewed varied, but she caught some of the true party fanatics. These are people who believe everything Fox News spoon feeds them. These are the people that believe every viral email that comes into their inbox, and they have no problem passing these insane messages on without researching them. These are people who equate tolerance with being politically correct.

One of the women talked about how the Christian way is the only way. That's dictatorship, sister. If you have to force your religion down the throats of others, if you can't win people over through persuasion or, as your Bible prescribes (read the New Testament), living the example, then it's not much of a religion, is it?

A few of the guys were blatantly, unapologetically racist. The one black guy in Mississippi is right: this sort of racism exists everywhere, but in New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago, if you were to say, "I am not ready for a black president," or "I'm not voting for a nigger," or "I wouldn't vote for a black man or a woman," they wouldn't have a political career, and it wouldn't be good for them, politician or no, to say it on camera.

The smears were everywhere. The viral emails were summarized on t-shirts, buttons, and signs held up in crowds. Barack Obama was labeled a socialist. He was labeled the antichrist. He was equated to Hitler.

One word about the Hitler thing: I just don't know whether to fall over laughing at how ridiculous people are who compare Obama to Hitler, or puke in their faces at the disgusting thought. Hitler made his intentions clear in a book. It's called Mein Kampf, and its English translation is available for free online. He talks about how he was "doing the Lord's work" in eradicating the Jews. Barack Obama wrote books, too. I don't recall him saying anything about eradicating anyone. Hitler used the Jews as a scapegoat and thumbed his nose at treaties; Obama is inclusive as he can be and is a constitutional attorney.

No President is perfect, and Obama wasn't my first choice among the Democrats in the primaries, but some of the ridiculous things people say about him just make me want to smack sense into them--and I'm firmly against violence. I just don't know what else would persuade them.

Maybe this documentary will help Republicans to look in the mirror and see what sort of ignorance they at least tolerate, at most foster. I think Pelosi was more than fair to a group of people who thinks her mother is evil incarnate.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Clearing up misconceptions about evolution on Darwin's birthday

Between site visits at work, I typically listen to progressive talk radio (1310 AM WDET) while I'm driving. Well, today, for some weird reason, my favorite station decided to broadcast NASCAR instead of Thom Hartmann, much to my displeasure, so I changed the band with the intention of listening to NPR, which is my usual fallback. However, the station that came on when I changed the band to FM was 103.5, WMUZ, and it was Bob Dutko, talking about evolution.

Now, I should disclose here that I have been on Bob Dutko's show five times now. I have had conversations with him--as the opposing viewpoint--on evolution, separation of state and church, the notion of dinosaurs and humans coexisting (peacefully?), and the existence of his god (twice). The reason my radio was tuned to his station on the FM band was because the last time I switched to FM was to listen to his show on the way to my appearance on it.

After hearing Bob speak today, it became clear to me that we're going to have to have another conversation about evolution. He brought up several points that I need to address, but one that stuck in my mind was his use of a Stephen Gould quote, followed by a misrepresentations of the idea of punctuated equilibrium. Another notion he tied into his discussion about Gould was the idea of transitional fossils and why they may or may not be in the fossil record.

First, punctuated equilibrium is the idea that mass extinction events leave biological niches to be filled, and species will undergo relatively rapid physiological changes as they fill them, if they have enough genetic variation/adaptations to replace the extinct species' specializations. For example, with a small mammalian scavenger species that could not thrive as a predator in an environment full of them, but is aggressive/fast/strong enough to become a predator after a mass extinction, members of the species with adaptations that enable them to be predators will fill that niche, and the rest of the active genes that go along with those adaptations will be passed on. The ones with the most predatory behavior are likely to separate with those who have a more passive tendency to scavenge, so their physiology will follow a different path from their more passive relatives. Plenty of experiments have demonstrated that certain physiological characteristics go along with certain adaptations; foxes, for example, when bred for submissive behavior similar to that of domesticated dogs, will produce offspring with droopier tails and ears, shorter snouts, and more clownish behavior--traits that are typically found in omega males in wolf packs.

Getting back to Bob: he was talking about transitional fossils, and how he though scientists explained them away. He quoted Gould (he brought this same quote up during our broadcast conversation about evolution). It was something about how Gould was complaining that the lack of transitional fossils in the record is an aggravating problem for biologists. He went on to say that Gould believed in punctuated equilibrium, which Bob represented as species just evolving slowly, then evolving all of a sudden, out of the blue, and that's why there's no fossil record of them.

No, no, a million times, no.

I'm setting the record straight here, and I hope I get the opportunity again to do it on his show (our next show is about the existence of Jesus, which I'm contesting as being nothing but mythology).

Bob expects to find freakish, half-evolved forms in the fossil record if evolution is true. The problem with this expectation is that it ignores that only about ten to fifteen percent of DNA in a given species is active, and that different genes will be active in relation to different manifested adaptations. If the active adaptation is an aggressive nature, a whole set of physiological characteristics will follow. There are only so many viable combinations of active genes, so whatever the result of evolutionary change will be a fully formed specimen, but with different active genes. Plenty of forms have been deemed "transitional", but controversy rages over them because there's no way (currently) to determine with certainty whether a form is an intermediary between two species. Perhaps a DNA simulation will yield the answer someday, but for now, we have comparative anatomy, more or less.

So, half-evolved forms are not what I would expect to find in the fossil record, because the changes that occur at the genetic level must manifest themselves in the form of a viable specimen with the ability to reproduce, not some freakish, half-formed animal with adaptations somewhere between one species and another.

As far as Bob's contention that Gould believed that animals evolved slowly, then suddenly--POOF!--changed into something else is concerned, Gould went on to say in the same literature that as surprising as it is, transitional fossils have been found. Furthermore, punctuated equilibrium would still take a couple million years, which is rapid when compared to the average life cycle of a given warm-blooded species (twenty-six million years). The odds of finding the fossils of a species that has a couple million years of existence and relatively rapid physiological change are more remote than the odds of finding fossilized remains of a species that existed for twenty-six million. Fossilization just doesn't occur that often.

With artificial selection (horse breeds, dog breeds, and Darwin's famous example of pigeon breeds), it is easy to see transitional forms--but if you dug up the skeleton of a Chihuahua and a Great Dane, would you be able to tell that that either of them came from wolves? Would you be able to identify the forms between the wolf and the Great Dane or the wolf and the Chihuahua as transitional forms? If we didn't know already that these dog breeds were the result of human intervention, creationists would argue that any forms you found were separate species that happened to be similar, because comparative anatomy means nothing to them. They would argue that they are separate, specially-created species--and they would be wrong.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

On Faith and Values

Faith is not a value.

The reason faith is not a value is that people can have faith in anything they accept without evidence (or in spite of it). Faith can lead people to believe anything that many people would value or few people would. They can believe in peace and love, but they could also believe that homosexuality and adultery should be punishable by death, for example.

Faith has been on all sides of every issue at any given time. During the anti-communist hysteria in the United States of the 1950s, the focus was not on the totalitarianism of the USSR or its forced economic ideology, but on its "godlessness". It was during this period of American history when "In God We Trust" was adopted as the national motto and placed on our currency. It was at this time that the Pledge of Allegiance--already illegal for schools to make children recite because of freedom of speech issues--began to include the words "under God".

During the period of our history when slavery was legal, abolitionists and slaveowners alike used faith to justify their positions. There are rules in the Bible for slavery, and the slaveowners would cite these rules as justification for their practice. The abolitionists would focus on the New Testament, where wealth was condemned, equality encouraged.

The Irish Catholics and the Southern Baptists fought each other for decades, often violently, during the 1800s, all over which version of the Bible to use in a public school setting. It's one of the many reasons both sides began to accept separation of state and church as a good thing, especially in public schools.

Faith can lead to delusion. Some people believe so strongly in their chosen ideology that they will ignore even the strongest evidence against their faith-based convictions. Biblical literalism is one example. No matter how much it is pointed out to biblical literalists that the Earth cannot be six thousand years old, that there was no global flood, or that human beings can't survive in the digestive tracts of sea creatures, based on scientific observations, they will dismiss the science, often demonizing it in the process.

Since faith is subjective, it leads to arbitrary values. Believers will often argue that moral relativity is the hallmark of atheism, and that it's a bad thing, but they never seem to analyze the moral relativism inherent in faith. Here is how religion is divided around the world:
  • Christianity: 35,000 denominations, most under eleven sects
  • Islam: Three major sects; twelve denominations (at least); various schools of thought under each
  • Judaism: At least seven, with various schools of thought under each
  • Hinduism: 3 major sects with several denominations under each
  • Buddhism: 3 major sects with many subdivisions
  • Shintoism: 25 groups
  • Thirty-four other major religions with thousands of subdivisions and cults.

Faith does not lead everyone to the same end; if anything, it divides everyone. It is not the only thing that divides people; economic and political ideologies also make their contribution, but these are also a brand of faith, complete with their own apologists and preachers.

I am not going to tell you that dropping faith will lead to worldwide unity. I doubt that it would. What I would like to explore is what values might be considered universal, and why.

What seems to be almost universal to human beings is empathy. According to research in neuroscience and psychology, empathy is at least partially an automatic response. There are exceptions, such as psychopaths and sociopaths, but empathy does appear to be something that the vast majority of humans the world over seem to have.

To what values can empathy lead? All cultures have laws against homocide; people do not want to have their lives taken from them, so they see it as wrong when someone takes a life from someone else. There are shades of gray here; some people would include termination of pregnancy as the "murder" of the unborn; most people would allow a justification for self-defense; some would justify execution for certain crimes (especially murder). In any case, murder is outlawed universally to some degree.

In light of the universality of the outlaw of murder, how can anyone justify war? My personal take on war is that the instigator must be a sociopath, a psychopath, or paranoid-delusional. That opinion comes only from the idea that in order to send soldiers to kill and to die, a person must not have much empathy, if any, or must be so scared out of his (or her, I guess, but I can't think of a female instigator of war off the top of my head) mind that he imagines threats or creates them, then works very hard to draw everyone into his delusion and paranoia.

The next near-universal value based on empathy is the idea that stealing is wrong. There are shades of gray and different schools of thought here, too, but for the most part, people don't want other people to take their stuff, and most won't take from other people as a result. I think people feel less empathy when shoplifting, because they aren't thinking about their theft in terms of doing harm to another individual; they see a business making profit, and their petty theft isn't going to hurt, they believe. They don't think about how the reduction in profits will cause an increase in prices for honest people; they don't think about how when insurance covers stolen items, premiums go up for everyone contributing to the pool.

Charity comes from empathy. People want to to good for other people, not only because it feels good, but because they would like other people to do good for them.

The willingness to pass knowledge to other people can come from empathy; people who want to learn will share their knowledge in return.

Empathy is not relative like faith. Perhaps if people went with their empathy instead of faith, they would get along to a greater agree.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Ken Ham--unsurprisingly--gets it wrong about evolution

Ken Ham, the founder and CEO of Answers In Genesis, a creationist organization, recently wrote an article that appeared on Forbes.com. It may be found here. This is my reply to it, since it would not fit in the comments section, and I like to share.

As usual, Ken Ham displays his ignorance of how science works and does his best to defame evolutionary biologists in the process.

The first point Ham attempts to make is that evolution leads to moral relativism. I say we have it anyway, regardless of worldview. For example, people who call themselves Christians have as many different different views on what is sinful and what is moral as there are sects of Christianity, if not as many as there are individual Christians. Christian moral relativity is great enough to have divided Christianity among approximately 35000 sects worldwide, each with its own unique background and doctrine. They have different versions of the Bible, from the King James to the Catholic version to the New International--they can't even agree on which anthology reflects their beliefs, let alone whether to interpret each literally or contextually.

The reason why I don't kill people, steal from them, or otherwise harm them is because I have empathy (it's also why I'm likely to help them). I can put myself into their situations and understand how the consequences of my actions will affect them. Humans would not have thrived as a species without empathy and cooperation.

His second point about what is being taught in science classrooms is poorly supported by a plaque in Darwin's house and a vague reference to how evolution is taught, but that wasn't my experience in high school biology, or even college biology. Religion was not discussed because it requires faith, and faith is not within the scope of science, by definition. Science is about what can be observed, not about what people accept as true without evidence. We couldn't possibly bring religion into a science classroom (or any classroom, for that matter), since there is so much division among religious people about origins. Origins are not a discussion in a classroom involving evolution anyway, since evolution is about changes in species over time, and not how they came to be in the first place. It's an obvious progression from learning about changes to inquiring about origins, but since nobody really knows exactly how life began on Earth, origins aren't typically the subject of high school biology texts.

Ken Ham's next point represents his transition from ignorance about evolution and how it is taught to defamation of those who teach science and those who learn it. His example of the killer in a 2007 Finland school shooting (I have not researched this incident) fails, because clearly, the killer did not understand evolution at all. If by killing people he believed that he was a "natural selector", he clearly did not understand what is meant by "natural selection". In natural selection, sentient purpose does not drive the process; when purpose enters into it, it is artifical selection. Ironically, this killer selected himself out of the gene pool by being caught (or killing himself; again, I haven't researched the incident), thereby eliminating his chances of mating and passing on his genes. Of course, ideas aren't heritable traits, but perhaps his urge to kill other people and his apparent lack of empathy toward others might be.

In his fourth attempt to defame evolution, Ken Ham again uses an example of people misusing evolution to promote an agenda that displays their ignorance of how it actually works. Evolution is not progressive; there is no species "more evolved" than any other. What one might say is that a species is more specialized (i.e., has adaptations more suitable) for a given environment, but to claim superiority in evolution would be folly. In any case, scientists today do not subscribe to the idea of racial superiority in relation to evolution; the human genome project should have erased any such idea. The idea of "survival of the fittest" isn't even Darwin's; in natural selection, the heritable adaptations that are passed to the next generation that allow it to survive, in its turn, to reproductive age are what matter most.

None of the examples Ken Ham presents of how people misuse and misunderstand evolutionary theory have any bearing on whether or not evolutionary theory is valid. The theories regarding the mechanisms of evolution find validity in their predictive power and in the evidence that reinforces them. The validity of any scientific theory is independent of public opinion.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Questions That Atheists Should Answer?

I use Google Alerts to get news about subjects that interest me. One of these alerts is a search for "atheist", because, in case you don't know already, I am one. I do see a lot of news articles, but the search also includes blogs. I have toyed with the idea of excluding blogs from the searches, since many of them are just people like Ray Comfort, painting caricatures of atheists with their outrageous stereotypes, putting words in our mouths that many of us--the atheists I know, anyway--would never say.

In any case, I ran across a video from a young man who had five questions he believed atheists should answer. He wanted a YouTube video response or a response in his comments, but I don't think my responses would fit in one comment, I don't want to post several, and I'm definitely not doing a video at this hour--but I thought I'd answer his questions. I will be posting this link in his comments, so I hope he'll run across this page.

Question 1: "Atheists believe that the universe began millions and millions of years ago. Now, how would you know this for a fact, or is it just a guess?"

Greg's Take: Let's parse this question first, because I have some issues with it.

First, there's the "Atheists believe" part. I have been hanging with Atheists long enough to know that we're as diverse a group of individuals as any other group can be; the only thing we have in common is our rejection of theism. There's no worldview that you can assign to all atheists. Some Atheists know very little about cosomology and don't care. Many Atheists don't know a thing about evolution, either, and don't care. They leave these things to astrophysicists and biologists, respectively.

Secondly, there's the word, "believe". Many of us reject the word, "believe", for its implication of acceptance without evidence. I know I do. I have no place for faith in my life, and "believe" is something I'm trying really hard to remove from my vocabulary, because it doesn't do justice to the amount of research I put into the things I know.

Thirdly, there's the idea of the universe beginning. Scientists don't know if the universe had a beginning. They don't. Seriously. All they know for certain is that the universe expanded. How do they know? You know that famous telescope named Hubble? That telescope was named after the scientist who, through the discovery of a phenomenon known as red shift, found out that everything in the universe appeared to be moving away from everything else, and on a certain trajectory. Everything seemed to be moving away from a center.

Fourth of all, it's not "millions and millions", but "billions and billions". The universe started to expand about 13.7 billion years ago.

Finally, no, it's not a guess. Red shift is real. The universe is expanding and has been. Scientists--notice that I didn't say "Atheists", because not every Atheist is well-versed in physics/cosmology--know that the universe is at least 13.7 billion years old because a) the speed of light is a constant, b) we can measure the distance from Earth to the stars we can see with Hubble, c) light had to travel the distance necessary for us to see it, and d) no plausible alternative explanation backed by evidence can explain how light could reach us without traveling this distance. In order for light to be here from where the universe began to expand, it would have had to travel faster than light. I repeat: light would have to travel faster than light.

Question 2: Why are atheists like Richard Dawkins actually afraid of admitting to the fact that they could possibly be wrong and that there is a god?

Greg's Take: Let me begin by answering that there are no Atheists like Dawkins. He's an international Atheist celebrity. He's a household name. There are a few with his level of fame: Hitchens, Harris, Madelyn Murray O'Hair, some comedians (e.g., George Carlin), but not many with his knowledge of biology, his soft-spoken manner, and his intellect.

I would argue that Dawkins would say--actually, he has said--that he is 99.9% sure that there is no designer, like a good scientist would say about anything. He also says he's 99.9% sure there are no fairies. Scientists do not rule out possibilities, but science deals only with what can be observed and quantified, so things people accept on faith are outside the realm of scientific thought.

For my part, I say that the burden of proof is on those making the claim that their god exists. Bring on your evidence, because I haven't seen any. It always comes down to faith.

Question 3: Why do atheists think that it is illogical for Christians and religious people to believe in god, because they can't see him, feel him, hear him, et cetera, believe that we don't have proof of god, when apparently, atheists believe and have faith in the big bang theory and evolution? Atheists love to preach it and teach it in schools, so wouldn't that make atheism a religion?

Greg's Take: We come back in this question to the mistaken noting of Atheists believing things. Think of it more like this: Atheists, for the most part, from what I've seen and experienced, trust scientists. At least, those among us who know science (or are scientists ourselves! Not me--I'm an IT professional) trust scientists, because scientists deal in what is observable, quantifiable, and verifiable. I will admit that many Atheists get overzealous in their defense of evolution and the big bang (which I prefer to refer to as the expansion of the universe as we know it) and go a little far, taking liberties with what science is actually available, but as a former biology major and someone who really enjoys science, as someone who reads journals and science news, I can tell you that evolution is a fact, that it is inevitable, and it takes more knowledge than I can impart to you in this blog entry to understand how it works.

To simplify evolution as much as I possibly can, it's all in the genes. To expand just a little, I can say with certainty that during reproduction, a little bit more information is added to DNA. This addition is an observable, verifiable fact. With additional DNA, there is a possibility that different genes will be active in the next generation of a species, which explains population genetics, but I won't go into that at the moment. What I can say is that when you add mutation (which is the only mechanism creationists seem to think exists for evolution; it's not) and gene-crossing to the mix, you have all sorts of possibities that open up.

I can expand and expand and expand, but unless you've taken a few courses in biology at the college level, you're not going to get it. Evolution is a fact; it's the theories regarding evolution that are not 100% proven--but they are 99.9% there. Evolution has so much predictive power in science. For example, you know the flu vaccines that are administered every year? Scientists know how to make these vaccines because they can predict the evolutionary path of viruses--and it is a statistical fact that people who get flu shots are less likely to get the flu, and more likely to recover faster from it if they do get it.

I already touched on the Big Bang theory, so I won't go over it again. I would just advise you to think of it as an expansion of the universe, because nobody knows what happened before 13.7 billion years ago. Nobody. There are some educated guesses, but there is no certainty.

Oh, and no, atheism is not a religion. If Atheism is a religion, bald is a hairstyle. The reason evolution and the Big Bang are taught in schools is because science must be taught in science classrooms. It is unfair to students who want a career in the sciences to waste time in science class on things that are not science. Creationism is a matter of faith, and does not belong in a biology or physics classrom. What you learn in science classes has everything to do with the body of knowledge that scientists have built, and has nothing to do with popular opinion or debates between people of faith and people of no faith.

Question 4: If the big bang theory were true, then how did everything in the universe come to be designed the way it did? Like for example, how could the Earth be in the perfect position for the sun to give it light, and if it moved by an inch or so, we wouldn't have light like we have now, and the Earth is the only planet with supplies for human life? [I tried to correct for grammar here, but you get the gist, right? I gave up because I hate playing the grammar police.]

Greg's Take: First of all, the Earth moves much more than inch toward or away from the sun, depending on where it is in its orbit. Secondly, how do you know that Earth is the only planet that can support human life? It's a big universe out there, and there could be thousands, millions, or billions of inhabitable planets in it. We just don't know. The odds are good that there is some more life out there in some form, given the number of stars, and given the number of solar systems with planets astronomers are now discovering.

Life has always been a struggle on Earth. While life begets life, life also eats other life. Life has to contend with climate changes and natural disasters, geographic separations and limitations on food sources. Species after species forms and dies. Warm-blooded species last an average of twenty-five million years; cold-blooded species last around three hundred million. I should say that the genus lasts that long, because there is a blurry line where the species becomes so different that it can no longer breed with creatures like its ancestors. Given what geneticists know now about the amount of information that is added with reproduction to DNA, enough change will occur over a twenty-five million year period to make the descendents become very different from their ancestors.

To say that this life is "fine-tuned" for life (which is how it is usually worded) is to have it backwards: life struggled and thrived due to adaptations that allowed it to live under the conditions that existed already. This planet was uninhabitable 3.5 billion or 4 billion years ago; whatever the first life was had to have the correct adaptations to allow it to survive under the conditions that existed then. I am fairly certain that more than one combination of self-replicating proteins appeared, but only the combination(s) producing the characteristics giving it survival advantages thrived.

Question 5: When Christians like my brothers and sisters in christ and I spread the word of god in a loving and perfect way, why do you have so much hate towards us when we share with you about the gospel of our lord and savior jesus christ, when he came to this world to save sinners, he died on the cross for our sins, and was risen from the dead?

Greg's Take: I can't speak for all Atheists. No Atheist can. What I can say is that I do not hate you. I don't know what reactions you're receiving that you translate as hate, but I can guess, because when I first rejected religion, I was angry, frustrated, and alone. I knew a precious few people who were Atheists, and when I came out to my Christian friends, they just wouldn't leave me to it. They felt that I was "lost" and that my "soul" needed "saved", but they--and you--have no idea how condescending that sounds to someone who has just undertaken an intellectual journey away from religion. I read the Bible at least twenty-seven times through during my life, referring to various versus hundreds, perhaps thousands of times during the course of my journey. I studied ancient religions, I studied philosophers and apologists--rejecting faith wasn't something I came to lightly. For people I once considered friends to treat me as though I was being foolish, going through a phase, or as if I had lost my way somehow was disheartening and annoying. That's probably one of the perspectives you're meeting.

I'm well beyond that point now. I'm not angry as much anymore, though I do get passionate about defending kids from being ostracized from their religious classmates, or when a town turns against a family for wanting to keep religion out of government, or when Atheists are painted as hateful, bitter, morally corrupt people. In any case, toward individual Christians, I am pretty much done being angry, but it can get a bit annoying, hearing the same thing over and over. Having debated with Christians since 1991, I can tell you that I haven't come across anything new in about ten years. Sure, there are new spins on old arguments, but it always comes down to the same thing: you have faith, you have ancient texts, and you have artwork. You have no real evidence to prove that your Bible is true, you have no evidence that your god exists, and Jesus is just mythical as any other figure in your anthology of myths. You truly believe that Jesus performed all of those miracles, that he was born of a virgin, that he rose from the dead; I can't buy into any of it. There's scant evidence that he was even a historical person, let alone this magical man-god that your Bible makes him out to be.

Do you really believe Jonah could have survived in the belly of an ocean-dwelling creature? He wouldn't have drowned, asphyxiated, or been digested over the three days he supposedly spent in there?

Don't even get me started on Noah's flood. If you believe that story, please build me a boat with those dimensions that will float--without steel supports, entirely of gopher wood (whatever that is). The longest wooden boat ever built without steel supports was less than three hundred feet long. The reason why was a phenomenon known as "keeling". Essentially, the wood would crack and the boat would sink. Never mind explaining how all of the salt water and fresh water life survived, how algae could have survived without sunlight for forty days and nights, or any other of the long list of things in that story that just aren't possible.

I don't hate you; I just get a bit annoyed by the constant attacks on physics and biology by people who have, at best, a limited understanding of the subjects. Do you know the complexity of the math involved in physics and biology? Have you taken an advanced chemistry class? These subjects aren't ones just anyone can take; science involves heavy mathematics and logical thinking. It's not surprising that most people aren't scientists, but it is surprising how many people reject science out of hand when they haven't taken even the freshman level courses at the college level, if they even took the very basic high school level ones.

I don't hate you, but your Bible bothers me. I don't like being called filthy, foolish, a liar, and an antichrist. I don't like the execution orders your Bible gives regarding Atheists in at least four verses. I don't like how your Bible treats women as the property of men. I don't like its support of slavery. It bothers me that the only way your god character could think of to absolve human beings of sin was to make a humiliating blood sacrifice of his only begotten son (if I would even go as far as to accept this myth, which I don't). It also bothers me that this concept of original sin was born of a myth about a man and woman who didn't have the knowledge of good and evil, but were expected to know that it was evil to disobey your god when they were punished for eating fruit (!) that somehow gave them this knowledge.

Conclusion: I hope I've answered your questions to your satisfaction. Feel free to ask follow-up questions.