Monday, May 30, 2011

Intelligent De-Fail

Having just written a post yesterday on civility in discussions of religion and non-belief, I was interested when I came across this article attacking biologist, and popular atheist blogger P.Z. Myers via Project Reason.  Now I understand that Professor Myers is not afraid to say how he feels, so to speak, and therefore it is not so surprising that some people might, from time to time, get upset with him.  I quite enjoy his writings, which I recommend you read if by some tiny chance you made it here before seeing his vastly more popular and established blog

Anyhow, back to the article in question.  I read through the piece which was one part ad hominem attack and one part tutorial in the inanities of intelligent design.  I felt the need to say...something.  But when I got to the comments thread it seems that someone had beaten me to the punch.  More like someones.  At last check there were 218 comments with the majority by far defending Professor Myers.  I think there were only one or two that were in support of the article.  Myers also replied on his blog.

Seriously, P.Z. Myers doesn't need me to publicize this.  I just wanted to say that, even though I tend to be less vocal, I do so enjoy seeing an ID pusher get shredded whenever I can.  Thank you secular internet.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Should we play nice?

It seems that right now the question of how aggressively atheist we should be is floating around in many media outlets.  The Guardian published this interview with Martin Rees (which incidentally ticked me off bad enough to start this blog, but that is a topic for another day).  Perhaps it has something to do with the recent failed predictions of Harold Camping.  That is the suggestion over at Skepticblog.  Indeed, I myself have been pretty hard on Mr. Camping and his followers.  They were pretty easy targets, and I still believe that they behaved in a foolhardy manner, but it is important to remember that they are people and that this whole experience has probably been a difficult and painful one for them.  At the same time, how do you react to people who behave or believe so irrationally.

I tend to fall somewhere in the middle on the confrontation scale.  I don't think it is necessary to go out of our way to poke fun at people with strange or unsubstantiated beliefs.  People are allowed to think whatever they want.  However, if someone challenges me on my non-belief or tries proselytizing to me, they should be prepared to defend their beliefs, because they voluntarily crossed that line.  In cases like that I think that it is important for us to be quite vocal about why we are non-believers, and show that we are also normal human beings.  Basically, we shouldn't hide who we are because we are afraid of a) being socially outcast or b) offending the overtly religious.  I think that that is pretty straight forward.  We are who we are, and we believe what we believe (or don't believe) and we shouldn't be ashamed of it.

It becomes a more difficult question, however, when we are dealing with someone who is not directly challenging us or trying to convert us, but is still speaking with an air of religious authority.  It is like when someone at a party says something that is just blatantly wrong like "cockroaches are smarter than dogs" or "potato chips are really healthy" or "I think I am a little psychic" or "the Secret is such an awesome book".  You feel bad correcting them, because you don't want to be that person, but you also feel the need to correct an obvious factual error.  One that I encountered recently when talking about the economy was "Christ said, 'there will be poor always'."  Do you let that go?  Incidentally, rather than challenge the religious aspects of it, I challenged the statement on its own.  Of course this conversation was with a family member whom I have a great deal of respect for.  Would I have reacted differently if it had been someone whom I did not respect so much?  I don't know.  I can say though that I believe that we should pick our battles.  Sometimes the offense is too great to let slide and we should challenge it, even at the risk of appearing rude.  Other times, we should just let it slide. 

How about mockery?  I quite liked the attitude of Daniel Loxton's blog entry from Skepticblog (linked above).  Really, how effective is mockery?  Even if it works, it is kind of going over to the dark side, in that it is coercive and doesn't make people think critically.  One exception that I could possibly see is when we are actually publicly debating someone or dealing with a powerful organization.  In a debate if you can make your opponent look obviously foolish, without making yourself look like a bully or a jerk, it could help you win the debate.  When dealing with powerful organizations that promote wrong ideas I am not really concerned about their feelings, and would like to be a part of decreasing the quality of their public images.  Some examples include:  Answers in Genesis (people living with dinosaurs), The Discovery Institute (intelligent design), the Thomas More Law Center (have a look), and many others.  Still, I think belittling a person you are having a friendly conversation with, in almost all cases is a lose-lose idea.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

In for a penny...

Harold Camping.  The Campmeister.  El Camparino.  Camper.  I am starting to like this guy.  Not because I think he is on to anything.  No, I think he is pretty much out of his mind.  But reading this article about his reaction to the Rapture fail, I have to say he is good value.  Sticks to his guns and all that.  It reminds me of the first Austin Powers movie when Austin hits on a 21 saying that he "too like(s) to live dangerously".  So, the Rapture didn't happen, but the world is still going to end on October 21 of this year.  Whatever you say, buddy. *wink* *wink* 

Sadly, I doubt this one will get quite the media attention of the last one, but I can dream...

Monday, May 23, 2011

Okay, faith and what else?

Today, for the second time in my career as an atheist, someone has presented me with the argument that they believe in god because of faith.  I don't know why people think that this is a good argument.  Correct me if I am wrong, but doesn't faith mean basically the same thing as belief?  I know there are variations on the definitions of faith that give it some different shades of meaning, but essentially it is the same thing, right?  If I told someone I believe something because I believe it, I am sure that I would be met with blank stares and derision, but if I replace the word "belief" with the word "faith", suddenly it becomes an argument. 

I find this argument especially annoying because everyone has faith is something or someone, but we do it because there are reasons that we have that faith.  I am not talking about anything supernatural.  I am talking about things like faith that friends care for you and family members love you.  Maybe it is all a lie, but I have reason to believe it is not.  Sometimes the reasons for faith end up not being reliable, but they are there.  I am sure it is the same for religious peoples' faith.  Has it been instilled in you from childhood?  Are you afraid of god's wrath?  Is it the sense of community you feel in church?  Do you believe the Bible is the literal word of god?  Is it a feeling you get when you are alone?  Does god talk to you?  Have you been visited by angels?  You are not likely to convince me, but at least we can have an adult conversation about it.  So if you are religious and you insist on talking to me about religion please tell me the reason that you have faith, not simply that you do!  The thing worries me is that people might not know why they have this faith, and they are unwilling to really think about it.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

A spot of tea

In my recent rage over current politics in the U.S. I decided to take a look at how the other half live, so to speak.  This landed me over at the home page of Tea Party Patriots.  I was immediately struck by the banner that reads "TEACH U.S. HISTORY IN OUR SCHOOLS".  Ignoring the conundrum of a group who thinks that teachers are making too much money demanding more education, I remembered that I did indeed study U.S. history in school.  Have schools in the U.S. stopped doing this?  I had to know more.  So I went here.  I found the campaign interesting in that it not only asked its readers to send a letter to their school superintendent, but it asked for them to send three letters, and they want you to send letters that they (Tea Party Patriots) have written.  Hmm.  What was their angle here (Sharon?)?  At the bottom of the text I noticed there is a link to the NCCS store which sells a "Constitution Week Education Package".  NCCS, huh?  NCCS stands for National Center for Constitutional studies.  Fair enough, I think it is important for us to study the Constitution.  Wait, was the NCCS the same group that published The Making of America by Cleon Skousen, which claimed that "white slave owners were the worst victims" of slavery?  I'll spare you the suspense; it was.  Is that the U.S. history that they want taught in schools?  Anyhow, if you have some time to spare you can go over to NCCS site and test your knowledge of history with one of their super fun quizzes.  See if you can spot the agenda. 


Now that we know that the destruction of the world is not imminent, I feel it is safe to talk about more serious topics.  Right now there is no subject more guaranteed to raise my blood pressure than the all-out assault that the right is carrying out on the middle class in America.  I know times are tough and the money to run everything has to come from somewhere, but why are we taking it away from the people who educate our children?  And why must we take away unions' collective bargaining as well?  What does that have to do with anything?  Why aren't we taking the money from the irresponsible villians (that is the nicest way I feel I can describe them) who caused the world economy to nearly collapse on the first place?  It literally boggles my mind to think of how anyone can vote republican unless they make over $250,000 a year.  They are the only ones being served by this.  The rest of the base must be held hostage by social issues, which most of the time do not even concern them (e.g. gay marriage).  That is the only explanation that I can think of that makes any sense at all.  A few years ago a coworker complained to me that the United States was turning into a third world country.  At the time I thought he was nuts, and I told him so.  Now, he may be right. 

Anyhow, I am a bit out of my depth talking about economics, but I read this article from Vanity Fair,  and I recommend you read it too.  Chilling.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Still here

Well, looks like the Rapture didn't happen.  I am glad I decided not to sell all of my personal belongings, and quit my job.  I hope that for the people that did, this has served as a powerful lesson.  Sadly, however, even though this "guaranteed" prophecy has completely, and utterly failed, I doubt many of the true believers will be shaken in their faith.  Oh well.  I will take a victory for reason, even if it is a tiny one.  It was a good party, regardless.

Friday, May 20, 2011

The main event

It's been a pretty exciting week for atheists.  Stephen Hawking weighed in on heaven.  Friday is draw Muhammad day, and Saturday is the Rapture.  It is like a double header.  To top it off, Newt Gingrich, who recently said we have to fight to keep America from becoming a secular nation ruled by Sharia law, is now fighting for his life in his bid to get the GOP nomination.  Yes, pretty exciting indeed.  Here's hoping you make it through the end of the world (wink wink), but if not, will it really be so bad

Thanks, Katy, for the cartoon link.

Oh, and these church signs aren't real, but it would be great if they were.

UPDATE: Well really it is just another link, this one is quite helpful.  I want to get in as many shots on this as I can before it becomes a non-issue tomorrow afternoon.  Thanks, John, I totally stole another link from you.  

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The word of god?

Just wanted to share this article that I happened upon today.  I found it interesting, although not surprising to read about many books in the New Testament being written by people who were not who they claimed to be.  This by itself would not discredit the Bible as being true, but it certainly weakens its claim of being a primary source.  Given that it is the primary source, or as I called it in the entry about Stephen Hawking, the "evidence" for Christianity, I would say that Christians are standing on some shaky ground when they make truth claims.  I guess that is not so surprising.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Cue R.E.M. song

As I am sure you have by now heard, the Rapture is this Saturday.  Apparently, no ear shall hear his coming unless that ear has been listening to Family Radio (linked above).  This Harold Camping fellow also predicted that the world would end in 1994, but to my knowledge no one has been "raptured" to date.  One possible exception might be the guy in charge of maintaining their website.  It looks like it is from 1994.  I seriously recommend going there and checking out the "FACTS about May 21" section.  It makes fun of itself, so I really don't feel the need to.  I have heard some people complaining that this event has been getting to much media attention.  In my opinion, I think it is great!  I am even having a Rapture party on Saturday.  It doesn't start until seven, but I doubt that will affect my guest list.  More importantly, it shows how silly the whole concept of the Rapture is.  I think that people are more comfortable with such foolish notions when they are down the line, but when it gets close, I have to imagine that even the believers are starting to wonder if it is really going to happen.  Any predictions of the BS that will begin spewing forth from Family Radio on May 22nd (local time)?

Also, here are some super fun cartoons from NPR website.   The Double Take Toons don't usually agree.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Full metal atheist

There are atheists in the foxholes.  I have never actually seen the argument that there are no atheists in the military employed in a debate, but I have always found it to be a repugnant one.  For one, it has an undertone suggesting that we are cowards, and much more importantly, there are undeniably atheists in the military!  Now, according to the article I linked to about, on top of having to remind people that they exist (in greater numbers than military Jews, Muslims, or Buddhists), they receive less support than their brothers and sisters in arms.

Thanks, John, for the link! 

Stephen Hawking on Heaven

In an interview with the Guardian Stephen Hawking refers to the idea of heaven as a "fairy story".  Pretty blunt, Doc, but I like your style.  As before, when he declared in his book The Grand Design that a god is not necessary to explain the universe, this statement about heaven has created a little firestorm amongst the religious.  The comments on the Guardian article were somewhat interesting, if only because there were 44 pages of them (last I checked) and seem to be a fair mix of religious and non-religious folks debating at varying levels of civility.  But my favorite response so far has come from this article at the Washington Post.  In it, Bishop Wright is arguing that Professor Hawking doesn't understand the Christian notion of heaven.  Perhaps this is an argument meant to confuse people.  I certainly don't get it.  I mean, I understand what he is saying, that Christians don't necessarily believe that they will be swooped up to a bright cloudy place to play harps until the end of....well, forever.  So what?  It is still life after bodily death.  It is still supernatural.  I would imagine that Professor Hawking also rejects the Muslim views of the afterlife.  I would be very surprised after a statement like the one he made Sunday to hear that Hawking believes in any sort of afterlife.  Bishop Wright then goes on to say that Hawking's opinion is not valid because he hasn't looked at the "evidence for Jesus and the resurrection".  We have heard that one before.  I have even tried looking for the evidence.  I even found a couple of copies of the "evidence" in my apartment.  You can also find the "evidence" in most hotel bed stands in the U.S..  If you know of another primary source referring directly Jesus please let me know so I can have a valid opinion on whether or not magic is real.

Sorry, got a bit snarky there for a minute...

Monday, May 16, 2011

Baby factory

Today I read about an article on Project Reason.  I say I read about it because the Wall Street Journal requires a subscription to read some content, and I try to avoid giving News Corp. money whenever I can.  The excerpts I read (one at PR the other at WSJ) suggested that some conservative lawmakers are trying to make the issue of gay marriage an issue of religious freedom.  Anyhow, as I mentioned, I couldn't read the whole article so I can't say too much about it, but it did get me thinking about a couple of things. 

The main thing I started thinking about was the definition of marriage as an institution designed to produce and raise babies.  Let me be clear, if that is what you think marriage is about, or that is what your marriage is about, I am not saying that you are wrong.  That is often a religious point of view, but it doesn't have to be.  I am not criticizing people who think that way.  I am criticizing people who expect other people to think the same way.  Providing a good environment to raise children is a definition of marriage, but it is not the only definition of marriage.  Even if somehow you could go back a hundred thousand years (or so) and prove definitively that the first man and the first woman walking the plains of Africa got married and the only reason for it was so that they could more effectively raise children, to suggest that in modern society we must stick exclusively and strictly to that ancient definition would be asinine.  People get married for many different reasons, and I think it is quite presumptuous to tell any married couple what their relationship is about.  What if they don't want children?  What if they are infertile?  What if they are elderly?  Should we deny the right to marry to them as well?  In this case, it seems strange and dishonest to say that a woman and a sterile man who love each other can get married, but two men or two women who love each other cannot.

I am tired of this subject.  It is a silly waste of time that one day we will look back on and uncomfortably explain to future generations.  *sigh*

Incidentally, I wanted to learn a little more about some Christian ideas about marriage and I found some interesting links, which I have included here:

Biblical Definition of Marriage

Christian Marriage

and an L.A. Times article by a "liberal"

That passage from Romans 13 was especially revealing.  Enjoy!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Taxing non-profits

Just saw this article on NPR's site.  I read this article carefully, and not once was the idea of taxing religious institutions (with the possible exception of religiously allied hospitals) brought up.  Why are we going to increase the taxes on institutions that are vital for society and continue letting religions rake in the cash tax free?

The secret stash

I just read about this over at the L.A. Times website.  Seems like ol' Osama couldn't wait for his 72 virgins.  I imagine the exchange going something like this:

Guard:  Osama, what are you doing in there?  Why is this door locked?

ObL:  [muffled through the door] Ugh, I!  Yes, cleaning.

I tried to think of a good porn name for bin Laden, but I couldn't think of anything postworthy.

Friday, May 13, 2011


Hello and welcome to Atheist Apartment.  This is my first attempt in several years at blogging so please bear with me as I get warmed up.  As opposed to my previous blogs, which were more like awkward online diaries about things I thought were funny, this blog is about something that I feel strongly about.  That is to say reality.  I have recently (about a year ago) given up any belief in anything supernatural, and since then I have been gobbling up books, articles, online university lectures, debates, and probably some other media outlets I am forgetting about on the subjects of a) secular ideas and b) science.  Now then, I would like to take this moment to be perfectly clear that I am not a scientist.  So in the future (if anyone reads this) if you see something wrong with something that I have said, please alert me via the comment thread.  I want to be as accurate and honest with myself and with you as I possibly can.  That said, I majored in history when I was in college and as a historian (ha!) I do have a skeptical vein running through me.  Therefore, if you correct a mistake of mine, please, please do not say something like "I read somewhere that...".  This will not do.  Now that I have finished sounding like a professor (which I am not) on the first day of a lecture (which it is not), lets get down to the meat.

I was going to kick things off by boring you with some details about myself and a heartfelt journey through my becoming an atheist and maybe even conclude with a short anecdote about how I chose the title "Atheist Apartment".  However, something else has caught my eye and I have decided to spare you the personal details and journey, except to say that, I am from Indiana and I am indeed an atheist.  Both of these details have bearing on what I would like to talk about:  Politics.  Ah!  What a dirty word it is.  It is often mentioned with religion when discussing things about which one should not talk on a date.  And, seemingly, it is almost always peppered with religion when it is in the United States.  A few weeks ago I read an article on NPR's webpage about Indiana passing a bill to cut funding to Planned Parenthood.  I was horrified at the time and am even more horrified now that the thing (and I do mean thing) has been passed and signed into law.  Being a big fan of science, I am also a big fan of things like reason.  Now, here we have a group of legislators who, for religious reasons, are cutting funding to an institution which primarily provides reproductive health care to low income women who have no other options.  Real tough guys.  But let's not beat around the bush, there is no question about what this is about: abortion.  Nevermind the fact that the vast majority of what planned parenthood does is NOT abortion.  Now, let's look at what really casts this bill in the crazy bin: the fact that the money that is getting cut cannot be used for abortions anyway.  So basically, in the midst of high unemployment many poor folks are going to be left with no where to get things like birth control, cancer screenings, and STD tests.  Congrats, assholes.

Anyhow I saw this cartoon over at NPR as well.  There are actually two cartoons on the page, I like the one on top, not so much the one on the bottom.  I don't mean to trivialize the seriousness of this issue, but doesn't it seem like the baby looks sad to be in heaven.