Monday, November 30, 2009

Intelligence Squared debate: Atheism is the new fundamentalism

Thought I'd pass along the link to video of the debate, which took place last night. The chapters are in the right hand column. Speaking for the motion are Richard Harries and Charles Moore. Speaking against it are A. C. Grayling and Richard Dawkins. I haven't had a chance to watch it yet. You all will have to let me know if it's good.  :-)

Also, apologies for being behind in responding to comments. A lot going on in "real life" so the blog has had to take a back seat.


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Sunday, November 29, 2009

Never underestimate the danger of superstition

(CNN) -- As many as 10,000 albinos are in hiding in east Africa over fears that they will be dismembered and their body parts sold to witchdoctors, the Red Cross said in a recent report.


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Saturday, November 28, 2009

I don't think you're stupid.

I've been trying to think how to write this piece without coming off as a pompous ass. I may or may not succeed.

I've noticed an air of superiority among atheists that I find troubling. Some of my religious friends feel that atheists look down on them. Richard Dawkins alludes to a correlation between higher intelligence and nonbelief in God or other supernatural phenomena. Dinesh D'Souza said of the new atheism, "It wants to make the believer feel like a total idiot for believing in God."

I do not think anyone is stupid for believing in God. I don't think that it's because I'm so smart that I lost my faith--although I did once have a bishop who cautioned me that if I wasn't careful, my "keen mind" could become a "stumbling block" to my faith (i.e. I should quit thinking so much). I'm certainly no dummy, but I'm also smart enough to recognize that there are many people out there who are smarter than I am, and I know many believers among them. For example, my mother is one of the most intelligent people I know. Many of the LDS apostles have had successful medical, scientific or political careers and are obviously very bright guys.

So, if you believe in God, I don't think you're stupid, but I do think you're wrong. I'm not going to go into why I think you're wrong because I've already discussed that in other posts. What I would like to write about today is why I think you believe. And I'm sure I'll get an earful of rebuttal, but I'm okay with that.  :-)

Michael Shermer, executive director of the Skeptics Society , puts it this way: "Smart people believe weird things because they are skilled at defending beliefs they arrived at for non-smart reasons." You might could even argue that it requires more intelligence to hold up the scaffolding of a shaky foundation.

I'm going to posit why I think believers go to such great lengths to defend their beliefs: They are highly invested in those beliefs and thus highly motivated to maintain them.

When I was a Mormon, I believed that losing my testimony was the worst thing that could happen to me. People who lose their beliefs are painted as dark and defective, full of evil. Brigham Young said of those who leave the Church, "They experience darkness, ignorance, doubt, pain, sorrow, grief, mourning, unhappiness; no person to condole [lament] with in the hour of trouble, no arm to lean upon in the day of calamity, no eye to pity when they are forlorn and cast down; and I comprehend it by saying death, hell and the grave." Or from Doctrine and Covenants 85:9: "...all they who are not found written in the book of remembrance shall find none inheritance in that day, but they shall be cut asunder, and their portion shall be appointed them among unbelievers, where are wailing and gnashing of teeth." A quick search for "unbelief" in the LDS Topical Guide suggests the following related topics: Hardheartedness, Doubt, Hate, Pride, Stubbornness, Wickedness, Fearfulness. Clearly to lose your belief in the Church is a very bad thing.

Belief is a prerequisite for God to work miracles in your life. (Matthew 8:13, Matthew 9: 28-29, Luke 8:50 for just a few examples.) Interestingly, the New Age idea of manifesting reality through our thoughts also claims that we have to truly believe it in order for the universe to shift around and grant our desires. (So when everything isn't rosy, it's your fault because of some mental block dampening your belief.) 

Most mainstream Christians don't think you have to belong to any particular church to be saved, but lets take a look at perhaps the best known verse in all of Christendom, John 3:16: "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life (emphasis mine)." Or Mark 16:16: "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned." 

Obviously the stakes are a wee bit higher than, say, not getting presents anymore for not believing in Santa.

Besides these frightening (and  albeit false) consequences of losing belief, no one likes to find out they've been had, especially about something so fundamental to their sense of identity. I can attest to that.

There's a certain sense of security in believing that you have the answers and that you know. It can be unnerving to have to admit that you don't know and that there are no guarantees and that everything doesn't always necessarily work out for the best. So I understand the motives for holding on to irrational beliefs.

But if you can find the courage to let go of that ledge, you might find that what awaits you below is much more like an inflatable bouncy house than menacing, jagged rocks.


If you enjoyed this post, I hope you'll check out my new blog.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Carl Sagan's Cosmos on Hulu and Netflix

Just a friendly public service announcement that Carl Sagan's old series Cosmos is available to watch for free from Hulu. Also, if you have Netflix, you can get the DVDs or watch instantly. It's more inspiring than church! And you can go in your underwear!


If you enjoyed this post, I hope you'll check out my new blog.

Friday Funny: xkcd - Silent Hammer

I love xkcd and so should you. This image is too wide for my little blog, but if you click on it, you can see the whole thing.


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Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thankful Thursday

No antagonizing question today.  :-)

I am thankful that all my favorite people live under the same roof with me, and I am thankful that there is nothing I have to do today except be with them.

May you all be so fortunate. Happy Thanksgiving.



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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

TED Talk Tuesday: Devdutt Pattanaik: East vs. West--The myths that mystify

Today's talk: Devdutt Pattanaik on the myths that mystify. It's a fascinating look at how the myths of our particular culture shape our worldview.

Now, I have nothing against mythology. Earlier this year I read Jean Shinoda Bolen's book Goddesses in Everywoman. I saw myself in the stories she related about the Greek goddesses, particularly Artemis and Persephone. I recognized patterns of my behavior--some of them counterproductive--in these mythological goddesses and the insights I gained were life-changing, even though I know full well that these goddesses never literally existed. We need stories, as Joan Didion attests in the title of her collected non-fiction volume We Tell Ourselves Stories in Order to Live. Stories endow us with inner strength as this post from my friend Liz's blog illustrates.

But, and this is very important, we need to know when to recognize that a myth is a myth. In his talk, Devdutt Pattanaik explains it this way: "Every culture is trying to understand itself...and every culture comes up with its own understanding of life, its own customized version of mythology." Where we get into trouble is when we start taking our myths too seriously and begin to say, "My stories are correct and yours aren't." Pattanaik says, "Both paradigms are human constructions. They're cultural creations, not natural phenomenon."

Stories are wonderful. I think every culture's stories have something of value to offer.

But we need to know when a story is just a story.


If you enjoyed this post, I hope you'll check out my new blog.

Monday, November 23, 2009

I would sleep better at night if this were a video by the Onion


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Saturday, November 21, 2009

What is sin? What is saved? What is truth?

This is in reply to some recent comments from this post about being saved.

What does it mean to be saved? What are we being saved from? Even after I concluded that Mormonism was false, I still believed in Jesus Christ for quite a long time and the whole concept of being saved was something I pondered. I never believed in hell as a physical place, lake of fire and brimstone, what have you. I believed in it as a state of separation from God, or as a state of realizing our unworthiness to be in God's presence. When I thought of being saved, I thought of leaning on Jesus to overcome the darker side of my human nature, tendencies toward anger, hatred, viciousness, revenge, etc.

Comments have referenced the tormented, angry, self-absorbed state of the damned. I believed that kind of existence awaited me unless I formed some sort of relationship with Jesus. So I tried. I really, really tried my damnedest. 

Patrik posed the question that Pilate asked Jesus: What is truth? I'm gonna borrow a few lines from here. Truth is: the true or actual state of a matter; conformity with fact or reality. I tried to have a relationship with Jesus. I went to church. I read the Bible. I prayed for my heart to be in the right place. I prayed for God to fill me with faith. But even though I was trying to do all the right things, if I was honest with myself, the reality, the truth, was that nothing was happening. I wasn't feeling any different. I wasn't sensing any divine love in my life, just the human love that had always been there. But then I realized that I didn't need Jesus to be good or to be happy. I was okay on my own. Not being able to form a relationship with a non-existent being was not a reflection of any failure on my part; it was a reflection of reality, and that was the truth that set me free.

There was a reference to blaming others to justify one's own actions. Dinesh D'Souza seems to think this is a motive of atheism. In a recent address at Brigham Young University, he said: "How do you get out from out of the shadow of unceasing accountability, of unremitting moral judgement? Well, abolish the judge. If you can somehow get rid of God, then all his preachments and commandments become optional."

Let's examine my sinful life that I'm trying to justify, shall we. I've had a total one sexual partner in my life. So monogamy for the win. Yay me. But we didn't wait till we were married, so fornication fail. (Question: How do tribal societies who don't have governmental provisions for marriage get out of fornication? Or does Jesus have to pay for that too?) So now we have the piece of paper that magically turns sex into a beautiful gift from God instead of an abominable sin, but we've taken measures to ensure that we don't conceive any more babies, so there we fail by Catholic standards. If you want to go further into sexual conduct, for a Mormon, not much beyond kissing is okay outside of marriage, but I've known many Christians who think as long as you wait for marriage to have intercourse the other stuff is okay. And I know still other Christians who think sex outside of marriage is no big deal at all.

I drink coffee and the occasional glass of wine. Fine by mainstream Christian standards, but bad by Mormon standards, and Islam also frowns on alcohol. I like bacon so Jews and Muslims aren't happy there. I like hamburgers every now and then, so Hindus condemn me there. I don't observe any kind of Sabbath, bad according to Judeo-Christian tradition.

I don't pray or go to church, but I still strive to be honest, hardworking, kind, generous. I think anyone who knows me would say I'm a fairly decent human being, but there are still some of my actions, or lack of actions, that are "wrong" by some people's standards.

I think a better question than "what is truth" might be: What is sin? Whose standards do we follow? And the Bible (or any other "holy" book) is not a valid answer because no one can agree on which parts we follow and which parts we don't. Which brings me to the ethical standards that I believe in. It's fairly simple: Love is good; hate is bad. Alleviating suffering is good; inflicting suffering is bad. I think these are statements pretty much everyone can agree on, regardless of belief or lack of belief in a deity. How did I come to these conclusions? I observed what made me happy and what didn't. I feel good if I'm able to help someone out. I feel bad if I hurt someone's feelings, or if someone cuts me off in traffic and I lay on the horn and flip them off, it might feel good at the time, but I usually feel bad later. Seeing other people happy makes me happy. Seeing other people suffer makes me unhappy.

This is the stuff everyone agrees on. These are the rules that actually have legitimate bases and deserve to be followed and codified. The other stuff is arbitrary and makes no sense. 

These standards tell me stealing is wrong, as is drunk driving, or murder or child abuse. 

These are the standards I used to determine that homosexuality was not evil. It is not hateful. It does not hurt anyone. Stigmatizing it, on the other hand, is very hurtful. I agree with Christopher Hitchens' statement at the recent Intelligence Squared debate regarding the Catholic Church. He said: "Homosexuality is not just a form of sexuality. It is a form of love and it deserves our respect." Or this essay by Elizabeth Nichols from the November 2009 issue of skirt! She writes about meeting her sister's partner. Her sister said, "My soul fell in love with another soul, and we both just happened to be women." Some call that evil. I think that's beautiful. That brings tears to my eyes.

These standards tell me that making love to the man I love and share my life with before we had a marriage license was not a sin. At the time, I believed it was and thought my inability to feel remorse meant there was something wrong with me, evidence that Satan had hardened my heart. I prayed and prayed about it: "Help me repent. Help me have a broken heart and a contrite spirit. Help me feel Godly sorrow." Nothing. And how insane is it that I was trying to make myself feel guilty for something that I didn't naturally feel guilt for? Lack of remorse did not indicate something wrong with me; it indicated the invalidity of this "law" of chastity. What we did was loving. It hurt no one. The only bad things to come from not waiting for marriage were the artificial consequences invoked by the Church. And now, actually, I'm grateful even for that because it was the catalyst to getting me to question and getting me out.

Is inflicting pain on an innocent person really the best way to "save" us from the hateful side of our nature? Why is more suffering the price that has to be paid? And how does making someone else bear that suffering help us be better people? I agree with Mike's comments that the only reason to punish someone is to help correct future behavior. I think our legal system is broken, at least in part, because of this ingrained Judeo-Christian notion of having to "pay" for our crimes. Why is punishment a good way to pay? Why not restitution wherever possible? Why not more emphasis on changing future behavior? I'm not saying that there aren't some people who need to be in prison, but I think this notion of having to "pay" and "accountability, no matter what" often does more harm than good.

I also thought Mike had an excellent point about our ability as imperfect humans to forgive debts and misdeeds, but somehow omnipotent, loving God is powerless to forgive unless a price is paid. Does not compute.

Bottom line: There is right and wrong, but there is no sin. We will be happier if we cultivate the loving, empathetic side of our nature rather than the hateful, vengeful side; but we have the ability to do that ourselves and don't need someone else to "save" us. And all the nitpicky, random rules of religion are optional because people just made them up. 

The truth shall set you free.


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Friday, November 20, 2009

Friday Funny: Mark Twain on the Book of Mormon

Patrik, I think even you'll like this one. Follow this link to read the full text. The more familiar you are with the book, the funnier Mark Twain's assessment is. Here are some of my favorite parts:

It is chloroform in print. If Joseph Smith composed this book, the act was a miracle--keeping awake while he did it was, at any rate. If he, according to tradition, merely translated it from certain ancient and mysteriously-engraved plates of copper, which he declares he found under a stone, in an out-of-the-way locality, the work of translating was equally a miracle, for the same reason."

Whenever he found his speech growing too modern--which was about every sentence or two—he ladled in a few such Scriptural phrases as 'exceeding sore,' 'and it came to pass,' etc., and made things satisfactory again. 'And it came to pass' was his pet. If he had left that out, his Bible would have been only a pamphlet."

On the Testimony of the Three Witnesses: "
Some people have to have a world of evidence before they can come anywhere in the neighborhood of believing anything; but for me, when a man tells me that he has 'seen the engravings which are upon the plates,' and not only that, but an angel was there at the time, and saw him see them, and probably took his receipt for it, I am very far on the road to conviction, no matter whether I ever heard of that man before or not, and even if I do not know the name of the angel, or his nationality either."

On the Testimony of the Eight Witnesses: "
And when I am far on the road to conviction, and eight men, be they grammatical or otherwise, come forward and tell me that they have seen the plates too; and not only seen those plates but 'hefted' them, I am convinced. I could not feel more satisfied and at rest if the entire Whitmer family had testified."

On the endless Jaredite battles toward the end of the Book of Mormon: "It seems a pity he did not finish, for after all his dreary former chapters of commonplace, he stopped just as he was in danger of becoming interesting."


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Thursday, November 19, 2009

"Think about it" Thursday: Saved

This week's question:

  • When we talk about being saved, what exactly are we being saved from?

Discuss. Civilly.  :-)


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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Getting to know the Red River Freethinkers

My introduction to the Red River Freethinkers begins with an interview with Dr. Davis Cope, an associate professor of mathematics at North Dakota State University and a founding member of the Freethinkers. Dr. Cope is a warm, congenial man with thinning white hair and endearingly thick glasses. He welcomes me into his office and immediately asks that I call him Davis. It is fairly impossible not to like this man. Despite the fact that I am normally extremely introverted and this is the first time we've met, conversation soon flows easily.

I ask if he would describe himself as an atheist. "Well, 'atheist,' yes," he says, "but I think 'naturalist' is a more precise term. I just don't believe that there's anything supernatural about our world."

Davis was raised in Tennessee, where his family attended a Baptist church until he was about 12, then switched to a Presbyterian church. "But," he says, "I was already an atheist by that time. And that basically came from reading Mark Twain." He continued to attend church to please his family, but stopped going soon after beginning college.

Davis completed a PhD at Vanderbilt University and then moved to Fargo in 1981. The Red River Freethinkers organized in 1997, with roughly 20-30 members at its inception. The name "Freethinkers" was chosen to be inclusive of the diversity among the views of the group's members, which included deists as well as atheists and agnostics. Its mission is: "to advocate for a skeptical view of the role of religion in society and to promote critical examination of religious authority and dogma."

Davis says he is most proud of the Freethinkers' role in starting NDSU's Science, Religion and Lunch Seminar series, a weekly gathering for education and discussion of controversial topics relating to science and religion. He is particularly proud that the SRL Seminars don't push any particular viewpoint. Presenters have included scientists, skeptics, young earth creationists, Mormon bishops, and just "regular" folks from the community who have something to say.

Two days after my meeting with Davis, I attend my first meeting of the Freethinkers. We had to leave a little early because the 5-year-old and 1-year-old didn't find it as interesting as Mom and Dad did, but we were there for most of the discussion. 

After quick introductions, we move on to the main event, a talk by Davis Cope titled "Trying to Understand Fundamentalism." Following is a paraphrase of some of his main points.

He starts with a story from the early days of the SRL Seminars. While discussing a presentation about evolution, an attendee referred to as Mr. A expressed an opposing point of view. And, "in the spirit of the Science, Religion and Lunch seminar, he was invited to speak." Mr. A came and presented a case for the Young Earth Creationism viewpoint and by Davis's estimation, did a wonderful job. Davis stayed in touch with Mr. A, who came back to present again a few times over the years. Mr. A married, entered the ministry and had four children. Davis describes Mr. A as intelligent, self-sacrificing and sincere, and says that it is because of people like Mr. A that he will never promote the stereotypes of fundamentalists being hypocritical, prudish Bible-belters.

Davis continues and asserts that when we criticize a point of view, we must first accurately state that view, and the people who are in the position to determine whether the view is accurately stated are the ones who hold the view, not the ones criticizing.

Of the many types of fundamentalism, the focus of Davis's talk is fundamentalism based on Bible inerrancy, the belief that scripture is infallible. The talk explores how fundamentalists analyze information to draw conclusions and how they deal with opposing viewpoints.

Testing the theory of inerrancy requires comparing it with an accepted source of knowledge. For a fundamentalist, no outside source will do because the Bible is considered the supreme source of knowledge and the yardstick by which all other knowledge should be measured. And thus, Bible inerrancy can only satisfactorily be tested against the Bible itself.

That might sound difficult, but it can be done by comparing multiple accounts of the same events or principles to see if they concur. In examining the different accounts, the result is that they typically vary. Davis cites the example of the death of Judas Iscariot. The account in Matthew 27:3-8 says that when Judas realizes what he's done, he takes the thirty pieces of silver to the priests as an attempt at repentance, but they won't accept it because it's blood money. Judas then throws the silver down in the temple and goes out and hangs himself. The priests then gather up the money and buy a field for burying strangers and call the field the field of blood. The account in Acts 1:16-19 says that Judas fell in a field and burst open and his bowels gushed out, and the field was called the field of blood.

The question then becomes, How does a fundamentalist reconcile what appears to be a discrepancy? And Davis emphasizes that they do have an answer and a reconciliation for every criticism. He refers to the book When Critics Ask by Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe. The authors handle the death of Judas like this:

The accounts are mutually complimentary. Judas both hung himself and fell. They speculate that he hung himself from a tree on a cliff hanging over a field, then fell in the field and burst open.

Now, Davis asks, does this make sense? To him it doesn't, that two writers, if they were both divinely directed, would each only write half the story. And the cliff and the tree are no where to be found in the Bible, but this is the kind of reasoning that many fundamentalists will use.

The meeting opened up to discussion at this point. Lilie Schoenack, secretary for the Freethinkers, compared the addition of the cliff and the tree to inserting a constant into an equation. Further speculation ensued about the legitimacy of "adding to" the Bible. Jon Lindgren, president of the Freethinkers and a former mayor of Fargo, gave the opinion, "As soon as you say, 'what this means is...' you're inserting your own words."

Davis stated, "Fundamentalists are in serious danger of treating the Bible like an idol." A guest, whose name I didn't catch, but who was a member of the Lutheran Missouri Synod and considered himself fundamentalist agreed with this statement, saying that many church members get caught up with the Book, and forget about what the Book points to: Jesus Christ.

A couple of small and cute people (one of whom tugged at my shirt sleeve to ask me if cats lay eggs) made it difficult to follow the rest of the discussion, but I will say that opposing views were expressed and the tone remained civil and respectful.

I'm looking forward to continued association with the Red River Freethinkers.


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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Checking in, and some "wisdom" from Elder McConkie

Hi readers,

I'm very pleased with the small but loyal readership that my blog is attracting. You could say I have a cult following. Ha! I'm still working on my promised report on the Red River Freethinkers, but my kid has been extra clingy. I'm pretty sure he's teething. Hope to have that up sometime tomorrow.

But anyway, I know I learned growing up that the Fall of Adam occurred approximately 6000 years ago. I'm looking for documentation of this doctrine from a Church source. If anyone knows offhand where I can find that and wants to save me some time, that would be awesome.

In the meantime, while I was looking, I came across this gem of an article by Bruce R. McConkie. It's about the Creation, from the September 1983 issue of Liahona. I'll just share a few highlights:
Appended to this command to multiply was the heaven-sent restriction that the creatures in the waters could only bring forth “after their kind,” and that “every winged fowl” could only bring forth “after his kind.” There was no provision for evolvement or change from one species to another.

Evolvement? That sounds like a perfectly cromulent word. It's called evolution, Bruce. Further on he says:

These revealed verities about the creation of all things run counter to many of the speculations and theories of the world. They are, however, what the inspired word sets forth, and we are duty bound to accept them. We are frank to admit that our knowledge of the creation of the universe, of this earth, of man, and of all living things is meager—perhaps almost miniscule—as compared to what there is to learn. But the Lord has revealed to us as much about the mystery of creation as is necessary for us in our probationary estate.

"Theories of the world." You mean, science? Because science is so worldly? Labs and observatories are the bastions of Babylon! "Duty bound to accept them." There's some intellectual property laws for you. And it's like God is saying, "Yeah, there's more, but the only way to learn more is for me to reveal it to you, and I'm not gonna, 'cause you don't need to know. Nyah, nyah, nyah." 

Kind of sounds like God is a dick.


If you enjoyed this post, I hope you'll check out my new blog.

TED Talk Tuesday: Beau Lotto: Optical illusions show how we see

This week's TED Talk: Beau Lotto: Optical Illusions show how we see

It's a fascinating presentation that will change your perception of perception. Some of his main points: What we perceive is largely based on our past experiences and expectations. Our brain often projects images of what we expect to see, and is not necessarily reflective of reality. He also says, "The brain evolved to see the world in a way that was useful in the past." We see what we need to see.

Research like this makes me very skeptical indeed of accounts of visions.


If you enjoyed this post, I hope you'll check out my new blog.

Monday, November 16, 2009

While we're on Adam and Eve and thinking...

This is a great post and thread from John Loftus' blog Debunking Christianity, which I highly recommend. John is a former Christian apologist, now an atheist. Here's his blogger profile.

I have seen the new comments on previous posts and want to respond. I'm also working on writing up my report of the Red River Freethinkers meeting, but am currently thwarted by a cranky toddler wanting my attention every thirty seconds. So this will have to suffice for now.


If you enjoyed this post, I hope you'll check out my new blog.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

It doesn't take a scientist.

This is in response to a comment from my last "Think about it" post.

A reader thinks I should be the one giving the answers to these questions instead of soliciting opinions from my readers. I don't give my views up front on these "think about it" questions, because I want my readers to think for themselves without my influence. I firmly believe that if you can just get people to think about things, they will come to the correct conclusion on their own. That's how I got out: thinking.
I am no scientist. I've done well in science courses that I've taken and I like Discovery Channel as much as the next person, but my degree is in music (or will be in May). I make no claims about having any sort of expertise in any field of science, but it doesn't take a scientist to figure this stuff out. It was not science that convinced me that there is no god. Science did, however, play a role in convincing me that Mormonism was bullshit (see previous post), and it also makes it pretty clear that the Genesis account of Adam and Eve cannot possibly be literal.

We evolved, just like all other life forms on this planet. It's true that evolution does not disprove the existence of God, but with regard to the Adam and Eve story, just think about it. What is the likelihood that at some point in evolution there were suddenly (remember, there is no sudden in evolution) two humans, exactly two humans, male and female (and where's the cutoff line for what's human and what's not?) and then God swoops in and points out a couple of trees and tells them not to eat from one of them but they do it anyway (to say nothing of the talking snake)? I have to concede I have no proof that this didn't happen, but I find it highly, highly unlikely. But as a couple of my readers rightly point out, the writers of the Bible obviously did believe the story was literal. And if they were mistaken about that, what else were they mistaken about?

As for it not mattering whether Eve ate first or Adam, maybe it doesn't matter to our wonderful, perfect, loving God, but it obviously did matter very much to many of His servants through the ages. If a human botched up the story somewhere along the line, it seems awfully cruel of God to make half the population pay for that mistake for centuries.

If you want empirical evidence from a scientist, use your Google. Spencer Wells is a great place to start, or you can rent The Journey of Man from Netflix.

And just to keep everyone happy, I'll offer my answer to my previous question post regarding whether or not Neanderthals were capable of sin. Were neanderthals capable of cruelty, brutality, jealousy and fornication? Undoubtedly. Were they capable of sin? No, because there is no such thing.


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Saturday, November 14, 2009

I'd like to see Dinesh D'Souza debate NonStampCollector

First read this bunch of baloney, and then watch this:


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Friday, November 13, 2009

Friday Funny: Tim Minchin - Storm

Here's your Friday Funny. It goes well with this article about the placebo effect in alternative health treatments. I'm also working on a piece about my gripes with New Age philosophies. Have a happy weekend.


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Thursday, November 12, 2009

"Think about it" Thursday

Here's your weekly question, intended to provoke thought and civil discussion. This week's question is aimed more at believers, but anyone can jump in.

Adam and Eve: Literal history or allegory? And what are one or two things we're supposed to learn from the story?

Have fun!


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Coming Attraction

Dr. Davis Cope has very graciously consented to an interview regarding the Red River Freethinkers. Dr. Cope is an associate professor of mathematics at North Dakota State University and a founding member of the Red River Freethinkers.

For those of you who live locally, Dr. Cope will be giving a presentation titled "Trying to Understand Fundamentalism" at the next Freethinkers meeting, this Sunday, November 15 from 1-3 p.m. at Atomic Coffee on Broadway in Fargo. You can also fan the Freethinkers on Facebook.

Look for my report of the interview and the presentation early next week, probably Monday, but maybe Tuesday. Hell, it's my damn blog. I'll put it up whenever I feel like it.  :D


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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Was James Arthur Ray selling positive thinking, or no thinking?

This is somewhat old news, but it's bothering me. Last month, three people died at a sweat lodge in Sedona, Arizona. They were attending a spiritual retreat, led by James Arthur Ray. You might remember him as one of the "master teachers" featured in the film The Secret. This retreat was designed to teach people to push past their "self-imposed" limits so they could "create harmonic wealth." ("Harmonic Wealth" is a registered trademark, by the way.) Participants paid upwards of $9000 to attend.

In a statement on his website, Mr. Ray says, "I must dedicate all of my physical and emotional energies to helping bring some sort of closure to this matter. That means helping the authorities and the families get to the bottom of what happened."

I will tell you what happened, Mr. Ray. People trusted you. They believed that wonderful things would come into their lives if they followed your instructions. They believed you were looking out for them. Then you knowingly led them into a dangerous situation and made them feel as though they would be cowardly quitters and miss out on the wonderful prize if they left.

Christine Whelan, in an op-ed for the Washington Post reported that her friend who was at the retreat heard one of Ray's volunteers claim that those who had died had "chosen not to come back" because their souls were "having too much fun" outside their bodies.

I've heard of blaming the victim, but that is beyond disgusting. Their souls are not off blissfully celebrating somewhere. They are dead. They are gone, and it is your fault, Mr. Ray.

You, sir, are a murderer, although even through my anger, I have to pity you a little, because I'm pretty sure that you actually believe your own lies. 

We do not need a "New Age" rebranding of the same mumbo jumbo. We need an Age of Reason.


If you enjoyed this post, I hope you'll check out my new blog.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

TED Talk Tuesday: John Lloyd inventories the invisible

Happy Tuesday, readers! As a new weekly feature, I'll be selecting and sharing a TED Talk that I think is particularly interesting. This week: John Lloyd inventories the invisible. Not surprisingly, among the invisible, God comes up, though only briefly. As Mr. Lloyd wisely states, "I refuse to be drawn on the question of whether God exists until someone properly defines the term." Steven Weinberg said something similar: "If you want to say 'God is energy,' then you can find God in a lump of coal."

Some people like to say that God is everywhere. Matter and energy are everywhere, yes. If that's how you want to define God, then, sure, God is everywhere. But I think most people define God as a superior intelligent being who answers prayers and forgives sins and intervenes in human affairs, and, well, the evidence for that isn't so good.


If you enjoyed this post, I hope you'll check out my new blog.

Monday, November 9, 2009

To the Lost Sheep: It's okay to run!

I've gotten some feedback that my blog is coming across as derogatory. Let me make it clear: I have no intention of coming across otherwise, though perhaps I should clarify derogatory of beliefs, not of people who believe them. I believe global warming is caused by humans. I believe we need a public option in our health insurance system. I believe homosexuals should have the right to marry. Why would I take offense at someone who says I'm wrong about these things? You see pundits vehemently debating and criticizing both sides of all these issues, but religion is off limits?

I have no intention of playing nice with religion. To be blunt, I think it is poison and it needs to be eradicated if we're ever going to progress. I took the respectful, non-confrontational route for quite a while. I said in my first post, when I first left, I had no intention of trying to dissuade anyone else from their beliefs because even though I thought those beliefs were wrong, I didn't see what the harm was in letting them believe it. In fact, I could see that religion was a source of comfort and hope for some people. But I now believe that we are paying too high of a price for that solace. 

The moderate religion of love many people enjoy today was only made possible because people have dared to question the establishment. Most contemporary religion has been culled down to only the nice parts, but it is still based on a lie. I don't think basing your life on a lie, no matter how lovely of a lie, is a healthy way to live, though you have that right if you so choose. 

I've also heard, "Well, I'm more of a person of faith than a religious person. My faith makes me happy. How is that harming me?" I do get the difference between faith and religion, and you're probably right that your faith isn't harming you personally. I still say you're paying a high price for that solace, because it is contributing to a culture where we say it's okay to have unfounded, illogical beliefs. Where do we draw the line? If we have to respect your nice beliefs, do we also have to respect beliefs that homosexuality is evil, or that Black people are the cursed tribes of Ham, or that infidels must die?

I know some people are going to be upset by what I say, but it's a risk I'm willing to take because I know that for every person I offend, there's someone else out there desperately searching for answers, and I'm here for those who want out. Religion and faith might make some people happy, but u
nfortunately there are many more who are suffering because of their beliefs, and they don't know that there's another way or they're afraid of the consequences if they try to leave. I've only had my blog up for a couple of weeks and I've gotten messages from several people, thanking me for sharing my views and experience, because they felt trapped and alone. 

To all the lost sheep, you are not alone, and you don't need a shepherd. There are butchers out there masquerading in shepherd's clothing. Better to stay lost than to return to a fold that will destroy you. Come into the light of reason. There's a better way.


If you enjoyed this post, I hope you'll check out my new blog.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

I'm now part of the Atheist Blogroll!

I'm proud and thrilled to have The Whore of All the Earth included in the Atheist Blogroll. This is a community of over 1000 atheist and agnostic bloggers. You can see the blogroll in my sidebar. If you're an atheist of agnostic blogger and would like to join, visit Mojoey's blog Deep Thoughts for instructions. It's free!

Happy blogging and reading.


If you enjoyed this post, I hope you'll check out my new blog.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Woe is me! How EVER shall I fill the God-shaped hole in my heart???

Today's myth: Atheists are depressed, despondent and hopeless. How could our lives possibly have purpose and meaning without God? We must drift about on a sea of melancholy, lamenting our lack of a divine rudder.

The truth: I can't speak for all atheists, but for me it's true that once I couldn't believe anymore, I did mourn the loss of God for a while. He was the dominant character in my life for 20+ years. Even if the relationship hadn't been entirely healthy, it was still hard to let go of that familiarity. But I've moved on.

And I'm happier now than I ever was when I believed in God. I'm sure there are some atheists who suffer from depression, but I've yet to meet any. I have, however, known many people of faith who were depressed, myself among them for most of my late teens and early twenties. And I find it very interesting that the state of Utah--whose populace is largely made up of people who claim to be following the only path to true happiness--tops the nation in depression rates.

It's true that I don't believe that my life has any predetermined purpose, but I have defined my own. My purpose is to enjoy my life and to do what I can to help others to do the same. That's why I don't steal or vandalize or perpetrate violence. That's why I speak out about my views so that those who are miserable in religion and feel trapped know that they can get out. 

And I have hope because every day I see more people waking up and relinquishing the fantasies.

Where do I find meaning? I have a spouse. Conversing with him, planning our future together, creating a bond together gives my life meaning. I have two children. Watching them learn and grow gives me joy. Wanting to make the world a better place for them to live gives me purpose. And I can tell you for damned sure that a mother's love has nothing to do with a mother's belief or non-belief in God.

I love music. I love to sing. I love nature. I love to run. I love to read. I love yoga. I love food. And I definitely love coffee more than I ever loved God.

What's not to be happy about?! My life is full, and more importantly, my life is my own. I'm under no obligation to fulfill some divine destiny. No one is looking over my shoulder or whispering in my thoughts. What a relief to realize there's no god! I'm free from the guilt of not living up to someone else's absurd, arbitrary and impossible expectations. 

I don't miss God. I'm too busy reveling in everything around me that actually exists.


If you enjoyed this post, I hope you'll check out my new blog.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Friday Funny: Sky Cake

Hi, everybody. I'm still feeling out how I want to do this blog thing and I thank everyone who has been reading so far. I think I'm going to make it a regular feature to post something humorous every Friday, so here's the first one. I will warn those with sensitive ears that the F-bomb is dropped several times. If you come across a funny comic or video that you'd like to see me feature here (especially if you're the creator of said humorous piece) email me at whoreblog @ gmail dot com. Have a great weekend!


If you enjoyed this post, I hope you'll check out my new blog.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

A question

Hello, readers. I have a question, especially for my friends who are believing Christians. It was one for which I couldn't think of an answer and that contributed to my skepticism that religion had all the answers. I'm not trying to be antagonistic by asking this. I'd really like to know what you think:

Where do neanderthals and other now-extinct hominids fit in the whole sin and salvation picture? Were they part of the human family that Christ died to save? Do you think they were intelligent enough to be considered capable of sin, or were they just animals?

That's all for today. I need to get to the piles of laundry in my house before life starts spontaneously generating in them and take advantage of the break in the weather to finish raking all the leaves in my yard.

As always, thanks for reading.


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