Yesterday, this blog posted an article about Juan Mendez and his address to the Arizona State Legislature about Secular Humanism. It didn’t mention the other bit of “Atheist” good news that rose from the devastation caused by a tornado in Oklahoma. There is a 32 second video of an interview conducted by CNN’s Wolf Blitzer located HERE. In the interview with tornado debris in the background, Wolf Blitzer asks a young lady holding her 18 month old baby, “I guess you gotta thank the lord, right?” To which Rebecca Vitsmun says, “I’m actually an Atheist.” She went on to also say, “I don’t blame anybody for thanking the lord.” Perfect! Probably too perfect says Glenn Beck. He believes that it was a set up to make Atheists look better than they actually are. Rush Limbaugh says, “He found the only Atheist in Oklahoma, and he didn’t know it,” but Limbaugh might have been laughing at Mr. Blitzer when he went on to say, “That’s just too rich. He thinks everybody he talks to is being ‘all God all the time.’” Thanks to social media, we know that Rebecca Vitsmun isn’t “the only Atheist in Oklahoma.” We also know that she is a member of Oklahoma Atheists, and contrary to some spurious reports, she’s not going anywhere. You can bet that she could use some help, though. One way to help her and also help the community is to buy the “I’m actually an atheist.” Tee Shirt. This is a win-win situation. You can help her out and identify yourself as a caring and giving Atheist at the same time. This will work out great for me because my “Atheist and proud of it” shirt is starting to wear out. The proceeds of the sale will go to a relief fund set up to help Rebecca Vitsmun and her son through these most difficult times.
Archive for the ‘Materialism’ Category
The last blog entry was about Jim Wilson leaving the area. I included an illustration of the earth in that post and today I got a note from a friend that has left the area a couple of months ago and headed to another place “down under”–Chile. I’ll call him DG. DG was an interesting member of the group. He enjoyed hanging out and sharing stories some more fantastic than others. He found us through the Meetup.com site and he was an Atheist but often less skeptical of other things. He believed in Tarot and often sent me links to UFO sites. The note asked me to review a link about the “expanding Earth” theory. DG is a nice enough guy and I always took his inquiries seriously so I reviewed the video and took a few minutes to do research and answer him. Here is my reply to DG:
Your BFF told me that would be sending me a link to something involving earth science. Thank you for sending it.
I watched the video from the link you sent and found it interesting. I didn’t find it convincing, however. It is difficult to be convinced by one video by a man that I know nothing about. In the video, Neal Adams is against the current theory of plate tectonics which is a young theory that came about in the 70s.
Plate tectonics is well supported with empirical data (observations) and consistent with what we know about physics and geology. It builds on the observation of continental drift and sea floor spreading. The best theories are ones that explain the observations and contain the fewest assumptions, see Occam’s Razor. At the heart of the video is the claim that the growing Earth theory best explains the shape and position of the current land masses. This could be true but there are other explanations and the expanding Earth hypothesis conflicts with other respected theories. It also adds more questions than it answers.
To explore the idea of an expanding Earth, first do a search to see what the experts are saying and determine if there is a scientific consensus. Then look at what Neal Adams is saying and his qualifications. Also look for other experts that agree with him.
There is a scientific consensus that the earth is undergoing gradual change through plate tectonics. The theory explains the current land masses and explains the formation of the relatively young archipelagos—the Galapagos Islands and the Hawaiian Islands. A key part of the tectonic plate theory includes “subduction.” Subduction explains mountain building, earthquakes, and volcanism, items not addressed by the expanding Earth hypothesis. The forces that allow and cause plate tectonics are understood. They are convection and tidal forces from the sun and the moon. We know the plates are moving and we can measure the movement with precision using satellite technology. The plates are moving apart in some cases and they are colliding in other cases. Plate collisions form the tall mountain ranges such as the Andes and Himalayans.
Is Neal Adams an expert in Geology? He is known for being an artist and does not have a degree in Earth Science. He is famous for comics. Samuel Warren Carey, his favorite expert, died in 2002 and his work on plate tectonics is highly regarded in the scientific community today. However, his “mechanism,” the expanding Earth model, has been discredited by the inclusion of the subduction hypothesis. Ott Christoph Hilgenberg also believed that the expanding earth model explained the shape and position of the current land masses and his work predates the inclusion of subduction into the plate tectonic theory.
It took only a few minutes of research to find this information. Please check out the included links. In particular, check out this link: Plate Tectonics, and as an aside, you might steer clear of folks that frequently appear on Coast-to-Coast radio.
I hope you’re doing well.
Last night at Caffeinated Godlessness, we discussed the reasons why someone that came from a church might return. What would it take? Is it even possible? Rarely folks that say that they tried Atheism return to their Christian beliefs. It was pointed out that there is a tendency to paint these “re-converts” as not ever being Atheists. It is tempting and natural to pull out the “No True Scotsman” arguments in these cases. Most Atheists that have had a religious upbringing find that their Atheism won out after a struggle that could have taken years to resolve and most of the Atheists at the Fronimos Greek Café last night agreed that the evidence persuasive enough to force a return to religious belief would be hard to come by and it is improbable that the potentially persuasive evidence would be believed at first. It could only be believed after ALL natural explanations have been researched.
Some of people admitted that they can’t imagine what it would take while others were very inventive and very specific. For example, one individual said God would have to appear as a burning bush at a Karaoke bar and sing “I’m Blue.” By the way, he also said other people would have to witness it too so that he’d know that he wasn’t hallucinating.
There was some discussion of what an Atheist might be missing that the church normally provides the believer. For example, some remember the almost indescribable feeling of ecstasy that sometimes accompanies religious devotion. Others appreciated the religious rituals and consistency of regular experiences. The Catholic Church has seven sacraments that are designed to give a human life a structure and makes them dependent on the Church. They are baptized, receive communion (the first one is a REALLY big deal), confess sins to the priest, get confirmed, get married, some get ordained, and may receive last rights (Extreme Unction) just before their last breath. A religious person can be comfortable in the knowledge that ALL things have been answered. There are no unsolvable mysteries and death, the biggest mystery of them all, is no big deal. It’s just the next phase of their eternal existence. Religious people often have a strong community.
But religions are not derived from reason or from the logic of human philosophy. Many of the pat answers have no basis in science. Religious dogma, while providing a strong often safe foundation, limits the human experience, and it has prevented or at least delayed advancements that are beneficial to all mankind. Also remember that while every religion on earth tends to call itself peaceful, Lilliputian differences have led to incalculable human suffering and death.
Steve Martin says Atheists Don’t Have No Songs but I won’t be going back soon. I enjoy having Sunday’s free, having Rock ‘n’ Roll, and watching football in my underpants. Most of all I like believing things that are demonstratively true in a world where our knowledge freely advances unfettered by religious dogma. In an Atheist world, there is no “chosen people” and human rights are derived from secular societal norms, not poorly translated dictums from Bronze Age writings. Finally, Tucson Atheists have a strong community too. Feel free to join us at The Shanty this Sunday at 7 PM.
Recently, I met a female evangelist who worked closely in the field with her husband. The two practiced a very “fire and brimstone,” “angry God” version of Christianity”. They bad mouthed homosexuals, listeners of rock music, liberals, and made heavy use of threats of hell.
I saw the wife in this pair explain their religious beliefs to a sizable audience they had gathered along with some of the details of their personal history. Looking back, I regret not having asked her how she reconciles her role in the ministry with first Timothy 2:12, which states, “But I permit not a woman to teach, nor to have authority over the man, but to be in silence,” Her story led me to pursue a different line of questioning.
She told of a time when she was a young, ambitious college student. At this time, she met her future husband who was ministering to students at her university. For some reason she found this man’s teachings about God, Jesus, and hellfire compelling and chose to follow him and renounce many of her past beliefs and ambitions. She argued that prior to having met her husband she had been mind-raped by the professors at her University with their teachings of secular humanism, atheism, liberalism and socialism. She did point out that she in fact paid the professors to teach her, so it was not a “legitimate rape” (Yes, she referenced Todd Akin’s controversial and stupid remark when telling this story.)
After she was done speaking I got a chance to speak with her privately. I suggested that since she considered her professor’s teachings to be mind-rape, that the same could be said of those of her evangelist husband. After all, rapists use physical violence or threats of physical violence to subdue their victims, while her husband’s teachings similarly use threats of eternal torment to anyone who dares to question them. Her husband literally taught this woman she must believe everything he says or terrible things will happen to her—forever. This element of backing one’s teachings with threats of violence is far more insidious than anything from even the most propagandizing college professors.
As far as I know, professors have no way to force their students to believe anything. Sure, they may be able to command their pupils to memorize or understand their teachings at the risk failing their tests, but I see no way in which they can force anyone to believe anything they teach or retain it after the semester ends. I never had a professor threaten me with torture if I fail to believe what he or she taught. This can only happen in this country at explicitly religious schools.
The evangelist refused to acknowledge my point stating that I was off base, because it was not the fear of hell but the desire to be in the presence of a loving all powerful God. Maybe she was being honest, but I’m skeptical of this claim since threats of hell are such a huge portion of what her ministry does. They spent a lot of time asserting that people who disagree with them will be punished. Their time would be better spent explaining the evidence they have for this belief. It would be a much more constructive conversation.
The concept of mind rape describes religious indoctrination quite well. It is usually performed on children who have not had time to develop critical thinking skills and therefore have no defense. It is frequently backed up with threats of torments as well as the bribe of an eternal reward. Frightening children with threats of hell is a form of child abuse, and one that many people never get over. The degrading message is that we are all so sinful, wretched, and worthless that we should be tortured forever. Anyone who sees a small child as a being worthy of nothing better than eternal torture by virtue of being born human has truly lost any semblance of decency.
Rape is a horrendous crime and the fact it happens or is tolerated at all in our culture is a tragedy. The evangelist’s notion of mind-rape is ironic and a useful, informative way of looking at religious indoctrination especially indoctrination that features the threat of punishment.
The Tucson Atheists discussed the history of Atheism on April 15th—tax day—this year at our monthly meeting at Denny’s. The meeting was only two hours long and there was no way to completely cover the topic and while it’s important to get to the facts and figures, the group thrives on discussion and personal feelings. Talking about the facts of history is not difficult. Ideally, the facts and events are simply pinned to a timeline. Sometimes however what those facts and events mean and meant at the time they occurred is unknowable with any certainty and depend on the source of the information and the attitude of the receiver of the information. The sources of the information that was presented to kick off the discussion included Jonathan Miller’s A Brief History of Disbelief and other sources.
The history of Atheism begins thousands of years ago with the Greeks and Romans even though the name wasn’t officially created until the 16th century in France. The Greek philosopher Aristophanes who lived between 446 and 386 BCE said, “Surely you don’t believe in the gods. What’s your argument? Where’s your proof?” A Greek contemporary, Democritus who was partially responsible for the theory that all matter was composed of atoms said that the greatest good is happiness and contentment. All matter existed forever; therefore, there is no creation. Aristotle born in 348 BCE believed that Tyrants must have gods on their sides. Cicero born in 106 BCE asked, “Do gods exist or do they not?” Seneca born around 4 BCE famously said that “Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by rulers as useful.” Finally, Epicurus born in 341 BCE pointed out the illogic of an omnipresent, omniscient, benevolent god when he said:
Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?
Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing?
Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing?
Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing?
Then why call him God?
Lucretius born in 99 BCE wrote an ode to Epicurus and contributed his own skepticism of the existence of supernatural beings when he said, “Fear is the mother of all gods. Nature does all things spontaneously by herself without their meddling.”
Religion comes very natural to us and Atheism requires a level of reason and rationality that allows us to overcome it. Atheism as an idea has had its ups and downs and it is by shear serendipity that our country was formed in the period of time called “The Age of Enlightenment.” It was during this time that the world discovered Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677), John Lock (1632-1704), Pierre Bayle (1647-1706), Isaac Newton (1643-1727), and Voltaire (1984-1778). These men laid the groundwork for the Enlightenment and pushed the ideas of rationalism, social liberalism, religious toleration, science, the scientific method, freedom of religion, freedom of expression, and the separation of church and state. The Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution particularly the Bill of Rights came out of the Age of Enlightenment and remains the backbone of our Democratic Republic. However, the popularity of reason and intellect has since been challenged by the influences of Romanticism where policy is often dictated by human emotions such as apprehension, horror, terror, and awe along with extreme patriotism. The Zeitgeist or “spirit of the time” which appeals to human emotions has allowed a resurgence of religious fervor. Fear of “godless” Communism has been codified into our lives by well-meaning politicians when they added “under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance, added “In God We Trust” as a national motto to be inscribed on our money.
Slowly our country is moving back to an “Age of Reason.” Religion is losing its hold on the populace as we see the disappearance of “Blue Laws,” the acceptance of alternate lifestyles, and the growth of the number of people identifying as “non-religious.” Not everyone is on board but the trend is undeniable especially considering the polling data that indicates that people under the age of 30 are twice as likely to profess “no religious belief” as those older.
There was also discussion of the “growing pains” in the current movement towards reason. The internet is a two edged sword in that it allows a free exchange of ideas but also anonymous modern day Vandals, trolls, that tend to make small points of contention overblown and damaging. To keep the movement going, we must ignore those that thrive on getting attention at all costs and remember that we’re in agreement 99% of the time. You can catch a very interesting discussion involving Dave Silverman, Hermant Mehta, and Chris Mooney HERE.
By Philip Spacemuseum MacDuff
As an atheist, I’m often asked “Where do you get your morals from?” The implicit attack here is that morals can only come from religion and that, therefore either I have no morals or the morals I do have were instilled in my religious upbringing. I do not intend to write about where I get my morals, beyond simply and quickly saying that my morals stem from a desire to make the world a better place. Instead, I intend to write about where most modern Christians get their morals – and it is most definitely not the Bible. This topic is something I have been thinking about a lot lately, as it has come up over and over in the debate on gay marriage.
Leviticus Chapter 20 Verse 13 has come up repeatedly. It reads as follows (as obtained from BibleGateway.com, the New International Version)
“If a man has sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They are to be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.”
Two verses later, in Leviticus 20:15, a similar admonition against sexual relations with animals is delivered:
“If a man has sexual relations with an animal, he is to be put to death, and you must kill the animal.”
These verses are similar to those of Leviticus 18:22-23, but the punishments for these sins are given in the above quoted verses. However, as of this writing, gay marriage is legal in 9 states, and bestiality is legal in 20 (according to www.animallaw.info). Why are there no large-scale protests about bestiality? Why are not more Christians sermonizing on bestiality and how wicked it is, how it leads to the downfall of nations? Should not both biblical statutes carry the same weight in our laws and morals?
More common sins are listed in the previous chapter. Leviticus 19:19 says (quotation marks as in original)
“‘Keep my decrees.
“‘Do not mate different kinds of animals.
“‘Do not plant your field with two kinds of seed.
“‘Do not wear clothing woven of two kinds of material.
Leviticus 19:26 commands:
“‘Do not eat any meat with the blood still in it.
Leviticus 19:27 and 28 continue:
“‘Do not cut the hair at the sides of your head or clip off the edges of your beard.
“‘Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves. I am the Lord.
These six commands, and more listed throughout the book of Leviticus, are daily violated by good, upstanding Christians without protest. How is it that these commands can be disregarded so easily, but the single command on gay marriage must be not only upheld, but written into our national legislation? Christian morality is full of hypocrisy. The argument is often made that some verses are to be interpreted literally, while others are merely figurative. How then does one determine which are which? The Bible itself cannot be a guide; it gives no direction on how to evaluate its contents beyond such pithy directives as “Keep my decrees”. Some other source must be obtained to make this decision. The lay people of a church rely on the guidance of their pastors, priests, ministers and deacons, but where do these leaders turn for their answers? There must be some source which is not the Bible for making these decisions of morality.
The act of deciding that some commands in the Bible can be safely ignored while others must be upheld literally, and in some cases, violently, can only be rationalized by two possible courses. Either the decision is made to consciously violate God’s sacred commands, thereby intentionally earning a place in the fires of hell, or the Christian has employed a set of morals independent of and superior to the biblical commands. In either case, the Christian can no longer point to the Bible as the ultimate source of their morals. It may provide a starting point, but as we no longer stone women for failing to be virgins on the day they are married to some lecherous old man who bought them, we clearly have evolved our sense of morality since the Bronze Age.
March 14th is officially Pi day due to the fact that the numerical representation of March 14th is 314, the first three figures of the mathematical constant Pi which represents the ratio of the diameter to the circumference of a circle. The number is actually irrational. There is no closed form of the number it starts out 3.14159265…With all of our computer power we’ve never once found the number after the decimal point to repeat. It also happens to be Albert Einstein’s birthday.
In celebration of National Pi day, the Loft Cinema is playing the movie “Pi” at 7 PM. They’ll even have pie available at the snack bar as a special treat for this movie showing. Unfortunately, the movie competes with the Tucson Atheists’ “Drinking Godlessly” event being held close by at the Red Garter Saloon.
This weekend is going to be great, in spite of the weather. The Tucson Festival of Books will be on the University of Arizona Campus, Roy Zimmerman will be performing in town, and the Skeptics of Tucson meetings return to the regular Denny’s restaurant on Speedway. There is plenty to look forward to this weekend.
This year FreeThought Arizona will be at the book fair. Thanks to the dedicated work of the members, we’ll have booths 351 and 352 right in front of the library. The bestselling author Chris Mooney will join with our own local celebrities to sign books. We have freebies to hand out and plenty of literature that visitors can take away. Books, magazines, and pamphlets will be at the booth. Members of FreeThought Arizona will be there to answer questions and engage in conversation and there will be information on the FreeThought Arizona, Tucson Atheists, Skeptics of Tucson, The Secular Student Alliance at the U of A, and American Atheists—all part of the Tucson FreeThinking Community.
On Sunday at 7 PM after the book fair, the Unitarian Universalist Church of Tucson along with the Tucson FreeThinking community is sponsoring a concert by Roy Zimmerman. Tickets, which can be purchased at the door, are $15 for general admission and only $10 for students. He’s calling his tour the Wake Up Call and is sure to appeal to progressive thinkers with folk style songs in the same vein as Joni Mitchell and Tom Lehrer. In fact, Joni Mitchel says, “Roy’s lyrics move beyond poetry and achieve perfection” and Tom Lehrer himself says, “I congratulate Roy Zimmerman on reintroducing literacy to comedy songs. And the rhymes actually rhyme; they don’t just ‘rhyne.’” Progressive comedy and satire available here in Tucson without a two drink minimum, how can you miss that?
Finally, on Monday, the Skeptics of Tucson Meetup Group returns its meetings to the Denny’s on Speedway just west of Alvernon. This month we’ll have discussion on articles posted on the Doubtful News webpage. The meeting begins at 7 PM and ends at 9 but people show up early for light conversation prior to the meeting.
Here is a summary of the important links contained in this blog entry:
The Tucson freethinking community is steadily growing and rather diverse. Not every activity available is for everyone that’s why the activities are as varied as the membership. A few years ago the community was less active with only a couple of groups operating. Tucson Atheists had been around for a while. They met once a month in a back room at Bookman’s (west). We met for about an hour and a half with no agenda. Ten to fifteen people were present and sat in a circle. Everyone introduced themselves and made a personal statement about their Atheism and sometimes that was all we had time for. The other group that was operating at the time was the CFI (Center for Inquiry). Members of the CFI were generally older. They also had a monthly meeting. Their meetings were more sophisticated than the Tucson Atheists meetings and hosted well known, famous speakers at their monthly meetings. I saw an announcement that Paul Kurtz was going to speak in Tucson and that is how I found CFI. The Tucson Atheists has grown since then but the CFI group no longer exists in Tucson. The members created a new group called FreeThought Arizona. They still bring in monthly notable speakers as well as sponsoring this blog and other related activities such as the Desert AIR Podcast.
Now, there is a wider variety of activities available to the freethinking community in Tucson. We still have the monthly meetings of the Tucson Atheists. Skeptics of Tucson also have monthly meetings. FreeThought Arizona has its monthly program at the University Medical Center Duval Auditorium as well as a wide variety of other activities such as meetings on philosophy, arts and humanism, Secular Organization for Sobriety, and the Secular Humanist Jewish Circle.
There are also meetings on books, Recovering from Religion, and drinking.
Last Thursday we met at Fronimos Greek Restaurant for “Caffeinated Godlessness.” There were about 20 people there. Nancy, the current organizer, was there and Jason, the originator of the event, came down from Casa Grande to participate. Nancy kicked off the discussion on sex and religion and the conversation went everywhere as usual. However, for some reason there was a bit more “energy” in the mix than normal. The Tucson Atheists is a rather diverse group and includes participants from all ages, genders, and sexual preferences but the contentious discussions came mostly between some that have been Atheists for a long time and a few that were freshly “minted.”
It’s understandable. Having been raised Catholic, there are times when I still feel the inclination to defend Catholicism when some evangelical claims that Catholics aren’t “true” Christians or that they worship idols. However, it’s a very small inclination and I usually ignore it. I can understand that someone that just realized that Atheism is the way to go still has many believing friends and might take issue with some of the more ardent comments heard at an Atheist meeting. Someone that’s been an Atheist for some time or someone that has never been part of religious belief might find it difficult to empathize with the “new guy.” What’s also understandable is a tendency of people to experience meetings from differing biases and points of view. If a person attends an Atheist meeting and expects to hear only religious bashing, that is likely what he is going to hear. It’s a logical fallacy called “confirmation bias” and everyone has a touch of it. It’s what keeps psychics and carnival mind readers in business.
These problems are never going away. Everyday Atheists are looking for community. Of the new ones, some come from recent realizations and some come from those that have been Atheist for a long time and are just now finding that the community is available. It is hard work supporting maintaining such a diverse group and rewarding at the same time.
This blog entry is about the Secular Coalition for Arizona. Please log onto the website at www.secularaz.org and read about the organization. While you’re at it sign up for the “Take Action!” email list located at the top of the column on the right.
Perhaps a little mood music while you read this entry is in order. The Arizona State Legislature begins operation on the 14th. Are you all ready for this? The last call for donations has just been sent out by the CAP (Center for Arizona Policy) as they gear up to impose their will on everyone in the state regardless of religious affiliation. There have been a few posts here about the CAP and a few mentions of the Secular Coalition for Arizona. Both organizations are mentioned in the left sidebar on this page and it’s worth reading over from time to time.
The Secular Coalition for Arizona is also gearing up for the legislation session. Many of the affiliates of the coalition met this weekend in Mesa to make plans for the coming year as we closed out our second year of operation. Last year we hired a full time lobbyist to support the members of the coalition and this year we’re adding a development director to further enhance the effort to keep and maintain the secular character of the state government. Present at the meeting was the entire board of directors along with representatives from Flagstaff Freethinkers, FFRF Valley of the Sun Chapter, FreeThought Arizona, Humanist Society of Greater Phoenix, Military Atheists Agnostics and Freethinkers, Phoenix Atheist Meetup Group, Prescott Freethinkers, Secular Student Alliance from Mesa Community College, Sedona/Verde Valley Secular Freethinkers, and Tucson Atheists along with a couple of Liaison Members at Large. In all there are 15 member organizations in the coalition, up from 10 last year. We are often joined in our efforts by other groups such as Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
The Secular Coalition for Arizona is starting to make its presence known and receiving press coverage. This year instead of being constantly on the defensive, we will be promoting at least two bills before the legislature. One is an Oregon-style “Death with dignity” bill and the other proposes to teach science based sex education in public schools. We will also work against many of the bills proposed by the CAP specifically, ones that blur the line between church and state and those that are based on dogma instead of science and reason.
The main issues that drive the Secular Coalition for Arizona are: Science-based Medicine, Secular Public Schools, Marriage Equality, End-of-life Choices, Religious Privilege in Tax Laws, Women’s Healthcare, Military, and Government Involvement in Religious Expression.
Please log onto the website at www.secularaz.org and read about the organization. While you’re at it sign up for the “Take Action!” email list located at the top of the column on the right.