Foolish Wager

I love waking up in the morning and being threatened with hell as I eat breakfast. This letter by Joyce Bates was published today under the heading, “Atheism: Price of being wrong.”

I am mystified by the belligerence of atheists. Do they really believe their "sincerity" is more important than truth? I'm not trying to persuade them, I just want them to stop trying to persuade me. Why does my belief bother them so much? If I'm wrong, I lose nothing and gain everything. If they're wrong, they lose everything and gain nothing. Looks like a no-brainer to me.
First, I don't know which alleged belligerence she's referring to. She really needed to be more specific. Second, I've never heard any atheist claim that sincerity is more important than truth. Third, I have no idea how atheists are trying to persuade her. We don't have churches, schools, universities, television channels, or radio stations. There are a few local television and radio shows around the country and some podcasts, but those are almost never about deconverting theists. There are atheist books and bookstores, but nothing compared to the number of Christian books and bookstores. I've heard of atheist street preachers and tracts online, but I've never encountered them in person and I would bet neither has the author. I've never even heard of a door-to-door proselytizer. Fourth, her belief bothers some of us because it's irrational and dangerous. It adversely affects political and social life. Fifth, if she actually thinks Pascal's wager is a valid argument for belief, then “no-brainer” a very apt description of her. She claims not to want to persuade us and then she threatens us with eternal torture. This is why religion is evil.



Evolution as God's Work

This letter by Julia Delegal was published today under the heading, “Evolution: Respect boundaries of religion.”

During college, I used to chuckle that Jacksonville was still debating whether the public schools should teach evolution. That was 20 years ago. Now our state senator, Steve Wise, wants intelligent design taught as an "alternative" to evolution in my children's schools. I am no longer chuckling. Instead, I want to scream. I'm no atheist; I'm a believer. My understanding of evolutionary principles in no way threatens my faith in God. Rather, I marvel that a series of events as extraordinary as human evolution could have been orchestrated by a Creator who works through all contingencies. The choice about whether to believe in God, in light of evolutionary science or in spite of it, however, is irrelevant to the question of whether intelligent design is a scientific theory. It is not. It is a belief built on faith-based assumptions - not on empirically proven phenomena that are explainable via theory. A George W. Bush-appointed federal judge, who decided the 2005 Kitzmiller case, agrees: intelligent design "cannot uncouple itself from its creationist and thus religious, antecedents." Our Deist forefathers descended from those who fled religious tyranny. They knew that investing religious groups with governmental power would interfere with the freedom of individuals to pursue their own spiritual quests. Wise received hate mail in reaction to a related bill that failed last year. Those letter writers should ask themselves if they would appreciate their own children being proselytized by someone of a religion different from their own. They should treat others as they wish to be treated. On this issue, the First Amendment to the Constitution demands no less. Denying or denigrating science in the name of religion won't inoculate children from atheism. But insisting, disingenuously, that religion is science risks driving them to a wholesale rejection of faith. Conjuring "alternatives" to evolutionary theory is not God's work; it's political fodder. Winning the hearts and minds of our young people necessitates that we honor their minds, especially if we believe those minds to be God-given. I challenge local religious leaders to demand that Wise withdraw the intelligent design bill, and get on with this year's real work: funding education.
My reaction to liberal religion is always mixed. In this case, I'm happy to see support for the teaching of evolution and sad to see an unwillingness to abandon faith after it's been rendered meaningless. It strikes me as very odd to “marvel that a series of events as extraordinary as human evolution could have been orchestrated by a Creator” when that series of events resulted in the extinction of more than ninety-nine percent of all species and a very imperfect design for our own bodies. And I certainly don't want to “inoculate” children from atheism or discourage a “wholesale rejection of faith”! Nevertheless, if fundamentalist believers adopted this author's viewpoint, science education and society as a whole would no doubt improve.




This letter by David Ramseur was published today under the heading, “Intelligent Design: Give children the facts.”

This is in response to letters regarding Sen. Steve Wise's proposed bill to require teachers who teach evolution to also be open to discuss intelligent design. It is so easy to see intelligent design in the laws that govern these mysterious forces of our universe. The great scientists of the past built their studies on the fact that intelligent design was evident in their successfully tested experiments and not products left to chance. Even the famous British atheist scientist, Richard Dawkins (as stated in the Expelled movie), believes in the possibility that there is an intelligent designer somewhere. Moreover, the teaching of Darwinian evolution in the classroom is the same as actually teaching the religion of atheism, which violates the First Amendment. Finally, in the 1925 Scopes monkey trial, attorney Clarence Darrow, who represented the teacher, rightly stated that we should teach all ideas about origins and let the children decide for themselves.
First, according to article referenced by this letter, the bill doesn't just allow the discussion of intelligent design, it requires it. Second, science doesn't advance by assuming intelligent design, it advances by assuming the opposite through methodological naturalism. Third, I have no idea what Dawkins said in Expelled, but it's irrelevant. Fourth, atheism is not in any sense a religion and teaching how life changes without any reference to the supernatural is not in any sense atheistic. Fifth, you can teach children any and all ideas at school, but non-scientific ideas should not be taught in science class. We're not denying children any facts because intelligent design has no facts, just a fear of finding its god irrelevant.


This letter by Richard Bohler was published on February 21st under the heading, “The faith of atheists.”
Atheists who hyperventilate over intelligent design should first consider themselves. It takes great faith to espouse the belief that there is no God, when there is absolutely no evidence to support that contention. Indeed, the idea of the necessity of a first cause must be a real conundrum to them. Intelligent Design simply presents the logical idea that an intelligence must have started the whole ball rolling. Evolution of life forms in no way conflicts with the designs of the Prime Mover; it could simply be part of the plan.
First, only strong atheists believe that no gods exist. Second, it's no less reasonable to believe that gods don't exist than to believe that that leprechauns don't exist. Third, if he thinks atheists are at all troubled by the cosmological argument, he's obviously never talked to an atheist. Fourth, the idea that an eternal, omnipresent, disembodied intelligence is necessary for the genesis and evolution of single-cell organisms over billions of years is not at all logical; it's completely absurd.

This letter by Julia Braza was published on February 23rd under the heading, “Intelligent design: Present the debate.”
I am responding to a recent letter that was critical of Sen. Steve Wise's proposal to introduce the teaching of intelligent design. It is important to remember that intelligent design is not creationism, nor does it contradict evolution. If intelligent design were taught in the classroom, the teacher would not read the book of Genesis aloud and then say "end of discussion." The theory of intelligent design merely states that there is an intelligent force behind certain aspects and patterns of the universe, as opposed to complete randomness. The idea could be presented to students in such a way as to say that many in the scientific community believe that evolution and natural selection are undirected processes, while others in the scientific community believe that there is an intelligent force directing or instigating these processes. Presenting the idea of intelligent design is not teaching religion to students any more than presenting the fundamental tenants [sic] of Islam; it's simply making them aware of different beliefs and outlooks in our world. If we become so afraid of mentioning God (or even an "intelligent force") under the false auspices of not wanting to push our religion on anyone, then we have in effect pushed atheism on everyone. Let's keep the discussion open-ended instead. I think our kids can handle it.
First, intelligent design most certainly is a form of creationism and most certainly does contradict evolution. It claims that an intelligence created life because it's too complex to have evolved, and the only way to teach it is to criticize evolutionary theory. Contrary to the author's assertion, it's not about some mystical force directing events throughout the universe. Second, there's no dispute in the scientific community, so the idea shouldn't be introduced into science class. Third, the example of teaching the basic tenets of Islam is awkward since the author probably wouldn't want them taught in science class, just like I don't want intelligent design taught in science class. Fourth, neutrality toward religion does not equate with promoting atheism. Would the author argue that math class promotes atheism because it doesn't mention gods in the discussion of the processes of addition, subtraction, multiplication and division?

This letter by John Campbell was published on February 23rd under the heading, “Intelligent design: Science as dogma.”
I find it interesting that Sen. Steve Wise is criticized for trying to inject his religion into the science classroom. The real story is that evolution is the chief doctrine of the secular humanists, a religion as defined by the U. S. Supreme Court. They want no competition of ideas in this area and certainly don't want things like irreducible complexity or the evolution of the eye openly discussed in the classroom. And they certainly don't want students to ask the whereabouts of all those billions and billions of transitional species fossils that don't exist. No, the real religious dogma is coming from the secular humanists, not Wise.
First, secular humanism has not been defined as a religion by SCOTUS. It was mentioned in a non-authoritative footnote of Torcaso v. Watkins as the functional equivalent of a non-theistic religion. Second, even if it were a chief doctrine of a religion, that doesn't mean that we shouldn't teach it; if something is supported by evidence, we should teach it, and evolution is supported by literally mountains of evidence. Third, I suspect the author has never taken a class on evolution because they most certainly do talk about the eye and how it's evolved many separate times, and they show plenty of transitional fossils. Fourth, the competition of ideas should happen in scientific research, not in scientific eduction. No, we don't want the absurdly false propaganda of creationists in science classrooms.



Know Thy Enemy

Contrary to the claims of some detractors of the “New Atheists,” it's not necessary to understand the intricacies of a religious doctrine in order reject it as absurd or unsubstantiated. It is, however, necessary to understand the basic definition in order to articulate a meaningful critique. In particular, I've seen a number of arguments on blogs and forums against Catholic dogmas which fail simply because the author misconstrues them out of pure ignorance. I'll address two of these errors in the hope that my readers will avoid them and advance a more effective criticism of religion.

The first is the dogma of transubstantiation. This is the belief that during the consecration in mass, the bread and wine become Jesus' body and blood without changing their physical nature whatsoever. It's said that the invisible, spiritual, immaterial “substance” changes without the visible, physical, material “form” or “accidents” changing. This means that what still looks exactly like bread and wine are believed to be literally Jesus' flesh and blood distributed as communion. There is considerable confusion about this idea even among Catholics, partly because it makes a nonsensical distinction and partly because the wrong word is often used to define it. I've seen even moderately sophisticated authors define transubstantiate with transform even though transubstantiation was coined precisely to distinguish it from transformation. With that said, if one wishes to attack the dogma, then it's an error to simply point out that it still looks like bread and wine given that such is happily acknowledged. Challenges to examine it under a microscope or after a communicant has received it fall into the category of error, for it's not claimed that the form changes at any point in space or time. It's supposedly an absolutely undetectable miracle, making it from a skeptic's perspective an absolutely worthless miracle claim with respect to possible evidence for the supernatural. Proper criticism of the doctrine would focus on the absurdity of the distinction between matter and spirit, the importance of falsifiability, the moral repugnancy of cannibalizing one's deity, or any other topic consistent with its true definition.

The second is the dogma of papal infallibility. This is the belief that the pope cannot err when speaking authoritatively for the entire church – ex cathedra or “from the chair” – on matters of faith and morals. The scope is extraordinarily narrow, and while there is some disagreement among scholars about precisely which statements qualify, the vast majority of papal statements which one finds in the news are certainly not considered ex cathedra. It's an error, therefore, if your goal is to argue against infallibility, to point out that the pope apparently contradicted something he himself or one of his predecessors said unless both were said under very special circumstances. In addition, the doctrine clearly doesn't concern papal actions and shouldn't be confused with impeccability, the inability to sin. Pointing out the sins of the current or past popes is irrelevant with respect to infallibility, especially given that recent popes have very publicly acknowledged some of the papacy's historical wrongs. Proper criticism would focus on contradictions between recognized ex cathedra statements and the inherent fallibility in determining whether another person is infallible.

The mixing up of two more dogmas is more easily resolved and doesn't itself cause bad argumentation, but I would like to clarify them anyway. The “Immaculate Conception” refers to the conception of Mary by her parents without imputing her with original sin, not the conception of Jesus by Mary without a sexual act, which is known as the “Incarnation.” Both dogmas are vulnerable to criticism, but the first step is use the correct terminology.

I've been attacked for indicating that an atheist was arguing against a straw man and accused of “towing [sic] the [church's] party line,” but such criticism is severely misdirected. I consider religious dogma my enemy and the best way to fight is “to know thy enemy.” Telling your comrades that they're firing blanks is a service to your cause, not to the other side. Advancing the anti-theistic equivalents of the creationist claim that evolution is false because there are still monkeys is quite ineffective.


Unwise Proposal

My local State Senator Stephen Wise recently introduced a bill which would require science teachers who teach evolution to also discuss intelligent design in their classes. I learned of it through a couple atheist and scientific blogs, but today I saw some local reaction in the newspaper.

  • This letter by Jon Dehner was published today under the heading, “Evolution: Why stop there?”
  • This letter by Robert M. Nied was published today under the heading, “Evolution: A burden on schools.”
I'd like to see Wise kicked out of office by the voters next election cycle, but I don't think that will happen. Wise represents a predominantly credulous and overwhelmingly Republican district and there's no good chance of someone even marginally more progressive being elected in the foreseeable future.

  • This letter by Patrick Nolan was published on February 16th under the heading, “Evolution: Going backward.”
  • This letter by Deborah Courtney was published on February 18th under the heading, “Intelligent Design: Waste of time.”
  • This letter by Bob Awtrey was published on February 20th under the heading, “Evolution: Not a religious matter.”
  • This letter by Paul Cottle was published on February 23rd under the heading, “Intelligent design: Proposed bill misses mark.”



Buckle Up With Jesus

Yesterday I saw a decorative license plate on the front of a truck which read, “Buckle Up with Jesus.” While I support a reminder to take safety precautions before driving, the addition of religion into the picture struck me as very odd. I suppose the idea is that you're supposed to trust Jesus to keep you safe, but if he could do that, why would you need a seat belt? If one truly has an omnimax deity with him at all times, then one has absolutely nothing to fear in any situation. Promoting the rational use of seat belts is thus tacit acknowledgment that their best friend is imaginary, but pretending they have a magical sky daddy watching out over them must make them feel better. If they kept their delusions to themselves, we could just chuckle at their irrationality and not worry about anything more serious, but of course we all know that doesn't always happen.

I have recently noticed a number of the new alternate Florida license plates which replace the state's nickname, “Sunshine State,” with the state's official motto, “In God We Trust.” (That's right, Florida doesn't have a unique motto different from the national one!) I think they're available upon request for no additional charge, unlike the more than a hundred specialty tags which require a special fee. The legislators who approved the new design must have no worries that it could be found unconstitutional given that it's insulated by two layers of tradition. I don't care so much that it's an alternative. I'm just afraid that it will eventually replace the standard design, forcing me to switch to a specialty tag, assuming those aren't also infected by theocracy. I would probably consider the Imagine tag and scribble on “no religion” with a marker. Let's hope it doesn't come to that, but you never know.

It's time for some deity replacement therapy: Buckle up with Apollo!



Why I Would Never Be Elected to Public Office

Although I have no intention of ever running for public office, the thought occasionally crosses my mind that I would have no chance as someone who has publicly acknowledged his atheism. The problem would be compounded if my otherwise anonymous blog were connected with my name and the media presented some particularly damning quotes as sound bites. As an intellectual curiosity, I have gathered a selection of the most anti-theistic quotes from Secular Planet and present them here in reverse chronological order.

Today is Blasphemy Day International!
If Yahweh, Jesus, or Allah really existed, as portrayed in their respective scriptures, they would be absolutely evil and worthy of every ounce of contempt and derision we could muster toward them.
Foolish Wager
This is why religion is evil.
Know Thy Enemy
I consider religious dogma my enemy...
Buckle Up With Jesus
[T]heir best friend is imaginary, but pretending they have a magical sky daddy watching over them must make them feel better.
Atheism as Medicine
Religion is indeed a mental disease...
Why Religious Belief Matters
Religion gives bigots moral cover...
Reverse Stupidity
All of this suggests the devil is highly incompetent and poses no threat to anyone with half a brain, but I suppose that's not the church's target audience.
The Importance of Religious Literalism
[T]he message of the bible is essentially tyrannical and barbaric...
Perpetual Adoration
As is typical with religion, it's just absurdity upon absurdity.
Hell: The Evilest Doctrine
Whenever I hear Jesus referred to as loving or merciful, I wince. While the gospels do contain some benevolent teachings, these are completely overshadowed by Jesus' recurrent threat of unending torture for anyone who fails to accept his message. One cannot expect praise for preaching love while simultaneously executing divine blackmail.
No Sacred Cows
Most people think the message [of the gospel] is love and forgiveness whereas it's actually, “Believe or fry!”
The Necessity of Doubt
I simply cannot respect anyone who claims to have never doubted their beliefs.
Religious Justification for Bigotry
[A]s is often the case, it's primarily religion that's hindering social progress. Whether religion actually creates bigotry or simply provides hypocritical justification for it, irrational belief is the enemy of human advancement.
Not Following Jesus
The key to understanding this divergence is to realize that Jesus' ministry as portrayed in the Gospels was essentially an apocalyptic cult.
Scrupulosity, OCD and the Doctrine of Hell
The Christian God was a monster in my eyes whom I grew to fear and despise more and more over the years.
Religion and My Life
[R]eligion is the principal virus of irrationality in our world, affecting the majority of people around the globe and in my own country. This irrationality often leads to poor decisions, injustice and misery...
Why I'm No Longer A Catholic
The Bible is full of stories of violent injustice of all types committed by God, commanded by God, rewarded by God, or looked favorably upon by God: wars of conquest, slaughter of innocent men, women, and children, divine plagues, looting, slavery, death penalty for minor infractions, and a worldwide flood.
The Bible is full of material which suggests it is the work of humans and not of God: contradictions, failed prophecies, scientific errors, religious intolerance, misogyny, racism, sexual perversion, and blatant absurdities.
Eventually, however, I mustered the courage to say to myself, “If there exists a deity who will punish me forever for rejecting something as absurd, implausible, and disgusting as Christianity, then so be it.”
Experiences of an Apostate
God was never my friend and I didn't mourn his passing.
Reflections on Two Years Without God
Nevertheless, I celebrate my atheism for liberating me from the chains of religion and granting me the freedom to truly live in the light of reason.
The Muslim Immunity to Irony
I have since learned that Islamic scriptures are no less violent, intolerant, and hypocritical, simply more tedious and disorganized.
Rental Capsules vs. Neutral Spaces
Religion is the disease and secularism is the cure.
Three Church Signs
I believe every religion is false...
Of course, there are several other reasons why I wouldn't run or have any chance of being elected, but it was still interesting compiling this list. I know most atheist blogs have more virulent criticism than mine, but I consciously avoid being inflammatory for its own sake and I still end up disqualifying myself as a political candidate many times over simply be discussing what I believe in a relatively measured manner. Such is life in the United States.