Revising Atheism?

Posted in Atheism, Christianity on December 17th, 2015 by scott
TED Talks

I’m a big fan of Ted Talks. My favorite lectures are those that begin with a personal story, present a new idea, or a different perspective on an existing idea, and are supported by numbers – numbers derived from measurement – the cornerstone of science. I’ve seen presentations that completely changed my perception and understanding of the natural world, and I’ve seen others that presented new ideas with such passion and evidence that I became excited about the future.

So many bright minds and great ideas, and then there’s this one – Alain de Botton’s Ted Talk titled Atheism 2.0.

Before I even viewed Botton’s talk, I thought to myself, “How does one revise a lack of belief?” But in his introduction, Botton provides his definition of “Atheism 2.0” –

“Atheism 2.0 is about both, as I say, a respectful and an impious way of going through religions and saying, “What here could we use?” The secular world is full of holes. We have secularized badly, I would argue. And a thorough study of religion could give us all sorts of insights into areas of life that are not going too well.”

Let’s examine this introduction. “A respectful and impious way of going through religion and saying, ‘What could we use here?’” It’s an oxymoron to suggest combing through religion both respectfully and impiously, but I’m intrigued by this idea, but use for what exactly? “The secular world is full of holes.” It is? “We have secularized badly”? We have? “Religion could give us all sorts of insights into areas of life that are not going too well.” My interest is peaked! I want to know what these holes are?! How have atheists secularized badly (and how is that even possible?)?! What are these insights, and what areas of life are not going very well (I’m assuming for atheists)?

In a badly secularized world full of holes, Botton forges ahead, but completely neglects these statements! He never mentions them again. He doesn’t site one study or provide one number. He offers no evidence, and continues to make unsubstantiated claims throughout. He plods along presenting what appear to be random ideas with no relationship to each other. We were sold one presentation and given another, and the one we were given may be one of the worst TED Talks ever. Botton seems to know little about how science works, and even less about the history of science.

One thing he does have is confidence. He does go on to make suggestions about the great insights and traditions religions have to offer the secular world. Botton presents ideas concerning art, education, morality, and rituals. Not one of them is valid, but I’m going to focus on his ideas regarding education and morality.

Botton states how important education is to the secular world, but then makes another unsubstantiated and convoluted claim. He suggests that “higher education” was born out of the decline of church attendance in Western Europe in the early 19th century. When church attendance noticeably declined, “people panicked,” but he doesn’t define these people – what people? I would assume the church. He goes on to state, “They (there’s these people again!) asked themselves the following question, ‘where are people going to find the morality, …guidance, and sources or consolation?’ And influential voices came up with an answer.”

Let’s take a break. I’m dizzy from his pronoun use. Are the people who panicked the same people who asked the question? And these “influential voices,” who are these people? Are they the same people as the people who panicked? Or did “they” keep level heads when “they” came up with an answer?

And the answer the “influential people” came up with?

“They said culture. It’s to culture we should look for guidance, for consolation, for morality. They (influential voices?) wanted to replace scripture with culture. And that’s a plausible idea. It’s also an idea that we have forgotten.”

The great Christopher Hitchens, in his book, God is Not Great stated, “There are, indeed, several ways in which religion is not just amoral, but positively immoral.” When considering this, replacing scripture with almost anything would benefit society immensely. Aesop’s Fables comes to mind… come to think of it, so does SpongeBob SquarePants.

But the one thing that scripture cannot be replaced with is culture! The European culture Botton refers to was derived from scripture. Even today, culture is heavily influenced by religion. Botton doesn’t seem to have a clue how deeply imbedded religion is within culture. I think Botton’s story about “influential people” suggesting that we “replace scripture with culture” is completely bogus. I don’t think it ever happened because it’s not only a bad idea, it’s completely and totally implausible.

If Botton had given any of this a moment’s thought, he may have concluded that “secularists” need to change “culture” through education. But no, he never makes that connection. Botton doesn’t want to utilize education to change culture, but he does want to change education.

Botton makes some statements about how the church refers to their parish as “children.” Botton seems to suggest that all of us are like children, and “we need guidance and we need didactic learning.” In other words, we need to be taught morals. Earlier he stated we should derive our morals from culture. Now he’s shifting gears and suggesting morals should be taught as if we were children (isn’t that how the church currently teaches morals?). His circular reasoning is either proactively, subtly brilliant, or just not that well thought out (I’ll go with the later).

Botton then makes a brief point about sermons, and compares them to lectures – “a sermon wants to change your life, and a lecture wants to give you a bit of information.” He suggests that this tradition is something we need to return to and is hugely valuable.

Adam's Apple He then goes on to state that we need to “keep repeating a lesson ten times a day,” and also suggests that religion “circles the great truths again and again and again.” What great truths is he referring to? The one about Adam eating an apple from the Tree of Knowledge because a talking snake tricked Eve into believing this was the right thing to do? Or the idea that one should treat another as they wish to be treated? Or all of those other “great truths” that allow one to discriminate against others? I have no idea because he never says!

Botton goes on to present three ideas, “stolen from religion” about education that would benefit the secular world and I could not disagree more. He suggests we treat people, adults, like children, deliver sermons until they change their life, and repeat lessons over and over about the great truths (of science?).

What are these great truths of science he would like to repeat over and over? E = mc2? Evolution by natural selection? That the brain is the source of all behavior? And who would get to decide what the great truths are? Would the local science educator determine this? Or is he suggesting that science should teach the “great truths” regarding morality and ethics? I have no idea because he never finishes a thought!

And here’s the issue with sermons – sermons, by definition, are not allowed to be questioned or discussed. This is the way it is, and you need to get on-board or risk being ostracized by the community.

If you include the idea about treating us like children, I think we can make a valid claim that these are the three worst ideas to ever be presented in sequential order in a Ted Talk! I thought Ted would have some sort of vetting and review process?

Please bear with me as I try and pull themes from his talk, which was all over the place, into one coherent argument. At first Botton states that we should derive our morality from culture, didn’t say which one, dropped that topic, and then he said we should teach morality to people by using repetition as if they were children. This is referred to as “indoctrination.”

Finally, we get to the main idea of his talk. Botton suggests we replace our current educational system with indoctrination. He applies this idea to all aspects of education and art. Indoctrination

At the most basic level, Botton’s entire premise is false. He makes statements about how religion handles art, education, rituals, and morals. Unfortunately, indoctrination is not something that “free-thinkers” and atheists value. The really great thing about free-thinkers, critical thinkers, skeptics, is that they learn at their own pace, they study things that interest them (not things that someone else deems important), and they are not children. But in addition to all of these things, one of the most valuable traits “free thinkers” have is the ability to ask questions! And sometimes these questions “offend” someone. Well, as Jon from Total Talk Nonsense says, “Boo Hoo!” Free thinkers are not drones that repeat the same mantra over and over and over even when evidence is provided to completely discredit their “belief.” Free thinkers ask questions, and they criticize ideas – regardless of where the idea originated.

Here’s how science works – someone presents a new idea. That idea is criticized. Studies are designed to gather evidence, and/or observations are made regarding the predictive power of the idea. The data comes in, and the idea is either supported or falsified based on evidence. New ideas replace old ideas; we progress forward. The outcome of this process is that we have a better understanding of the universe and everything that it includes (even us!).

Even in today’s “secular world,” some new, revolutionary ideas have to wait an entire generation to succeed because the scientists who advocate the current ideas refuse to consider a different approach – even when the scientific evidence suggests that the new idea is superior to the old. The reason is because we all have areas of “cognitive dissonance” and “confirmation bias.” And how do we know this? Because of science.

But if we replace our current educational process with “indoctrination,” a process that values the status quo, new ideas will be frowned upon and discovery and advancement will no longer flourish.

So why is Botton so wrong? According to his own website, he’s an author and television presenter with a master’s degree in Philosophy. Too bad he didn’t take any science courses. Or maybe he did, he just wasn’t paying attention because they didn’t treat him like a child and repeat “no measurement, no science!” over and over and over again. Whatever the story may be, Botton has no understanding of how ideas flourish, the history of science, or how science works. And unfortunately for those of us that have viewed his TED Talk, an argument can be made that we are almost “stupider” than we were before we viewed it.

Atheism 2.0? A more fitting title for his Ted Talk would have been, “Indoctrination – I’m not that well thought out. I’m just an author trying to sell a book.”

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How Faulty Premises Undermine Conclusions

Posted in Atheism, Christianity, Science, Stupidity on April 23rd, 2011 by scott
DeStefano A recent article published in USA Today, “How Easter and Christianity Undermine Atheism,” by Anthony DeStefano fails to live up to its intriguing title. He starts off on the wrong foot by stating what atheists believe.

DeStefano’s argument is referred to as a Straw Man. A Straw Man is a logical fallacy based on misrepresentation of an opponent’s position. If the premise of the argument is false, there is no known way for the conclusion to be true, but that doesn’t stop DeStefano – he has god on his side.

Of course, it’s not quite fair to say that atheists believe in nothing. They do believe in something — the philosophical theory known as Materialism, which states that the only thing that exists is matter; that all substances and all phenomena in the universe are purely physical.

One cannot be certain that all atheists believe in Materialism, but I’ll give DeStefano a pass here because I happen to subscribe to Materialism. I believe this because this is what evidence based science suggests. If scientific evidence suggested that my thoughts where not manifestations of my brain, that this blog post in response to DeStefano’s article were driven by the divine, I would certainly need to rethink my current view of reality (and I’d also need to consider why the divine is not allowing me to have faith). But what DeStefano fails to realize is that the only thing that one can confidently proclaim about atheists is that they lack belief in god.

Back to Materialism –

The problem is that this really isn’t a theory at all. It’s a superstition; a myth that basically says that everything in life — our thoughts, our emotions, our hopes, our ambitions, our passions, our memories, our philosophies, our politics, our beliefs in God and salvation and damnation — that all of this is merely the result of biochemical reactions and the movement of molecules in our brain.

What nonsense.

Pot. Meet Kettle. He’s black too.

Materialism is a “superstition”? DeStefano sprinkles that word three times throughout his article, but I do not think it means what he thinks it means.

The idea that the creator of the universe also created Adam and Eve, told them not to eat from the tree of knowledge because that would be wrong, but failed to give them the ability to discern right from wrong, later drowned the entire population except for Noah’s family, dinosaurs, and animals, went on to impregnated a virgin who carried him to term with no objections from her husband, was born to sacrifice himself to provide salvation to a species that, historically, he just doesn’t seem to care for at all, dies, is resurrected, says he’s going to come back, but doesn’t say when, and allows priests god

to systematically rape children is absurd, repulsive, lacks morality, and will hopefully end up in the a mythology section of the library. These ideas also happen to be manifestations of archaic superstitions.

DeStefano continues –

Atheists, of course, claim that all of this is absurd. Christianity, especially, they say, with its belief in Easter and the Resurrection, is nothing but “wishful thinking” — the product of weak human psychology; a psychology that is so afraid of death that it must create “delusional fantasies” in order to make life on Earth bearable.

His first statement is spot on, but the following is where he presents his second Straw Man. I gave him a pass on his first assertion that all atheists are Materialists because that’s what I base reality on, but DeStefano’s second idea that all atheists support the notion that Christians “must create these ‘delusional fantasies’ in order to make life on Earth bearable” is not an idea I support.

Here is the explanation for “delusional fantasies,” as an atheist, that I advocate – the god that DeStefano refers to is a byproduct of man’s limited ability to make sense of the world in which he lived. It’s that simple. Man couldn’t explain things about the natural world, so the concept of god provided that explanation.

The last 400 years of evidence based science, also a concept created by man with its own imperfections, has allowed us to build on ideas that are supported by evidence. These ideas make predictions, and these ideas have provided a better standard of living for millions of people. In the last 400 years science has superseded the ideas once rooted in the divine and enlightened our perception of the natural world. As science has taken over the narrative of the natural world, Christianity has been pushed to the margins.

But before continuing in our analysis of DeStefano’s logical fallacies and ignorance, I’d like to specifically highlight another egregious misstep that doesn’t really contribute to DeStefano’s overall argument.

DeStefano thinks that Materialists only believe in things they can see and touch. He follows this erroneous idea to its illogical conclusion – Materialists stop asking questions, are devoid of wonder, and can no longer be overwhelmed by the natural world. To make matters worse he uses Einstein in an attempt to drive home this point.

No less a genius than Albert Einstein once said: “The most beautiful thing we can experience in life is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: for his eyes are closed.”

Bizzaro World This statement made by Einstein, an agnostic who some contend was an atheist, was in fact a criticism aimed at those who would have us stop asking questions, continue following outdated dogma, and base our reality on the Bible.

It’s like DeStefano lives in an alternate universe – the same one where Bizzaro, Superman’s alter-ego lives, where planets are square and the Bizzaro Code is:

Us do opposite of all Earthly things!

Before moving on let’s recap – DeStefano thinks that to be an atheist is to believe in Materialism and to think that Christianity is a product of “wishful thinking” because Christians are afraid of death. Christianity is not a superstition, but Materialism is a superstition, a myth, and just plain nonsense.

But that’s not all. Forrest Gump once said that “stupid is as stupid does,” and DeStefano certainly keeps on “doing.” His next idea is a dozy! Try to follow along (it was difficult for me – why would a brain that’s driven by the divine not be more coherent?) I’ve read this a couple of times and I think that DeStefano’s next idea is an attempt at a logical proof for Christianity and god’s existence.

Is it wishful thinking to believe in hell, the devil and demons? Is it wishful thinking to believe we’re going to be judged and held accountable for every sin we’ve ever committed? Is it wishful thinking to believe the best way to live our life is to sacrifice our own desires for the sake of others? Is it wishful thinking to believe that we should discipline our natural bodily urges for the sake of some unseen “kingdom”?

And while we’re at it, is it wishful thinking to believe God wants us to love our enemies? For goodness sake, what kind of demand is that?

Not really feeling his love for atheists, but his idea is that Christianity is too complex and includes too many nasty and unpleasant things to be man-made. On the other hand, any man-made religion based on “wishful thinking” would make it much easier to go to heaven –

If human beings were going to invent a religion based on wishful thinking, they could come up with something a lot “easier” than Christianity. After all, why not wish for a religion that promised eternal life in heaven, but at the same time allowed promiscuous sex, encouraged gluttony, did away with all the commandments, and forbade anyone to ever mention the idea of judgment and punishment?

Let me summarize. No, that would take to long. Let me sum up.

Christianity is hard.
A man-made religion would be easy (and allow promiscuous sex).
Therefore Christianity is not a man-made religion, but the one true religion created by god – checkmate!

Why do I find it interesting that the first thing he includes in his definition of religion based on wishful thinking is a reference to promiscuous sex?

One would think that the USA Today would have at least one atheist editor on staff to help DeStefano clean up this mess of an article before it was published.

DeStafano wraps up his commentary by returning to his faulty premise, his Straw Man, and reinforcing it –

And yet, atheists persist in this ridiculous notion that human beings “invented” God merely because we’re afraid of death and want to see our dead relatives again. Amazing.

Amazing indeed!

This is your Brain on Drugs:

Posted in Christianity, Science, Stupidity on December 12th, 2010 by scott

Brain on Drugs

This is your Brain on Religion:

Which came first, the chicken or the egg? Fish, reptiles, and birds lay eggs. If these adult species are only given life by means of the egg hatching process, how did the first fish, reptiles and birds come into existence? Evolution? If so, why isn’t all life hatched out of an egg? Is this to be explained with the same sort of reasoning which produced the theory that a bear fell into a lake/river and became a whale?

If you’d like to read the entire article written by Herman Cummings
clicky, click! But you may be more stupider after you’ve finished.

Herman’s says, “I try to be an honest and intelligent being.” Keep trying – you’re almost there. I like the skepticism, but put down the Bible and study science if you want the answers.

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The Dumbest

Posted in Atheism, Science, Stupidity on October 26th, 2010 by scott

In a recent blog post on the Biggest Questions Online, Michael Shermer ruled out god when considering the question, “why is there something rather than nothing?” Shermer’s thoughts –

The theist’s answer to the question is that God existed before the universe and subsequently brought it into existence out of nothing (ex nihilo) in a single creation moment as described in Genesis. But the very conception of a creator existing before the universe and then creating it implies a time sequence. In both the Judeo-Christian tradition and the scientific worldview, time began when the universe came into existence, either through divine creation or the Big Bang. God, therefore, would have to exist outside of space and time, which means that as natural beings delimited by living in a finite universe, we cannot possibly know anything about such a supernatural entity. The theist’s answer is an untestable hypothesis.

In conclusion Shermer had this to say –

…in answer to the question Why is there something instead of nothing?, it is okay to say “I don’t know” and keep searching. There is no need to turn to supernatural answers just to fulfill an emotional need for certainty and comfort. Science’s uncertainty is its greatest strength. We should embrace it.

In a scathing rebuttal, Joe Carter stated that Shermer was incompetent for not being intelligent enough to recognize that the only reasonable answer to this question is the good lord (which one he doesn’t say (Clicky to read my previous post about Holy Joe)).

Joey says –

How can Shermer, who has been a professional skeptic for almost twenty years, be so incompetent? A college freshman who has read a few anthologized excerpts from Thomas Aquinas’s Summa Theologica could point out how Shermer completely misunderstands the relation between God and the universe.

According to Joe not only is Shermer a big dummy, but so am I since I do not have Summa Theologica memorized.

Joey continues –

What is not surprising, of course, is that Shermer seriously considers one of the dumbest possible answer[*s] to the question: The universe creates itself out of nothing. Shermer calls this auto-ex-nihilo. (As Dave Barry would say, I’m not making this up.) Perhaps someone should point out to Shermer that Aquinas has already explained why that’s not possible.

*I added the “s” to Joe’s excerpt to provide some grammatical clarity (I also don’t like the way he uses parenthesis, but this is more a matter of style).

Because Joe is such a brilliant and articulate writer, not only do I have to find and read Summa Theologica, I have to speculate as to what Joe is blathering on about. Here’s a suggestion Joe – instead of referring me to a text which was originally written in Latin more than 700 years ago, “anthologize” your specific issue with Shermer’s argument.

Since this is something Joe doesn’t seem to grasp (or he’s too lazy), I’ll take a stab at eliciting the two specific questions implied in Joe’s less-than-half-assed-I’m-right-your-wrong-cop-out-of-a-response.

1) Since, according to Joe, Aquinas has already explained why it’s not possible for something to come from nothing, what specifically did Aquinas say?

Aquinas said god is the “first cause, himself uncaused.”

Aquinas goes on to say that the Creator did not create something out of nothing because nothing is actually something. Aquinas asserts that God made the universe without using anything (non-existence being different than nothing). In other words, god created everything out of nothing at all, not out of nothing (because nothing is something).

It’s a subtle point (the subtlety is lost on me), but it most certainly does not explain why creating something from nothing is impossible as Joe smuggly suggests.

2) Since Shermer completely misunderstands the relationship, what specifically does Aquinas say about god’s relationship with the universe?

I have no idea. I’m still dizzy from writing the whole “nothing equals something” paragraph. Aquinas seems to imply that god is inside the universe. On the other hand, Shermer suggests that god is outside the universe and is therefore unknowable.

There you have it. Joe’s issue with Shermer boils down to nothing at all, which is not even nothing (which is something). If that’s not conclusive proof of Joe’s delusional incompetence I’m not sure what would be. I’ll leave that up to you.

Joey concludes –

Sometimes I wonder whether we should ask God to give us a better class of atheists or whether we should thank him for the intellectually incompetent ones we have.

Sometimes I wonder whether I should ask god why guys like Joe are unwavering in their stupidity, but then I remember that there is no god and Joe’s stupidity is a product of religious dogma.

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The Field Museum

Posted in Science on October 18th, 2010 by scott
Museum A couple Sundays ago my six-year-old son and I headed to the Field Museum and arrived at 9:00am. Parking was chaotic because, unbeknown to me, a new Beluga Whale was making its debut at the Shedd Aquarium, but we found a spot and spent the next two hours exploring the Field Museum. I have never been to any other museums, but I cannot imagine a more scenic and accommodating area than the Museum Campus Chicago (dedicated to the natural sciences) which sits right on the shore of Lake Michigan.

We entered through the main entrance. The entrance opens up into one of the more impressive rooms I have ever seen. The architectural detail is impressive, as I’m sure other buildings enjoy, but other buildings do not house the largest, most complete Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton ever discovered – Sue! My son is already a dinosaur expert, so Sue is very special to him and always the first and last thing we visit.

After examining Sue, we headed upstairs to see her skull and also inspected bronze representations of her teeth and one of her arms (no bigger than mine!). My son and I discussed – why the small arms? If the mass extinction that ended the Cretaceous period didn’t occur, would Sue have eventually lost her arms to evolution? Or was there some use that has so far eluded everyone’s imagination?

After Sue we headed back downstairs to the dioramas. This is somewhat new for us because we usually get lost and can’t find our way back, so we typically avoid this area. This time we manage to find the Lions of Tsavo. I knew the Field Museum had this exhibit, but I didn’t know that they displayed the actual man-eating lions shot and killed by John Henry Patterson! My son would not leave until I read him every last word concerning this exhibit, and even before I had finished, he asked, “how come the lions don’t have manes?” To which I replied, “The answer, my son, is evolution by natural selection.”

This gave me an opportunity to introduce my son to the natural process by which, according to Darwin’s theory of evolution, only the organisms most suited to their environment tend to survive and transmit their genetic characteristics in increasing numbers to succeeding generations while those less adapted tend to be eliminated.

If I were a young earth creationist, my answer would have been bland and predictable – so predictable, my son would have long since stopped asking me these questions.

Pretending to know the truth, that god created everything at his pleasure, is much easier than explaining the complexity of science and evolution.


We still got lost and had to back track a couple of times, but we managed to stumble upon the alligators, caimans, and crocodiles (which come in second only to dinosaurs in my son’s eyes). We also learned about the Indian Gharial; a gharial is not capable of being a man-eater (its snout is too narrow), but is mistaken for one because of the jewelry sometimes found in its stomach.

After we found our way back, we stopped by the McDonald’s Fossil Prep Lab to see what they were working on then we headed to my favorite exhibit – The Evolving Planet. I’ve been through this exhibit countless times, yet every time, I learn something new. For example – there were more species of mammals during the Mesozoic era then currently exist, and that scientists can quickly figure out if they are working with a mammal fossil by examining the teeth and jawbones.

As I walked through this exhibit, which is so well done, I try to imagine a mindset that would experience this and still claim the Earth is 6000 years old and evolution is a myth. I’ve come to the conclusion that to have faith to that degree requires a flat out rejection of the facts (by what mechanism facts are rejected may be explored in another post).

Evolution is fact beyond all reasonable doubt. Evolution by natural selection is a theory – the theory that explains evolution and that has not been falsified in over 150 years. I agree with Sir Richard Dawkins – if one cannot change their opinion in the face of facts, they are, indeed, delusional.

After the Evolving Planet, we headed back to say our goodbyes to Sue. I’d like to highlight the tremendously contrasting views concerning the acquisition of knowledge from the perspective of religion vs. science. If my son and I were religious in nature, we would have thought, “I wonder what god had in mind with those small arms?” And any answer given doesn’t really matter because it can never be confirmed. We would be blissful in our ignorance. But because there are natural explanations for things, we are critical, skeptical thinkers – we need confirmation.

Darwin On the other hand, science and Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection provide a framework that allows one to ask questions that can be answered. Instead of asking why god would create small arms on a T-Rex, one question could be, “maybe Sue’s arms provided some benefit when she was just a toddler?” This question may illicit additional questions which may eventually lead to a prediction that can be confirmed through empirical evidence.

Mystery solved instead of “He works in mysterious ways.”

Before heading out, my son asked me if we could stop by the Shedd, but I told him that we would have to do that on another day (our meter was almost up and the Shedd was more crowded than I had ever seen it!). I told him we could visit the Field Museum store, and after 30 minutes of scrutiny, my son asked if I would buy him a plastic Giganotosaurus. I asked him, “Did Giganotosaurus exist at the same time as T-Rex?” To which he replied, “No – Giganotosaurus was before the T-Rex,” as if I should know better. “Really? Well did you know T-Rex has been found in North America and Giganotosaurus has been found in South America, so even if they did live at the same time they probably would have never run into each other?” This was met with a blank stare, as if to say “duh.”

“Well, they say that Giganotosaurus was bigger than T-Rex…”

My son reached down and grabbed a plastic T-Rex from a one of the bins, held it up against the Giganotosaurus in his other hand and said, “No it’s not!”

Field Museum membership $100 annually; plastic Giganotosaurus $14.50; parking $2.50, knowing that my son is a critical thinker that challenges authority… Priceless!

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Stupid Questions

Posted in Atheism, Christianity, Science, Stupidity on October 6th, 2010 by scott

Ahhh stupidity… the gift that just keeps on giving. Is there anything more entertaining than stupidity? I’m no stranger to all things stupid. I’ve even asked one of the stupidest questions ever recorded (clicky). Not only have I contributed to stupidity, I’ve been on the receiving end of stupidity.

I'm with Stupid My fondest stupidity in the form of a statement not articulated by myself occurred in Manhattan and was an attempt by one of my more overconfident friends to “break my balls.” We were walking through the South Street Sea Port when we passed some oil paintings for sale. One painting was particularly unflattering to which my friend stated, “Hey Scott – somebody painted your self-portrait!”

It’s relatively easy to make a stupid statement, but to ask a stupid question requires some finesse, and one must be especially gifted to string two or more stupid questions together.

When considering stupid questions, Cathy Lynn Grossman must have just broken some kind of a world record. Grossman has the exceptional ability to string together one stupid question right after the dim-witted other. You see Grossman is a reporter and writes for the “Faith and Reason” section of USA Today (I would suggest the rename the section “Faith”).

In her latest article (‘Test tube babies’: God’s work or human error?) she tackles the latest Catholic controversy – the British scientist Robert Edwards’ recent award for the Nobel Prize in Medicine for developing in vitro fertilization (IVF).

To hammer her point home (whatever that may have been – I think it has something to do with discrimination), Grossman starts off with a few questions and concludes by rewording and repeating them and adding in a few more. Not only are these questions stupid, I find them offensive as well.

The article’s intro –

Do you think a baby conceived in test tube is still a child in the eyes — or mind or hands*, depending on your theology/philosophy — of God? Does the science behind this merit the Nobel Prize for Medicine or condemnation in the realm of faith and ethics?

*Why did she neglect the “noodly appendage?”

…the conclusion (here is where she sets the new world record)-

Do you think a baby conceived in test tube is still a child in the eyes of God? Does the science behind this merit a Nobel Prize, or ethical condemnation? And what about the parents? Is their IVF choice selfish or loving? Are they creators — or merely shoppers?

Let’s attempt to turn lemons into lemonade (cause that’s how I roll). I will take these nonsensical and offensive queries and shove them within the realm of science. The goal is to make a testable prediction (please excuse my scientific creative license).

Let’s assume that Grossman is indeed correct – that a supreme being who has an aversion to foreskins also finds this whole IVF thing insulting. I’m assuming that “still a child in the eyes of god” means that although god allowed test-tube-babies to be born, he did not infuse them with a soul. Or in other words, they are the closest things to zombies we will encounter since Jesus is risen.

This next part is even more of a stretch, but stay with me.

All science has to do is develop a method to confirm the existence of souls and we have a testable prediction!

Ahhh – the wonders of science – is there anything science cannot do?!

Once these heathens can be easily identified, the easier it will be to discriminate against them.

I have some questions –

  • What would Santa Claus think about a baby conceived in a test tube?
  • Would Santa exclude said baby from receiving presents regardless of the baby’s naughty or nice status?
  • What does faith have to do with ethics?
  • Is a baby born of rape and/or incest god’s work or human error?
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    The Pope, Nazis and Atheists

    Posted in Atheism, nauseating, The Pope on September 16th, 2010 by scott

    The Pope started his UK tour today with a speech in which he associated atheists with Nazis.

    Even in our own lifetime, we can recall how Britain and her leaders stood against a Nazi tyranny that wished to eradicate God from society and denied our common humanity to many, especially the Jews, who were thought unfit to live. I also recall the regime’s attitude to Christian pastors and religious who spoke the truth in love, opposed the Nazis and paid for that opposition with their lives. As we reflect on the sobering lessons of the atheist extremism of the twentieth century, let us never forget how the exclusion of God, religion and virtue from public life leads ultimately to a truncated vision of man and of society and thus to a “reductive vision of the person and his destiny” (Caritas in Veritate, 29).

    Nazi Pope The Pope, of course, is referring to the Nazi Party as a manifestation of “atheist extremism.” I assume by “sobering lessons” he means the Holocaust. I’ll give him the second statement, but the first is a logical fallacy – an insulting logical fallacy.

    The fallacy that the Nazis were atheists. The evidence shows that German Christians supported the Nazis because they believed that Adolf Hitler was a gift to the German people from God.

    In addition, the Nazi Party stated:

    “We demand freedom for all religious confessions in the state, insofar as they do not endanger its existence or conflict with the customs and moral sentiments of the Germanic race. The party as such represents the standpoint of a positive Christianity, without owing itself to a particular confession….”

    – Article 20 of the program of the German Workers’ Party (later named the National Socialist German Workers’ Party, NSDAP)

    The Catholics and Nazis also shared many of the same ideals – they were both anti-communism, anti-atheism, and anti-secularism.

    Catholic churches helped identify Jews for extermination (for Christ’s sake!). After the war, Catholic leaders helped former Nazis back into power and helped others escape to Brazil (did they know how to do this because they already had experience with pedophiles?).

    One would think it’s impossible, almost offensive, to assert that the Nazis were atheistic when they explicitly endorsed and promoted Christianity, shared the same goals, and assisted in the “Final Solution” among other things.

    But it seems nothing is impossible when one adheres to religious dogma, ignores evidence, and believes in the grown up version of Santa Claus. It is only another example of irony.

    One last thought –

    The Pope seems to be implying that if society cannot get these “extremist” atheists under control, society will not live up to it’s potential because each individual will be personally denied their own vision and ultimate destiny.

    (Rhetorical question) Who impedes society’s future by contributing to the “reductive vision of the person and his destiny”? Atheists? Or pedophile priests and the men who cover it up?

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    Glenn Beck, Rabbi Lapin and Parasites

    Posted in Atheism, nauseating, Stupidity on September 13th, 2010 by scott
    Rabbi Lapin was recently on the Glenn Beck Program, and even though the Rabbi has many atheist friends, he tells them that they are “parasites” (I call “bullshit”). That’s because, from his perspective, atheists benefit from all of the wonderful things religion has given us but offer nothing in return. Parasite

    Since I started writing this post I’ve tried to think of one benefit religion has provided and the only thing I can think of is a sense of community. But being an atheist, I shun religious communities. What is the benefit?

    On the other hand, did religion give the Rabbi the ability to be broadcast by the Fox News Channel while spewing nonsense about atheists (and the ability for me to link to the original video to comment on the Rabbi’s ignorance and Glenn Beck’s smarmyness)?

    The answer is a resounding-fucking “No!” But I can make a strong argument that a huge contribution was made by the atheist Alan Turing.

    Check it out…

    This post calls for a definition of “parasite” –

    par·a·site (noun)

    1) an organism that lives on or in an organism of another species, known as the host, from the body of which it obtains nutriment.

    2) a person who receives support, advantage, or the like, from another or others without giving any useful or proper return, as one who lives on the hospitality of others.

    If calling a group of people “parasites” sounds familiar to you, it might be because you’ve heard it before.

    Here’s an excerpt from Mein Kampf –

    Never yet has a state been founded by peaceful economic means, but always and exclusively by the instincts of preservation of the species regardless whether these are found in the province of heroic virtue or of cunning craftiness; the one results in Aryan states based on work and culture, the other in Jewish colonies of parasites.

    This idea eventually led to full blown propaganda like this

    The Jew is the parasite among humans.

    That is the natural law. He can not do differently. He needs a host people to be able to live himself.

    And we all know how that turned out…

    I cannot remember experiencing irony on so many levels as the enigma that goes by the name Rabbi Lapin.

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    Father Robert Barron

    Posted in Atheism, Christianity, Nature, Science on September 12th, 2010 by scott
    Check out Father Robert Barron speaking in response to Stephen Hawking’s idea that god is not necessary when explaining the origin of the universe. In his latest book “The Grand Design” Hawking states:

    “Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist.”

    Fr Barron

    A quick summary of Fr. Barron’s response –

  • Science cannot provide the answer, therefore god did it
  • If you don’t understand something, fall back on a 2000-year-old mythology
  • A slightly more detailed analysis –

  • Well spoken mumbo-jumbo is still mumbo-jumbo
  • Something in him “always tightens” when science attempts to answer questions
  • He places philosophy and religion on the same intellectually plane
  • He thinks scientists are not qualified to make any serious contributions to philosophy
  • He thinks scientists are not qualified to make any serious contributions to fairy tales (that’s his domain)
  • It was difficult to make it through the first three minutes of the video, but it was worth it because at the 3:40 mark Fr Barron segues from criticizing the audacity of science to explaining why science is wrong. In other words, this is when the mumbo-jumbo ramps up.

    Fr Barron states you cannot appeal indefinitely to “intrinsic” causes. Fr Barron doesn’t seem to understand that Hawking stops at Quantum Mechanics and Gravity (or maybe he does). Fr Barron’s ultimate cause is the Catholic god which begs the question “who created god?” And leads one to appeal to indefinite intrinsic causes!

    Fr Barron finds it completely unreasonable, almost humorous, that Hawking suggests that something can come from nothing by way of quantum mechanics and gravity.

    EDIT (09/14/2010) – I’ve perused Hawking’s book and he does not suggest that something came from nothing (this is Barron’s interpretation). Hawking suggests that quantum mechanics allowed something that was already there to “change states” into something else.

    On the other hand, the distinguished Father finds a zombie born of a virgin who is his own father and has the ability to make you live forever if you symbolically eat his flesh and telepathically tell him that you accept him as your creator and master so he can remove an evil force from your soul that is present because a woman made out of a man’s rib was convinced by a talking snake to eat fruit from the “Tree of Knowledge” perfectly reasonable.

    Barron also displays his ignorance when he states that if science cannot “get it” it’s not real and refers to this a “scientism.” That’s not the definition a scientism, and that is not how science works.

    But if you can make it through the first eight minutes, the distinguished Fr Barron throws Christianity, Islam, and Catholicism under the bus and states that –

    “No one thinks god is a being you are going to find or a force you are going to find within the universe.”

    Finally something the Father and I see eye to eye on – I am in completely agreement with Fr Barron’s suggesting that Jesus was not the son of god.

    My question to the Father – why did you take a vow of celibacy in deference to a being that exists outside of our universe?


    Breakfast – the Most Important Meal of the Day?

    Posted in Science on June 9th, 2010 by scott

    I’ve heard this phrase off and on for the past fifteen years. I enjoy pancakes and French toast on the weekends, but during the week I rarely eat breakfast.

    I’ve always felt less than adequate because of my lack of enthusiasm concerning breakfast, and this idea has always bothered me when considering its evolutionary implications.


    Humans have traditionally been hunter-gatherers; the first hints of our species moving to an agricultural society emerged 12,000 years ago. We evolved primarily when “feast or famine” cycles were the norm (which also provides an explanation of our current struggles with obesity). Our ancestors would kill something and eat it – they wouldn’t wait until the next morning to have breakfast. I cannot imagine under any circumstances, for the entire history of our species, why eating breakfast would be the most important meal of the day.

    Imagine mid-day 15,000 years ago –

    caveman one “I say old boy, I’m rather hungry. Are you ready to help me track, capture, and kill that mammoth?”
    caveman two “Well, to be perfectly honest with you I didn’t have the good fortune to eat breakfast. I think I would be a tremendous liability.”
    caveman one “I say old chap – if I had realized you didn’t have an opportunity to eat the most important meal of the day I never would have put you in such an awkward position. Please accept my sincerest apologies.”

    So where did this idea come from? It turns out that the first evidence-based study was completed and published in 1981; the results seem to suggest that eating breakfast can positively affect a child’s intellectual performance. Although I couldn’t locate the initial study, I did find a study that the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) references to support the above claim.

    That’s when I found something interesting. The person that linked to this study (PDF) didn’t bother to read it! The authors, Pollitt and Matthews, analyze the initial study, and additional breakfast related studies, and state that

    “no definitive conclusions can be drawn concerning breakfast and intellectual performance because of issues of research design, measurements, mechanisms, potential effect modifiers (eg, age), and relevance for public policy.”

    And it’s not only the CDC’s site – there are many other sites that claim that breakfast is the most important meal of the day and they also link to this same study!

    In one study the participating students went to school early to have breakfast while those that skipped breakfast stayed at home. But 23% of the kids who stayed home said that they ate breakfast! That’s not the only problem with this study. I’m no psychologist, but it seems to me that if you got a group of students to come to school early for any reason, they would perform better than the kids who stayed at home until school started for two reasons – the students that go to school early are mentally making a gradual transition from home life to school (instead of an abrupt shift) and more importantly, they are participating in a social experience with other students! Part of that experience may have been a discussion concerning algebra or social studies. The study concluded that breakfast was the mechanism that caused the improved intellect and completely disregarded the social component.

    Of the studies that did provide a twinkling of causation, a strong argument can be made that the act of eating (not necessarily breakfast) has an effect on intellectual ability.

    In a study of university students, breakfast had an effect on free recall in midmorning but had no effect in late morning, suggesting that there is an optimum time after breakfast consumption for the enhancement of certain cognitive tasks.

    Can be re-written as …

    In a study of university students, eating had an effect on free recall, suggesting that there is an optimum time after consumption for the enhancement of certain cognitive tasks.

    I also ran across statements like this –

    “Eating breakfast is good for weight loss. In fact, people who eat breakfast are more likely to maintain a healthy weight.”

    But the only information I could find to support this idea was the “The National Weight Control Registry.” It’s a website that collects information regarding people who have lost 30lbs or more. The idea here is that if one eats breakfast they are less likely to snack on junk food until lunch rolls around.

    According to their interpretation (of their data) they claim that eating breakfast is an important consideration if one wants to maintain their weight after losing 30 or more pounds. At best, the data only applies to people who have already lost 30lbs! Using the same data I could just as easily suggest that these people gained 30lbs (and continue to struggle with their weight) specifically because they ate breakfast!

    In conclusion, I don’t think this idea concerning breakfast is legitimate. I’m not suggesting that everyone should stop eating breakfast, but it is not a concern if you can’t eat something before starting your day.

    Concerning the statement “breakfast being the most important meal of the day” – the evidence doesn’t seem to suggest that at all.

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