Monday, September 30, 2013

Adventures in the Twitterverse Part 1

It's been an interesting time over in Twitter. Seems that some folks get a bit cranky when you challenge their belief systems. Sadly, 140 characters is hardly adequate to point out the flaws in their logic (if I may call it such). So, I brought it here and I'll provide them links. I expect the comments below to be filled with invective, erroneous logic, attacks on my character finally ending with the hoary chestnut, "I'll pray for you."

Unlike many, I will not hide the names. You go on to Twitter with no expectation of privacy so take your lumps.

Here goes:

Here we go with a classic theist dodge: use the Bible to prove the Bible as if that is somehow going to sway the ideas and opinions of an old atheist like me.

Now on to the burden of proof. Mr. Miano's assessment of modern cosmology is, at best, incomplete. At worst, it's entirely misleading. I know of no astronomer who works in cosmology who claims that the universe came from nothing. We do not yet know the origins of the universe but to say that "something exploded out of nothing and became everything" is complete drivel and Miano knows it.

Speaking of what people know, he then says that men deny what they know is true. Naturally, he is referring to the Bible. He has now stated the Bible is true. I challenge him to prove it. From that point on, he disappears from the conversation and a guy who goes by Ancient Theology steps in.

Do you see that easy dodge? Rather than prove a statement has been made, he has attempted to shift the burden of proof to me. And, again, he has said that the Big Bang has no cause. I still say that this is a gross misunderstanding of modern cosmology.

My second statement to Ancient Theology sums up my feelings on the issue pretty nicely. At one time, gods were the explanation for everything that occurs in nature. As we learned more and more about the world around us, some of those gods vanished. Today, god has become nothing more than an answer for people who are content to be satisfied with incomplete answers. Once gods enter the equation, inquiry withers and dies.

And he's right. I have no guile. Guile implies craftiness. Nope. Not me. I just make my statement flat out with no attempt to use emotion or coercion to demonstrate what I say. It's out there and you can accept it, refute it (with evidence) or ignore it. It's all the same to me.

The conversation continues... so more later.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

The War on Ignorance

The above image has generated a lot of controversy.
There's nothing like open discussion to make people contemplate the things they see, the things they think and the things they believe.
David Silverman, president of the American Atheists, has been at the heart of several of those discussions. However, whenever he appears on any of the programs on the Fox "News" Channel, he's generally assaulted with Bill O'Reilly's standard nonsense about the war on Christmas. Sean Hannity has gotten into the fray as well. David sits calmly as these guys go on and on with some of the most ridiculous notions that have ever come from a human mouth. He smiles (OK, sometimes he smirks) and stays calm and rational while listening to what can be described politely as tripe. O'Reilly even had the audacity to state plainly on live TV that Christianity is not a religion but is, instead, a philosophy. 
Uh, Bill... if there's a god figure involved at all, it's a religion. Don't kid yourself.
One might ask why Silverman and those of us who have these discussions even bother. What difference will we make?
I can't speak for David because I don't know him that well but I can tell you why I do it.
It's because I can't NOT do it. I have to speak up. Maybe it's because I'm tired of being treated as less of an American simply because I don't buy into the collective mythology. I'm the kid who noticed that the emperor has no clothes but realizes that most of these people find nudity fashionable this year.
When I speak out against the abuses and nonsense of religion, organized or not, I'm not addressing the practitioners. Nothing I say will ever convince them that they're wrong or that they should at least contemplate the notion that they might be wrong. If I'm addressing them in any way, it's to let them know that their assumptions will not go unchallenged.
I'm not addressing atheists. That's called preaching to the choir (no, the irony of that statement isn't lost on me). True, I want them to think about what they do and do not believe. Blind rejection of a notion is every bit as dangerous as blind acceptance. If I'm addressing them in any way, it's to let them know that they aren't alone in this, that there are others out there having these discussions and that they don't need to be afraid.
So who am I addressing? 
I'm talking to those who are watching from the sidelines. They might be undecided and I want to show them that there are alternatives to the standard mindset. There is more than one way to contemplate religion, gods and myths. At the very least, I want them to make an informed decision.
Unlike the religious person, I'm willing to admit that I might be wrong about this. There might be a god. There might be thousands of gods. There might be an individual god for every human on this planet. There might be several per person. But I've seen no evidence beyond the anecdotal and outdated. 
Now do I celebrate Christmas? You bet I do! Where I work closes only four days each year: Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and Christmas. If it takes a federally mandated holiday to get me a day off, who am I to argue? 
Do I keep Christ in Christmas? Only when I spell it. 
I've kept the merry but dumped the myth.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Small minds in a small town

Pastor Charles L. Worley of the Providence Road Baptist Church in Maiden, North Carolina was recently shown in a video in which he stated that gays and lesbians should be put behind tall, electrified fences until they "died out." He did mention that they should get food drops but because they couldn't reproduce, there would be no more gays and lesbians once they died.

No human language exists that can adequately express the disgust and shame that I feel when I realize that I share an atmosphere with such an individual. That my county shares a border with his county is even more appalling. What he says isn't right. It's not even right enough to be wrong. Again, there isn't a word for it because it goes beyond wrong. I supposed the phrase "stunningly and embarrassingly ignorant" begin to describe it.

Where does he think gay people come from? Do they spontaneously appear? Are they created in labs? Or are they people who are born to heterosexual parents?

As for rounding people up and putting them behind fences, it's been tried. The parallels between Worley's suggestion and the Third Reich's "Final Solution" are all too obvious. I'm generally loathe to compare these nuts to Nazis but let's be honest, here. There is no other way to describe it.

Pastor Worley then went on to tell his congregation not to vote for Obama. Oh, he was careful not to mention names but it was more obvious what he meant. So if he's going to preach politics from the pulpit, he needs to surrender his church's tax exempt status immediately. He's in violation of federal law.

This man is spreading a dangerous message of hatred and intolerance. The fact that his congregation didn't walk out on him or correct him shows that a large number of Maiden's citizens are cut from the same cloth. If you watch the video, you can hear some cheering him on.

Before you go on about respecting a preacher, if he's saying things that are wrong, his parishioners have an obligation to correct him. I remember my grandfather leaping to his feet in church and shouting at the priest, "Rubbish, young man!" So it can be done.

On behalf of those in my state who actually use their brains for more than warming the insides of their hats, I apologize to the world. We aren't all like this.

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Charlotte Mayor Anthony R. Foxx has declared today, May 3, 2012 to be "A Day of Reason."


The text:

WHEREAS, the application of reason, more than any other means, has proven to offer hope for human survival upon Earth, improving conditions within the universe, and cultivating intelligent, moral and ethical interactions among people and their environments, and

WHEREAS, those who wrote the Constitution of the United States of America, the basic document for governing the affairs of humankind within the United States, based it upon principles delineated within the philosophies distinguishing the historical Age of Reason, and

WHEREAS, most citizens of the United States purport to value reason and its application, and

WHEREAS, it is the duty and responsibility of every citizen to promote the development and application of reason

NOW, THEREFORE, I, Anthony R. Foxx, Mayor of Charlotte, do hereby proclaim May 03, 2011 as

in Charlotte and commend its observance to all citizens.Witness my hand and the official Seal of the City of Charlotte.

Signed “Anthony R Foxx, Mayor”

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Nothing Succeeds Like Success

In a recent conversation on Facebook, I mentioned the idea of training yourself to succeed through small successes. Now before I get too far into the topic, I will admit that I'm not a neurologist nor am I a psychologist. However, I have a background in the sciences and fairly observant. If someone can find fault with my reasoning here, please let me know.

We all know those people who succeed at virtually everything they try. When I was in high school, there was the girl who won all the scholarships, was a cheerleader, president of every club she joined and wound up as co-valedictorian at our graduation. She was an accomplished musician. From what I know about her since, she has continued that trend throughout her life.

I wasn't quite the same kind of person. I had high aspirations but never seemed to succeed at very much. I knew that I needed to work harder on certain aspects of my life but for some reason, I always took the path to failure. It may sound strange but I think I was comfortable in my failure.

Looking back at it, I think that I may have been programmed to fail. My mother seldom approved of the things that interested me. I had an intense interest in astronomy and science fiction which she dismissed as my wasting my time on "that space shit." She didn't acknowledge my achievements in scouting and didn't even bother to attend my high school graduation. Whether I should succeed or fail, it was all the same to her and failure took a lot less effort. What I didn't realize was that I was actually laying down neural pathways that would cause me to choose the option most likely to fail.

My interest in the sciences was dealt a near fatal blow when my high school math teacher told me that I should consider another career path. She told me that I had "no grasp of mathematics." So there I was. I tried to study art (another interest) but dropped out of college after a semester.

Eventually, I stopped challenging myself and was resolved to spend my life doing unrewarding, low paying jobs. In my romantic life, at times, I wasn't as choosy as I should have been.

In all of this, there was one thing I was actually good at doing: crossword puzzles. I stopped peeking at the solutions as I started to figure out how these puzzles work. Soon, I abandoned my pencil and started working the puzzles in pen. Yes, there were some pretty messy puzzles but I kept getting better at them. The main challenge was to complete a Sunday New York Times puzzle. Now they aren't much of a challenge at all.

As an artist, I'd had a bit of success when I was asked to illustrate a book for a friend who was publishing through a small press. I started to produce more work, mostly for myself but I managed to sell some.

I stumbled into the planetarium field almost by accident. But I managed to get a job working at a planetarium at a small museum and really enjoyed it. One of my co-workers taught physics at the local community college and he encouraged me to go back to school. When I told him about my math woes, he showed me that I knew more than I thought I did. I took his advice and returned to college at the age of 29. My major? Physics. Now that was a challenge.

As all this was happening, I'd gotten involved with a woman who I thought was above me but far too interesting for me not to pursue. Fortunately, she found me interesting and we got married shortly after I started college.

I thought I'd have to fight my way through my first year but did really well and it was easier than I'd thought. I ran for student body president but didn't win. However, due to some misdeeds by the person who did win, I managed to get that job. I won some academic scholarships and was inducted into two different honor societies. Little successes started to build. New neural pathways were being built as well. Now I didn't feel comfortable with not succeeding. Success was like a powerful, alluring drug and I liked it!

After graduation, I decided to bide my time waiting for the right job to come along. I worked as a secretary in a department of sociology. I learned a lot but it wasn't what I felt I was supposed to do.

A job eventually did become available. I didn't think I was really qualified but I figured I'd give it a try, something I'd have never considered just a few years earlier. With my planetarium background, my degree in physics and the ability to produce artwork, I'd made an impression and was hired.

I've now been doing that same job for over14 years and love what I do. My wife and I are still together and about to celebrate our 22nd anniversary. Our two kids are in college and seem to have a fairly bright future ahead (although I'll continue to worry about both of them).

Although I'd never really needed validation from my high school classmates, at the 20th reunion, something happened that really showed me how far I'd come. We were required to tell who we were, where we lived and what we were doing. At the end of the evening, there was a small awards ceremony. One of the awards was for the person who most surprised you with their story. I was given this award and received a standing ovation.

As happy as I am with how my life has gone so far, I'm still looking for that next challenge. I'll give it my best effort and I won't stop until I succeed!

Sunday, April 08, 2012

The Reason Rally

Like a few thousand (estimates range from 8,000 to over 30,000) of my closest friends, I attended the Reason Rally. Lots of people will tell you what it was like and I have to say that I thought it was pretty awesome... with an exception I'll mention later.

But my view here has to do with our counter protestors. Naturally, Fred (God Hates Everything I Do) Phelps and his loonies were there thinking they were oh-so-clever with posters about gaytheists and fagnostics. There isn't enough space on the entire Internet for me to tell you just how despicable I find his particular stripe of Christianity.

When I was in the main tent talking with Troy Boyle, I heard him talking with two young evangelists about the origins of the universe, etc. Naturally, every atheist is supposed to be equipped with a full accounting of how the universe came to be despite the fact that even the most learned astrophysicists are still grappling with that question. I guess they figure if their book has it boiled down to two pages, everyone should have such a simple answer.

Even weeks later, I can't help but wonder why people were protesting against reason. Should we all be a bunch of blindly accepting, weak-willed nincompoops? Sorry, but my human brain just balks at that kind of thing.

I do have one thing to say about the Rally that might not be favorable. Far too early and far too often, our speakers resorted to swearing. I have nothing against the well aimed swear word and use them often myself. But in this venue, it was neither merited nor appropriate. It made some otherwise brilliant people come across as foul-mouthed, mindless nitwits. I doubt that was the image we were trying for.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Everyone needs a hobby

When I'm not ranting about narrow mindedness and willful ignorance (which I don't do as much as many people would think I do), I like to build and use telescopes. Tonight, I looked at Jupiter (pictured), Mars and Venus. It helps me realize what an amazing world we live on.

Now theists often use this as a jumping off point for talking about how this planet was made for us. But I see it the other way around. This unimaginably vast universe will, somewhere, have stars (or several) that are the right age and temperature so they don't fry their planets with radiation or explode and destroy their planets. Of the billions of planets orbiting hospitable stars, some of those planets will be at the correct distance to allow liquid water to exist on their surfaces. Organic chemistry takes over and life arises on at least one of them. For those of you who might think that the building blocks of life are simply too complex to arise on their own, please note that adenine, cytosine, guanine and thymine have all been detected elsewhere in the universe. These are the four rungs of the DNA ladder. Yes, the stuff of life is out there.

In a universe as huge as this one, life is more or less inevitable. We know because we're here to witness it. A series of fortunate events spun this intricate web of life and we're simply a small thread. Any slight variation in the past and we might have never been. Maybe there would be another sentient form of life on this planet or perhaps sentient life might have never arisen.

The carbon in my cells, the iron in my blood and the calcium in my bones all formed inside the cores of stars eons ago. Those stars started as simple hydrogen but through the process of nuclear fusion, they built heavier and heavier atoms. When they died, those stars spilled those atoms into the cosmos. Clouds of these atoms coalesced, condensed and formed new stars and planets. One of those planets was Earth. Life arose on this planet. That life evolved into different forms over the millennia. Some of those forms went extinct. Those most capable of reproducing through some advantage (speed, stealth, agility, camouflage, etc.) gave birth to offspring that carried those same genetic traits for survival. Some of them took to the trees and developed stereoscopic vision. They were intelligent, fast and agile. Eventually, their descendants left the trees and started to walk upright, an advantage when trying to avoid predators. This freed their front limbs and they started making tools, Food became more plentiful which provided the fuel for bigger brains. They spanned the globe, developing language, art and culture. Finally, one of those cousins to the apes sat and wrote this blog.

I look to the stars and see my very distant cousins. I know that they're made of the same things I am. I know that eventually I'll die and, long after, this planet will die. The atoms that make up the Earth (and me) will return to the universe to form new stars and planets.

How wondrous, elegant and grand. Religions made up by humans pale next to this.