Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Can't allow rape exception because women just lie

This is what it's come to with the unmitigated craziness that is right-wing religious fanaticism. Indiana Rep. Eric Turner believes that we cannot allow abortions in cases of rape or incest because then women will simply all lie and say they were raped. Yeah, maybe some would, so I guess that means we should further victimize the legitimate rape victims by accusing them of being liars as well. People lie about lots of things in law. People might lie about being mugged too, but I don't see people concluding that, therefore we should do away with laws to prevent mugging.

Besides, if they don't want the pregnancy that badly, perhaps it should tell you something, Mr. Turner. It should tell you that forcing them to be mothers against their will would be a phenomenally bad idea. It should tell you that these unwilling mothers will produce unwanted, uncared for children. It should tell you that, in your absolutist quest to force them to do this against their will, you are creating a police state. After all, are we really going to investigate every case of rape and determine its authenticity first. Better to just assume they are all guilty of lying until proven innocent , eh?

Anti-abortionism is the real excuse, not rape. It is not an honest, legitimate issue, but rather a self-righteous smokescreen. It is nothing but a political buzzword meant to smuggle the trojan horse of fundamentalist theocracy into American law. Politicians know that they cannot really stop it or even outlaw it in the US. They would be voted out of office, because the majority of our nation does not reside in the Bible Belt. Yet we have to continue playing this silly, time-wasting charade. Why should women have to come up with excuses? They don't have to come up with an excuse for why they are pregnant in the first place. This isn't Egypt .... yet ... where virginity tests are administered to women on the street to make sure they are not prostitutes. They shouldn't have to come up with an excuse, because it is not the business of Turner or anyone else. They only choose to make it their business because they are bullying, in-your-face evangelicals, who like nothing better in life than forcing others to believe as they do.

War against stem cell science continues

Religious nuts who think that a single-celled organism with no brain or ability to sense pain is the same as a third-trimester, new-born baby, have blocked embryonic and stem cell research in the US for decades with only occasional reprieves. The hope was that science would be able to do an end run around superstition by creating a kind of adult stem cell that mimicked an embryonic stem cell. These were called induced human pluripotent stemcells (iPS), and when they were discovered in 2007 many religious people declared that this proved that we didn't need human embryonic stem cell research. Well, the wingnuts have been proven wrong, yet again, this time in a UCSD medical trial. In the test, iPS cells were violently rejected as if they were foreign tissue, while embryonic stem cells were accepted into the bodies of mice. Unfortunately, however, congress has already banned federal funding for human embryonic stem cell research, and conservative judges have sought to overturn president Obama's attempts to lift Bush era restrictions on the science. As a consequence, US biotechnology research has languished for decades, while other nations have shot ahead in perhaps one of the most promising areas of future medical research.

I have talked to many anti-abortionists, and none can give an intelligent, non-emotional, non-religious answer to why the use of stem cells from frozen embryos that would have been discarded, should be stifled. There are millions of frozen, fertilized ova in fertility clinics all over the US and people can only have so many kids. The excess remain frozen, up to a point, and are then tossed out. If it is "murder", as some right-winger insist, to do medical research on these cells, which are never going to be implanted into a mother anyway, then why are these modern-day Luddites unconcerned about the large numbers of frozen embryos that fertility clinics throw away on a daily basis? Why is it only of concern to them when people do research with them, as opposed to merely tossing them in the dumpster?

Virginity tests...coming soon to the US

Reports that Egyptian military officials used stun guns on women and subjected them to "virginity tests" is disturbing to many people in the modern world. However, before you insist that it "can't happen here" in the US, remember that right-wing religious whackos in our country spent over a billion dollars of federal taxpayer money promoting "abstinence only" sex education, which turned out to be a complete failure. One can imagine that, in a nightmare scenario, under president Palin, the next version of Abstinence Education 2.0, might involve having to prove that one was abstinent. After all, even Palin's own daughter Bristol fell off the abstinence wagon, and straight into a pile of unprotected sex, so I would imagine that Palin would want to be conducting frequent checks of her younger daughters, to make sure that more embarrassments don't occur.

Of course, the US already does poorly enough on standardized tests, and virginity tests share one key feature with standardized tests in that they are not particularly reliable. Still, though, one can only imagine how badly many of our girls would fair on virginity tests, even if they could be made more reliable. As the joke goes, the only test some of these girls are able to pass is a pregnancy test. In fact, I dare say that our would-be fearless leader Sarah P would have been no more able to pass a virginity test during high school than her daughter(s?). However, joking aside, efforts to defund Planned Parenthood, and propaganda campaigns against contraception are pushing the US backward, in the direction of Egypt, instead of forward, toward a modern, progressive, 21st century future.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Tupac, Elvis, and Jesus still alive and well...or NOT!

The recent hacking of pbs.org's website , in which a fake story was posted claiming that Tupac Shakur was "alive and well in a small resort in New Zealand", illustrates something fundamental about human nature and our inability to deal with death. Denial is a common reaction when confronted with the sudden, shocking, and brute finality of death, especially when it is a well-know or beloved figure. Tupac's fans didn't want to believe he was dead. The same was true for fans of Elvis, who was the biggest star of his era. It's unsurprising that similar reactions existed even thousands of years ago, when various small sects of reformist Jews, known as Christians, could not accept the reality of the death of their founder and leader. Instead, like all these other groups, they invented a story appropriate to their own era, culture, and level of technology. Unlike Elvis, who is often reputedly modified with plastic surgery, cyrogenically preserved, and hanging out on UFOs, Jesus was attributed various magical and supernatural properties to cheat the executioner. None of us want to believe that our heros are dead and gone. However, unlike christianity, most of these other modern groups have eventually developed the maturity to eventually accept the reality of the death of their heros. That is why it is essentially a bad joke to insist that Tupac is really alive. Few people sincerely believe Elvis faked his death today. Yet Christianity clings to its denialist rhetoric, despite the fact there is no independent evidence for their claims outside their own partisan stories in their own Bible. How do we know where Joseph of Aramathea really took the body, or if he substituted it with another before reaching the tomb. How do we know there was ever really a tomb, or that they found the right one, or that there even was a Jesus apart from fanciful stories about him. At least we know that Tupac and Elvis lived, which is more than we can say about claims made of Jesus. It's time for people to grow up and accept the reality of their own mortality, instead of inventing bogus stories about people coming back from the dead to give us false hopes. Perhaps, though I doubt it, this latest Tupac example will serve as a teachable moment for those still in denial and living in fantasy.

Why "abstinence" is like saying "don't get shot"

I have debunked, countless times, the flawed "logic" of the "abstinence only" (AO) position, but no matter how many times one does it, there is an endless well of ignorance, often watered by religious fanaticism, that continues to promote it. Often times I point out that advocating "abstinence only" is like telling a soldier that he should go into battle with no helmet or body armor because all he has to do is "abstain from being shot". After all, body armor and helmets are not 100% effective, the AO booster might point out, but "not getting shot" is 100% effective. Of course, the trick is not getting shot. If you do get shot, despite your best efforts to avoid it, then the person with bullet proof vests has a much better chance of surviving. I often put some probabilities on the different events to illustrate. Suppose that there are 100 soldiers in the AO brigade and 100 soldiers in a normal unit where they believe in body armor. Now, depending on the battle, pick a probability that a soldier has of getting shot. Let's say it's only 20%, despite all soldiers making an effort to avoid being shot. Also suppose that the body armor, helmet, etc is only 75% effective preventing the bullet from causing serious injury or death. The expected casualties after the battle are listed below:
AO brigade: 0.80*(100)*(0) + 0.20*(100)(1) = 20 casualties.
BPV unit: 0.80*(100)*(0) + 0.20(100)(.25) = 5 casualties.

See the problem that most AO proponents have is that they assign 100% *effectiveness* to the procedure of abstinence, but they forget to assign a probability that a given person will remain abstinent. That is, there are really two different issues here, by analogy with bullet proof vests. The first is the effectiveness of the vest in stopping bullets. The second is the likelihood a person will be shot. We can't assume that there is a zero percent chance of being shot, even if we do our best to avoid it.

Usually the AO proponent will start attacking the analogy. No analogy is perfect, because if it were identical to the situation being compared it would no longer be an analogy. It would just be a restatement of the original situation. They want to nitpick this or that feature of the analogy, because they can see that it is clearly fatal to their position. Perhaps the best approach to all this quibbling is to generate new scenarios.

For example,consider this one. Instead of sticking with bullet proof vests, consider vaccinating for an infectious disease. The AO crowd would be arguing, analogously, against vaccinations, just as religious people have opposed vaccination in real life in the past, because vaccinations are not perfect. Instead they would be taking the view that the best way to prevent a disease is to abstain from exposure to the germs that cause it. So long as one can do that, one will never catch the disease. Alternately, pro-vaccination folks are arguing that one needs protection for the times that one cannot reasonably expect to avoid these germs.

The AO proponents naturally feel that sex, unlike germs or bullets, is something that is much more controllable, and that is something I am prepared to grant, in many cases. However, they apparently are unaware of how many date and acquaintance rapes take place. There is, of course, rape by strangers as well, but those are not as common. There is also the possibility of drugs impairing one's ability to abstain. There is even just succumbing to temptation, which happens even with saints. Because of all those factors, one MUST assign a non-zero probability that a person's attempt to abstain from sex will fail. When AO's say that abstinence works 100% of the time, they are wrongly assuming that every person has 100% control over sex in all circumstances. Even if we assume that, under normal circumstances people had 90% control, when we are talking about a policy for hundreds of millions or billions of people, that 10% failure amounts to a lot of people.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Why we stick with scandalous pastors...and politicians

CNN has an interesting article analyzing why people stick by embattled priests and pastors like so-called "Bishop" Eddie Long, who was accused by several men of pressuring them into sexual relationships. For some people it is because admitting that the pastor was fraudulent might make our own spiritual experiences with that person seem fraudulent as well. For others, it's about watching the spectacle. Long before reality TV, these preachers, especially in the historically black and evangelical communities, were often putting on quite a show every Sunday.

A mainline protestant or Catholic mass is pretty subdued by contrast. Not that there isn't plenty of the same stuff going on in some Catholic dioceses, particularly due to the unrealistic celibacy policy for priests. The problem is really a more universal one of personally investing too much faith in an individual, so that one's own faith becomes challenged when this individual inevitably falls short.

It is not exclusive to religious leaders, though at least some political leaders don't claim to be paragons of virtue. To the extent that some politicians on the right-wing of the political spectrum have tried to take this holier than thou attitude, it might have produced some short term gains, but long term, I think it has proven risky to their careers. People are not quite as enamored with the Palins and other self-styled evangelical politicians as they were even a few years ago, except for some die-hard tea bagger types. That's got to be some kind of progress.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Coburn's jihad against NSF after fail on planned parenthood

Republicans failed in their fact-free religious crusade to "defund planned parenthood", but now religious looneys are at it again, this time attempting to nitpick and ignorantly mock the National Science Foundation in what looks like a preliminary effort to cut funding for research and development. Fundamentalist christian Tom Coburn, who unfortunately also holds a public office in this nation higher than dog catcher, seems to think that trying to pick on science nerds will resonate with his ignorant constituents who probably are still harboring resentments about failing high school chemistry, and who have a vested interest in denying that anyone really needs that "egghead science stuff".

Religious people can insist all they want that religion and science are not at war, but it is clear that they often feel threatened by science, and perhaps, therefore, conclude that it would be safer to eliminate those pesky scientists altogether. Otherwise they risk having more embarrassing discoveries, like natural selection and radio-isotopic dating, which contradict articles of faith for bible literalists.

The $3.8 trillion dollar federal budget was held up by Republicans over the $75 million received by Planned Parenthood, of which only about $2 million (of their own private funds), was used to help low-income women get abortions. Now Coburn thinks that he might be able to save a whopping few more million dollars, if they consult him first about every one of the approximately 45,000 proposals that NSF receives annually. That way, if he thinks it sounds silly, like a shrimp on a treadmill, then he can put a stop to it, by God, and save tax payers some minor pocket change. Ever heard of the saying, "penny wise is pound foolish". New dictionaries may want to include a picture of Coburn next to this phrase.

Necessity of abortion education

PZ Myers has an article over at his science blog, Pharyngula, which demonstrates the medical necessity of doctors learning how to perform abortions to deal with complications that arise in pregnancy. He relates the tale of a woman who suffers a "placental abruption" and who is bleeding to death, but none of the doctors or medical students at the hospital have ever performed an abortion. Fortunately, they finally find a doctor who can do it, in order to save her life, so that her two kids are not left without a mother. However, she then relates the tale of how her pious Christian cousin finds out about her abortion and calls her up to tell her that she should not have "interfered with God's plan".

Of course, when one thinks about it, which is what many religious nutcases fail to do, just about any kind of medical intervention would qualify as interfering with "God's plan". A good percentage of us would likely be dead right now, if not for dental surgeons who removed our bad teeth before they became infected, or antibiotics, or a host of other treatments. How do we know that it was God's plan for us to take no medical action and die, anyway? Maybe it *was* God's plan that we were supposed to go to the hospital and get an appendectomy or an abortion.

There is such a high level of absolutist dogmatism, coupled with an extremely low level of education on the topic, when it comes to anti-abortionists and their rhetoric. I have personally spoken, not via the internet but with my own mouth, to hundreds of anti-abortionists over the years. I have debated their best, most seasoned veterans, and I am always amazed at (1) how little these individuals know in terms of medical or scientific facts about the subject and (2) how little they have thought of the implications of their position. That is because they hold this position not due to facts or well-thought out philosophies, but due to emotionally-distorted religious beliefs. They will tell you that there is never a medical necessary reason for an abortion, and then when you say, "what about ectopic (tubal) pregnancies" they will be like "huh?" or say, "that's not really abortion, cause it wasn't viable". However, if you then ask them about the use of embryonic stem cells (which are not viable) for medical research they will say it's "genocide". It goes on and on, and then you talk to the next person and you start all over with the next person saying "abortion is never medically necessary", and this time quoting some Christian doctor's name as their "evidence".

I have often challenged groups of anti-abortionists to bring forth the atheists among them who are opposed to abortion. I know that on the internet people will insist that there are tons and tons of non-religious people who oppose abortion on purely factual grounds. However, I have never seen one in the ranks of the anti-abortion protesters at a rally, and I have been to many. Some of them insist that they "used to be atheists", which is the single most over-used lie in all of preaching, and they tell me that they are confident that they can make a case against abortion without using any religious principles. However, again, not one of them has ever managed to go more than about two minutes, and that's being generous, before said person comes back to religious beliefs as the real reasons that he or she opposes abortion. I have seen some people try to make such cases on the internet, and these are less than persuasive, to say the least, but when you talk to the average anti-abortionist, he or she hasn't even heard of such philosophical disquisitions. These individuals are far from fountains of detailed knowledge on the topic. They often know little or nothing, and their only strategy is to use the same tired rhetoric over and over that you just debunked with the last ten people you talked to, to wear you out.

Opposition to abortion is a religious dogma as much as the virgin birth. It is not based upon serious consideration of facts or arguments or evidence. The average person who holds either view (virgin birth or anti-abortion, take your pick) cannot explain the position, except to say that he or she believes it is a religious duty to claim to believe it, despite not understanding it.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

People died because of Harold Camping's BS

According to news reports, an obviously mentally disturbed believer named Lyn Benedetto attempted to cut the throats of her two daughters to spare them from the "apocalypse". The same report claims that an elderly Taiwanese man jumped out of a building to his death, believing that doomsday was near. Of course Harold Camping did not force these people to drink his Koolaid. However, his poisonous rhetoric, obsessed with the glorification of divine violence, was toxic enough to scare clearly unstable people into harming themselves and others.

Yet for Harold it is all just a game. He hasn't apologized, and instead of admitting that he was wrong, he has retreated back into infantile apologetics, claiming that God's judgment was spiritual and metaphorical, instead of literal. But the spiritual and the non-existent look very much alike. One wonders how Camping can tell that an invisible, spiritual event took place at all. The answer is, of course, that he cannot. He is lying like a five-year-old caught with his hand in the cookie jar, his face smeared with chocolate and cookie crumbs. Blaming the invisible ghost of Cookie Monster for the stolen cookies isn't likely to convince too many parents. His equally ridiculous religious excuses shouldn't persuade even the most eager of Christian believers.

Just remember that, after laughing at Camping, that some of you still believe that the "invisible Substance" of the Eucharist (in a non-detectable, non-physical, spiritual sense) becomes the "body and blood of Christ". The whole idea of the "soul" was invented when people realized that physical bodies just aren't durable enough to last forever, and certainly a physical body couldn't burn forever in hell. Think of all the completely undetectable things you believe in, including God himself, while you having your little chuckle at Harry Camping for being such a nut.

Doomsday rhetoric scary to children.

I read a recent article talking about how kids are being bombarded with these messages from the likes of Harold (NostraDumbAss) Camping, and misinformation about 2012, so that it is becoming increasingly difficult for parents to calm their fears. Indeed, the target audience for fear based messages is often naive, relatively powerless children. It's a lot harder to scare adults, which might be why Jesus said, "unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven." (Mt 18:3). I wonder if he also makes Saint Peter wear a Mickey Mouse costume.

The article goes on to say "Kids of preschool age have a hard time determining reality from non-reality". I wish it was only kids. One sees the same phenomenon in religious fanatics. Perhaps this is a vain, Peter Pan Syndrome style effort to hold onto childhood forever. Camping apparently has managed to do it for 89 years.

Thy Will Be Done ... well duh.

I read a story about a priest in Joplin who lived through the May 24th, killer tornado there. Naturally, he prayed, since that's the only tool he's got in his box, and he thinks that this is what saved him. His prayer, according to his hero in the mirror version of the story, was to constantly repeat the phrase "thy will be done" as he took cover in the bathtub. Well duh, if there is an all-powerful god then he doesn't need this priest's permission to do what he is going to do anyway. Therefore to pray to god telling him to do what he is already doing right now, and presumably planned to do is beyond ridiculous.

Now I know some people will say, "you missed the point". This guy humbly resigned himself to his fate and that's what God wants us to do. Well it hardly matters whether people resign or not. God could kill people who resigned themselves or spare them, just as he can kill or spare people who do not resign themselves. If it is your fate then it is going to happen and there is really no resigning to even do because it would still happen, even if you protest that you don't want it to.

Besides, I can't be the only one who suspects that this priest is trying to compare himself to Jesus in the Gethsemane. Recall that he also resigns himself to be crucified (which was the whole point of him coming to Earth, according to Christian doctrine). Do you still think the priest was being oh so humble by comparing himself favorably to Jesus?

Why the Bible can't predict tornados in 2011

If you do web searches, you will find people wondering if the bible predicted that there will be tornados in Missouri in the month of May, 2011 AD. Of course, common sense would tell you people in the Ancient Near East, writing three thousand years ago had no clue that was a land half way around the globe called Missouri, much less having blow-by-blow details on how many people might be killed by a particular storm on a particular day, or the dollar amount of the property damage, etc. It should be obvious that there are billions of people today and therefore billions of large and small events happen to them every single day, month, and year all over the globe. The bible cannot possibly predict them all, and it's not much of a "prediction" anyway when it doesn't actually tell you any specifics and you can only fill in the details after the event has happened.

Other Harold Camping style religious nutters take the view these storms were send as a "message" from the Almighty, expressing his displeasure with this or that, for there is always something to claim that God is displeased about. Strangely, it seems that god is always displeased around the same time each year in these same states where tornados are known to be frequent, as opposed to Vermont or Washington state, where they seldom ever occur.

It's a curious way for god to "send a message". It's about like god trying to "tell us something" by making it hot and dry in the desert, or rainy in the tropics. More importantly, it makes god culpable for the deaths, rather than being able to blame it on "nature" or "randomness" or the "free will" of people who happened to be in its path. People who believe that god steered the exact course of the storm, destroy this building and sparing that one, or killing this person and only maiming that person must really think the God they worship is a monster.

Indeed, if anyone else decided that he was just going to start randomly killing people to "send a message" and "express displeasure", we would judge this person a psychopath. The case in point today is Jared Loughner. He killed people in his qust to send his insane, nonsensical message to the rest of the world. Even many right-wingers (who are overwhelmingly religious fanatics) had to grudgingly admit that Loughner was without any kind of justification for his actions. Yet when something even more destructive, like a tornado strikes, and there is nobody to arrest, they attribute it to God and say that it was good?

Monday, May 23, 2011

Harold NostraDumbAss Camping Says Judgment Was Spiritual

Just as I predicted, the False Prophet Harold Camping claimed that the World was Judged on May 21st, 2011, but only in a spiritual sense. Yeah, that's the ticket. I had already suggested that he would claim that christians were invisibly raptured and replaced by exact look-alikes, to fool us, so unbelievers would think it didn't happen. God is apparently really sneaky like that. This is the same logic that anti-evolutionists use to argue that God and/or Satan planted phony fossils with phony radio-isotopic dating to "fool us" into thinking that the Earth is billions of years old. Sorry, Harry, even many of your gullible followers won't be fooled again.

Hey, I've got another BS line you can use. When you said "May" 21st, you really meant it "may" or "may not" happen. Oh yeah. That's a good lie, isn't it. The funny thing about bible "literalists" is that every time they get caught in a lie they say, "Aw shucks, I didn't mean that *literally*. I just meant it figuratively/spiritually." Yeah right. I guess Adam and Eve and Noah and Jesus can't be taken literally. They are just figurative. Hey, maybe the whole apocalypse thing is "figurative". How does he know it's real when he admits that the rapture is only "spiritual". What a fraud this Camping guy is.

Holy cRapture Harry Predicted Another Rapture

Holy cRapture/ Harry predicted another rapture,
This time in October / Are we sure that he's sober
Cause the last one was just over
And who will believe him / Do his gray eyes deceive him
Plus, what when this one fails? / And the false prophet finally bails
With all his ill-gotten loot / Not bad for a wrinkled up, old koot

Sorry, I was trying to write in very bad verse, the way NostraDumbAss or some of the other mystics of yore once did. Harry, you don't get a DO-OVER. You know you ain't got a snowball's chance in hell of being right. You're just trying to dump your stocks and rip off the rubes one more time before they lynch you. Or maybe you're hoping to die before then.

See you in October, and this time you better put your own money up with a bookie in Vegas. And we aren't letting you triple down and push it off until December 31st, when you get it wrong in October.

Harold NostraDumbAss Camping Says Rapture Coming in October

Well Harold Camping has finally spoken out his NostraDumbAss and, rather than apologizing, and admitting his error, he has done what so many fanatics do instead. He has doubled down and re-predicted that the Holy cRapture will occur in October of this year. Webs of lies have ways of getting thicker and thicker. His current failed prophecy has lead him to now make another one which is almost certain to fail and which is based upon absolutely no credible evidence. The most notable recent evidence against is the fact that he called it wrong two days ago. He now wants to continue to terrorize the world with his religious extremism and his extermination of human life fantasies. This is truly sick, but it is also something that I predicted. See, I have a better record of prophecy than Camping, but perhaps that is because I do not rely upon the stone age nonsense which comprises the majority of the Bible. You know the saying that one of our former presidents struggled mightily with, "fool me once....."

Bieber is So Going to Hell for Gomez Kiss

Justin Bieber (or Just a Beaver as I've heard him called) is a self-proclaimed extreme Christian who tried to cash in his Christian beliefs with his Never Say Never video. However, apparently Justin has forgotten the words of Jesus in Matthew 5:27-28, after snogging Selena Gomez on stage. See Jesus believed that if you even looked lust a woman lustfully that you had committed adultery with her in your heart and were bound for hell. He also recommended that if your right hand caused you to do something wrong (though it's not clear that it's your hand's fault, now is it Beav?) that you should cut it off. In this case if your lips or even your lower manly anatomy causes you to do something wrong, then Justin may want to follow the advice of his hero Jebus and lop that little sucker off. It's not like it would change the pitch of his singing voice much, and at least he wouldn't have to tramp around with little tempresses, who are only going to get him an a poolside view at the Lake of Fire. Come on Justin, have the courage of your convictions. I know you probably thought that the world was going to end this weekend and now you're trying to lose your cherry, in case your hero Harry Camping only miscalculated the end of the world by a few days. But Jebus will be very disappointed in you.

Joplin Tornado called "The Beast" after book of Revelation?

In keeping with the doomsday theme over the past couple days, apparently there was a major tornado in Joplin, MO, and apparently it is being called "The Beast", which sounds like a reference to the Book of Revelation. If that were true, however, one would expect it to kill either 666 or 616 people, depending upon the variant translations which give those number. Most people are not aware that the oldest versions of this rather questionable book of the bible quote a figure of 616.

More interesting is that, according to news stories, plenty of people in Joplin think that God and prayer saved them. The same God who sent the tornado and killed others who were likely devout and busy mumbling the same scared prayers into their hands, decided that certain people were more worthy to save than others.

In any event, if this tornado was the long awaited "Beast" of the Book of Revelation, then it is certainly underwhelming. The Beast was supposed to kill way more people than that, and not just in a modest size down.

In any event my sympathies do go out to the people of Joplin. Nobody deserves such senseless tragedy. If there were an all-good, all-powerful god pulling the strings, then such things would most assuredly never happen. The fact that they do tells us that humans will have to learn to help our fellow man to cope and recover as best we can. That doesn't require belonging to any particular religion. None of them have a monopoly on compassion. Humanism is arguably a better approach, because it is a secular philosophy that doesn't waste time with imaginary dieties and prayers to supernatural forces. Instead it dispenses with the prayers, rolls up its sleeves, and gets to work.

Thanks to the secular miracles of science and modern technology, we have radars, and other forecasting systems which can help us reduce the dangers of these kinds of storms, and then more quickly and effectively respond in the aftermath.

Joplin Tornado. Any gay people targetted?

Religious looneys, from Harold Camping to Pat Robertson, and Bradlee Dean, the homophobic preacher in Minnesota who attacked President Obama's faith today, all love to blame gays for all kinds of dark and sinister things. Camping said that his apparently falsely predicted apocalypse this weekend was partly due to the fact that our society tolerated gay people. Others like Robertson and the late Falwell tried to blame 911 on gay people and later claimed that hurricanes or the devastation in New Orleans was also due to, you guessed it, gay people.

The interesting thing is that, if God hates gay people so much, and sends these natural disasters to try to kill them, he sure does seem to have bad aim. He usually ends up killing all kinds of people who aren't gay at all. Recent strings of tornados across the Southern US and flooding along the Mississippi seem to have inordinately targeted the Bible Belt and people who tend to be fanatic christians. If God really wanted to get gay people, it would seem that he could target the gay pride parade with lightning bolts and tornados and spare the rest of us. I know that the ancient Hebrews had a philosophy that God would punish the innocent for the sins of the guilty, perhaps to make the innocent survivors angry and willing to lynch the evil doers. However, this seems both inefficient and morally unjustifiable. In any event, I suspect that Joplin was far from a hot-bed of Sodom and Gomorrah activity.

Camping to speak out of his Nostradumbass tonight

Reports now indicate that Harold Camping is planning to put out an official statement today, and has given brief comments to several news organizations, promising to tell them more in his "open forum" later tonight. It doesn't sound like it will amount to much. After all, he still believes this event is imminent, and he still apparently believes that the time of its occurrence can be determined from the creative interpretation of various bible passages. So, he is really only sorry about being wrong, in all probability, he is unrepentant and will give it another shot in the future, though it's likely that most people will find his message even less credible than before.

One (not so) creative excuse from Family Radio employee Michael Garcia for the "delay" or LAPSE in the apocaLAPSE is that god is doing it to separate those who have faith from those who don't. However, it's not clear how such a delay would accomplish this. People from Family Radio undoubtedly had FAITH, even though it was MISPLACED faith that turned out to be completely FALSE. Other people without FAITH in this prediction turned out to be correct. Why should god punish people for not believing Camping's falsehood, when that is, in point of fact (not faith), the correct position to have taken. How would it make us better people to have believed Camping's lie?

Family Radio finally shuts up but no apology

So far, Harold Camping and his Family Radio have stayed silent about the the FAUXpocalypse they predicted for this past Saturday, May 21st. According to news sources the radio station is just playing lame music and giving out canned platitude advice about life. Camping finally seems to have nothing to say, or perhaps is meeting with focus groups, lawyers, and other like-minded Christian "apologists" to come up with excuses and look for ways to weasel out of his claims. BTW, I have said this many times in other forums, but it bears repeating here, especially among the iPhone generation. As much as I wish it were the case, Christian Apologetics is very definitely not about apologizing for all the things they get wrong on a regular basis. Instead, as one would expect from extremists, it is actually about the exact opposite. It is about making up excuses so that they do not have to apologize. Unfortunately, the English word "apology" means something rather different than the Greek term "apologia", which actually means defense, which anyone studying Plato would surely know from the trial of Socrates, for example. I realize that I am going out on a limb here with my own prophecies, but I predict that there will be little or no actual apology in the English sense of the word and plenty of "apologia" or defensive rhetoric from Camping and his followers, with at most Camping falling on his sword because....duh....he is the primary person to blame here. My own personal definition of "Christian Apologetics", BTW, is "how to lie like a five-year-old and sound less convincing". We will definitely see a lot of that on display in coming days.

Moment of misCONCEPTION

We laugh at failed apocalyptic predictions, like those made by Harold Camping and "Family Radio" over the weekend. However, many people fail to connect the dots about his other looney beliefs. Why was it called "Family Radio". One reason is because they do not believe in contraception or abortion, even if the latter would save the life of the mother. That is apparently a family value. There was a failed effort in the US by the religious extremist party known as Republicans, to "Defund Planned Parenthood". People like Senator Kyl claimed that "well over 90 percent of what Planned Parenthood does" is provide abortions, when the actual figure that every reputable source quoted was 3%. It is this kind of misinformation which fuels these religious extremists and emboldens them to attempt to terrorize the populace with other phony claims, such as the ridiculous notion that the world was going to end on May 21st, 2011. I wonder if John Kyl received any donations from Family Radio or Harold Camping.

These days, only the lunatic fringe believes that contraception is murder, but it didn't used to be that way. This same lunatic fringe now maintains this fiction that there is a "moment of conception", which is scientifically false. To begin with, it is *fertilization*, not conception, and it does not happen in a "moment". It takes place over a considerable period of hours and days. However, these same people with their John Kyl and Harold Camping style misinformation want to insist that a fertilized, single-celled organism, which has no brain or capacity for feeling pain is the equivalent of a fully-born human baby. Here's a 90% figure that is true. 90% percent of abortions happen before the first trimester. Most abortions are more like contraception than the ridiculous fantasies of Kyl and Camping. They stop the development of a pregnancy at such an early stage that nothing significantly human has even developed. The christian doctrine of pre-formism used to maintain that the sperm contained a fully formed, miniature human being, just ready to be planted in a woman's soil, where it could grow into a larger baby. The reality is that nothing like this actually happens. It takes time to build a human, like it takes time to build a house and if you stop building the house after the first few 2x4s have been nailed together, it was never really a house to begin with. It might have been a house if one continued building, but we can't say it was a house already once the first nail touched the first piece of wood, even if the builder had a blueprint for a house in mind when he started hammering.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Imagine what the money could have been spent on

Family Radio and their gullible adherents wasted an estimated $100 million promoting the ludicrous fanatasy that May 21st, 2011 would be the end of the world. One individual reports spending $140,000 of his own money in order buy posters and advertising to get the word out. Imagine if the $100 million had been spent on targetted charities. It might have helped children, prevented domestic violence, housed homeless people, and even been used in various kinds of medical research. Given that the present use of the money accomplished nothing, any good it did would have been notable. However, the reality is that, not only did this money promote nothing but a falsehood, it also accomplished the opposite of what these people intended. It made religious extremists look foolish anew. It destroyed the "Family Radio" brand, and probably means that it will go out of business or be sued into bankruptcy and those working for it will likely lose their jobs. More importantly, it make people more skeptical. Perhaps that is the only good that it unintentionally did, though true believers wouldn't see skepticism as a good thing.

What is God's Holy Hold up Anyway???

Jebus failed, as he has failed every day, for the last 2000 years, to return "any day now". The recent false prophecy of Harold Camping and his Family Radio group highlights the increasing frustration that believers have with this tardiness. It is high time that the question be seriously put -- what in the world could be God's holy hold up? The bible has been translated into every conceivable language. Missionaries have covered every part of the globe for centuries. Modern communication means that even people in the amazon rainforest are using cellphones and getting internet access. Everyone who wants to hear about Jebus has heard about Jebus. Every day that goes by provides more evidence that Jesus is not coming. It gives us more reason to doubt.

Some insist that he is still waiting to allow more people to be saved, but it is not clear that this is happening. People like Harold Camping are causing more people to doubt than believe. Events in the world are making people more skeptical. Furthermore, population has been growing faster in recent centuries and decades than ever before. This is actually making the job of saving all those people harder than ever. It would have been much easier to have come shortly after the death of Jesus, or at least after Christianity became the official religion of the Roman empire.
Others just insist that god is really really slow. They say that it takes 1000 years to equal one God day. There are sloths and inch worms that could beat god apparently. Doesn't this make God guilty of the sin of "sloth" for going so slowly about handling things? I must have missed the part in the Bible where it said God's butt was made out of lead. Seriously, he has not shown a good hustle. That is not what we would expect from a perfect being. He needs to get a move on.

ApocalOOPs and other terms for failed predictions

A lot of people are busting out the jokes today to mock the doomsday dud predicted by Harold Camping and Family Radio. It does seem like we should have words to describe this scenario when a prediction, particularly one of this magnitude fails to occur.

Two that I have been promoting are ApocalOOPs and Flop-pocalypse. I've also been promoting the Load of cRapture and NostraDumbAss themes to describe a prophet who gets things like the date of the Christian Rapture wrong. What funny terms have you heard today to describe the epic failure of a prophecy like the one on May 21st, 2011?

Creative Reasons that the Rapture Ruptured on May 21, 2011

After all the media hoopla about Family Radio and this Harold Camping dude who spent $100 million promoting the idea that the world was going to end on May 21st, 2011, I think it would be entertaining to come up with reasons that the world didn't end. Just saying "Because Camping has a funny name," or "He's a senile old coot!" would be examples of reasons that are not particularly creative.

OTOH, here is an example that I have been promoting, already in this blog, but I would like to see some from others.

1. God's Cosmic Vacuum Cleaner broke down: The Christian Rapture can be thought of as God turning on the Great Cosmic Vacuum Cleaner in the sky. When he does housekeeping, ever couple thousand years, it will suck all the Christian suckers right out of their clothes and straight up into the dust bag which Christians call Heaven (unless god has a bagless model). However, apparently something happened. My personal theory is that Jerry Falwell, who was quite "larger than life", got stuck in the tube. Even with all God's immense sucking power, he couldn't dislodge Falwell. So he had to throw the vacuum into reverse and try again in a few thousand years again, when Mr. Satan, the local vacuum salesman, pays another visit.

Make your suggestions as simple or complicated as you want, as long as they are creative.

The only Judgment that got passed....

It was Judgment Day on May 21st, for Harold Camping and his Family Radio freakshow, who were judged to be charlatans and fools in the eyes of the world for confidently promoting the falsehood that the world would end. Some people are claiming that they spent in the neighborhood of $100 million on their media campaign promoting their silly ideas. However, one wonders how much they made as well. These individuals did attempt to cash in, in various ways, selling t-shirts, and other merchandise, as well as soliciting donations. While I doubt that they broke even, I suspect that some, especially at the top, profited from false prophecy. Harold, I think you know that the Bible doesn't look kindly upon false prophets. Was it really worth it to throw your credibility away like that...or what you had left of it, since you made similar predictions in 1994? I guess time and IRS tax returns will tell.

Apocalypse Nawwww

Nawww, there was no apocalypse yesterday. Just a lot of hot air from Harold Camping and his followers who reportedly spent $100 million promoting their false claim that the world would end on May 21st, 2011. You know what they say about a fool and his money. Anyway, now he is supposedly in hiding. However, in terms of PR, he will probably cash in. He will charge for interviews, revise his predictions, sell a book, etc. His followers were already selling t-shirts and bumperstickers to cash in on the hype. When will people wake up and realize they are being duped not just by Harold Camping, but by their own Christian preachers. It's a very cushy job and telling fairy stories sure beats having to work for a living. The fact is that many christians believe 99% of the nonsense that Camping spewed, but they just don't have the courage to stand up and admit it because they know they will be laughed at and proven wrong like Camping was.

Let the Bible Backstroke Begin

Now that Harold Campings false prophecies about the world ending on May 21st, 2011 have been proven false, one can expect the Bible Backstroke to begin. In this Olympic sport, the objective is swim around words and verses so quickly that believers can deny that anyone ever made a mistake. As I've pointed out already, fundamentalist christians believe 99% of what Camping does. They simply are too cowardly to step out from behind vague language and put their money where their mouthes are like Camping did. Sure Camping was a nut for thinking that he could do it, but a lot of you people think the same nutty things and just don't have the courage of your convictions. Remember that as you are having a nice hearty laugh with your minister as he feeds you another load of nonsense this sunday.

So full of cRapture about the Rapture

We witnessed yesterday a classic example of religious hype and hyperbole. Harold Camping and his minions at "Family Radio" spent an estimated $100 million promoting the utterly false claim that the world would end on May 21st, 2011. For that reason, I proposed nominating Camping for my 2011 NostraDumbAss False Prophet of the Year award.

Yet, already this story is going down the memory hole. It was all over top news sites yesterday, but now people have conveniently lost interest on Sunday, and are going back to their churches for more helpings of Harold Camping style nonsense. Tomorrow, there will be new preachers and self-appointed "prophets" trying to feed us a new load of cRapture about the Rapture. Try to remember this when you sit in your pews listening to your preacher who thinks he has it all figured out, but likely doesn't have the first clue what he is talking about. No, you'll say, my preacher, priest, etc is a great (yet humble) guy who admits that he doesn't know all the answers, and it's just all those other people out there who are crazy. Camping's followers thought the same thing about him. Most crazy people insist they are NOT CRAZY. We all think we are being reasonable, all the time. We all think that our own beliefs are well justified and it's everyone else who is the looney tune. But the fact is that, if you are a Christian, or especially a fundamentalist christian, you believe in at least 98% of all the same things Camping does. You still believe in the load of cRapture called the Rapture. You and your church simply doesn't have the courage to attempt to predict a precise date. You simply hide behind vague prophecies that are more difficult to prove wrong because the wording is so slippery that you can contort them to mean whatever you want. The fact is that many devout christians have been predicting the same thing as Camping for 2000 years and have never been right. You yourself probably believe that this nonsense event of the Final Judgment will happen in your own lifetime. It's not politically correct for Christians to martyr themselves like they used to do and like they still do more fashionably in the Middle East. However, they can fantasize about the whole world burning up in horrifically violent events, just to gratify their own egos and allow them to say that they were right. We Camping wasn't right and neither are you. And don't tell me that the sun will one day burn up the Earth or that we might get hit by an asteroid. That has absolutely nothing to do with armies of angels fighting a final battle between good and evil and god judging you for eating pork or working on the sabbath.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Being full of cRapture means never having to say you're sorry.

Doesn't it seem like Family Radio and Harold Camping, who promoted the idea that the world was going to end today, owe the world an apology. If nothing else they could at least say, "sorry we tried to freak you guys out". If Harold does even that, I might think slightly more of him. However, I suspect that he will not, for the same reason that many religious people refuse to be reasonable about their extremely whacked out beliefs. He's too wrapped up in his own self-importance, and clearly is living a parallel universe of delusions, which only makes occasional contact with the real world to tell us that we're all going to hell.

I suspect that his followers will not apologize for their own roles in this either. Instead they will play the victim without admitting their own responsibility for being gullible. As I have noted before, who is dumber -- the person promoting the fanciful deception, or the many who lap it up without the slightest critical thought?

In fact, I expect to see the opposite. Instead of admitting that this will make it harder for them to be as dogmatic and arrogantly certain of their own infallibility, I suspect that some of them will say that the experience "strengthened their faith". There's a prediction that actually has at least a snowball's chance in hell of being right.

Harold Camping's Load of cRapture

Well the so-called "christian rapture" (or crapture for short ;-) ) epically failed to materialize today on May 21st, and it's already May 22 in some parts of the world. Therefore the prophecy of Harold Camping is proven false. We didn't see hundreds of millions of holier than though christians flying upward into the air to be with Jebus and play harps on clouds. This may leave some very arrogantly over-confident christers scratching their little noggins and scrambling like mad to find any excuse for why their god has failed to return for thousands of years. After all, Harold Camping and his (manson) Family Radio network claimed that the Bible "guarantees" that the world would end today. If so then many of us didn't notice. Of course, I am sure he will come up with a load of excuses, or should I say a load of cRapture reasons that he got the time wrong. They are, after all, alway discovering new, lost scriptures which never made it into the Bible. I suppose that I shouldn't come up with too many alibis for Harold, because I wouldn't be surprised if he uses excuses like this. This might permit him to take one more swing at pretending that he knows when the world is going to end. But, as it stands, all he has produced is a load of cRapture predictions which have proven to be full of cRapture errors.

Theory about why rapture was an epic fail today

For fundamentalist christians (fundies), the rapture is like a super sucker vacuum that sucks those suckers right out of their clothes, and deposits them naked in heaven, where they have a big orgy in the clouds. Well, that last part isn't exactly true, though the word "rapture" sounds like it might involve sex. However, rest assured that fundies hate sex. They just have lots of theological terms that sound like what they're not, such as being "born again", which sounds like it might involve being painfully shoved back inside your mother.
Nevertheless, the part about God turning on his cosmic vacuum is how they seem to envision being taken up to heaven. My theory then, as to why the rapture didn't happen is that some very fat Christians got caught in the tube. Recall that there are people like Jerry Falwell, which even God's own vacuum cleaner would have trouble sucking through a tube. If he got caught up there then God probably had to throw the vacuum into reverse and drop everyone back down to Earth to try again in a few thousand years, when he develops a more powerful vacuum.

Harold Camping projected winner of the 2011 NostraDumbAss Award

In a previous post I proposed the creation of a "Nostra-Dumb-Ass False Prophet of the Year Award", to recognize the tireless work for failed doomsday prophets. Note that, while I have used the term "Nostradumbass" for years, a websearch will reveal that many others have likewise used the pun, which is why I have added the additional titles, which might be variously abbreviated "NDA (Nostra-Dumb-Ass)" or "NdaFPotY"

In any event, while there have been many through the centuries and millennia, such as Nostradamus himself, this is a new award, so it would presumably start with people from the year 2011 and on. Therefore, I think Harold Camping, who predicted that the world would end today, on May 21st, 2011, would be a shoe-in for this year's prize. But I don't think that Harold alone deserves the full honor of this prize. After all, what about the thousands of people who sheepishly hang on his every word without thinking for themselves. Who is worse, a person who tells a transparent falsehood, or the people who uncritically lap it up, refusing to take responsibility for their own thinking and do their own homework. Of course, there is still time for someone to come up with a more outlandishly over-the-top kind of "prophecy" that will "out-crazy" Camping, et al.

Perhaps there should also be a special procedure for inducting historical figures. However, at present, I think the focus should be current or modern figures, since there are many of those. The historical figures could be inducted honorifically, without the same amount of fanfare.

Are failed doomsday predictions making more atheists?

One often wonders about the motives of failed doomsday prophets. Were they really just "trolling" us in internet parlance. That is, are they really just trying to get a rise out of us or enjoying trying to scare us? Do they think that we might temporarily turn more religious, at least for a day, in the hope of pulling off what the eminent theologian Bart Simpson called a "presto, chango, death-bed conversion"? Is God that easily fooled that he would accept as sincere a day of good behavior based upon fear, in exchange for a previous lifetime of doing as one pleased?

I submit that, especially with the enhanced communication abilities in the modern world, the repeated failure of these doomsday prophets will result in less religiosity and more atheism. Therefore, rather than seeing these "scary" predictions as noble lies to help win souls for christ, the reality is that these people are likely causing more people to laugh at and turn away from religion.

These individuals making or following various cultish predictions concerning doomsday appear sincerely to believe their claims, but they demonstrate that they have little regard for moral responsibility. That is, they have not thought about the consequences of their actions and how their overtly displayed, and embarrassing false certainty will lead others to become less religious. If "soul-winning" is a noble thing, according to their their faith tradition, then losing souls must not be looked upon too favorably from on high. While I know this won't deter people the very next day from making new false predictions, they should at least consider the moral irresponsibility of their actions.

For atheists, these false predictions should be an god-send. Unfortunately, many atheists don't seem to know how to capitalize on such things. Believers will just shrug this off and go on to believing the next dubious prediction tomorrow, not even remembering the trail of false hopes an vain claims their their religion has lead them into. Perhaps atheists need to make a bigger deal out of such things. Perhaps they should have a special word for when doomsday predictions fizzle and gloom and doom go kaboom. I have proposed some candidate terms like "dumbsday", or "dudsday", or "dundersday". Instead of a prediction, one might have a "predorktion" to describe the phenomenon when the prophets boff-it. At the very least I think that a secular group like American Atheists should hand out an award called the "NostraDumbAss Award", to failed prophets, and people like Harold Camping should be this years nominee.

Perhaps it would fun to make a t-shirt with a list of failed doomsday prophecies, each one being exed out, and a few that are yet to come, such as 2012, and a few blank spaces that say .

0% success of doomsday prophecies

Faith is false certainty, pure and simple, and nowhere is more false certainty on display than in the actions of doomsday cultists. Every year, and often multiple times a year we hear about groups, large and small, arrogantly insisting that they have the all-important knowledge that the world will end. Of course, it always turns out the opposite, and we like to see such blatant arrogance fall upon its face. By its very nature, they can only be right once, so, in some sense, it might even seem unfair to point out that they have a 0.0000000% success rate at predicting the end of the world. However, in a more general sense, we do use trends to predict many other future events. Geology and Astronomy tell us that the Earth has existed for billions of years. Even our distant, caveman ancestors probably feared the world was ending every time an eclipse or a severe storm, earthquake, or volcano ravaged an area.

In the relatively short time that humans have been making up stories and pretending they were true, which is the basic role of religion, the predictions of final battles and supernatural cataclysms have been fulminated fast and furiously. The fact that none of these claims have even been close to correct might give us reason to question the fundamental premise of whether an immediately impending, supernatural doomsday is a justified belief at all. Sure, there might even eventual, natural phenomena that cause a global catastrophe, but what non-faith-based reason do we have for believing that non-natural world-ending events are even remotely reasonable?
In almost all cases, doomsday predictions are not just a little wrong, but starkly, dramatically wrong these days. That is, they are not even a little bit right. There isn't even a little event, like a moderate earthquake, or a respectably-sized hurricane, which frightened our caveman ancestors. We get a perfectly unremarkable day of mostly sunshine and clear skies. Of course, since true believers ignore evidence that contradicts the fictional narrative they enjoy telling to themselves, this has little effect. Yet, as alluded to above, we are actually worse off than our caveman ancestors in terms of our predictions, because now we can't even predict supernatural cataclysms based upon some kind of evidence that nature gives us.

I am suggesting that we should start counting, and why not arbitrarily decide to start counting now, when doomsday turns to dudsday. After all, the media devotes considerable hype and attention to these kinds of stories, if for no other reason than the human interest angle. Camping has been wrong before, and yet, people go on believing him anyway. However, for that matter, Pat Robertson also predicted that the world would end in the early 1980's and few people seem to hold that error against him. Shouldn't there be some kind of consequence for making a false prediction of this magnitude, which is at least as severe as a parking ticket or jaywalking? It would not infringe upon religious belief either, any more than current parking tickets infringe upon your ability to worship on a sunday morning. Saying that any minister who publicly predicts a current time frame for the end of the world, and then ends up being wrong should have to pay a symbolic fine of $50 would hardly seem excessive.

In any event, we certainly seem to have different standard for religion leaders than almost any other kind of leaders. If our political leaders screwed up in major ways like this, we would see considerably more ridicule. If a football coach bet everything on a play and lost then there would be massive scorn heaped upon him (or her). However, religion makes it against the rules to ridicule it, even when it produces ridiculous claims. Why is it that we have declared it off limits and in poor taste to ridicule the ridiculous, as long as a person declares the ridiculous statement to be religious?

Those who did criticize Camping often did so with kid gloves. Some religious people expressed their own religious certitude that Camping was wrong because of their different beliefs. Some have pointed out that Jesus himself declared that nobody except "the Father" knows when doomsday will happen (Mt 24:36). What is less well remembered is that Jesus also had his own failed doomsday predictions, and in many ways was the father of the Christian cottage industry of doomsday prophecy, claiming that the high priest caiphas would live to see Jesus return at the second coming (Mk 14:62).

The point is that it is not clear why we should feel any more comfortable with other religious beliefs using their whacky claims in an attempt to counter the whacky beliefs than Camping. Why should we believe their counter claim any more than Campings, when both are just going on unsupported claims? What got us into this mess, in the first place, was accepting, uncritically, whacky religious claims, and it would seem that the solution should be to reject them up front, or at least not give them so much deference and attention as we see today.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Calling BS on May 21st Rapture

According to a media campaign with far more money than sense, Harold Camping and his "Family Radio" insist that the "rapture" will occur tomorrow. As popularized by the Tim LaHaye _Left Behind_ series of books, the "rapture" involves god turning on his huge Cosmic Vacuum Cleaner (tm) and sucking the bodies of devout Christians right out of their clothes and up into the dust bag known as heaven. According to bizarre, illogical, and impossible to follow numerological arguments and word games by Camping, he has determined that this event, predicted "any time now" for the last 2000 years, will happen tomorrow. As I have pointed out to many people, there is hardly a year that goes by that someone doesn't think the "End of the World" will happen. Camping himself claimed this would happen in 1994. However, he says that he made a math error on that one. However, he now thinks the bible "guarantees" that it will happen tomorrow.

As fun as it is to prove these people wrong again and again, it might be cool to fake them out too. People have done this before too, leaving sets of empty clothes around the office, sitting on the chairs to make a christian co-worker think that people had been "raptured" out of the office and that he or she had been left behind. It might be fun to wander around with halloween makeup in zombie hordes, or to dress up in devil costumes, and pretend to writhe in agony in front of churches. The zombie hordes would be a reference to the fact that even the long dead are supposed to be resurrected. The devil stuff would be just for fun.

It's conceivable that a person could use a powerful LCD projector and project an imagine that looks like Jesus onto a cloud, perhaps from a high building. I wonder how many people would be taken in by that kind of thing. At least it would be based upon some kind of evidence, unlike the stuff from Camping, et al.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Stephen Hawking Imagines No Heaven for Computers

Religious people are running around whining and complaining, which seems to be what they do best, this time about statements by Stephen Hawking, in a recent interview, where he opines that heaven is a "fairy story for people afraid of the dark". Of course, they are forever insisting that others take the Bible "out of context", so it would seem that they would heed their own advice and at least look at a few sentences surrounding his statement. He actually said, "I regard the brain as a computer which will stop working when its components fail. There is no heaven or afterlife for broken down computers; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark." A literal reading of his statement, and you know how much Bible fans love literalism, is that computers don't go to heaven. He also says that the brain is a computer, but if you don't believe that your soul resides in the brain then it still doesn't rule out a heaven for these undetectable, immaterial souls.

However, this does raise some interesting questions. For one thing, why does God hate computers so much that he won't provide them with a special heaven. For example, I have previously hypostatized (look it up) a Land of Lost Electronics Accessories (tm), to explain the almost supernatural disappearance of various electronic chargers, adapters, etc whenever people need them most. Anyway, didn't Jesus unplug himself for computers too, or do we need a special messiah made out of silicon to accomplish that? I'm surprised that we don't see more computer scientists up in arms about the way that Hawking is callously consigning used computers to oblivion. I mean what will motivate them or their computer chips to keep on cranking out algorithms and computations if they can't expect some final reward for all their hard labor? By standard theological arguments, this proves that the existence of computers is completely pointless because they don't get to go to heaven. Oh, poor computers. The only person who seems to hate them more than God is Stephen Hawking.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Secular view on eye for an eye

I would be one of the first people to condemn the use of religious superstitions as a basis for decision-making in the modern world. However, I am not sure that "an eye for an eye" is always a bad idea. To wit, Iran is planning on blinding a man who threw acid in the face of a woman who spurned his marriage proposal. Even though they are basing their decision on primitive, ignorant, absolutist standards found in the Koran and the Bible, I think that, in this case, by accident, the standard may not always be wrong. The big problem with much of absolutist morality, in general, is that it is too general, and commits the moral error of assuming that the circumstances contribute nothing to the definition of the problem or the solution. Instead, they invoke simple-minded, one-size-fits-all rules that usually do not fit the actual situation well at all. I also realize that codes of modern justice often focus upon rehabilitation, rather than mere vengeance.

Yet, having said that, when a person throws acid in another person's face that is a pretty brutal and irreversible act. I have no problem with that person being dealt with in a brutal, irreversible way, and no it doesn't make the state "just as bad". Their action was provoked and his was not. The victim herself says that she hopes this man's punishment will deter this all too common type of activity on the part of men. Perhaps revenge isn't the most noble of sentiments. Instead of focusing on harming the other person, it might be better to focus on fixing the injury that did occur. However, when one has been gravely injured and one's rights have been violated the victimizer has created the justification for defensive retaliation, even if that retaliation is in cold blood.

Now some people seem to think that self-defense only applies at the moment where one is fending off an attack. However, defense is not exclusively confined to the moment of an attack. Defending one's country, for example, is something that can be done even outside the heat of the moment. If one is injured in battle, then one can still be defending oneself from enemy aggression by attacking them in another battle, on another day.

It's absolutist thinking to believe that something, like injuring another person, is always wrong, no matter what the circumstances are. If someone punches me in the face with no justification then they have created the circumstances, by their unjustified attack that very definitely justifies me punching that person back. If, one day, I am too old and weak and arthritic to smash that person's back in the face then I expect the state to defend my rights for me.

One-Line Proof that God Didn't Write the Bible

Here's a one line proof for those who insist that the Bible is the direct, literal "word of God". Saint Paul tells us (in the Bible, no less) that "God is not the author of confusion" (1 Cor 14:33), so he could not be the author of the Bible. That's it -- I rest my case -- because there perhaps nothing mankind has invented in all of literature that is more confusing than the Bible.

Of course, some people try to equivocate and say, "Well duh, God didn't write it physically. He just inspired the prophets to write this or that." Well, sorry, but that is writing the Bible. You don't have to physically write a book with your hand in order to be the author of it. Stephen Hawking can't physically write with his hands, but he is the author of many books. Other authors have dictated their books and never wrote them by hand. If God gave the exact details that he wanted his prophets to write and they simply reported what God told them to say then we would attribute authorship to God, not the scribe who took down the words. Anyway, according to Moses God did write parts of the bible physically, as in Ex 31:18 which says, "When the LORD finished speaking to Moses on Mount Sinai, he gave him the two tablets of the Testimony, the tablets of stone inscribed by the finger of God." Throughout the books attributed to Moses it also contains statements that say, "I am the Lord" who did such-and-such, or "The Lord says..." do this or that. Later prophets like Isaiah use a formula where they say, "This is what the Lord says", and then they provide a verbatim quotation attributed to God. Sorry, but that sounds like more than just inspiring a vague idea.

Of course, if you want to reject this and admit that many prophets appear to heavily modify what God told them, injecting their own ideas in place of God's, and failing to fully and accurately report what God supposedly said to them then we could call it the work of man. Then God would not be the author of such works, though perhaps he could still be listed as a co-author. I think many religious people, particularly of the fundamentalist variety, would have a lot of problems with that position. However, since this Bible passage says that God couldn't have written the confusing parts, and most of the Bible is highly confusing to just about anybody who has ever read it, the only alternative is that human beings were the authors....unless you want to try the Muslim strategy, ala the Satanic Verses, and say that Satan wrote or inspired the confusing parts. After all Paul admits that he sometimes does bad things, even though he doesn't want to and claims it's the "sin living in me that does it". Remember that this is a guy wrote significant parts of the Christian New Testament, leading us to wonder if this might have happened when he was writing his various epistles. So, I'm not sure that this excuse really helps much. As with with much excuse-making, it just digs the hole deeper. Now we're not sure what we can believe from him and what we can't. If God is not the author of confusion then certainly Paul is.

BTW, this does raise an interesting legal issue. If God is the author of the Bible and God is immortal, then, under current copyright laws he should maintain exclusive ownership of this work and control over derivative works. However, again, perhaps no work of literature has been more infringed upon, in terms of authorship rights than the bible. Often, when a person blatantly refuses to assert his or her rights, despite overt, hostile, and notorious infringement upon those rights then this person can lose those rights by a process called "adverse possession". However, given that so many people have infringed upon these rights for so long, to whom should we award ownership? For the most part, we treat the bible as a work in the Public Domain, but it does seem funny that God would not even own his own work.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Free will, like free market, doesn't exist in pure form

When people start slapping the word "free" on things, it is usually a reason to be suspicious. The old axiom says "there's no such thing as a free lunch", and likewise when I hear about things like "free markets", I like to ask people, "Can you show me one", because I am not convinced that anything approaching a "free market" has ever existed in the history of civilization, or ever will (...and it's probably good they don't, too!)

This leads us to so called "free will". Like free markets (or free lunch for that matter) some people believe in it with religious intensity, and just like with free markets, where ever we look we don't see anything even approaching 100% free will that prevails in life.

Sure people say that want something, but it seems this is largely because they have been told by family and friends that they should want it. For example, in theory children should have different careers than their parents, and the great promise of education is to elevate people out of poverty and low wage jobs. Yet studies find that, contrary to the rosy optimism, most kids don't do better than their parents. Most kids go into the same or very similar professions as their parents. There's this myth about upward mobility, which supposedly comes about due to higher levels of education, and it is cherished one, particularly in America. While it may be true for a few people, they appear to be the exception, rather than the general rule.

Consider, as well, the people to whom we are attracted or marry. While some diehard religious types like to insist that homosexual attraction is a "choice", heterosexual attraction appears to be fairly clearly dictated by hormones and a variety of built-in biological preferences. People end up being attracted to other mates that look similar to them, and hold similar opinions, and come from the same socio-economic background. Again, there are endless fairy tales about rich guys marrying working class women, but it doesn't usually happen, movies notwithstanding. As above, we even marry people who are similar to our parents.

Whole fields of industrial psychology explore how to get people to spend more money or make purchases that they would not normally make. Real estate agents, for example, find that when a house is "staged" with furniture and decorations, for example, that they tend to get a higher price for it than when it is sold empty. Adjusting the temperature in a bar, or the kind of music in a restaurant can cause people to spend more money without even being aware that they are doing it. It is not 100% cause and effect, but it increases the odds a noticeable number of percentage points, on average.

Think of free will like the flip of a fair coin. It is free to come up heads or tails with equal likelihood. However, if we start monkeying with the coin so it becomes 45-55 or 40-60 or 30-70 odds then we now have some seriously rigged choices. Purists will still say that you have the same two choices or heads or tails, but you're being pushed by forces outside of your own will to make certain choices, often without even being aware of being influenced. There is really some thing or even some one who controlling the probability that you will make a given choice. If you still want to call this a "free choice" then that's because you were programmed to say that ;-) Seriously, though, it's not what most people would call free choice.

Please note as well that I am not talking about mere physical limitations on what it is impossible to do. The traditional example is that one has "free will" to flap one's arms like wings, but the physical world makes it impossible for you fly like a bird by doing so. I am saying that even the desire to choose to flap your arms like wings is subject to interference and manipulation by external forces. In theory, people have a wide range of choices in any given situation, however, in reality, only a very limited selection of choices get made. People can't very well choose things of which they not even aware exist. By constraining peoples knowledge of the possible choices that exist out there their "degrees of freedom" become more limited.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

The imaginary teaching of Jesus

In Romans 7:20 Paul makes the claim that, “Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.” So Paul believes that sin lives inside us and acts against our will. This would seem to undermine traditional arguments based upon free will. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak (Mt 26:41)

Of course, what Paul seems to be talking about, from a modern perspective, is biological or hormonal urges. Your body has certain physical reactions that are reflexive and do not even go through the higher brain. Your heart rate quickens. Males may get an erection. Certain things like this are not 100% under conscious control. Indeed, modern physiology tells us that the brain has many layers, and some of these lower layers, around the amygdala, for example, are concerned with the more base instincts of fear and gratification.

Yet Christianity still sets impossible standards, saying that we should avoid these things over which we have little or no control. Jesus, in Matthew 5:27-28 says, for example, “You have heard it said, 'Do not commit adultery.' But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” This may even be the basis for Christian opposition to pornography, for example.

It is easy to demolish this silly claim, and once one does then Christians will resort to some sort of mind reading act about Jesus saying, “(I think) what Jesus meant was that you should try to control yourself,” etc, etc. The really slippery ones will then go back and try to quibble about wording after the fact, so it is also important to *pre-test* them and ask them, “Is it committing adultery or not, as Jesus says, to look at a woman lustfully? Answer yes or no right here:____” As I have said, later on they will come back to a single word to try to equivocate and pretend that you did not force them to change their view.

To quickly summarize the arguments against Jesus's belief that thought crimes are equivalent to real crimes, let us start with food. Gluttony, is one of the seven deadly sins, so imagine eating mountains of cake and ice cream. Oh, wait, Jesus says that it's wrong to even look lustfully at a pie. It's the same as being a real glutton, despite the fact that you haven't gained an ounce or deprived anyone else of a single morsel of food. Please hold off on the mind-reading apologetics, because I'm not done beating on this silly teaching of Jesus. If you imagine killing someone that may not be a good thing. It might lead to the real thing, but it might not. It might relieve your anger to imagine it for an instant, just as it might relieve your sexual tensions to look at a woman lustfully. Furthermore, and here's the clincher, if just imagining a forbidden act like adultery is the same as doing it, then why not go all the way and rape her, especially if nobody is around and you can get away with it? God says you have already committed adultery and presumably will already be punished for it. So why not actually follow your fantasies or vague intentions?

At this point, the Christian shouts, “A ha, I've found an excuse!” (in their own minds). They finally realize, via the thought experiment, that there is a difference between the physical act of adultery and the vague mental intentions. Thinking “Damn, she's hot” is a lot different than throwing her down and raping her. However, under no circumstances will they admit that it was your discussion which caused them to see the passage differently, because then they might have to admit that their faith can be changed or shaken. Instead, they will say, “Jesus says the act was only committed ...'in his heart',” versus “in her vagina”, so Jesus is off the hook for saying its totally the same. Not so fast.

To begin with, that effectively means that Jesus is saying nothing, because he is just restating the obvious that when you imagine doing something bad that you have committed an imaginary crime. So should you just burn in “imaginary hell” instead of the real thing? Is imagining being the King of England even close to actually being King of England, especially if you cannot really become the king of England? Then why is imagining sex with someone even comparable to the physical act?

Secondly, nobody said that Jesus didn't know the difference between a thought and an action. We all do. But Jesus is confusing himself and others when he suggests that there effectively is not much difference. Again, you can attempt to deny this, because, like many ancient holy men, Jesus's teachings were vague and incomplete. However, why compare a mental act to a physical act with no additional qualifications, unless you are suggesting an equivalence. When an adulterer commits real adultery, there are presumably thoughts that go with these actions. Jesus is saying that there is no difference between the bad thoughts of the real adulterer and the imaginary adulterer, despite the fact that one acts and one does not. Yet most of us know that there has to be some difference in thoughts, because, in one case, the person's thoughts emboldened him to act, and in the other case the thoughts did not. The thoughts that lead to actual, physical adultery surely had to be more serious in their intentions and more grounded in the real, physical world. Fantasy thoughts of sex with another women may be more generic and not even involve a specific woman, or, if they do, may never be with the serious intention of following through. Why should we be punished for thinking about things that we know we won't actually be able to do? We might imagine having sex with Beyonce, but we know it won't happen. It might be an impure thought, but it's not one that leads to any kind of action. Therefore it's still not as impure as the thoughts of the many men who have had sex with Beyonce.

So what is the substance of this teaching. You can imagine anything, but that doesn't automatically make you take on the character of the individuals who might do these things in reality. It's pretty clear that Jesus is trying to discourage us from thinking lustful thoughts, but his “argument” seems to be absurdly weak, since thinking about a given thing is nowhere even close to that actual thing. The only workable defense is to deny that Jesus was doing any more than making an empty statement about lust producing an imaginary crime. Since he never specifies the penalties for imaginary crimes there is nothing that can really be done with this teaching. Perhaps he wants us to imagine good thoughts, but, even there, imagining them and doing them are quite different things, and we should be hesitant to grant too much credit or blame for things that never leave our own minds.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Free will only partly to blame for evil

Don't blame God for evil, because he only gave you the ability to choose to do right or do wrong. That is the freewill defense in a single bleat. Of course, there are many obvious objections that arise to this approach. The first might be to point out that choice without prior knowledge is merely shooting in the dark. He can sit in judgment of our blindfold marksmanship, but how can he blame us overly much for missing the target when he himself tied the blindfold. Anyway, who would say that it was morally responsible to hand a blindfolded man a loaded gun, spin him until dizzy, and set him loose for a game of Russian Roulette against the world?

Clearly more than mere choice is needed to determine morality. He must also furnish, along with choice, a level of light necessary to see the choices clearly. To the extent that this light appears to some and not to others we can say that some are fortunate and others are not, but is it really fair to consign to flames those whose only sin was to be born with eyes too weak to do day labor as well as others?

Likewise, nobody would fault a person for being born slow-witted, nor can we credit a person with any special moral character for being born a genius. In common parlance we say these intellectual faculties are “God-given”. Furthermore, it should be obvious to all but the most stubborn, that a genius may have an easier time making certain good choices, compared to a slow-witted person, because choice involves thinking, and the genius is, by definition, more adept at some forms of thinking. Even if we take the counter-intuitive Christian view that a slow-witted or ignorant person may sometimes have an easier time of making choices, since such persons don't tend to over-complicate things, we can simply reverse the argument and say that now, slow people end up with an occasional undeserved advantage, compared to others. In either case though, we can hardly sit in judgment of the moral character of these individuals when it comes down to biological qualities of their brains, just as we do not "blame" a person for his or her skin color, sex, etc.

By the way, it is interesting that many religious people go to great pains to insist that homosexuality is “a choice”, yet clearly nobody would say that we choose to be born a man or a woman. By being born a man we tend to have a natural attraction to women. The alternative is to say that we choose it at random, which would mean that it's a fifty-fifty deal, which doesn't match reality. Clearly, if males are naturally predisposed to like women, and women are naturally disposed to like men then we can imagine that wires get crossed and some men end up being naturally disposed to like men. Futhermore, you will note that, the fact that there is choice in the equation still doesn't entirely address the situation. Sure, there is an element of choice, but the choice is a biased one, because, without an inborn, hormone-based biological sex drive, we might not have ever been tempted to philander or “transgress nature”. Therefore, at best we can say that choice is part of the equation in terms of sexual “immorality” and that the other part is not choice-based.

Thus, so far, we have established that moral decisions are based not just upon free will, but also starting knowledge, inborn intellect, and hormonal levels. If we cannot blame God for these factors then whom should we fault? We might say it is “nature”, assuming that god surrenders his prerogatives to its randomness, but this still does not make human free will 100% culpable for the amount of evil in the world.

This says nothing of the more traditional objections, such as natural disasters, which likewise undermine the doctrinaire view that 100% of evil can be attributed to free will. Indeed if even a small percentage of evil can be attributed to factors other than free will then this still creates a problem for the defense. Something else must account for these kinds of problems. While we might attribute natural disasters to mere misfortune, rather than evil, we cannot say that evil created by people who are ignorant or slow-minded is merely misfortune. Nor is pain alone the measure of these evils and misfortunes. An ignorant person may not experience any pain due to some poor choices, and others may not necessarily feel pain from their choices either, but the choice can nonetheless be the wrong one.

Still don't believe me? What about Saint Matthew who famously observed that, "The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak"? (Mt 26:41). Despite our best efforts and desires to make good choices, our "weak flesh" rebels. This apparently lead Saint Paul to theorize that, "if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it". (Ro 7:20) This is hardly a vote of confidence for free will, because it says that your actual will is thwarted by naughty tendancies within the body itself, which overwhelm the will. Therefore even people who want to be good, like the saints say that they are unable to do good, despite their desires to behave morally. This makes a naive invocation of "free will" as an explanation for the existence of evil completely untenable.