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Ray Comfort and Divine Injustice

876335-god_made_it_superMost evangelical bible thumpers are a parody of themselves and as such, pose little or no harm to a moderately rational person. There are however, those who appear to be well meaning , normal folk who just want to do the “Lord’s” work and help people. Many of these worry me. They appear to be harmless and as such, are left alone.

There is one man who seems to pop up on my early warning crackpot radar more than any others, that man is Ray Comfort. Ray Comfort is the man who developed the theory that the banana is inspired proof of God’s existence.I do not think Ray “Banana Man” Comfort (here after referred to as BM) is either well meaning or normal. I have spent hours watching videos of BM.

Bm has mastered the art of linguistically manipulating people. BM likes to establish an absolute such as,”lying is a sin and punishable by God”. BM then asks his prey if they have ever lied in their life. I dare say NO one is capable of saying they have not. Bm has now established you have broken a commandment ( false witness), are a liar and are due punishment from the almighty.  He then tries to summarize his point by using an ignorant analogy.

Bm says, “You have broken your “legal” contract with God. If this were in court you would be found guilty and punished”.  Bm seems to forget that in the real world we have varying degrees of guilt for different crimes, that’s why we take into account intent for sentencing purposes. We would not punish a man who steals a loaf of bread to feed his starving family the same way we punish someone like Bernie Madoff. These are two drastically different levels of theft with drastically different levels of intent and premeditation. Bm actually tells those he speaks with in his open air preaching fests that a lie is a lie in God’s eyes. If you have lied you’re a liar, period.

What kind of God would punish a person who has lived a relatively honorable and altruistic life but told a few white lies, the same as a lying, cheating pedophile? It’s the type of God created in the two dimensional, black and white mind of primitive man. The same kind of simplistic mind that would suggest that banana’s are proof that God exists and wants us to get plenty of potassium.

Positive Atheism

Life, The Universe, and EverythingFrequently, the writings of atheists tend to be critical of religion, theistic beliefs, and dogma rather than positive toward non-belief. It’s a necessary tack to take on a regular basis when confronting religious activism in politics, education, health care, and science. I do it myself. However, sometimes it seems that there isn’t enough written about the positive aspects of atheism… how non-belief is beneficial rather than how theistic beliefs are harmful. Sometimes we’re so busy defending against theistic politicking that we forget about extolling the virtues of atheism.

So here are what I find some of the benefits to be (with occasional criticisms thrown in for reference).

Leaving religion behind lets me actively seek out answers, digging into the world around me to uncover evidence showing how the world works, how it came to be, and where it’s headed. It removes the easy non-answer of “God did it” and opens up the door to a world filled with awe-inspiring explanations based on factual observations… observations untainted and uncheapened by the simple-minded tenants of unfounded faith.

Religion provides an easy way out to the difficult and complex questions about the workings of this world and our surrounding universe. As an atheist, I reject that excuse for intellectual laziness. Searching for real answers provides, for me and many other nonbelievers, far more wonder, awe, and appreciation for nature and our physical world, both visible and invisible, than does the feeble act of claiming supernatural causes.

By allowing me the freedom to discover knowledge about the smallest particles explained by physics, microscopic biological forms, the living, breathing nature around us, our solar system, our galaxy, and our universe, atheism frees me from the dogmatic shackles of religious intellectual bondage and provides me with extraordinary delight in our very existence. I have no need to reconcile observable evidence with ancient texts or untenable beliefs nor do I have a need to reject or explain away evidence if it contradicts the prescribed dogma of theistic organizations.

Leaving religion behind allows me to behave in a way that is truly moral, acting in a way that harms no one and benefits everyone… myself, those around me, and those inhabiting our planet… without being threatened and coerced by a fear of infinite torment. When mistakes are made, I can ask forgiveness from those harmed and then move on without being damned and without obsequious groveling to an invisible master.

Atheism allows me to follow a morality based on reasoning and logic instead of vague, outdated rules and proclamations that were made for a more primitive, unenlightened time. It gives me freedom to treat others with respect regardless of their race, religion, sex, or nationality… freedom, also, to unhypocritically speak out against those who do harm, who espouse bigotry and intolerance, and who promote hatred and violence either through words or deeds.

My mistakes are my own and cannot be dismissed or forgiven except by those whom I have wronged. Therefore, it is always in my best interest to treat others well and do what I can to bring out the best in them. Atheism removes the moral escape hatch provided by religion, making it exponentially more important for me to behave well… now and in the future. I cannot pray and be forgiven. I do not believe there is a benevolent, all-knowing creator who can absolve me of my sins. Only those who have been harmed by my actions can do that.

Since there is no eternal paradise after death, I have this one life to experience as much joy and happiness as I can. My joy and happiness depends, in large part, on my interactions with others. It also depends upon my understanding of the world around me. What makes someone happy varies from person to person, but for me, in addition to the people in my life, it includes a love of the outdoors, animals, science, astronomy, literature, music, food, dancing, writing, and a myriad of other things, none of which have any reliance upon the supernatural (science-fiction and fantasy novels notwithstanding).

Atheism is freedom. Not the freedom to do as I please, but the freedom to act in a way that is globally pleasing… the freedom to act morally… the freedom to see the world as it is… the freedom to wallow in the vastness of the universe… the freedom to be intellectually honest…

…the freedom to think.

Barry Goldwater on Religious Pressure in Politics

There is no position on which people are so immovable as their religious beliefs. There is no more powerful ally one can claim in a debate than Jesus Christ, or God, or Allah, or whatever one calls this supreme being. But like any powerful weapon, the use of God’s name on one’s behalf should be used sparingly. The religious factions that are growing throughout our land are not using their religious clout with wisdom. They are trying to force government leaders into following their position 100 percent.

If you disagree with these religious groups on a particular moral issue, they complain, they threaten you with a loss of money or votes or both. I’m frankly sick and tired of the political preachers across this country telling me as a citizen that if I want to be a moral person, I must believe in ‘A,’ ‘B,’ ‘C,’ and ‘D.’ Just who do they think they are? And from where do they presume to claim the right to dictate their moral beliefs to me? And I am even more angry as a legislator who must endure the threats of every religious group who thinks it has some God-granted right to control my vote on every roll call in the Senate. I am warning them today: I will fight them every step of the way if they try to dictate their moral convictions to all Americans in the name of ‘conservatism.’

– Barry Goldwater, Congressional Record, September 16th, 1981

(via Library Grape)

Psycho Fan Stalks Shawn Johnson

Shawn JohnsonThere was a story in the news today that Olympic gymnast Shawn Johnson was being stalked by a psycho fan, who has since been arrested. The man left his family and drove from Florida to California where Dancing With the Stars was being filmed in hopes of being with Johnson.

Evidently, his car contained two loaded guns, duct tape, zip ties, a “map to the victim,” and love letters. He believed he was meant to have a child with Johnson.

Why did he believe this?

Documents also indicated O’Ryan “believes that she speaks to him personally through the television set and through ESP.”

I’m not sure what the psychological diagnosis is for something like that. It’s probably not schizophrenia, but that’s what pops into my head. It leaves no doubt, however, that the guy definitely has some mental health issues.

After reading the story, my initial reaction was that he was pretty crazy and that it had to be pretty nerve-wracking for Johnson… and I believe that.

My next reaction is the point of this post. If you take away the duct tape, zip ties, and the loaded guns (or maybe not in some cases), you basically have a guy that’s considered crazy because he was hearing a very specific voice speaking only to him.

How is that any different from people who claim that God speaks to them?

I don’t think that’s an unreasonable comparison. Christians routinely talk of having conversations with God and some actually say that they hear God’s voice. In religious circles, this is viewed as a wonderful, spiritual thing… even when God commands someone to kill his son.

Hearing someone else’s voice, however, is seen as a sign of psychosis. Sometimes even hearing God’s voice is seen as a sign of psychosis when “God” is telling the listener to commit a crime (outside the bible).

It seems that hearing voices is considered spiritual in some cases and psychotic in others, regardless of the speaker. How do religious believers know which is which? Supposedly God told Abraham to kill his son. Was Abraham psychotic? Some murderers have claimed that God told them to kill people. Are they psychotic? The book of Genesis says that God told Adam not to eat from the tree of knowledge. Was Adam psychotic?

In each case of supposed divine communication, someone hears one or multiple voices. Christian interpretations of these incidents are completely inconsistent. Some claims of godly discussions are seen as wonderful… others as dispicable and crazy. Shawn Johnson’s stalker heard a voice, too, so for Christians to see him as crazy seems disingenuous at best. Their religious stories are chock full of people hearing voices.

Personally, I’ll chalk it up to insanity.

Finding Life’s Meaning

Ocean Sunset“Nothing in this world has meaning without a life devoted to God.”

Variations of that phrase can be heard from Christians of all stripes. It’s a common statement frequently directed toward atheists, letting them know in no uncertain terms that their lives cannot be truly meaningful without religion… without faith… without God.

After hearing that point (far too often), I began to wonder just what “meaning” religion brings to the table. For simplicity, I’ll refer to Christianity in particular, but other faiths probably have similar concepts.

I think a distinction needs to be made between the meaning of life and meaning in life… why we exist versus what we do with our existence. Christians make claims with respect to both issues (though generally the same claims for each). I do not.

So what is the meaning of life for Christians? What meaning is there in life for them? Here’s a small sampling from various sources.

You were put on this earth for one, and only one, reason, and that is so that you can have a living relationship with God. Every other reason is meaningless. This relationship with God is the Meaning of Life.
SeekersTrove.com

Rather, real meaning in life is when one begins to follow Christ as His disciple, learning of Him, spending time with Him in His Word, the Bible, communing with Him in prayer, and in walking with Him in obedience to His commands.
GotQuestions.org

What is the real purpose of life? “Fear God and keep His commands.”
Our main concern in life must be to work in God’s kingdom and have a right relationship with Him.
The Gospel Way

So, this is what man is here for, to serve and worship an Almighty God for a few short years in order to obtain a life forever and forever in glory with Him. It is the duty of man, it is the meaning of our life.
Joel Hendon on SearchWarp.com

[The meaning of life] is to love God by choosing to have a relationship with Him through His Son, Jesus Christ.
All About Worldview

Some other passages attempted explanations for why God actually created humans (the meaning of life), but they were usually either weak (he wanted to have man serve him) or vague and circuitous (because of events regarding Lucifer and the “Angelic Conflict”).

What I get from all those quotes (and from many others that I didn’t include) is that what gives life meaning for Christians is serving and worshipping God… and in one case, fearing him. It seems that, without subjugating yourself to God, life is pointless.

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It’s all fun and games until…

My new favorite web comic is xkcd. It’s a sometimes geeky, almost always insightful, and always funny comic drawn with mostly stick figures by Randall Munroe, a CNU graduate with a degree in physics. Who knew physics geeks could be funny?

So the comic below was just brought to my attention by a friend who’s also an xkcd fan and I thought I’d share it here since the subject of the comic is perfect for Rationality Now. It addresses (somewhat) the issue of why atheists give a rip about what other people believe. See if you can follow along. I’ll elaborate in a future post.

Oh… and go visit xkcd. It’s funny and they have geeky t-shirts.

xkcd: beliefs (#154)

Obnoxious and Rude? Definitely.

This month, the Freedom From Religion Foundation erected two new billboards in honor of Charles Darwin, one of them in Dover, Pennsylvania which is about 15 minutes away from where I live and where I grew up. Today, in our local paper, there was an opinion editorial by Larry Hicks, a regular contributor to the paper. In it, he accuses the FFRF of being a “gloating winner” and that by putting the billboard in Dover, they are being obnoxious and rude.

I responded via a letter to the editor and decided to post my letter here as well.

In the February 4th edition of The York Dispatch, Larry Hicks wrote a Viewpoint editorial concerning the newly erected “Praise Darwin” billboard in Dover. While I agree with Mr. Hicks that  both sides of the Evolution/Creationism(or Intelligent Design… same thing) debate tend to get a bit touchy about opposing views and freedom of speech, there are a number of common misconceptions perpetuated in his editorial that I would like to clarify.

First, the issue of “Evolution versus Creationism” is not a debate between Christians and atheists. It’s a debate between Creationists and Evolutionists. Framing it as a debate between Christians and atheists not only trivializes the issue by stereotyping each side, but it is inaccurate and dishonest. Not all those who accept the Theory of Evolution are atheists. Far from it (Biology professor Kenneth R. Miller, a key witness for the plaintiffs in the Dover trial, is a Roman Catholic). Nor are all those who do not accept it Christians. The sides consist of those who accept the scientific evidence with its resulting theory and those who do not.

In addition, though the “battle” was won in the Dover case (though not by the FFRF, which was not involved), it is absolutely not over, and the Creationism proponents have most assuredly not “accepted their loss” or “licked their wounds and moved on.” Since the Dover verdict, there have been multiple challenges throughout the country related to this exact issue, one just recently in Texas. The Creationist movement refuses to give up, instead continuing their attempts to corrupt the teaching of science by claiming that supernatural explanations should be placed on equal footing with exhaustively researched evidence.

So not letting “well enough alone” is an accusation that should be leveled against the Creationist movement. It is because they won’t “let well enough alone” that the scientific community has to continually spend an absurd amount of time defending science against the Creationists’ misinformation.

Though I agree with Mr. Hicks that the display of the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s billboard is a freedom of speech issue, the issue of Evolution versus Creationism in our classrooms is not. Nor is it an issue of separation of church and state. It is about education standards and intellectual honesty. Anyone who has followed this issue even passively has probably heard that the scientific community generally has no problems with Creationism being taught in schools in a philosophy class or a comparative religion class. It simply has no place in science class… because it is not science. That is the real issue.

I have no doubt that the Freedom From Religion Foundation chose Dover as one of the locations for their billboards because of the fame that Dover now has due to the Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District trial. I’m sure it’s not personal. It’s not a matter of wanting to “rub salt in the wounds” of Christians in Dover. It’s a matter of effectiveness. Location. Location. Location.

Mr. Hicks says that placing the billboard in Dover is obnoxious and rude and that it has everything to do with respect. He says, “Isn’t that what the non-believers were accusing Dover Christians of five years ago? A lack of respect for their point of view.”

No. It wasn’t. Again Mr. Hicks perpetuates a common misconception. The “non-believers” were accusing the Dover school board of corrupting the science education of their children.

The Creationists continually peddle the idea that supernatural explanations are scientific.

And that is what’s obnoxious.

Bunk

I’ve been following the John Freshwater trial, mostly via the write-ups by Richard B. Hoppe over at The Panda’s Thumb, but also through following some other articles on the case. For those of you unfamiliar, John Freshwater is a 8th grade science teacher in Mount Vernon who is accused of teaching Creationism and burning crosses on students using a Tesla Coil. I’m a bit skeptical about the crosses after seeing pictures and reading about the trial, but the “teaching Creationism” accusation seems to be spot on based on the evidence so far. The trial isn’t over, though, so no jumping to conclusions.

What I found blog-worthy tonight was a writeup by Lee Duigon on The Chalcedon Foundation’s website. Mr. Duigon focuses mostly on the branding issue, which is fair since that is one of the accusations levied against Freshwater. He starts by showing some early reactions from a number of sources about the branding issue and they (as one would expect, sadly) over-react in a grand fashion based on little evidence. Assuming Mr. Duigon is disgusted by this type of “string him up” reaction, I share his disgust.

I don’t have all the facts of the case. Nobody does at this point and the case is still ongoing. However, based on Freshwater’s reputation, my guess would be that he’s a good guy and probably a good teacher and there isn’t really any kind of underhanded conspiracy that he’s heading up to delude students. I don’t agree with teaching creationism (or intelligent design… same thing) in a science class, but I doubt Freshwater is any kind of monster.

However, there is some side commentary in Mr. Duigon’s article that shows a lack of understanding about science and the scientific process.

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License to Sin

Anyone who’s been an atheist for more than a few weeks has heard the accusation that without religion, there’s no basis for morality. Therefore, we’re told, we can run around like crazed hedonists, raping, stealing, and killing to our hearts’ content. We know it’s nonsense and generally speaking, the person who makes the accusation must know it’s nonsense, too, because it’s just not happening.

What I find ironic is that religion provides the biggest license to sin that any self-respecting, lascivious, lusting hedonist could possibly wish for. Atheism, having no dogma (since it’s not a religion and is purely the lack of belief in a deity), gives no free pass. Because of that, atheists must maintain a much higher interest in practicing moral behavior than religious folks do.

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Attempted “Logic” Fails

On the website CantonRep.com, Ron L. Dalpiaz wrote a letter to the editor about the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s “Imagine No Religion” billboard in Canton, Ohio. The letter appeared on December 18th, 2008.

Mr. Dalpiaz evidently does not approve of the billboard, nor does he approve or agree with the FFRF’s Annie Laurie Gaylor’s comments about religion. That’s understandable. I don’t always agree with everything she says, either, even though I’m a FFRF member. One of the wonderful things about this country (the USA) is our freedom to disagree and express our disagreement. The First Amendment of our Constitution guarantees that.

In that light, I would like to point out the logical failings of Mr. Dalpiaz’s statements and show that, in numerous cases, his statements are the exact opposite of what is actually true. Sadly, I see this kind of illogical rhetoric all the time and it’s frustrating to say the least.

Here’s the letter (quoted) along with my comments.

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