Presumptions

I was watching a show the other night called “Monster Quest,” wherein an impersonal team conducts searches for various cryptozoological creatures such as Champ, the yeti, or the Mongolian death worm.  This particular episode focused on the Ropen.

The Ropen is supposedly a large, leathery flying predator native to Papua New Guinea which sets itself apart from other creatures through a twenty-foot wingspan and bioluminescence.  Supposedly it greatly resembles a glow-in-the-dark pterosaur.

Part of the expedition was a representative of “Genesis Park,” a creationist organization that seeks to prove dragon-like creatures of mythology as proof that humans and dinosaurs lived alongside one another, a la The Flintstones.  In order to help push the asinine notion theory that pterosaurs still live in Papua New Guinea, something that was mentioned when someone pointed out that there’s no evidence that pterosaurs were bioluminescent, this particular man claimed that fossils don’t tell us the whole story and so we can’t possibly know that.

That claim is highly presumptuous.  It’s true, fossils simply can’t tell us everything, however, given what they can tell us–how the skeletons were put together, diet (teeth), muscle size and arrangement (imprints on the bones)–we simply can’t make wild guesses just because the fossils don’t specifically say “no.”  As I pointed out at Florio’s, I can claim that the fossil T.rex “Sue” was a devout Shinto, there’s nothing specific in her fossils that says otherwise, but I don’t get to complain when people point and laugh at me.

In case you’re curious, the Ropen is most likely a combination of folklore, hysteria, and misidentified hornbills, which are massive birds that have been compared to pterosaurs before.

Atheists celebrating Christmas

I really liked this recent post on the “Liberal House on the Prairie” blog:

“The War on Christmas
Fri, Dec 18 2015, 08:06 AM
As part of my annual “War on Christmas,” I submitted an entry for the local paper’s segment on Christmas Stories. From the paper’s website:

“The stories of Christmas have been a Dispatch favorite since 1988. Each year we get wonderful stories, some humorous and light-hearted; others are thoughtful, touching remembrances. Winners are published in the Christmas Eve edition of the Dispatch. Stories should be 300 words or less.”

My submission:

“I’m an atheist. But if you ask me what my favorite holiday is, I will tell you it’s Christmas. Hands down. No contest. For me, it really is “the most wonderful time of the year.” I struggled with my utter devotion to Christmas for a few years after becoming an atheist. I felt like a hypocrite; rejecting religion on the one hand, while embracing a religious holiday on the other.

But after doing some basic research into the roots of Christmas, I was able to relax and enjoy the holiday for what it really is; a break from the cold days of winter. An excuse to bring some greenery and lights inside your home when it’s dark and gray outside. An occasion to get together with all of those people you may not see during the rest of the year. An opportunity to show your love through food. A chance to watch your children’s eyes light up as they open that present they’ve been begging for. A time to remember your own childhood, and reminisce with the ones you love. All of these things remain special and magical to us, even if Jesus isn’t part of our equation.

Your atheist neighbors aren’t out to wage a “War on Christmas.” Many of us love it just as much as you do! We just celebrate it our own way, with our own family traditions, and accept it as the cultural holiday that it is. When we say “Happy Holidays,” it’s not because we hate Christmas. It’s simply an acknowledgement that not everyone celebrates it. Because we know what it’s like to be part of the “out group,” and we don’t want others to feel the isolation that we’re so familiar with. So, from my family to yours, have a very Merry Christmas!”
Guess we’ll have to wait until next week to see if I win! :-)

Quotes about atheism

I was on Craigslist–of all places–and found this nifty series of quotes about atheism:

“It appears to me (whether rightly or wrongly) that direct arguments against christianity and theism produce hardly any effect on the public; and freedom of thought is best promoted by the gradual illumination of men’s minds which follows from the advance of science.” [Darwin]

“If we believe absurdities, we shall commit atrocities.” [Voltaire]

“I cannot imagine a God who rewards and punishes the objects of his creation, whose purposes are modeled after our own — a God, in short, who is but a reflection of human frailty. Neither can I believe that the individual survives the death of his body, although feeble souls harbor such thoughts through fear or ridiculous egotism.” [Einstein]

“Faith means not wanting to know what is true.” [Nietzsche]

“I cannot believe in the immortality of the soul…. No, all this talk of an existence for us, as individuals, beyond the grave is wrong. It is born of our tenacity of life – our desire to go on living … our dread of coming to an end.” [Edison]

“The Bible is not my book nor Christianity my profession. I could never give assent to the long, complicated statements of Christian dogma.” [Lincoln]

“Religion is a byproduct of fear. For much of human history, it may have been a necessary evil, but why was it more evil than necessary? Isn’t killing people in the name of God a pretty good definition of insanity?” [Arthur C. Clarke]

“Religions are all alike – founded upon fables and mythologies.” [Thomas Jefferson]

“Say what you will about the sweet miracle of unquestioning faith, I consider a capacity for it terrifying and absolutely vile.” [Kurt Vonnegut]

“Religion is based . . . mainly on fear . . . fear of the mysterious, fear of defeat, fear of death. Fear is the parent of cruelty, and therefore it is no wonder if cruelty and religion have gone hand in hand. . . . My own view on religion is that of Lucretius. I regard it as a disease born of fear and as a source of untold misery to the human race.” [Bertrand Russell]

 

A Dubious Saint

Many of you are no doubt aware that the woman known in her life as Mother Teresa has been canonized as a saint by the Catholic Church.  The process of canonization is filled with woo — of course, what else could it be — requiring “proof” of at least two miracles.  But this is not what concerns me at present.  The credulity of believing in “miracles” is matched by the credulity of an uncrtical public.  Among probably the majority of Westerners, Mother Teresa is uncritically accepted as a kind and compassionate person.  But this was not the case.

While he was alive, Christopher Hitchens delved into the life and actions of the supposed saint.  His findings were compiled in his well – known (and infamous to Catholics) Missionary Position.  Hitchens’s findings have since been verified by scholars.  Rather than give a litany of them, here is a link to an interview with HItchens conducted by “Free Inquiry” magazine.

Hitchens on Mother Teresa

 

 

Are Terrorists True Muslims?

Often we are told, mostly by liberals (and I will state right away that I am an unabashed liberal, but this does not mean liberals are above criticism), that “Islam is a religion of peace” and that “terrorists are not true Muslims.”

But it seems to me that this is a resort to the “No True Scotsman” fallacy.  So what is this all about?

This fallacy involves changing a definition to avoid criticsm.  Regarding the origins of the term, RationalWiki has this to say:

“The term was coined by [the late philosopher] Antony Flew, who gave an example of a Scotsman who sees a newspaper article about a series of sex crimes taking place in Brighton, and responds that ‘no Scotsman would do such a thing.’

When later confronted with evidence of another Scotsman doing even worse acts, his response is that ‘no true Scotsman would do such a thing,’ thus disavowing membership in the group “Scotsman” to the criminal on the basis that the commission of the crime is evidence for not being a Scotsman.

However, this reasoning is fallacious, as there exists no premise in the definition of ‘Scotsman’ which makes such acts impossible (or even unlikely, in the case of Scots). The term “No True Scotsman” has since expanded to refer to anyone who attempts to disown or distance themselves from wayward members of a group by excluding them from it.”

As with Scotsmen, so with Muslims.  Perhaps there is a core set of beliefs that one has to have in order to be a “true” Muslim, or Christian or Buddhist or whatever.  But from my perspective at least, what is going on here is an attempt, perhaps understandable due to a desire to get moderate Muslims to cooperate with the West and to prevent outbreaks of anti-Muslim violence in western nations, to define a term in such a way that one’s ends can be achieved without having to take into account thorny criticisms.  There are probably as many ways to inerpret the Q’ran as the Bible, and some of those interpretations lend sanction to violence.

Muslim Opinions and Demographics

I came upon this video somewhat by accident and was interested in hearing from another Muslim I had not seen or heard of before. Her name is Raheel Raza and she is associated with something called the Clarion Project – Challenging Extremism | Promoting Dialog. I must confess that I had never heard of that organization before either. In any case, she presents a brief talk on a topic that Jerry Coyne and others have mentioned. That is the significant number of Muslims who endorse many of the more disturbing attitudes and beliefs associated with Islam. While it is true that a small minority of Muslims engage in the most violent and extreme behaviors we are all becoming familiar with, there is a disturbing acceptance and tolerance for that kind of extremism that pervades large segments of the Muslim community. Calling Islam a peaceful religion seems a bit more wishful thinking than realistic. Watch the video and see what you think.

I know that our group includes lots of different opinions about how to deal with radical Islam and many fear the development of a broad hostility to anyone inside the Muslim community. Our country is certainly full of crazies who are always on the watch for the next big enemy – I’m looking at the Republican candidates – and we need to challenge their prejudices. But we also do need to come up with some ideas about how to counter the possibility that Islam harbors a large contingent of people who are in conflict with enlightenment ideas, humanistic values and tolerance for diversity. They appear to be keeping those thoughts mostly to themselves except on surveys.

An Inappropriate Act

As many of you know, my mother passed away a few days ago.  Let me first thank all of you who have expressed sympathy — it means a lot.

We have also been receiving sympathy cards from various friends, relatives, and acquaintances, all of which, again, have been welcome and much appreciated.

But in the stack of cards in the mailbox today was a letter that was not so welcome.  We received, unsolicited of course, a form letter from a local Jehovah’s Witness activist who stated that she wished to “comfort”: us with scripture.  I have no idea who this prosyletizing busybody is, but she was sloppy in her editing, and one portion of the letter still included the names of the previous recipients rather than being switched to our names.

Can there be anything more inappropriate?  Does this woman read the obituaries each week and send out her nonsense (there were some Watchtower Society tracts in the envelope as well), hoping to win converts from among the grieving?  Perhaps this person is well intentioned, but I certainly question her judgment.  I don’t for one minute profess to speak for all the bereaved, but I consider it incredibly poor taste to try to push religion on a total stranger at such a time.

Polling Place in Evangelical Church

i just sent this inquiry to FFRF. What do the rest of you think about this? Is it acceptable for our County to designate such a place as an election site when secular sites are readily available?

“Hi, and a HUGE THANK YOU for all of your amazing work in state-church separation, including in my town (I belong to a FFRF chapter in Grand Rapids, MN and recently attended FFRF’s annual meeting in Madison…wonderful). I’m writing to ask why my polling place in Itasca County can be an evangelical church. Mine is First Evangelical Lutheran Church, whose website states “…every word in the Bible is true and without error. We also believe that all the facts related in it are absolutely true and without error (infallible and inerrant).” There is a public (school administration) building within a block of that location with adequate space to host the election activity. I find it distressing that voters are surrounded by evangelical Christian symbology and messages while voting on matters such as the right to gay marriage. Isn’t this likely to have a chilling effect? How can this be constitutional? The County would undoubtedly contend that all voters have the option to go to the courthouse to vote instead…but still this seems WRONG.”