More on Wacko Bob Frey

Recently I posted on Bob Frey, who is a candidate for state representative in a district near the Twin Cities.  Ed Brayton is apparently tracking this guy, and after recounting his comments about AIDS being caused by an enzyme (that by itself is enough to give Frey a spot in the pantheon of right wing idiots), Brayton has now posted audio of Frey claiming that “dinosaurs have always lived with people.”  Yes, I saw one just yesterday.  Geez — just what we need — a young earth creationist running for the legislature.  And I just can’t help it — I’ll give everyone one guess which political party this guy belongs to.

Corporate Christianity

As I was wondering around through various blogs, sites, etc. this morning, I encountered a link via an email from Richard Dawkins’ site which conveyed the experience of someone who had worked for Hobby Lobby for a few months. The writer was commenting on the decision of the current SCOTUS to give some status to corporations wishing to assert religious “rights”.

The writer’s description of the work environment at Hobby Lobby was about what one would expect where it was already known that the business draped its g*d over everything. Prayers in the morning, bibles here and there, etc. and lots of expectations that employees express their certainty regarding all things to do with faith. It wasn’t clear why the author even considered a job at the place.

But then the discussion moved on to mega churches and all the things they do to get money and ‘loyalty’ out of their flocks. Some things were familiar like rock bands at services, childcare services not just on Sundays, but all through the week and overnight as well. From these sort of expected activities and ventures, it moved into things like oil changes for your car, various commercial products like gift items, home furnishings and more. The church was literally becoming more of a diversified business than a routine place of worship. And this is taking place while Hobby Lobby is become more a place of worship than a simple commercial enterprise.

I’m wondering if the two will merge into a single thing – a churchy business that makes its money by selling you a whole pile of stuff with some of it being salvation related and other stuff just being car service with a blessing or sanctification. Perhaps this is the only path that will preserve anything of the church in the future. At some point they might just give up the preachy stuff if it doesn’t really move enough product. Eventually the whole g*d thing will be so incoherent that no one will care if they are praying for their soul or their transmission.


Another Homegrown Wacko

I was perusing Ed Brayton’s blog “Dispatches from the Culture Wars” this morning, and saw that he had a new and interesting piece with relevance to Minnesota.  Brayton points out that while Minnesota has a reputation for being quite progressive, its Republican citizens have a way of lending support to some real wackos, such as Michelle Bachman.  But Michelle may no longer be first among Minnesota’s signature idiots.  The GOP has found a new winner, a man named Bob Frey, who is running for state representative in Carver County.  Here is a quote from Brayton’s site (I don’t recall where the quote came from originally, but there are plenty of articles regarding Frey’s incredibly stupid views which turn up via a basic google search):

“But when questioned about his position on social issues, Frey added that it “does certainly need to be addressed for what it is. It’s not about the gay agenda but about the science and the financial impact of that agenda. It’s more about sodomy than about pigeonholing a lifestyle.”

Frey then explained his view: “When you have egg and sperm that meet in conception, there’s an enzyme in the front that burns through the egg. The enzyme burns through so the DNA can enter the egg. If the sperm is deposited anally, it’s the enzyme that causes the immune system to fail. That’s why the term is AIDS – acquired immunodeficiency syndrome.”

(This explanation of AIDS has no scientific validity, but it may strike a familiar chord: It is essentially the same one given by Bob’s son, Mike Frey, in testimony given before the House Civil Law Committee last year during the debate over gay marriage.)”

They just keep on coming.  It becomes increasingly difficult to see how any thinking person can vote for the Republican Party in its current configuration.

Thunder Shock!

I learned two things today that really brightened my mood.

First off, the small island nation of Niue (if you count learning that this place existed, that brings my discoveries up to 3) recently issued a one-dollar coin featuring the nation’s seal on one side, and a picture of Pikachu–flagship character of the Pokémon franchise–on the other.  This was apparently part of a promotion for the franchise, and it ranks number on the list of freaking adorable coins…it is also currently the only contender on the list at all, metal coins rarely being cute.

The other was reading about a recently discovered gene that helps to transmit electrical signals between the eye and brain.  Discovered–I think–by a man named Shigeru Sato, this “nimble” protein has been named pikachurin after the same character mentioned above.  Evidently the decision came about because both the gene and the Pokémon feature “lightning-fast moves and shocking electrical effects.”  Lame reason to name a gene (like my article title is any better), but now we can say that science has discovered the world’s cutest genetic material–a field even less likely to acquire an “adorable” qualifier than currency.

A Dirty Joke

Well, not really. But my wife showed me a site with a lot of awkward questions/ comments for Christians.  Here is my favorite, which should be effective next time a silly creationist asks you “if humans came from monkeys, why are there still monkeys:

“If Adam came from dirt, why is there still dirt?”

Read more here:


Stupidity Dies Hard

Despite the title of this post, I want to think that humanity is making progress, that as a civilization, we are becoming more enlightened.  But it is always sobering and more than a bit deflating when I come across something like this, as reported in the New York Times:

The Vatican has formally recognized the International Association of Exorcists, a group of 250 priests in 30 countries who say they liberate the faithful from demons. The Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano reported on Tuesday that the Vatican’s Congregation for Clergy had approved the organization’s statutes and recognized the group under canon law. More than his predecessors, Pope Francis speaks frequently about the devil, and last year was seen placing his hands on the head of a man purportedly possessed by four demons in what exorcists said was a prayer of liberation from Satan.”

When will humanity finally leave behind its superstitious infancy?

The Supreme Court F**** It Up Again

Sorry for the strong language in the title, but the Supreme Court has once more handed down an infuriating ruling, this time in favor of Hobby Lobby.  The founders of that corporation had claimed that providing health care plans for their employees which included contraception was a violation of their religious freedom.  This is absolute BS.  Health care coverage is an earned benefit, as are wages, and employers have no more right to tell employees what they do with that benefit (so long as it is approved by certified medical professionals) than they do to tell employees how they can spend their wages.

This is also another step in the direction of the ridiculous notion of “corporate personhood.”  So a corporation can now have religious views?  What utter nonsense!

Until we can break the conservative-reactionary majority on the court (and this can ONLY be done by continuing to elect Democratic presidents!) we are in for a lot more of this kind of crap.


Will the Herald Review be fair?

UPDATE: The text of my letter to the HR is printed below.

In the Sunday HR, the editor (Britta Arendt), announces that the paper doesn’t want to have age old questions debated in the paper and will stop publishing letters in which atheists and Christians fight with each other. This explains why recent letters from Lucretius and I have not been published. I wonder if she will also stop publishing the Christian crap we have felt the need to respond to? I suspect not since she has shown no reluctance in the past to offer up one announcement after the other of “good news” or the coming judgment and other religious drivel.

The most recent letter we responded to was announcing that science had found evidence for g*d and confirmed the transcendental argument for g*d as proposed by William Lane Craig. This was complete nonsense and letting it stand unchallenged would have been irresponsible on our part. The ignorance of the community and the smug assurance of the writer didn’t seem to bother Britta until we pushed back. The time to call a halt to the argument was before, not after, publishing that crap. My guess is she didn’t notice the problem until we wrote back in response. Neither Lucretius nor I were insulting to the writer. We pointed out that his “argument” was without merit.and included the evidence. If she finds this bothersome, she should turn off the bible thumpers.

The content of my LTE:

Raymie Porter’s letter in the 6/18/14/ issue of the Herald Review demonstrated the danger of trying to get support for religious faith from science. Science is a dynamic process which never really settles on “final” answers about anything. There are only best answers at a particular time with the evidence then available. New facts, new hypotheses and even new theories are always coming along.

To support his idea of a creator, Mr. Porter made use of the idea that science found that the Big Bang demonstrated the universe was finite and must have had an absolute beginning point. That kind of claim might have been viable some 30 years ago. Unfortunately, a large truck full of new facts and hypotheses has rolled over that notion. The Big Bang remains part of current cosmology, but its significance is now tempered by the development of the inflationary cosmological model and the proposition of the multiverse. The combination of these two models with the Big Bang yields an eternal universe with ours as only one among many as a viable concept. We don’t have to worry about going back an infinite amount of time to a beginning because there is probably no beginning point to get to and no ending point either. Without those points, there is no place for a creator to step in and start or stop anything.

There is no room in this letter to explain all of this. You have to read current books on cosmology, Things keep changing as science moves forward. Theology keeps stepping on a path that is in perpetual motion and trips over the attempt to make it stop at a “convenient” spot. This was the problem for William Lane Craig when he tried to use the Big Bang to support the Kalam Cosmological Argument in a recent debate with Sean Carroll (a physicist with some expertise in cosmology). Carroll easily demonstrated how Craig had fallen behind. Finally, Craig is not a philosopher of science, he is a theologian, an apologist (defender) for Christian beliefs and a skilled debater. His understanding of the science and that of Mr. Porter are both out of date. Time to catch up, science has moved on.

Rereading my letter certainly makes it clear how offensive and impolite it was…NOT! Noting that there is substantial conflicting evidence for the theological “explanation” of something is a fundamental aspect of critical thinking and a basic point of contention between the religious and secular world views. There wasn’t any claim to solve this problem for all time, but it doesn’t speak well for the paper if they are accommodating the religious perspective, but dismissive of those who seek to keep it from being the only voice.

My meeting on the mount

The first meeting with the Community Presbyterians took place on Wednesday as planned. We met in the pastor’s office at the church building (which is pretty huge and pretty plush), and talked for about an hour.

The pastor (Kim Johnson) was interested in learing how the GRAF group had started, what our group affiliations were (FFRF and now United Coalition of Reason) along with the LSF and SSA. I’m not sure what she was seeking to gain from that knowledge, but sharing it made her aware that we are not really a standalone group with nothing behind us. When I mentioned the billboard campaign of UnitedCol, there was a brief glimmer of ‘concern’, ‘apprehension’, or indigestion? I could see her being bothered if a large atheist billboard went up in Grand Rapids, just as we were trying to start a dialog with the faith community. Since we don’t know that will happen, I’m not going to worry about it.

Both Kim and her associate (Robert who is starting seminary this August) were interested in my list of shared issues and appeared to be in agreement and pleased that I had some understanding of the Presbyterian position on these things. I suspect they may have been concerned that I saw them only as a christian community with nothing but a god delusion. Kim was very pleased that she had been a participant in the recent meeting of their governing counsel where gay marriage was approved and recommended to the individual churches. She will clearly be pushing her congregation to accept and support the change in dogma.

Besides letting me ramble on too much about what we atheists were up to, they were determined to make me aware that their congregation was not a single voice on much of anything including just what god they were worshipping. We didn’t discuss this much, but it came up in a couple of different contexts as I was describing the diversity within our own group. I mentioned the “Hug an Atheist” film as a good introduction to how atheists deal with the ‘big questions’ of values, morality, parenting, illness, death and dying and finding meaning in life. They seemed to have a clear interest in hearing how those are handled since they face the same issues with their congregants; another point about what we have in common. I think they would like to see the movie at some time. I don’t know who has our copy at this point and I need to get it back so it would be available to them. They didn’t voice any of the misconceptions about atheists (why do we hate god), but didn’t seem to be aware of what most of those would be. In addition to the ‘hate god’ issue I mentioned a couple of others and dismissed them as being silly in the same way that hating something you don’t think exists is a silly contention. I think they felt that these misconceptions might be limited to more fundamentalist types than Presbyterians, but we shall see.

The next move is to schedule a small group meeting in July if possible (before Robert leaves) and we also discussed what would need to be accomplished at this meeting. We are in agreement that trust is fundamental to making any headway and learning to be comfortable at some level with the huge elephant of disagreement that we probably will avoid discussing (the whole god and faith elephant). To start, Kim suggested we create an agreement (covenent in her terms) about how to talk and how to avoid confrontations that are hard to control or limit. Something like having a rule that if someone is feeling uncomfortable with the way things are going or what is being said, they can ask for a pause or break or a change of subject and the moderator would have the job of seeing that this request is honored by both sides. I don’t think they want to avoid all discussion of apologetics and they aren’t looking too much for unearned respect for their positions, but we won’t really know until we are in the process with not only her, but her members. I supported the idea of using the first meeting to layout the ground rules rather than diving into anything specific. In our email exchanges over the next week or two I may ask her to fill in some blanks about what she would like to discuss once the rules are agreed to and see if there are any problems ahead.

When asked what we were seeking from the conversation, I tried to be pretty blunt that we wanted to reduce the expected level of hostility and apprehension associated with discovering that there are ATHEISTS in town. Knowing that the church has acted to support gay rights, I emphasized that we felt a kinship with the gay community in being subject to discrimination and prejudice, etc. and concern about being ‘outed’. Using the Presbyterians as a means of reaching the larger community didn’t seem to be a concern to them. I think they feel that they could benefit from allowing their members and atheists to interact as a way of educating their members and feeding into what they consider to be an open debate within their church among members with different perspectives. When I mentioned helping people get comfortable with the idea of working and living next to atheists (some might be sitting next to you in church), I got a nod of agreement. In fact, I’m pretty sure that Kim was acknowledging that they may have some non-believing members who stay in the church for the sake of family, community, etc. She made note of the different religions represented in our group of former believers and was also interested in why we had all left the church. I started to launch in to a long discussion of the various ways (50 ways to leave the church? A Paul Simon song for the future?), but we didn’t get far with that since it led into other things. About the only one that we discussed at length was being upset with the church doing or saying things we couldn’t accept – for example being against gay rights, teaching children to think they were inherently bad, etc. I suspect that most of us left the church for other or additional reasons, but church hypocrisy or lack of understanding seemed familiar to them. Ultimately, there really are at least 50 ways to leave the church. Her members may be interested. I would certainly expect some curiosity on this.

They only had an hour to give to our intial conversation and I could have gone a lot farther, but I get carried away with trying to accomplish too much too quickly. I had to put a plug in and agree to work on setting up the next meeting. I had to bite my tongue and not ask Robert if he had any clue about what 3 years in seminary might do to his faith. I don’t know where he will be going, but I’m pretty sure it won’t be some useless Sunday school, bible college. I may raise the question in an email to Kim and, if she will share the information, check out the school and its likely orientation to the gospels and such. Three years is not a small commitment. Robert is young, but not that young. He may already be prepared for the onslaught to his faith. I need to find out what he’s been giving to his book group. Could it be Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris and Dennett followed by Rick Warren or some such thing? Probably not, but he seemed to think the group was being challenged. If he needs help, I suspect I could recommend something for shaking things up.

More to come.


God and Fairies

Some of you (certainly Ken) may be aware that Jerry Coyne has had a polite online exchange with an Eastern Orthodox clergyman.  The clergyman has accused Coyne of not engaging seriously with religion and theology, and instead resorting to straw man arguments which at best only apply to fundamentalism.  Coyne has replied effectively, and has pointed out that the burden is on theologians who wish to make claims about God.  And, until they can demonstrate that he or it exists, there is no need to get all wrapped up in the unending twists and turns that are the labyrinth of theology.  Here is an excerpt from Coyne’s site, Why Evolution is True, in which he demolishes the purported challenge of what he terms (sarcastically) “Sophisticated Theologians:”

“You could make the Best Arguments for fairies as well as for God. I would tell Fr. Kimel that fairies live in my garden (why is it always garden fairies in these arguments?), and that they make the plants grow. He wouldn’t believe me, of course, because I can’t show him evidence. But then I’d pull out my hole card: that the fairies are simply ineffable plantspirits which one can’t see, but without them the plants can’t grow: they sustain the vegetation. They are the Ground of Garden. He still wouldn’t believe me: he’d say I was making it up. I’d then tell him that he was a Fairy Fundamentalist.”

Indeed.  It seems that such theologians want to hide behind the claim that god is “ineffable.”  But if this is the case, they sure do expend a lot of verbiage discussing him.