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.”


Anyone else getting tired of all the admonitions to “not judge all Muslims by the actions of extremists” (ISIS)?

Before declaring Islam or any other religion to be peaceful and the “extremists” as obviously misguided, shouldn’t we scrutinize all the so-called holy books and consider the many instructions they actually attribute to their gods?

The Koran apparently has a great deal to say about what good Muslims should do to infidels. It’s not peaceful. And the Christian holy book does too. No need to single out Muslims just because the blood is currently running in France, Beirut, and Baghdad (among other places).  Here’s an offering from Deuteronomy 2, holy scriptures for Jews and Christians: “If there is found in your midst, in any of your [a]towns, which the Lord your God is giving you, a man or a woman who does what is evil in the sight of the Lord your God, by transgressing His covenant, 3 and has gone and served other gods and worshiped them, or the sun or the moon or any of the heavenly host, which I have not commanded, 4 and if it is told you and you have heard of it, then you shall inquire thoroughly. Behold, if it is true and the thing certain that this detestable thing has been done in Israel, 5 then you shall bring out that man or that woman who has done this evil deed to your gates, that is, the man or the woman, and you shall stone them to [b]death. 6 On the [c]evidence of two witnesses or three witnesses, he who is to die shall be put to death; he shall not be put to death on the [d]evidence of one witness. 7 The hand of the witnesses shall be first against him to put him to death, and afterward the hand of all the people. So you shall purge the evil from your midst.”

FREETHINKERS, BEWARE, lest your neighbor take this to heart.

Thoughts? Other points of view?


Volunteering: Food Shelf Holiday Program

Are you interested in participating in a fun service project that brightens the holidays for children in our community? GRAF members will once again be joining other volunteer groups to help pack the toys that accompany food boxes distributed by the Second Harvest Food Shelf in December.

It’s fun and doesn’t require any special skills or experience. Ellen Christmas, the program coordinator for Second Harvest, explains how it works before we get started. The annual project draws community-minded persons of all ages in a spirit of goodwill and holiday cheer. It usually takes about one-and-a-half hours. Last year our GRAF volunteers met for lunch afterwards; hopefully there will be interest in doing that again.

The event will be hosted by Zion Lutheran Church in Grand Rapids again this year. It’s on Saturday, Dec. 12th at 9:00a.m. Please join us if you can! I put it on the Meetup site, but you don’t have to RSVP–you can just show up.

If you have questions, please e-mail or call Amy (#259-1476 or fsm.gr.mn@gmail.com). Hope to see you there!

Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot

Truer words were never typed.  Apart from being verifiable fact and the title of a popular book, these words offer context on how he can say such wildly inaccurate things while completely confident in how correct he is.

To wit: Rush Limbaugh has declared that NASA’s discovery of flowing water on Mars is evidence that they’ve been taken in by the Leftist global warming agenda.

While admitting that he doesn’t know exactly what it is, he “would assume it would be something to do with global warming.”  He speculates that the next discoveries NASA brings us from the Big Red Marble will be the “mass graveyard” of “an advanced civilization” that collapsed as a result of global warming.  Because he can never get enough of spreading the truth, Limbaugh went on to tell us how NASA’s been lying to us about the temperature of Earth, no warming for the last 18.5 years, blah blah blah miscellaneous global warming denial.

Not content with his psycho-babble so far, he defended himself the next day, claimed that Politico and Media Matters had taken his comments out of context (despite featuring transcripts from his own website which I will NOT link to here) and went on to say that NASA timed this “discovery” to support Matt Damon’s new movie (as if NASA gives a damn) and that Obama turned NASA over to the Muslims, because the man has obviously started digesting his own brain by this point.

I now ask a question to the fans of Limbaugh: how the hell can you take this man seriously!?

Cross this place off your “dream vacation” list

This article about an alarming new law in the United Arab Emirates appeared on secular.org (National Secular Society):

UAE makes ‘offending God’ illegal

Posted: Wed, 05 Aug 2015 12:02

The United Arab Emirates has passed an ‘anti-hatred’ law which it has claimed will help tackle discrimination, but which outlaws ‘insulting’ religion.
The Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, reportedly said that the decree “guarantees the freedom of individuals from religious intolerance.” He claimed that the new law was ‘inclusive’.
However Gulf News reports that the legislation makes illegal “any acts that stoke religious hatred” and “any form of expression” that insults religion.
The law, passed by decree at the end of July, “prohibits any act that would be considered as insulting God, His prophets or apostles or holy books or houses of worship or graveyards.”
The legislation purports to allow for an “environment of tolerance” and “broad-mindedness”, but includes potential 10 year jail terms and substantial fines for those who break the law.
Provisions in the legislation include a prohibition on expressing doubt about the existence of God.
NSS president Terry Sanderson commented: “The UAE are using anti-discrimination legislation as a cover to criminalise all manner of dissent- including blasphemy. It is dispiriting, and sadly unsurprising to see yet another crackdown on religious freedom and freedom of speech in the Islamic world.
“As with the recent comments from the Saudi Arabian Ministry of Islamic Affairs, the language of human rights, freedom and tolerance are subverted in order to further an Islamist agenda, in this case under the guise of an anti-discrimination statute. In fact, this legislation insults the concept of equality by creating discrimination against non-believers.”
While the law does make it illegal to discriminate on the basis of ethnicity or religion, and on some other characteristics, it undermines these provisions by criminalising the expression of atheism and with its severe restrictions on free speech.
There have also been concerns that the anti-discrimination provisions of the legislation make no reference to sexual orientation, and therefore offer no protection to victims of discrimination on the basis of their sexuality.
Mr Sanderson added: “It’s important that attention is drawn to laws like these, particularly given that so many Islamist regimes are intent on enacting global laws against the ‘defamation of religion’.
“These attempts often cynically hijack the vocabulary of human rights, something which we also see from many groups and activists in the West who lobby for de facto blasphemy legislation.”

Newsflash: There is an afterlife!

I am so thankful to be living in a time in human history when the wisdom, humor and unapologetic positions taken by the irreplaceable Christopher Hitchens continue to be available to us even after his untimely death. If only the ancients had had access to what we take for granted in modern education and technology. Bronze Age YouTube and Google: where might we be now as a species had they existed (or some equivalent access to information and critical thinking)? I hope our species can survive/evolve to find out what that enlightened future might look like.

Fall Paddle/Social for GRAF Members & Friends


GRAF members and friends will meet up for a beautiful fall paddle on the Mississippi River near Grand Rapids in September. Kayakers and canoeists of all experience levels are welcome! It’s an easy launch area with light current (and no rapids), and we’ll stay out on the water for no more than 1 1/2 hours. If you’d prefer a shorter outing, you could also turn back earlier. After the paddle, we’ll head over to Florio’s in Cohasset (just down the road) for food, drink and social time.

If you aren’t interested in the paddle, please still join us at Florio’s if you can! The more, the merrier! We’ll probably arrive there around 4:30-4:45pm.

Here are the details:

Date: Sunday, Sept. 13th (as long as it’s not raining-if you’re not sure call Amy’s cell at #259-1476).

Launch: 3:00pm. We’ll paddle back east toward Grand Rapids (the river follows Highway 2 and travels under County Road 63…behind the Showboat Landing…and continues to the Blandin dam).

Social time: Upon our return to shore, probably starting 4:30-4:45pm at Florio’s in Cohasset on Highway 2.

Paddling Location: Boat launch/parking lot on Blackwater Road (near Minnesota Power Boswell Energy Center) in Cohasset.

Directions: the turn-off is on Highway 2, five miles west of Old Central School in Grand Rapids. It’s the first road on the left just west of the City Hall stoplight in Cohasset, across the road from the Dollar General Store. Turn left there on NW 3rd St./County Highway 87 and drive .7 mile to Blackwater Road. Turn left on Blackwater Road and continue for another half mile until you reach the parking lot/boat launch.

BYOB–bring your own boat! 🙂 And please don’t forget your life jacket!

Looking forward to it and hoping there might be some fall colors to enjoy by then. Any questions? Call Amy at #259-1476 or email her at: fsm.gr.mn@gmail.com.


The subject of free will has been on my mind sporadically since John David Schirber’s presentation of a Sam Harris overview on the subject several months ago.

I’ve read several opinions, and most recently Jerry Coyne’s.  I’ve wanted to decide my own opinion about free will, but the decision has been reluctant to enter my mind.  All I wanted to know is, “Do we have free will – yes or no?.  I was hoping Jerry Coyne would offer some guidance, but this didn’t happen.

Today I was very busy, happily repotting houseplants, and the answer I was seeking came to me:

I’m seeing the subject of free will treated as a black-and-white issue; that is, it seems that those with a strong opinion are adamant about holding onto it.  Bingo – my head said to me – now I get it: I see things in COLOR – always have, and that’s why it’s difficult to choose a yes or no answer to fit every situation.

I know many will call this waffling, or worse.  Even so, the resolution puts my mind at ease.  Glad to get this off my chest

A Frustrating Conversation

So tonight, as some of you know, I initiated a conversation with an acquaintance regarding religion.  I don’t know why I did, but, thinking of Bertrand Russell who would ask guests at dinner parties their view of religion out of the blue, I asked this person what she thought of religion. Of course she was a believer, and we were off and running.  The conversation was very frustrating because she kept interrupting making it hard to make anything like a complex point.  At any rate, I told her I didn’t care about personal religious beliefs except to the extent they impact others.  One example I used was the religious exemption on having children vaccinated.  For those who may not be familiar with this, if parents decide that having their children vaccinated violates their religious views, their children do not have to get vaccinated.  Such exemptions exist in many states, including Minnesota.  When I brought this up, I was told that I was trying to put people “in a box.”  I replied that this was not the case, and that, in fact, only a minority of Christians believe that vaccination would violate their religious tenets, but those who do are putting their children (and ultimately everyone else’s) in jeopardy.  She replied by calling me “the kind of person that wants to fix everything,” and that I will never be able to do so.  I replied that no, I have no illusions that I can make the world a perfect place, but that this is something that can in fact be addressed by changing the law.  The fact that we cannot fix everything does not mean we should not fix what we can.  She kept saying that I can’t change people’s beliefs, to which I replied I don’t care about their beliefs, but I do care about the imposition of those beliefs on innocent people who all too often suffer serious consequences.  She claimed I was mixing religion and the law, and I reiterated I had no intention of outlawing belief, but that those beliefs should not be imposed in a way that harms the rights and well-being of another, and this is within the purview of government and a matter of law.  She said she cannot change the law, and I pointed out that California recently changed a similar law, and that we as a society can in fact change bad law.  So after about half an hour and innumerable interruptions, I finally got her to agree with me on that point.

At any rate, here are a couple of observations.  My interlocutor was a supposedly educated person, but she often hid behind appeals to ignorance.  Also, she kept moving in the direction of relativism: this is “my path,” etc.  She didn’t seem to understand that, however imperfect it may be, there are ways to sort out the truth.  Science and the best of philosophy are provisional in nature.  Truth claims, except perhaps in mathematics and some branches of logic, can never, for various technical reasons, be know with certainty.  But that does not mean that all truth claims are the same.  There are ways to sort things out.

One more takeaway: though this was a supposedly educated person, it was clear that she was absolutely unused to having an academic or intellectual discussion.  It is very hard to argue with someone who does not understand the rules, based on logic, of argumentation.

We have our work cut out for us.

King of the (Prehistoric) Seas–Mosasaur

I’ve been dragging my heels with these prehistoric creature posts, but with “Jurassic World” just around the corner, I decided to get off my buns and post about one of my all time favorites: mosasaurs.


Shamu’s got NOTHING on this sh*t!

Mosasaurs ruled the oceans of the Cretaceous Period of the Mesozoic Era of Earth’s history, biting sharks in half while T-Rex was doing the same with anatosaurs.  A close relative of modern-day monitor lizards and snakes (more on this in a minute) mosasaurs were the dominant marine predators for the last 20 million years of the Dinosaur Age, an age where the seas included plesiosaurs and Ginsu sharks–25 foot long ancestors of the great white and named for the Ginsu knife.  Evolving from small lizards that lived in swamps and lakes to avoid dinosaurs, and later made the transition to oceans, mosasaurs ruled their environment with a number of different weapons, not least of which was their size, which ranged from roughly the size of a Labrador, to the 60 foot long Mosasaurus.


You can always count on Suicidal Size-Comparison Alan to make things real

But what did such titanic beasts even feed on?  Luckily for mosasaurs, everything during this time was just too big.  Sea birds as tall as a man, carnivorous fish the size of motor boats, sea turtle that dwarfed life-rafts, and of course the sharks and plesiosaurs I mentioned earlier, mosasaurs had their pick of what to eat.  Mosasaurs tracked their prey with two keen weapons, the first of which were pressure sensors in their snouts.  Like modern day crocodiles and Cretaceous Era Spinosaurus (the star of Jurassic Park III) mosasaurs had pockets of nervous tissue in their snouts that allowed them to detect the pressure waves made by all swimming creatures.  Their second weapon was a forked tongue that, like those of their modern snake and monitor lizard cousins, could be used to track scents, even underwater.

We can make the assumption that mosasaurs had these forked tongues by looking at their modern relatives, and we certainly know who those are.  By looking at the skeletons of mosasaurs, as well as soft tissue imprints–which show small, triangular scales like those of snakes–we can see the similarities they possess to snakes and monitors.  Not just that, but the lower jaw of a mosasaur was double-hinged, just like those of modern snakes, which mean that they could move their bottom jaws forward-and-back as well as up-and-down.  You’d think that meat hook teeth and Satan’s own mandibles would be enough, but mosasaurs also possessed a second set of teeth in the upper jaw which would hold prey, as well as shred it to pieces, as it used its double-hinged snappers to drag up to four feet of flesh down its gullet at a time.  Pay attention to the inside of the mosasaur’s jaws in the Jurassic World trailer and you’ll see those devilish teeth yourself.


“Well, hello there killer-shark-lizard!”

I mentioned soft tissue deposits, which, as you may be aware, rarely fossilize.  Well, remains in Harrana, Jordan (which was underwater at the time) were so well preserved that scientists were able to study the softer, squishier bits that don’t often survive millions of years of being buried in the dirt.  This is how they know what the mosasaurs’ scales were like, how they know that the organs were arranged much like those of modern whales, and how they know that mosasaur had a tail like a shark’s.  This design being in modern sharks and fish is no accident, it optimizes how much water is displaced with each stroke from the tail, allowing more efficiency for a swimming creature.  While things are more ambiguous for the smaller species, larger specimens like the Mosasaurus itself were unlikely to pursue prey long distances.  Like modern great whites, they likely patrolled populous waters until they found a good spot before laying in wait for something to swim too close, tagging their chosen prey with a great burst of power.

With the depletion in fish stalks that occurred after the KT Event–otherwise known as the meteor-based bitch slap that rebooted life on planet Earth–larger predators simply couldn’t continue; they simply couldn’t survive on the smaller fish left behind.  The implications that it took an event of cosmic proportions to send these beasts into extinction speaks volumes of their rule.  Even had dinosaurs died out and left the mosasaurs alive, the world would be much different; there would be no whales, dolphins, porpoises, seals or sea lions or walruses for one thing.  They wouldn’t be able to compete, mammals simply couldn’t take to the seas, which raises more implications about man’s place in a world like this.  Even if we evolved at all, we wouldn’t be able to conquer the globe like we have today.  Fishing would be too dangerous an enterprise with 60-foot sea beasts patrolling the best places, early man would not have been able to travel as far afield across the oceans in rafts and small boats.  Much of our current success is a result of our ability to harness the resources of the oceans, the domain of the mosasaurs.