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.”

The “prayer vigil” – dealing with state/church issues locally

As most of you probably know, the Sheriff’s department in Itasca County sent a letter out ostensibly from the department’s chaplain (who knew they had a chaplain?). The letter was on official letterhead and gave the clear impression that the “vigil” was sponsored by the Sheriff. The “prayer vigil” was to be held on November 21st at the courthouse and was scheduled to last 24 hrs. The praying was to “benefit” the law enforcement, fire department and medical first responders in the community. What benefits were to be received was a bit vague.

Since sponsorship by the Sheriff would constitute a state/church violation of the 1st Amendment to the Constitution, I contacted FFRF and provided them with a copy of the letter. They wrote to the Sheriff and other county officials advising them of the problem and requesting that the vigil be cancelled and the chaplain position be abandoned.

Nathan Bergstedt who was still with the newspaper did some interviews including the County Administrator in plans for publishing an article on the situation. He also interviewed me as a representative of GRAF. While there was plenty of time for the paper to publish the article about this prior to the 21st, the article never appeared, until this Wednesday, the 2nd of December.

The article was a bit late and out of date since the vigil either did not occur or was moved to some undisclosed location. Several GRAF members drove past the courthouse on the morning of the 21st and saw no evidence of any vigil although the street was partially blocked off and various equipment that might have been used was setup on the sidewalk and street. There were no signs indicating what happened with the planned vigil.

So, chalk one up for the county abiding by the requirements of the first amendment. Give the Herald Review a D- for waiting so long to publish “news” and neglecting to find out what happened. The community was left to wonder if the vigil was held, whether the county had responded to the FFRF letter and requests, etc.

Testing Religion and Offense – Our monthly meeting for November 24, 2015

This is a relatively brief (18 minute) video on the difficulties of sorting out different interpretations of religious tenets, dogma and such. The main point is that religious moderates can only be distinguished from extremists by a matter of degrees on a continuous scale. We can’t sort them into neat categories and declare extremists to be easily distinguished from moderates or progressives. Depending on the issue, we might find individuals to occupy different locations on the continuum of beliefs.

While brief, the video is rather chock full of information and ideas that can be thought provoking. It may take more than one or two times through to understand the scope of religious ideas and those who hold them. This video is part of a series by the same individual. I’ve only watched a couple, but they seem to be well done and generate a lot of thoughts.

Peace-loving?

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?

 

Dino-Doodle-Doo

Jurassic Park is the story of humans playing god and bringing extinct creatures back from Death’s chilly embrace.  As with all of Michael Crichton’s sci-fi novels, it doesn’t go well for us.  But it’s just that, right?  Science fiction, not a kernel of truth anywhere to be found.

Well, maybe not.  Jack Horner (the paleontological advisor to the Jurassic Park movies) has had a little pet project going on for a while now: reverse genetically engineering a chicken into a dinosaur.

chickenosaur-dreamstimecomp_22240810

Not as cool as we’d hoped.

Ok so it’s not a lawyer-munching Tyrannosaurus rex, but this chickenosaurus (as Horner is calling it) does have some exciting implications for the field of genetics.  Creating a dinosaur out of a chicken is, at least cosmetically, a surprisingly easy feat: teeth, arms and hands, a long tail, and a modified snout.  That last entry was actually achieved through experimentation of chicken embryos by Horner’s team.

skulls-chicken-dinosaur

A standard chicken, a genetically modified chicken, and an alligator.

You see, as dinosaurs evolved into birds, certain genes were modified.  By analyzing two genes involved in facial development, Horner’s team found that they behaved differently in birds than in reptiles.  By altering this behavior, their chicken embryo developed a reptilian snout as opposed to a beak.  Not done there, they found to their complete surprise that the embryo had also developed a reptilian palate (the roof of the mouth), a surprise find as they were only expecting to alter the outer structure of the beak.

This development is promising, but there are still unanswered questions.  Even if we were able to genetically construct a dinosaur from a chicken, would it work right?  There’s no guarantee that by simply reactivating the genes for reptilian features like snouts, arms and tails that the nervous system will wire itself accordingly.  The brain may not be able to communicate with these limbs.  What if the resulting creature possesses the body of a dinosaur but the absurdly misplaced instincts of a chicken?

There are many questions to be answered, but the first signs seem promising.  Through the power of genetics, even a “glow-in-the-dark unicorn” [Horner] is not impossible, but now ethics get involved.  To quote the Jurassic Park movie: “Your scientists were so concerned with whether they could, they didn’t stop to consider whether they should.”