Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Gervais still at it

I don't know that I'd say Ricky Gervais was a closet atheist prior to his recent column in the Wall Street Journal, but since that  piece came out, he's definitely become more vocal about his beliefs or lack thereof.

Here, he's giving his thoughts about the story of Noah.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Ignore this post

Just doing a claim check for Technorati.  Nothing to see here.


Britain gives itself a very special Christmas gift

A recent survey indicates that for the first time ever, Britain is more secular than religious. Fifty-one percent of those polled stated that they have no religion at all, a very slim majority (and admittedly one that falls within the margin of error on these things), but one that certainly rebuts naysayers who feel that atheists exist in such small numbers that they are doomed to irrelevance. This is obviously good news to anyone who places rationality and knowledge above faith and ignorance.

Is it possible that while the United States is far behind, we might one day find similar poll numbers here?  Britain, after all, doesn't have the separation of church and state written into its very fabric of government like the US does.

Obviously, we have a long way to go, but this does bring some measure of hope that one day we might live to see a saner, more rational society.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

It's pretty, I'll give you that.

So the controversial "You know it's a myth" atheism poster's time in front of the Lincoln Tunnel is over, and it's been replaced by a theistic response.

According to the article, one of the sponsors of the new billboard says the reason for it is to, "encourage people to seek God and prove that indeed He is."

Prove he exists? Awesome!  I'd like to see that myself.  

I'm not sure how a bit of zeitgeist typography is going to prove that though.   Is the proof in fine print that isn't visible in the image we see here?

Monday, December 20, 2010

James Randi explains skepticism

I think the first time I saw James Randi was when he was still going by the stage name "The Amazing Randi" and he had a bit part on Happy Days.  He was just a moderately successful stage performer back then.  Since, he's become one of the foremost spokesmen for skepticism.

He does a good job of introducing the idea of skepticism in this entertaining lecture.

Christian hypocrisy as a means of forwarding a political agenda

Here's a good reason why I rail against the ignorance of religion.  You get someone in power who indignantly claims the opposition is working counter to the belief du jour, and the sheep eat it up.  Case in point-- Republicans who complain that working through their winter break "disrespects" Christianity.  Okay, so are they going to make it economically feasible for the working poor to take that time off too?  No...they just think it's wrong for them to work during that time.

Stephen Colbert shred their hypocritical idiocy far better than I can.

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Christmas Holy Week
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire Blog</a>March to Keep Fear Alive

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Call me Reverend Lane (when do I get my tax break?)

I just stopped by the Universal Life Church online and became a legally recognized minister.  It's takes about two minutes.  It's free, but of course if I want an actual certificate showing my new status, I have to pull out my credit card.

I quickly got the following email, too:

Let it be known to all that on Sunday the 19th of December of 2010, in accordance with the Universal Life Church; do hereby ordain you into the Universal Life Church. From this day forward, you are entitled to all of the rights of an ordained minister, with the authority to perform marriages, baptisms, and all other sacerdotal duties of clergy. You are registered as an independent minister of the Universal Life Church; this is a position that carries respect and a burden of responsibility to "do that which is right", to respect others and to comply with all state and local the laws.

The irony is that I probably know as much about religion as some of those that have actually been to seminary.

You're doing it wrong...

Here's Kirk Cameron telling us why he "lost faith" in atheism:

Believe it or not, I agree with him on a few points here.  If you dismiss something out of hand without truly finding anything out about it, you are starting from faulty assumptions.  It sounds like he called himself an atheist at one time because he felt all the cool kids were doing it.  Fair enough.  He's correct in proclaiming that to be a bad reason. Where I take issue is in the fact that he then substitutes nonsensical mythology for any real facts.  He replaced a metaphorical empty hole with one filled with junk.  In other words, you should attempt to learn more about something before you accept or dismiss it, but you have to be discerning about the information you choose to accept as well.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Some beliefs apparently don't stand up to criticism

I find it amusing how many religious apologist blogs out there refuse to permit debate.  I use Firefox for my browsing, and one of my favorite addons is the Stumbleit.  I use it frequently to find random pages to read, and as religion and atheism are two of my areas of interest, I naturally run across a number a sites of both stripes.  What seems to be the norm is that atheist sites and religious sites that deal with more humanistic themes tend to allow fairly unrestricted replies.   Most of the apologist sites, especially those that delve into the most egregious logical fallacies and straw man arguments, tend to have closed replies.

I've posted extremely polite counter points to numerous blogs, only to have a message come up saying that my post "awaits moderation."  That in and of itself is not problematic.  I completely understand wanting to filter out spam and obvious trolling comments.  I've deleted comments myself here that were nonsensical and vaguely threatening.  But all I've done is refute factual errors and non-sequitors, and for some reason my comments almost never actually make it into the public eye.

I LOVE the discussion of ideas.  Part of the reason I started this blog was in the hopes of churning up discussion with those I disagree with.  I can't imagine writing a blog where you didn't want to consider any other opinions but your own.

Unforseen consequences to conscientious neutrality

The only time that maintaining the wall that separates church and state proves difficult for me is when I go over certain works of literature in my senior English class.  So much of what is part of the curriculum, particularly from the years right before the Enlightenment, is heavily mired in religious and metaphysical exploration that an English teacher who wants to do justice to the works simply cannot discuss them without also exploring the motivations for their creation.  Perhaps you can swing John Donne's "Meditation 17" towards a more humanist philosophy, but is that then a sincere exploration?  I don't really think so.  Then we get to works like Paradise Lost and Pilgrim's Progress.  Filtering out the religious overtones on those would be like showing reruns of The Sopranos or Deadwood on the Family Channel by bleeping out the cussing.  You'd lose all meaning, and the bleeps would run together so much that every dog within earshot would start howling.  So I try to focus mainly on the literary merit, and when it comes to the metaphysical content, I simply try to pose questions that I leave up to the students to answer for themselves.

Apparently I do too good a job in masking my own beliefs.  A senior yesterday if I was trying to suggest that Christianity is the one true religion.

Yeah, I got a good chuckle out of that one, too.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Worst grad final ever

I finished my fall class officially with the completion of the final exam yesterday around noon.   They gave us three hours for it, and I assumed that meant I could get done in about two.  It took me a full two hours and fifty minutes, so I really didn't get done with a whole lot of time to spare.  I suppose I should have been braced for that when I saw what it consisted of:  five essay questions and seventy multiple choice, each worth half a point.

Most of the questions were of the type that asked some very, very specific questions that no one outside of Rain Man would have in memory, and they forced you to go back to the book constantly.  They would ask things like "the study done by Gunning specified that ______."  Keep in mind that this four hundred page text has a name index of studies it cites that's seven pages long.  Almost every half-point question sent me scrambling to look up the author.  This test didn't really assess what we learned; it assessed how quickly we could use the index of a book.  The essay questions weren't much better.  All of them were of the "Explain the process of ______" type, again easily answered by simply flipping through the book to the right page and paraphrasing the process described.  I was expecting a tad more practical application questioning here.

The design of some of the questions themselves was also sloppy.  There were numerous questions for which the choices were "A," "B," "both A and B," "neither A nor B."  Interestingly, in the last class I took over the summer on effective assessment techniques, one of the points hammered home in the creation of objective tests was to not use those types of questions.  One would think that a graduate program dealing with education wouldn't be of the "do as I say, not as I do" philosophy.  Maybe I'm naive in that regard, but as I submitted the test, I was thinking that if I had a student teacher who designed a final like this, I'd send him back to the drawing board.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

More Minchin merriment

I'd never heard of Tim Minchin before I stumbled upon(literally stumbled upon) his Christmas tune "White Wine in the Sun" and fell in love with it.  Of course, being semi-OCD as I am, this led me to look up more of his work.  Here's another appropriate goodie:

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Yeah, WE'RE the ones ruining Christmas

I wrote about my concerns that the recent atheist billboard outside the Lincoln Tunnel might be a tad too aggressive for the season if we're trying to convey the idea that atheists are just like everyone else. That doesn't mean, of course, that some Christians can't wreck the spirit far more effectively.

Take for example the reaction to the Atheist Vuvuzela Marching Band in a Christmas parade down in Texas. An atheist group marched in the annual event with no more of message that to wish everyone a happy holiday season. They sported no banners claiming "God is imaginary." They simply joined in the festivities with their neighbors.

The reaction? Animosity, anger, and contempt. One woman there expressed concern about what she would say to her children about the existence of people who don't believe in god.

Across the Atlantic, a Copenhagen pastor demonstrated the superiority of his understanding of this season of peace, love, and understanding by executing an elf in effigy outside of his church.  His rationale is that the notion of cute little elves helping Santa actually comes from Satan.

Perhaps the Texas mom would feel more comfortable explaining that to her kids.

Friday, December 3, 2010

A superhero reveals his true identity

Comic book superheroes are normally in an odd situation when it comes to supernatural beliefs, at least when compared to the reality of the real world.  They can usually count among their allies and enemies a variety of beings that consider themselves deities or demons.  One of the earliest superheroes is even fairly obviously portrayed as the Judeo-Christian Wrath of God.  Thor, Hercules, Venus...they're all presented as living beings that interact regularly with the world.  Right now, Marvel has an expansive story in which the Japanese god of evil Amatsu Mikaboshi is attempting to destroy the universe.  In a universes like these, it might seem at first blush to be fairly foolish for a character to claim to be an atheist.  Still, a thinking person would still have reservations, doubts, and could still foster a rational sense of disbelief.

This seldom happens, though.  Normally, when a character claims to be an atheist or agnostic, he's being set up to soon or later be shown the error of his ways.

That may be the eventual fate of another hero who has recently admitted his atheistic leanings.  Founding Avenger Hank Pym,  (aka Ant-Man, aka Giant Man, aka Goliath, aka Yellow Jacket, currently know as The Wasp)  recently related his rationale to the latest hero to take up his former title of Ant-Man.  In the miniseries Ant-Man and Wasp, Pym has created a virtual reality world, and he has downloaded the memories and personality of a dead friend into it, creating a cyber-Heaven of sorts where digital "souls" can dwell.  The computer systems containing this heaven are stolen, leading the pair of heroes to go after it and save Pym's friend.  During the second issue this exchange between the pair occurs,

from Ant-Man and Wasp #2 from Marvel Comics
Even in a world where Norse Gods now live openly near a small town in Oklahoma, this line of logic makes perfect sense, though I could go without the overly florid "science is my god" spiel.  I'm sure it's meant metaphorically here, but all it will do is add fuel to the "atheism is just another religion" argument.

Of course, this isn't an outing without a downside.  Pym has been shown for years to be one of the less stable of old school heroes.  He's gone through numerous superhero IDs and is currently using the name of his (presumed) dead wife.   He's had a couple of mental breakdowns, and he even slapped his wife in anger once, making him the repentant poster boy for comic book spousal abuse ever since.  Additionally, there's still one more issue in the mini to go, and it's possible that we're again being set up for the skeptical hero to find that faith is as important as facts, but one can hope.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

I agree with the message, but I'm not keen on the delivery

For a couple of weeks now, there's been a bit of a brouhaha regarding a billboard placed outside the Lincoln Tunnel by the American Atheists organization.  The billboard has the traditional Christian Christmas backdrop of a manger and camel riders silhouetted against a night sky while a particularly bright star shines above the building.  The message on the sign reads "You KNOW it's a Myth.  This Season, Celebrate REASON!"  It has naturally caused an uproar amongst the more vocally religious.  While most atheist bloggers are praising the sign and dismissing or flat-out deriding those who disagree, I've got to say I'm not crazy about this one.

Does that make me an accommodationist?   I don't think so.  While I don't go around introducing myself to people as "Rich Lane-atheist," I don't shy away from talking about my thoughts on the matter when the subject comes up.  I don't believe in hiding my beliefs, and I do think that atheists need to stand up and be counted to let people know that we won't accept religion finagling it's way into our public offices or schools.    I love the public outreach ads that have come before on the sides of buses,

 or on other billboards.

I like making the presence of rational, non-religious types known.

I just think the new ad kind of strikes the wrong chord, and I probably have my wife Dolores to thank for it.  She likes to have a big fiesta at Casa Lane every couple of months.  We usually have one in the Spring around my birthday, one midway through the summer, one in the Fall (her birthday) and one in winter during the holiday season.  She has one hard and fast rule during these shindigs--no talk of politics or religion.

Sometimes it's hard.  Sometimes the party coincides with something juicy in the news that I or one of our guests are dying to dig into.  If it looks like the conversation is heading that way, she swoops in and diverts it with her famous Mexican cheese dip, pepperoni balls, or (my favorite) beer.  If I'm the lone offender, it's not as pleasant.  I get diplomatically pulled into the bedroom and get my ass chewed.

Her reason is that these get-togethers are to celebrate friendships, enjoy each others company, and recharge desperately drained personal batteries.  We have quite a diverse group of friends, and these discussions could easily derail the point of the parties.  Even if the individuals involved are enjoying the debate/argument, most of the time the others there do not.  Though I chafe at times at the restrictions, I know she's right. There are just certain times and places you simply have to put controversy aside.

I am not saying that we need to respect the beliefs of Christianity during the winter holiday season.  I sure don't.  When theist groups overreach and encroach on the First Amendment during this time, they still need to be slapped down hard.  But I think that maybe we'd be better served to keep in mind the spirit of the season.  One of the points the American Atheists are trying to make (and one that they are correct in) is that Christians don't own the idea of winter solstice festivities of joy and good will.  When a Christian comes up to me during this time and says "Merry Christmas," I respond with "Happy Holidays," not "There is no god."

In that vein, I do believe the American Atheist could still use the billboard space effectively.   Rather than the "You know it's a myth" message, I think I'd like to see a "Season's Greetings from American Atheists" or "The Atheists of America wish you and your family a safe and happy holiday."  We are then participating in the best part of the season without condoning the aspects we disagree with.  And as carloads of families drive past the sign, and children read the well wishes of a group that many of them have never heard a good word about before in their lives may now begin to realize that atheists are people who love their own families and wish goodwill, peace, and joy for others.

Then, when the season is over and they see this awesome bus ad in Dallas,

It could be that they may possibly consider that message with more of an open mind.