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Archive for the ‘Skepticism’ Category

FFRF 2016 National Convention

Friday, October 14th, 2016

Last weekend I was in Pittsburgh for the 39th National Convention of the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

This was my fifth convention already! I’ve been to Hartford, Portland, Madison, Los Angeles, back to Madison and now Pittsburgh. Next year will be in San Francisco. This is one reason that I attend; I get to travel to cities that I might not otherwise visit. First and foremost though is the socializing with like-minded people.

This convention was no exception to that. On Sunday afternoon, I walked around Pittsburgh for over two hours with a fellow attendee. We crossed two bridges (Pittsburgh has more bridges than Venice) and used two funicular railways to ascend and descend Mount Washington. But I get ahead of myself!

The link above will tell you the names of the speakers. I’d like to summarize how many of them made me feel.

FFRF attorney Andrew Seidel gave a preview of his forthcoming book with his talk, “Is Christianity Un-American?” This promises to be an excellent read – I cannot wait for it to be released. Andrew has set out to completely dismantle the argument that the United States was founded as a Christian nation.

Friday evening was rather moving when a former preacher from East Tennessee came out publicly as an atheist. “Adam Mann” was one of the first people in The Clergy Project and he went to great lengths to conceal his identity. He had yet to tell his wife that he no longer believes in the fairy tales of the bible.

I hope his coming out to friends and family goes just as smoothly. It really is a serious problem for many clergy. Welcome to the ever-growing family Carter! We’ve got your back!

Professor Lawrence Krauss accepted his Emperor Has No Clothes award and gave a science-heavy talk that built on his excellent book A Universe From Nothing. He suggested that last year’s confirmation of gravitational waves might be used to see beyond the cosmic microwave background. Exciting stuff!

Unfortunately, my copy of A Universe From Nothing is still packed in a box somewhere. So I bought The Physics Of Star Trek and had Professor Krauss sign that instead.

The new Forward aware was bestowed upon Rafida Bonya Ahmed. She barely survived the Islamist machete attack that killed her husband Avijit Roy. Her speech was inspiring and helped to explain the major problems facing atheists in Bangladesh. I certainly never had to fear for my life while living in Texas; so the atheist bloggers and publishers in Bangladesh deserve mighty praise and even more support.

Professor Jerry Coyne – who won Emperor Has No Clothes at the Hartford Convention – spoke on “Evolution & Atheism: Best Friends Forever.” My recent move thwarted me again, I couldn’t get my copy of Faith vs. Fact signed. Professor Coyne has given a interim blog post about the Convention.

Lastly, Professor Daniel Dennett spoke on “Has The Dam Broken? Omens and Worries.”

It should be obvious how much I love the FFRF National Conventions. There is always interesting and inspiring stuff – I only scratched the surface here.

I have intentionally left out the group tour of Fallingwater. That amazing part of the weekend deserves its own post after I have sorted through my photos.

Finished Reading “Did Jesus Exist”

Monday, March 28th, 2016

I guess it was appropriate that I finished the book on Easter! Open-mouthed smile I would have completed it sooner but I took it out of my laptop back to fit the Surface Pro and work laptop in there.

As I fully expected with Bart Ehrman’s writing, I enjoyed this book immensely. He presented a ton of useful information about the historical criterion for evaluating the likelihood of some past event. It is very difficult to argue against these points.

I was a little disappointed with the section on Josephus. The Antiquities Of The Jews has long been cited by believers as evidence for their stories. I remember the shock of reading (in Earl Dougherty’s book, The Jesus Puzzle and later in Robert Price’s The Incredible Shrinking Son Of Man) that the paragraphs about Jesus are likely later insertions by Christians to beef up their claims. I think that they present a solid case for that claim.

Ehrman makes the opposite claim. To me this part of the discussion feels too much like a He-Said-She-Said argument. Ultimately, neither side will overcome the other. My only other choice is to become a first century historian and Josephus expert myself – something I have neither the time, money or sufficient interest in doing.

As mentioned, I will read some more of the mythicist side regarding Jesus’ existence. Richard Carrier and more Robert Price are likely. There will probably be a palate cleansing read in-between though. Winking smile

Ehrman’s newest writing concerns how Jesus has been transformed into God over the centuries. There is even a video lecture series about this. I’m very likely to buy this lecture and probably Ehrman’s book too.

The Real Reason For The Season

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2015

Axial tilt is the reason for the season!

Science is just so much cooler than religion. It is my hope for 2016 that our species moves closer to shedding the hateful and limiting mythologies that impede our progress.

Baby steps, humans…they may be small but each one is important.

Freedom From Religion Foundation Convention – 2014

Sunday, November 2nd, 2014

I was in Los Angeles, California last week for the 37th Freedom From Religion Foundation Convention. This is the fourth convention that I have attended and I am looking forward to many more in the future. FFRF is a great organization with a mission statement that all should support – even if one holds religious beliefs.

This year’s speakers were every bit as excellent as I expected.

Paleoanthropologist Donald Johanson spoke about his discovery of the famed fossil Lucy. Theoretical physicist Sean Carroll gave a somewhat tongue-in-cheek talk about death and physics.

Professor Anthony Pinn gave a moving and inspiring talk. Just as inspiring were Christopher Johnson and Scott Clifton. Barbara Mancini’s story was utterly heart-wrenching.

Constitutional lawyer and scholar Erwin Chemerinsky discussed the philosophies of the current Supreme Court makeup and how this influences their (sometimes awful) decisions. Marci Hamilton showed the history of the wretched federal statute RFRA (what drove the horrid Hobby Lobby decision).

Susan Galloway and Linda Stephens talked about their experiences with the Supreme Court and the Greece v. Galloway decision.

The 35th FFRF Convention

Sunday, October 21st, 2012

This post is a week late – things got really crazy at work! Sorry! I’ll also post about the travel hiccups that I had later.

I had a great time at the latest FFRF Convention! This was only the second convention that I have attended but it will definitely not be the last. As a Life Member of FFRF, I’ll be aiming to attend every annual convention from here out.

After registering, we had group bus tours through the Columbia River Gorge. The Pacific Northwest had been experiencing an almost unheard of drought of over 80 days without rain. Unfortunately, this was the day that the drought broke. The rainy weather could not drench my enthusiasm though. This was an informative tour with some spectacular views. The tour made stops at a salmon spawning river, Horsetail Falls, Multnomah Falls and Wahkeena Falls.

My Flickr set of photos of the gorge trip is here.

On Friday evening we were given updates on Jessica Ahlquist’s and Max Nielson’s situations. Their stories have fallen out of the ADD-ridden news media; but they are not yet over by a long-shot. I wish all the best to both of them and look forward to successful conclusions.

A major highlight of this year’s conference was hearing Richard Dawkins acceptance speech of FFRF’s The Emperor Has No Clothes award. It was really two speeches in one. The first half examined the excessive use of metaphor by “sophisticated theologians.” The fundamentalists in America appear to honestly believe the things that they say they do; but the Pope or the Archbishop of Canterbury (who both believe in the correctness of evolution) often speak about Adam, Eve and the Garden of Eden like they were real places. No doubt, their less sophisticated congregations are not picking up on the use of metaphor and are believing this material literally.

Dawkins then deviated into the political, what with the impending Presidential election. He opined that a candidate’s religious views should be put under scrutiny just as much as their economic or social views. Of course, Mitt Romney provides the best example of this. He allegedly believes provably false ideas (Israelites in the Americas!) and racist ideas. If he wants to be the most powerful man in the world, he ought be accountable for these ideas.

Of course, I had Professor Dawkins sign my copy of The God Delusion and I thanked him for throwing me the first life-line toward reason.

During Saturday’s Non-Prayer Breakfast, I was able to speak to Sean Faircloth about his excellent book, Attack Of The Theocrats. No matter what views you have on religion, this book is a must-read.

Saturday was a busy but interesting day. Katherine Stewart discussed how the Good News Club slimes its way into public schools. Rather chilling and something I’m going to watch for in my school district. FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel gave an excellent presentation about debunking the myth that America is a Christian nation.

We heard from “graduates” of The Clergy Project. This is an important initiative; one that I hope sees many more graduates in the future. I suspect that there is a large population of atheist pastors, priests and such that are forced to live a lie.

The convention ended on a high note for me personally. I won one of the raffle drawings for “clean money.” These are American currency bills that were printed before the 1957 law that tainted them with “In God We Trust.” I won a $20 bill printed in 1934 – a thing of beauty!

I hold on to a vision of a world that is not choking under the stranglehold of religion. The human race deserves to rise to fullest potential without being dragged down by a past that it is growing out of.

Books That I Have Recently Read

Sunday, May 20th, 2012

It is a beautiful day in Texas today, so I am going to sit outside for a bit and keep reading The Believing Brain.

Books that I have recently finished include:

imageGod, No! Signs You Might Already Be An Atheist – Penn Jillette

This was an alright book; at least if you like Penn Jillette. Fortunately, I do. But it is not really a book about atheism.

In short, Penn tells stories from his life that occasionally involve atheism. The life he has led and been able to lead is quite different from most people’s experiences. Not to demean the man’s experiences.

The stories are often quite amusing or interesting. One that I especially enjoyed was that of a former orthodox Jew who became an atheist. Jillette and his friends got this his first bacon cheeseburger. Hilarious stuff, along with some maudlin material, but fairly harmless.

imageDrunk With Blood: God’s Killings In The Bible – Steve Wells

This one is interesting but also very tongue-in-cheek. If you have never read the Bible cover-to-cover (honestly, I have not yet), then reading this will likely be quite the eye-opening experience. Steve Wells operates the excellent resource site Skeptics Annotated Bible (plus the Koran and Book Of Mormon).

There are plenty of famous slaughters that G_d allegedly perpetrates (Noah’s flood, Sodom and Gommorah…himself on the cross). Some of the more interesting ones are less well-known.

  • G_d killed 42 kids (with the help of some “Mama Grizzlies”) for making fun of Elijah’s bald head (2 Kings 2:23-24)
  • G_d lets Satan torture Job over a bet (entire book of Job – great Darkmatter2525 video about this)
  • Yay cannibalism! (Isaiah 9:19-20)

The real tongue-in-cheek part of this book is the arbitrary accounting Wells applies to the mass murders when there isn’t a precise number specified in the Bible. He usually applies values like 1000 to phrases like “a great slaughter.” Of course these numbers are not meant to be taken seriously; but surely we need to consider all the deaths committed by G_d or ordered by G_d. After all, this is the most perfect book ever written…

imageThe Heathen’s Guide To World Religions – William Hopper

Not unlike Drunk With Blood, this was a really fun read. It is a very witty and sarcastic examination of the world’s key religions.

How sarcastic does it get? Jesus becomes either “Josh” or “JC.” Even better is this gem in the opening chapter on Islam:

Individual Muslims are usually ok. But there’s a  Borg collective thing that happens in Mosques that you should be aware of. The same guy that shrugs about your questioning his faith in a coffee shop will absolutely lose it on you if you say the exact same thing when other Muslims are around.

The book also covers Hinduism, Buddhism and Vedism. My only minor gripe with it is that Mormonism and some of the major Christian sects (Catholics, Jehovah’s Witnesses, etc.) are all lumped under one big section.

imageThe Good Atheist: Living A Purpose-Filled Life Without God – Dan Barker

I loved Barker’s book Godless. This one wasn’t quite what I expected it to be but it was still a worthwhile and certainly educational read.

Barker begins by excoriating Rick Warren’s The Purpose-Driven Life as a promotion of slavery. Warren’s own summary of atheism pretty much shows that:

Without G_d, life has no purpose, and without purpose, life has no meaning. Without meaning, life has no significance or hope.

It doesn’t take much to see the logical problems there. Barker spends the rest of the book briefly summarizing the lives of well-known and obscure non-believers and atheists across the many centuries and over many fields of human endeavours. This book clearly drives home the point that if all of these people’s lives had “no significance or hope” then there simply is no significance or hope to be had in this universe.

Life drives purpose. Not the other way around.

imageThe Missionary Position: Mother Teresa In Theory And Practice – Christopher Hitchens

It didn’t dawn on me until I watched Hitchens gut and flay the world opinion of Mother Teresa, just how prevalent the worship of this woman is. Even today, years after her death, even non-Catholics think she deserves the fast-track to sainthood that the popes have her on. It’s staggering to realize some of the truly awful stuff that she said and did in her lifetime.

What really sickens me is the hypocrisy of The Missionaries Of Charity during her sickness and eventual death. While they neglect the doomed and piteous souls inhabiting the House Of The Dying, their wanna-be saint received some of the very best treatments the modern world could provide.

This book is short and eye-opening. Well worth reading.

Books I Am Currently Reading

Saturday, May 19th, 2012

During my unexpected five week vacation, I managed to get a lot of reading done and/or started. I sure wish that I could read faster though.

As has been the case for some time; much of that reading concerns science, atheism and religion. It is a topic that I find nearly endlessly fascinating. I’ll write another post soon about the books that I have finished reading recently.

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The Believing Brain – Michael Shermer

I am nearly finished reading this and I have loved every page of it. Shermer theorizes that our brains are “belief engines,” thanks to our evolution; we believe something and afterwards find ways to rationalize that belief. We seek patterns and apply agency to those patterns.

He examines not only religious belief but UFOs, conspiracy theories and political beliefs too. The book cites and describes many studies done by psychologists and neurologists that support the author’s thesis.

Although the subject may appear to be dry or erudite, this book is still quite easy to read and understand. It is one of the best I have read. Very highly recommended!

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The Magic Of Reality – Richard Dawkins

This newest book by Professor Dawkins is aimed at younger children but it is still a thoroughly enjoyable read. It provides an excellent overview of the sciences – math, physics, chemistry, biology and astronomy. Along with the science, it also tells many of the various myths stories that surround the topic.

Of course, I already know about evolution, genes, rainbows and such; I don’t need to learn where these things come from. Yet, the writing and the beautiful illustrations by Dave McKean makes reading this book a great experience.

This should be required reading in schools!

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Evolution: How We And All Living Things Came To Be – Daniel Loxton

This book is aimed at an even younger audience than The Magic Of Reality.

It is an excellent introduction to evolution and the story behind speciation. I suspect that it is probably also a useful guide for adults who have had their minds marinated in religious dogma and thus fail to grasp just what evolution is.

For me, Dawkins’ The God Delusion and The Greatest Show On Earth gave me that understanding. But I also want to support this author and encourage him to write more books like this one.

This is a great book to know about should you need help with explaining evolution to a young child.

Toronto “Psychic” May Vie For JREF Award

Thursday, September 1st, 2011

The James Randi Educational Foundation might have another challenger for their reward.

While famous “psychics” have yet to accept the challenge, apparently a Toronto “psychic” named Nikki might try to add $1,000,000 to her bank account. The CBC reader comments for this story are generally what you would expect them to be. “I predict that she will fail. Do I get the million now?”

Hahahaha…didn’t see those coming! Try reading the actual rules for the challenge first.

I don’t believe in any paranormal abilities. If there was any such thing, somebody would have claimed the prize by now.

As a skeptic, this goes along with my lack of belief in any gods or other matters of religious faith. Provide me with suitable, objective evidence for a god, a miracle or whatever and I will change my mind about it.

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