Friday, May 22, 2009

Chiropractor Fires Woman for Being an Atheist

In McKinney, Texas, Amanda Donaldson worked at a Chiropractic office and had developed Stage III Breast Cancer. She missed three weeks of work in April and May to undergo a full mastectomy. Amanda's husband, Brant Donaldson, runs a blog called to raise funds for medical expenses and keep friends and family informed of Amanda's prognosis. The Donaldsons, both atheists, also expressed their religious opinions during their ordeal.

Amanda's boss, Dr. Scott Dawson learned of the website back in March, and threatened to fire her if she did not remove the atheist portions of her website. Dr. Dawson expressed concern that his patients may cast aspersions against his practice if they learned of the website. The Donaldson's complied by removing the religious portions of their blog.

Amanda considers herself a quiet atheist, never mentioning it at work, even quietly accepting others offers to pray for her and even lay hands on her to "cast the demon out." When Amanda returned to work on May 4 after her mastectomy, Dr. Dawson was very cool toward her, finally uttering, "There is no place for your thoughts, opinions and beliefs on God in my office, please give me your key and leave.” As the Donaldsons only have one vehicle, Amanda was forced to walk four miles to her home, aggravating her medical condition.

Dr. Dawson was reported as saying, "It’s a Christ-oriented office, they (meaning employees) need to be on the same page I am." He also stated, "I’m a person of faith, connected to God, and I’ll hire anyone who is qualified, but I do not want to hire anyone with a different world view.”

According to Amanda, she has contacted attorneys and her State Senator, but they all say the same thing. State Labor Law is designed to protect small businesses, and companies with less than 15 employees can not be sued for discrimination of any kind. Today she worries about her loss of income and medical benefits, and she continues to struggle, having been fired from her position for being an atheist.

Atheos Today: Texas Breast Cancer Patient Fired for being an Atheist.

Interview with Amanda Donaldson.

Interview with Dr. Scott Dawson.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Two New Chick Tracts

Chick Publications has released two new tracts espousing his peculiar brand of Christian fundamentalism.

The first, called "It's a Deal" depicts a young black youth who sells his soul to the devil in exchange for fortune and fame. Unlike the story of Faust, however, this one has a happy ending. However, the tract itself seems determined to strengthen many negative stereotype held against African-Americans.

The tract also asserts that even though someone has "died in his sins" he can be prayed back to life and yanked out of Hell, complete with a sulfur residue. I'd like to see any reports of doctors detecting sulfur after reviving a clinically dead patient.

The second tract, called Evil Eyes conveys Chick's animosity toward the Catholic Church. We see a hodge-podge of absurd elements here; namely, occult witchcraft is real and effective, people in comas are actually zombies, and that Catholics worship a dead Christ.

Thanks to Potoooooooo for the link.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Satan Unleashed; Atheists Still Skeptical

More adventures from the the Book of Revelation await, as presented by the Reverend Brandon Powell Smith of The Brick Testament. In this chapter, we see more marvels including scorpions the size of horses; soldiers riding horses with lions heads--complete with breath of fire, smoke, and sulfur; and a giant beast with seven heads, ten horns, and naughty words printed on it.

And yet people still won't repent.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Cool Award-winning Illusions

In yet another example that Seeing is Not Believing, take a look at the top three winners of the 2009 Best Visual Illusion of the Year Contest, hosted by the Philharmonic Center for the Arts in Naples, Florida.

Will a falling ball change course if you take your eyes off of it?

Does a white bird change colors if the background color changes?

Think you can tell the difference between a man and a woman just by looking at their faces?

Take a look at the illusions and see.

Marriage, Statistics, and Fallacious Arguments

Evangelical conservatives have argued that legalizing gay marriage would be wrong. In the past, they've tried to use emotional arguments such as, "The Bible condemns homosexuality," or "Gay marriage is confusing to our children." These emotional appeals are ineffective because they only carry weight for those who already subscribe to the beliefs that the emotional appeals are intended to influence. For example, if I don't believe that eating crickets is sinful, then quoting a Bible verse to me that forbids eating crickets will have little effect.

What evangelicals should be doing is using reason and argument against gay marriage, rather than appeals to authority or emotion. To use my crickets example again, if you can demonstrate that, say, people who eat crickets have an enormously higher rate of cancer than people who don't, then that is a valid argument. With regard to gay marriage, some conservatives have argued that allowing homosexuals to marry will have a detrimental effect on heterosexual marriage, and they use statistics to support their position. For example, James Dobson, former chairman of Focus on the Family, told Larry King (Nov '06):

In the Netherlands and places where they have tried to define marriage [to include gay couples], what happens is that people just don’t get married. It’s not that the homosexuals are marrying in greater numbers, it’s that when you confuse what marriage is, young people just don’t get married.

But is that the case? One problem with relying on statistics to make an argument is that statistics can easily be manipulated or skewed to demonstrate bias. In this week's e-skeptic, the e-mail newsletter of the Skeptics Society, Barret Brown examines Dobson's claim and finds that the notion that gay marriage decreases straight marriage rates is absurd.

Brown notes that Denmark allowed gay civil unions as far back as 1989. In the next decade, heterosexual marriage increased over 10 percent, and the divorce rate dropped 14 percent. Sweden and Norway also had similar results. So where did Dobson get his idea that gay unions decrease straight marriages?

Brown blames Stanley Kurtz, contributor to the Weekly Standard and the National Review, who focused on year-to-year changes in marriage and divorce rates rather than overall trends over longer periods of time. If marriage declined two percent one year, then Kurtz highlighted it, even if the marriage rate also declined in other countries where gay civil unions or marriages are not allowed. If marriage increased even more the following year in Denmark, Kurtz ignored that. Kurtz also used bad statistics to wave away the fact that Danes divorce at a lower rate than other European countries.

Kurtz seemed most upset that 60 percent of first-born children are born out of wedlock in Denmark. What he doesn't mention is that the percentage of second-born children with unmarried parents is lower, meaning that many couples are marrying after having their first child. That seems reasonable to me--I can easily sympathize with couples not wanting to commit to marriage until they are sure that they can have children together. I could even see it becoming a religious requirement that couples must provide proof of fertility before being allowed to be married.

What out-of-wedlock births has to do with gay marriage is unclear, except for the fact that Kurtz is "disturbed" by it. He cites a rise in the percentage of couples having children before marriage (a trend that has been rising for decades) and tries to correlate that with the acceptance of gay civil unions, a logical fallacy as silly as trying to blame the rise of global temperatures on the decline of pirates. As Brown concludes:

Why is Kurtz so disturbed about out-of-wedlock rates? Personally, I think it would be preferable for a couple to have a child and then get married, as is more often the case in Scandinavia, rather than for a couple to have a child and then get divorced, as is more often the case in the United States. Kurtz doesn’t seem to feel this way, though, as it isn’t convenient to feel this way at this particular time. Here are all of these couples, he tells us, having babies without first filling out the proper baby-making paperwork with the proper federal agencies. What will become of the babies? As long as we’re looking at trend lines, we may conclude that they’ll continue to outperform their American counterparts in math and science, as they’ve been doing for quite a while.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

When God Attacks

The Reverend Brandon Powell Smith has been busy working his way through the Book of Revelations, and he's created a new set of Lego dioramas depicting the fate of Earth during the Apocalypse. As Smith writes:

There's a popular notion that The Bible gives us two starkly different portrayals of God. There's the Old Testament God who often directly intervenes in human affairs to bestow favor on particular races, drown people, kill babies, command genocide, or torture people with snakes, and then there's the The New Testament God who seems remote and aloof, and whose son espouses a surprisingly loving, forgiving ethic.

But those who read The New Testament carefully know that Jesus drops more than a few hints that God has hardly lost his appetite for destruction, and is instead saving it up for one final gory feast. The Old Testament God, Yahweh, returns to form in The Bible's final book, Revelation, and in today's four new illustrated stories we begin to see what sort of plan for humanity ol' Yahweh has been scheming up during his "quiet years":

His latest series shows what happens when God unleashes his fury if bright vivid detail:

That's one-third of the earth burning up, according to Revelations 8:7, with presumably billions dying.

And to think, some people are actually looking forward to this. Not living through it, of course, but watching it happen from their safe perches up in heaven.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Why God Needs to Kill with Natural Disasters

Theodicy is a philisophical idea dealing with the Divine Problem of Evil, namely, if God is both powerful and benevolent, then why is there evil in the world? Free will is often cited as the reason for some kinds of evils such as murders and other crimes, but what about natural disasters? What about earthquakes and tsunamis and viral plagues? Those can't be brought about by human free will, and yet God allows them to happen anyway? Why can't God keep these destructive forces from occurring?

Dinesh D'Souza, former policy analyst in the Reagan White House and conservative author/speaker, has published a stunning article in Christianity Today magazine titled, "Why We Need Earthquakes." D'Souza cites the book Rare Earth (2003), written by Peter Ward and Donald Brownlee, which argues that earthquakes, volcanoes and other natural disasters are all a simple result of plate tectonics, and without these naturally occurring forces, humans would never have been able to live on the earth.
While natural disasters occasionally wreak havoc, our planet needs plate tectonics to produce the biodiversity that enables complex life to flourish on earth. Without plate tectonics, earth's land would be submerged to a depth of several thousand feet. Fish might survive in such an environment, but not humans.

Plate tectonics also help regulate the earth's climate, preventing the onset of scorching or freezing temperatures that would make mammalian life impossible. In sum, plate tectonics are a necessary prerequisite to human survival on the only planet known to sustain life.

So why couldn't God simply create a world that doesn't require plate tectonics? Easy answer, according to D'Souza:
Such a world could have produced life, but it surely could not have produced creatures like us. Science tells us that our world has all the necessary conditions for species like Homo sapiens to survive and endure.

D'Souza cites the anthropic principle, the notion that the universe was created by God for our benefit. I suppose that D'Souza would also embrace other natural evils such as deadly viruses, cancer, extinction events, and being eaten by a shark. Those have nothing to do with plate tectonics and they kill humans indiscriminately, but God must have a good reason for allowing those as well.

D'Souza's apologetics fall in line with the Catholic Church's early opposition to vaccines. The church's concern was not that a vaccine meant to eliminate one disease might cause another one like autism. No, Catholics opposed vaccinations on the grounds that if God decreed that someone should die a horrific painful death due to smallpox, then who are we to thwart God's will by vaccinating smallpox into extinction?

Likewise, I suppose that D'Souza would be opposed to the scientific study of earthquakes with an eye toward minimizing loss of human life on the same grounds. After all, we need these deadly earthquakes or else the earth wouldn't be the perfect abode for humans that it is. Perhaps that's why Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal rolled his eyes at the U.S. Government stimulus package including funding for "volcano monitoring."

This is not to suggest, as the scientist and philosopher Leibniz once argued, that ours is the best of all possible worlds. But ours may be the best of all feasible worlds, at least as viewed from a human perspective. This recognition will not stop people from bemoaning the next earthquake, but it should at least stop us from blithely assuming that the Creator could have done a much better job.

I have often found that when a religious apologist says the words, "This is not to suggest," then that is exactly what is meant to suggest. D'Souza argues that God needs deadly disasters to make this world, and without them we wouldn't be here to worship that very God that wants children crushed under tons of concrete.