Friday, December 31, 2010

Episode 05 - CB4SM - Charles Darwin - On the Origin of Species

This episode of Cold Beer for the Skeptic's Mind features English naturalist Charles Darwin and is an excerpt of his famous work, On the Origin of Species.

You can subscribe in iTunes or get the podcast directly here.

I hope you enjoy it.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Quote of the Day

Many people choose their religion with the same thought and care as when they choose their primary language.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Americans and Canadians: Not as religious as we claim?

Shankar Vedantam writing for looks at some interesting research that suggests that Americans may not be any more actively religious than other industrialized nations; they just claim to be.

The surveys have been remarkably consistent over the years.  Forty percent of Americans tell pollsters they regularly attend religious services.  Nearly 90 percent say they believe in God.  Yet perhaps half of those believers who claim to attend church actually don't.

The twist lies in how the questions are asked in polls, which I would think be obvious to those who conduct these things.  For example, when asked, "Do you attend church?" Americans will say Yes.  But when asked "Where were you on Sunday morning last week," many of them will say they were somewhere else besides church. 

So the question is, if certain people don't practice religion, why do they think of themselves as religious?  Why is their identity wrapped up in portraying themselves as faithful?  Are they worried that others will think less of them if they aren't appropriately pious?  Vendatam makes no conclusion, but does offer some valid advice:
For many Americans, church attendance is a central part of their lives. For others, it's a waste of time. If you're in either of these groups, more power to you. But in the spirit of Christmas and the truthteller whose message we celebrate, surely believers and atheists can agree on what to tell folks who talk Jesus but walk Santa: Enough with the two-faced posturing.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Saddam Hussein: Superstitious ghoul

Saddam Hussein, in a bid for piety, gave his own blood for ink to transcribe a Qur'an.  Today, Iraqi leaders don't know what to do with the macabre book.

Perhaps the United States should revisit the policy of supporting twisted superstitious tin-pot dictators.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Moon: Natural Satellite, or Artistic Orb?

Today on Conservapedia, their random entry is the Earth's Moon:

Let's take a look, shall we?

"The Moon is a natural satellite orbiting the Earth at an average distance of about 238,000 miles (380,000 km)."

Fine so far, if a bit sparse. What else?

"The Moon appears from the Earth to be the same size as the sun, in perfect artistic symmetry, unlike any known other planet-moon system....And the Moon has one more remarkable artistic attribute: it rotates and revolves in a way such that only one side is ever visible to the Earth."

I'm not sure why the Moon's apparent size when viewed from Earth is so important as to be listed in the opening paragraph. However, if something is called 'artistic' enough, one gets the impression that one is being set up to be told that there's some active agent--a grand Artist, let's say--waiting behind the curtain to be introduced, take a bow, say a few words.

Anything more we need to know about the Moon before we move on to the finer details?

"Atheists cannot explain the Origin of the Moon, despite many failed attempts."

Oh, those silly atheists. What do they know about the formation of natural satellites? Everyone knows that the Moon was just poofed into existence on Day number Four, along with the Sun, the Andromeda Galaxy, and Spitzer-Chandler Supercluster. I mean, come on!

Next we move to the section labeled "The Moon as God's Creation." What is the evidence that God created the Moon?

"The Moon is just far enough away from the Earth to appear the same size of the Sun. The odds of this occurring by chance are nearly zero."

And as we all know, if something is unlikely, then it must be of supernatural origin. That's just basic science, you know.

"Most astronomers assert that the Moon originated from a collision early in Earth's history which created an orbiting ring of debris from the iron-poor surface of the planet which eventually coalesced into the moon. This theory, however, is contrary to key observations of the Moon, such as the relatively low levels of iron in the Moon's crust."

Well, now I'm confused. If the Earth's surface was 'iron-poor' when it was smacked, wouldn't you expect the Moon's crust to be also iron-poor? Is there something else that can explain this discrepancy?

"Biblical history records the Moon being created on the fourth day of creation week, along with the Sun."

Whew. That explains it.

"While the Moon of Earth is the best-known satellite of any planet, other planets in our solar system also have moons. Earth has the least number of moons (one), while Jupiter has sixty-two."

I'll bet the members of the Mercury and the Venus fan clubs are waging letter-writing campaigns right now to get their favorite heavenly bodies restored to their rightful positions as the planets with the least number of moons, as even a Young-Earth Creationist must agree that zero is less than one.

"Earth's moon was, of course, known to the ancients, but the remaining dwarf-planet-sized moons were generally the first to be discovered in orbit around any given primary. Galileo Galilei discovered the first four of these in orbit about Jupiter early in the seventeenth century."

And Catholic priests refused to look through Galileo's telescope at the Jupiter moons because obviously they couldn't possibly exist as their very presence contradicted Biblical teachings. But that's not important right now.

What is important, is that all of this adds up to the irrefutable fact that God created the Moon out of water and transmogrified it into iron, silicon, and good old-fashioned rock, all so that humans can have pretty solar eclipses. Yay science!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Cold Beer for the Skeptic's Mind

Well, against some people's better judgment, I've started a podcast, called Cold Beer for the Skeptic's Mind. The podcast feature a short (2 to 5 minutes) positive message from famous or infamous skeptics and freethinkers throughout history. Think of it as a stimulating refreshment for your mind.

There are a variety of ways to find and/or subscribe. Here's the link for I-tunes:

Or you can throw this link into your favorite podcast catcher:

Or you can access the website hosting the podcast directly and download the mp3s manually:

I hope you enjoy them.

You win some; you lose some

The United States Senate voted allowing the president and the U.S. Military to lift the bigoted, "Don't Ask Don't Tell" policy, in place for seventeen long years, so that gays and lesbians which have been serving in the military since the founding of our country don't have to hide who they are anymore. 

On the other hand, the Senate blocked a vote on the DREAM act, which lets kids who have lived in the U.S. all or most of their lives, and who presumably value living here, become legally recognized as citizens provided they graduate from college and/or serve in the military.

In other words, according to the Senate, we'll begrudgingly let you serve your country--putting your lives on the line to defend the very freedoms we Senators enjoy--if you must insist on claiming that you're gay.  But if you have brown skin and were brought to this country against your will, either as a child or inside your parent's genetalia, and even if you want to serve your country or better yourself with education (which would presumably make America a stronger, more competitive nation) then it would be better if you were deported somewhere and dumped in a country where you may not know the language, customs, or a single other person, presumably so that you can either live in poverty or stoke a hatred of the United States that comes out in violence against us.  After all, if we didn't manufacture enemies, what would we do with our half-trillion dollar annual military budget?

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Animals know right from wrong, don't form cults

This is an older link, pointed out to me by Tracie Harris of the Atheist Experience, but it's a keeper.

A book called Wild Justice, written by Colorado University professors Mark Bekoff and Jessica Pierce, document the ways in which animals make moral decisions and determine right from wrong:
"There are cases of dolphins helping humans to escape from sharks and elephants that have helped antelope escape from enclosures.

"While it is difficult to know for certain that there is cross species empathy, it is hard to argue against it."

And yet, there are those who argue that only God can teach humans right from wrong, and that God has only revealed himself to humans.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Dear Charles Lewis: you just *think* you don't care

Charles Lewis, religion writer for the National Post writes an absurd attack piece against atheists, showing that despite the title "Dear atheists: most of us don't care what you think," Mr. Lewis does indeed feel threatened by them.  His message of "Sit down and shut up!" is not because atheists are taking up too much precious time of the national dialogue talking about trivia, but because atheists are finding a voice, and others are beginning to listen. 

He calls Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens "dreary," and that debating with atheists is a waste of time.  Why?  "Most atheists do not have a clue what religion is about."  Of course this is an outright lie, given that many atheists once were raised in religious households, and surveys show that atheists know more about religion than Protestants and Catholics.

Next he trots out North Korea as the quintessential atheistic society, while conveniently ignoring the Scandinavian countries like Denmark and Norway, countries that are largely peopled with atheists and are models of societal health.  Mr. Lewis, here's a simple quiz for you:

* Atheism plus Totalitarianism makes for an unhealthy society (North Korea, Stalin's Russia, etc.)
* Religion plus Totalitarianism makes for an unhealthy society (Nazi Germany, Saudi Arabia, etc.)

Can you spot what those two items have in common?

Lewis continues the strawman attacks: "Atheists are under the ridiculous illusion that religious people think that all they have to do is call out to God and help will be on the way."

Right, because religious people never pray when action would be more useful.  Parents never watch their children die because they chose to pray over a treatable illness rather than seek medical attention.  Jesus never said that whatever you ask for in prayer, just believe that you'll receive it, and it will be yours (Mark 11:24).

Lewis likes the monk Thomas Merton, quoting him twice:
Thomas Merton also said: “Love seeks one thing only: the good of the one loved. It leaves all the other secondary effects to take care of themselves. Love, therefore, is its own reward.”

He could have said the same thing about faith.

And he could have said the same thing about fetishism, mindless devotion, and superstition.  But why let facts get in the way of a baseless attack against atheists, backed with no supporting evidence?

Science, in conjunction with superstition, works.

Another entry for "What's the harm?" with depressing familiarity.  Child gets sick, parents pray for child instead of seeking professional treatment, child dies.  In this case, the parents were charged with involuntary manslaughter, the same charge as if they had chosen to pray their child out of the street before it gets mowed down by a truck.

The newspaper report also throws up a poll, and the choices are telling:

Do you believe in the power of prayer to heal?
* Yes
* Yes, but in conjunction with medicine
* No
* Don't know

"Yes, but in conjunction with medicine."  Standard cop-out for those who want to cover all their bases, which curiously shows a lack of faith.  "Yes prayer works, BUT, you also have to employ professionals because God's not *quite* powerful enough to heal on his own without a lot of human help." 

In other news, prayer plus aspirin cures headaches.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Dawkins on Hitchens: "My Hero of 2010"

Richard Dawkins takes time to praise Christopher Hitchens:

A lesser man would have seized the excuse of a mortal illness to duck responsibility and take it easy. Not this soldier. He will not go gentle into that good night; but instead of a futile raging against the dying of the light he rages, with redoubled energy (and concentrated power in his vibrant, Richard Burton tones) against the same obscurantist, vicious or just plain silly targets as have long engaged him. But he never rants. His is a controlled, disciplined rage, and don't get on the wrong side of it.