Monday, October 29, 2012

GUESS WHO? posted an amusing/terrifying quiz recently about Christian conservatives and Islamic fundamentalists. I only scored 3/9...

Sunday, October 28, 2012


Time for another post of atheist comedy. In the same vein as some of the lighter videos from The Thinking Atheist, with a hint of Mr Deity and Edward Current, I give you "DarkMatter2525".

(Warning: pretty much all of the videos below have moderate to strong language--enjoy responsibly)

The Great Flood:

Double Standard:

God's Priorities:

God's Moral Framework:

The Most Wrong Anyone Ever Was:

The Credibility of Faith (not really funny, but still good):

God of Paradox:

The Thing that God Can't Do:

God Vlog:

Islam and the Big Bong Theory:

The Book of Job (one of my favorites):

Thursday, October 25, 2012


"What is the alternative to religion as we know it? As it turns out, this is the wrong question to ask. Chemistry was not an "alternative" to alchemy; it was a wholesale exchange of ignorance at its most rococo for genuine knowledge. We will find that, as with alchemy, to speak of "alternatives" to religious faith is to miss the point."
--Sam Harris, "The End of Faith"

Of all the proposed concepts of Hell, Mormonism's take seems to be the most wishy-washy. There will be no fire or brimstone, or even any temporary torture, let alone the eternal variety. In fact the only real punishment in "Mormon Hell" is that you won't be able to have sex for eternity (or as they put it, "continuing to make families in the hereafter"), as good and faithful Mormons are promised.

Mormonism attacks many key aspects of traditional Christianity, which is why many Catholics and Protestant Christians don't consider Mormons real Christians. Take, for instance, the idea of original sin, which is arguably the most immoral aspect of Christianity. Think of it in terms of "group punishment" (punishing a group of people for the actions of a single person) to see what I mean.

Early Mormons realized the immoral nature of setting the sins of the fathers squarely upon the shoulders of the sons, and tried to come up with a way to get rid of that bit of doctrine without removing the need for Christ's Crucifixion altogether. The result is what they call "The Fall of Mankind" or "The Fall of Adam".

This is really just a rewording of the old problem, as it still entails a departure from the grace of god due to Adam's actions, which affects all generations after Adam and Eve's big faux pas with that pesky tree of knowledge of good and evil (I still haven't heard a good explanation for how Adam and Eve could be held accountable for partaking of the tree of knowledge of good and evil without possessing the ability to discern between good and evil in the first place...).

After Mormons did away with original sin (while ultimately not doing anything about it) they were then able to address the Christian doctrine of newborn babies being sent to Hell for not being baptized before death. The Book of Mormon addresses this:

Moroni 8:8 "...wherefore, little children are whole, for they are not capable of committing sin; wherefore the curse of Adam is taken from them in me, that it hath no power over them."

11 "And their little children need no repentance, neither baptism. Behold, baptism is unto repentance to the fulfilling the commandments unto the remission of sins."

12 "But little children are alive in Christ, even from the foundation of the world; if not so, God is a partial God, and also a changeable God, and a respecter to persons; for how many little children have died without baptism!" [emphasis added]

(As an aside, if Pro-Lifers think the soul enters the body at conception, thereby making zygotes human and eligible for original sin, shouldn't they be performing pre-birth baptisms, lest an un-born embryo be sent to Hell for miscarrying?)

But this does not adequately address the idea that any adult who dies without even hearing the name "Jesus Christ" will similarly be sent to Hell. So, Mormons have addressed this by creating "Spirit Prison" for souls of those who die without an opportunity to accept Mormonism, to do so with the aide of post-mortem missionaries. Seemingly, every problematic Christian doctrine has an easy solution in Mormonism, which is why I sometimes call Mormonism "Christianity 2.0".

The reason I bring up these topics and show how Mormonism has addressed problematic doctrines of Christianity is not to show the superiority of Mormonism, but rather to illustrate how more modern religions address problems in older religions.

Religions evolve (presumably out of survival). Catholics no longer believe in limbo, a literal reading of the creation myth in Genesis, or that the whole Jewish race is personally responsible for the Crucifixion of Christ. Similarly, Mormons no longer believe you have to be a polygamist to enter into heaven, or that blacks are cursed for Cain's transgression, or that if Native Americans repent and become Mormon they will become "white and delightsome" again. And no one believes in Apollo.

If such changes in religion are inevitable, as I think they are on the whole, when will we see Mormons welcome gay members into their temples and leadership, just as they did blacks in the Church in 1978? When will women be counted as equal to men, rather than having "separate roles" in the church. When will the Church's humanitarian efforts out-weigh the building of new temples, chapels and conference halls both financially and in man-hours?

I look forward to Christianity 3.0. Perhaps then we can shake more of this superstitious baggage and mental gymnastics in order to square religious beliefs with common sense, and instead focus on actually helping people.


Here is Mr Deity explaining the racism inherent within Mormonism:


Tuesday, October 23, 2012


Priest: "What did you hear? What did you see that convinced you so thoroughly?"
Nun: "What does it matter?"
Priest: "It matters! 'What does it matter?!?' I want to know!"
--Excerpt from the film "Doubt"

Last week, my youngest brother left for the Brazilian Missionary Training Center to begin his two-year mission for the Mormon Church. I expect that some atheists would say he shouldn't go, or that it will be a waste of time (and money). I say, go and take lots of notes.

One of the best ways to learn how the Mormon Church manipulates people into believing their shtick is to be trained in how they do it and to practice it for two years. Now, whether or not a missionary realizes that they are manipulating people is an open question. But my brother is pretty bright, so I expect to have some engaging conversations with him when he gets back.

Like me, he favors rationality over superstition. Also like me, he tries really hard to find rational, even scientific reasons to believe in Mormonism. Perhaps in the future he will apply his rationality to his belief system and realize that Mormonism is not as rational as it purports to be. In other words, I look forward to him graduating from a part-time skeptic to just a skeptic.

One of the ways in which the Mormon Church attempts empiricism while subtly manipulating people into belief is their "test" of the Book of Mormon, or as missionaries call it, "Moroni's Promise".

Missionaries are trained to create an expectation in the minds of those interested in the Church that they will receive a "burning in the bosom" if they pray to god and ask if the Book of Mormon is true. This is often presented as a test or experiment. The problem, though, is that it is a test which can only be verified and not falsified. So, no matter how scientific the test is presented, the fact that it cannot be falsified makes it non-scientific.

In fact, if a person attempts this test and does not receive a "burning in the bosom" as promised, missionaries will tell them to keep trying, they will not receive an answer until they have a desire to believe, and it will happen in god's timing. In other words, "keep trying indefinitely until you agree with us".

I have seen missionaries set up the expectation to receive an answer from god, and ask the people how they feel about the Church and the Book of Mormon; if the people say they feel good about it, the missionaries will tell them--in no uncertain terms--that this feeling is god telling them that the Mormon Church and the Book of Mormon are true. This is disingenuous and manipulative.

These innocent inquisitive people only believe because the missionaries validated their feelings as a sign from god. But they have no reason to believe it was a sign from god other than the missionaries' say-so. They are merely taking their word for it, yet the missionaries will tell them this was a personal spiritual experience which conclusively proves the validity of the Church. To me, this appears to be nothing more than believing something because it makes you comfortable.

To see through this manipulative farce, one needs only to look at similar spiritual experiences through validated feelings in Evangelical Christian congregations. How else can you explain speaking in (indecipherable) tongues, if not through the Holy Spirit?

With such shoddy conversion tools, is it any wonder that the retention rate for new converts into the Mormon Church is so abysmal?

In semi-related news, the Friendly Atheist wrote an article on the rise of non-religious people in the US and how this will affect the upcoming presidential election.


Here is the Atheist Experience talking about the validity of personal experiences:

And one with an ex-Mormon:

Thursday, October 18, 2012


Yet another great clip from Mr. Deity. This time he tackles the controversial clip from Bill Nye the Science Guy denouncing creationism as inappropriate for children. Enjoy!


Recently, I started working at a hospital of sorts. One of the rules for staff is to not discuss religious topics with patients. A good and understandable rule, if you ask me. But since this is Utah, religion inevitably comes up. My response to inquiries about my stance on religion is usually "no comment". This may come as a surprise to readers of this blog, but I am very careful about who I tell about my atheism. This is doubly so with my patients.

I am not worried about being alienated or discriminated against at work. Mostly, I want to avoid any abuse of power on my part with my patients. You see, because of the nature of the facility where I work, and my relationship with my patients, if I were to lay out my arguments against god and religion to one of my patients, they would likely swallow it whole simply because they trust me. And I have a big fat ethical problem with that.

Today, one of my patients and I were discussing evolution, which is sort of a pet topic of mine. This patient had recently read a book called "Darwin's Black Box" which, according to her, was written by Darwin himself and refuted evolution. I thought it strange that Darwin would write a book refuting his own theory and decided to look up this intriguing book after work.

It turns out that my patient was only partially correct. The book does, in fact, offer a refutation to evolution, however, it was not written by Darwin, but by biochemist Michael Behe (1996). As soon as I saw the name, I new exactly why this patient was so confused by evolution.

About a month ago I wrote this post about, among other things, the Kitzmiller v Dover trial. As I noted in that post, the trial was about teaching Intelligent Design (ID) in Public Schools as an alternative theory to Evolution. One of the main points given by those in favor of Intelligent Design was that of Irreducibly Complex biological systems (IC). Well, Michael Behe was the "expert scientist" advocating ID through Irreducible Complexity--hence the red flags going up when I saw his name on the book.

The problem with Behe's argument is that it is not scientifically justified. This also happens to be the same reason Behe wrote a book about Irreducible Complexity rather than, say, an article in a peer-reviewed scientific journal...

Irreducible Complexity relies wholly on an argument from ignorance. Actually, make that two arguments from ignorance. Behe claims that because he doesn't know how a particular biological process can occur naturally, it must, therefore, be Irreducibly Complex (fallacy 1). And if something is Irreducibly Complex, it must, therefore, be Intelligently Designed (fallacy 2).

At no point in Behe's book or in the Kitzmiller v Dover trial did he use any scientific support for ID or IC. He just throws his hands in the air and says "god did it". I'm sorry, but that's not how science works. Behe must know this, being a biochemist, which makes him dishonest.

In fact, during the trial, other biologists confronted Behe's claim that there is no scientific research to show how these various processes can occur naturally and must be irreducibly complex, by stacking piles of peer-reviewed scientific literature showing how every single example offered by Behe of IC was false. And when asked if he had read any of the literature overflowing his witness stand, he said, "no".

Here is a dramatization from NOVA of the event at the trial:

As I pointed out before, Behe's argument is ultimately an argument from ignorance. In this context it means that even if he were to adequately show that a biological system was completely and totally irreducibly complex he would still need to offer support for the claim that "god did it" rather than just inserting it into this particular gap of scientific ignorance.

Injecting religion into science in a such an underhanded way makes Michael Behe, by my estimation at least, among the most dishonest scientists I have come across. There is a reason virtually every other biologist and biochemist of any report or merit stands on the side of evolution--because that's where the science leads.


Here is the rest of the above video on the trial:

Thursday, October 11, 2012


I haven't talked much about women's rights on this blog. I suppose this is because such issues only indirectly affect me and so I don't think about them as often as I should. But today is the international "Day of the Girl", and so I will post a report from MSNBC about a brave Pakistani girl, Malala Yousafzai, who was recently shot in the head for trying to go to school:

My only criticism of the report is calling this attempted homicide on a young ambitious girl "extremist". This is not extremist, but merely strict adherence to the tenets laid out in the Koran. As the reporter states, Christians no longer take seriously such passages in the Bible. But we should not forget the time in which they did!

Were the ancient Jews "extremist" when they followed the Law of Moses to a "T"? "Extremism" has an implication of taking things out of context or beyond their intended purpose.

What part of "stone your unruly children" is unclear? Or if your wife tries to lead you to another god you should kill her. Or if a man rapes a virgin girl, he should pay her father the damages and then marry the girl (you break it, you buy it). "If your neighbor works on the sabbath, you should kill him", is not in any way open to "interpretation". As homophobic as Rick Santorum surely is, he has never called for the death penalty for homosexuals.

Just as the Bible passages I listed above are cut and dry in their meaning, so are passages in the Koran which say Muslims should kill all those who criticize Islam, and they should kill the infidel.

To call Sharia Law extremist and then call the god of the Bible omnibenevolent is hypocritical, considering the parallels of death penalties and the subjugation of women between the Law of Moses and Sharia Law. Despite this, I welcome open criticism of Islam, even if it comes from hypocrites.

Hopefully, as Christians criticize Islam for their "extremist" tendencies, they will see their own hypocrisy and dark history and start the process of analyzing their own belief system more critically. Maybe then stories about little girls being shot in the head because they wanted to go to school will become a thing of the past. 

Wednesday, October 10, 2012


Last summer I stumbled upon the following videos on Netflix (of all places) and I have been meaning to post them for quite a while. The videos, aptly called "The Atheism Tapes", are extended conversations between seasoned British actor Jonathan Miller (host) with various scientists, philosophers and even a British theologian from a BBC program on atheism (the introduction explains this more). Enjoy.

British Philosopher Colin McGinn:

American Physicist and Nobel Laureate Steven Weinberg

American Philosopher Daniel Dennett:

American Playwright Arthur Miller (Death of a Salesman, The Crucible):

British Evolutionary Biologist Richard Dawkins:

British Theologian Denys Turner

Sunday, October 7, 2012


"Surrendered people obey God's word, even if it doesn't make sense"
--Pastor Rick Warren

In my youth I was very skeptical of other religious belief systems. I viewed Pentecostals through the lens of Mormonism and saw their "miracles" as fraudulent parlor tricks used to "ooo and awe" full auditoriums. Very rarely (if ever) did I confront those who I perceived as victims of charlatans, and instead carried myself in smug satisfaction and self-righteous demeanour as one with "the truth". Although, ironically, I was not self-aware enough to apply this same scrutiny to my own ridiculous and unfounded beliefs.

As I have become more familiar with the "New Atheist" movement, I have found that many other people were in the same boat as I. It is quite easy to play the part of the part-time skeptic. But this leaves room for cognitive dissonance and logical inconsistencies, which for a true skeptic would make holding any unjustified belief a near impossibility. So, as I grew as a skeptic and began applying my skepticism to my own belief system, I had no choice (in a manner of speaking) but to give up such beliefs.

In another post I referred to the case of Andrea Yates, who sacrificed her own eternal salvation so that her 5 children (all below the age of reason) would not have the opportunity to sin, thereby damning themselves to eternal hellfire. According to the implications of Christianity, this is one of the greatest sacrifices a mother can make for her children (imagine the implications this could have on abortion...), as she explains:

"It was the seventh deadly sin. My children weren't righteous. They stumbled because I was evil. The way I was raising them, they could never be saved. They were doomed to perish in the fires of hell."

In her mind, drowning her children one by one in a bathtub was the only way to save them from "the fires of hell." According to Christian theology, Yates was successful. Yet, despite having a predominately Christian jury at her trial, she was found not guilty by reason of insanity, and sent to a high security mental hospital rather than being paraded as a theological hero.

I hope I am not alone in seeing the irony of the jury finding Andrea Yates insane for acting on her religious beliefs, and then themselves going to mass on Sunday to eat the literal body and blood of Christ, or speak in tongues to the beat of gospel music. Clearly the jury is applying skepticism to Yates's beliefs. But how about their own?

It is easy for mainstream Christians to dismiss the fringe belief of Christian Scientists that diseases and other physical ailments are actually spiritual in nature and do not require medical aid. In fact, the denial of medical care is a way for Christian Scientists to flex their faith muscles.

Mainstream Christians may equally dismiss Jehovah's Witnesses when they say they can't have a life-saving blood transfusion because the blood is where the soul resides and should not be shared with another person.

Would denying medical attention to a child for these reasons be on par with the murder of Andrea Yates's 5 young boys?

How are these things any different than believing pornography destroys the soul as viciously as it does families. Or that curse words have enough power scare off the Holy Ghost and thus warrant avoiding their use, lest you be tempted by the Devil?  How about burning witches and heretics. Or believing that if you die defending your faith you will be on the fast track to heaven. How about killing the infidel in the name of Allah?

Tell me, how exactly does the sacrifice of a god satisfy the proposed demands of sin?

As Richard Dawkins has said, "Half an eye is better than no eye at all"; so then is selective skepticism better than absolute gullibility. Progress is gradual and sometimes generational. Creating an entire population instilled with good skeptical practices and a refusal to just believe things on faith may take a while. But I am hopeful.

For the record, I still think Pentecostals are nuts, but I'm a lot less smug about it. As Mr. T says (repeatedly), "I pity the Fool."


Here is Micheal Shermer (Editor in Chief of "Skeptic Magazine") on "Why people believe weird things":

Also, Andrea Yates wants to get court approval to go to church while incarcerated. And some opportunistic lawyers say it will be "therapeutic"...

Monday, October 1, 2012


Take a good long look at the women in these successive mugshots.

Clearly these women are deteriorating physically, and presumably, in social and emotional ways, as well. Care to venture a guess as to the cause of such drastic negative changes in these women? The "source" of this photo says that these women are prostitutes and are victims of exploitation. Fair enough. But they fail to mention that the physical changes in these women's appearance is most likely caused by drugs as you can see in the following photo of a meth addict (I say "most likely caused by drugs" because I, like the people posting the above photo on facebook, don't know the specific history of these women and cannot make a definitive statement):

But such an oversight could be forgiven if it were not for the preceding statement linking the victimization of such women with the use of pornography:

"Pornography increases the demand for trafficked women and children.
"Look at these mugshots - look what the sex industry does to these women. No one deserves this. Help take a STAND FOR AND WITH these victims of exploitation." [emphasis added]

As you can imagine, the sheeple did not disappoint in condemning pornography based on the implied indirect effect it has had on these women. But amid the drivel of conforming busybodies, one commenter pointed out the GLARING FLAW in the poster's argument:

"where exactly did you find the data on the correlation between porn and human trafficking?"

I'll tell you where they got it. From the nether-most region of their own nether regions (read: "anus"). They made it up. Such misguided people always make it up. There is no correlation between viewing pornography and victimizing women in this way. None. In fact, I wrote a post some time ago in which I used BYU's own research department to put such fallacious arguments to rest. Not only is the claim not true, but the research shows the opposite to be true. Men who view pornography tend to have a more favorable view of women's rights in general.

So why do these well-intentioned people feed such bad information? To them, the ends justify the means. They sincerely believe pornography is dangerous and harmful. Therefore, cherry-picking data, embellishing results and making bald assertions are just tools in the cause of a greater purpose. What they are really doing is sensationalizing information to the point where it can only be classified as propaganda.

There may well be legitimate arguments against pornography, but the link between pornography and sex trafficking is not one of them.

Would you like to hear such an argument? Fine. Here is a website (adult content, be advised) which uses actual research on pornography to show how some who view it can have an unrealistic approach to sex for the first time. This is a real argument against certain aspects of the porn industry, but the researchers acknowledge that this does not mean that pornography is all bad and should, therefore, be banned.

This is like saying the NBA creates unrealistic expectations for young men before they actually play basketball for the first time. No one dunks the ball the first time they walk onto a court. This is not an argument to ban professional basketball, but a call for better and more accessible information to first-timers (OK, this analogy is losing its hold). The point is, thus far, all legitimate and demonstrable arguments against pornography can be remedied with better approaches to sex education. And the first step is removing "abstinence only" sex education programs from our education system.

Perhaps the greatest problem of propagating this kind of bad information is that it detracts from the actual cause of the problems of the women above. There is no doubt they need medical attention. But if we cannot accurately identify the source of the problem, how can we expect to help them? Accepting a wrong answer (even if it supports your totally awesome moral agenda) only impedes progress.