Thursday, February 28, 2013


New episode of Mr Deity:


"99% of everything done in this world--good or bad--is done to pay a mortgage. So, perhaps the world would be a better place if everyone rented."
--excerpt from "Thank You For Smoking"

One of the primary aspects of the Mormon temple ceremony revolves around a dramatic (or cinematic) telling of the creation story according to both the account in Genesis and in the Book of Moses (a "revelation" from Joseph Smith and now part of Mormon scripture). By and large the Mormon view of creation is similar to mainstream Christianity with some added revelations (read: assertions), such as Adam and Eve were given some form of Mormonism around the time of their eating of the forbidden fruit.

The apparent fuzziness of this proposed historical timeline is matched by many current Mormon teachings surrounding creation. Mormon Think has a great article which explores many of these teachings which seem to conflict with what science shows us. More specifically, I want to touch on two points made in the Mormon version of creationism: no death before the Fall of Adam, and the age of the earth.

The first topic, no death before the Fall of Adam, is taught very subtly in the church, to the point where many people who have spent years attending services are not quite sure if it is official Church doctrine. I wasn't even sure, so I looked it up. Here is what the Bible Dictionary (a study guide included with Mormon scriptures) has to say about death and the Fall of Adam:

"Fall of Adam. The process by which mankind became mortal on this earth. The event is recorded in Gen. 2, 3, 4; and Moses 3, 4. The fall of Adam is one of the most important occurrences in the history of man. Before the fall, Adam and Eve had physical bodies but no blood. There were no sin, no death, and no children among any of the earthly creations. With the eating of the “forbidden fruit,” Adam and Eve became mortal, sin entered, blood formed in their bodies, and death became a part of life. Adam became the “first flesh” upon the earth (Moses 3:7), meaning that he and Eve were the first to become mortal. After Adam fell, the whole creation fell and became mortal. Adam’s fall brought both physical and spiritual death into the world upon all mankind (Hel. 14:16–17).
"The fall was no surprise to the Lord. It was a necessary step in the progress of man, and provisions for a Savior had been made even before the fall had occurred. Jesus Christ came to atone for the fall of Adam and also for man’s individual sins.
"Latter-day revelation supports the biblical account of the fall, showing that it was a historical event that literally occurred in the history of man. Many points in latter-day revelation are also clarified that are not discernible from the Bible. Among other things it makes clear that the fall is a blessing, and that Adam and Eve should be honored in their station as the first parents of the earth. Significant references are 2 Ne. 2:15–26; 9:6–21; Mosiah 3:11–16; Alma 22:12–14; 42:2–15; D&C 29:34–44; Moses 5:9–13. See also Flesh."

Did you catch the part about "no death" in the first paragraph. Ya, that's pretty incontrovertible proof that the Church still teaches that there was no death before Adam and Eve (whose very existence is equally tenuous and unsupported).

Now, I could pull out lots of evidence of fossils of dinosaurs and various extinct plants, etc., but instead I will point to a lesser known bit evidence against this religious claim which you likely use every day: oil. You see, scientists know how oil is made. It is takes millions of years for DEAD organic materials to turn into oil. This stands in direct conflict with the Mormon claim that there was no death before Adam and Eve. If this were true, then there should be no oil.

Mormons have addressed this issue in various ways. Some outright dismiss science. Some concoct a half-baked reconciliation that the plants and animals in fossils and petroleum and coal were from another incarnation of this world. I have actually heard people teach over the pulpit and during religion classes that the earth was constructed with parts from other earths containing dinosaur fossils or that dinosaur fossils came from asteroids... Really? This is on par with the now outdated (but still believed by some) notion that the Lost Tribes of Israel live in the center of the Earth (or the North Pole). No kidding.

For over 100 years the Mormon Church taught very plainly that the Earth is only about 6000 years old. With the rise of geology, cosmology, anthropology, and evolution, we now know that the Earth is much much older than that (about 4.5 billion years old). Now the Church has changed its tune:

"While it is interesting to note these various theories, officially the Church has not taken a stand on the age of the earth. For reasons best known to Himself, the Lord has not yet seen fit to formally reveal the details of the Creation. Therefore, while Latter-day Saints are commanded to learn truth from many different fields of study (see D&C 88:77–79 ), an attempt to establish any theory as the official position of the Church is not justifiable."

That's quite the dodge there. They don't officially accept or reject either position. The most interesting thing about this statement that "the Church has not taken a stand on the age of the earth" is that its own scriptures reveal that, in fact, it has. In Doctrine and Covenants 77:6-7 Joseph Smith clearly states that the earth is only about 6000 years old:

"Q. What are we to understand by the book which John saw, which was sealed on the back with seven seals?
"A. We are to understand that it contains the revealed will, mysteries, and the works of God; the hidden things of his economy concerning this earth during the seven thousand years of its continuance, or its temporal existence.

"Q. What are we to understand by the seven seals with which it was sealed?
"A. We are to understand that the first seal contains the things of the first thousand years, and the second also of the second thousand years, and so on until the seventh." [emphasis added]

Not only do these verses indicate that the earth is only 6000 years old, but that the final judgement and end of the world will occur in about 1000 years from now. This is similar to the mainstream Christian notion of dispensationalism. But, of course, this final count down to extinction will not start until the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, after which Christ will rule as King of Earth for the last 1000 years.

And what is their evidence of all this? An unsubstantiated belief that Joseph Smith wasn't lying about a book with no supportable historical, archaeological or genetic evidence. So is it any wonder, then, that the claim that the earth is only 6000 years old is just as contradictory to scientific evidence? Again, Mormon Think offers a great rebuttal and resource concerning this Mormon claim:

Summary of [Sequence] Age Dating Correlations Covered:

".there are a number of different ways that annual sequences can be counted, ones that do not rely on radioactivity or rocket science to understand:
  • Bristlecone Pines: The minimum age of the earth is 8,000 years by annual tree rings in California.
  • European Oaks: The minimum age of the earth is 10,434 years by annual tree rings in Europe (different environment, different genus, not just different species and from two different locations).
  • German Pine: The minimum age of the earth is 12,405 years by adding more annual tree rings in Europe (different environment and species), confirmed by carbon-14 levels in the samples (different information from the same sources).
  • Lake Suigetsu: The minimum age of the earth is 35,987 years by annual varve layers of diatoms in Japan (different process, biology and location).
  • Dunde Ice Core: The minimum age of the earth is 40,000 years by annual layers of ice in China (different process altogether).
  • Greenland Ice Cores: The minimum age of the earth is 37,957 years by visually counting layers, 60,000 years by counting dust layers, 110,000 years by measuring electrical conductivity of layers, and up to 250,000 years by counting of layers below a discontinuity, all counting annual layers of ice in Greenland (different location).
  • Antarctica Ice Cores: The minimum age of the earth is 422,776 years by annual layers of ice in the Vostok Ice Core, extended to 740,000 years with the EPICA Ice Core with an estimated final depth age of 900,000 years. (different location again).
  • Devil's Hole: The radiometric age of the earth is validated to 567,700 years by annual deposition of calcite in Nevada and correlation to the annual ice core climate data.
  • Coral Heads: The minimum radiometric age of the earth is of coral is >400,000,000 years by radiometric age correlated with the astrono-physics predicted length of the day correlated with the daily growth rings in ancient coral heads. (different location, different environment, different methods).
  • Radiometric Correlations: the radiometric dates for a number of specific events show a consistent accuracy to the methods used, and an age for the earth of ~4,500,000,000 years old.
  • Final Summary: the bottom line is that the valid scientific age for the earth is ~4,500,000,000 years old."

In the end, Mormons fight science more than they like to admit. Many Mormons have college degrees (at least in the U.S.), and those in the scientific fields try desperately to find reconciliation between their deeply held beliefs and what actual evidence and science point to. According to the chart on the left from the Pew Forum, Mormons are less likely to accept evolution than even Evangelical Christians who are notoriously anti-evolution.

I will end with the following quote from former Mormon prophet Joseph Fielding Smith (grandson of Joseph Smith's brother, Hyrum Smith) concerning the obvious conflict between Mormon creationism and science:

"Of course, I think those people who hold to the view that man has come up through all these ages from the scum of the sea through billions of years do not believe in Adam. Honestly I do not know how they can, and I am going to show you that they do not. There are some who attempt to do it but they are inconsistent - absolutely inconsistent, because that doctrine is so incompatible, so utterly out of harmony, with the revelations of the Lord that a man just cannot believe in both.

"... I say most emphatically, you cannot believe in this theory [of evolution] of the origin of man, and at the same time accept the plan of salvation as set forth by the Lord our God. You must choose the one and reject the other, for they are in direct conflict and there is a gulf separating them which is so great that it cannot be bridged, no matter how much one may try to do so....

"... Then Adam, and by that I mean the first man, was not capable of sin. He could not transgress, and by doing so bring death into the world; for, according to this theory [of evolution], death had always been in the world. If, therefore, there was no fall, there was no need of an atonement, hence the coming into the world of the Son of God as the Savior of the world is a contradiction, a thing impossible. Are you prepared to believe such a thing as that?" (Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, section "Evolution and Religion Cannot be Harmonized", 1:141-142}

Tuesday, February 26, 2013


A few weeks ago I came across an ongoing series of videos in which "real actors" read posts made on Christian Internet forums (the same people who made "Real Actors Read Yelp"). The videos reminded me of a website which posts funny and outrageous things said by fundamentalist Christians called "Fundies Say the Darndest Things". Anyway, I was going to post the videos then, but I forgot about them until today. Enjoy!



#3 (My favorite)




This is one of my favorite clips from the series "Real Actors Read Yelp" (this guy kills me every time):

Friday, February 22, 2013


Micheal: "I'm not gonna turn this 'mock trial' into some kind of...."
Gob: "You were going to say 'mockery', weren't you?"
Micheal: "I was in trouble like three words into that."
--excerpt from "Arrested Development"

Between the time that I stopped going to church and when I acknowledged my atheism, I went to great lengths just to avoid religion in general. Living so close to BYU meant that I became somewhat of a hermit. Practically everyone around me boasted such confidence in their faith that to profess doubt would be social suicide on par with admitting sympathies for Communism or eating babies (or disliking Disney movies). So I didn't go out much during that time.

One of the primary things which caused me to embrace my doubts concerning religion was my fascination with the debate between Evolution and Creationism. As I did more research I found the Creationism side to be so vacuous and full of holes that it gave me the push to research more religious topics, which eventually allowed me to admit my atheism. To give you some idea of what I'm talking about, I present to you a "documentary" with about as much scientific clout as "Best in Show", and was especially helpful for me in this regard: "Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed".

The film was created by Ben Stein, whose views on religion and science are about as monotone as his signature voice ("Bueller...Bueller...Bueller"). Mr Stein, an economist by profession, really shows his scientific ignorance as he paints the picture that the scientific community is prejudiced against anyone who questions "Darwinism" (a nonsensical word in and of itself), and more to the point, that those who push for teaching Intelligent Design are shunned and kicked out of academia unjustly.

Where Mr Stein really loses me is his comparison of evolution and population eugenics. The first is an explanation of change over time and the second is the process of manually eliminating undesirable genetic traits through genocide. Through this false analogy, he insinuates that Hitler was compelled to commit the holocaust because of evolution, and that such horrific acts will always be the inevitable logical end of "Darwinism". This is no different than the fallacious argument that all forms of atheism invariably lead to Nihilism.

Well, there are so many things just completely bass-ackwards with Stein's "theories" that I don't think I could do it justice (or in the space provided). So, instead I will link a series of videos which pretty thoroughly debunk everything Stein either says or implies.

But first the film itself:

Now, a scientist's critique of the movie:

Here is a more in depth review (some language), part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3:

One more review (more language), part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3:

Part 4:

Part 5:


Here is Dr. Ken Miller (a practicing catholic, by the way) completely discrediting Intelligent Design as a scientific theory in front of a religious audience:

And finally, Ben Stein (Jewish) on the Christian Broadcast Network pimping his movie while bashing capitalistic greed:

Sunday, February 17, 2013


I was going to write a serious post about something or other, but I'm tired and blah blah blah. Anyway, here is a recent bit from Saturday Night Live about a new Quentin Tarentino movie:

Wednesday, February 13, 2013


"The Bible. That is what fools have written, what imbeciles command, what rogues teach, and young children are made to learn by heart."

The past few weeks have been rather busy for me. Work has been a big part of it, but also I have had certain musical opportunities come up. One group of which I have been a part for a few years now had a sort of reunion show recently where I got to see some people I haven't seen in quite a while. One of these people was quite shocked to find that I had left the Mormon Church, since we were in the same ward (congregation) while attending BYU.

In fact, this person was the reason I joined this particular group in the first place, and when I first started practicing with them he told me how great it was for him to have another active Mormon in the group. Since this was between the time I had stopped attending church services but had yet to acknowledge my atheism fully, I played along with his expectation. It really was no skin off my nose despite having to bite my lip on a few occasions. If he needed that kind of support system I was happy to oblige. This was my mind set at the time.

A lot has changed from that time to now. Most notably with regards to my relationship with this person my atheism has taken a more prominent role in my life and I have refined my positions on a great many subjects. So, when he and I discussed my leaving the Church we covered quite a bit of ground, most of which I would not post on a public blog due to privacy. But one topic came up which I think is relevant and I don't think he would mind if I addressed it here: Mormonism is a good way to raise kids.

His position, as I remember it, is that Mormonism is good for kids in that it helps teach them right from wrong, offers a good social frame work, etc, and yet as his kids grow older he will allow them to make the choice for themselves to stay or leave the church. Either possible outcome will not diminish his love for them. My immediate response to this position is that whether or not the church does good is irrelevant to its truthfulness, which is my primary concern. But upon further consideration, I don't think I can even give him that much ground that the church is good for kids. Any good done by the Mormon Church seems to come at a price.

The Mormon Church is especially divisive towards those who do not follow their rules--regardless of religious affiliation. The more Mormon rules an outsider does not follow (and why would they?) the less likely Mormons are to associate with them. This is a mentality which is taught at a very young age and is reinforced with great zeal during the teenage years. A good Mormon is taught to not spend time with those deemed as "bad influences", lest they be led down a path of sin and damnation.

This concept breeds divisiveness and ostracises many non-Mormons who live in strong Mormon communities. Do you really want to raise your kids in such a narrow-minded manner? Sure, this view of sin may allow them to avoid parties with drugs and alcohol and pre-marital sex, but this also makes it difficult to make the distinction between "smoking is bad" and "people who smoke are bad", since god apparently makes no such distinction.

Furthermore, the religious concept of right and wrong is not morality, but rather it is simple-minded obedience. According to his closest followers, god does not want automatonic robots, but issuing a list of "do's and don't's" is exactly how such robotic minds are molded. The only fundamental difference between a robot following orders and a religious person following a list of commandments is that the religious person volunteers to subject themselves to these commandments and forfeit their freewill (argued by some religious people as our greatest gift from god and therefore it is our greatest sacrifice).

Why would god give us freewill and then tell us that the only appropriate use of such a gift is to voluntarily give it up and never use it. And how does any of this actually teach children how to make a moral assessment of a situation? This way of thinking does not promote morality--it is the circumvention of moral thinking. This is what Nobel Laureate Steven Weinberg meant when he said:

"Religion is an insult to human dignity. With or without it you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion."

Teaching unquestioning obedience to children--or that disobedience leads to damnation--is the opposite of moral.

Another topic related to this one, which I will save for another day, is whether all the apparent benefits of Mormonism (i.e. social network, morality, charity, sober living) can be attained without adherance to the religion. The answer, by the way, is "yes".


Here is a link to an excellent article by Richard Packham on raising children in the Mormon Church even if it is not true. Here are some of the topics covered by Mr Packham:

Perfection through Obedience
Moral (Sexual) Purity
Education and Knowledge
Belonging and Being "Special"
Choosing What To Do In Life
Developing a Moral System

Here is Christopher Hitchens on lying to children:

Friday, February 8, 2013


"Do not let yourself be deceived: great intellects are skeptical."
--Friedrich Nietzsche

Today I was accused of being closed-minded for not accepting some "evidence" concerning 9/11 being an inside job. While this is not exactly a religious topic, it does deal with general skepticism which is something that I highly recommend--especially for the religious.

The funny thing is that this person once asked me what my thoughts were on why so many people believe in god. I don't recall my specific answer to his question, but usually my response to such inquiries is that people tend to be pretty bad skeptics when it comes to analyzing their own beliefs. This person seems to be confusing skepticism through empiricism with conspiratorial thinking by taking a bunch of dots and swearing that they are somehow connected.

Here is the basic problem I have with the evidence provided tonight: Let's grant that all of the coincidental claims, disappearing planes, information withheld by the government, strange comments by building owners, inexplicable puffs of smoke coming out of the buildings as though it were a syncopated detonation and any other provocative claims are all completely true and accurate. Oh, and the conspicuously placed thermite in the basement. Don't forget the thermite. How does one go from "gee, those are weird coincidences" to "the government did it"? There is a disconnect in the reasoning.

Even if one could conclusively show--through verifiable evidence--that the buildings really were demolished with planted explosives, how do you know that the government was the culprit? Let's not forget that the administration being accused of such fatuous crimes is the very same administration which took 5 days to get water to the Superdome after hurricane Katrina, and went to war with Iraq because of bad information about weapons of mass destruction. Do you really have that much confidence in their ability to pull off an attack on their own country and flawlessly pin it on some terrorist on the other side of the world? AND THEN get that terrorist to claim to be responsible all along? A quick stroke of Occam's Razor should dispel any doubts of Osama bin Laden's guilt on that day.

Now, it could be that this person is right. I mean, it is possible. But at this moment he is working off of unsubstantiated, and in some cases debunked claims, which seem all too mysterious and suggestive for him. This is no different than people who claim that god exists simply because the universe is too orderly to be explained without such a creative force to start it. This is an argument from ignorance masquerading as skepticism.


Here is Penn and Teller on conspiracy theories, including 9/11 (explicit):

Sunday, February 3, 2013


"You can't convince a believer of anything; for their belief is not based on evidence, it's based on a deep-seated need to believe."
--Carl Sagan

So, it looks like the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) is now considering letting gays into their organization (or rather, allowing them to be open about it), which I predicted would happen as more companies and organizations which help fund the BSA continue to tell them they will stop giving the BSA money unless they change their policy on homosexuals. Also, kudos to the BSA for finally standing up against the Mormon Church's threat to secede from the program should the BSA allow gays in. But how inclusive and far-reaching will this change really be?

Here is the official press release:

Boy Scouts of America Monday, Jan. 28, 2013Attributable to: Deron Smith, Director of Public Relations
“For more than 100 years, Scouting’s focus has been on working together to deliver the nation’s foremost youth program of character development and values-based leadership training. Scouting has always been in an ongoing dialogue with the Scouting family to determine what is in the best interest of the organization and the young people we serve.

“Currently, the BSA is discussing potentially removing the national membership restriction regarding sexual orientation. This would mean there would no longer be any national policy regarding sexual orientation, and the chartered organizations that oversee and deliver Scouting would accept membership and select leaders consistent with each organization’s mission, principles, or religious beliefs. BSA members and parents would be able to choose a local unit that best meets the needs of their families. 
“The policy change under discussion would allow the religious, civic, or educational organizations that oversee and deliver Scouting to determine how to address this issue. The Boy Scouts would not, under any circumstances, dictate a position to units, members, or parents. Under this proposed policy, the BSA would not require any chartered organization to act in ways inconsistent with that organization’s mission, principles, or religious beliefs.” [emphasis added]

In other words, "We are tired of being pulled back and forth on this divisive issue, so we are just going to let individual local troops figure out how inclusive or exclusive they want to be. Hopefully, progressives and bigots alike will continue to give us money. Pretty, pretty please."

Fine, I'll admit that this is progress for an organization with a fine tradition of "more than 100 years" of intolerance and bigotry and discrimination, but only marginally. It seems that the changes proposed are barely enough to appease people on either side. But whatever. It's their business. It's not like my tax money goes to fund their discrimination, right? ... 

The thing that I find most interesting about all this was a lesser known debacle a couple of months ago, which I think may very well have led to this proclamation being issued at this particular time.

As the Friendly Atheist points out, in September a troop in Maryland issued the following Non-Discrimination Policy:

It is a great policy. The very policy which the BSA should adopt nationally. But it was short lived as pressure from BSA higher-ups forced the troop to abandon their all-inclusive policy for this one:

This passive-aggressive left-hook caused somewhat of a stir at the time, but not so much at the national level. But as events have been developing lately, it seems to fit the timeline quite well to say this thorn in the BSA's side--coupled with increasingly shaky funding--is perhaps partially responsible for the change.

There is another issue in addition to the recent policy change concerning homosexuals: are atheists welcome, too? Well, if you read the last line of the press release you might get the impression that they are:

"Under this proposed policy, the BSA would not require any chartered organization to act in ways inconsistent with that organization’s mission, principles, or religious beliefs.” [emphasis added]

But all this means is that individual troops will not be forced to go against their religious beliefs (not the other way around), which in this context is speaking of whether or not they allow gays to join their specific local troop. The Scouting program itself, however, is still very much a religously and spiritually-centered organization as indicated by their oath:

"On my honor I will do my best
To do my duty to God and my country
and to obey the Scout Law;
To help other people at all times;
To keep myself physically strong,
mentally awake, and morally straight." [emphasis added]

They elaborate further on how central religion is to their program on their page on faith and religion:

"Young people need faith. There is abundant evidence that children benefit from the moral compass provided by religious tradition. We acknowledge that faith can become an important part of a child's identity. Each of the major faiths breeds hope, optimism, compassion, and a belief in a better tomorrow. Scouting encourages each young person to begin a spiritual journey through the practice of his or her faith tradition. One of the key tenets of Scouting is "duty to God." While Scouting does not define religious belief for its members, it has been adopted by and works with youth programs of all major faiths." [emphasis added]

So, it seems to me that even if atheists were welcome to participate in Scouting, it would either make atheists cringe with all the "god talk", or they would constantly be proselytized and preached to by other scouts. But again, there is no indication that the policy change includes atheists at this point. A friend of mine put it this way:

"This is what I hear, "Since we are loosing funding left and right for being so close minded, we may let some gay people participate in Scouts. But Atheists, we still hate you."

So much hate and discrimination based on something which people have chosen to accept on faith rather than evidence...


Here is Christopher Hitchens on a slightly different "tradition of intolerance":