Sunday, June 23, 2013


"Of all the supposed virtues, faith is the most overrated."
--Christopher Hitchens

With regards to conflicts between science and religion, there seems to be two camps of believers: Those who may not understand how, but the two must be compatible (i.e. there is no conflict, only misunderstanding based on incomplete information). And those who subscribe to the mantra "if religion and science disagree, go with religion" (i.e. religion wins by default).

The first camp is the one which I adopted in college, and I think it is the most common among religious people, especially those who at least make an attempt to be intellectually honest without disregarding their religion completely.

The second camp seems to be common among those who value faith more than critical thinking and science, such as fundamentalists and Bible literalists. A third camp would be for those who cannot be intellectually honest without disregarding religion completely, and thus become disbelievers.

From time to time I hear people say that belief in things like evolution and the big bang, etc. are not necessarily in direct conflict with religious belief. Usually they cite the fact that most people in this country are believers of some stripe and at least 45% of the population accepts evolution and the big bang (I don't feel like looking up the actual figures, but it is close to that). This means that a substantial portion of the population believes in religion and accepts evolution and the big bang. I don't know for certain, but I would think that most of these people would fall into the first camp.

It may, in fact, be true that some people have been able to reconcile their religious beliefs with various scientific theories and discoveries. They may even consider such discoveries to be supporting of their beliefs. But this reconciliation does nothing to negate the diametric opposition between the scientific method and faith.

The two methodologies stand in direct conflict with each other. Faith, for instance, is the acceptance of something as true without evidence to support it. Some may claim to have knowledge through their faith (whatever that means...). And some may even claim things to be true in the face of evidence to the contrary (i.e. Young Earth Creationists).

The scientific method does not allow for this kind of thinking. It demands evidence. Without evidence, one cannot claim anything to be true or accurate.

And so we see that faith (accepting something without evidence) is, in fact, the opposite of the evidence-based scientific method. Science has no more room or tolerance for faith than it does for any other bias. It is designed to squash such presumed conclusions at their core. A belief supported by evidence trumps an assertion with no evidence every time. Any thing less than this is neither rational nor intellectually honest.

So, tell me again why faith is a virtue?


Bill Maher explains why faith is nothing to be admired (Warning: some language):

The Daily Show on Christian persecution from gays:

Wednesday, June 19, 2013


So, something neat happened a few days ago...

I have linked to The Atheist Experience in many of my posts, and it really has been an integral part of my own de-conversion from Mormonism. I love just about everything about the show: the topics, the open call-in format, the hosts. It's all good stuff. I have even considered visiting Austin, Texas just to sit in the audience and meet the people who put on the show.

Well, it turns out that the show has been gaining some notoriety, which is unusual for public-access content. The show is all over Reddit, which is great since r/atheism is one of the most popular atheist sites on the internet, with over 2 million subscribers just to that sub-page. Even more exciting is that now big name celebrities, such as Ricky Gervais (creator of "The Office"), are becoming fans of the show and promoting it (btw, Matt Dillahunty is the main host on the show):

Did you notice the 108 "retweets" at the bottom there? And that's just on the first day of posting.

At any rate, the most recent show (below) had a caller who starts a conversation about people using the show as a tool for de-conversion. And since this was the case for myself (I have literally watched almost every single episode from the last 8 or 9 years), I thought it fitting to pay a tribute and promote the show in a post as a way to show my gratitude.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013


"26 And after that he came men also were saved by faith in his name; and by faith, they become the sons of God. And as surely as Christ liveth he spake these words unto our fathers, saying: Whatsoever thing ye shall ask the Father in my name, which is good, in faith believing that ye shall receive, behold, it shall be done unto you."
--Moroni 7:26 [emphasis added]

There is a common myth within Mormonism of two missionaries stranded in the middle of the desert, standing beside a car with no gas, and one says to the other: "Hey, let's pour some water in to the gas tank and ask god to turn the water into gasoline." After a brief comparison to a similar miracle performed by Jesus turning water into wine, the other missionary pours some water in to the gas tank, utters a heart-felt petition to god and viola! the car starts and they drive off to save more souls.

Many religious people have probably heard similar types of stories as this one (which should tell you something of the nature of such tall tales...). Well, in my mission a couple of sister missionaries actually tried this. One might think that this would be the perfect opportunity for god to reveal himself, and flex his supernatural muscles, but the result was exactly as one would expect if some one had poured water in to a gas tank without asking god for a miracle--not only did the car not start, but they had to send it to a mechanic for major repairs.

So, why didn't god answer the prayers of these young women who were supposedly on his errand? Surely, they demonstrated great faith, and their request would have been worthwhile by god's standard. Why such negligence from an omnipotent being who promises his faithful adherents that they can move mountains if they just believe?

In retrospect, the most interesting thing to me is not that the sister missionaries failed to receive an answer to their prayer, but how the rest of us missionaries responded to the story: belly-aching laughter. Every one of us laughed hysterically when we heard about the faux pas, and some even made misogynistic claims of the ineptitude of women behind a wheel, etc. Not a single one of us thought it would have been reasonable to expect god to answer their prayer. Why not?

The truth is, I, and many like me, are implicitly skeptical of miracle claims, if only with regards to the claims of others. I can't tell you how many times I have heard miracle claims and thought, some times aloud, "That's a little far-fetched, or just too good to be true. Why should I believe such a claim?"

Generally speaking, I think most people are pretty skeptical, if a little under-practiced. Skepticism is a skill set. It is very similar to logic, the scientific method, and the Socratic method. Each methodology has a set of fairly well-established rules which help us reduce bias and increase potential understanding. Applying these methods of thinking to our own biases and beliefs is one of the most difficult, yet most necessary forms of self improvement.


The Atheist Experience on failed prayers: