Monday, October 19, 2009

I heard that Paranomal Activity sucks...

I had a pretty great weekend. Leah had weddings Friday and Saturday, which sucked, but the weather was perfect and Harper and I went for a lot of walks, which was lovely. On Saturday, Jeff and Angela came over and we grilled some chicken, squash, and sausages and watched Serenity. I love Serenity/Firefly. So fun, so underrated.

Sunday afternoon, Quiet Company played at the Austin AIDS Walk. It was really fun, and we were really thankful to have been asked to be a part of it. Between songs, a couple of people who were handing out condoms asked me if I wanted one, and, at the AIDS Walk, I said "No, I don't use condoms." I then proceeded to explain that I was married and that my wife is on birth control so I have no need of condoms, but everyone who's not in a committed, monogamous relationship should use them. I thought it was pretty funny in that way that awkwardness is always funny. It was Harper's first Quiet Company show, outside of her mother's belly. I think she enjoyed it.

Last night, we had a rehearsal with our auxiliary musicians and I must confess, it went a hell of a lot better than I thought it might. Really well, actually. There is a big difference between fake sampled horns and real horns, I can assure you of that. I'm pretty pumped to play with this lineup this Friday. Its starting to look like we may pull off a bit of a rock spectacle after all.

I'm a little disappointed in NPR for this story. Apart from the facts they got wrong about PZ Myer's "Crackergate" incident, they painted the Atheist movement in a wholly negative tone. At least that's how it read to me. I've read a few of the "New Atheist" books and I frequent Pharyngula so I think I'm pretty well versed in the message they're spreading, and I can totally understand why theists think they are awful, mean spirited, assholes. I really do. I'm still not really sure where I stand as far as whether or not I think this is a good approach. I think its easy to see that it is an effective approach though, and I'm inclined to say "it takes all kinds." I don't think I want to be a "New Atheist" (largely because I'm a Deistic Humanist) but its not because I think they're mean. Their message is "religion doesn't deserve our respect" and that is commonly misconstrued as "religious people don't deserve our respect." Its a fine line, and I'm at a loss as to how to embrace one and not the other. I do think that our culture has developed this weird relationship with religion that demands that "kid gloves" be used when critiquing and attacking it. Politics, economics, philosophy, etc, none of these have such a stipulation, but if someone says "Well, that's what my faith teaches. I just believe it." it signifies that any further criticism is unwelcome, and more unfortunately, likely to be ignored. The "New Atheists" say that non believers should be bold and honest, and I would agree (I think its good advise for people of all beliefs, actually) but I don't know if its possible to convince people that just because we don't respect your beliefs because we don't think they were arrived at rationally, it doesn't mean that we don't respect you as people. When people make those beliefs such a part of their identity they don't see the difference, and maybe the "New Atheists" need to realize that if they want to make an even bigger difference. Or not, what do I know?


  1. I freaking love the depiction of the militant atheist in that cartoon.

  2. Atheism doesn't deserve respect. It is foolish and stupid and requires a whole lot more faith than believing in God.

    It requires someone to put their faith in man's knowledge. Man, who once believed the earth was flat and that the sun revolved around the earth. Now we believe that chimps turned into humans.

  3. I don't really see how Atheism requires faith, though I hear apologists say that all the time. The obvious defense is that Atheism, by its very definition is a lack of faith, not an alternate faith.
    It doesn't really require that you put your faith in man's knowledge, just that you don't put your faith in supernatural things that you've never witnessed. I don't see how you can fault people for having the thought process of "I've never seen anyone walk on water, the natural laws of physics say that it can't happen, therefore I'm inclined to believe that it didn't happen until I am provided sound evidence."

    Believing that the earth was flat, that the sun revolved around the earth and that chimps turned into humans are not Atheist ideas. The first two were ideas held by an incredibly more religious society, and really the theory of Evolution sprung from that same kind of society. You could almost make the argument that they're religious ideas, but why would we? It wouldn't prove anything about Atheism or religion.

    I really can't get a grasp on where you stand on Evolution. You've told me that you don't disbelieve that it occurred but here you seem to think the idea is silly. Please enlighten me.

    Side question: In your view, who is more foolish, the Atheist or the Muslim/Buddhist/Deist/Shintoist/Hindu?
    I believe it was Thomas Jefferson who said something like "The man who believes nothing is closer to the truth than the man who believes the wrong thing." I'm inclined to agree.

  4. I don't see how being an Athiest is "stupid", considering the fact that the vast majority of people that hold advanced academic degrees consider themselves to be atheist or agnostic.

    I'd like to think that everybody deserves respect, no matter what they happen to believe.

  5. I think everyone would agree with that, and I think Seth was careful not to say that Atheists are stupid but rather that Atheism is stupid. The conversation I was really hoping to start was not "what's better: religion or disbelief?" but rather "How do you not respect a belief/disbelief but still show respect for the people who believe/disbelieve?" or "Is it even possible to do so since people make their beliefs/disbeliefs part of their identity?"

  6. I guess what I meant to say was that every person's *opinion* deserves respect, but really it's the same thing. Believing something, especially religion, is so much a part of the person that an insult to that opinion is a personal attack. I mean, it's pretty much impossible to not get offended when someone says "Such and such is stupid, and doesn't deserve respect. But don't worry, I respect YOU. It's just your opinion that I think is shit."

  7. I just re-read that and I come across as really mad. I'm not, I promise. Just trying to add my two cents. :)

  8. I think that you've come to my point Elizabeth. Believing something IS part of a person, and an attack on that opinion is an attack on the person. Just like when I attack Atheism, defenders of that movement light the fires and get the pitchforks just like everybody else. Respect for people MEANS respect for their opinions and beliefs as well, no matter what they believe. I was a little over the top earlier, because that's the way it sounds when it comes from the other direction towards my faith. If I had said that "Atheism doesn't make sense to me" or that "Atheism is simply a passive way of saying that I don't care about religion" I doubt anyone would be upset. But I said "stupid." It's all the way you make your point.

    My issue with evolution isn't purely faith-based. While I can support the type of evolution that says that animals adapt to their environments and make small changes like color or the tail grows longer than normal or whatever, the idea that Speciation occurs has been pretty widely debunked in any mammals. It has been noted in plant life and some fish, but not mammals. Plus, if we have dinosaur bones are are able to fully reassemble them in museums and they were billions of years older than man, why don't we have human remains that support the "missing link" theory? And shouldn't we have thousands of examples? Not just Lucy (oh wait, that's a whole different species) or Ardi (oh wait, that's a whole different species...probably bigfoot).

    I think the science fails to provide solid evidence that this part of the theory is valid. So I find it to be silly. The earth is flat argument is to show that mankind's thinking will never be complete or trustworthy. If God doesn't tell us some of this, we will never have it right. If the evidence ever shows up that I'm wrong about this, I'll be happy to change my opinion and have no problem saying that Evolution is true and that's how God did it. I just think that if that were going to be the case, we would have figured it out by now. Now it just seems like we're grasping at straws in denial about something we know isn't true.

    I think we would all agree that just because you haven't ever seen something doesn't mean that it hasn't, can't, or won't happen. Until the Wright Brothers, flight was a Flash Gordon fantasy. Besides, there's only one real Jesus. Which may be why we haven't seen it since. I know I wouldn't attach my name to a story like that unless it were true. People would think I was a madman. But history shows that those who were there were believed by thousands.

    I would answer your side question with this: Speak, or be spoken for. I believe Atheism is not a belief, but a denial of an obvious existence of God, in my opinion. Besides, all of those religions you mentioned can agree on a few important things: We know right and wrong, yet we fall short of even our own standards, much less what we know our God would have for us. Because there is a "goodness" or "perfection" requirement for heaven, there's no way we can get there in our current state. That's where the road forks. Either be good (but your God isn't going to tell you what Good is, so there's no way of knowing if you measure up) or God takes care of it for you. That's Grace and Forgiveness. That's Jesus.

    I'm not mad either, so I hope I don't sound that way. And if I sound preachy, sorry, that's what I do for a living, so it's difficult to stave on these subjects.

  9. Don't worry I didn't read it as mad, and I think you're right, unfortunately.

  10. My comment was saying that Elizabeth is right, I guess Seth and I were posting at the same time.

    Seth, since we had the same education through high school, I know how shitty of a job our school did explaining Evolutionary Theory. Texas recieved an "F" rating on our schools teaching of the subject. Only in the last few years have I taken it upon myself to learn about it and understand the evidence. I have no clue what studies your reading that are saying that mammals don't evolve, but I really think you should read some more studies. You can take your pick from the 99% of all the studies that have been done that all confirm the Theory of Evolution. The evidence really is overwhelming at this point. The idea of a "Missing Link" is a little bit ridiculous when you understand how Evolution works, and of course Ardi is a different species, but that doesn't change the fact that its part of our evolutionary family tree. I'm a big proponent of I think they've done a really great job at compiling the science and their FAQ section is especially helpful.

    Anyway, I obviously disagree with everything Seth said or implied about religion and the knowledge of good/evil. Humans determine what is good and evil based on a sense of empathy, or based on an understanding of what is good for our survival both long term and short. I don't think a sense of empathy necessarily implies the existence of a deity. But I can get down with a belief in a god, though if I'm being honest, "god" just means "I don't know and currently have no way of understanding what started this." Surely everyone can see the logical gap that postulates a personal specific god in the place of things we simply don't know. When people didn't know why people got sick and died, they thought surely that person had sinned, but now we have Germ Theory and we know to wash our hands. There will always be things we don't know, does that mean we should assume a god to explain it for convenience' sake?

    Also, while in one way it is impressive that so many people believed the disciples and that almost all of them died horribly gruesome martyr's deaths, its not a convincing argument when you consider how many death cults there have been in history and how many of those "ridiculous" people believed just as much as the disciples obviously did, enough to give up their lives.

    I agree that the language we use can keep a debate from becoming a fight, so I appreciate that everyone here keeps it respectful. This topic reminds me of a shirt that The Onion has for sale that says "Come on, lighten up, I'm just being a total asshole."

  11. Taylor pretty much said most things I wanted to say, but...

    Seth, if you place such little stock into the knowledge of man, why do you place so much in the bible? Because it tells you to? I'm a little lost here on why you'd believe so strongly that this thousands-of-years-old book is the undeniable work of God himself, yet scoff at the beliefs people held only hundreds of years ago (and yes, the earth being the center of the universe IS a christian idea), when those beliefs have only been disproven thanks to mean old SCIENCE... Science that was smothered and oppressed (by threat of death or excommunication) by the church for so very long. Maybe if all of those good religious folk weren't threatening the thinkers and keeping everyone illiterate, we would have started accepting heliocentrism a little sooner.

    I am also at a loss as to how the existence of your god is "obvious". I suppose I should know this information, seeing as how, as an atheist, I am just in simple denial over it after all. Please don't insult my intelligence.

    And contrary to everyone else's comments, if I sound mad, it's because I kind of am. Confirmation bias as it pertains to the Theory of Evolution just irks me. There is so much information available that it is really unacceptable to be so misinformed, especially on a topic someone so passionately opposes. It's a reaction based on cognitive dissonance, plain and simple. Now THAT is denial.

  12. I want to answer both questions separately, so I’ll talk evolution tomorrow. So here’s what I call “obvious” from mean ol’ Science:
    The Miller/Urey experiment in 1952 put elements believed to be in the early earth’s atmosphere into a closed system with water and introduced heat to provide evaporation. Also, they ran an electric current constantly through the system and amino acids were produced, attempting to re-create the lightning storm environment of early earth.
    At the end of one week of continuous operation, Miller and Urey observed that as much as 10–15% of the carbon within the system was now in the form of organic compounds. Two percent of the carbon had formed amino acids that are used to make proteins in living cells, with glycine as the most abundant. Sugars, lipids, and some of the building blocks for nucleic acids were also formed.
    In an interview, Stanley Miller, who published the findings, said, "Just turning on the spark in a basic pre-biotic experiment will yield 11 out of 20 amino acids." (Wikipedia) Yay! We’ve proven life could have developed on its own and disproved the need for God!
    But there were problems: All the necessary amino acids were not produced to form a complex cell. The gases used are no longer accepted by mean ol’ scientists as part of the early earth’s atmosphere in those amounts and combination, and experiments using the new elements have been unsuccessful. Here’s what they found:
    Atmosphere with oxygen => No amino acids => No life possible!
    Atmosphere without oxygen => No ozone => No life possible!

    The constant current of electricity used in the experiment can hardly be compared to random lightening bolts, so that part of the experiment has been discredited too. And the biggest problem of all: you still need a Scientist to put it all together. You need an Intelligent Designer to give it a kick start.

    The Irreducible Complexity of the Cell – the most basic particle of living organisms is the cell. We have never to my knowledge re-created a cell, much less one without some sort of Intelligent Designer. Just to recreate the most simple component of all living things there has to be a scientist, a kick start of some sort to get it working. Maybe with stem-cells we can do this, but that’s using an already created cell to start with. Never to my knowledge has a working, living cell been created from dead chemical parts in any form without help. If I’m wrong here, I’d love to hear about the experiement.
    Cells are tremendously complex and more complicated than any machine man has ever built. Even the smallest bacterial cell has 100 proteins, DNA, RNA, and contains one hundred billion atoms.
    The simplest cells are not more primitive than, or ancestral of, larger ones. This poses an immediate problem. How do you get all the complicated machinery to work at the same time? It either all works or nothing works. For example, the information to construct the device that creates proteins is stored in the DNA. But removing this information requires the device to be in place already.
    To explain the evolution of the cell requires imagining simpler "proto-cells". One such idea by Francis Crick uses a proto-cell that is allowed to make mistakes in protein formation (termed "statistical proteins") to create new systems. This is challenged by the knowledge that even small errors cause devastating biological consequences (Denton 1985, 265).

  13. The tilt of the earth’s axis, it’s distance from the sun, the magnetic field holding us in place, the function of the moon, the undeniable superiority of man over beast, the atmosphere made up of chemicals designed to hold the earth’s temperature at the right degree for life, the only planet with water crucial to sustaining life, and on and on and on. These are too perfect to be anything but Intelligent Design.

    Even the smallest particle known is defined as vibrating energy, also known as sound. Then doesn’t it make sense that God “spoke” and the world existed?

    Even in Astronomy there is something to be said for the complexity of this one tiny little blue planet and the stark contrast of all other simple gas masses we call the solar system.

    If you believe all that, then all you are left with is “God did it.” He did it by Big Bang. He did it through evolution. Whatever. It’s not just chance. All common sense says it’s not. God exists.

    Don’t insult my intelligence either. I am not some simpleton who believes everything he’s told.
    What I see are evidences provided by science that make “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” much more feasible. Primordial soup cannot be the answer. That has been observed through experiment. The earth is too well designed to be an accident (the chances are preposterous). Since we can’t even create all the chromosomes and amino acids to even complete one part of a single cell, we could not hope to ever create an entire working cell from dead chemicals. And according to scientific method –
    • Ask a Question
    • Do Background Research
    • Construct a Hypothesis
    • Test Your Hypothesis by Doing an Experiment
    • Analyze Your Data and Draw a Conclusion
    • Communicate Your Results
    Here are my results: there has to be an Intelligent Designer making life go.
    You continue to believe what you want. But I believe that to continue denying the existence of God is a denial of the obvious, whether you will choose to see it or not.
    More tomorrow.

  14. I feel like this debate could go on forever, and will if we allow it. All I'll say is that Irreducible Complexity would be a great defence if scientists weren't so good at discovering functionality in developing stages. But alas, they are.

    All the complexity in the world, the tilt of the earths axis, its distance from the sun, etc... All these things are great and make life possible but its a huge jump from that understanding to saying that these things were deliberately put here for our benefit. Though the odds of life producing circumstances are minuscule, in a universe that is unimaginably big and constantly expanding, even the tiniest probabilities can, and do, come to fruition. And as small as those probabilites may be, the probability of a supernatural explaination is even more minuscule.

    I think I actually did hear that we were pretty close to recreating a cell but I'm not sure what that will prove about god. To me, the question about god's existence is secondary. I guess anything's possible. To men, the question is "Does it matter?" If we assume that god exists, then all Evolution teaches us about him is that he/she/it/they are not an "intelligent" designer with a goal. Life develops in a haphazard type of trial and error, not in a deliberate procession like design would imply.

    I really like the idea of a celestial being divying out life in the cosmos. I like the idea that that being appreciates or maybe even loves us. But actually believing in that being (A) requires me to assuming things that I'd like to believe from evidence that only points that way when you have the right "world view" (which is a term I never heard in my 26 years as a Xtian but now hear all the time in the defence of that belief, and find it to be an offensive, condescending, non-argument) and (B) creates a regress in that it begs the question of "Where did this celestial being come from?" Which is an even bigger question than "Is there a god?" I think.

    This got longer than I wanted quicker than I expected. Peace.

  15. Seth, your application of the scientific method is terrible. Primitive cells had something like a billion years to evolve, not the week that those scientists ran their experiment for. Their failure to make life, or even all of its components during their experiment is hardly definitive proof that life could not have evolved without divine intervention.

    As a scientist, I find it extremely frustrating when religious people hijack the scientific method and use it poorly to pretend that there's some kind of rational justification for their faith. Faith doesn't have rational justification, its the difference between faith and reason. There's so much evidence for evolution, that to deny it a this point can only be due to irrational denial or ignorance of that evidence.

    As for respecting people and beliefs, its obviously a provocative issue. Society has become so politically correct over the last thirty years or so, and as such there's this tendency to think that we must respect other people's beliefs unconditionally; religion certainly seems to have attained a status of something immune to criticism. But what if their beliefs are irrational? Why is something completely lacking evidence to be held in such high esteem? You could argue that by allowing these beliefs to persist unchallenged, that we're crippling the intellectual and scientific development of future generations.

    While I have a general respect for any considerate, peace-loving fellow human, at the end of the day, believing in Jesus, Allah, Odin, Zeus or any other god for that matter is akin to believing in Santa Claus in that there's about as much evidence for the former as the latter. I'd have a pretty hard time respecting the intellect of someone that believed in Santa.