"The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt." -- Bertrand Russell

Monday, July 30, 2012

James Croft Interview, Part 1

Part 2 is available here.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Atheists Help Theists?

I recently found a user on reddit named anonoman925 who gave a particularly poignant description of the origins of his atheism. I asked him if I could reprint it on my blog and he gave me full permission.

The post was in response to a user who described
Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook's view that atheism helps theism (available here.) Why? User taqwacore describes:

According to Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook atheists only deny one of man's many images of God. Since any man-made image of God can be considered an idol, Kook held that, in practice, one could consider atheists as helping true religion burn away false images of god, thus in the end serving the purpose of true monotheism.
In response, anonoman925 said:
I keep coming back to this experience as this is the most poignant experience in my life i can point to to pin point my Atheism.
Every Xmas up to 5 yrs old I believed in Santa. Close to Xmas my parents would use Santa as a tool to check my behavior. Santa was always watching me. I could almost feel him shaking his head in dismay when I did something out of order. Close to my 6th Xmas, my parents came out with it, and that feeling disappeared. And reasonably with it, so did Jesus. However, not believing in Jesus meant burning in hell (the message I inherited). So I struggled to ..."bring back that lovin' feeling, though it's gone, gone, gone, whao--ooooo".

So what the fuck does this mental scaring have to do with Atheism supporting Theism? Pretty soon you peel so much onion, there's no onion. When you have nothing left in your hands, tears in your eyes, and a distinct offensive smell - you find that all you have IS your hands.

The peels dry and fade, the tears are a memory, and the smell is recalled during outings; I remember when I was done all I had was me.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Adventures in Prayer Land, Part 3

This is part 3 in a 3 part trilogy. Part 1 is located here and part 2 is here.

At dinner, I ate a delightful Philly steak sandwich and was entertained by conversation with members of SHOR. Returning to the hearing room, I handed a yellow piece of paper indicating my interest in addressing the Board to the county clerk, who has a desk to the left of the Board members'. Alex, a tall lanky member of SHOR, did similarly.

At the start of the evening's meeting, it was announced by the Chairman that the Board members would again be entering a closed, executive session at the end of the meeting. While myself and others had been at dinner, the Board had been in closed session discussing, amongst other things, the prayer. Part of the schedule for their closed session reads:
Section 2.2-3711.A.7. Consultation with legal counsel and briefings by staff members pertaining to probable litigation, namely, sectarian prayers and the Freedom From Religion Foundation correspondence.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Adventures in Prayer Land, Part 2

This is part 2 in a 3 part trilogy. Part 1 is located here. Part 2 begins with the afternoon public comment speakers.

Ms. Linda LaPratt was the first person to speak and would be the first in a long line of people to defend the prayer. She began by noting that a large number of  government bodies open with prayer. She continued by citing the Virginia Religious Liberties Statute and claimed that the Board does not endorse any given religion. However, she voiced a concern that the Board listens more often to outsiders than to insiders and that the "majority of insiders want prayer to remain."

Adventures in Prayer Land, Part 1

This is part 1 in a 3 part trilogy.

I posted about the event I had just attended to the Freethinkers at Virginia Tech facebook page. I mention that one of the Board members stated "Can I get an 'amen' on that?" and my friend Zack responds, "Please tell me that was videotaped. The FFRF could play that tape and close their case."

And so ended my day's adventure.

Statement to the Roanoke Board of Supervisors

I previously blogged about the situation with the Roanoke Board of Supervisors here. This evening, I attended one of their meetings and gave a statement. What follows is that statement. I will shortly be updating the blog with a full summary of today's events, but I wanted to make sure that I got out this information very quickly. For the audience, imagine a room full of angry Baptists (and some Catholics apparently.)

Statement to the Roanoke Board of Supervisors, July 24, 2012

Good evening mister Chairman and Members of the Board.
My name is Dan Linford and I represent Freethinkers at Virginia Tech, a student group with more than 200 members. Last time I checked, we actually had around 208 members.
I am joined today by my colleagues from the Secular Humanists of Roanoke.
As the Board of Supervisors, I do not need to remind you that your duties include upholding the constitution of the United States, of the state of Virginia, and all of the laws of the city of Roanoke.
Seperation of Church and State is a deep part of the heritage of Virginia, inscribed there, in the state constitution, by Thomas Jefferson in 1786.
The Virginia state constitution contains the "Statute for religious freedom".
Mr. Jefferson realised, correctly, that the entanglement of religion with government corrupts religion and adulterates government.
Therefore, I encourage you to remove the prayer from your proceedings.
Thank you.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

A Humanist Poem

I sit watching the clouds.
Laughing at the melancholy absurdity of life,
Sepulchral visions fill my mind of my future fate.
Oh what silly creatures are we,
That exist as mere flickers and for a short while.
Live each moment,
For there will not be another.

Men Assault Woman and Carve Message in her Flesh

I can't bring up the words to describe this. For that reason, I'll quote a news story from gawker.com:
According to the victim, three masked men broke into her home yesterday morning and tied her up with zip ties. They then proceeded to carve the word "dyke" into her skin and spray painted "we found u dyke" on her basement wall.
"They put gasoline on the floor and they lit the match. I think the intent was to burn her," said close friend Erin Thompson. "Then they left and she managed to get out. She was still bound, so she was crawling on her hands and knees, and she got out the back door."
The unnamed woman, who was naked and bleeding, managed to make her way to her to the home of neighbor Linda Rappl. "I was in shock," Rappl told CNN. "She was naked, her hands were tied with zip ties. All I could see was a cut across her forehead and blood running down.
It really, really upsets me that someone brought together a plan to bring this to fruition. That they must have planned for quite a while in order to execute this. That no part of their being told them to stop. The kind of dehumanisation of another person that this involves is chilling.

Because I cannot muster the words to describe this, I will simply quote Sarah Hamilton's Facebook status, which originally brought this incident to my attention:
Hey, so. Let's suspend all opinions and debate over gay marriage for one second, because this greatly transcends the issue. If anyone on my list thinks it's okay to treat someone like this or wants to try and justify it, please just...go. I won't make a fuss, I won't yell at you...just, leave my friends list now. This is unspeakably awful. This is not okay. This is the anti-okay. This makes me so angry. This is not how we treat our fellow human beings.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Bible Replaced by "50 Shades of Grey"?

At one hotel, the hotel Bible has been replaced by the erotic novel 50 Shades of Grey. The Telegraph reports:
Mr Bartholomew, who runs the 40 bedroom Damson Dene Hotel, Crosthwaite, has placed the erotic best seller on the bedside cabinets of both male and female guests.
A copy of the Gideon Bible will be retained for those who want it - but they will have to request it at the reception desk.
His argument is that the Bible is also full of references to sex and violence and that the best seller is a much easier read.

Letter in Roanoke Times: "In America, religions thrive"

As a comment on the situation in Roanoke, Virginia, I submitted a letter to our local paper The Roanoke Times. Today, that letter was finally printed. I am reproducing it here in full:
In America, religions thrive
The Roanoke County Board of Supervisors has long held a sectarian prayer at its meetings. This practice has been challenged by the Freedom From Religion Foundation on behalf of a local complainant ("Group targets prayer at meetings," June 24). At a recent rally, it was expressed that the FFRF was assaulting the religious liberties we value so deeply. But are they?
A little more than half the population of England declares religious affiliation, while in the United States only 15 percent declare no affiliation.
However, there is no separation of church and state in England.
The Anglican Church is deeply attached to the government, with positions in Parliament, religious instruction in schools and anti-blasphemy laws on the books. Why are there so many non-believers in England?
"Separation of church and state" are dirty words to some believers, but entangling government with religion damages both.
This is why many English citizens view their Anglican Church as an outmoded institution.
Meanwhile, American religion is strong, bold and diverse.
This is precisely because we don't entangle our government with our churches.
Protect religious freedom — ask the supervisors to stop breaking the law and end their sectarian prayer practice.


Friday, July 13, 2012

And I Thought Giles Was Bad....

Hemant Mehta just blogged about a situation in Georgia, where Houston county schools were caught violating the constitution several times over. In most cases that I've read about, there were only one or two claimed violations of the constitution. According to the FFRF's press release, Houston county schools has violated the law in an extraordinary number of different ways:
• Prayers at other school events, such as assemblies, ceremonies, and school council meetings.
• Administrators encouraging teachers to pray.
• Teachers admitting, with pride, that “we (the teachers) did hold hands and have a prayer around the kids. It was lovely.”
• School alma mater songs endorsing religious belief over nonbelief.
• An HCS recommended “Summer Reading Program” including the violent Left Behind series by Tim LaHaye which has been accused of being anti-Catholic and anti-Semitic. The school described the books: “Jesus Christ has set up his perfect kingdom on earth. Yet evil still lurks in the hearts of the unbelieving.” Recent studies show that 25 percent of people under 30 are nonbelievers.
• Religious imagery, such as bible quotes, on school walls and websites.
• Schools partnering with churches in close and troubling relationships.
• Mandating attendance at religious ceremonies such as baccalaureate services.
Based on my previous reading on situations like this, a lawsuit will likely result. And Houston county schools will undoubtedly lose, taking money away from their students. As Hemant notes, if the school district were smart, they'd stop with this altogether. On the other hand, if the district were smart, they wouldn't have egregiously violated the law in this way in the first place.

I have a friend who is a high school teacher and I asked her how she felt about the situation. She stated, "being in an environment as you described would make me very uncomfortable. I think that folks in school should be free to share their beliefs if they have them, but there is a very fine line between expressing your beliefs and imposing them on others. If people can't do one without the other, than they shouldn't be talking about it in school." She also stated that, "And no one has money to spare to fight a lawsuit, that is true."

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Sectarian Prayer at the Roanoke Board of Supervisors

The Roanoke Board of Supervisors has been having an illegal sectarian prayer at the beginning of their meetings for decades. The issue here is the explicit mention of Jesus in the prayer; according to a lawyer I spoke to from the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), legally, the Board can have prayer at their meetings so long as it's not a prayer from a specific religious persuasion. Of course, he also mentioned that this is not their preferred solution.

The FFRF has sent a letter to them indicating that this needs to stop. This situation is very similar to what happened in Giles, and it would really behove us to be involved. To read more about this issue, please see this excellent blog post at Cornelioid or the press release that our student organisation released (and I wrote using instruction from the CFI leadership conference I recently attended.)

Mathematical Proof that God Does Not Exist?

I was recently scanning through my copy of The Cambridge Companion to Atheism and came across what purports to be a proof that an omniscient being cannot possibly exist. Since God is traditionally considered to be an omniscient being, this essentially amounts to a proof that God does not exist.

Following along with the text, I will proceed with a reductio proof that omniscient beings cannot logically exist. Assume that there is an omniscient being. Such a being would, by definition, know the set of all truths. Therefore, there must exist a set of all truths; call this T. Now, consider the power set of T (the set of all subsets of T); call this PT. By Cantor's theorem, PT will always contain "more" members than are in T (technically, the cardinality of PT will always be greater than T.) But for each member x of PT, there is at least one propositional truth; namely, that x is in PT. So, there must be some truths which are not in T. Therefore, T cannot be the set of all truths. This is a contradiction -- and we must conclude that the set of all truths does not exist. This implies that omniscient beings cannot logically exist.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Circumcision and the Is/Ought Dichotomy

Human beings do a large variety of very strange things with sexual organs, either our own or those belonging to other species. Consider that we often give the severed sexual organs of various plants to our significant others, the predilection that some have for rocky mountain oysters, or the rather severe taboo on displaying these parts (on humans) that prevails in many Western societies. We use the term "private" to describe such parts, owing to the cultural mandated ban on public exposure. There are certainly very good explanations for all of these behaviours. Many of those explanations are evolutionary in character and some have only been recently understood.

The cutting of genitalia, especially in the very young, is a cultural practice that is widespread amongst Abrahamic religions. It is yet another behaviour that admits an evolutionary explanation as Connor Wood explains on his blog Religion and Science: