Tag Archives: atheist

Crackergate Redux

PZ Myers of Pharyngula fame followed through on his threat to desecrate a consecrated communion wafer, piercing the alleged body of Christ with a rusty nail, which also ran through pages from the Koran and Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion, to demonstrate that nothing is sacred.  Myers then tossed the lot into his garbage can, along with some coffee grounds and a banana peel for good measure.  Pre-desecration, I questioned the wisdom of this move, arguing that intentionally attacking one of the key symbols of a religion might be great fun, but did little to advance the atheist cause.

Upon further reflection (spurred both by comments to my last post and Myers’ writings on the matter), I stand corrected.  Myers’ action was an important act of civil disobedience.  Catholics, in particular the Catholic student ministry at which the “kidnapping” of the Eucharist occurred, would have been within their rights to ask that Webster Cook (the Univ. of Central Florida student involved in the brouhaha) not return to their services because he violated their dogma on transubstantiation.  But they didn’t stop there.  Cook received death threats, an action was commenced to impeach him from the student senate, and a student ethics complaint was filed against him seeking disciplinary action by the university.

In other words, certain Catholics didn’t try to persuade Cook to respect their beliefs, they tried to force him to.  When he didn’t, they sought revenge.  In this context, Myers was entirely right to fight back.  The religious do not get to set the terms on which non-believers exercise our rights of conscience.  Unless an atheist commits a crime in exercising his or her views, no one has the right to demand that civil authorities punish displays of irreverence or even blasphemy.  When that kind of demand is made, striking back at sacred symbols (again, within legal bounds), stating unequivocally that “your sacred objects are not mine,” is an appropriate way to reassert the equality of our freedom.

Atheist Billboard Rises Over Philadelphia

A coalition of freethought, humanist and atheist organizations calling itself the Greater Philadelphia Coalition of Reason has erected a billboard on I-95 North in the northeast portion of Philly.  Mrs. MG and I saw it for the first time Saturday while in the car with Mrs. MG’s mother, an erstwhile Catholic.

Feelin\' the brotherly love for unbelievers.

Readers may recognize the design as that erected outside New York City by FreeThought Action.  As stated in a post on that billboard, I love the whole concept of this design, and of public displays of positive freethought ideas generally.

Head on over to PhillyCOR’s website and check out the organizations participating.

Unto us a child is born

The Midwestern Household is abuzz with excitement this week (or would be if we weren’t so sleep deprived) as we welcome our first child, who for blog purposes shall be known as Little Bigfoot.  This fella joined our happy family last Saturday.

In thinking about all the things I want to do with him in the coming years (including sleeping more than two hours at a time), I’m faced with the conundrum every atheist parent must address: What in the world am I going to tell this kid about religion and god?  The question is complicated, as it is for many, by the high level of religiosity among some of our family members (esp. Mrs. MG’s clan of diehard Catholics).  Here’s the best I can come up with over breakfast:

  1. I absolutely will not baptize this child.
  2. I will educate him about religion.  To critically evaluate religion, one must know something about religious beliefs.  If one is to be an empathetic human being, one should also understand some of the motivations behind certain doctrines and belief in general.  Moreover, no one can fully appreciate our society or art and literature without some knowledge of religion.  Little Bigfoot will have the benefit of an introduction to major religious ideas and why people hold them, always with the caution that Mommy and Daddy don’t believe these stories are true.
  3. I will insist that our religious relatives not try to indoctrinate him.  If I find out anyone has tried to secretly baptize him or encourage him to believe, there will be hell to pay, so to speak.
  4. Same goes for daycare workers, teachers or other school officials.  Seriously, I will f you up, legally speaking. 
  5. I will answer his questions about religion (and everything, for that matter) as thoroughly, honestly and age-appropriately as I can.  If we are to encourage him to value truth, we should always speak the truth to him.
  6. I will encourage a love of and wonder at the natural world in his imagination.

I’m sure I’ll think of other things, but those are the points that jump to mind at this early hour.  This will all become far more relevant with time, of course, so right now I think I’ll grab another cup of coffee and snuggle with my boy for a while.

Universe thrilled to find its purpose in life

“Optimism and pessimism, as cosmic philosophies, show the same naive humanism; the great world, so far as we know it from the philosophy of nature, is neither good nor bad, and is not concerned to make us happy or unhappy. All such philosophies spring from self-importance and are best corrected by a little astronomy.” – Bertrand Russell

Astronomy magazine published one of the coolest graphics ever this month:

Galaxies poster

The large center oval shows the distribution of 150 million or so galaxies in the local universe.  Every dot represents a galaxy of millions to billions of stars.  The smaller ovals are slices of the universe at various distances, and thus various times, from the Milky Way.  I love it because it takes the unimaginably large, unimaginably numerous, and displays it on a single page in a comprehensible way.  Sort of puts our smallness into perspective, no?

Well, apparently not if you’re Rick Warren, author of The Purpose Driven Life and recent Colbert Report guest.  Here’s what he had to say about our place in the universe.

In case you’re having trouble with the video, here’s what Warren said near the beginning of the interview:

Well, God is the creator, and He created the entire universe just so He could create this galaxy, just so He could create this planet, just so He could tilt it at the right axis so it wouldn’t burn up or freeze up, to sustain human life because he wanted to create human beings, he wanted to create you to love you.

That’s right — the entire universe, all those millions of galaxies pictured in Astronomy, were put here just so God could create humans.  Wow.  Just wow.

Let’s put the existence of humans in a little historical context.  Current estimates place the age of the universe at 13.7 billion years, plus or minus a couple hundred million years.  The Milky Way formed not long after (in astronomical terms), probably more than 13 billion years ago.  The earth formed around 4.55 billion years ago.  The first life arose somewhere between 4.4 billion and 2.7 billion years ago.  Modern homo sapiens, the species to which all existing humans belong, didn’t arise until approximtely 120,000 years ago.  (Rick Warren, incidentally, was born in 1954.)

Riddle me this, Pastor Rick.  If God created the universe so he could create this galaxy, so he could create this planet and tilt it at just the right axis, just so he could create human beings and love them, why did he wait 13,699,880,000 years to get down to the lovin’?

The simple and correct answer is that humans are a product of the universe’s natural processes, not its intended beneficiaries.  We are tiny, impotent creatures, crawling across a tiny planet (even for our own solar system), circling around a middling yellow star, revolving on an outer spiral arm of what must be admitted is a pretty cool galaxy (yea us!).  And that’s an extraordinary place to be and appreciate on its own merits, if only one is humble enough to accept the truth.

You are not alone!

This is so spot-on brilliant, I’m beside myself.  A relatively new organization calling itself FreeThoughtAction has erected a billboard outside New York City on the New Jersey Turnpike:

FreeThoughtAction Billboard

I love the message — “Don’t Believe In God?  You are not alone.”  It’s a positive message that many unbelievers need to hear.  And it’s difficult for the religious to assail with any semblance of credibility – it’s not “angry”, “mean”, or any of the other epithets the oh-so-sensitive purveyors of religious bigotry and hatred like to sling at freethinkers.  Ah, but that assumes the religious argue only when they have a valid argument.  Silly atheist…

(BTW, FreeThoughtAction has an awesome fundraising slogan: “Every God-damned dollar goes to advertising!”) 

This joins the other billboards placed into rotation around the country by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, which read “Beware of Dogma” and “Imagine No Religion.”

Public billboards promoting freethinking and atheism are a huge step forward for unbelievers in America.  We’re constantly bombarded with Christian advertising (a billboard near my home declares “Jesus Christ is the ONLY Lord and Savior”), but it’s difficult to get a freethought message out into the public.  By placing high-profile, visible messages of unbelief on the highways, I hope these organizations will help more individuals feel comfortable enough in their unbelief to “come out” and get involved.

Why not agnosticism?

A reader writes:

I still have some investigating to do, but I am nearly ready to give up on organized religion for good. With that almost out of the way, there are two possibilities left: some other god(s) such as a deist god or no god at all. I agree with the notion that our ignorance of the origin of the universe does not necessitate god’s existence, but I don’t understand how it (or any other evidence we have at the present) could necessitate god’s absence either. Therefore, I am having trouble finding a single reason to think god does not exist. Unless I am missing something, rationality can only take someone as far as rejecting organized religion and its general anti-rationality attitude and becoming an agnostic. Actual denial of god seems to always involve a gut feeling, AKA a belief.

Since you made a point to clarify that you have “concluded” god does not exist rather than just “believing” he does not exist, I thought maybe you could shed some light on the issue. You imply that you have found some rational reason to take the extra step past doubting the Christian God to doubting any god at all, which makes me very curious. Could you please elaborate on what evidence led you to rationally deduce that there is no god, dismissing even a deist god? I would love to hear what you have to say.

Thanks,
Mike

First, thanks for the great question, Mike. It’s one that comes up pretty often, and one I had to wrestle with myself. I can only answer as to what convinces me, so for what it’s worth, here we go.

You reasonably ask, “what evidence led you to rationally deduce that there is no god”? My simple answer is, the best evidence against the existence of a god is the lack of evidence for that existence. This question, and how it is framed, plays a large role in debates between atheists and religious people (and sometimes agnostics). Religious people are often forced to admit, “OK, fine, I can’t prove that god exists. But you can’t prove that there is no god.” Atheists sometimes reflexively respond, “No, the burden is on you to prove that god does exist, and you can’t, so QED, there is no god.” I agree with the latter position, but my reasons need a little explanation. Continue reading