September 29, 2005

THE VAGARIES OF RELIGIOUS EXPERIENCE By Daniel Gilbert

THE VAGARIES OF RELIGIOUS EXPERIENCE By Daniel Gilbert

"(I had) a deep religiosity, which, however, found an abrupt ending at the age of 12. Through the reading of popular scientific books I soon reached the conviction that much in the stories of the Bible could not be true. The consequence was a positively fanatic orgy of freethinking coupled with the impression that youth is intentionally being deceived by the state through lies. It was a crushing impression. Suspicion against every kind of authority grew out of this experience, a skeptical attitude towards the convictions which were alive in any specific social environment — an attitude which has never again left me." (Autobiographical Notes, 1949)

Einstein's orgy of freethinking forever changed our understanding of space and time, and the phrase "Religion for Dummies" became, in the view of many scientists, a redundancy.

But this conceptualization of religious belief misses an important point, namely, that people don't believe in God simply because they are told to by their elders, but because they are compelled to by their own experience. William James understood that religious belief grows out of human experience, and he urged scientists to investigate the experiences that spawned it:

"I speak not now of your ordinary religious believer (whose)... religion has been made for him by others, communicated to him by tradition, determined to fixed forms by imitation, and retained by habit. It would profit us little to study this second-hand religious life. We must make search rather for the original experiences which were the pattern-setters to all this mass of suggested feeling and imitated conduct." (The Varieties of Religious Experience, 1902)

If belief in God is compelled by experience, then what sorts of experiences compel it?

Curious Order and Empty Form

Nobody needs God to explain why orgasms feel good and root canals don't. God's job is to provide an explanation for experiences that are otherwise baffling and inexplicable. These curious experiences need not involve seeing angels or speaking in tongues, but may instead be of the garden variety. Consider the ordinary experience of order. The naturalist, William Paley, laid the groundwork for the modern notion of intelligent design when he asked us to imagine what we would conclude were we to come across a watch lying on the ground.

"The inference we think is inevitable, that the watch must have had a maker — that there must have existed, at some time and at some place or other, an artificer or artificers who formed it for the purpose which we find it actually to answer, who comprehended its construction and designed its use." (Natural Theology, 1802)

In other words, a watch is not a random assemblage of parts, but a structured, ordered, obviously non-random assemblage of parts — and non-random assemblages require explanations. The existence of an intelligent assembler is a tempting explanation if only because it is at once so familiar and so complete. For most people, the material universe, biological life, and human consciousness are the kinds of curious, complex, well-ordered phenomena that require explanation, and an intelligent designer seems to provide just that.

But there are at least two problems with this explanation. First, explanations that rely on the inexplicable are not explanations at all. They have the form of explanations, but they do not have the content. Yet, psychology experiments reveal that people are often satisfied by empty form. For instance, when experimenters approached people who were standing in line at a photocopy machine and said, "Can I get ahead of you?" the typical answer was no. But when they added to the end of this request the words "because I need to make some copies," the typical answer was yes. The second request used the word "because" and hence sounded like an explanation, and the fact that this explanation told them nothing that they didn't already know was oddly irrelevant.


In short, what William Paley did not realize is that statements such as "God made it" can satiate the appetite for explanation without providing any nutritional value.

September 27, 2005

Religion IS bad for Society

News that won't suprise any atheist anywhere:

The study:
Cross-National Correlations of Quantifiable Societal Health with Popular Religiosity and Secularism in the Prosperous

The layman's explaination:
Societies worse off 'when they have God on their side'


RELIGIOUS belief can cause damage to a society, contributing towards high murder rates, abortion, sexual promiscuity and suicide, according to research published today.

According to the study, belief in and worship of God are not only unnecessary for a healthy society but may actually contribute to social problems.

The study counters the view of believers that religion is necessary to provide the moral and ethical foundations of a healthy society.

It compares the social peformance of relatively secular countries, such as Britain, with the US, where the majority believes in a creator rather than the theory of evolution. Many conservative evangelicals in the US consider Darwinism to be a social evil, believing that it inspires atheism and amorality.

Many liberal Christians and believers of other faiths hold that religious belief is socially beneficial, believing that it helps to lower rates of violent crime, murder, suicide, sexual promiscuity and abortion. The benefits of religious belief to a society have been described as its “spiritual capital”. But the study claims that the devotion of many in the US may actually contribute to its ills.

The paper, published in the Journal of Religion and Society, a US academic journal, reports: “Many Americans agree that their churchgoing nation is an exceptional, God-blessed, shining city on the hill that stands as an impressive example for an increasingly sceptical world.

September 26, 2005

All Will Worship His Noodly Appendage

Flying Spaghetti Monster Game

Convert the sccurying hordes before the time runs out so that they can be welcomed into heaven with the beer volcano and stripper factory.

Hilarious!

September 23, 2005

"Your family does not meet the policies of admission,"

And more news from those Oh-so-moral-and-loving Xtians:

"Your family does not meet the policies of admission,"

Xtians are a disease. Education is the cure. She should consider herself lucky, really. Maybe now she can avoid wasting school time as childish trash like "ID".

Theocracy In Action

In case you're holding onto the belief that the US isn't sinking into the sinking pits of theocracy - think again.

$$ for Discriminatory Head Start Progs

Be Xtian, or be denied a job. And they now they get federal funding to be discriminatory.

A sad, sad day. Bin Laden definitely succeeded.

"The Republican-led House approved a bill that lets churches and other faith-based preschool centers hire only people who share their religion, yet still receive federal tax dollars.
Democrats blasted that idea as discriminatory.


Launched in the 1960s, the nearly $7 billion Head Start program provides comprehensive education to more than 900,000 poor children. Though credited for getting kids ready for school, Head Start has drawn scrutiny as cases of financial waste and questions about academic quality have surfaced nationwide.

Overall, the House bill would insert more competition into Head Start grants, require greater disclosure of how money is spent, and try to improve collaboration among educators in different grades. Yet on Thursday, the dispute over religion eroded the bipartisan support for Head Start's renewal.

The House passed the bill 231-184; only 23 Democrats voted for it.

GOP lawmakers, with backing from the White House, contend that preschool centers should not have to give up their religious autonomy in order to receive federal grants.

"This is about our children, and denying them exemplary services just because the organization happens to be a religious one is just cruel," said Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C.

The Republican plan would, for example, let a Catholic church that provides Head Start services employ only Catholic child-care workers."

How Gullible are You?


http://www.newstarget.com/gullibility.html


I'm a Free Thinker.
Aren't all atheists "Free Thinkers" ;)


Welcome to the top 5%. You're a true free thinker and a person who is well informed about the reality in which you live. Although you may have been easily manipulated earlier in life, you eventually gained lucidity and developed a healthy sense of skepticism that you now automatically apply to your observations and experiences. You are endlessly curious about human behavior and the nature of the universe, and you have one or more lifestyle habits that most people would consider odd or unusual.(*LOL*)

Quack Reflectors

From the ACLU:

In a few days, the trial in a vitally important ACLU case will begin.

Once again, the ACLU will be defending religious freedom against those who want to force creationism into our public schools. The underlying conflict has been going on at least since the Scopes trial, a famous ACLU case from an earlier era.

At the core, the conflict is between those who believe science should be taught in science classes and those who want to use our public schools to promote one set of religious beliefs over another.

But, this time, the creationists have a new ploy. It's called "intelligent design" -- an "alternative" to the scientific theory of evolution that religious extremists have cooked up as a way to sneak religious proselytizing into our public schools.

The intelligent design campaign to replace science with "faith-based" theories in our schools is part of a larger movement that threatens our religious freedoms in a profound way. Now is the time to become a card-carrying member of the ACLU.

The trial about to begin in Dover, Pennsylvania, stems from an ACLU lawsuit challenging a controversial decision by the Dover Area School Board to require biology teachers to present intelligent design as an alternative to the scientific theory of evolution.

The intelligent design movement has two new, powerful spokesmen. In recent weeks, George W. Bush and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist have both endorsed shoving science aside in our children's science classrooms.

Powerful political forces are not just tinkering around the edges of our religious freedom. They have set their sights on transforming our country from a constitutional democracy to a thinly veiled theocracy. They want to turn America into a country governed by their interpretation of the Bible, serviced by faith-based, taxpayer-funded institutions and guided by religious doctrine against which neither citizens nor judges should dare to speak up.

You and I can't let them get away with it

Join the ACLU today in resisting efforts to undermine religious freedom wherever they surface -- from the classrooms of Pennsylvania to the White House. Together, we'll defend religious liberty with every ounce of energy we have.

http://www.aclu.org/evolution/

September 22, 2005

Overheard

Overheard yesterday at the local coffee shop:
"Why is it that the homeless man talking to "god" on the street is "crazy" and yet those who think their prayers are answered, are not. Aren't they doing the exact same thing - talking to something they can't prove is actually there? At least the "crazy" homeless guy is also asking for favors."

I love Buffalo.

It brings up an excellent point though. Why are the people who claim to be told by "god" to kill someone else considered whackjobs, but those who talk to "god" through prayer not considered so. Especially when the bible/torah/koran is stuffed full of examples of "god" telling people to kill other people.

Why do theists only ever credit "god" for the good things and deny he had anything to do with the bad?

September 21, 2005

Museums answer the Creationist Quacks

Challenged by Creationists, Museums Answer Back


ITHACA, N.Y. - Lenore Durkee, a retired biology professor, was volunteering as a docent at the Museum of the Earth here when she was confronted by a group of seven or eight people, creationists eager to challenge the museum exhibitions on evolution.

They peppered Dr. Durkee with questions about everything from techniques for dating fossils to the second law of thermodynamics, their queries coming so thick and fast that she found it hard to reply.

After about 45 minutes, "I told them I needed to take a break," she recalled. "My mouth was dry."


That encounter and others like it provided the impetus for a training session here in August. Dr. Durkee and scores of other volunteers and staff members from the museum and elsewhere crowded into a meeting room to hear advice from the museum director, Warren D. Allmon, on ways to deal with visitors who reject settled precepts of science on religious grounds.

{snip}

Dr. Diamond is working on evolution exhibitions financed by the National Science Foundation that will go on long-term display at six museums of natural history from Minnesota to Texas. The program includes training for docents and staff members.

"The goal is to understand the controversies, so that people are better able to handle them as they come up," she said. "Museums, as a field, have recognized we need to take a more proactive role in evolution education."

Dr. Allmon, who directs the Paleontological Research Institution, an affiliate of Cornell University, began the training session here in September with statistics from Gallup Polls: 54 percent of Americans do not believe that human beings evolved from earlier species, and although almost half believe that Darwin has been proved right, slightly more disagree.

"Just telling them they are wrong is not going to be effective," he said.

Instead, he told the volunteers that when they encounter religious fundamentalists they should emphasize that science museums live by the rules of science. They seek answers in nature to questions about nature, they look for explanations that can be tested by experiment and observation in the material world, and they understand that all scientific knowledge is provisional - capable of being overturned when better answers are discovered.

"Is it against all religion?" he asked. "No. But it is against some religions."

There is more than one type of creationist, he said: "thinking creationists who want to know answers, and they are willing to listen, even if they go away unconvinced" and "people who for whatever reason are here to bother you, to trap you, to bludgeon you."

Those were the type of people who confronted Dr. Durkee, a former biology professor at Grinnell College in Iowa. The encounter left her discouraged.

"It is no wonder that many biologists will simply refuse to debate creationists or I.D.ers," she said, using the abbreviation for intelligent design, a cousin of creationism. "It is as if they aren't listening."




Of course they aren't listening. People with so desperate an agenda will never listen to the truth.

September 20, 2005

Deconstructing Christan Extremism

Deconstructing Christan Extremism

Excellent article by the Atheist Revolution blog.

And an excellent reminder as to why Ms. Lori Lipman Brown is so tremendously vital.

One of Our Own

Non-believers raising voice in capital

Meet Lori Lipman Brown our new DC Lobbyist.

*hooray!*

Tastes:

Christian conservatives wield enormous clout here through a network of advocacy groups and relationships with politicians from President Bush on down. Atheists, humanists and freethinkers, as Brown's constituents call themselves, are usually ignored .


Brown likens atheists today to gays in the 1970s: people just coming out of the closet to fight for acceptance. "There's been so much rhetoric in the past decade about how important religion is to being a good person," she says, that "it's been scary" for people to say they don't believe in God. She vows to "use the A-word and not cringe."

In a recent Pew Research Center poll, 11% said they do not believe in God but do believe in a "universal spirit" or "higher power"; 3% said they do not believe in God or a spirit or power. In a separate question, 1% said they are atheists (those who believe there is no God), 2% said they are agnostics (those unsure whether there is a God), and 11% said they have no religious preference.

The no-preference category includes people "who may not be ready to declare themselves atheists or agnostics," Pew Director Andrew Kohut says.

Herb Silverman, president of the Secular Coalition for America, counts them as non--believers — part of "a 30-million-strong constituency that is informed about the issues and votes."

Brown plans to work for non-believers in three ways:

• As part of broad coalitions fighting policies rooted in religious beliefs, such as limits on stem cell research and access to emergency contraception.

• In alliances with groups opposed to policies they believe breach the wall between church and state, such as giving taxpayer money to "faith-based" service programs.

• On causes Brown concedes are hard for politicians and the public to swallow, such as eliminating references to God from the U.S. oath of citizenship. She plans to stay out of the Pledge of Allegiance controversy for now because "the courts are on our side." Last week, a federal judge reaffirmed an earlier ruling that teacher-led recitation of the Pledge's phrase "under God" in public schools is an unconstitutional government endorsement of religion.

September 19, 2005

Pastafarians Unite!

All those who worship His Great Noodly Self should participate in:

Talk like a Pirate Day

to sing the praise of Our Holy Pasta Monster join us here: Forums

It more fun than worshipping every other fake god on earth - and it makes as much sense.

Some Common Sense

http://www.cnn.com/2005/LAW/09/14/pledge.ruling.ap/index.html

"Judge declares Pledge unconstitutional SAN FRANCISCO, California (AP) --

Reciting the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools was ruled unconstitutional Wednesday by a federal judge who granted legal standing to two families represented by an atheist who lost his previous battle before the U.S. Supreme Court. U.S. District Judge Lawrence Karlton ruled that the pledge's reference to one nation "under God" violates school children's right to be "free from a coercive requirement to affirm God." Karlton said he was bound by precedent of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which in 2002 ruled in favor of Sacramento atheist Michael Newdow that the pledge is unconstitutional when recited in public schools."

Excellent to see them follow the law for a change.


Next stop - the US dollar

September 15, 2005

Aid and the Atheist

"I ask, for the atheist, what gives human beings value? "

I get this a lot. It always leads me to the same question – is "god" the only thing that gives meaning to the life of theists? Not their families, their pleasures or accomplishments – just god?

However, to answer the question:

I know evolution to be true. I’ve done far to much studying and research (on creationism/ID as well) to see otherwise. Now, while evolution is not automatically an atheistic position, it still provides for me an undeniable feeling of godless pride.

For millions of years our ancestors fought, toiled, struggled and succeeded to survive. We are the results of those struggles. Each of us is the latest point in the chain that links all humans together. Your ancestors went through all that struggle to produce you. Just as you will be a link in the chain for those that will exist unnumbered years from now.

How can that not make you feel special? How can that not make you see all others are equally rare and precious as you are? Each of us took millions of years of surviving to be here now, and those that come later will be here because of our survival.

Despite all the theist assertions to the contrary, "morality" is not religion based. It is simply the most logical results of millions of years of being social creatures. Humans like being around other humans (maybe not all other humans, but no man is an island). We would not have surivived otherwise. We didn't get here individually. We had to work together. Humans hunted in groups to be successful against other creatures with far better offences and defenses then we had. If we were going to work together, lying, stealing and murdering wasn’t going to aid in cooperation.

(that is a brief and simplified explanation, but you get the idea).

Theists ask me why, as a hardcore atheist, I spend my weekend volunteering at homeless shelters.

Were it my loved ones down on the bottom rungs of society or in desperate need of aid after a disaster, I would want them to be helped. If it were me, I would want to be helped.

In those shelters, I don’t see a bunch of random strangers, I see someone else’s brother/mother/child/etc. I see the latest results of our ancestors struggle to survive struggling to survive.

We still have to work together.

Praying is tantamount to doing nothing. As there is no god out there - there is no one but us to do something about it.

I get offended when people give credit of our survival to a deity. WE survived. WE survive.

September 14, 2005

Hell

Excellent link regarding the origins of Hell (you know that place where all us evil non-believers are going because we doubt god's infinite love?)

And it, natch, has nothing to do with etneral torment. Shocker, that.

http://www.atheistresource.co.uk/gehenna.html

A taste:

"Biblical evidence concerning "Gehenna" in New Testament, shows that the "Valley of Hinnom" (modern day Wadi er-Rababi ) was used as a fiery place for the disposal of waste matter from the city of Jerusalem.It was a loathsome place, where they discarded their unclean things and carcasses, and the fire was burning and smoldering continuously."

Gehenna" was not a place of torture, but rather a place of complete destruction, and the dead bodies of criminals, who’s punishment was a death sentence, were thrown on "Gehenna." These bodies were usually of those who had been crucified, which was a common form of punishment under Roman rule."

September 09, 2005

To Quote Infidel Guy: Even if you do good, you're scum

He's talking about this:http://cyreneministries1.blogspot.com/

Yet another Xtian who, having no idea about atheism or atheists, can't understand why we would help victims of Katrina.

Notice his backpeddaling retraction. If there's anything Xtians are good at - it's backpeddaling.

The WHOLE world agrees

September 07, 2005

Best Religious Joke Ever

Thanks to the AN Humor board:

I was walking across a bridge one day, and I saw a man standing on the edge, about to jump.
I ran over and said: "Stop. Don't do it."
"Why shouldn't I?" he asked.
"Well, there's so much to live for!"
"Like what?"
"Are you religious?"
He said, "Yes."
I said, "Me too. Are you Christian or Buddhist?"
"Christian."
"Me too. Are you Catholic or Protestant?"
"Protestant."
"Me too. Are you Episcopalian or Baptist?"
"Baptist."
"Wow. Me too. Are you Baptist Church of God or Baptist Church of the Lord?"
"Baptist Church of God."
"Me too. Are you original Baptist Church of God, or are you Reformed Baptist Church of God?" "Reformed Baptist Church of God."
"Me too. Are you Reformed Baptist Church of God, Reformation of 1879, or Reformed Baptist Church of God, Reformation of 1915?"
He said: "Reformed Baptist Church of God, Reformation of 1915."
I said: "Die, heretic scum," and pushed him off.