Sam Harris has more to say about Pete Stark's admission that there is no God:

Mythology is where all gods go to die, and it seems that Stark has secured a place in American history simply by admitting that a fresh grave should be dug for the God of Abraham — the jealous, genocidal, priggish and self-contradictory tyrant of the Bible and the Koran….

The truth is, there is not a person on Earth who has a good reason to believe that Jesus rose from the dead or that Muhammad spoke to the angel Gabriel in a cave. And yet billions of people claim to be certain about such things. As a result, Iron Age ideas about everything high and low — sex, cosmology, gender equality, immortal souls, the end of the world, the validity of prophecy, etc. — continue to divide our world and subvert our national discourse. Many of these ideas, by their very nature, hobble science, inflame human conflict and squander scarce resources….

There is no question that many people do good things in the name of their faith — but there are better reasons to help the poor, feed the hungry and defend the weak than the belief that an Imaginary Friend wants you to do it. Compassion is deeper than religion. As is ecstasy. It is time that we acknowledge that human beings can be profoundly ethical — and even spiritual — without pretending to know things they do not know.

Let us hope that Stark's candor inspires others in our government to admit their doubts about God. Indeed, it is time we broke this spell en masse. Every one of the world's "great" religions utterly trivializes the immensity and beauty of the cosmos. Books like the Bible and the Koran get almost every significant fact about us and our world wrong. Every scientific domain — from cosmology to psychology to economics — has superseded and surpassed the wisdom of Scripture.

Everything of value that people get from religion can be had more honestly, without presuming anything on insufficient evidence. The rest is self-deception, set to music.

hallelujah brother

I'd thank god, but that would be missing the point.

Stark's atheist views break political taboo

Rep. Pete Stark of Fremont might have crossed what some are calling "one of the last frontiers" in politics when he delighted atheists this week by acknowledging that he does not believe in a supreme being….

In a statement issued Monday, the 75-year-old Stark added that, "like our nation's founders, I strongly support the separation of church and state. I look forward to working with the Secular Coalition to stop the promotion of narrow religious beliefs in science, marriage contracts, the military and the provision of social services."

Gotta love those taboo-breakers.

speaking of darwin

And Jesus, for that matter. Here is the first essay assignment I’ve given my class this semester:

In Chapter One of A Rulebook for Arguments, Weston quotes Bertrand Russell as follows:
The evils of the world are due to moral defects quite as much as to lack of intelligence. But the human race has not hitherto discovered any method of eradicating moral defects.... Intelligence, on the contrary, is easily improved by methods known to every competent educator. Therefore, until some method of teaching virtue has been discovered, progress will have to be sought by improvement of intelligence rather than of morals.
Write a 1000-word essay analyzing Russell's argument. You can agree with Russell, disagree with him, or take a position somewhere in the middle, but you must take a position. In your essay, consider these questions or others that you believe are relevant: Is Russell correct about the causes of evil? Is it true that we have no methods of "eradicating moral defects"? Does his conclusion follow from his claims, and is his conclusion on target? (These questions are intended as guides, not as mandatory items.)


[T]hey have been ushered into a non-reality-based belief system. This isn't a matter of, "This is one viewpoint, here's another." This is a world of magic and signs and miracles and wonders, and [on the other side] is the world you hate, the liberal society that has shunted you aside and thrust you into despair.

Chris Hedges, on the evangelical right

I can think of a lot of people who would place themselves squarely within the traditions of “liberal society.” They are proud to call themselves liberal in the political sense, during a time when “liberal” is a dirty word. Some of these liberals also live and believe in a world of magic, signs, miracles, and wonders. Such beliefs are the antithesis of reality-based belief systems. I don’t think for a second that these liberals share much with the evangelical right, when it comes to politics. But they all participate in “non-reality-based belief systems,” and thus have far more in common with evangelicals than they will admit. When you take a peek at your horoscope, you’re placing yourself on the side of magic and signs and miracles and wonders. When President Bush looks reality straight in the eye and sees nothing, he’s right there with you and your horoscope, in a magical, miraculous, un-real world. We get the President we deserve.

another reason to like house (with a side order of vic mackey)

The inane Parents Television Council announced, in its annual “Faith in a Box” analysis of religion on teevee, that Fox was “by far the most anti-religious network” when it comes to prime-time broadcasting. Some of their reasons are unsurprising … they seem to be particular pissed off at Family Guy and The Simpsons. But they also cited an episode of House, which also airs on Fox, where … well, I’ll let them tell it. “House tells a religious patient that the patient is either psychotic or a scam artist for believing that God speaks to him.” (They gave a “mixed” rating to a particular scene in that episode, where House says of the patient, who has an STD, “Yeah, the hand of God reached into the kid’s pants and made him have sex…he’s just another liar and manipulator.” “Mixed,” because one of House’s colleagues gives House the business for saying this.)

I suppose there’s no accounting for taste. The PTC quite accurately describes the titular character as follows:

Dr. House is a genius but also an eccentric and a borderline misanthropist. He’s has been in severe pain for years and has become addicted to Vicodin. In addition, his pain has made him cantankerous and resentful. His social manners are questionable and House shows almost zero tolerance to those patients who complain about trivial issues, lie to skip work, or claim to have a disease not recognized as such by traditional medicine. House is a scientist more interested in diseases than in people …

Thing is, they seem to think this makes House a bad show, while I’d argue it’s the only thing that makes House worth watching.

This stuff got my attention, and I wanted to see what the PTC thought of other shows I like, but sadly, they apparently deal only with broadcast shows … no HBO, no Sci-Fi, no FX … and I don’t watch many of those. (They even complain about Ugly Betty for having too much sexual content … c’mon, that scene of Salma Hayek in her bra only lasted a few seconds … oh, that’s not what they mean … “In one scene Betty offers to sell diet pills to resident homosexual Marc and he replies, ‘Unless it’s Taye Diggs covered in baby oil I’m not interested.’”)

Oh wait, stop the presses! I just found the part of the PTC website where they complain about cable! Let’s go straight to the good stuff … I wonder what they think of The Shield? (Don’t give me your pay-cable networks … not even Dexter, where the titular hero is a serial killer, is as brutally disgusting as Vic Mackey and friends.)

Paydirt! It’s a funny thing about idiots like the PTC … they extract the good stuff from shows they disapprove of, and, thus removing the context which might offer insight into the world, turn everything into pornography, porn that you can access via the PTC, of course. Best part is, in some cases, the PTC helpfully includes links to video clips of the offending sequences!

You gotta love the dialogue they quote, like this exchange between Vic and a jailed bad guy … Vic’s offering to cut a deal with the bad guys. Vic: "Last chance for any of you cupcakes if you ever wanna smell pussy again." Bad guy inside cell: "I can smell yours from here bitch."

Then there’s the episode summaries:

Tio was the victim of a tire necklace. His dead, badly burned body is shown lying on the ground. Members of Armadillo's gang poured gasoline on the tire and set it on fire. Vic under his breadth says, “Fuck” when he sees Tio’s dead body.

In the final scene, Vic beats Armadillo with a book. Blood splatters on Vic's shirt. He is also shown kicking Armadillo in the stomach, causing Armadillo to spit up blood and teeth. Vic drags him into the kitchen and pushes Armadillo's face onto the burner of an electric stove. The side of Armadillo's face is shown with the burns on it; his mouth is full of blood and Vic's face is also covered with Armadillo's blood.

And one more example of offensive dialogue. Tomas is accusing his lover, Julian, of climbing back in the closet. “You can't even admit who you are! Your dick in my ass means you're gay. My dick in your mouth means you're really gay.”

Thank you, PTC, for providing my morning entertainment!


and so begins Year Five

Year Five of this blog is upon us ... might as well start the year with a quote. This is from an interview with PZ Myers, associate professor of biology at the University of Minnesota, Morris and the man behind the Pharyngula website.

Religion is a clumsy farrago of myths and wishful thinking and old traditions which is irrelevant to our understanding of reality, and in fact often impedes our understanding. We lose nothing if it goes away. As people recognize its lack of utility, something that often (but not necessarily) happens as we learn more about science, it fades away. It's like Santa Claus -- as we learned more about how the real world works and how our parents fulfill all the roles of the fat old myth, we don't mind seeing it go away.

Creationists know this, and that is why they're afraid of science. I don't need to preach atheism -- all I need to do is point out the palpable structure of reality in the growing detail science provides for us, and those who are awake and aware will notice the disparity between the world around them and the clumsy, sterile, ludicrous fantasies of religion, and they'll eventually abandon faith. Or, at least, they'll throw away dogma and retire faith to a smaller, private part of their lives.

The Universe: it's the Anti-Religion.

god is a concept

Wouldn’t it be lovely to believe in an imaginary friend who listens to your thoughts, listens to your prayers, comforts you, consoles you, gives you life after death, can give you advice? Of course it’s satisfying, if you can believe it. But who wants to believe a lie? ...

[This] is the only life we’re ever going to get. Don’t kid yourself that you’re going to live again after you’re dead; you’re not. Make the most of the one life you’ve got. Live it to the full.

-- Richard Dawkins