Friday, May 30, 2008

Why Ray Comfort and Kirk Cameron are Ccomplete Morons

The American form of Evangelical Fundamentalist Biblical Literalist Christianity (can you say that in one breath?) that Ray Comfort and Kirk Cameron preach is arguably the most insipidly childish form that the Christian faith can take. It preaches internal elitism, or the idea that followers are automatically superior in some way to non-followers, just because they have faith placed in the proper form of Christianity (allegedly). It promotes the idea that no matter how ridiculous any passage from the Bible is, it should be taken literally. They are proponents of what William Jennings Bryan once said, when asked if he believed that Jonah was literally swallowed by a whale, "If the Bible said that Jonah swallowed the whale, I'd believe it!" They promote an anti-science and anti-intellectual agenda, and will readily admit to shoddy journalism (because they don't even know what good journalism is).

Take Ray Comfort's latest book, "Evolution, a Fairy Tale for Grownups" as an example. Ray is forthcoming in admitting that he knows in advance that people will criticise him of quote-mining, where a writer removes a quote from it's original context to deliberately distort the meaning of what the quoted person was saying. Well, he wasn't predicting this because he had great foresight. As anyone who reads his blog knows, he test-fired many passages from his book months in advance, and we had to explain to him what quote mining was. The phrase "quote mining" became his favorite word for a while, and he was quick to attempt to ridicule people who used it, saying that they were mindlessly chanting it like a mantra. From the forward of his book, it's clear that he has absolutely no idea why quote mining is a terrible journalistic practice, or what good and proper journalism is. He says:

No doubt you will accuse me of "quote mining" (for those who don't know what that is, it's the practice of taking a quote--often out of its context, and using it in a way that was never intended by the author). However, every gold nugget is legitimately mined out of its context. No one seriously values the earth that encases the gold. So, when I uncover an evolutionary expert quietly admitting that he has no evidence to back up his theory, I don’t see any value in the soil of his surrounding words. I merely extract what I believe is of value for those who want to discover the truth about the theory of evolution.

From this quote, it's quite clear that Ray simply is clueless that the process that he just described is a dishonest process, condemned by journalists world-wide, and the tool of propagandists for ages. He openly admits to mining quotes out of context, because he apparently believes that the context that the quotes were pulled out of is irrelevent. As we shall see, his research into these quotes was practically non-existant. He got his quotes from other creationists, and did not bother to check the original quotes to see if they were, in fact, correct. Some may ask "why should Ray have done that? Do other creationists lie?" Well, unfortunately, for Ray, and other practitioners of America's dumbest sect, the answer is a very strong YES. The creationist movement in America is all about lies, deceptions, half-truths, shoddy-research, and willful cluelessness.

By making such an admission, he's literally telling those in the educated world that he has no concept of journalistic integrity, and that his book will be full of examples of misquotes. That's not quite what you want to tell people as they start readign your book, but then again, his audience are the pathetically clueless Evangelicals who are just as inept and intellectually absent as he is.

Ray's blog is a modern wonder of contradictions and arrogant ignorance. Ray makes lots of brainless statements in his blog, and when people point out his mistakes and contradictions, he defends himself -- with even dumber mistakes and contradictions. Take for example, his conversation with an atheist. Ray Claimed:

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to look at this amazing creation and see the genius of the amazing Creator. A child can know that. Your stumbling-block isn't intellectual as you maintain. . . it's moral. (Ray Comfort, 12:57 PM May 26, 2008)

But he had previously given us this contradiction:

However, the reason your conscience has nothing to say about your atheism is that atheism is not a moral issue. It’s an intellectual issue. (Ray Comfort, 3:46 PM May 18, 2008)

Apparently, Ray didn't seem to realize that there is a problem with such contradictory statements. The atheists pointed out his contradiction a few times, and it didn't phase him at all!

Then he throws out this zinger:

It is pathetic. I want genuine science. Not theories.

These nine words practically demonstrate the complete scientific illiteracy that Ray has. He obviously doesn't understand that science is inseparable from theories, because theories tie science together. Theories are explanatory conceptual frameworks that help answer questions or explain how things work. Real science is theories. Ray doesn't like one particular theory, that of evolution, therefore, he has latched onto the idiotic concept that a theory is just a guess.

Perhaps the most hilarious display of unbridled ignorance and stupidity from the Way Of the Master people, is Kirk Cameron and Ray Comfort's series of videos on evolution, which offers arguments against Evolution that make Kent Hovind look like Stephen Hawking by comparison!

In the video, Comfort and Cameron insist that their arguments against evolution are strictly intellectual in nature, but around every corner, they whip out Bible verses. One way they allegedly prove that evolution is false, is to rely heavily on interviews on the street with tenagers who openly admit that they don't know what the evidence for evolution is, or what the answer to various science questions are. It never did occur to them to go to the National science Foundation, or even a local university to ask those questions from people who actually profess to know the answers!

Next, they move on to prove that we couldn't possibly have evolved from apes, by interviewing an Orangutan! Yes, because the Orangutan can't speak English, and doesn't use science and cannot converse about intellectual topics, this is their proof that we could not possibly be related to them. Never mind the genetic evidence in our DNA, or the similarities in Brain structure, or the fact that many apes have been tested and can easily solve technological puzzles that scientists have put to them. Never mind the fact that our DNA is more closely related to Chimps than to any other creature on earth. Never mind that DNA sequencing, which is used to settle identity and paternity questions, has shown how related we are.

Cameron then comes on and says "There are no missing links between Ape and man", and also that "All the fossils claimed to be human ancestors were found to be just apes."

Cameron completely ignores the 20 or so hominid species, nearly all of which walked upright like you and me, and most of which have been found with stone tools and other artifacts.

If that's not enough, they completely ignore the entire fossil record itself, by claiming that there are no transitional fossils, and that none have ever been found. Never mind that transitional fossils are actually very plentiful, and that several whole taxonomic groups of fossils are strictly transitional in nature.

If you don't piss your pants laughing at this video, they have a whole other bunch of them to choose from. I've watched about 12 of their videos this week, on various topics, but mostly science, and these guys, when put together, are actually less intelligent than a lot of 4th graders. They parade out shoddy reasoning, and plain retarded statements, which of course, they haven't checked. The result is a religious ministry that caters to extremely dumb, uneducated, possibly insane people.

And that, in short, is the reason why I consider Ray Comfort and Kirk Cameron to be a couple of morons.

Monday, May 19, 2008

10 most Dangerous books...

Conservatives and Fundamentalists love making lists of things that people should avoid. Whenever I read stuff like like this, it burns my biscuits, because not only do these people literally tell people not to read books (advocating a type of book banning), they usually put books on the list just for their own political propaganda point, rather than sticking to some actual criteria to guide their selection.

In this Bozo's list, you will see that he added "The Kinsey Report". Now, unfortunately, there is no such book. The books that Kinsey put out are "Sexual Behavior in the Human Male" and "Sexual Behavior In the Human Female", which are often referred to as the Kinsey reports. What harm did Kinsey's book do? I guess it must be a dangerous book because it showed facts that conservatives don't like to talk about -- like the fact that homosexuals and lesbians exist, or the fact that most people have sex before marriage. I'm pretty sure that nobody died as a result of reading Kinsey's books, and I'm pretty sure that it was not used as a tool of opression by any political regime.

Betty Friedan's "The Feminine Mistique" is on the list, probably because the author is a stuck up conservative old fart who doesn't like the idea of women holding jobs, being independant, and voting. Friedan's book was an inspiration to generations of American women who realized that traditional lifestyles, which had women staying home and raising kids while men worked, was not the only option available. The book is clearly on his list because like most conservatives, he can't stand uppity women who have minds of their own.

Neitzsche's book, "Beyond Good And Evil" is most likely on the list merely because it's an atheist book. The concept of "beyond Good and Evil" is rarely presented accurately, either because of poor translation from German, or because Religious nuts with an agenda rely on "what they heard about it", rather than actually reading it. Neitzsche's book was not an inspiration to the Nazis at all, which is a typical conservative myth.

I saw other lists from similar conservative sites that put Darwin's book, "Origin Of Species", and we know why that's there. Apparently Nazis got inspired by it, which isn't obvious, since it was on their list of banned books, and it was forbidden to mention Darwin's theories in schools.

So I decided to compile my own list to act as a kind of opposing position to these conservative lists. The difference, of course, is that I used the following criteria to judge the books by:

(1) Did people die as a result of others getting inspiration from the book?
(2) Was the book used as a tool of opression by a government?
(3) Did the book have a large impact on the world?

Malleus Maleficarum (Heinrich Kramer and Jacob Sprenger, 1487) -- Led to the torture and killing of hundreds of thousands of people in Europe.

On The Jews and Their Lies (Martin Luther, 1543) -- This book still inspires antisemitism today. The nazis reprinted and distributed the book in WW2.

The Protocols of the Learned Elders Of Zion (1903) -- This forgery inspired antisemitism in Russia, Germany, and the United States. There are still people who claim that the book is an actual document of a global Jewish Conspiracy, despite the clear documentary evidence that it was written by one of Tzar Alexander's Generals just before the Russian Revolution.

The Communist Manifesto (Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, 1848), and The Wealth Of Nations (Adam Smith, 1776) -- These two books are the inspiration for the two competing economic systems of the world that molded the 20th century. The conflict between advocates of capitalism and communism killed millions in the 20th century, and will likely continue to affect us well into the next century.

Mein Kampf (Adolph Hitler, 1925) -- What else needs to be said for the book that defined the Nazis?

The Bible, The Qu'Ran, and The Book Of Mormon -- These 3 religious texts all claim to be peaceful inspirational works, but the worldviews in these books have created great conflict in the world, especially between Christianity and Islam. The body count for the Book Of Mormon is small by comparison, but think of how large the Mormon church has become. It's beliefs are opressive, and cult-like, and women are definitely not equal.

The Prince (Niccolo Machiavelli, 1532) -- This book inspired many dictators, and was a personal guide to Joseph Stalin.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

There definitely is a conflict between science and religion

In polite society, where we try to put our best face on, and often talk around issues by doing it nicely and politely, it's often customary to adopt positions of neutrality to prevent our discussion partners whom we occaisionally disagree with, from being insulted or to establish that you are approaching a topic from a neutral position out of respect.

In the past, one such "neutral position" has been the one that goes "Science and religion are two different topics, and need not neccesarily be in conflict with one another." Sometimes, we like to add to that that because science deals with the natural world, and is merely a methodology for finding out how things works, and because religion deals with morality and philosophy, that they can't really be in conflict, because they are two entirely different topics. The statement that science and religion do not conflict is sort of a polite man's way of establishing space between religion and science, to assert that there are no conflicts, and that we either are talking science or we are talking religion, but we can't mix them.

Well, after much thought, and a newsgroup discussion, I came to the conclusion that this idea that there is no conflict between religion and science is simply not true. It may be polite to use the statement, but ultimately, it's just not true. There is plenty of conflict between religion and science.

First off, the methodology of science is specifically designed to get to the truth of the matter by seriously probing a topic, testing the results, and going where those facts take you. Religion, by contrast, dictates truth, and nothing can oppose the official dogma, not even science. In fact, the history of science and religion has shown us that religion, when it's got political power in a society, as it did during the Renaissance, often opressed science brutally. Whether we're talking Giordano Bruno, Galileo, or others, the fact is that when scientific truths are discovered which conflict with religious dogma, religion's response is to deny it, and try to supress or subvert science to silence it from contradicting faith and dogma.

Religions are made of dogmas that constantly overlap with science. The virgin Birth concept, for example, clearly says something about biology. The idea that the Soul enters the body at conception clearly has legal and biological implications. The problem is that these topics have a complete lack of scientific backing to them, and they are actually harmful when enough people who believe in them have the power, for example, to deny funding to medical research on embryonic stem cells, which could save lives and cure diseases.

It's not just science, either, it's history, too. History, though having a slightly different methodology, is nonetheless a methodology, which, like science, is designed to extract truth from fiction, and find the facts in a sea of conjecture. Religions often make historical claims, and often, these claims are directly in opposition to recorded history. Archaeology was once dominated by a pro-Christian bias, and to a degree, certain topics in history still are. But over the last century, many interesting facts concerning the ancient world have been discovered that conflict with long held religious dogmas, and have become accepted fact.

The progression of Pharoahs in Egyptian history is one of the more notable ones. In the Old Testament, the lineage of Pharoahs is listed, and for years, archaeologists associated various dates to various Pharoahs, based on the Bible, because the paradigm was that the Bible was always correct. But more recently, lineages written in the stone of ancient tombs and on buildings revealed a whole bunch of Pharoahs that the Bible skipped over, and we even found the mummies of the those individuals.

Even medicine and public health issues are not safe from Religious dogma. Remember the fury over the first birth control pills? Religious groups, particularly Catholics, protested and continue to this day to try to either outlaw contraceptives, and Evangelical Protestants have had a serious effect on US foreign aid to Africa, effectively preventing condoms from being sent to Africa to prevent AIDS. Sex education in the USA is forbidden in many places from even mentioning anything about contraception, which had led to a lot of patently false misinformation on sex being spread in some schools. One texas school taught kids that kids could get pregnant from oral sex, refering to the mythical infants conceived via filatio as Spit Babies".

So the idea that religion doesn't conflict with science really is not true. It does. It has profound effects on public life, and can even lead to dangerous outcomes. We should not discount the attempts of evangelicals to push creationism on our public schools as futile attempts. We should oppose it with the same determination that African Americans opposed Jim Crowe laws. Religions do not merely infringe on scientific facts, they infringe on historical facts, politics, education, public health, and society in general. We should stop using the notion that science and religion aren't really in conflict, and admit the truth. They clearly are, and the more people there are who accept religious dogma over scientific truth, the more opression, misinformation, and ignorance there will be.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Toothless and the Subway Preachers

Every day I take the subway to get to work. I drive or walk to the station, then I squeeze into a crowded subway car. Some stations have musicians busking for cash, and others have... street preachers!

Years ago, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority banished street preachers from subway stations, because people were irritated by these screaming luantics, who seemed to have no sense and no care that some people's ears were hurting from hearing their echoing, loud, and annoying voices.

The Subway authority welcomes musical performers, and has strict rules on volume -- nobody is allowed to be louder than the PA system, because people need to hear that for safety instructions.

Some street preachers figured out a clever way to get around the ban, though. They applied for musical performance permits, and entered the subway with guitars in hand. Unfortunately, for music lovers, none of these people seemed to know how to play their guitars, or at least could not play an actual song on them. These street preachers in musician's wool, would literally just strum one or two chords, and preach, although, thankfully, they maintained a volume that was tolerable. Many street preachers still do this today, and recently I met an interesting character.

I call him Toothless. Toothless is an older Afro-American man, with greying hair and a children's size guitar. Yes, he has no teeth. He plays the blues really well, and can belt out a soulful, rousing tenor voice. His voice is really awesome... but sadly, he never uses it much. He has kind of a crazy look to his face, and literally just sits there, strumming random chords on the guitar, and saying "priase the lord" over and over and over again. I sat there for an extended period while a disabled train forced my car to stay in the station for an extra 10 minutes. Toothless started out with a real great blues song, "Oooooooh, Lord, what shall I dooooo? Ooooooooh Lord, what shall I dooooooooo? Lord I'm so down, I don't know whaaaaaaat to do!"

His voice is somewhere between Winonie Harris and Bullmoose Jackson, and he really plays his tiny guitar like a pro, but he only does it for about a verse or two, then he breaks out into just preaching the same few sentences over and over again. Part of me wants to tell him to go away, but the few times he belts out that voice makes me want to coach him and cultivate that talent so he can draw more donations from the crowd.

Even as a non-believer, I'd love to give him some advice and see if he tries it out. I really want to hear him sing the blues. I've thought about talking to him, and giving him an idea, like taking a psalm from the Bible, and just turning it into the lyrics of a blues song -- many great lamentations are found in the Bible, and in fact, many blues singers have used the Bible as a source for song lyrics. He could just take a few verses, and set them to Blues music, and Bang, he can mix blues with street preaching in a way that could be unique and creative.

Yeah -- I would like to do that, even though I'm an atheist and can't stand preachers. I think the guy has talent that just needs to be focussed. He seems dazed and confused the way he is now.

Too many people who want to preach on the streets or in the subway have no talent for it. That's what's really annoying. People like Jed Smock, the great grandfather of modern confrontational street preaching is largely an untalented man who figured that just screaming and ranting to get attention from people got him an audience. Sure -- if you act like a maniac, many people will watch you, in the same way that people watch a crazy drunken person -- they watch them to avoid them, or to make sure that they do not get too close and have to call the police for help.

If street preachers are going to get music permits to play in subways and parks, they should at least have some talent, first. I mean, they should at least be able to play a few songs competently. Nothing is worse than a person who gets a permit to perform in a public place, who has no musical intentions whatsoever. I remember one Street Preacher guy who just had a Karaoke box, and he'd stand there and sing Gospel songs. At least he sang and carried a tune, for crying out loud. Nowadays, we get people who don't even try to sing. They just blatantly use the musicians' permit to street preach to something that is barely music. The city only gives out so many permits, and these losers are taking permits away from actual talented musicians who really play good music. Some of the actual musicians, whose permits are being taken by shill street preacher musicians, need the money that comes from handouts.

I heard that some preachers in New York have taken street-preaching to new levels of infamy. They are actually boarding the subway cars in small groups of 3-to-6 people, and when the doors close and the train starts moving, they stand up and start the fire-and-brimstone screaming. Reports are athat these people are pretty much hated by New Yorks's subway riders, and the police have been unable to identify them and prevent them from breaking the subways's rules (it's against the rules to yell in a subway car or create a scene), because they all get off at the next stop, and board a different train.

It wouldn't be so bad if these street preachers had a sense of personal space and respect for people's ears. The screaching of the train's wheels and the clackety-clack noise of the tracks is irritating enough. To have a bunch of people start jumping up and down, screaming and trying to be louder than the noise of the train, can literally create hell in a subway car.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Why Do People Laugh At Creationists?

I recently found this delightful and hard-hitting series of videos on YouTube. They are all made by the same person, and quite frankly, are one of the most thorough and spot-on analysis of Creationism you can find -- very succinct and to the point, too.

Click on this link to be taken to the entire series:

Why Do People Laugh At Creationists?

I urge everyone to watch at least the last few of these (22,23, and 24), which are about Ben Stein's "Exposed: No Intelligence Allowed". The rest are all very good as well. I would have no problem showing these in a biology class as a way of informing the class on what creationism is, and why it's crap.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Become an Atheist -- Read a Bible!

It is interesting that Ray Comfort assumes that when we atheists read the Bible, we read it with "pride in our hearts" which apparently can block our ability to be moved and persuaded by it.

As a believer, I did, in fact, read the Bible, and believe that everything in it was true, until I actually started paying attention, and remembering what I read from chapter to chapter.

I have the priviledge to have grown up in the 20th century, when things like racism and the equality of women were big issues, and I learned from growing up and experiencing these issues first hand. See, as I read the Bible in Bible studies, and was told "This is why women need to be submissive to their husbands... This is why Biblical-style slavery is okay..."

By comparing a society where women are equal to men with the Biblical idea of submissive women, I clearly saw that equality was clearly a better way than the Biblical one. By comparing Biblical slavery to American civil-war era slavery, I saw that neither was any "better" than the other, and that freedom and equal rights is actually better than both.

What became apparent, also, was that the people who wrote the Bible believed a lot of patently false notions about healthcare, medicine, food, hygiene, and other things. For example, take the lines in Leviticus where it tells people what to do after a man is cured of a discharge (presumably of semen). The Bible clearly tells you to take two birds, kill one, and spread it's blood all over the house, to purify it. The man then has to take a ritual bath. Leviticus also tells us that when a woman has her period, everything that she touches must be pronounced unclean -- pottery she touches has to be broken and discarded, chairs she sits on need to be thrown away, etc.

We modern people know that these practices are irrational and just plain stupid, as they accomplish nothing, and actually are based on bizarre superstitions. The Bible tells us not to eat pork (or any animal with cloven hooves), yet pork is, in actuality, one of the most nutritious meats, and the most economical.

The more I read the Bible, and remembered what I read, the less believable it was. I was reading stories that had, incorporated into them, all sorts of primitive superstitions -- things which, if this was written by God, should not be there, unless you accept that God has to lie to us the way parents often lie to their children to avoid having to explain concepts that their young minds can't grasp. The more I read the Bible, and remembered what previous chapters said, the more I saw blatant contradictions.

Reading the Bible literally changed me from being a believer to being an atheist -- which is why I tell people that the best way to become an atheist is to read the Bible and see for yourself what nonsense is in there. So take Ray's advice -- take a notepad, take notes, and remember what goes on from chapter to chapter. If you commit the stories of the Bible to memory, you will clearly see it's obviously human authorship -- primitive, tribal, superstitious human authors, with a lot of anger and hostility in their hearts.