Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Sanity: Left Behind

I'll make no secret about it. I frequently wonder what goes on in the mind of the True Believer that makes them reject what most people would call common sense.

I'm not sure what it takes for someone to think that God is telling them to murder their children (1, 2), or that their faith in the literal truth of the bible is so strong that they can justify child molestation. It's enough for them to overlook their blatant hypocrisies when they claim to be pro-life, yet call for assassination of leaders or shooting illegal immigrants on sight. They'll laugh when Mohammed is the victim of satire in cartoons, but God forbid it be Jesus that's the target of fictional books and movies.

And just when I thought they couldn't get any dumber, they announce the plans to release a game based on the left behind series in which players enact virtual spiritual warfare, killing any non-believers they come across. The game, Left Behind: Eternal Forces, is based on the best selling book series.

Although I disagree with people like Jack Thomspon who believe that violent video games should be banned because people aren't able to distinguish fantasy from reality, I'll have to say that this Left Behind game worries me for the simple fact that many of these True Believers have shown an immense lack of being able to seperate the two. Don't think so? Try checking out the Rapture Ready forums which have over 19,000 people that are so sure that the rapture will happen within their lives, that they're making preparations.

But perhaps I'm getting ahead of myself and those 19,000 people aren't really about to do something stupid dispite claims of driving recklessly because they're so sure that God's in charge. After all, the game is only intended for responsible adults that have obviously made it far enough in life to get behind the wheel of a car without having done something stupid, right?

Wrong. The games producers state that they expect that this game should get an E rating, meaning "Everyone" (ages 6 and up), or, at the worst, a T (Teen, 13+) rating.

Hopefully, such things aren't somthing that children would fall for though. Right?

Wrong again. Fundamentalist Christian groups already are advocating violent responses to their percieved sufferings. Ron Luce, the leader of the organization Battle Cry, states:
This is war. And Jesus invites us to get into the action, telling us that the violent—the ‘forceful’ ones—will lay hold of the kingdom.”
Luce also says he plans to launch a blitzkrieg against those that don't share his vision. No Nazi-esque supremacy there.

The organization, Battle Cry, holds Christian concerts with dazzling light shows and imagery of Hummers, and NAVY Seals, as part of their production. One teen at one of their events was spotted wearing a shirt with Jesus on the cross and emblazoned with the motto "Dressed to Kill".

So let us hope that this militaristic movement doesn't have much support behind it. But that hope too would be in vein. A recent concert in Philadelphia had an estimated 17,000 attendees and was opened with a letter from president Bush giving support and encouragement. It followed with a band, Delerious, singing a song featuring the lyrics
“We’re an army of God and we’re ready to die.... Let’s paint this big ol’ town red.... We see nothing but the blood of Jesus....”
Another speaker, Franklink Graham stated
No souls can be saved without the shedding of blood. Blood must be shed!
So it seems that perhaps many Americans are quite adamant about a literal war for Christ. They have no sense of right and wrong, as long as their actions are justified by the Bible. Video games advocating this holy war are now being marketed to this dangerouly unstable crowd.

And there's no need to worry?

Friday, May 26, 2006

Family fights to have wiccan symbol placed on soldier's headstone

According to Yahoo news, the family of a soldier killed in Afghanistan last September has been involved in a struggle to get his religion recognized with the placement of a wiccan symbol on his headstone. Unfortunately, the Department of Veterans affairs doesn't recognize the Wiccan faith.

Although politicians are giving lip service sympathy to the family, Rev. Selena Fox, senior minister of the Wiccan Circle Sanctuary in Barneveld, Wis., reveals that she has been pushing the federal government to adopt the Wiccan pentacle for such cases for over 9 years.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Pope takes a page from Phelps' book

According to CBC article, the pope has announced that Canada's low birth rate is due to "pervasive effects of secularism."

This sounds much like the prophecies of Fred Phelps in which he presumes that soldiers killed in America is due to a lack of Christian values, or tsunamis killing millions is because God hates Indonesia.

The Pope also made a few other unintelligent statements:
The pontiff's comments to visiting bishops from Canada echoed his statements last month to members of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, when he said that a lack of true love was behind an increase in failed marriages and a decrease in birth rates in much of the developed world.
Apparently the Pope hasn't gotten the word that it doesn't take a belief in a sky god to be a good person and love someone else. Perhaps he's also ignorant of the fact that (at least in America) the rate of failed marriages is highest amongst Christians.

Benedict has spoken out several times in favour of large families and called for legislation to help support families with children.
Not everyone wants to continue overpopulating the world because God got distracted and hasn't retracted his "be fruitful and multiply" commandment.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Quick Note

Sorry I haven't been updating recently. With finals beating me over the head, I've had many other things on my mind and haven't had time to write at all. Additionally, my internet in my room is down so getting access to the net to make updates is a bit difficult.

However, there have been several newsworthy articles I've bookmarked and intend to comment on. So fear not! My sarcastic tirades have not ceased and will return.

Until then, why don't you have fun poking a bunny?

Friday, May 12, 2006

Boy Scouts: Be Prepared... to lie.

The Boy Scouts of America has a long and proud tradition of discriminating against non-Christians and gays. It would be expected that in today's society, this would be unheard of from such a prominent organization, yet it continues.

Recently, a scout leader decided he wanted to show how "religiously diverse" his troop was. Thus, at a meeting he asked his group to raise their hands if they were part of a particular church (how being all Christian can be considered "diverse" is beyond me). By the end, two brothers, Cody and Justin, had not raised their hand.

When queried, they revealed that they were Wiccan.

The two were subsequently expelled from the organization being told that if the two had lied about their religious affiliation, there would be no problem.

Their father, Army Cpt. Todd Buchheim is a former Eagle Scout.

They were eventually invited back into the group. They attended the next meeting on April 25th. Two parents left with their children when Cpt. Buchheim brought his children.

Since then, the two have decided to leave the group.

"This was devastating," Aileen Buchheim, their mother, stated. "My husband puts on a uniform to fight for ours and other nations' rights every day, and yet this happens in our own backyard. We just wanted to make sure it was straightened out so no one has to go through this again."

Since then, she has filed a charter to form a chapter of the "Spiral Scouts", a Wiccan-based organization that does not discriminate on religious grounds.

Here's a quick history of the BSA in terms of its religious affiliation:

1916: BSA founded with declared purpose of promoting "the ability of boys to do things for themselves and others, to train them in scoutcraft, and to teach them patriotism, courage, self-reliance, and kindred virtues." (Note the distinct lack of religious intentions)

1970: BSA adds new policy stating "The recognition of God as the ruling and leading power in the universe and the grateful acknowledgment of His favors and blessings are necessary to the best type of citizenship..."

1973: A 10 year old is expelled for crossing out "God" on the scout promise.

1977: BSA adds a recognition of God as a "Supreme Being" to literature.

1985: Fifteen year old Paul Trout is denied promotion to Life Scout for a lack of religion. Eventually given promotion due to national outrage

1990: Former Cub Scout, Boy Scout, and Explorer Scout wishes to enroll his child, Mark Welsh, but is told his family could not participate on any level if they did not sign the "Declaration of Religious Principles". Family files lawsuit saying that BSA is in violation of Title II of Civil Rights Act of 1964 which prohibits places of public accomodation from discrimination.

Another member of the BSA group that Welsh wished to join pointed out that she too was non religious and had been participating for 3 years. She is forced to resign.

A 35 year volunteer is forced to resign after testifying on the Welsh's behalf.

1991: William and Michael Randall are expelled after 3 years of inclusion because their family was not religious. An agnostic den leader who writes a letter of support to the Randalls is expelled as well.

1992: Randalls win readmission in court.

1993: Supreme Court declines to rule on Welsh case. New York Times editorial writes, "...Any organization could profit from a 10-year-old member with enough strength of character to refuse to swear falsely."

1994: BSA appeals and wins right to expell Randall children.

2001: BSA denies membership to Benjamin Scalise because they are atheists.


Tuesday, May 09, 2006

The apple doesn't fall

It seems Hovind Jr. has been out beating his straw horse recently. There's a few gems in this article that are worth going into:
Hovind said that evolutionists believe that by adding energy (which assumes the universe is an open system into which energy can be added), the Second Law of Thermodynamics can be overcome. However, Hovind pointed out, the universe is a "closed system," and further, adding energy is always destructive without a complex mechanism to harness the energy. He cited examples of the sun's destructive effects on your house, you car's paint, and other materials. According to Hovind, chlorophyll is the only exception, using light to synthesize carbohydrates.
There's a lot of problems with this. First off, there's no assumption that the universe is an open system. In fact, quantum physics has shown things pop in and out of existance all the time (but everything averages out so there doesn't appear to be any difference on any scale we can readily observe).

However, even if that weren't true, you don't need to assume the universe is open to make the 2nd law work. Assuming a closed universe, the 2nd law is upheld perfectly, assuming you're using the right 2nd law and not the BS layman's definition that creationists use.

The funny thing is that the last sentence shows that Hovind is aware of one of the ways that the 2nd law can be "violated", although I doubt he's smart enough to understand why. It's perfectly true that the sun's effects induce plants to make "more ordered" chemicals. Or, using real science words, decreasing the entropy within the plant. Normally, entropy should increase, but since, when you take the sun and plant in the same system, the total entropy does increase, there is no violation.

Thus, the 2nd law works perfectly dispite Hovind's claims otherwise.

He also shows that he doesn't understand his population growth history:
One of the inconsistencies in evolution theory which Hovind pointed out was that of population. Hovind drew attention to a study which said that even though the current rate of population growth is 1.7%, if you assumed an extremely modest growth rate of .01% for the past 1 million years, you would end up with a current world population represented by the number 1 followed by 43 zeros.
There's nothing to suggest that population growth has in any way been constant. Additionally, he's just happening to ignore plagues that wiped out more than half the worlds population repeatedly. Perhaps if he bothered to include all the factors in his equation he would come up with some better results.

I also like this bit:
He said he got into this work full time after completing college
Emphasis added.

I wonder if he got his degree the same way daddy did: from a diploma mill.

Two way street

People take many different lessons from school. Although I was busy with other things, one of the lessons I nevertheless picked up on from others, is that if you can’t be cool, you can at least attempt to gain notoriety by making a complete ass of yourself. These were the kids flinging peas across the cafeteria at lunch and pulling pranks.

Yet, as you’d expect, such ill bought fame, comes at a price. Aside from the obvious detentions that school children get, many soon felt the stinging realization that no one was laughing with them, they were laughing at them and in reality, they had no respect.

But strangely enough, this lesson is one that a large number of adults seem to have missed.

Today, we see grown men putting on strawmen puppet shows of science and then wondering what went wrong and growing indignant when scientists laugh at them. Eventually their anger that their antics aren’t well received, drives them to forget the other part of the lesson most learned in elementary school:

Respect is not given; It’s earned.

If creationists and ID proponents want to be taken seriously and respected as scientists, they should do science instead of the mocking antics with which we’re so familiar.

But far be it from the creationists and ID proponents to be the only ones in the religious world that have missed this lesson.

It seems that every world religion today is demanding their bit of unearned respect. Earlier this year it was Muslims throwing a fit about their laws not being followed by people in other countries who don’t follow their god.

Now it’s Christians crying that they are not being respected because a piece of historical fiction has made it to the silver screen. Even high ranking Vatican officials like Cardinal Francis Arinze are getting their panties in a knot and threatening to sue because he believes legal action “ can be taken in order to get the other person to respect the rights of others.”

However, I’ve never seen any government, nor even the bible giving credence to the claim that there is somehow an inherent right to respect. Yet that doesn’t stop him from claiming it’s “one of the fundamental human rights.”

But many realize that the courts won’t uphold that fictitious right. So it seems that some are calling for a global religious tribunal to impose sanctions on countries when others feel that they didn’t get treated with respect they haven’t earned. So much for freedom of speech.

Again, if the religious fanatics want some respect, they should earn it? How? For the creationists and ID proponents: do some real science. To the religious that think their dogma needs some respect: Drop the bits that make no sense instead of wearing them as a badge of honor.

Until you can do these things, people are going to laugh at you and mock you. You’ve asked for it. And they have every right to, as Scott Adams (the creator of the Dilbert comics) points out in his blog.

As he puts it:
I respect the Mormons for doing a great job of creating good citizens. Whatever they’re doing seems to be working. You rarely hear about a gang of violent Mormons terrorizing a town. But must I also respect their practice of wearing special underpants to ward off evil?

He goes on to point out that such nonsensical beliefs should be mocked because without a good bit of mockery, there would be no limits on the stupid things people would come up with. As he says:
I’ve never seen anyone change his mind because of the power of a superior argument or the acquisition of new facts. But I’ve seen plenty of people change behavior to avoid being mocked.

Although I’ve (on rare occasion) seen people give up their cherished fantasies in the face of overwhelming evidence, it’s far more common for someone to cling to their ideologies because they prefer not to stick out like a sore thumb.

As H.L. Mencken put it:
We must respect the other fellow's religion, but only in the sense and to the extent that we respect his theory that his wife is beautiful and his children smart.

Creationism is a "kind of paganism"

Although I'm an ardent atheist and have a disdain for religion in general, I think it should be emphasized that I'm not naïve enough to think that religion inhibits the mental functioning of any individual (although it seems that those with inhibited mental functioning flock towards the easy answers religion provides).

Indeed, there are many religious figures for whom I hold a great admiration. Chief among them are the astronomers the Vatican keeps on hand at their Vatican observatory in Arizona.

I’ve been a fan of George Coyne for quite some time now. In March 2005, Astronomy magazine ran a wonderful article (entitled Coyne of the realm), featuring an interview with Coyne on his views on science, religion, and how the two worked to support each other. If you have a chance to pick this article up, I’d highly recommend it.

However, Coyne isn’t the only Vatican astronomer who’s captured my attention. Guy Consolmagno recently was quoted as stating:
Religion needs science to keep it away from superstition and keep it close to reality, to protect it from creationism, which at the end of the day is a kind of paganism - it's turning God into a nature god. And science needs religion in order to have a conscience, to know that, just because something is possible, it may not be a good thing to do.
Although I disagree that science needs religion in order to have a conscience, any more than an Atheist needs God to tell him how to behave, I don’t think it hurts for the two to work together. Furthermore, he asserted that the God of the Bible is entirely supernatural and thus outside of the realm of science.

Additionally, Consolmagno stated that, “It's not like [the Pope] has a magic power, that God whispers the truth in his ear.”

Of course not. I hear that’s reserved for President Bush.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Bush announces World War III

Apparently Bush has delusions of grandeur. In a recent interivew, Bush said that the attack on Flight 93 "was the first counter-attack to World War III."

Forgive me if I'm a bit cynical as to the scope of this endeavour, but it seems to me that if this should be a sequel to any war, we should be calling it Vietnam 2.0.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Irony in the making?

Although he's not as flamboyant as our favourite Fred Phelps, there's another evangelical preacher out there that has a soft spot in my funny bone. That preacher is Brother Jed Smock. Instead of protesting at soldiers funerals, Brother Jed's favourite bible-thumping ground is college campuses. I've caught him numerous times at my last school in Springfield Missouri and he's already been to KU this school year (although I missed him here).

Every once in awhile, I check his website to see what fun new things he's up to. Today, I noticed this bit here:
Our oldest daughter, Evangeline (20), has joined the Army. She will report for duty right after our School of Evangelism in early September. She will be trained as a warrior and will study to be a Chaplain's Assistant. She wants to go to Iraq to be where the action is.

My question is: If this Evangeline is killed in action, will fellow fire and brimstone preacher Phelps show up at the funeral of Brother Jed to protest laugh gleefully at her death?

Note: I certainly do not wish for the death of Evangeline or any other of our nation's military. I'm merely speculating at a potentially ironic situation.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

More wonderful pictures from Cassini

This picture made today's Astronomy Picture of the Day and has quickly become one of my favourite pictures from the mission thus far. In it, Saturn's rings appear as the thin line as they're being viewed edge on. Just below the ring plane is Enceladus. The angle the sun is making with respect to the rings causes their fine structure to appear in sillouette across Saturn's body.

Another interesting bit to this picture is the bluish haze appearing at the top of Saturn. It's believed this is caused by scattering of light in Saturn's atmosphere in a similar manner to what happens here on Earth to make the sky blue (when it's not being cloudy, like in Kansas...). However, this appears to only happen at Saturn's north pole. This suggests that the clould level is somehow lower here than everwhere else which has left astronomers baffled as to the reason. Additionally, the reason behind Saturn's soft yellow color also remains a mystery.