November 11th, 2009


this blog

Hello, to all my half-dozen or so readers. :)

It's been a little while since I created this blog, so I thought I would clarify a few things again about it.

This blog is for me to write about atheism, critical thinking, pro-science, anti-pseudoscience type things. The core of most of it is my atheism, and this topic has a tendency to touch nearly every topic, but occasionally I will wander into these others without referencing religion or anti-religion.

That being said, I get the last word on this blog, what goes in it, and what doesn't. I will turn off comments when I choose (though after teaching for ten years to people who experience massive anxiety about my subject, I have a lot more patience now than I did in high school). I will block people when they are sufficiently annoying. I will block people instantly if they are off topic, spam or are just here to pontificate. Debates will take longer because I like debating, but it can happen eventually.

I do this blog by myself, and I'm a busy person. I have work (and work and work), and school, and writing more substantially-sized things like books, Twitter, and occasionally even a social life. I don't post here as much as I'd like. I try not to let it go for months, though it does sometimes happen. Sometimes there is a lot to talk about, and I post more frequently. But it's just me. I don't have co-bloggers, and I don't make money from the site. If no one reads this but the six-or-so people I know that do, well, that's life. Surprisingly, it was never my ambition in life to have a verb in the urban dictionary named after me like PZ Myers does. And frankly, I don't have the kind of time he does.

Why am I reminding you all of this? Because recently, as in currently on-going over the last three days, one of my old posts has suddenly generated 4 dozen new comments (okay, half of them are my responses) from at least one person, possibly two or more: it's actually hard to tell since half of the posts are Anonymous--boy don't I wish I had to time to tweak the code so all the Anonymous posts say "Unnamed Coward" like they do on my other blog! But I digress...

I have been accused of being irresponsible and arrogant for expressing my opinion and defending it, and for not Googling, even though, before the events described in the post, I'd never even heard of the guy in question before, and I referenced (though didn't link to) a quote from his own site. The post was from nine months ago! But I give atheists a bad name, such a bad name that no one noticed it until now.

I will give all future commenters here fair warning... I'm really a basically nice person, passionate though, hardworking and sometimes too honest. I say what I think, I say it bluntly, and I'm used to disagreeing with the majority of people most of the time. I will not be cowed by people coming in here throwing around their scientific "authority" unless it is on topic, and even then if you say something I think is nonsense, I will not be afraid to say so. I told my second grade teacher I thought one of her assignments was stupid; it's far too late to stop now.

I also won't react well to people coming onto this blog and getting started with phrases like "you people". I certainly can be arrogant, and this is one fast way into that particular personality trait.

I won't react particularly well, either, to accusing me of making a particular fallacy, and then making it yourself. You don't like me calling someone a quack? Fine. But then turning around and calling me arrogant isn't a good idea. If you want to convince me to change my mind--and it does happen--you need both relevant facts and good logic.

There are consequences to the claims people make. If you are promoting alternative medicine, I believe that you are contributing to the deaths of real people. Homeopathy is drinking water to cure disease. Chiropractors got started staying that by adjusting the spine they could cure deafness. thinks that drinking juice will cure you of cancer. People die from these "treatments". It is a moral question to combat them. And when combined with real medicine, it's the alternative treatment that gets the credit. You want to play music to a comatose patient? Be my guest. But don't then tell me later that it wasn't the doctors and nurses and the hospital that made you well, because someone will take that testimony and decide they don't need doctors, just music.

I expect that some people will disagree with some of what gets said in this blog. And given the views of most of the nation in which I live, most people will disagree with basically everything I say. But if you agree with most of what I say, try not to get hung up on the points on which we disagree. I escaped religion through applying logic to myself and the religion I was raised in. I have been trained in math and science, and stay on top of current scientific literature as much as possible. You disagree? You want to debate? Fine. Come armed with your facts (I won't look them up for you), and don't get so bent out of shape if I insist your argument doesn't meet the threshold of proof. I've debated Republicans, and climate change deniers, and creationists and theists... I've heard all the bad arguments, and if I think you are following in their footsteps, I will say so. If you are going to get upset when I call one of your statements irrational, then the "debate" will be more like shouting at a wall. And for that, rant on your own blog.

Thank you.

So now I am going to get back to my busy life, and do grading and read the news, and maybe doing something relaxing with my Veteran's Day off. And speaking of Veteran's Day, remember all the atheists, too, who served in the armed forces, silently in those foxholes, and some who, like Pat Tillman, lost their lives protecting a country with problems, but which is still fighting the good fight for social justice.
taun we

equality and religion

This has been a bad couple of weeks for gay rights in this country, particularly in the Northeast where most of the movement is. This is, sadly, part of a larger problem with preserving inequality, with the clerical class on top.

I described the problem with abortion rights in the health care bill here, but I want to focus in this post about the same-sex marriage battles going on in New England.

The most egregious example of all of them comes from Rhode Island where the governor has vetoed legislation that did nothing more than allow same-sex couples to retrieve bodies of their dead partners from the morgue. He claimed that this was part of an incremental erosion of traditional heterosexual marriage... even though the legislation has nothing to do with people in traditional marriages.

In New York, where a same-sex marriage bill is being debated in the legislature, the Senate has hit a bit of a roadblock in the process and is seeing delays. Some are concerned that religious conservatives could still derail the bill, even Democrats, who have vowed to vote against it.

In Maine a same-sex bill passed by the legislature was narrowly rejected by the public on last week's ballot. The original debate over the law was deeply religious in nature.

On MSNBC this afternoon, Contessa Brewer and her guest were discussing the topic and mentioned that it was a "moral issue" for some people. But like Contessa, I don't get this.

It is not moral to treat gays differently than straights are treated, no more than it is moral to treat blacks differently than whites. This idea of heterosexual privilege is almost entirely about religious privilege. It lets people claim to be "moral" while still defending their superiour positions in society; it gives them the cover to look down on those gays because they are evil. The same book of the Bible that seems to say that gay sex is bad, also says, in the very next breath, that eating shellfish is bad... and yet you don't see that Rhode Island governor getting bent out of shape over the state's biggest industry, do you? He's not living in Wyoming where he won't have to be exposed to the consumption of shellfish so readily.

The whole moral authority of the Bible must be put into question because it is essentially a litany of reasons to look down on other people. It is merely a means of saying I am better than you because I don't do XXXX. Most of it is insane. Even the justification for producing children in a society struggling to crack 100,000 citizens (in the good days) and constantly on the brink of extinction, no longer applies because the planet is facing a major overpopulation crisis. When the circumstances of a rule/law cease to exist, it must be tossed out. That's why you don't find many laws on the books about hitching horses within 20 feet of an ATM.

Religious believers must be challenged when they make moral claims. Defending traditional marriage by punishing same-sex couples is, in fact, not moral. Nor is forcing gays into unhappy traditional marriages. It is immoral for the individual just from the perspective of the individual. And it is immoral from the standpoint of being bad for society. And there is nothing American about enshrining in law immoral obligations of some religion. The government's job is not support religious principles.

I am confident that in 20 years, this will be an old argument; I am confident, because we are having this debate at all. But in the meantime, I am impatient for that day to come. Injustices are being done every day in the name of religion. Every time a couple is turned away from a marriage license or discriminated against in any way, we are all wounded by it.