30 December 2009
How Religious Is Your State?
Dec. 21, 2009
Which of the 50 states has the most religious population? Since there are many ways to define "religious," there is no single answer to this question. But to give a sense of how the states stack up, the Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion & Public Life used polling data to rank them on four measures: the importance of religion in people's lives, frequency of attendance at worship services, frequency of prayer and absolute certainty of belief in God. Mississippi stands out on all four, and several other Southern states also rank very high on the measures.
See how the states rank according to each of the four measures in the interactive graphic below.
States with sample sizes that are too small to analyze are combined. As a result, the lowest ranking is 46 rather than 50.
CLICK HERE FOR THE TABLE AND COOL INTERACTIVE FEATURES.
26 December 2009
All too often, believers will project a meaning that a word doesn't have based on their poor understanding of the word or the world around them. Hopefully this simple statement will help. Of course, even simple is sometimes too complex for the theist mind to work out. a (without) theism (belief in gods). Try to keep up, even while riding the short bus.
It's simultaneously depressing and amusing to see Christians blow a fuse over atheists doing little more than expressing an opinion and/or being public about what they think. One might get the impression that some Christians regard the public square -- and indeed the entire public realm -- as their own exclusive property. They certainly don't seem able to handle any sort of direct competition, disagreement, dissent, or criticism.
Case in point this time around is Jane Gilvary, a student at St. Joseph's University who is throwing a fit over the existence of a "Tree of Knowledge" erected in West Chester, PA, by the Freethought Society of Greater Philadelphia. As an alternative to traditional holiday displays, this "tree" is designed to promote the values of literacy, learning, and skepticism -- none of which seem to be accepted or appreciated by the complaining Christians. Jane Gilvary in particular regards it as little more than "denigrating" for Christians to have to deal with something other than a religious display this time of year.
Of course, the theitards will rationalize this with some sort of non-sense about god working in mysterious ways or testing them further. Well, that just seems like a really assholeish thing to do. Maybe he doesn't like you? I know I sure as heck don't like you!
24 December 2009
Again, it's not the veracity of these myths that I am pointing out (they are myths after all, thereby having no veracity at all), but rather the numerous elements stolen by xtian dogma and xtian mythology and incorporated into their own mythology. In other words, why should anyone believe their version of events, when nearly the exact same myth is dismissed? Or is that too uncomfortable a question?
Anyway, here is the old post I am recycling. In the meantime, enjoy time with your family and loved one, I know I am.
Well, it's that time of year again where people get into a fervor over some imaginary guy born on the 25th of December. Without going into all the myriad of problems with the Jebus myth (i.e. No census, Herod already dead, no wisemen and if they had followed a star as described they would have ended up in India, accounts are written about a 100 years afterwards, lack of evidence, etc), I'd like to share some OTHER dieties that were also NOT born on the 25th.
Also, the link in the title is an interesting read, as well as a few others. I know that generally very few people read this blog, so for the most part it's really a way for me to collect links that I want to have easier recall to, such as this one. I also want to thank my "internet friend" Daniel Florien for this particular blog entry. It's really taken from his page, which in turn is from another friend of his. I've just moved a couple things around and added some slight commentary.
Okay, now on to the list!
Horus c. 3000 BCE
--born of the virgin Isis-Merion December 25 in a cave/manger with his birth being announced by a star in the East and attended by three wise men.
--his earthly father was named “Seb” (“Joseph”).
--was of royal descent.
--at 12, he was a child teacher in the Temple, and at 30, he was baptized having disappeared for 18 years.
--baptized in the river Eridanus or Iarutana (Jordan) by “Anup the Baptizer” (“John the Baptist”), who was decapitated.
--had 12 disciples, two of who were his “witnesses” and were named “Anup” and “Aan” (the two “Johns”).
--performed miracles, exorcised demons and raised El-Azarus (“El-Osiris”), from the dead.
--walked on water.
--his personal epithet was “Iusa,” the “ever-becoming son” of “Ptah,” the “Father.” He was thus called “Holy Child.”
--delivered a “Sermon on the Mount” and his followers recounted the “Sayings of Iusa.”
--was transfigured on the Mount.
--crucified between two thieves, buried for three days in a tomb, and resurrected.
--he was also the “Way, the Truth, the Light,” “Messiah,” “God’s Anointed Son,” “the “Son of Man,” the “Good Shepherd,” the “Lamb of God,” the “Word made flesh,” the “Word of Truth,” etc.
--he was “the Fisher” and was associated with the Fish (“Ichthys”), Lamb and Lion.
--came to fulfill the Law.
--called “the KRST,” or “Anointed One.”
--was supposed to reign one thousand years.
Inscribed about 3,500 years ago on the walls of the Temple at Luxor were images of the Annunciation, Immaculate Conception, Birth and Adoration of Horus, with Thoth announcing to the Virgin Isis that she will conceive Horus; with Kneph the “Holy Ghost,” impregnating the virgin; and with the infant being attended by three kings, or magi, bearing gifts. In addition, in the catacombs at Rome are pictures of the baby Horus being held by the virgin mother Isis—the original “Madonna and Child.”
Osiris c. 3000 BCE
--Father of Horus, considered to be part of a triune godhead -- Osiris, Horus and Isis.
--Osiris was identified with nearly every other Egyptian god and was on the way to absorbing them all. He had well over 200 divine names.
--He was called the Lord of Lords, King of Kings, God of Gods.
--He was the Resurrection and the Life, the Good Shepherd, Eternity and Everlastingness, the god who “made men and women to be born again.” --From first to last, Osiris was to the Egyptians the god-man who suffered, an died, and rose again, and reigned eternally in heaven. They believed that they would inherit eternal life, just as he had done .
--Osiris’s coming was announced by Three Wise Men: the three stars Mintaka, Anilam, and Alnitak in the belt of Orion, which point directly to Osiris’s star in the east, Sirius (Sothis), significator of his birth . . .
--Osiris was a prototypical Messiah, as well as a devoured Host. His flesh was eaten in the form of communion cakes of wheat, the “plant of Truth.” . . .
--The cult of Osiris contributed a number of ideas and phrases to the Bible. The 23rd Psalm copied an Egyptian text appealing to Osiris the Good Shepherd to lead the deceased to the “green pastures” and “still waters” of the nefer-nefer land, to restore the soul to the body, and to give protection in the valley of the shadow of death (the Tuat).
--The Lord’s Prayer was prefigured by an Egyptian hymn to Osiris-Amen beginning, “O Amen, O Amen, who are in heaven.” Amen was also invoked at the end of every prayer.
Attis of Phrygia c.1400 BCE
-- born on December 25 of the Virgin Nana (or sometimes Cybelem).
-- considered the savior who was slain for the salvation of mankind.
-- his body as bread was eaten by his worshippers
-- his priests were “eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven.”
-- he was both the Divine Son and the Father.
-- he was crucified on a tree on “Black Friday,” from which his holy blood ran down to redeem the earth.
-- descended into the underworld for three days.
-- was resurrected on March 25 (as tradition held of Jesus) as the Most High God. -- reborn as the evergreen pine.
Zoroaster/Zarathustra c. 1000 BCE or earlier
--born of a 15-year-old virgin, Dughdhava and “immaculate conception by a ray of divine reason.”
--he was baptized in a river.
--in his youth he astounded wise men with his wisdom.
--was tempted in the wilderness by the devil.
--began his ministry at age 30 wandered around with twelve followers.
--baptized with water, fire and “holy wind.”
--cast out demons and restored the sight to a blind man.
--taught about heaven and hell, and revealed mysteries, including resurrection, judgment, salvation and the apocalypse.
--had a sacred cup or grail.
--his religion had a eucharist.
--he was the “Word made flesh.”
--followers expected a “second coming” in the virgin-born Saoshynt or Savior, who is to come in 2341 CE and begin his ministry at age 30, ushering in a golden age.
Mithra of Persia c. 600 BCE
--born of a virgin on December 25 in a cave, and his birth was attended by shepherds bearing gifts.
--considered a great traveling teacher and master.
--had 12 companions or disciples.
--his followers were promised immortality.
--the “great bull of the Sun,” Mithra sacrificed himself for world peace.
-- buried in a tomb and after three days rose again.
--resurrection was celebrated every year.
--called “the Good Shepherd” and identified with both the Lamb and the Lion.
--considered the “Way, the Truth and the Light,” and the “Logos,” [Word] “Redeemer,” “Savior” and “Messiah.”
--sacred day was Sunday, the “Lord’s Day,” hundreds of years before the appearance of Christ.
--had his principal festival on what was later to become Easter.
--his religion had a eucharist or “Lord’s Supper,” at which Mithra said, “He who shall not eat of my body nor drink of my blood so that he may be one with me and I with him, shall not be saved.”
--his annual sacrifice is the Passover of the Magi, a symbolical atonement of pledge of moral and physical regeneration.
ALSO, the Vatican is built upon the papacy of Mithra, and the Christian hierarchy is nearly identical to the Mithraic version it replaced . . . Virtually all of the elements of the Catholic ritual, from miter to wafer to altar to doxology, are directly taken from earlier Pagan mystery religions.
Heracles c. 800 BCE
--born on December 25 to a virgin who refrained from sex with her until her God-begotten child was born.
--sacrificed at the spring equinox.
Dionysus c. 186 BCE
--born of a virgin on December 25 and, as the Holy Child, was placed in a manger.
--a traveling teacher who performed miracles.
--rode in a triumphal procession on an ass.
-- a sacred king killed and eaten in an eucharistic ritual for fecundity and purification.
--rose from the dead on March 25.
--the God of the Vine, and turned water into wine.
--called “King of Kings” and “God of Gods.”
--considered the “Only Begotten Son,” Savior,” “Redeemer,” “Sin Bearer,” Anointed One,” and the “Alpha and Omega.”
--identified with the Ram or Lamb.
--His sacrificial title of “Dendrites” or “Young Man of the Tree” indicates he was hung on a tree or crucified.
Tammuz c. 400 BCE
--born to a virgin, named Mylitta, on December 25
Adonis c. 200 BCE
--born on December 25 was son of the virgin Myrha. (Almost certainly based on Tammuz).
--born on December 25 was the son of the virgin Maia,
--member of a holy trinity Hermes Tris-Megistus.
--born on December 25, was crucified in 200 BCE.
--born on December 25, descended from heaven as a god incarnate as man, to save mankind, and was crucified, suffered, and was redeemed from death.
Some have claimed that Buddha was born on the 25th of December, which is not true from all I know of that philosophy. However, I can see how tempting it may be to add him in since he has started quite a philosophical movement, and let's face it, this is also a legend the christians stole from for a great deal of their philosophy, so here are a few things about him:
Buddha (Siddartha Gautama) c. 563 BCE
--born of the Virgin Maya (“the Queen of Heaven”)
-- announced by a star and attended by wise men presenting costly gifts.
--at his birth Brahma angels sang hymns.
--tempted by Mara, the Evil One, while fasting, but overcame the temptation, putting the Evil One to flight.
--taught in temple at age 12 and was able to match the wise religious scholars in their understanding.
-- He healed the sick; fed 500 from a small basket of cakes.
--walked on water.
--Buddha's disciple wanted to hear his lord preach so he started to cross a stream – he doubted and started to sink but he built up his faith and continued to walk across the water.
--came to fulfill the law and preached the establishment of a kingdom of righteousness.
--He obliged followers to live in poverty and to renounce the world.
--In his final years, Buddha was said to have 'crushed a serpent's head' and to have been transfigured on a mount ...'
--It was Buddha, not Christ, who first said: 'If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also'
The same claim of the 25th is attributed to Krishna, however I think this one has an accepted birthday of sometime in July. Again I only copy this over because of some other interesting similarities that may have been borrowed (or just outright stolen):
Krishna c. 1400 BCE (possibly as early as 5771 BCE)
-- born of the Virgin Devaki (“Divine One”)
--his earthly father was a carpenter, off in the city paying tax when K. was born.
--birth was signaled by a star in the east and attended by angels and shepherds, at which time he was presented with spices.
--heavenly hosts danced and sang at his birth.
--persecuted by a tyrant who ordered the slaughter of thousands of infants.
--anointed on the head with oil by a woman whom he healed.
--depicted as having his foot on the head of a serpent.
--worked miracles and wonders, raising the dead and healing lepers, the deaf and the blind.
--used parables to teach the people about charity and love, and he “lived poor and he loved the poor.”
--castigated the clergy, charging them with “ambition and hypocrisy . . . Tradition says he fell victim to their vengeance.”
--his “beloved disciple” was Arjuina or Ar-jouan (Jouhn).
--transfigured in front of his disciples.
--gave his twelve disciples the ability to work miracles.
--his path was “strewn with branches.”
--died on a tree or was crucified between two thieves.
--killed around the age of 30, and the sun darkened at his death.
--rose from the dead and ascended to heaven “in the sight of all men.”
--depicted on a cross with nail-holes in his feet, as well as having a heart emblem on his clothing.
--the “lion of the tribe of Saki.”
--called the “Shepherd of God” and considered the “Redeemer,” “Firstborn,” “Sin-Bearer,” “Liberator,” “Universal Word.”
--deemed the “Son of God” and “our Lord and Savior,” who came to earth to die for man’s salvation.
--the second person of the Trinity.
--his disciples purportedly bestowed upon him the title “Jezeus,” or “Jeseus,” meaning “pure essence.”
I guess the myth persists for so long because it just keeps getting recycled! It's like Hollywood is recycling all the good stories out there without even trying to stay with the original version?
22 December 2009
That said, here is a person who tackled this in a small scale for his Master's Thesis. Direct from RD.net:
About 6 months ago, I used this forum to look for volunteers from around Toronto who wanted to be interviewed regarding the process they took to finally seeing themselves as atheist. I received many responses and I ended up interviewing 10 individuals. I think what I found should be sent out to as many people as possible, so I'm providing a direct link to the study in pdf format. Understandably, the literature review may not be of interest to some people, but the heart of the thesis is in the findings section about the atheist construction process.
Here's a summary of the paper:
This study examines the atheist construction process through ten in-depth interviews ofthose who were raised in a religious background and who eventually became atheist.Atheists are a misrepresented percentage of the population in our redominantly Judeo-Christian society. The academic literature reflects this situation as there is insubstantialresearch pertaining to atheism. There is an absence of relevant material regarding howindividuals come to see themselves as an atheist, particularly in a Canadian context. The exploratory approach of interviewing provides atheists a voice in the literature, while simultaneously investigating Canadian atheism. It was found that a combination of socialfactors and individual/cognitive factors contributed to the process. Beginning the process with Primary Socialization, the participants entered a cycle that eventually led toatheism. The core of the cycle involves the following factors: Secondary Socialization,Cultural Forces, Replacement/In-Between, and Reading and Education. The peripheryof the cycle comprises the entirety of the examined factors, which includes Logical andCritical Thought and Doubt. Further, conversion theories provide a template for and acomparison with the atheist construction process.
And the link:https://www.sugarsync.com/pf/D81359_071787_811
Forward this to anybody you wish.
Hopefully this may prove of some use to someone. The link takes you to a PDF that you can download and read at your leisure. It's 80+ pages long. Hopefully it will help in the author's goals of putting a human face to atheists.
19 December 2009
Straight from the American Museum of Natural History:
After hovering over Mount Everest and the gorges that plunge to the Ganges, you are pulled through the Earth’s atmosphere to glimpse the inky black of space over Tibet’s high desert. So begins The Known Universe, a new film produced by the American Museum of Natural History that is part of a new exhibition, Visions of the Cosmos: From the Milky Ocean to an Evolving Universe, at the Rubin Museum of Art in New York City.
The magic of this film, though, happens as the inky black expands. Pulling farther and farther from Earth, you see the deep blue of the Pacific give way to night as the Sun comes into focus, the orbits of the solar system shrink smaller and smaller, the constellations Sagittarius and Scorpio stretch and distort, and, as the Milky Way receeds, the spidery structure of millions of other galaxies come into view. Then, you reach the limit of the observable universe, the afterglow of the Big Bang. This light has taken more than 13.7 billion years to reach our planet, and you return, back to Earth, to two lakes that are nestled between Mount Kailash and Mount Gurla Mandhata in the Himalayas.
The structure of The Known Universe is based on precise, scientifically-accurate observations and research. The Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History maintains the Digital Universe Atlas, the world’s most complete four-dimensional map of the universe. The Digital Universe started nearly a decade ago. It is continually updated and is the primary resource for production of the Museum’s Space Shows such as the current Journey to the Stars, and is used in live, real-time renderings for Virtual Tours of the Universe, a public program held on the first Tuesday of every month. Last year, some 30,000 people downloaded the Digital Universe to their personal computers, and the Digital Universe will soon be updated with a more accurate and user-friendly software interface. Digital Universe is licensed to many other planetariums and theaters world-wide.
“I liken the Digital Universe to the invention of the globe,” says Curator Ben R. Oppenheimer, an astrophysicist at the Museum. “When Mercator invented the globe, everyone wanted one. He had back orders for years. It gave everyone a new perspective on where they live in relation to others, and we hope that the Digital Universe does the same on a grander, cosmic scale.”
The new film was produced by Michael Hoffman, and directed by Carter Emmart. Brian Abbot manages and Ben R. Oppenheimer curates the Digital Universe Atlas. The exhibition at the Rubin, Visions of the Cosmos: From the Milky Ocean to an Evolving Universe, opened on December 11 and continues through May 10.
Apparently there's a bit of a tradition in the UK surrounding Christmas music singles charts, with lots of competition to get recognized in the Top 40 or Top 10, or better yet, stealing the #1 spot.
Australian comedian, singer, songwriter, and musician Tim Minchin's atheist Christmas song White Wine in the Sun is already #67 in the iTunes Top 100 for the UK. It has been quietly gathering attention among his fans and atheists and freethinkers around the world, and is poised to break through to the Top 40, if it can gather just a few more downloads from iTunes. It would be the first openly atheist Christmas song to do so.
From his site, a blog post titled Ready for a Christmas single with a difference? (Sunday, 13 December 2009):
OK, there are red cups at Starbucks and big socks in the shops… so what else is traditional at this time of the year? The Christmas single of course… but not the usual fare eh? ‘White Wine in the Sun’, the beautiful and sentimental encore to Tim’s ‘Ready For This?’ show has been released as a single for the first time and is now available on: iTunes
You can also get it elsewhere, if you are not into iTunes but the best way to ensure that your download counts towards the singles chart is to buy from iTunes.
We know getting it to chart is a ridiculous long shot… but just imagine if it did!
Update: It turns out it can be gifted through iTunes too, which is especially apt at this time of the year and for a Christmas single. Simply click “Gift This Music” under the information on the single’s page. However, it will ask the recipient to download iTunes if they do not already have it or to update if below Version 6. It’s even suitable for your auntie…and beats that pack of hankies she may give you hands down.
Check out his YouTube video to see his charming performance live:
18 December 2009
Just for fun during the holidays. I got this from a fellow blogee named Daniel Florien. While I have always been atheist, he was at one time a devout christian, so he has quite the unique perspective. I just found this funny really.
Although, if you really examine the mythology, I'd say that Santa has a huge advantage over that god fellow. Santa sure as heck seems a lot nicer. The worst you get from him is having a lump of coal. That god fellow is decidedly much more unpleasant!
The Redheaded Skeptic stopped by here one time and left me a comment. So I went and checked out her blog, and I was pleased to have another person's perspective on deconversion (my wife has her perspective too, but her version didn't seem to resonate with other's and she thinks more in pictures anyway so it's hard to articulate it). So while I can't offer anything on this, maybe she can. One of her entries particularly resonated with me though... Let's just say that in reality, strong theism is like a mental disorder, and this post sums it up quite well:
Now, I do want to mention, I also read blogs by the deluded. I have only commented on one (by invitation even). I don't repost what they have to say, because, well, it's the same lame shit over and over again. It's the same with any delusions that fly in the face of reality, like the birthers or people who deny evolution. All too often, people who attempt to debate theists/birthers/creationists end up having to sit through endless bad arguments and just plain silly assertions. And they get tiresome. Incredibly tiresome. So tiresome in fact that anyone caught in the endless web of theist/birther/creationist lies and deceptions usually just gets frustrated and leaves, handing the theist/birther/creationists a victory in their mind (a la pigeon playing chess analogy).
Josh posted a list of signs that one is addicted to religion, along with how he fit the criteria. I read it and definitely saw myself and my family.
The list can be found here and seems to describe fundamentalism at its core. It is as follows:
- Inability to think, doubt, or question religious information and/or authority
- Black-and-white, good/bad, either/or simplistic thinking: one way or the other
- Shame-based belief that you aren’t good enough or you aren’t doing it right
- Magical thinking that God will fix you/ do it all, without serious work on your part
- Scrupulosity: rigid obsessive adherence to rules, codes of ethics, or guidelines
- Uncompromising judgmental attitudes: readiness to find fault or evil out there
- Compulsive or obsessive praying, going to church or crusades, quoting scripture
- Unrealistic financial contributions
- Believing that sex is dirty; believing our bodies or physical pleasures are evil
- Compulsive overeating and/or excessive fasting
- Conflict and argumentation with science, medicine, and education
- Progressive detachment from the real work, isolation and breakdown of relationships
- Psychosomatic illness: back pains, sleeplessness, headaches, hypertension
- Manipulating scripture or texts, feeling specially chosen, claiming to receive special messages from God
- Maintaining a religious “high”, trance-like state, keeping a happy face (or the belief that one should…)
- Attitude of righteousness or superiority: “we versus the world,” including the denial of one’s human-ness.
- Confusion, great doubts, mental, physical or emotional breakdown, cries for help
Verrrry interesting. I definitely fit almost every single criteria. Though I do wonder if it is based on anything scientific or the author’s own observations. This may not be a list of addiction symptoms, but rather fundamentalism. Is there a difference? That is for science to know and for us to find out! What do you think?
15 December 2009
Anyway, here is the first page entry:
Every year, this gets harder.
Not that deciding what pictures to use in 2006, 2007, or 2008 was all that easy! But astronomy is such a beautiful science. Of course it has scientific appeal: the biggest questions fall squarely into its lap. Where did this all begin? How will it end? How did we get here? People used to look to the stars asking those questions, and coincidentally, for the most part, that’s where the answers lie. And we’ll be asking them for a long time to come.
But astronomy is so visually appealing as well! Colorful stars, wispy, ethereal nebulae, galactic vistas sprawling out across our telescopes… it’s art no matter how you look at it. And our techniques for viewing the heavens gets better every year; our telescopes get bigger, our cameras more sensitive, and our robotic probes visit distant realms, getting close-up shots that remind us that these are not just planets and moons; they’re worlds.
So every year the flood of imagery takes longer to sort through, and far longer to choose from. And the choices were really tough! This year leans a bit more toward planetary images than usual, but that’s not surprising given how many spacecraft we have out there these days.
I don’t pick all these images for their sheer beauty; I consider what they mean, what we’ve learned from them, and their impact as well. But have no doubts that they are all magnificent examples of the intersection of art and science. At the bottom of each post is a link to the original source and to my original post on the topic, if there is one. If you disagree with my picks, or think I’ve missed something, put a link in the comments! All the pictures have descriptions, and are clickable to bring you to (in most cases) much higher resolution version. So embiggen away!
And welcome to my annual Top Ten Astronomy Pictures post. Enjoy.
14 December 2009
The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter has returned another incredible picture of an Apollo landing site, this time of our second manned walk on another world… and again, the footprints of the astronauts are clearly visible!
In November 1969, Apollo 12 touched down near the Surveyor 3 probe, which had soft-landed two years previously. The astronauts walked up to the lander and even brought back pieces of it! Surveyor is easily seen in this image, as well as the craters Pete Conrad and Al Bean investigated. In this high-resolution image (taken in September), you can even see their bootprints radiating away from their lander!
After the other Apollo images from LRO, I know this is more of the same. But don’t let it fall from your mind that these images show that once, not long ago, we dared to explore. For those few shining moments, we reached farther than our grasp, and managed to do something extraordinary. We let that slip away not too much later. Yes, our robots probe and peer into every corner of the solar system, and have done a magnificent job. But I am of the opinion that we need to send men and women out there as well, to extend the human presence beyond our own planet, beyond a simple low-Earth orbit.
I don’t know when we will exceed our grasp again. But I hope it’s soon.
11 December 2009
From Dr. Plait:
Sometimes, news comes pouring in to Bad Astronomy HQ, and I am but a man, so I can’t keep up (writing about Saturn’s moons and giant galactic panoramas and big weird Scandinavian spinny thingies keep me pretty busy, y’know).
So here are some quick bits o’ interest.
2) You already knew this, but Rush Limbaugh is somewhat misinformed on basic matters of science and medicine*.
3) Obama’s science advisor John Holdren reads a book by my Hive Overmind compatriots!
5) My friend, the Aussie skeptic Richard Saunders appeared on national TV and handed an astrologer his head.
6) My evil twin Richard Wiseman is fun at parties. Here’s the video:
OK, good. That oughta keep y’all busy while I write up my next big astronomy post.
Jaco Gericke on "The Collapse of Realism, Cognitive Dissonance and the 'Died-Again' Christian Syndrome"
Jaco Gericke on "The Collapse of Realism, Cognitive Dissonance and the 'Died-Again' Christian Syndrome"
Since most Old Testament scholars are also Christians it is to be expected that they think of themselves as realists or at least semi-realists when it comes to the ontological status of Yahweh-as-depicted in the text. As a result, when confronted with the case against realism they will encounter arguments that might seem to run counter to all that they believe regarding the nature of reality.
When it comes to the reaction of people when they are confronted with rational discourse that seems to disprove their most sincere and cherished beliefs, a lot would depend on how convincing the counter arguments are. Or so one would think.
In the 1950's, social and cognitive psychologist Leon Festinger did extensive research on scenarios where people are forced to react on being confronted with what appears to be incontrovertible proof that their beliefs about certain issues were mistaken. To the surprise of many, it was discovered that, in most cases, the more irrefutable the proof, the more stubbornly the subjects clinged to their initial cognitions (cf. Festinger 1956, 1957).
The end result of the research by Festinger was his theory of "cognitive dissonance". This theory predicts that people who are confronted with evidence contrary to what they believe and want to believe will not only refuse to revise their beliefs, they will actually irrationally seek to promote them more zealously that ever before (cf. also Batson 1982:50; Carroll 1979:86-109).
The theory of cognitive dissonance shows that people in general have a strong need to maintain cognitive consistency. When it comes to the deepest and most meaningful beliefs people have regarding the nature of reality there exists an aversion for discrepancies in the framework of cognitions. In order to ensure the survival of their own constructs of reality there must be sufficient harmony between the various beliefs one holds pertaining to what is perceived to be the facts.
Cognitive dissonance ensues when a person entertains two equally convmcmg cognitionslbeliefs/facts that nevertheless seem to contradict each other. In order to decrease the psychic tension produced by the discrepant beliefs dissonance needs to be lessened. This can happen in one of two ways:
1. One of the cognitions must be rejected and considered to be false.
2. Additional cognitions (ad hoc hypotheses/rationalisations) must be added to the cognitive matrix so that the discrepancy is harmonised on another level or its maintenance temporarily justified to a satisfactory extent.
Opting for the latter strategy may lessen the dissonance but cannot ultimately banish it from the psyche altogether. This strategy is one of psychological survival where the additional cognitions allow the subject to relativise the problem and to dampen the effect of the dissonance. According to Festinger, human creativity and the need for psychological survival override the need for a rational justification of beliefs in the face of cognitive challenges.
Consider the following scenario in which a person:
• believes something with his whole heart;
• made a public commitment to that belief;
• made crucial choices dependent on the veracity of that belief, which in turn decided the course of his life;
• construed personal identity and self-image on the assumption that the belief is true;
• created a personal and satisfying worldview and understanding of reality as a whole in such a way that the particular belief constitutes an essential and foundational element therein;
• answers his existential questions from a frame of reference provided by that belief to the extent that holding on to the belief provides meaning and purpose to life;
• could cope with severe personal crisis and suffering because the particular belief was assumed to be true.
If this person is confronted with seemingly irrefutable proof that his most cherished belief is erroneous, chances are that not only will he emerge from the encounter unscathed but that he will appear to hold more zealously to his belief than ever before. Despite the inability to refute the counter evidence he will be convinced that somehow, in ways presently unknown to him, he is right after all. He may even seek to engage in special pleading or ad hominem rhetoric in order to convince the other party of the veracity and merits of believing in what he does.
The way in which possible cognitive dissonance is lessened in such scenarios is thus not via an in-depth analysis of the counter arguments and an honest unbiased willingness to be open to change opinions in the interest of what may be true. Instead, the discourse containing the apparent refutation of the cherished belief will be approached with brewing conspiracy theories.
The need for creating a straw man for the purposes of refutation, suspicions about the other person's intentions, and constant fideistic rationalisation of why personal beliefs are in reality not really problematic at all will be great. Yet the person experiencing the dissonance may not even realise how irrational his strategies of evasion may be. Introspection is only allowed insofar as faltering personal loyalty to the cherished beliefs can be detected. This is also only done in order to postulate possible personal intellectual shortcomings to justify the discontinuation of considering the counterarguments with an open mind (cf. also James 1902:27; Berger 1967:93).
Festinger demonstrates that deep-seated convictions and cherished beliefs, especially religious beliefs, prove to be extremely resistant to revision and reformulation or rejection for several possible reasons:
1. Holding on to the particular belief carries personal benefits, e.g.:
• it answers the existential and other deep questions of life;
• it provides a feeling of self-worth and also gives a sense of personal identity;
• it provides cognitive security and harmony in aid of psychological survival.
2. It exists in relation to a public commitment, e.g.:
• it is presupposed in family relations;
• friendships originated because of it;
• social standing and status are possible because of it;
• social identity and image are construed by it;
• satisfaction in one's profession and in life in general depends on it.
3. The belief does not exist in isolation, e.g.:
• society or peer groups condones it, expects it and rewards it;
• the survival of the group sharing the particular belief is dependent on it;
• the group in which the belief is maintained provides support, identity, security and the perception of self-worth since it caters for the need to belong;
• others who share the same beliefs provide company, motivation, legitimisation and friendship.
Consider, for example, the case of a conservative believer like myself who was exposed to the findings of critical scholarship. At first I ignored it and dismissed it as satanic heresy. As dissonance theory predicted, I refused to accept the results of research not because I could point to clear-cut fallacies in the particular arguments but merely because I did not like what it implied for the credibility of the beliefs I had come to cherish.
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10 December 2009
You see, sickle cell anemia is an evolutionary adaptation (mistake even) in response to Malaria (a killer of MILLIONS). Now, to some, malaria is some sort of god(s) given punishment (or at the very least, the psychotic sky dady created it). You know, yet another very obvious sign of a loving and benevolent being... Anyway, with malaria being such a horrible disease, and it killing millions, it actually produces a very strong evolutionary tendency on quite a few folks who may have a random mutation that allows them to survive. Not that evolution is true though, right? So now we have scientists that come along, and use STEM CELLS to virtually cure this disease in 90% of the tested patients. Notice how prayed didn't play into this in the slightest (because prayed in no way works...). If anything, the scientists are fighting against god's creation, and winning! Suck on that you impotent imaginary skydaddy! :P And then the thing that really amused me... Most of the religious people in the world opposed stem cell research! Even after it was shown that fetal stem cells were not required, they still opposed stem cell research on some misguided principles that I just can't understand (like attempting to understand people who think the earth is flat).
So far, in all of history, no god(s) have ever healed an amputee. Eventually, I am quite sure that scientists will develop a method for humans to regrow severed limbs. Like I said, "Science! it works bitches!" So, if you are in a life threatening situation where science has the answer, what would you do?
(Waits for the standard apologetic's answers of skypsycho gave us brains, you can't measure prayer, we prayed for the scientists, etc... They are so predicatable.)
01 December 2009
1. The Christian religion posits an all-powerful, omnipresent god who cares greatly about human beings as a whole and, indeed, who is concerned with each of us as individuals. Yet, in scrutinizing what is alleged to be god’s magnificent creation, the most conspicuous fact given by observation is god’s utter absence from it. If god exists, he is a silent, inert sluggard who cannot be bothered to make his existence manifest, despite the fact that, in biblical times, he was full of wonders, miracles and prodigies.
2. The Bible, which, according to Christians, is the inspired word of an omniscient god, does not contain the slightest shred of internal evidence to support that contention. Indeed, every single sentence in the entire tome could have been written by any first century commoner with the rare talent of literacy. Men’s ignorance in biblical times was so comprehensive as to be rather shocking; the Bible fully captures, and credulously regurgitates, the ancient ignorance of its time.
3. On Christianity, god is interested in human salvation, and the religion quite clearly holds that salvation is achieved through saving faith. It is interesting, then, that god has not been more proactive in disseminating this rather important point, given the fact that, even now, there are remote places that the Christian message has not yet penetrated. Christianity’s slow spread by the efforts of man indicates god, if existent, does not much care whether his message is heard.
4. With its bizarre tales and miracle claims, the Bible reads like any common collection of mythology. A world in which a virgin birth occurs, men rise from the dead, miraculous healings are effected and street magic is not mere illusion bears no similarity to, and has no relationship with, the world in which we find ourselves, where the laws of nature are immutable. When one reads mythology and legendry, one finds precisely the same topsy-turvy world one recognizes from the Bible.
5. Although even some Christians discount the factual veracity of most of the Old Testament, many still dogmatically hold to the myths about Moses and the Israelites. The best available evidence indicates the flight from Egypt, wandering in the desert and conquest of the Promised Land did not ever occur. Indeed, rather than the Israelites conquering Canaan following the Exodus, most of them, in fact, had always been there. That is, the Israelites were simply Canaanites who forged a distinct culture. The Old Testament contains nothing more than self-aggrandizing folktales.
6. One of the few theological tenets that are clearly open to scientific experimentation is prayer. And, in fact, the efficacy of intercessory prayer has been tested in a rigorous and credible way. The Study of the Therapeutic Effects of Intercessory Prayer (STEP), supported by the John Templeton Foundation, which attempts to wed religious and scientific thinking, found that intercessory prayer had no effect on complication-free recovery from coronary artery bypass graft surgery. In this case, prayer was tested credibly and it comprehensively failed.
7. The fact of Darwinian evolution by natural selection contradicts biblical Christianity and shows it to be false. Although some proportion of Christians has succeeded, in their minds, in melding the Christian faith with recognition of Darwinian fact, this seems a fruitless exercise. There is not a whisper of Darwinian understanding in the Bible, which, as Christianity’s foundational text, purports to speak to questions of origins. Any “harmony” between Darwinian thought and the Bible is the product of an elaborate construct invented by scientifically aware Christians.
8. The Christian religion is fantastically solipsistic with respect to the human animal and its place in the cosmos. The Christian message specifically says that humans are god’s special creation—made in his image—and that, of all the creation, he is principally interested in us. This notion, of course, arose in a time of immense ignorance of the cosmos. We are a single species, on a single planet, part of a single solar system, in a single galaxy, in an almost unimaginably vast universe. Humanocentrism is a luxury of ignorance we can no longer sustain.
9. To cite god is to invite an infinite regress from which there is no escape. Any god character who is complex enough to design a universe—let alone to monitor every human being who has ever lived, listen to and answer prayers, and send a son to die for our sins—is statistically improbable exactly because of that complexity. Inasmuch as Christians offer no explanation for god’s existence, it is all but ruled out simply because of the statistical improbability of unexplained organized complexity. We can explain the human brain’s evolution; Christians cannot explain the organized complexity of god.
10. The faith to which one adheres seems, in the majority of cases, to be quite directly determined by (a) the faith of one’s parents and (b) the dominant faith of the society in which one is raised. Young children trust their parents—a fact that, quite clearly, has evolutionary benefits generally. However, it also means they are susceptible to parental religious inculcation, from which it can be difficult to liberate oneself. One wonders how many people adhere to Christianity, or any faith, as adults simply because they were raised that way.
11. Homo sapiens sapiens have walked the Earth, in something approaching modern forms, for the last 100,000 to 200,000 years. The vast amount of peer-reviewed scientific literature establishes evolution as a scientific fact, which directly contradicts Young Earth creationism at a very elementary level.. This means, then, that for tens of thousands of years human beings lived, struggled, suffered and died—and Heaven watched, arms folded, in silence. After this interminable wait, which likely lasted well over 100,000 years, god decided that maybe it was time to intervene. His method of intervention? A nauseating human sacrifice in a very remote part of Palestine.
12. The world looks exactly as we would expect it to look if there was no god and no special interest in human affairs. Our planet is plagued with natural disasters in which people are killed indiscriminately—without any regard for their supposed righteousness or evilness. We do not find the slightest hint of ultimate justice in the cosmos. And god, who supposedly loves humans so dearly, demonstrates his laziness again. When there is a hijacking, he never zaps the hijackers with heart attacks. When a crazed gunman is on the loose, he never turns the bullets into popcorn. Love is in evidence; hate is in evidence. Only god is not in evidence.
13. Christianity loves to cloak itself in the raiment of meekness and humility, endlessly drawing attention to how humble it is. Christians call themselves lowly, sinful worms in god’s eyes, desperately in need of redemption through saving faith in Jesus. Although Christianity features an unquestionable tendency toward self-debasement, it is also fantastically arrogant. Fearing that the creator of the universe is upset with you is equally solipsistic—indeed, betrays equal arrogance—as enjoying peace from the belief that the creator of the universe is pleased with you.
14. The notion of an afterlife—surviving one’s bodily death—seems completely incompatible with our current scientific understanding. A blow to the head can rob one of one’s memories. Neurodegenerative disease, in some cases, can result in what might be described as the loss of the self. Phineas Gage suffered a traumatic head injury, the lasting effect of which was a dramatic change in personality. As Victor Stenger notes, neurological and medical evidence strongly indicates that our memories, emotions, thoughts and, indeed, our very personalities reside in the physical particles of the brain or, more precisely, in the ways those particles interact. What, then, would make it into the afterlife? Vague, impersonal energy?
15. To threaten small children with damnation to hell strikes me as a particularly hideous form of mental abuse. Our imaginations seem to be most vivid when we are children, and our credulity is at its peak. To small children, weeping and gnashing of teeth, not to mention lakes of fire, are not metaphorical descriptions of existence apart from god; to the undeveloped mind, they are real and haunting. One can only hope, when they grow and mature, they realize, to be a deterrent, hell’s awfulness must at least be commensurate with its ludicrousness. Because hell is infinitely silly, to deter anyone at all, it must threaten infinite punishment.
16. On Christianity, moral facts exist, because Christians stipulate that morality—what is good and what is evil—flows directly from god’s nature. They contend that god’s nature is unchangeable—cannot be otherwise—and, therefore, morality is objective. Yet, in conducting an evidence-based interrogation of the natural order, one finds no moral facts. Earth’s biodiversity is a bare fact. A conclusion flows naturally therefrom: A fact necessarily exists about the origin of, or explanation for, Earth’s biodiversity. Nowhere do we find the necessary existence of a moral fact, or any evidence that one exists.
17. If, as Christians say, morality flows directly from god’s nature, then any behavior god exhibits, and any action he commands or endorses, is necessarily righteous on the Christian view. In Genesis 19:4-8, the Bible character Lot offers his two virginal daughters up for rape to the men of Sodom, who surround his house. In 2 Peter 2:7-8, Lot is called “righteous” three times. The Bible, on Christianity, is the word of god; therefore, one must conclude Lot’s offering his two virginal daughters up for rape is consonant with god’s objective morality. Deuteronomy 7:1-5, Deuteronomy 20:16-18 and Joshua 10:28-40 demonstrate that god, whose very nature defines what is moral, sometimes commands genocide.
18. Men have been inventing deities for millennia, and Yahweh is just one in the near-infinite troop. As H.L. Mencken observed, the graveyard of dead gods, wherever it is, is well populated. I have little doubt that Yahweh’s grave is already dug, and that perhaps it is alongside the final resting places of Resheph, Baal, Anath, Astarte, Ashtoreth, Hadad, El, Addu, Nergal, Shalem, Nebo, Dagon, Ninib, Melek Taus and Yau. Then again, Yahweh’s grave might be closer to those of Amon-Re, Isis, Osiris, Ptah, Sebek, Anubis and Molech. RIP Yahweh.
19. Human beings, although clearly the most advanced species currently living on Earth, are easily deceived, deluded, confused and baffled. Our minds are well adapted for survival and for dealing with “Middle World,” where things are not microscopically small or cosmically very large, but they are still evolved organs with inherent limitations. Through a long period of trial and error, we can now conclude that marshaling evidence—relevant facts—is the best, most reliable way for humans to approximate truth as we interrogate the world of experience. If Christianity is to be accepted, it must be on the strength of its evidence.
20. On scientific thinking, hypotheses are meritorious only to the extent that they (a) make predictions, (b) enable those predictions to be tested and (c) find that, upon testing, the predictions are confirmed. The Christian hypothesis, to its detriment, is exceedingly bad at having its predictions be confirmed. Let us take Genesis, for example. The creation chronology presented in Genesis represents a testable prediction. In recent times, science has been able to test that prediction. Rather than being confirmed, the prediction failed, because Genesis’ creation chronology is wrong. This is a strike against the Christian hypothesis. Archeological disproof of the Exodus narrative is another strike against the Christian hypothesis.
21. It has been said some people are so constituted that they cannot believe in god. I am not such an individual, insofar as I invite convincing evidence of god’s existence and workings. I shall not fall prostrate to god’s feet in any case, but I would believe god existed if the evidence were sufficient. Any moral opinions I articulate, including those in which I deem god’s actions evil, are expressions of my deepest nature; I am constituted as I am, and I can neither help nor change what fundamentally strikes me as grave evil, which would prevent me from worshipping god, irrespective of evidence for his existence.
I had to highlight #12, because so many xtians and other theists seem to totally miss this. not only in "the problem of evil" but in every other sense as well.