Thursday, March 31, 2011

Old Habits & Confirmation Bias

So the other day, I spoke to God. It was an accident. I swear. Here’s what happened:

I was driving to work. I was running a little late. Thinking to myself how the other drivers seem to slow down when I am in a hurry. Just then, the truck in front of me with the hazard lights made a quick turn as I came up behind him. The next few traffic lights turned green as I approached. It was as if reality was bending to my need to get to work on time. Looking at my dashboard clock and calculating that I just might make it on time, I tilted my head skyward and said, “thanks”. Then I remembered that I have been a non-believer for about 13 years. After having a good laugh at myself, I crafted something of a thought experiment.

I tried to remember the details of the drive. My frustration. My wish that people would just get out of my way. Then, the feeling that things were working out...just the way I wanted. Most importantly, there was a slight feeling that someone was looking out for me. Now, I know that if traffic had slowed even further, making me even more late, I would not have attributed it to a supernatural being. To be honest, if my car spontaneously started to levitate, I would jump to a scientific conclusion before thinking that a desert deity was the cause. But in that moment of a few probabilities tumbling in my favor, some hard-wired part of my consciousness still thought that I was special.

I believe that this is at the root of religion. At least the Abrahamic Religions. If you read this blog, you have seen more than a few scientists and intellectuals talking about the evolutionary benefit toassigning a causal agent to the domain of the unknown. Because that rustle in the leaves may be a predator, the individual who uses caution, lives to pro-create. The concept of that agent taking a special interest in my life is an especially attractive idea. Here’s where the hard wiring comes in. My early church education revolved around the concept of the universe being created as an act of love. When good things happened to you, you should be thankful for being a recipient of some of that love. My church rarely talked about Hell or the Devil. The message was more focused on being a good person. Love thy neighbor etc. Another primary message: the creator of the universe loves YOU. Now, these were not arrogant people, as far as I could tell. The overall goal seemed to be to love your neighbor as much as you were loved ~ even if neither of you really deserved it.

As an adult, and as a freethinker/skeptic, I understand the psychology and the philosophy behind these patterns of thought. There is confirmation bias at work: To give credit to the divine for the positive (or the unexplained). You see this with every touchdown genuflect. The reverse is also common, although not part of my original worldview. Many theists blame the dark forces in the mythology to explain misfortune. There are viable evolutionary and even developmental explanations for this Agent Assignment. An infant forming spatial awareness lacks Object Permanence. When mother leaves the room, the infant believes that they cease to exist. Later, they are able to understand that mother exists outside of their immediate perceptions and they begin to search the environment for clues of her presence: voice, scent etc. This eventually evolves into an intellectual understanding that the care-giver is somewhere nearby. If my 5-year-old calls for me and does not hear a response, he will begin a systematic search of the house based on the understanding that I would not leave him home alone.

The understanding of a divine presence operates on this premise. We cannot perceive a god with our senses, but we believe through a system of cognitive biases that He exists just outside of our field of perception. We can then assign causality to events we associate with divinity. We are taught from childhood an invisible force is watching us. We know that aspects of our existence are unexplained, and willfully (or unintentionally) insert God into those gaps. Religious experience, even if transcendant in nature is still an empirically electro-chemical process. The interpretation of sensory data is rooted in the brain. The specific interpretation is based on our individual concept of reality. The “what happens” and “why” of the space we inhabit. Childhood indoctrination and the bombardment of religious culture can create a powerful confirmation bias. Even if the confirmed beliefs are not actively held.

Douglas Adams: Parrots the Universe and Everything

Monday, March 28, 2011

Monday Morning Quotes: Robert Ingersoll

“We are satisfied that there can be but little liberty on earth while men worship a tyrant in heaven.”

“The notion that faith in Christ is to be rewarded by an eternity of bliss, while a dependence upon reason, observation and experience merits everlasting pain, is too absurd for refutation, and can be relieved only by that unhappy mixture of insanity and ignorance, called "faith."

“It may be that ministers really think that their prayers do good and it may be that frogs imagine that their croaking brings spring.”

“An infinite God ought to be able to protect himself, without going in partnership with State Legislatures. Certainly he ought not so to act that laws become necessary to keep him from being laughed at. No one thinks of protecting Shakespeare from ridicule, by the threat of fine and imprisonment.”

“Nothing is greater than to break the chains from the bodies of men -- nothing nobler than to destroy the phantom of the soul.”

“Is there an intelligent man or woman now in the world who believes in the Garden of Eden story? If you find any man who believes it, strike his forehead and you will hear an echo. Something is for rent.
If there be an infinite Being, he does not need our help -- we need not waste our energies in his defense.”

‘The man who does not do his own thinking is a slave, and is a traitor to himself and to his fellow-men.”

“The doctrine of eternal punishment is in perfect harmony with the savagery of the men who made the orthodox creeds. It is in harmony with torture, with flaying alive, and with burnings. The men who burned their fellow-men for a moment, believed that God would burn his enemies forever.”

“The Church demonstrated the falsity and folly of Darwin's theories by showing that they contradicted the Mosaic account of creation, and now that the theories of Darwin having been fairly established, the Church says that the Mosaic account is true because it is in harmony with Darwin. Now, if it should turn out that Darwin was mistaken, what then?”

“We have heard talk enough. We have listened to all the drowsy, idea-less, vapid sermons that we wish to hear. We have read your Bible and the works of your best minds. We have heard your prayers, your solemn groans and your reverential amens. All these amount to less than nothing. We want one fact. We beg at the doors of your churches for just one little fact. We pass our hats along your pews and under your pulpits and implore you for just one fact. We know all about your mouldy wonders and your stale miracles. We want a this year's fact. We ask only one. Give us one fact for charity. Your miracles are too ancient. The witnesses have been dead for nearly two thousand years.”

“Who can over estimate the progress of the world if all the money wasted in superstition could be used to enlighten, elevate and civilize mankind?”

“We have already compared the benefits of theology and science. When the theologian governed the world, it was covered with huts and hovels for the many, palaces and cathedrals for the few. To nearly all the children of men, reading and writing were unknown arts. The poor were clad in rags and skins -- they devoured crusts, and gnawed bones. The day of Science dawned, and the luxuries of a century ago are the necessities of to-day. Men in the middle ranks of life have more of the conveniences and elegancies than the princes and kings of the theological times. But above and over all this, is the development of mind. There is more of value in the brain of an average man of to-day -- of a master-mechanic, of a chemist, of a naturalist, of an inventor, than there was in the brain of the world four hundred years ago.
These blessings did not fall from the skies. These benefits did not drop from the outstretched hands of priests. They were not found in cathedrals or behind altars -- neither were they searched for with holy candles. They were not discovered by the closed eyes of prayer, nor did they come in answer to superstitious supplication. They are the children of freedom, the gifts of reason, observation and experience -- and for them all, man is indebted to man.”

“Orthodox Christians have the habit of claiming all great men, all men who have held important positions, men of reputation, men of wealth. As soon as the funeral is over clergymen begin to relate imaginary conversations with the deceased, and in a very little while the great man is changed to a Christian -- possibly to a saint.”

“The ministers, who preached at these revivals, were in earnest. They were zealous and sincere. They were not philosophers. To them science was the name of a vague dread -- a dangerous enemy. They did not know much, but they believed a great deal.”

“The old lady who said there must be a devil, else how could they make pictures that looked exactly like him, reasoned like a trained theologian -- like a doctor of divinity.”

“It is contended by many that ours is a Christian government, founded upon the Bible, and that all who look upon the book as false or foolish are destroying the foundation of our country. The truth is, our government is not founded upon the rights of gods, but upon the rights of men. Our Constitution was framed, not to declare and uphold the deity of Christ, but the sacredness of humanity. Ours is the first government made by the people and for the people. It is the only nation with which the gods have had nothing to do. And yet there are some judges dishonest and cowardly enough to solemnly decide that this is a Christian country, and that our free institutions are based upon the infamous laws of Jehovah.”

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Hitchens & Harris vs. Wolpe & Shavit

"If it's in the name of God it has a social license. Well fuck that, is what I say! And will say if it's my last breath." 
The embedded video clip was removed but you can still see the whole debate with Hitchens and Sam Harris vs. David Wolpe* and Bradley Artson Shavit. 

video here:  Is there an afterlife? 

* Obviously I disagree with Rabbi Wolpe, but I really like the guy.

Sunday Morning Crazy ~ How to Speak Christianese

From BADD, revealed by 22 Words

Friday, March 25, 2011

The Erosion of Progress by Religions

Quiz Show (Bible Contradictions)

via NonStampCollector

Friday Link Dump 3/25/11

Jenny McCarthy Body Count

The commentary is sparse this week, but I tried to make up for it with a lot of links.

Religion to become extinct, says model of census data - Canada is on the list of nine nations on the brink so if I need to "bail" it really isn't that far away.

Pope To Ease Up On Jesus Talk - That was simply outstanding.

Nigeria: Suspected Witches Beaten and Burned Alive - Just awful. This is what the ignorance of religion leads to. This is what Creationism could lead to.    

Christians Blocking Democratic Referenda on Sunday Alcohol Sales

Bill Maher: GOP governs like “a meth addict”

Psalm 109 Imprecatory Prayer Case to Go Forward in Texas - Good thing prayer doesn’t work.

Veena Malik has my respect

Thorny Issue

Evolution Abroad: Creationism Evolves in Science Classrooms around the Globe

Creationism Controversy: State by State [Updated Map]

Was God's wife edited out of the Bible? - I would think it was weird if “she” wasn’t. Most gods have a counterpart of the opposite sex. It wasn’t until “El’ became the supreme deity and monotheism took over that the other gods were pushed out and forbidden. In the case of Asherah; a female equal to the true god is impossible in such a misogynist society.

Tea Party At Its Dregs? Major Convention Attracts Few

Janna Levin: The sound the universe makes

How to Create a Scientifically Plausible Alien Life Form

Huckabee: Leaders With ‘Biblical Worldview’ Would Bring ‘Equality’ To The World - Sure they could. After some more Inquisitions and a genocide or three gets rid of all your heretics.

On Faith: Rob Bell and hell - My version: The Catch-22 of Hell

DARK WAVE / RISING SUN - Cool art and charity for Japan.

What's on Venus?

Mid-Week Rant: Bill Hicks

Bonus Rant: Lewis Black Explains Religion

CNN Foreign Corespondent Calls Out Fox News: ‘Outrageous’ ‘Lies And Deceit - This just can’t be true.  My worldview is shattered.  Shattered.  

How a Dinosaur Is Like a Vacuum Cleaner

Music is All in the Mind

Rock Beyond Belief news

Cosmonaut Crashed Into Earth 'Crying In Rage'

Prehistoric Garbage Piles May Have Created 'Tree Islands'

Life could exist around dying stars

How Free Is Your Will?


Thursday, March 24, 2011

Nigeria: Suspected Witches Beaten and Burned Alive

WARNING: The following video is extremely disturbing. 

When we saw this clip we knew it had to be posted. This is not harmless superstition. This is an example of the truly terrifying face of religion when all reason has been replaced by faith. This is happening in the 21st century.

I cannot comment on the specifics of this video. I don't know the particular faith of the mob. Based on the area, it is probably a form of Tribalism, Pentecostalism or both. Either evoke the belief in witchcraft as the source of any number of misfortunes. What I can deduce is that this is motivated by the belief in a supernatural world. That human cruelty of this caliber comes from a place of fear and ignorance.
I can also tell you that events like this are a regular occurrence in many parts of Nigeria and that the branded "witches" are usually children.

Video after the jump.

Janna Levin: The sound the universe makes

Janna Levin: The sound the universe makes | Video on

Monday, March 21, 2011

Monday Morning Quotes ~ Friedrich Nietzshe

Faith means not wanting to know what is true.

In Christianity neither morality nor religion come into contact with reality at any point.

Sins are indispensable to every society organized on an ecclesiastical basis; they are the only reliable weapons of power; the priest lives upon sins; it is necessary to him that there be "sinning."

Which is it, is man one of God's blunders or is God one of man's?

Two great European narcotics, alcohol and Christianity."

If the Christian dogmas of a revengeful God, universal sinfulness, election by divine grace and the danger of eternal damnation were true, it would be a sign of weak-mindedness and lack of character not to become a priest, apostle or hermit and, in fear and trembling, to work solely on one's own salvation; it would be senseless to lose sight of one's eternal advantage for the sake of temporal comfort. If we may assume that these things are at any rate believed true, then the everyday Christian cuts a miserable figure; he is a man who really cannot count to three, and who precisely on account of his spiritual imbecility does not deserve to be punished so harshly as Christianity promises to punish him."

Christianity has done its utmost to close the circle and declared even doubt to be sin. One is supposed to be cast into belief without reason, by a miracle, and from then on to swim in it as in the brightest and least ambiguous of elements: even a glance towards land, even the thought that one perhaps exists for something else as well as swimming, even the slightest impulse of our amphibious nature -- is sin! And notice that all this means that the foundation of belief and all reflection on its origin is likewise excluded as sinful. What is wanted are blindness and intoxication and an eternal song over the waves in which reason has drowned.

A casual stroll through a lunatic asylum shows that faith does not prove anything.

"God", "immortality of the soul", "redemption", "beyond" -- Without exception, concepts to which I have never devoted any attention, or time; not even as a child. Perhaps I have never been childlike enough for them? I do not by any means know atheism as a result; even less as an event: It is a matter of course with me, from instinct. I am too inquisitive, too questionable, too exuberant to stand for any gross answer. God is a gross answer, an indelicacy against us thinkers -- at bottom merely a gross prohibition for us: you shall not think!

After coming into contact with a religious man I always feel I must wash my hands.

Christianity was from the beginning, essentially and fundamentally, life's nausea and disgust with life, merely concealed behind, masked by, dressed up as, faith in "another" or "better" life.

The only excuse for god is that he doesn't exist.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Sunday Morning Crazy ~ Tom Cruise

Insane Rhetoric from Religious People

"I'm a helper. For instance, I myself have helped hundreds of people get off drugs. In Scientiology, we have the only successful drug rehabilitation program in the world. It's called Narconon." -April 27, 2005

"Who are those people that say those things? [about Scientology's recruitment tactics, steep membership fees etc] Beacause I promise you, it isn't everybody. But I look at those people and I say 'Bring it. I'm a Scientologist, man. What do you want to know?' I don' t mind answering questions." -August 24, 2004

Friday, March 18, 2011

Welcome to this World

Via: The Thinking Atheist

Friday Link Dump 3/18/11

Non-Believers Giving Aid

Not Praying for Japan - I love all the denizens of Twitter getting fired up over the #PrayforJapan hashtag. Get off you ass and do something.

Also we created a Secular Charities page to keep a running list of secular charities in general. If you know of more please send us an email.  They do not have to be an explicitly atheist charity. Just a secular one. Anything. We’ll put it up.

God Hates Japan - Oh, was plate tectonics.

Godzilla is to blame - Whatever gets people’s attention to donate.

That’s a hint...go donate right now and come back.  

I want to take the time here to address the God Hates Japan girl, (TamTamPamela). It is confirmed - she was a troll.  Let’s hope that is the last we see of her, troll or no. I can only speak personally but when I suspected troll I was kind of offended by that all the same.

Tokyo Mayor: Tsunami Was ‘Divine Punishment’

Mapping Japan's changed landscape from space

Government Spending Millions to Evangelize to Military Kids - It boggles my mind that most people are apathetic about this. Every one except Evangelical Christians should be outraged, horrified and worried. Nope. Everyone is too busy watching Jersey Shore and Survivor and OMG did Emily win on The Bachelor?

*drinks heavily*

Kansas GOP State Rep. Compares Undocumented Immigrants To Pigs, Suggests Shooting Them From Helicopters - I think all ignorant morons should be hunted like swine, forcibly sterilized, lobotomized and barred from public office. Hahaha. I'm just joking so it's OK that I said that.

The Catch-22 of Hell - This is a subject I could go on and on about.

Evidence: Europeans Controlled Fire Much Later Than Thought

Timeline: The evolution of life

Generation Joshua  - Not quite as insidious as Jesus Camp, but they are still using homeschool kids in the culture wars.

Jim DeMint’s Theory Of Relativity: ‘The Bigger Government Gets, The Smaller God Gets’ - “America works, freedom works, when people have that internal gyroscope that comes from a belief in God and Biblical faith. Once we push that out, you no longer have the capacity to live as a free person without the external controls of an authoritarian government.”

Why the rock-paper-scissors game explains natural selection - I like this. It does explain ecosystem competition adequately.

Honesty: The Muslim World’s Scarcest Resource? - “Believers, if you yield to the infidels they will drag you back to unbelief and you will return headlong to perdition. . . . We will put terror into the hearts of the unbelievers. . . . The Fire shall be their home” (3:149–51).

Training Tea Party Activists In Guerrilla Internet Tactics - "80% of the books I put a star on, I don't that's how it works."  I don't doubt that for a second.

Lost city of Atlantis believed found off Spain - Unsurprisingly, I am skeptical. Even with Japan and Libya taking up the majority of the news cycle I would think this would be bigger news if it had more support. Also, a settlement with concentric rings ≠ Atlantis. It still has the potential for a cool archaeological site though.

NEW MEME! Advice God: This is great.

Petition: Demand that the US Army show equal treatment for religious and non-religious soldiers.

No Slave to God

Catholics Come Home Commercial - Catholicism: Now with 20% less rape!

This video is pretty random for the site, but I laughed my ass off.

Restoring Nedoceratops: Gored by a Horned Rival?

Brachiopods: another piece in the puzzle of eye evolution -  Oh hey look at that - reducible complexity...

  • Monsignor John A. Close of St. Katherine of Siena in Wayne, Pa.
  • The Rev. Mark Fernandes of St. Agnes Roman Catholic Church in Sellersville, Pa.
  • Monsignor J. Michael Flood of St. Luke the Evangelist in Glenside, Pa.
  • The Rev. Joseph M. Glatts of SS. Simon and Jude in West Chester, Pa.
  • The Rev. Steven J. Harris of St. Issac Jogues Catholic Church in Wayne, Pa.
  • The Rev. Daniel J. Hoy of Our Lady of the Assumption in Strafford, Pa.
  • The Rev. Andrew McCormick of Sacred Heart in Swedesburg, Pa.
  • The Rev. Peter Talocci of St. Patrick's in Malvern, Pa.
  • The Rev. Phillip Barr
  • The Rev. John Bowe
  • The Rev. George Cadwallader
  • The Rev. Paul Castellani
  • The Rev. Michael Chapman
  • Monsignor Frances Feret
  • The Rev. Mark Gaspar
  • Rev. John Reardon
  • The Rev. Zachary Navit
  • The Rev. Leonard Peterson
  • The Rev. Robert Povish
  • The Rev. John Reardon
  • The Rev. Thomas J. Rooney
Suspended priests are named

I was going to provide links to as many of these pedophiles (allegedly) as I could find, but the links slowly went dead over the past few days so I removed them.