This blog died but is now back from the dust! We’ll be posting more awesome goodness only here at secularplanet.org. Stay tuned as we recover our old posts and give you more interesting articles to read this 2013!
It troubles me that people tend to interpret atheism as the repudiation of everything that religion happens to represent in their minds rather than simply the principled rejection of the core of religion, belief in the supernatural. While it’s true that someone could be diametrically opposed to absolutely anything even remotely associated with religion, it’s wrong to assume that atheists necessarily are; I certainly have never encountered one who was. As for me, I embrace a number of values which religions commonly profess to promote such as peace, justice, empathy, compassion, honesty, loyalty, responsibility, temperance, introspection and reflection.
I also, however, strongly embrace skepticism, which has led me to disbelieve the supernatural claims of upon which believers (wrongly) claim to derive their moral values, and freethought, which allows me to evaluate the worth of moral values with my own individual judgement rather than deferring to an unquestionable authority such as scripture or a religious leader. These twin values foster others which most religions don’t inherently support and which some even explicitly oppose such as liberty, equality and secularism. They have also led me to reject irrationality, superstition, fear, hatred and ignorance, which most religions support or have supported to varying degrees throughout their histories. It is my skepticism and freethinking which distinguish me from believers, not a lack of virtue.
In truth, I yearn for a community in which I can foster my personal growth through contemplation of, discussion about and action based on my values without any compromise to supernaturalism. My several visits to a Unitarian Universalist congregation and my casual online investigation of Buddhism were part of an as-of-yet unsuccessful quest for such a community and identity. Humanism presents the greatest promise for fidelity to my beliefs, but it lacks the type of formal structure that I desire, perhaps for fear of being too similar to religion, and it’s not distinct enough from increasingly humanistic western culture to provide a unique focus and identity. All I can say is that I’m a naturalist in search of a place to call home.
“It’s Groundhog Day…again.” – Phil Connors
According to tradition, the groundhog awakes from hibernation and emerges from his hole today, in the exact middle of winter, in order to check on the weather. If it’s sunny, he will see his shadow, get scared and return underground, giving us six more weeks of winter. If it’s cloudy, he won’t see his shadow and will remain aboveground, giving us an early spring.
Groundhog Day is my favorite holiday of the entire year. I love it because it has the perfect balance between popularity and obscurity, it’s a uniquely North American observance, it has some history behind it, it requires no shopping or decoration, and it’s just silly and fun. The 1993 Bill Murray film that shares the same name as the holiday is my favorite movie of all time. I have watched it more often than any other film and I can recite large portions of the script. I have already watched it twice this year and I might watch it again later today. It’s of course rather ironic that I’ve watched that particular movie so many times!
In case you’re wondering, the most famous groundhog, Punxsutawney Phil, saw his shadow this morning. Don’t put away your jackets just yet.
In my initial entry almost two years ago I stated an intention to discuss a variety of topics in addition to religion and irreligion, but until now I had never done so. Today I would like to talk politics and announce my endorsement of Barack Obama for president of the United States. I already cast my vote for Obama in the Florida primary earlier this week and I would like to publicly discuss my support.
My favorite candidate entering the primaries was in fact Dennis Kucinich because of his thoroughly progressive stances on the issues, but he never had a chance to win the nomination and he had even withdrawn his name before election day in Florida. I liked John Edwards about the same as I like Obama, but the latter’s viability made it an easy choice to support him. I don’t like Hillary Clinton because she voted to initiate the Iraq, because she seems to be little more than a political opportunist, and because the Republicans would be able to easily incite their voter base into a frenzy against her. Obama, on the other hand, can excite the Democratic base and bring people to the polls who had never voted previously. I think he has a much better chance of winning a general election, especially by electrifying the black vote in the otherwise deep red south.
Obama is the most progressive of the remaining candidates and in particular I believe that he is the best choice to preserve the separation of church and state in this country. When I read his book The Audacity of Hope, I noted that whenever he discussed the issue of religious freedom, he always explicitly mentioned the rights of nonbelievers along with everyone else. He is a committed Christian and his faith has certainly influenced his life, but he appears to appreciate the importance of secular government and the necessity of justifying government policy without any reference to religion. Perhaps his diverse familial and personal religious background helps him understand the necessity of building coalitions based on principles which appeal to citizens of various beliefs. In the United States we need someone to bring us together and I think Barack Obama is the best choice for our nation and the world.
The local debate over evolution and creation simply will not die. This letter by Frederick J. West was published today under the heading, “Evolution: Theories cannot be proved.”
This is in response to recent letters concerning the theory of evolution. When the theory sticks to natural selection and genetics, it can be tested and proved correct. For example, new generations of moths changing colors to match the color of the tree bark they hide in, cockroaches becoming immune to certain pesticides and the flu virus mutating so that it renders vaccines ineffective. But it should be emphasized that over time moths do not become robins, cockroaches do not become puppies and the flu virus does not become the polio virus. When the evolutionists take the giant leap to the theory that millions or billions of years ago slimy creatures climbed onto the beach and some became turtles, some became giraffes and others humans, then they are entering the arena of fantasy, not science. The changing from one species to another cannot be tested or proved. If these changes occurred over billions of years, the fossil record should contain millions of crossover species. However, not one crossover fossil exists. Not too long ago, modern scientists were hoodwinked by a Chinese peasant who attached the bones of a bird to the bones of a dinosaur. This find was plastered on the front page of Natural Geographic. When the hoax was discovered, the disclaimer was printed in small type on a back page of the same magazine. Evolutionists cannot test or prove the monkeys-to-men theory or the dinosaurs-to-birds theory, and they should not be taught to highly impressionable youngsters.
The numerous untruths contained in this letter are addressed in great detail on many websites; I won’t repeat the corrections here. I will only say that if the author objects to the teaching the theory of evolution by natural selection on the grounds that it’s “fantasy,” then he must also object to the teaching of creationism by the same account and recommend that science classes completely ignore the most fundamental question of biology. I suspect, however, the author is not so logically consistent as this.
The local debate over evolution and creationism continues some more. This letter by J. Carlson was published today under the heading, “Evolution: A valid scientific theory.
A recent letter titled “Teach students the truth” is a great example of intellectual dishonesty. People are trying to have creationism taught in schools. Only when their efforts are unsuccessful do they start to backpedal and try to undermine the credibility of evolution once again. They first need to learn the term “theory” as used in science classrooms. That word holds more scientific credibility than the word “fact.” Scientific theories are ideas that have been put through rigorous testing before that title is applied. If scientific theories were just random ideas, there would be millions of them instead of a select few. The letter writer leaves out pivotal parts of the theory of evolution, which are natural selection and genetics. Those two components of the theory have been and are being tested, recreated and observed constantly. If evolution is such an absurd theory, why is it every time a new fossil or new species is found, it seems to fit? Microbiology proves evolution almost singlehandedly. What about the flu? Every year the virus mutates into a form that the body doesn’t recognize. That’s why the flu shot is an annual deal. It is not because that’s the shelf life of the vaccine, but because we need to be re-immunized against the same, but mutated, virus. There is a reason evolution is taught in schools. It is a valid and highly regarded scientific theory that is responsible for some of the greatest scientific breakthroughs in history. Without it, we would still be dying from the flu instead of getting vaccinated from it. Let’s be intellectually honest. Keep evolution where it belongs: in the biology class. Keep creationism where it belongs: in the theology class.
This letter in support of teaching only evolution in public schools is fairly standard like the previous two. I’m publishing it for the sake of completeness and I have no additional comments.
The local debate over evolution and creationism yet continues. This letter by Marcia Greer was published today under the heading, “Science: No place for creationism.”
I was dumbfounded by the poor reasoning and arguments in a recent letter titled “Teach students the truth.” The letter writer asked for intellectual honesty, and for our students to excel in science, yet wants stories of creation taught. That’s exactly what they are: stories. Yes, evolution is a theory. A theory is a framework that guides scientific research. It is not a guess; it is not based on written stories by men who had their own agendas thousands of years ago. The fossil record does show evolution. For example, evolution of vertebrate legs is well documented in the fossil record. The evolution of some dinosaurs into birds also has documentation; the most famous fossil is the Archeopteryx, showing a creature with traits of both dinosaur and bird. If, as the letter writer said, we need to include creation stories, how about all the other myths including Aztec, Hindu, Norse, etc. I think it is only fair to give those myths the same focus another unproven story deserves – the Bible. What makes our creation myth so much more believable than anybody else’s? Nothing. While we’re teaching all these stories, we’ll crowd out the real science that our kids aren’t learning. Evolution, while much is unexplained, can be documented, tested and researched. That is science. Keep religion in religion class or mythology. This nation is already lagging in science.
This letter in support of teaching only evolution in public schools is fairly standard like the previous one. I’m publishing it for the sake of completeness and I have no additional comments.
The local debate over evolution and creationism still continues. This letter by Ed Brunson was published today under the headline, “Science: Evolution is a theory.”
The fact that the scientific theory of evolution is being debated in the same breath with the religious theory of creationism and intelligent design is appalling. In the 1920s, Tennessee was the scene of the famous Scopes monkey trial that debated the legitimacy of teaching evolution. Since that time, scientific evidence has continued to come in supporting the theories involved in natural selection and evolution. Recently, the National Academy of Sciences and the Institute of Medicine published their updated edition of Science, Evolution & Creationism. In it, they state, quite succinctly, “The evidence for evolution can be fully compatible with religious faith. Science and religion are different ways of understanding the world. Needlessly placing them in opposition reduces the potential of each to contribute to a better future.” Evolution is a scientific theory, testable, but not 100 percent provable. Isaac Newton’s theories, including that of gravity, are theories. Not provable. But you don’t need to prove gravity, because, when you try to deny it, you fall. Creationism, and intelligent design are not scientific theories; they are religious explanations for unknown happenings. The story of creationism is allegorical, nothing more, nothing less. The infusion of religious theory into scientific teaching is folly; it should have ended in the 1920s along with the Scopes monkey trial.
This letter in support of teaching only evolution in public schools is fairly standard and I would just like to comment on the texts written by other parties.
First, I find the heading printed by the newspaper misleading. Many detractors of evolution argue that it’s “only a theory,” implying a lack of supporting evidence, but the author of this letter emphasized that a scientific theory is not something to be proved. Perhaps they could have written something like, “Evolution: Gravity is also only a theory.”
Second, I have objections to the statement by the National Academy of Sciences. Evolution can be compatible with religious faith, but that depends entirely on what that religion teaches. It’s not compatible with the belief that humans were miraculously created by God six thousand years ago. It’s not compatible with the belief that humans have existed on earth for all eternity. It’s not compatible with the belief that humans were brought here by space aliens. No one is placing science and religion in any more opposition than they actually are; some people just aren’t willing to pretend that there’s no contradiction when there actually is, radically change their religious beliefs, and sweep the issue under the rug. I don’t object to changing one’s religious beliefs and acknowledging that this change was made in the light of new evidence, but it’s simply dishonest to strip a belief of its original meaning in order to save face, especially if while still claiming infallible certitude for this and other completely unsupported assertions. Science and religion aren’t two different ways to understand the world because religion just isn’t a way to understand the world. One might as well say that a magic eight-ball is yet a third way to understand the world since it’s no less reliable than religion in ascertaining the truth. Of the various ways to gain knowledge, only science offers consistent results and we shouldn’t give religious dogma receive any more respect than any other variety of quackery.
The local debate over evolution and creationism continues. This letter by Marjorie Ramseur was published today under the heading, “Science: Teach students the truth.”
The recent letter titled “Prohibit myths” in relation to science standards missed the point. People are not trying to have creation or intelligent design taught in the science classrooms of public schools. Good science is what is needed, and it must be taught objectively and truthfully. The theory of evolution is unproved. Its validity is being questioned by hundreds of scientists around the world. The fossil record does not show evolution. Microbiology does not show evolution. Embryology does not show evolution. Comparative anatomy does not show evolution, only similarities. Students must be able to distinguish the data of the Theory of Evolution; analyze and recognize its strengths and weaknesses, its assumptions and presumptions, along with its frauds and gaps. The scientific method used by experimental sciences stresses the testability and repeatability of a theory. The theory of evolution falls short since it has not been observed, cannot be tested and cannot be repeated. Evolutionary scientists may claim that evolution is the basic principle of biology, but the processes involved and the mechanisms needed are still the subject of much diligent research, discussion and, I might add, skepticism among the scientists themselves. As brought out in the 1925 Scopes trial, ACLU lawyer Clarence Darrow stated that it is the “height of bigotry to have only one theory of origins taught in our schools.” This was when creation was the main view taught in public schools. Let us be intellectually honest and teach students the truth. After all, what we want is for our students to excel in their knowledge of science.
Despite what the author claims, people are trying to have creationism taught in schools. She even indicates her desire for this by presenting a quote from Darrow which condemns teaching only one view! The rest of her claims are equally untrue; the evidence overwhelmingly supports evolution and only a tiny portion of scientists even have questions about its validity. It’s inappropriate to teach both views when the second view is held only by a fringe group with a clear political agenda using claims that simply aren’t supported by the evidence. I doubt that Ms. Ramseur would support teaching the views in the history books that the moon landings were faked, that extraterrestrials actually crashed in Roswell, or that President Bush was behind the 9/11 attacks. I also doubt that she would support adding astrology, alchemy, or homeopathy to the science curriculum. Schools shouldn’t make exceptions to teach anyone’s favorite pseudoscience or conspiracy theory. Actually do research to support the objections and have them accepted by the scientific community before demanding that children learn them in school.
Although I have previously written about my past experiences with a condition known as scrupulosity when I was a devout Catholic, I would like to go into more detail regarding a particularly torturous element thereof which I endured for a few years, in order to illustrate the absurdity of certain religious prohibitions. As I have discussed in a separate earlier entry, the Catholic Church teaches an especially strict sexual morality which condemns every sexual act except that between a husband and wife without contraception and, per clear scriptural authority, condemns even willful indulgence of sexual thoughts. While the prohibition against actions is severe, it’s not impossible to obey it if one is truly careful to avoid opportunities to succumb to temptation. The prohibition against thoughts, however, proves practically impossible to obey if one takes both it and the threat of eternal damnation seriously. I struggled mightily for years to control my thoughts and, despite my most strenuous efforts, I failed to achieve anything except an unhealthy suppression of my natural desires and the development of violent compulsions against myself.
The most relevant fact about the condemnation of consenting to impure thoughts is that it’s simply impossible to control one’s mental activity, most especially with respect to such a basic animal instinct as sex. It’s almost always on our minds, subconsciously if not consciously. Most people realize this, especially psychologists and advertisers. Healthy adults automatically respond to the sight, sound or smell of attractive individuals by becoming sexually aroused. Now while the church teaches that mere instinctive thoughts aren’t willful and thus aren’t at all sinful, it does teach that to consciously entertain and indulge these thoughts constitutes such a serious offense that you could burn in hell forever if you commit it and die without repenting and confessing it to a priest. That idea in itself is absurdly evil, but notice that there’s nothing even resembling a clear boundary between an event that happens automatically and an action that can condemn one to eternal damnation. That’s just an open invitation for obsession.
Let’s say that a sexual thought enters one’s mind as it does innumerable times each day. If one dwells on it for even a moment, then one risks sinning by “entertaining” or “consenting” to it. If one attempts to banish it from one’s mind, the thought only becomes stronger and more persistent. I found it impossible to simply “let it pass” as I was repeatedly advised by confessors because I was afraid that I had not done enough to avoid sin and had thereby sinned already. My response to this fear was to work harder and harder to banish any sexual thought as soon as it entered my mind. I shouldn’t reveal much detail, but I will say that my attempts to immediately distract my mind from unwanted images became more and more manic over time and that it was simply impossible for me to function properly until my deconversion.
If I saw an attractive woman who aroused any sexual feelings in me, I forced myself to avert my eyes and drive out with a physical response against myself any sexual thoughts that the sight of her generated in my mind. I then thought about whether I was thinking about it and then about whether I had sinned by thinking something lustful about her, often subtly appearing like I suffered from a mental condition, which in retrospect was not entirely inaccurate. This rumination could last from a few seconds to several minutes to the rest of the day and all I had actually done was happen to a see a woman in completely normal and acceptable attire. My mind even seemed to revolt at the suppression of its thoughts. The more I struggled not to think something, the stronger the urge I felt to think it out of frustration and anger. This tendency, by the way, extended to violent and blasphemous thoughts as well, though these caused much less trouble due to far weaker instincts to think them. It’s notable that I came to believe that the vast majority of women dressed immodestly and that I noticed every single inch of cleavage on every woman, perhaps similar to how a Saudi man might feel in a western society.
Contrast that to how simple life has become with respect to sexual thoughts since my belief in God and hell disintegrated. Now when I see an attractive woman, the exact same sexual thoughts arise, but they present no trouble whatsoever. If I want to and have the time, I can indulge in a sexual fantasy for a short time and move on. If I’m busy or focused on something else, I can let it pass because there’s absolutely no fear that I have done anything which might result in neverending torment. Either way it lasts for a few moments at most and I can concentrate on actually living my life, all without any guilt or fear. There’s no obsession; it’s natural and normal. And I’m sure there’s just as much cleavage and as many pairs of tight pants as there were a few years ago, but I hardly notice except in the most exceptional cases, when such a sight most likely presents far more potential pleasure than anguish. It feels so good to be normal again.