Thursday, August 11, 2016

False Equivalence? Either way, almost unbelievable

As I've mentioned before, a number of us attended the Ark Encounter grand opening for a protest. There were a number of reasons for the protest - to let visitors know that it is anti-science and not for kids, to inform the general public that their tax dollars went to support it and that the story is not a "feel good" story but one of genocide and incest.


At the protest, we encountered a few "counter protesters", primarily felon Kent Hovind's son, Eric, and his "friends" at Creation Today.  (The relationship matters - Kent Hovind recently spent 10 years in jail for tax evasion - his son simply took over and kept up the anti-science agenda.)

Eric Hovind, it turns out, is dishonest, obnoxious and rude - what a perfect example of a "true" Christian.  The method of debate by Eric (his friends didn't do much - obviously far less willing to appear to be complete dicks and not prepared to debate/discuss with people who actually know that Eric and his crew are full of shit) is to never allow an argument to be followed.  Eric would constantly change the subject, ask another unrelated question or, even, imply that you beat your wife (seriously!) to completely throw you off.

Enough about that - the point of this entry is to share the brochure that he handed out to a number of us protesters.  To say I was surprised when I read it would be a complete understatement.

It was a tri-fold brochure so I'm breaking it up by page for now (the full image is below as well).

The first page is silly enough - the bigger comments are, supposedly, points that the thinkers among us are making.  The smaller print is something, I suspect, that we claim but often forget when we're (not even) making the points in larger print.

First of all, none of us claimed that Noah was stupid.  It'd take a pretty smart person to, at 500+ years old, build an ark (that would look nothing like the ark they built in Kentucky) given that even with cranes, cement and other modern building materials, Ken Ham and his crew of many dozens couldn't build one. Noah probably never existed but, even if he did, we know the global flood never happened.

The corresponding small print suggests that those who accept evolution believe our brains came about by accident. (Wow - I think Eric is a liar and actually knows that evolution has never ever been honestly taught like that.)

Eric's god does command execution and has killed a lot of people.  In this story (yes, it's a story), however, we're not suggesting that god commanded genocide, she committed it.  It was supposedly god who brought about the rain and flooded the earth (for how long? You pick - 40 days, 150 days, 253 days?).  His small print is another misrepresentation of evolution - "survival of the fittest" means not what he suggests it does.

The "Your god commands incest!" is another one we don't claim - it is just, logically, what is required to repopulate the earth.  We don't think she commanded incest, we just think that she was okay with some pretty kinky stuff.  (The other biblical incest stories are a Lot better when they leave less to the imagination - no pun intended.)  Eric then tries to use a different definition of "related" (as you'll see inside) as he refers to our common ancestry with other primates.

The final bubble is one that I can't ever seem to wrap my head around - the concept that we can't know what is right or wrong unless we believe in the Christian god or accept the bible.  There are innumerable other cultures in the world that have never seen/heard of the bible and, yet, they've come to similar understandings of mutual respect and co-operation.  That Christians can have morality and know right from wrong is proof that it doesn't require the bible - the stories in the bible demonstrate no where near the level of morality of society today.

On to page 2.  Eric simply explains why he's given us this brochure.


Page 3
On this page, Eric basically makes our point for us.  His god commits genocide.  The funny part is that Eric equates us making signs and protesting with his god killing all but 8 people on earth.  He then follows up with, and you don't think my god is loving?  Just wait, he/she's got more love coming our way - this time it's "everyone dies by fire" instead of simply drowning.  

Page 4
This page calls for another face-palm.  Let's break it down: Evolution involves incest so nah nah. Tu quoque much, Eric?  What a childish argument especially given that evolution's definition of "related" is not the definition that we use when we speak of incest.  I have a feeling that Eric might have an interest in fucking a few other species and he's hoping for us to give him the "okay".

Eric returns to the "right and wrong" argument - maybe he is sold on this being a great argument but it's paper thin and rather dumb.

Oh, then it gets even better.  "God saved people through something made of wood, and began a new family" -- this reminds me of the opening sequence in Team America World Police.  (If you haven't seen it, you reary reary need to.)  When Team America (god, in Eric's story) shows up to deal with the terrorists (evil people - and by evil, we mean people who didn't worship god enough because that's all god gives a shit about) and save Paris (humanity, in Eric's story), Team America (all loving god, remember?) nearly destroys the whole city of Paris and, at the end, almost completely oblivious to their near complete destruction of the city (humanity, remember?), congratulates itself for saving almost none of it.

For point #3, Eric wanted to address an old version of the graphic created for the "Genocide and Incest Park" that referenced "2000 years".  The graphic has since been changed (something Eric must be okay with given his blind acceptance of a book that's been changed/re-written/plagiarized for hundreds of years) and the 2000 year reference is gone.  However, give Eric credit for not taking away the opportunity for us to further laugh at him.  He states, "Actually the Story of Noah was written in the Torah, in the book of Genesis, by the hand of Moses, about 3500 years ago."  ha ha ha ha ha ha.  No honest bible scholar would even pretend that Moses existed, let alone claim that he wrote any of the bible.

The final point on this page is an outright fabrication. We know that civilizations existed 12,000 years ago and human writing has been discovered that is more than 5000 years old.  Eric either is completely willfully ignorant or is a flat-out liar.  My money is on the latter.

Page 5

Page 6

Full Page Versions:


Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Fewer gods, more morals

You want to get your child to do some yard work for an elderly neighbour.  There are a number of approaches you could take and I think we’ll all agree which reflects better on the child and which reflects better on you.

You tell your child to go and rake the leaves for the elderly neighbour with the offer that you’ll pay your child $20 to do it.

You tell your child to go and rake the leaves for the elderly neighbour with the warning that if they don’t, you’ll spank them (or ground them, if you wish).

You tell your child to go and rake the leaves for the elderly neighbour with the suggestion “because that would be a nice thing to do”.

In which of these scenarios do we think we’ve built the most character and instilled the best values in the child?  As a loving parent, which of those approaches would you rather be successful with your child?

Yet, when people of faith often engage in “debates” with atheists, they’ll often suggest that atheists have no moral basis or are immoral or even ask questions like “then why don’t you just rape and steal” (yes, literally that phrase or one close to it).

That atheists clearly do great things and because atheists believe in no sky-daddy punishment or reward, the only other possibility is that atheists do good for the sake of doing good.  Atheists, it must be argued, are the moral ones and, as we continue to demonstrate the case, we must retake the claim to the moral high ground.


(And because people will want to say “What about Stalin or Pol Pot?”, let me quickly address it – being an atheist and doing something because of atheism is not the same thing.  Being a Christian and doing things because you believe the Christian faith demands it of you are also different.  It is important to remember that atheism has no doctrine and is not a belief in something – it is exactly the opposite of belief.)

Friday, July 29, 2016

Ark you kidding me?

On July 7, 2016 something almost completely unbelievable happened.  The douchebags behind the anti-science factory, known for its dinosaur statue having a saddle on it, otherwise called the "Creation Museum" opened their latest absurdity - a claimed re-creation of the Noah's Ark story.  They call it "The Ark Encounter", the Tri-State Freethinkers call it, more appropriately, "The Genocide and Incest Park".

Until days before the opening of the Ark Encounter, I lived my life wrongly assuming that I didn't regularly spend time with people who actually believed that a 500 year old man spent 120 years building a massive "boat" that would fit 2 or 7 of every animal on earth.  As the opening day of the Genocide and Incest Park neared, promotional videos were shared on my wife's Facebook timeline.  Little did we know that the person sharing it, someone my wife considers to be a friend, actually believed in a literal interpretation of the story and that the earth is less than 10,000 years old.  Little did he know that I (along with my wife and a number of others from Sarnia) was actually going to Williamstown, Kentucky to protest the opening of the re-creation of, arguably, one of the most unbelievable stories in the bible.

On opening day, I was part of a group of a hundred or so people who participated in an organized protest of the "park" for a number of reasons.  I honestly believed I'd be attending a protest that would simply be making points about the unbelievable story and that we'd be explaining the myth to people who simply hadn't thought about it.  Despite me knowing people who, at the surface, believe that the biblical story of a "perfect" god creating an imperfect world and, because of her mistake, decided the best way to make things right was to kill everyone but 8 people - Noah, his unnamed wife, Noah's three children (Shem, Ham, Japheth) and their unnamed wives.

When I further think about the story, however, I want to believe that none of my friends actually believe the story.  I was pretty certain that the people we would encounter in Kentucky (the counter protesters and those trying to show us where we were mistaken) would make points and arguments about the story that involved retrofitting the story, trying to explain away inconsistencies or offering ideas that they claim come from other sources that I wasn't familiar with.

What I was pretty certain about turned out to be something I was certainly wrong about.  The creators of the Ark Encounter and their "crack" team of counter protesters (more on them and how they acted in another blog) actually believe the unbelievable.  Not only did they believe it, they were willing to put it on paper and hand it out to us to try to get us to accept "the truth".  In my next blog entry, I'll show pictures of the brochure I was given and give a few thoughts on it.  To my friends who have seen it, they questioned whether it was a Poe and suggested that it may have been made to make fun of the park and not as a serious argument for the truth of it.

I suspect I struggled with anyone "really" believing the story because, as I see it, the Noah story requires a person to accept (in no particular order):
  • A 500+ year old man and his three sons could build a massive raft ("arks" are nothing like what is drawn in kids’ books or what was built by Ken Ham's group)
  • That there could be enough water to flood the entire world and that it could nearly entirely disappear with no evidence it was ever here
  • That two (or seven) of every species of animal on the planet could get to the middle-east -- and in less than 7 days!
  • That dinosaurs and humans lived on earth at the same time
  • That the earth is less than 10,000 years old
  • That 8 - 4 (all related) men and 4 women - people could reproduce (incestuously) fast enough to ultimately create 7 billion people in less than 6000 years
  • That a boat not big enough to even fit two of every beetle and two of every rodent could fit 2 (or 7) of EVERY species on earth
  • That the boat could also fit enough food for all these animals (forgetting that some of these animals rely on the other animals for their diet, that there was no refrigeration back then and no room to store fresh water!)
  • That 8 people could take care of millions of animals (never mind their waste, their requirements for fresh water and the inability of many of the animals to regulate their own body temperature)
  • That a "perfect" god would create an imperfect world and would punish almost everything that they created because the objects of their creation simply didn't worship them
  • Genocide is moral and acceptable in certain instances
  • That upon the waters residing, the pairs of animals (warning: more incest) could each find their way back (and leave no evidence of having been anywhere but where they are found today) to far-off lands and reproduce at such rates to create the populations of today

 And I'm sure, as some have, that people would be able to, through mental gymnastics I'm clearly not capable of, rationalize certain aspects of the story to themselves, I can hardly believe that anyone does believe all this but Ken Ham got over a hundred million (yes, $100,000,000) dollars invested to build a fantastical re-creation of a literally unbelievable plagiarized myth found in the bible.  People, not only as a story, literally believe this batshit crazy idea and are bringing their kids to this monstrous absurdity to indoctrinate their children into accepting the ridiculous.  Science education at its worst - congratulations Kentucky on being the poster-state of absolute stupid.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

A day in the life of a skeptic

As an advocate for skepticism and science, I find myself in some rather interesting places and even more interesting discussions.  I find that I have little time to contribute to my blog though my passion and advocacy, I'd argue, is probably stronger and more regular today.  Throughout my day, I'm often confronted with bad ideas and hear mentions of or references to "pure stupid" far more often than I'd hope from my circle of friends and acquaintances.  

I'd like to find it funny when a friend mentions something stupid and, in some ways, I'd like to simply be able to silently laugh to myself and ignore it.  As my wife can attest, that's seldom what happens and I'm more than willing to question an idea or, at times, ridicule it (ridiculous ideas deserve ridicule - though my wife is probably right, more often than not, that there could be a better way to tackle it). 

Recently when a colleague asked about an absence from work, rather than directly answering the question, I explained that I had attended a science rally.  To respond to further questions, I explained that I was advocating against anti-science propaganda and the danger that religious belief brings with it.  As they could not see the obvious connection between religion and anti-science to bad public policy, I had to point out recent laws passed to further legitimize discrimination against certain groups of people (LGBTQ community, women, etc.) and church supported misinformation regarding dying with dignity laws, birth control options (Crisis Pregnancy Centres) and, possibly more importantly, public acceptance of (near) settled science on evolution, climate change and vaccination.

The discussion, like many I have, started with much agreement - they were either surprised that people believed some of the crazy things we talked about or suggested that nobody actually believed them - age of the earth being < 10,000 years, that evolution wasn't true, that vaccines cause autism, that the story of Noah and the Ark was historically accurate and much more.  And, as with nearly all of my discussions, it touched on something that they held a firm, but not supported by evidence, belief or disbelief in.  In this case it was the idea that I supported vaccination.

I pointed out that their dismissal of people who claimed that evolution wasn't true and their almost hysterical laugh at the idea that people believe the Noah's Ark myth is the same feeling that many people have about people who claim/believe vaccines cause autism (and some of those people who accept the science of vaccination may also believe in astrology or homeopathy).  It was at that time that I explained how I blogged and that I couldn't think of a single friend who agreed with all of the propositions that I've made or the positions I've taken and it wasn't my goal to list items until I found something they disagreed with - I actually thought I was listing areas that we'd have in common so they could understand my desire and passion around fighting ignorance and anti-scientific ideas and I wasn't looking to have a disagreement or argument.

Anti-vaccine ideas are often based on ignorance of vaccines or limited scientific understanding.  The position that my colleague held, however, was that vaccines caused autism and, unlike most views on vaccination, this specific claim is almost entirely the result of a fraudulent study by Andrew Wakefield.  I felt it important to educate my co-worker about skepticism and vaccination in general so my (our) lunch later that day turned into a fairly deep discussion about the autism/vaccine controversy and eventually vaccination in general.  

It was clear (and they admitted) they'd not heard the Wakefield study was retracted, that it was found he committed academic fraud and that he lost is license to practice medicine.  They also didn't realize that there have been numerous studies that fully supports there being no link between pediatric vaccines and autism.  I further explained thiomersal (thimerosal), how vaccines work and concepts related to herd immunity.  As a result of our conversation, I think they actually accepted that the "vaccines cause autism" claim is probably false but they (almost) ended our conversation with, “well, it doesn't really matter to me, my children are grown so it's a non-issue”.

I say "almost" ended because it was at this point that I was able to explain "why it matters" that I am a skeptic and why I don't shy away from potential conflict when it comes to doing my (little) part to fight bad ideas wherever they present themselves.  

It matters because they disagreed with something I had said and they perpetuated a disproven myth about vaccines.  It matters because if they were willing to say that to me, would they agree with their children when they suggested they may not vaccinate their kids because of this fraudulent idea?  It matters because if one of their friends/family members were on the fence about vaccinations, would repeating the lie push them to be less likely to vaccinate than they, otherwise, would have been?  It matters because them holding the idea that pediatric vaccines cause autism will likely have them less inclined to getting vaccinated, themselves, for other preventable illnesses (influenza, HPV, Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, etc.).  It matters because they may be less certain about other beliefs they have.  

And, most importantly, it matters because I (we) care about our fellow humans and I understand that bad ideas can have impacts that negatively affect us all.

The spreading of bad ideas has to stop somewhere - do your part in dispelling myths whenever you can because bad ideas can have bad consequences.  


Wednesday, July 20, 2016

When the bush is gone, what are you going to beat around?

For more than a dozen years, values that most of us feel to be true humanistic values have been openly and flagrantly under attack and when the people that should be the most defensive of those values are afraid to truly stand up for them, we're definitely heading in the wrong direction.

What I'm speaking about is the idea that is being referred to, generally, as regressive leftism.  I encourage people to look up the term and to understand about it (both arguments for and arguments against - learning benefits us all).  There's one specific point of it that this blog is going to be about - not identifying the problem with the correct terms.

When the attack on Charlie Hebdo occurred, many people found it acceptable, though, on all other occasions, they would argue that the right to free speech is absolute, to say that the cartoonists were "stupid" for "offending" Islam.  This is victim blaming and, as you'll see in other parts of this blog, I think it is abhorrent.  There is nothing that the cartoonists/publishers did to deserve death.  (Just as leaving your laptop in the back of the car does not make you responsible for its theft and putting the box from your new large screen TV at the curb does not make the criminal less responsible for the later theft of it.)

When the second major terrorist attack occurred in France (though wrongly, as it should have never been a situation of victim blaming), the conversation could very well have changed.  It hardly did.  The Islamic terrorists, though pledging allegiance to an Islamic terrorist organization, were very sparingly identified as such.

The Pulse nightclub massacre occurs and the conversation (though I completely agree that guns are a problem, more on that later) turns to gun control and assault rifles.  Reports quickly tried to distance the attacker from a "true" Islamic terrorist suggesting that he didn't know "true" Islam.

Then, only days ago, an Islamic terrorist drives a large truck through a crowded area and kills 84 (or more) innocent people.  ISIS was quick to claim the terrorist as one of their "soldiers" and it has become (as if it wasn't almost certainly going to turn out that way) absolutely clear that he was driven by religion to commit such an atrocity.

Today, I scroll through my wife's Facebook feed to see people defending religious belief -- that this attack was an aberration of faith and/or that the Islamic terrorist wasn't well educated about Islam.  One part of that argument is the "No True Scotsman" fallacy - that anyone who does anything that doesn't agree with your definition of a thing isn't a "true" one.  The second part of the argument could be completely true (and it is something that this blog has touched on a number of times) - that most followers/believers are far less educated about their faith than many atheists and critics are.

I apologize for the digression but I think it helps illustrate the point.  When Catholics were polled about acceptance of evolution, only 68% of them believe "humans evolved over time" -- despite acceptance of evolution being the actual position of the church.  Recent interviews with Christians revealed general ignorance of the bible - the vast majority of people in the pews are not familiar that the bible stories about Jesus were not written by eye witnesses.  This is a fact that educated theologians, almost without exception, completely agree with.  From a personal experience perspective, when speaking with "average" believers, I have yet to come across one that is familiar with many bible stories/references that I often bring up - a large number of Christians simply know only what is told to them from the pulpit or they are just willfully ignorant and have been sold on the idea that claiming to be a Christian or blindly defending the bible and the church is the right and moral position to take.

It isn't a defense of religion to say that its adherents who are committing atrocities aren't educated enough about that particular religion - it is a scathing indictment of the dangers that religions and faith poses.  It is completely possible that ISIS is using a misinterpretation of the Islamic texts or it may be that ISIS is using religion as justification or even that ISIS is taking advantage of Islamic adherence.  Either position you want to take on that, the finger still points to religion in general and Islam in particular.

Given that this entry is already in excess of 600 words, I won't be thorough in the discussion about what the Koran, Bible and other "holy" books actually say, it is important to not gloss over the fact that the actions and claims of religious terrorists are well supported in the books/doctrines that they adhere to.  Many Christians will probably read this and argue that this is an Islam only problem but, until the Enlightenment (and even now with their record on equal rights (on everything), abortion, birth control, science education and much more), Christians were no better (arguably worse) than Islamic terrorists of today.  The Christian bible has countless horrible ideas and stories and any Christian that denies such only further goes to illustrate the point that whenever a Christian tells me to "read the bible", I'm often correct in stating "it isn't me that hasn't read the bible".

I'll be absolutely clear - Islamic terrorism is real and belief in the unbelievable is to blame.  As Jim Jefferies says "This isn't a war on Islam, it is a war on religion".  Let's call it what it is and the sooner we start to, the better off we'll all be - hopefully it happens while there's still even a bush left for you to beat around.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

And you're certain you've chosen the "One True God"?

A follower of this blog sent me the idea for this blog topic (and some great ideas - thank you!).  You may, too, have encountered this.

"I am amazed, to no end, at the ignorance of some believers - when I suggest that I am a skeptic or an atheist and they respond with: 'So you are into Scientology' (often not even stated as a question)"

He suggested that he tries to respond with "You have no idea about Scientology and other religions but you're certain you chose the 'true' one?".

I have often encountered the "Are you a Scientologist?" or "So you believe in Christian Science?" when I mention that I accept the theory of evolution.  It is clearly a sign that the person knows little about science and nothing about either Scientology or Christian Science.  (I've often remarked that 'Christians' will argue with me against Christian Science - they'll say "It's not Christian" and I'll say "It's not science".)

Scientology, for those that don't know, was created by man (as most religions seem to be - given their misogynistic views) - a man - L. Ron Hubbard.  He was a science fiction author (many would argue that Dianetics was his greatest work of fiction) who created Scientology in the middle of the 20th century.  It is not based on science, it is not based on reality - it is a money hungry cult (the difference from other religions is so subtle that there isn't one).

Christian Science (Church of Christ, Scientist) was created by a woman (wow!), Mary Baker Eddy (and she didn't do anything to shed the "master" teachings of Christianity and other monotheistic religions) in the late 1800s.  Christian Science preaches about healing oneself without medical intervention and, as I recall, about the idea that matter only exists if you believe in it (and that matter really doesn't exist).

For someone to ask if I'm a Scientologist or if I'm a "Christian Scientist" suggests that they are not aware of the teachings and beliefs of either of those religions and one must wonder if they know much about competing religions aside from a headline in the newspaper or what their church leaders have decided to tell them about it.  I don't think it'd be a stretch to say that they probably don't.

In reality the problem is deeper than that - many people know little about their own faith and only have heard or accept the whitewashed versions told to them.  Many haven't read their bible in its entirety and many are rather ignorant about the history of their faith.  In street-level debates, I've seldom encountered a believer who is even aware of completely undisputed facts about Christianity.  During a recent conversation with a believer, they expressed utter disbelief when I stated, factually, that the gospels were not written down until decades after Jesus' supposed death and resurrection (I could only imagine their response had I mentioned that Jesus had as many as 18 foreskins!).

I think this only goes to demonstrate that believers don't accept their religion to be true because they've carefully examined a variety of faiths and picked the one they believe is most plausible.  It's likely that they hold to their current faith because they were indoctrinated into it and haven't dared question it because of the strict protestations of their supremely jealous non-existent sky-daddy.



Friday, April 15, 2016

My Dear Friend Robbie Thomas

(Update 4/16/16: Late last night, I was informed that Robbie Thomas has resorted to threats of physical harm.  As a result, all comments are going into moderation and the Sarnia Police have been notified.  If your answer to criticism of your claims is to threaten physical harm, you've already lost the argument.  However, Robbie Thomas (Robbie Poulton) is either a real physical threat to participants in this blog and http://robbiethomas.sarnia.com or this is further evidence of his lies.  If he honestly believes that he is psychic, he's delusional.  If he's delusional, he may very well act out on his threats.  If he knows the psychic game is just a sham, that makes him an even bigger scumbag but not likely to assault someone.  For the safety of all of us, we're not taking any chances.)

My identity is one of the worst kept secrets in the world.  I have been pretty public about who I am and about my beliefs. And for a good number of years, I've been extremely critical of Robbie Thomas who claims he is psychic (he isn't).  He's tried to find out who I was -- he even called people who I blogged about to see if they would identify me.  No such luck.

For the past few months, I've been, as ME, not my pseudonym, me, the real me, calling people that Robbie has abused, been writing emails to people that Robbie claims support him and even identified myself to Robbie in person.

So he's now trying to blackmail me - threatening to tell people who I am or where I live (he's wrong, which makes it even funnier) if I don't take down the blog about him (http://robbiethomas.sarnia.com - which, by the way, isn't mine to take down) and apologize. That's not going to happen, Robbie.

Robbie Thomas, the truth is not on your side.  You can continue to lie and I will continue to point out your lies.  You can continue to harass and abuse people and I will continue to expose you for what you are (not psychic and a pretty big asshole).

And, Robbie, if I'm wrong, prove me wrong.  Identify a single case that you've solved with your psychic abilities and I'll post a retraction as well as petition to have the Stop Robbie Thomas site taken down.  In other words, the blog will live forever.