Friday, June 24, 2005

My Birthday!

I turned 25 yesterday. So that makes me a quarter of a century old. And that my car insurance rate goes down, finally. :-p

Mom and Dad took me to the Outback Steakhouse since I'd never been there and wanted to try it. I wasn't disappointed either. I got the North Atlantic Salmon and it was just perfect. And after we talked a bit about drinks, Mom actually ordered me a shot of Maker's Mark. LOL And to think I was nervous about ordering drinks around them. I grew up so used to hearing that alcohol was evil to Christians that it's still hard to believe my folks have no problem with it, in moderation of course.
After we ate they took me to Sears and bought me a pair of tennis shoes. Which I needed, cause my old ones were starting to fall apart.
I also got a $25 gift certificate for Barns and Noble from my sis, via e-mail. I used it to buy a book on ASP.NET--strange for a birthday present since it's mainly for work. But I'd been eyeing it, and the thing costs nearly $50. Now I'm just waiting for it to arrive.

It still doesn't feel any different at 25 than it did at 24. I'm still too young to be getting old. :D

Thursday, June 16, 2005

argument for strong atheism

Today I was thinking about what it means to be an atheist. In philosopical terms there are two different types of atheists. "Weak" atheists do not have a belief in god(s). "Strong" atheists believe that there is no god or gods. A common argument against strong atheism is that it is an irrational and unrealistic position, since no one can no for sure that there is no god. However, this argument hinges on what you mean by the word "god."

What characteristics does a person have to have in order to be considered a god? Does a god even have to be a person? I wonder this because I hear of people talking about a being that is anything from "all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-present" to one that is simply some sort of force that permeates the universe. There is no universally agreed upon definition of "god" not even among Christians of the same denominations!

What I was wondering about is this: If we were to find evidence of a "supreme being", how would it be distinguished from an advanced alien? A perfectly natural being or force, and a product of evolution just as we are? Can anything that has come to be though natural forces--even forces that exist outside of or prior to our universe--properly be called a god?

I contend that no being or force that comes from natural causes (or human imagination, for that matter) can properly be called a god. And until I see some real good reason to believe that things can come from non-natural causes (could the supernatural even have causation??) then a person is perfectly justified in being a strong atheist.

(And, of course, this is an argument aimed people who are already agnostic or atheist. Most believers, I've noticed, will just say that I'm not giving the possibility of the supernatural its due. And I never will, at least until you can tell be what it is beyond just it's being "other than what I am able to see or otherwise detect around me." )

Schiavo autopsy in

I first knew something about this when I got a Yahoo News Alert on my desktop at work yesterday. It said something about how the autopsy results are not inconsistant with a perminant vegetative state. And according to the New York Times, there were more surprises about Terri Schiavo which showed both that she was not "smiling at the camera" as her family claimed because she was blind, that her brain had deteriorated to about 1/2 normal size, and that the brain deterioration meant that she was encapable of feeling pain or emotion. Apparently all her "responses" were reflex actions. She had no hope of recovery.

But the autopsy left unresolved the mystery, which haunted not just her
husband and parents but ultimately much of the nation, of why Ms. Schiavo's
heart stopped beating late one night when she was 26. The ensuing brain damage
left her able to breathe on her own but not, most doctors said, to think or to
have emotions . . .

The autopsy also found that the brain deterioration had left her blind.That finding, along with the determination that the brain damage was
irreversible, caused some Republicans in Washington, who had pushed so hard for
federal intervention in her case, to have second thoughts. And Democrats cited
the autopsy results as proof that critics of the federal intervention had been

Here is the link to the NYT article.
Unfortunately, you have to sign in to read it.

Also, here is what Americans United for the Seperation of Church and State have to say on the subject. So much for the "culture of life" of the religious right.

"What is this "culture of life" anyway? Does it every actually apply to the living?" --quote heard on Freethought Radio.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Inherit the Wind

I finally saw Inherit the Wind (1999) today. I'd looked for it at a couple of local video rental stores without success, but today I was at the library and, while looking for something else, I noticed it on the shelf with the videos.
This is not a full review of the movie, but here are a few observations:
  1. I was a little surprised that very little of the movie has anything whatsoever about evolution. And this was because the court actually prohibited science discussion from the trial! I've read that this is a historically accurate detail too.
  2. The lawyer in defense of the teacher who was on trial for teaching evolution speaks very eloquently in defense of freethought--which turned out to be what the defense hinged on. Freethought vs. unthinking adherence to a dogma.
  3. The friendship between Drummond and Brady (the prosecuting lawyer) was fascinating. At the end of the movie Drummond even describes Brady as a "giant," even thought they disagree and fight each other like crazy in the courtroom.
  4. Two versions of atheism are presented in the film. There was Henry Drummond, the defense lawyer, who believed in a lot. In contrast to the stereotype of the atheist who believes in nothing, he holds truth and the ability of humans to reason to be nothing less than sacred. The contrast is provided by the newspaperman, the hardened and cynical atheist. Near the end of the movie, after the trial, they have an interesting conversation in which Drummond castigates the newspaperman for his cynicism and scoffing at other's beliefs.
  5. Also true to history, as I've heard, the teacher is found guilty but only fined $100. It was a technical loss, but an idealogical win. And Drummond mentioned an intent to appeal--I'll have to look up what happened as the appeal is not in the movie.
  6. This could be a hard movie for some Christians to watch, I think due to the portrayal of religious fanatisism and the grilling about the Bible that Drummond gave Brady when he called him to the stand. I, however, found that scene highly enjoyable.
In short, it's a beautiful movie.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

what's going on

This week I started on a new job. My first job where I'm actually what I went to school to do. :) I'm helping to redesign and manage the database system of a small telecommunications consulting firm. So far, so good. ;)

Also, due to a lack of interest (on my part) and a squeeze on my time from working full-time, I don't intend to finish reviews for the rest of the chapters of The Case for Faith. For one thing, I've gotten sick of it. I'm clearly not the target audience for the book--this was written for Christians and non-skeptical non-belivers. There is little here of interest to skeptics, and I'm getting tired of refuting the same types of arguments over and over. Also, Mom admited to me over a week ago that she wasn't getting anywere on the book I gave her (The Demon-haunted World) because she is just not open to what he is saying. She could read my opinions, sure, but not the opinions of someone like Carl Sagan. Oh well.

Wow, I've got to go or I'll be late for work!

EDIT: Name of employer has been removed at request, to protect the company from associations with religions and views on religions.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Chapter 4: God isn’t of warship if he kills innocent children.

Interviewee: Norman L. Geisler, Ph. D.

Right off the bat, the title of this chapter is misleading. When I read it in the table of contents (as you will see in my pre-read impressions), I was thinking of the children who died in disasters and the tsunami and famines. However, what this chapter actually addresses is the problems of atrocities commanded by God in the Old Testament. The objection could have been better worded as “God isn’t worthy of worship if he commanded genocide and cruel acts.” And as it turns out, only about half of the chapter addresses this question, while the other half focuses on proofs of the bible’s reliability.

Strobel presents the objection very well.

“God’s image as a loving and benevolent deity gets called into question by stores of seemingly cruel and vengeful behavior. Do these brutal accounts disclose the true character of God? And if they do, does he deserve to be worshiped?”

I’m not going to pick apart each and every argument given by Geisler as to why the Old Testament stories are not as cruel as they appear. But here are the highlights:

In answer to a charge from Thomas Paine in The Age of Reason that the Bible contained “cruel and torturous executions,” Geisler says that the charge of torture is due to misinterpretation in the King James Version. In fact, what David really did was force his enemies to either submit to forced labor or be killed. (Neither Strobel nor his interviewee gives Biblical references so I’m not going to try to find the passages in question.)

In the case of the Amalekites, Geisler basically says that they were bad people beyond any hope of salvation and deserved to be utterly destroyed--right down to the smallest infant and all the animals. How does he know this? Because Israel’s history books say so! The land was promised to Israel—and of course the Amalekites knew about this! Besides, God owns them and he can kill them if it pleases him. God has the right to do anything he wants and we have no right to judge, according to Geisler: “People assume that what is wrong for us is wrong for God.” (pg. 119)

And did you know that the children who were mauled by bears for making fun of Elisha? They weren’t really children. They were a dangerous gang that threatened Elisha’s life and reputation. This is what Geisler says, anyway. And God viciously killed them as an example for anyone who would dare malign God or his prophet, so that maybe the people would take the hint and avoid his later wrath. This still sounds more like a tyrant than a loving deity to me.

Next Strobel brings up the cruelty that is built into the food chain in nature. This bit, I think, is rather out of topic for the chapter and should have been addressed in Chapter 1. Anyway, Geisler’s solution is that all animals were originally herbivores, but then were converted to carnivores sometime later as a result of the fall. My main problem with this argument has to do with the fact that predators are so wonderfully designed to be killing machines. The idea of a lion gaining nutrition from grass and fruit is totally absurd in the light that their teeth, claws, and digestive systems are specially designed for the killing and digestion of animal flesh. And can you imagine sharks eating seaweed? If Geisler is right, the curse must have been a new act of creation in its own right! Another problem is that this makes it out that God punished all of creation for the rebellion of humans. I can’t see how this could be considered just.

Speaking of cruelty to animals, it would be more in line with the topic of this chapter if Strobel would have asked about the justice in God commanding David to hamstring the horses of their enemies. This can be found in Joshua 11:6-9. What was the point? More references to biblical atrocities can be found at

The rest of the chapter is concerned with arguments that the Biblical accounts are trustworthy. In the interest of shortening my chapter reviews, I’ll not address these arguments here—particularly since they have little to do with the topic of the chapter.


Objection sustained. The only thing this article convinced me of is that Geisler and company should lead a revolt to have the King James Version of the Bible banned, if it contains such grievous errors as Geisler claims. Can he even think of it as the Word of God anymore?