9.02.2011

What Good Could A Christian Possibly Find In A Friendship With An Atheist?

The progressive religious culture site (and magazine) RELEVANT has posted an article ('My Friend, The Atheist') by C.R. Wiley, a Christian who has atheist friends. The writer discusses the many ways that his friendships with atheists have made him a better person, as well as how these relationships have shown him some of the shortcomings of his Christian friends.

It's a neat piece, not only for dealing with a very (ahem) relevant topic, but also for its willingness to say what many Christian writers will not say: a) that atheists aren't the horrible scum that they've been characterized as for so long, b) that Christians and atheists can be, and often are, good friends, and c) that atheists are often just as moral as Christians (or even more so).

I have to say that I do have some issues with the article (atheism is not a 'dehumanizing philosophy', for instance), but knowing that this is a Christian writing in a Christian magazine, I can overlook some of the mischaracterizations and simplifications and appreciate the author's effort to demystify atheism to his audience, and to encourage them to associate with non-believers.

The entire piece is worth your time, but I will highlight a few segments:
In my experience, atheists are more likely to know why they are atheists than theists are to know why they are theists. Even worse, atheists tend to have a better grasp of the basic tenets of the religions they reject than the adherents of those religions. It is all somewhat discouraging. 
* * * 
Atheists can be intellectually stimulating. Their distrust is the source of their critical sharpness. In a secondhand way, Christians can benefit from it. My wife's grandfather, a man educated at Harvard and Yale, once told me the danger of only listening to people we find agreeable is that we can nod ourselves to sleep. Keeping a few atheists for friends is caffeinating. I can be sure they will challenge my arguments. Like most people, I am a bit lazy. Atheists force me to think. 
* * *
My atheist friends have taught me compassion. Since atheists believe the universe began with a bang, but without the benefit of someone lighting the fuse, the second law of thermodynamics is their only guide as to how it will end. Everything will float apart in a cold eternal night. What difference does that make? The universe isn't going anywhere. It has no meaningful purpose. Since the world does not serve the will of God, atheists must find their meaning in their own willing.

As a non-believer, I have, at times, been that smug, condescending, cynic that tends to give atheists a bad name (in my defense, I usually only resort to this when others are using their faith to malign others or to impede progress). Lucky for me, I have some pretty awesome Christians in my life who have kept me in check when I have crossed a line (my non-believing friends have done so, as well). Many of my Christian friends and relatives are also, like me, liberal, compassionate, principled, and passionate about social issues.

I know many Christians that cringe at the behavior of other Christians who may exhibit a lack of compassion, and I know many non-believers who cringe at their fellow non-believers who exhibit this same lack. I have found that I often have more in common with progressive Christians than I do atheists (see John Shore), and I know many of my Christian friends have more in common with some non-believers.

It's a strange, polarized world we are living in. As the author of the above piece illustrates, each of us might benefit from allowing ourselves to be challenged by those who believe differently, by allowing ourselves to appreciate the positive aspects of other belief systems, and by working together to make progress on social issues.

I'd like to see more Christians defend their compassionate and principled atheist friends. And conversely, I'd like to see more non-believers defend their compassionate and principled Christians friends. At the end of the day, we all want progress.



Rick Santorum Defends Biblical Values, Gets Blasted By Penn State Student

On Piers Morgan's show this week, Rick Santorum stated that he's not a member of the clergy, and therefore it wasn't his job to state whether or not homosexuality is a 'sin.' He could, however, state that homosexuality is wrong, and that if his son were gay, he would help him through his 'difficult time' to learn to lead a 'healthy,' 'faithful' life. Morgan presses Santorum on whether or not his views, and the views of the Catholic Church, are bigoted. Santorum concedes, then rejects the claim.

Santorum has gay friends, you see. Or so he says. I wonder, however, if Rick Santorum understands that friendship is a two-way street. Somehow I wonder if those folks would claim Santorum as a friend.



Later this week, the frothy mix visited Penn State, where he threw a hissy fit after a student started dropping science on his ass. And, in typical religious right fashion, Santorum brushed it off as ideological conspiracy bullshit.

 

Rick, if you're going to continue to stand by 'biblical truths' as a politician, you'd best get used to being challenged by the growing body of evidence that conclusively shows that sexual orientation is not a choice. If you wish to keep thumping the Bible on the campaign trail, you may want to consider bowing out and becoming a member of the clergy.



9.01.2011

Televangelist Types In Tongues On Facebook Prayer Post

Via Christian Post:
Pentecostal televangelist and self-professed prophetess Juanita Bynum has sparked curiosity among some Internet users and the Christian community for several comments on the minister's Facebook page where she appears to type "in tongues." 
In a series of posts published on Aug. 17, on one of Bynum's many Facebook pages, the minister typed messages where it was believed by commenters and critics that the she was praying in tongues.
Ms. Bynum was praying for Zachary Tims, the Florida megachurch minister found dead in a New York City hotel room last month.

We've all heard what it sounds like to speak in tongues, right? (Here's some tonguespeak at Sarah Palin's former church.)

Well, speaking in tongues while typing is like that. Sort of. Okay, not really. It's kind of more like when your cat steps on your keyboard.

 Here's Bynum speaking in tongues on Facebook:

"GIRD THEM UP IN THE SPIRIT...GIVE THEM A MIND TO PRAY LIKE NEVER BEFORE....WE CALL ON YOU JESUS....YOU ARE OUR HELP AND OURHOPE!!!!!!!! NDHDIUBGUGTRUCGNRTUGTIGRTIGRGBNRDRGNGGJNRIC YOU ARE OUR HELP AND OUR HOPE....RFSCNGUGHURGVHKTGHDKUNHSTNSVHGN YOU GOD......YOU ARE OUR HELP AND OUR HOPE!!!!!! OUR HOPE IS IN YOU FATHER......OUR STRENGTH FOR SUCH A TIME AS THIS IS IN YOU FATHER......HELP US NOW......LORD WE DONT ASK FOR HELP FOR JUST THEM....THIS IS US....THIS IS A PART OF OUR OWN BODY..... "

According to Christian Post, several more posts appeared on Bynum's page that were just as bizarre. Many began posting on Bynum's Facebook wall, asking her about the episodes.

One of Juanita Bynum's tongue status updates.
One 'fan' wrote, "looks like you lost a few followers after your attention seeking post."Beware of false prophets who come disguised as harmless sheep but are really vicious wolves.- Matthew 7:15." Another wrote, "YOU REALLY NEED TO STOP PLAYING WITH GOD THE WAY YOU ARE PLEASE SERIOUSLY SPEAKING IN TOUNGES ON FACE BOOK LOOK I CAN DO IT TO IF I WANTED TO PLAY WITH GOD SHABBA SHABBBA KIJBFJHBFREHVBFVBGIHOFKVBB VJKVFNWRO SEE REALLY." And another: "Its called speaking in tongues not thumbs!! AMEN and GOODNIGHT!" Bynum has not publicly addressed the issue, and did not respond to Christian Post's requests for a comment.

To be fair, Bynum never claimed to have purposefully typed 'in tongues,' but she obviously doesn't seem to mind the attention.

She either did it on purpose, did it on accident and is pretending it was on purpose, or she's on some of that shit they found on Zachary Tims.



Ken Ham & Answers In Genesis Refute Evolution With 3-Minute Video

Stop the presses! Ken Ham and Answers in Genesis have refuted evolution with a 3-minute video.

A still from AiG's 'Check This Out' DVD series
From AiG:
We’re sure you’ve heard this claim before, probably hundreds of times: “Science has proven evolution is fact.” It’s like a strange Darwinian chant that emanates from atheist blogs and secular universities. Too bad (for them) it’s not true.
Yes, Ken, it's exactly like that. A "strange Darwinian chant" from atheist blogs and secular universities.

A "strange Darwinian chant" from the world's largest scientific society, with over 130,000 members, and over 262 affiliated societies comprised of over 10 million individuals.

A "strange Darwinian chant" from pretty much every scientist (97%).

A "strange Darwinian chant" from over 90 educational organizations, over 30 religious organizations, and over 100 scientific and scholarly organizations.

A "strange Darwinian chant" from over 1170 scientists named Steve (Steves make up approximately 1% of all scientists).

A "strange Darwinian chant" from over 12,000 American Christian clergy.

What is so explosive about the information in Ken's video that he believes disproves the theory that serves as "the foundation of modern biology?" The video states, "What the bible reveals makes sense of what we see and understand. Evolution does not. 'Nuff said."

Ham's refutation centers on the following two statements:

1. Life has never been observed to come from non-life. 
2. There is no known observable process by which new genetic information can be added to the genetic code of an organism. 

Let's have a look:

 

Let's address the first refutation. First of all, the theory of evolution does not depend on how life began. Abiogenesis is another matter altogether, and proof or dis-proof of abiogenesis would not affect evolution in the least. Evolution is defined as "the gradual process by which the present diversity of plant and animal life arose from the earliest and most primitive organisms." As long as there is life, there is evolution. Saying that evolution cannot exist without proof of abiogenesis is like saying the germ theory of disease does not work without first understanding how bacteria first originated.

Secondly, just because science has not observed abiogenesis does not mean that God created all life in its present form. This is a 'God of the Gaps' argument and it's silly. It is true that we have not replicated abiogenesis, but there are many models to describe how life may have originated, and we are learning more and more each day. There was a time when we could not explain where lightning came from, and so we attributed it to the gods. We later gained the knowledge to explain how lightning works, and the gods explanation faded away. Abiogenesis is a little more complex, and may or may not be replicated in my lifetime, but that does not mean that it cannot be explained. Science is closing in on it. This is how science works.

Now on to Ham's 2nd refutation: "There is no known observable process by which new genetic information can be added to the genetic code of an organism." This is, quite simply, a flat out lie. Although creationists never seem to be able to define exactly what they mean by "information," It appears that they keep this definition rather loose, so that they can exclude whatever evidence is put in front of them. Regardless, new genetic information is indeed routinely added to biological systems through various evolutionary mechanisms. You just need to look at the evidence, which is overwhelming. You just won't find it in Creationist sources. 

John Rennie writes in Scientific American:
Biology has catalogued many traits produced by point mutations (changes at precise positions in an organism's DNA)--bacterial resistance to antibiotics, for example. 
Mutations that arise in the homeobox (Hox) family of development-regulating genes in animals can also have complex effects. Hox genes direct where legs, wings, antennae and body segments should grow. In fruit flies, for instance, the mutation called Antennapedia causes legs to sprout where antennae should grow. These abnormal limbs are not functional, but their existence demonstrates that genetic mistakes can produce complex structures, which natural selection can then test for possible uses. 
Moreover, molecular biology has discovered mechanisms for genetic change that go beyond point mutations, and these expand the ways in which new traits can appear. Functional modules within genes can be spliced together in novel ways. Whole genes can be accidentally duplicated in an organism's DNA, and the duplicates are free to mutate into genes for new, complex features. Comparisons of the DNA from a wide variety of organisms indicate that this is how the globin family of blood proteins evolved over millions of years.
Nice try, Ken. Sadly, however, there are many parents and churches who will plop their kids in front of your DVDs, and no new factual information will be added to the child's brain. Most of these kids will eventually have evolution explained to them properly. However, some kids will inevitably grow up to be the next Ken Ham.

It's like some strange Creationist chant.




8.31.2011

The End: A Video Game About Death, Belief, and Science

'The End' is a philosophical platformer video game unlike any you've likely encountered. Commissioned by Channel 4 Education, the free online web-game is described as "a metaphysical journey, recording [players'] interactions in the world to reveal their attitudes towards mortality. These views are presented alongside their friends and some of the most important thinkers of our time, such as Gandhi, Descartes and Einstein."

A "game of self-discovery," it integrates puzzles, strategy, and philosophical questions into a world which explores a range of views about death, belief and science.

From the press release:
Set across three worlds - Mind, Body and Spirit - the player must use a unique shadow ‘n’ light mechanic to solve physics-based puzzles, answer questions and battle the world’s Guardians. The ultimate prizes are the Death Objects, ranging from a memorial diamond to a human heart, which deepen a player’s contextual knowledge of death and help them progress through the game.

The End is produced by award-winning games studio Preloaded with content from the mega brained Tom Chatfield (author of Fun INC). It has been illustrated with the ninja pencil skills of Luke Pearson and has an original score composed by Peter Mauder of Phonotheque. Additional consultancy has also been provided by Nigel Warburton (creator of the successful Philosophy Bites podcasts).
The game challenges players to find their "inner self," asking such questions as:
  • Is there such a thing as fate?
  • Is there such a thing as a cause worth dying for?
  • Do you think animals fear death?
  • Can we understand what death is actually like?

Check out the trailer. It's pretty rad. Then play the game here.



Scientologists: Not Quite Over That 'New Yorker' Piece

Via Animal New York:
Three representatives from the Church of Scientology were standing outside Conde Nast headquarters this morning and distributing copies of their Thetan-inspired magazine Freedom. This month’s issue is a parody of The New Yorker that’s filled with articles attacking writer Lawrence Wright and his employer for a 24,000 word piece about “Crash” director Paul Haggis.
The Church of Scientology claims to have met with New Yorker staff during the fact-checking process, bearing 48 binders full of alleged errors in Wright's piece. Apparently the meeting didn't go the way the church wanted, so now they're getting all Spy Magazine on them.

Animal New York has several scans from the magazine.

AFA's Bryan Fischer: Criminalize Homosexuality In All 50 States

The American Family Association's Douchebag-In-Chief Bryan Fischer wants to re-criminalize sodomy in all 50 states.

Is anything Bryan Fischer says surprising anymore? Hardly. He has a long history of making ignorant, hateful, and downright bizarre comments. But that doesn't mean we should stop paying attention to what he's saying.

We need to remember that Fischer has been embraced by many of the GOP's 2012 presidential candidates. His organization hosted Rick Perry's Texas prayer rally. And the AFA continues to host "policy briefings" to introduce GOP candidates to pastors.

Those who have dismissed Fischer as a fringe lunatic with no real political sway are of the same mindset as folks who dismissed Michele Bachmann as too fringe-y to have a shot at higher office.





Paul Stam is a Sad, Ignorant, Hateful, Little Man

In case you weren't aware, my wonderful home state of North Carolina is trying to ban same-sex marriage. Twice, actually.

It was already banned in 1996, via statute, but theocratic, insecure, folks like House Majority Leader Paul Stam (R-duh), feel it is necessary to put another nail in the coffin, via constitutional amendment, to be absolutely sure that the evil threat that is gay marriage does not rise from the grave to attack his children.

Paul 'Skip' Stam believes the following garbage:

  • If same sex marriage is allowed, it will lead ”next” to legalized “adult incest” and polygamous marriages since there’s no way to argue logically for same sex marriage and against state authorization of those other practices.
  • “Morality” and “biology” dictate that same sex marriage be proscribed.
  • Sexual orientation is a “choice.”
  • Same sex marriage will prove disastrous for all of our children and society generally because it will lead to the inevitable demise of marriage as an institution.
  • “All social science” demonstrates that it’s best to be raised in a marriage that features one man and one woman.

All of the above statements are completely devoid of scientific evidence, reality, and common sense. Not to mention that any 'moral' opposition to same-sex marriage is almost always has a religious basis, and therefore does not pass the Lemon Test.

Here's Stam spouting his insane 'gay marriage will lead to incest' baloney at a press conference on Tuesday:



Later, when asked how the ban would differ from misogyny laws, Stam served up this steaming pile of poo: “People can't change their race. They can't choose their race."

GOP leaders plan to take up the marriage amendment on September 12, when legislature resumes.





8.30.2011

Chat Transcript Between Michele Bachmann and God

(Via Funny or Die.)



Christian vs. Non-Christian: Who Gets Into Heaven?

I have a lot of time for John Shore.  If you're unfamiliar with him, he has been called "America’s leading non-douchey Christian" by Dan Savage (of Savage Love and the It Gets Better Project).

As a liberal who grew up in a liberal Christian household, and as a straight, married, father who writes, raises a ruckus about things that matter, and as staunch ally to the LGBTQ community, I identify greatly with John Shore. He's great.

He is one of the great many wonderful Christians who seem to really 'get' what Christianity is, and should be, about. And it is because of folks like John Shore, that I don't appreciate gross generalizations about Christians. And it is because of folks like John Shore that I choose to spend more time trying to find and relate to Christians who care about equality and progress. We can get a whole hell of a lot more done by building bridges with likeminded folks from other belief systems. At the end of the day, we want to accomplish a lot of the same things: decrease suffering, promote equality and compassion, etc.

I feel strange writing about Shore for the first time, and then launching into a video, when he has a wealth of wonderful writing available (in book form, and online), but I recently ran across this and thought it was wonderful. It was posted by John Shore (although I can't be entirely sure that he wrote the dialog, I am sure he endorses it).

The next time you run into a Christian who says that only Christians can get into heaven, you could do worse than to employ the logic of the little dude here on the right:



8.29.2011

Chatbots Talk To Each Other, Get Passive Aggressive, Discuss Religion

If you're not familiar with chatbots, Wikipedia describes them as "computer programs designed to simulate an intelligent conversation with one or more human users via auditory or textual methods, primarily for engaging in small talk. The primary aim of such simulation has been to fool the user into thinking that the program's output has been produced by a human (the Turing test)."

There have been practical uses for chatbots, including Web sites that offer online help, personalized service, or which seek to acquire information from customers.

If you've ever had a run-in with a chatbot, it's quite possible you had a surreal experience. It's also quite possible that you screwed with the chatbot to see what kind of wacky conversations might ensue.

The Creative Machines Lab at Cornell University recently decided to pit two chatbots against each other to see what would happen. The results are pretty interesting.

Below is one example of what came about after these chatbots began conversing. It was not long until they both exhibited passive aggression, and began discussing God and unicorns.

Good times.



'They're Out There, Man' - 'UFO Guy' Remixed

Melodysheep, the moniker behind the Symphony of Science videos, is stepping into conspiracy territory with his latest, 'They're Out There, Man! UFO Guy Remixed,' a mash-up of awesome UFO/alien imagery and a 'man on the street' interview with a guy who may or may not have done drugs in the past.

From the video's description:

"I don't believe in UFOs, but this guy makes me want to. Apparently confusing Area 51 with Air Force 1, a man in a Chicago airport details his plans to visit aliens in Arizona and beyond."

It's great stuff:



Michele Bachmann Preaching and Loving White People

On Friday, August 5th, Michele Bachmann showed up at the Spirit Midwest Christian Music Festival in Des Moines, IA.

Since there were microphones there, Michele Bachmann spoke to the crowd and glorified Jesus. She also asked the audience, "Who loves white people?." This might have been very unfortunate, had there not been a band on the bill that day called The White People Soul Band.

So, we'll give Michele Bachmann a pass on that, although it was certainly something a presidential candidate might not want to say in public on a microphone.

Bachmann continues to lay down some remarkable evangelical preaching.

One can only hope that, if elected, her State of the Union addresses would not resemble the following:



8.28.2011

4-Year Old Preacher-Man

Kanon Tipton first took the microphone at 21 months. He's now 4, and he's still preaching. Says his father, Pastor Damon Tipton, "I do feel like the hand of God is on him in a special way."

It's certainly is something.

Kanon appeared on the Today show last Tuesday: