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Archive for December, 2008

Yellowstone Earthquakes and the Importance of Science

Posted by dystressed on December 30, 2008

Earthquakes have been swarming in Yellowstone. The significance? Possible future volcanic activity. Though not an immediate threat, this is a good illustration of why we need good, rational science.

…[T]he Yellowstone Caldera, formed in a giant volcanic eruption 640,000 years ago that blasted 240 cubic miles (1,000 km3) of molten rock (magma) into the atmosphere-more than 1,000 times the volume erupted at Mount St. Helens in 1980. Later eruptions largely filled the caldera and pushed up two resurgent domes within it—the Sour Creek and Mallard Lake Domes. No actual volcanic eruption has occurred in the Yellowstone region for about 70,000 years. [USGS Fact Sheet 100-03]

Get that picture? 240 CUBIC MILES of molten rock. That’s 5,280 feet by 5,280 feet by 5,280 feet. Of molten rock. Honey, this ain’t a barbecue, it’s the apocalypse.

According to a section on the PBS NOVA website “Mystery of the Mega Volcano,” that would mean as much as a third of the U.S. would be uninhabitable (and no one would probably want to live in the rest). More than that, other mega volcanoes in history are believed to have brought on Ice Age(s). Well that’s comforting. At least we wouldn’t totally screw up the planet all by ourselves, we can blame the mega volcano that will kill millions of people and make life on earth a literal hell.

Now I’m not out to preach for reckless hedonism in the face of possible disaster. I would rather you take away a desire to learn more about what science can and should do to prepare us for this. In fact, earthquakes are not new to Yellowstone, but they are scary when they happen in a “swarm.” Theories abound as to whether the next Yellowstone eruption would be as big as the formative eruption 640,000 years ago, but an eruption of some magnitude could be coming around the corner.

The Yellowstone Volcano Observatory collects tremendous amounts of data to help monitor the caldera and keep watch for major eruption dangers. Though their jobs must be very uneventful most days, these people have to properly analyze the data and come up with risk reports which tell us what’s next.

Intelligent Designers take note: Humans aren’t designed to survive volcanoes. If the human race is to survive, we must teach good science. If you believe in an intelligent designer, that’s fine, but you cannot ignore the threat of destruction and wait for divine intervention. Please don’t stand in the way of real science.

This photograph shows a horizontal view of the 2 May 2000 eruption of Steamboat Geyser. Photograph courtesy of Tom Cawley, NPS.
This photograph shows a horizontal view of the 2 May 2000 eruption of Steamboat Geyser. Photograph courtesy of Tom Cawley, NPS.

Posted in Events, Science | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Post-Partisan Invocation

Posted by dystressed on December 29, 2008

Much has been made of Rick Warren being invited by Obama to give the invocation at the innauguration. I didn’t much care until I ran across the news that Rick Warren calls his critics “Christophobes.”

I take exception to that. I am not phobic of Christ, but of his followers. I am in fact, a Rickophobe. I am wary of people who wield tremendous power over the hearts and minds of Americans, regardless of their political leanings, but I am especially wary of the religious ones. Religious tyrranny is something the founders of this nation are known for escaping, but it is also something that we have inadvertantly perpetuated. Though we have enshrined religion with freedom and kept it marginally separate from government, we have given it de facto establishment, giving it freedom to abuse its non-profit-tax-exempt status as a billy club against dissenters and non-believers.

The rise of the Christian Right has raised the visibility of the Evangelical Agenda: Make Everyone Believe in Jesus.

If the Rick Warrens of this country have their way, there would be no religious freedom, and indeed no dissent. There would be one country ruled by those who claim to know the will of God. A quick glance back to high school literature class and Arthur Miller’s The Crucible can give you chills when you think about the end result of a theocracy. When there is no freedom of ideas, there is no freedom.

While it pains me to admit this, I believe that Rick Warren should be heard. But let him be heard for what he is, a religious fascist. There are few evangelicals who do not pray for a totalitarian Christian state that would be devoid of freedom of thought.

What Obama has done for the FreeThought community is actually a backhanded favor. By inadvertantly stirring up the embers of a long smoldering fire, he has ensured that religious moderates and liberals can be reminded how dangerous the Evangelical Agenda truly is.

Posted in Philosophy, Politics, Religion | Tagged: , , , | 6 Comments »

Couldn’t have said it better myself

Posted by Eye4Cards on December 28, 2008

I was reading some Bertrand Russell on Christmas (doesn’t everybody?).  What can I say, it was a slow day and religion is on everyone’s mind that day.

I found his short essay on The Essence of Religion.  It struck a chord with me.  Many people have said most of what he wrote, but Russell managed to say so much in such a concise manner.  In case you are interested, I got this out of The Basic Writings of Bertrand Russell, 1961, Touchstone.  I’m sure you can hunt down nearly all of his work online though, if you google him.  He might as well be required reading for everyone because he touched on so many facets of human thought, not just religion.  It is striking how little his works have aged:

THE ESSENCE OF RELIGION

The decay of traditional religious beliefs, bitterly bewailed by upholders of the Churches, welcomed with joy by those who regard the old creeds as mere superstition, is an undeniable fact.  Yet when the dogmas have been rejected, the question of the place of religion in life is by no means decided.  The dogmas have been valued, not so much on their own account, as because they were believed to facilitate a certain attitude towards the world, an habitual direction of our thoughts, a life in the whole, free from the finiteness of self and providing an escape from the tyranny of desire and daily cares.  Such a life in the whole is possible without dogma, and ought not to perish through the indifference of those to whom the beliefs of former ages are no longer credible.  Acts inspired by religion have some quality of infinity in them :  they seem done in obedience to a command, and though they may achieve great ends, yet it is no clear knowledge of these ends that makes them seem imperative.  The beliefs which underlie such acts are often so deep and so instinctive as to remain unknown to those whose lives are built upon them.  Indeed, it may be not belief but feeling that makes religion :  a feeling which, when brought into the sphere of belief, may involve the conviction that this or that is good, but may, if it remains untouched by intellect, be only a feeling and yet be dominant in action…

The animal part of man, being filled with the importance of its own desires, finds it intolerable to suppose that the universe is less aware of this importance;  a blank indifference to its hopes and fears is too painful to contemplate, and is therefore not regarded as admissable.  The divine part of man does not demand that the world shall conform to a pattern :  it accepts the world, and finds in wisdom a union which demands nothing of the world.  Its energy is not checked by what seems hostile, but interpenetrates it and becomes one with it.  It is not the strength of our ideals, but their weakness, that makes us dread the admission that they are ours, not the world’s.  We with our ideals must stand alone, and conquer, inwardly, the world’s indifference.  It is instinct, not wisdom, that finds this difficult and shivers at the solitude it seems to entail.  Wisdom does not feel this solitude, because it can achieve union even with what seems most alien.  The insistent demand that our ideals shall be already realized in the world is the last prison from which wisdom must be freed.  Every demand is a prison, and wisdom is only free when it asks nothing.

(The Hibbert Journal, Vol. II, October 1912.)

Posted in FreeThought, Philosophy, Religion | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

Congressman Mark Souder says his highlight of the year was being on Ben Stein’s “Expelled.”

Posted by Andy D. on December 27, 2008

Sylvia Smith interviewed Congressman Mark Souder for the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette in which Souder states his “personal highlight of the year.”  The highlight is none other than being in Ben Stein’s anti-evolution propaganda movie, “Expelled, No Intelligence Allowed.”

You appeared on the big screen this year. What was that experience like?
The biggest single moment was (that) the movie “Expelled” came out on intelligent design. (The documentary about intelligent design – also called creationism – hosted by Ben Stein describes how some educational professionals have been blacklisted from universities and journals because they disagree with the theory of evolution.)

Rep. Souder just admitted that intelligent design is creationism.  The Supreme Court decision in Edwards v. Aguillard concluded creation science is religion and not science! Intelligent design is the latest failed evolution of trying to get religion into the science classroom starting with outright religion, creation science, intelligent design; and now it is academic freedom.  Intelligent Design was shown to be religion in Kitzmiller v. Dover in 2004.  The Discovery Institute which is the Seattle based ID think-tank tries not to mention who this mysterious intelligent “agent” designer is to avoid entanglement with the First Amendment.  Ben Stein walks all over that premise that ID isn’t really religion in “Expelled.”

Rep. Souder doesn’t say anything about the movie’s deceitful logical fallacy in which the movie attempted to blame evolutionary science for the Holocaust. I watched the movie “Valkyrie” starring Tom Cruise last night in which the opening contained the written oath swearing under God one’s support of Hitler. The people committing those horrible killings were mostly religious.  There is a big difference between artificial selection which was around long before the theory of natural selection.  Note, I am not saying religion caused the Holocaust.  Religion was the original source of the division and the extension of Martin Luther’s anti-Semitic zeitgeist; moreover, there was extreme hyperinflation, unemployment, WWI repercussions, shame due to false propaganda, extreme nationalism, rapid industrialization, anti-communism, secret police, and many more variables to make the times uncertain.  Religious and scientific institutions are used in these types of totalitarian movements and are manipulated.  In fact, the Anti-defamation League released a statement against Expelled’s premise.  Moreover, it is a non sequitur to say: if evolutionary theory caused the Holocaust (which it didn’t),  it disproves the authenticity of natural selection and common ancestry of all life.  Ben Stein and/or his producers blatantly quote-mined Darwin, not unlike the negative politics Joseph Goebbels used.

How did your role come about?
Ben Stein’s producer contacted our office about being in a movie off of the subcommittee report we had done on a researcher we believed had been persecuted and pushed around at the Smithsonian Institution because of his views on intelligent design.
He lost his office. He lost his keys. He lost his sponsorship. We were able, over a period of years, to get the e-mails behind this. This was a three-year fight.

First of all, Richard Sternberg was not a paid employee of the Smithsonian and he purposefully abused the scientific peer review process .  He waited until he was leaving the position of editor to release a pro-ID paper by the Discovery Institute’s own Stephen C. Meyer.  The paper was later unpublished and one may see why it wasn’t actual science here.
The lost keys and office are much to do about nothing, as it was part of a pre-planned event at the Smithsonian for bureaucratic reasons in which many people switched keys and offices including Sternberg.  For more on Souder, Sternberg, and the others involved go here and here.  Worst of all, most of this information is in the appendix of Souder’s own report!!!  Souder should know better and is most likely playing politics, as you will soon see.  See NCSE’s Expelled Exposed to see the complete story on all the manufactured “expelled-IDers.”

Was it the highlight of your year?
I personally believe that there is no issue more important to our society than intelligent design. I believe that if there wasn’t a purpose in designing you – regardless of who you view the designer as being – then, from my perspective, you can’t be fallen from that design. If you can’t be fallen from that design, there’s no point to evangelism.

Do you see Rep. Souder squirm on “who” the designer is?  Here Souder admits his religious biases.  His personal beliefs should be private and not be involved in science or politics.  It is a simple as that.  Souder needs to represent people of all faiths and those of no faith in his district.  This is extremely disturbing.  If he had his way, he would help turn America into a theocracy.

As an evangelical Christian, I believe the premise of a fall being at the core of reforming lives. I believe the concept of grace and forgiveness comes from having fallen from something.

Again, Mark Souder’s religious beliefs are off limits due to the “no religious test” in Article 6 of the constitution.  However, I am waiting to see if a non-religious person can take his place some day.  It seems there is a religious test for office.  Grace and forgiveness are not only evangelical ideals. They are ideals for everyone including secularists.  We should all appreciate honesty and full scientific inquiry free from meddling of religiously motivated politicians.  The scientific marketplace of ideas has spoken on intelligent design.  Scientific knowledge has to go through testing, hypothesis, must be falsifiable, peer reviewed, and repeatable with more testing before it gets anywhere near science school text books.  Telling students there is scientific alternative to the evolutionary theory is an outright lie.

Now, how that occurred – whether you believe in the young earth theory, gradual evolution, or whatever – is disputed. Those become religious. But whether there was a fundamental designer who developed a complex DNA molecular structure is critical. Since I view that as the most important thing in the world, yes, being in a movie that advanced that cause was the personal highlight of the year.

Rep. Souder thinks that young earth creation or old earth creationism is up to religious belief.  I somewhat agree.  One is entitled to his or her beliefs; however, one is not entitled to their own scientific facts.  The facts are the earth is close to 4.6 billions years old with roughly 4 billion years of evolution and common descent.  There are many religions that have accepted evolution and made their peace with it and one does not have to be an atheist to appreciate it.  Scientists state openly they don’t know how life was originally started and we may never know.  However,  science is much stronger here then Souder or Stein could even try to understand.  See the evolution of RNA into DNA.  Abiogenesis , the study of how the first life began, is technically not part of The Theory of Evolution by natural selection.  Mountains of evidence have been pouring in for a 150 years from many scientific disciplines.  The theory has never been stronger and a scientific theory is not a hunch, but it is the highest form of scientific knowledge.

Why didn’t you call more attention to being in a movie?
I thought this might be the hottest issue in my (re-election) race and that I would be so attacked, and it would bring out the social conservative base in ways we’d never seen.
From the time 2008 started, we could tell this was going to be a difficult political year. We went through a huge immigration debate. Then you moved to the $4 gas debate. Then the economy’s collapsing.

Mark Souder was counting on a culture war backlash to muster up support. The Republican ticket had the political winds against them;  Souder, therefore, was manufacturing a controversy to be reelected.  This is Machiavellian ugliness that Karl Rove played, and I think Americans are sick of it.   It turns out there was a very effective response to Stein’s propaganda film by NCSE and it was so effective there was no social conservative base backlash.  Souder won without it.  Most likely, the reason was he ran a better campaign against someone with little experience; and more likely this is just a Republican stronghold.  FreeThought Fort Wayne is the only group in Fort Wayne that has said anything about Souder’s involvement in Expelled and we are nobody compared to Souder’s influence.  The movie wasn’t very big either and it received horrible reviews by everyone who is not Rush Limbaugh or has a religious political agenda.  Of course, Souder was at the Sarah Palin rally in Fort Wayne that was all about anti-intellectualism and Souder sure knows his base.  “Expelled” is circulating in church basements as I write.  I am getting very sick of religion in politics.  I am pretty sure that this Jesus fellow who everyone keeps talking about would feel the same.

It is disappointing that Souder didn’t stick with helping the Veteran’s Hospital as the interview started with as his highlight of the year.  I congratulate him and want the best for our veterans, too.  Souder’s priorities are out of whack for bringing up his contribution to the tired culture war as his highlight of 2008,  the year that Republican became a dirty word.

Posted in FreeThought | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments »

How to ally with atheists

Posted by neuralgourmet on December 17, 2008

National Tertiary Education Union.Contrary to popular belief, atheists are not necessarily loners. On the whole, we enjoy socializing with other people as much as anyone. And corrolary to that, organized atheists such as FreeThought Fort Wayne want to ally themselves with other social and community groups that share our values. We recognize that there’s power in numbers.

That can be a bit of a minefield though as many groups that might naturally be our allies can unintentionally make it hard for us by perpetuating common myths and soft discrimination against atheists. To that end, Greta Christina wrote a great article on How To Be An Ally with Atheists that lists some of the top dos and don’ts when working with atheists. I’ll summarize Greta’s points here but please do read her whole blog post.

  1. Familiarize yourself with the common myths and misconceptions about atheists — and don’t perpetuate them.
  2. Familiarize yourself with what it’s like to be an atheist, both in the U.S. and in the rest of the world.
  3. Find common ground.
  4. Speak out against anti-atheist bigotry and other forms of religious intolerance.
  5. Be inclusive of atheists.
  6. Don’t divide and conquer, and don’t try to take away our anger.
  7. If you’re going to accuse an atheist or an atheist group of being intolerant — be careful, and make sure that’s really what they’re being.
  8. Do not — repeat, DO NOT — talk about “fundamentalist atheists.”
  9. Be aware of how religious belief gives you a place of mainstream and privilege.

Now, after reading Greta’s post, some might be tempted to say, “Oh those atheists, whining and stomping their feet again.” Well, if you’re one of them I can assure you that Greta’s post went over your head. Atheists are natural allies of progressives everywhere. You may not agree with or understand our disbelief in the supernatural, but you do share, at the very least, our desire for a society in which there is equality and justice for all regardless of who they are or what they believe. And while organized atheists are a relatively new phenomenom, we are getting organized and our numbers are growing. Can you really afford to ignore us?

Posted in Politics | Tagged: , , , | 3 Comments »

Facts, Values and a Place for the Profound: A conversation with Sam Harris

Posted by Andy D. on December 16, 2008

This is from The Science Network (TSN) and was a prelude before the Beyond Belief: Candles in the Dark conference.  I am glad they added economics and  psychology sections to the usual science and religion topics.  Bookmark the site and take your time with the lectures.  Enjoy.

Posted in Philosophy, Religion, Science | Tagged: , , , , | 2 Comments »

Skeptical Battlegrounds, a review

Posted by Skeptigator on December 15, 2008

Steven Novella, of Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe fame, is currently writing a series detailing many of the Skeptical battlegrounds that must be fought now and in the future. The series is hosted at the SkepticBlog, a group blog dedicated to the hosts of a skepticism-themed TV series called the Skeptologists.

Here are the first 3 posts:

I’m looking forward to additional parts to this series, they are concise and well-written. Once it’s completed we may very well have a working plan of action.

Posted in Skepticism | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Daddy, all I want for Christmas is the truth!

Posted by Andy Welfle on December 11, 2008

One of my favorite holiday sites is WrongCards, eCards that are “wrong for every occasion!” Here’s a great freethinking card:

gullibility

‘Nuff said.

Posted in FreeThought, Humor | Tagged: , , | 4 Comments »

FreeThought Fort Wayne’s January Meeting

Posted by Skeptigator on December 11, 2008

What: FreeThought Fort Wayne January Meeting
When: January 14th, 2008 7PM-9PM
Where: Main Branch, Allen County Public Library, Meeting Room B
Desc: If you have any ideas or questions please feel free to shoot me an email below or post a topic in the forums. As usual the discussion will be moved to a local pub. Public is always welcome. Please check the website in case there are changes to meeting rooms.
For more information go to http://FreeThoughtFortWayne.org or email us at contact@freethoughtfortwayne.org

Posted in Events | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

December Sunday Coffee Klatch

Posted by neuralgourmet on December 10, 2008

Our third FreeThought Fort Wayne Sunday Coffee Klatch is coming up this Sunday, December 21st at the Firefly Coffee House on N. Anthony Blvd. Many thanks to Andy W. for coordinating this outing.

What: December Sunday Coffee Klatch
Where: Firefly Coffee House, 3523 N Anthony Blvd (map)
When: Sunday, December 21st, 2008; 10 am – 12 pm

FFW’s Sunday Coffee Klatch is just a relaxed, informal meet-up for the group to enjoy some fine coffee, good conversation and a little bit of camaraderie. There’s no need to be a member of FFW either. Anyone who fancies spending their Sunday morning shooting the breeze with a bunch of friendly, caffeine-buzzed, godless heathens is welcome.

I’ve got to say the turnout at the first two coffee klatches has been fantastic and everybody’s had a great time. There’s no reason we can’t do this more than once a month, all we need are some more members willing to step up to the plate and help coordinate the coffee klatches. The commitment is a relatively minor one too. All it takes is volunteering to be a warm body at at a definite time and place on some Sunday of your choosing.

We’ve been trying to spread our business around to as many local coffee shops as possible too, so if you have your favorite place to get your java fix, let us know in comments. Just make sure it has good seating. We’ve gotten about ten people showing up at each one.

Posted in Events | Tagged: | 3 Comments »