Freedom from Religion  

Thursday, January 31, 2008

I finished Christopher Hitchen's book God Is Not Great on Monday. I listened to it on audiobook. Hitchens did a pretty good job with the reading, although at the very beginning he sounded like he wasn't having much fun with it, but as he progressed he sounded like he was relishing the words.

A week or so ago I had it playing in my car when it came to Chapter 7: Revelation - The Nightmare of the Old Testament. As I listened the him talk, I felt suddenly very free. Hearing all of the rules and regulations of religion and realizing that none of them applied to me was exhilarating. Somehow, even though I haven't been a Christian in many years, the thought that I don't have to worry about what private thoughts I have or about doing obscure rituals to satisfy a jealous god, made me bubbly-happy.

OK, I should state, for those of you who think religion is necessary for morals, that I'm not talking about shrugging off morals. But it's incredibly freeing to know that being good isn't about doing this or that perfectly. In many ways religious ritual reminds me of magic. The same excuses are used for why both prayer and magical rituals don't work. And both require the believer to ignore reality.

None of this is new to me, but it was startlingly clear at that moment. And for that reason, that reminder, I'm glad I "read" the book.

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Sunrises January 23 - 29, 2008  

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Wednesday: Maybe the sun is starting to rise earlier... or I'm getting up later. Venus is dim, but still visible near the middle-left. A few minutes later it was gone when the sun washed it out.

Thursday: The sky is very similar to the previous day with Venus being at almost the exact spot in the sky. The difference you can't see is the temperature. It was -1 F when I took this photo.

Friday: The clouds were heavy enough to hide the sun, but I didn't even know it was snowing until I saw the flakes illuminated by the flash.

Saturday: After a sprinkling of snow, the clouds stick around.

Monday: Clouds and wind belie the unseasonably warm weather that came in over the weekend. Snow is expected on Tuesday though.

Tuesday: The warm weather is fading, but the clouds have stayed. It's disappointing to not get a better view of stars and planets this week.

I need some advice on my pictures. I've noticed that many have spots on them. I thought at first it must be dust on the lens. You can see them clearly on all of the pictures when they're enlarged, but especially on Tuesday. I used compressed air to blow any out, but the spots are still there and they seem to move from shot to shot. Monday and Tuesday were taken while facing some intense wind, but the other days were pretty calm.

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Miscellaneous Bitching  

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

* Every day for the past couple of weeks I have a four hour testing session for a project I'm on. I'm beginning to not just dread these meetings, but despise them too. Plus they're cutting into my blog reading time. Oh, and getting other work done.

* Snow. I usually like snow, but this year I hate snow. Just snow out a good 2 feet and be done with it already. If these piddly snowfalls of 1/2 an inch every other day continue (as it is today), I think I might go crazy. All 1/2 inch snowfall does is make everything dirty.

* If you have a license plate that proudly proclaims "ZOOMBYU", do not drive 60 MPH in the far left lane and block everyone in behind you by pacing the car beside you when the speed limit is 65.

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Stermy Awards  

The Stermy Awards are up once again over at No More Hornets and I'm all choked up at being selected. Stop by his place to see everyone that was awarded.

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Deciding on a Candidate  

Monday, January 28, 2008

Since I first registered to vote, I've been in Independent voter. I remember when I first registered in South Carolina being asked if wanted to register as a Democrat or Republican. When I said neither, that I wished to be Independent, the registration officially said coolly, "Oh, then undecided." I was very clearly decided, but it seems that the only choices on the form were Democrat, Republican, and Undecided.

I'm probably one of those voters that most of you dislike. I participate in every election, but I don't always cast a vote. If I don't know who the candidates are, I don't feel like I can in good conscience cast a vote. If I know the candidates and I don't feel like they support my views, I purposely don't cast a vote. There have been several elections where I didn't cast a vote for a particular office, either from my own ignorance or because the candidates were not candidates I could support. I've never written in a candidate. I never thought of myself or anyone else as qualified before. But it's something I'm considering this year.

This election, I'm not sure yet who I will vote for. It will depend on how closely the candidates match my criteria. And since I can't vote in the upcoming Kansas state caucuses (there is no primary) unless I join either party, I have time to think about what criteria is most important to me.

So right now I find my time better served in defining the criteria that I'm going to use rather than helping to narrow down the candidates. And not just Presidential candidates, but from all offices I'm eligible to vote for. Supporting science is going to be very high on my list, but I haven't formulated what I think will be really important for this election yet.

Of course it's not always easy to find out what exactly the candidates will vote for after they're elected. Politic-speak is generic. If they've served in public office there are usually voting records available at Project Vote Smart and is a good resource when contemplating claims and smears.

So, I'm going to do some research, and in a couple of months I'll write another post with my criteria and how each of the remaining candidates match up to it. This will include all candidates, including local candidates in my area. Hopefully it'll be a learning exercise for me and I'll get good feedback from you guys.

So, for you readers, how do you decide who to vote for?

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This Weeks Reader January 26, 2008  

Saturday, January 26, 2008


Atheist Spirituality
Let me get my bias out of the way at the beginning because it probably colors what I am about to say on the topic. I do not care for the word "spirituality" when referring to atheists. I have trouble getting past the "spirit" part of the word because I do not believe in spirits, souls, ghosts, demons, or anything else that is not part of the natural world. However, I recognize that my naturalism is not entailed by atheism and that other atheists are free to accept the reality of the supernatural.


EA revamps Battlefield with free, ad-supported online title
This isn't a new idea, although ad-based gaming and for-pay updates has mainly been used as a business strategy in Korea and Asia. EA has already launched a web-based, free version of its popular FIFA series in South Korea, and the game reportedly pulls in $1 million in monthly sales from its five million users. EA has also long supported the idea of in-game ads, using the Microsoft-owned Massive to place dynamic advertisements in some of its titles. Research is also showing that placing ads in gaming actually does help brand recognition, although the study was performed when the ads were placed into play, something Battlefield Heroes won't be doing.

GameTrailers panel tackles game journalism
Questioning the validity of game journalism in the age of blogging is a common practice, and many of us watched as the entire industry came under scrutiny last year after the Kane and Lynch fiasco. However, the tenuous relationship between journalists, marketing people, and public relations people has always been a cause for concern; the flow of information is tightly controlled, and one wrong move can and will lead to problems. A rather interesting panel by GameTrailer's "Bonus Round" tackles the problem.

Gordon Freeman gets bored, calls radio show
Such is the opening exchange of an irksome call that came into the paranormally-focused radio show "Coast to Coast AM." Host George Noory talks with the mysterious Gordon, who has been seeing apparitions of a man he has dubbed "G-man." The unsettling story takes a turn for the strange when Gordon reveals that he has been working on something called "Portal" technology, though the specifics go unexplained. His jittery nature reveals his true desire to be free from this strange stalking figure. He might also be working on "portal technology."

Free game for Xbox Live downtime? Xbox Live crashes
I've been trying to grab the game myself, and I'm also suffering from this error message. I'm not quite sure what to say about this; if Microsoft had any doubts at all about its ability to serve the free game, they should have released a message saying the release was bumped back a few days. Having system issues on the day you release the free game to make up for the system issues much make the marketing folks wince. Can we get a copy of Boom Boom Rocket to make up for the game that was supposed to make up for the fact that the system we're paying for doesn't work?

Fox News Smears Mass Effect
Lawrence: …the damage is this. We know that all the research shows that violence has a desensitizing effect. Well, sexuality does too… Here’s how they’re seeing women. They’re seeing them as these objects of desire, as these hot bodies. They don’t show women as being valued for anything other than their sexuality. And it’s a man in this game deciding how many women he wants to be with.

Keighley: That’s completely incorrect… first of all you can actually play as a man or a woman in the game. Cooper, have you ever played Mass Effect?

Lawrence: (giggling) No…


Medical Credit Stores: Sorry, You Only Qualify for Subprime Medical Care
Bob Sullivan reports at MSNBC on the early developments of a medical privacy score by Fair Issac, the same company that invented the credit score for lenders. This is somewhat scary, because the entire point of credit scores is to make decision making easier, so easy that people very low on the totem pole can make decisions about you without really thinking, and because it is a number, it is imbued with an air of legitimacy. Credit scores arose after Congress forced consumer reporting agencies to open up their files; scoring allowed companies to put their analysis back into a black box so you can't tell for sure what information they use to evaluate you.

Life Stories
It will rise from the ashes
Pallet after pallet of mid-1980s Houghton-Mifflin textbooks, still unwrapped in their original packaging, seem more telling of our failures than any vacant edifice. The floor is littered with flash cards, workbooks, art paper, pencils, scissors, maps, deflated footballs and frozen tennis balls, reel-to-reel tapes. Almost anything you can think of used in the education of a child during the 1980s is there, much of it charred or rotted beyond recognition. Mushrooms thrive in the damp ashes of workbooks. Ailanthus altissima, the "ghetto palm" grows in a soil made by thousands of books that have burned, and in the pulp of rotted English Textbooks. Everything of any real value has been looted. All that's left is an overwhelming sense of knowledge unlearned and untapped potential. It is almost impossible not to see all this and make some connection between the needless waste of all these educational supplies and the needless loss of so many lives in this city to poverty and violence, though the reality of why these supplies were never used is unclear. In some breathtakingly-beautiful expression of hope, an anonymous graffiti artist has painted a phoenix-like book rising from the ashes of the third floor.

Sharing dreams is the most intimate and the most trusting thing a person can do. Dreams are her innermost thoughts, which would remain a secret if she does not tell you about them. To hear of someone’s dreams is a position of unique trust and privilege, which deserves respect. We really must never laugh at anyone’s dreams.

Is Altruism Real?
I am troubled by the idea that human beings are "really" any one thing. Human feelings, human motives, human nature itself, are all a big, complex, self-contradictory mess, and I find it very troubling when people insist on denying one part of human nature simply because we have another part that contradicts it. In particular, I'm troubled by the idea that, because our motivations are often a mixture of selfishness and altruism, and because altruism has a selfish component to it, this somehow negates the altruism, and only the selfishness is real. (And I find it interesting that the people arguing this don't consider the possibility that this conflict negates the selfishness, and only the altruism is real.)

Literally Speaking
When you read these definitions of what it is to be scientifically literate, you come to the quick realization that a scientifically literate person (such as the president of a country) is all-around better equipped to make decisions of all sorts. In matters of science, politics, security, health, economics, and almost any other category you can come up with, a person armed with the tools of science is much better prepared to evaluate claims and data so that they may craft more thorough and better decisions on all matters. This goes directly against our listener’s premise that only “a few” issues are affected by a president’s scientific literacy.

Bigotry Should Disqualify a Presidential Candidate
It is no secret that politicians are going to pander to our fears and prejudices. The real story is about how the media covers such pandering, especially when it crosses the line into bigotry, and how this coverage varies based on the target of the bigotry. We can learn a great deal about which prejudices remain socially acceptable and which will bring rapid condemnation by examining some recent examples.

Guest Post: Teaching Lies Jeopardizes America's Future
This trend, which seems to be accelerating, is creating two Americas. On the one hand we have the 'reality-based community' (which does include many theists) which views the world in a naturalistic, evidence based manner and views American history in a manner based on actual documents and writings of our founding fathers. On the other hand, we have the Christian Dominionist and fundamentalist faction which views the world in a god-centered creationist manner, taking the bible literally (which bible? and what about the places the bible contradicts itself?) and views American history in a god-centered manner, taking out of context bits and pieces of the documents and writings of our founding fathers to support a Christianist theocracy.

Radical Love Gets a Holiday
Until my heathen Damascene moment during a ninth grade unit on Greek mythology — my disbelief that a great civilization could actually believe in such far-fetched malarkey made me take a hard look at the virgin birth — I was one of the meek majority of Christians who never make the news, who would never dream of judging or hating others because the primary occupation of a true Christian is self-loathing. (All that wretch-like-me, original sin talk meant I spent my entire childhood believing I was as depraved as Charles Manson when in reality I might have been the best-behaved 9-year-old of the 20th century.)

What’s So Bad About Religion?
The third problem I have with religious beliefs is the persistent entreaty that I respect religious beliefs simply because they are religious. My response to this demand is that I’ll extend to religious beliefs the same degree of respect that I extend to astrology or phrenology or alchemy and not a speck more or less than that. Nevertheless, I will always strive to respect believers, regardless of what I think about their beliefs. If believers want their beliefs to be considered as plausible foundations of social, economic, international, educational, or any other public policies, then I will critique those beliefs just as scrupulously as I would critique the beliefs of a Marxist, a Maoist, or a monarchist. Religious beliefs are simply one class of ideas among many that have the potential to do real damage to individuals, societies and nations (though it seems self-evident to me that false beliefs will seldom pass muster as suitable foundations for good policy decisions). All ideas, religious and otherwise, should be scrutinized ruthlessly before one renders judgments regarding their soundness. Religious ideas are no more special than any others, they are simply more widespread and more deeply ingrained than most.

Thoughts on Sex and Religion
Even today, within the church and outside of it, unmarried women who become pregnant frequently carry a disproportionate share of the blame for getting pregnant in the first place, and the subsequent responsibility for rearing, with little or no assistance or financial support from the fathers, the children they conceive. It’s still the case in western societies that sexually active women are often regarded, negatively, as sluts, and sexually active men are regarded, positively, as studs. The implication continues to be, within our current supposedly liberated, enlightened culture, that women should restrain their own sexual appetites, and those of their male partners who, after all, are just being men and can’t be expected to control themselves.

Romance I An Illusion
Man is a rational animal, Aristotle declared, but experiments have demonstrated that reason is not a gift of our species alone. Last December, researchers reported that monkeys were almost as good as college students at arithmetic (at least when the arithmetic involved adding dots on a screen). And our rationality is not a smooth machinelike intelligence but a complicated landscape of strengths and weaknesses. We're good at solving reasoning problems if they're presented as social puzzles. We don't do as well if the same problems are expressed in the abstract language of logic. A number of researchers argue that the results emerge from our evolution as social creatures, not logicians.

Comet McNaught Over Chile

Women, Science and Writing
Since The Scientist is revisiting this issue on their blog, I decided to poke around in the primary literature a bit and, as a result, I have concluded that the general lack of female science blog writers is clearly a reflection of scientific publishing and indeed, of the scientific community in general. The fact is that female scientists do not publish as often as male scientists. Why? Some people have told me that women do not produce scientific results that are of the same high quality as those produced by men (nor do they write life science blogs as well as men, apparently) and that male reviewers can readily recognize when a woman is the lead (or sole) author of a scientific paper because "women do science differently from men" (whatever that means). Basically, science is still a very sexist community where its female practitioners publish less frequently than men at least partially because of the peer-review system that is in place. I think the commonly used single-blind peer review process is biased against papers whose lead (or sole) author is female, just as the field of science is biased against women in general.

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A Week of Sunrises Jan 16 - Jan 23 2008  

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Wednesday: The clouds completely obscured the sun.

Thursday: After dumping snow, the clouds cleared. Venus can be seen.

Friday: I often leave for work before the sun has risen very far. It's difficult to get a good shot without a flash, but the flash makes everything look much darker.

Friday: I stopped off on the way into work to take a picture as the sun peeked above a group of apartments, revealing the colors that were mostly hidden earlier.

Sunday: I didn't get up early enough this weekend to catch the sunrise, but there was a gorgeous sunset on Sunday just behind my mother-in-law's place.

Monday: A video camera would have captured the sky better on Monday as fast-moving clouds exposed a little pink in the sky occasionally before turning back to blue and gray.

Tuesday: A rather disappointing picture of a moon set.

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Tuesday Music  

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

I recently added three new songs to my "new music" playlist. Two were videos I saw on some music video show or the other. The other is from the new Foo Fighter's album I haven't given a good listen to yet. Enjoy!

Paramore - Crush Crush Crush

I like the music for this song probably because it has that upbeat 80's kind of feel to it, but after listening to it a few times I realize that I don't really like the lyrics. One line, Cause I'd rather waste my life pretending than have to forget you for one whole minute, makes me want to throw up a little. Seriously.

Red Jumpsuit Apparatus - Your Guardian Angel

I'm still undecided about this song. I think it's sweet, but the video doesn't really do anything for me.

Foo Fighters - The Pretender

And the Foo Fighters, who should have probably made my top 20 albums list, but didn't because I didn't think to add them. For a while I was mad about the last album (In Your Honor) which contained a rootkit thanks to Sony, but I'm going to assume it was the publisher and not the band at fault. There's no warning or rootkit on this CD though, so I'm going to assume that Sony learned their lesson.

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Christian Education: My Conclusions  

Monday, January 21, 2008

This is a continuing series on Christian Education. If you missed my first post on History or want to know the background behind these post you can find more information at Christian Education: History.

So, what are we to conclude about Christian education? Before I end the series I want to give a little background on my personal history with the A Beka Book curriculum.

I attended two private Christian schools from third until eighth grades that used the A Beka Book curriculum. I thought at the time I was getting a very good education and I did in the basics of math, science, history, reading, and writing. But as my analysis has shown much of the curriculum also lacked the teaching of controversial5 subjects or, in some cases, was taught with bias against ideas and concepts that are found to be in conflict with conservative Biblical doctrine.

Every morning we said a pledge to the American flag6, the Christian flag7, and the Bible8. Religion and patriotism were the major themes addressed throughout the day whatever subject we studied.

I remember one example of extreme jingoism in a story that I read in fourth grade. It was about an immigrant attending an American school. During her first week of class she became fascinated with the American flag due to all of the wonderful things that she learned about being an American. When the school caught on fire and the children were evacuated, she realized the flag was still in the building. She rushed back into the building to rescue the flag. After she dropped the flag from an upper story window, she fainted from smoke inhalation. She was rescued by firefighters and became a hero at the school.

Now I realize that stories are often fanciful at that age and I don't expect realism, but I think stories like this are dangerous. To encourage any child to enter a burning building to rescue a flag or to imply that an immigrant can gain acceptance through putting his or her life in extreme danger isn't a advisable.

But just how many schools actually use A Beka Book or other similar curriculum? The stats for A Beka Books website registers as few as 65,000 to more than 200,000 unique visitors per month.9 One study estimated there are as many as 10,000 evangelical and fundamentalist Christian schools in America.10 A simple search of "school uses A Beka Book Curriculum" on Google returns numerous results of school homepages.

And A Beka Books isn't the only fundamentalist curriculum. Two other major presses include Bob Jones University Press and School of Tomorrow/Accelerated Christian Education10. My older brother and sister studied under ACE, which was a "go at your own pace" type of structure where the students sat in small cubicles and taught themselves, putting a flag up when they needed help. ACE was eventually changed to School of Tomorrow when it needed a face lift.11

I do not believe my Christian education prepared me adequately for college, but it didn't hinder me in such a way that I wasn't able to get a degree either. I didn't pursue a degree in subjects that would have conflicted directly with what I had been taught, such as Biology, so maybe in that way I was lucky. I think part of the reason my interest didn't lie in science was due to the lackluster emphasis on facts and memorization from my elementary and middle school classes (although I did take two years of science during high school at a public school, so I can't completely blame my primary education).

Exposure to the world outside of the strict Christian confines allowed me to learn the subjects that were not broached or were not debated during my Christian education. So, although I do feel some anger about the education I received and the ignorance that was perpetuated, I was able to put it behind me and take the opportunity to learn. I made my own choice, the choice my educators wouldn't have wanted me to make, which is why they never gave me that choice.

I think many children find their way out of ignorance and the confines of religious dogma in the same way I did, but some are insulated their entire lives. I value free inquiry more because it wasn't always an option for me. I find it not just distasteful, but neglectful and hurtful for children to be kept in ignorance. It's important that all children are taught accepted academic practices. I'm not taking about "teaching the controversy", I'm talking about teaching the truth. And no, I don't believe truth is relative.

1. The Outline of History. Retrieved on 2008-01-11.
2. Theologic (February 27, 2007). "Spirit" -> The Paradox Of Free Will. Retrieved on 2008-01-14.
3. Plantinga, Alvin (July 14, 2002). Advice to Christian Philosophers. Retrieved on 2008-01-14.
4. Brabenec, Robert L. (1975). The Impact of Three Mathematical Discoveries on Human Knowledge. Retrieved on 2008-01-14.
5. (October 10, 2006). Creationist lawsuit against UC system to proceed. Retrieved on 2008-01-20.
6. (January 2, 2006). Creationist lawsuit against UC system to proceed. Retrieved on 2008-01-20.
7. Christian Flag. Retrieved on 2008-01-11.
8. Furnare, Cindy (June 14, 2001). What the Pledge Means on Flag Day 2001. Retrieved on 2008-01-14.
9. (rank 33,608). Retrieved on 2008-01-20.
10. Patterson, Frances (Winter 2001 / 2002). With God On Their Side.... Retrieved on 2008-01-14.*
11. Horner, Murphy (July 5, 2002). PLEDGE OF ALLEGIANCE. Retrieved on 2008-01-14.

*For a more detailed analysis with specific texts cited read Frances Patterson's article.

Related Posts
Christian Education: History
Christian Education: Mathematics
Christian Education: Science
Christian Education: English

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This Weeks Reader January 19, 2008  

Saturday, January 19, 2008


My book…
I want born-again Christians to see that I have not backslidden; that is, I have not gone backwards or fallen away from a higher plane where I once lived, but I continued to develop spiritually, emotionally, and intellectually so that I outgrew the faith of my youth. I did not fall into sin; I did not get mad at God; I did not become jaded because I witnessed hypocrisy. Nothing bad happened to me to instigate this journey. Yet I now have more peace and joy than I ever had as a Christian, and I give more of my time and money to charitable causes. The day I realized I no longer believed that God exists, a huge weight fell off my shoulders and I felt like I was set free from a lifetime of bondage.

Civil Anti-Libertarians
If President Ryan actually believes what this code implies -- that students should be taught that all political ideologies, creeds and “lifestyle orientations” are equal, and demand equal respect – then his “vision” of higher education is stupefying. Students are supposed to be taught that all ideas are not equal; they’re supposed to learn how to judge the merits of different and conflicting ideas and how to back up their judgments with reason. Mindless respect for all points of view is not an element of critical thinking.

Conservative writer bashes Mass Effect for being "filth"
Even in the face of criticism, McCullough has remained firm in his argument. To say that McCullough is a little off the mark would be polite. His descriptions of his 15-year-old son playing such vile filth first and foremost neglects the fact that the game is clearly rated M for Mature: a rating which dictates that the game is for players over the age of 17.

Rock Band sells 2.5 million songs online
Is wrapping a game around songs the secret to increasing interest in purchasing music? It could be. The wide demographic reach of Rock Band may be giving existing music a new audience: younger gamers are finding they like Molly Hatchet, and older gamers may find that Queens of the Stone Age are worth a second listen.

John Adams on the Unalienable Right to Commit Blasphemy
Adams is quite clear that the unalienable right to liberty of conscience means the right to blaspheme or in particular to doubt the truth of the divine inspiration of the Bible, which Adams himself personally did. When Adams stated the Christian religion “has been mixed with extraneous ingredients, which, I think, will not bear examination, and they ought to be separated,” an evangelical Protestant might hope he were referring only to Roman Catholicism. But this is wrong. Adams, himself a lifelong, committed theological unitarian believed the entire institution of orthodox Trinitarian Christianity was corrupted. And those “corruptions of Christianity” were defined by Adams’ and Jefferson’s spiritual mentor, Joseph Priestley, as the Trinity, Incarnation, Atonement, and plenary inspiration of scripture. The Bible itself was “corrupted” and Adams believed man had an unalienable right to use his reason to edit what he saw as “error” from the Bible exactly as Jefferson did.

profiles in humanism: clarence darrow
Rather, I bring this up, because Clarence Darrow should remind us (at least he reminds me) that we are all human beings with the same frailties as everyone else. We have strengths, yes, but many more weaknesses. Therefore, we should judge each human being and their life on its own merits rather than through the narrow prism of our own often limited and sometimes privileged experience. Otherwise we run the grave risk of grinding up the lives of undeserving people in the cruel machinations of own ignorance for the selfish comfort of sleeping a little more soundly at night.

Mob rule of the terrorist kind
There was another incident in the same area some months ago when a group of ten youths on bikes attacked a retired Brigadier (S C Sharma) in Navi Mumbai just because they were “angered at being ticked off by the victim’s wife for speeding’. Incidentally, after these bikers were arrested, hundreds of villagers gathered in support of the youths! I do know what has happened to the case now, but why should hundreds of people support those who assault a senior citizen? It’s scary!

Dragon Wars
Worse, they discover that they are the reincarnations of some sort of Korean spirit or whatever, and that the dragons are after them, and a whole bunch of other mystical mumbo jumbo, and never ONCE do they question it! If Robert Forster sat down next to me and told me that I had to meet a girl named Sarah and keep her from the evil Baraki and Yoo Gi Ho so that she could become the Good Moogi before she turned 20, I’d punch him right in the fucking face. Mainly for being in Rise: Blood Hunter, but also because what he just told me made no sense whatsoever. But yet, everyone buys it, no questions asked. Even Roswell guy’s friend, who is played by Darryl from The Office; the character you would expect to be like “you’re crazy!” is totally fine with all this nonsense. In fact, he’s more incredulous to Roswell’s request to simply find the girl than he is to all the stuff involving dragons and the like. Also, his character disappears from the film TWICE and no one seems to care either time.

Nonbelieving Literati
Exterminator, we have a pest problem
The Sparrow is about a Jesuit who goes on a journey to Alpha Centauri with some friends after music is broadcast from the area, and comes back, alone, broken physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and any other way a person can be broken. I was really disappointed by this book, because it was a great idea with a great lead ("They meant no harm").

Huckabee: Amend Constitution to be in 'God's standards'
"I have opponents in this race who do not want to change the Constitution," Huckabee told a Michigan audience on Monday. "But I believe it's a lot easier to change the Constitution than it would be to change the word of the living god. And that's what we need to do -- to amend the Constitution so it's in God's standards rather than try to change God's standards so it lines up with some contemporary view."

The layers of politics
The double standards are for all to see. A tearing-up man is sensitive; a tearing-up woman is playing for sympathy or is evidently too weak for office. A man with rhetoric is a leader, a visionary; a woman with vision and steely determination is a bitch. A man, who had no control over who sired him, and therefore his race, is somehow superior to a woman, who had no control over the same factors. How long, I wonder, before someone defocuses from the Mormon-Evangelical-Catholic divide and notices that Barack’s middle name is Hussein?

FSTDT Top 100
Technology and science are often lumped together, but are totally separate and unrelated things.

Technology makes peoples lives easier. Technology is the product of inventive geniuses who were inspired by God. Inventions and innovations improve life.

Science causes confustion and makes things complicated. Everytime there is a new discovery the old discoveries and old wisdom are discarded! And theories get more and more complex. Science makes people confused and complicates things. Who is the author of confusion? Satan of course. The bible it the opposite of science. Biblical wisdom NEVER CHANGES, and anyone can get it. Scientific wisdom is always changing and contradicting itself, and really nobody gets it.

Please don't insult our intelligence by lumping science and technology together. They are as different at night and day.

How to Read the Bible Like a Fundie
Take the subject of morality. Fundamentalists like to claim that morality is impossible without the words of the bible to guide us. Before god showed up on the mountain and told Moses all about it nobody knew that lying, cheating, stealing and killing people were wrong. And if it wasn't written down in the pages of the Pentateuch we'd be a loss to know how to act today. Yet, they themselves do not follow all of the intense moral code found within the pages of holy scripture. In the book of Numbers the people of god are told to put to death a man who was accused of gathering firewood on the Sabbath. I did the same thing this fall, on both a Saturday and a Sunday, and not a single fundie was screaming for my execution.

My Religion Involves Screaming Gibberish
The point is that my freedom to practice my religion is not absolute. In fact, there are many limitations on what I will be able to do in the name of my religion. Christians, you are no different. When an atheist questions your intrusive proselytizing, gay bashing, or your insistence in training your children to preach biblical nonsense at me in the store because you think its cute, you do not get to cry persecution. This is not persecution. Your religious freedom has limits. Instead of whining about Christmas wars because you overheard me complain about not wanting to listen to your Jesus-crap when I'm shopping, you should ask yourself what you would do if you had to listen to Satanic death metal every time you went to the grocery store.

Is Religion More Than an Enabler?
For instance, it seems some religious people in the States, who are otherwise fair minded and decent, oppose gay rights and are unwilling to treat gays fairly precisely for religious reasons. If that’s the case, then religion appears to be more than a mere facilitator, more than a mere enabler — it seems to actually change people’s practical morals from fair minded and decent behavior to behavior that is neither fair minded nor decent.

The Point of Religion?
Humans evolved as a social animal living in small groups. Most of us need little prompting to treat the members of our group with respect, compassion, kindness — even love. After all, we evolved to do that. It’s to a large extent instinctual. We’re almost always ready to “better mankind” so long as “mankind” is the group of people we hang out with.

On the other hand, there are very few Gandhis, very few Martin Luther Kings, very few people like Jesus — very few people who somehow realize in practice the notion the whole world should be treated with kindness, compassion, respect, and love. To most of us, such a notion is “wild”, suspect, perhaps even immoral.

Quazy Quistian Question # 4
Anyway, you've read the result. Now I'm beginning to think that some Christians disdain all evidence about everything, not only religious matters. This might be a clever ploy, because if they admit that they accept evidence for anything, they'd have to at least wonder why there's none to support their silly beliefs. On the other hand, it might not be a clever ploy; it might just be stupidity.

Are converts accepted in Hinduism?
In other words, those who are not born Hindus would (by being re-born) eventually become Hindus (provided they live right.) A cool idea for any religion, as it presumes that a Hindu (caste also comes into this as being just a Hindu isn’t enough) is at the top of re-incarnation heap. If one went by this, everyone is already on their way to become a Hindu, even those from outside the belief system…they just haven’t got there yet. And those who haven’t got there yet aren’t Hindus…they aren’t ready to be Hindus.

Progressive Christians Finally Opposing Christian Extremists
He's right that a non-Christian group opposing Christian extremism will be demonized as a persecutor. We atheists know all about that! Personally, I would welcome a well-organized and vocal coalition of progressive Christians willing to oppose extremism. They could be powerful allies in protecting church-state separation and other shared goals.

FDA says food from cloned animals safe
“Both the animals and any food produced from those animals is indistinguishable from any other food source,” Sundloff said. “There’s no technological way of distinguishing a food that’s come from an animal that had a clone in its ancestry. It’s not possible.”

Green light for hybrid research
Scientists want to create hybrid embryos by merging human cells with animal eggs in a bid to extract stem cells. The embryos would then be destroyed within 14 days.

The Mind-Brain Problem - A Creationist Rebuttal
The biggest problem with dualism is that the materialist neuroscience model explains all observed phenomena - there is nothing left for the dualists to explain. They are clinging to the notion of “qualia”, that subjectivity itself needs a separate explanation, but they have not made this case. Often they use mere semantics to make it seem as if something more is needed, but there isn’t. Further, the dualist hypothesis does not generate any hypotheses or predictions that distinguish it from the materialist hypothesis. Every prediction points to materialism as the answer.

MESSENGER Passes Mercury

Is information essential for life? No.
As for Turing machines - there's what I would call a simple test (the Turing machine test): If you can use the system to compute, then it's a computer. Since computability is well-defined as what can be done on some Turing machine, this makes concrete any claim that "Nature" is or uses a computer. To avoid Matrix style speculations, which are themselves only Pythagoras revivified, let's say that a physical system is an IPS in the Turing sense if it can be used to compute something. Hence, a human-abacus system is an IPS (and indeed, human-most thing systems can be, potentially, because of the ways humans can act as Turing machines), while a set of beads on strings in a frame on its own is not. My Mac is an IPS to a high degree of approximation, ignoring the possibility of power or component failure, which doesn't happen to pure Turing machines. It's damned good at computation, and if I set up the right programs, it can compute without my intervention.

As skeptics, we encounter dissonance reduction on a regular basis. Why do ‘true believers’ refuse to listen to reason, even when the facts are piled in front of them? Because they are invested in their ideas so strongly that they will do anything to continue to justify them. Geology shows that the Earth is 4.6 billion years old, not 6000? The young-Earth creationist contends that geology is wrong. Rupert Sheldrake and Dean Radin (remember them?) get asked difficult questions by skeptics? They turn around and criticize skepticism itself. The list goes on and on.

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Things I never knew about me  

Friday, January 18, 2008

When did I become the College of Arts, Celtic Studies & Social Science? Wow. Maybe I can give out wacky degrees now.

And somehow I wrote an article about self-deception and Hitler too. Hah! Hitler-zombie rises again!

I know these are probably bot sites, but the results are still very strange.

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Christian Education: English  

I am continuing my posts on Christian Education with English. If you missed my first post on History or want to know the background behind these post you can find more information at Christian Education: History.

Because God has given us the great commission of communicating His truth to mankind, we must give our students the finest tools available to carry out this goal in a reasonable, well-articulated manner.

God gave us our powers of thought and language and chose to reveal His will and His ways to us in a written form, the Bible; thus we need to pay particular attention to the teaching of grammar, spelling, vocabulary, composition, and literature as we seek to educate students from a Christian perspective.
These statements are actually the first glimmer of good education I've seen in the series. Although religious reasons are needlessly used to justify such mundane things as good spelling, I'm less bothered by them because excellence is encouraged rather than ignorance.
Since Darwin, linguists have sought in vain for a credible explanation for the origin of language. Having accepted evolutionary philosophy, they can only think that language must be simply a response to a stimulus, an emotional outcry, an imitation of animals.
Of course, we can't get through a subject without criticizing Darwin and they show very clearly how little they understand about evolution. It's not just an oversimplification of how language evolved, but also grossly inaccurate.
If such foolishness were true, then any talk of language being governed by rules or any claims that some expressions are better than others would be inappropriate, and relativism would rule. This explains many English programs today. But as Christians, we still believe that the Bible provides the only credible explanation for the universe, of man, and of language. Therefore, it is easy to see in language a structure which reflects the logic, reasonableness, and orderliness of the One who created man and his language.
Of course such foolishness isn't true. It's a straw man constructed in the previous paragraph. And, of course, as long as you're bashing on Darwin, why not throw in creationism?
On this basis, we believe that there are standards for man to adhere to in language as in all of life. This is why our A Beka Book grammar books emphasize structure, rules, analysis, and the kind of practice that aims at mastery. This is why we place an importance on correct spelling and the continual enlargement of each student's vocabulary. This is why we aspire to provide students with examples of the very best literature of the ages, and this is why we emphasize the continual improvement of writing abilities.
Again, grammar and spelling are important and I'm glad it's emphasized. But I wondered what the "very best literature of the ages" consisted of, so I looked up the text books for tenth, eleventh, and twelfth graders.

Tenth Grade: Julius Caesar and Silas Marner are recommended in addition to the text World Literature.
This beautifully illustrated literature anthology begins with a collection of enjoyable prose and poetry from classics by such authors as Dickens, Poe, Goethe, Tolstoy, and Hugo. Arranged to illustrate literary devices such as character development, plot, theme, setting, and imagery, these selections encourage students to appreciate great literature. The text concludes with a brief study of excerpts from major ancient and modern works presented in historical sequence, enabling students to think through the history of ideas in Christian perspective.
It's not too bad actually, though a little conservative. I wonder "excerpts from major ancient and modern works" are presented, but I couldn't find more information.

Eleventh Grade: The Scarlet Letter is recommended in addition to the text American Literature.
Authors include Irving, Cooper, Whittier, Clemens, Frost, Thurber, and many others. Transcendentalism and the literary trends of the twentieth century are not simply accepted as "art" but are evaluated in light of the Scriptures for the students' edification. America's great preachers, hymn writers, statesmen, and Bible scholars are given their rightful place in American literature.
Again, as soon as they run into a philosophy they don't like they like, it's torn down. Personal taste aside, Transcendentalism is an important part of American literature.

Twelfth Grade: Macbeth and Pilgrim's Progress are recommended in addition to the text English Literature.
A Beka Book has skillfully blended the best of early English literature with rigorous editorial scholarship and a strong Christian philosophy to create this text for grade 12. The anthology traces the development of English literature from the Anglo-Saxon period through the twentieth century. The background material with many selections is designed to help students understand the context and the content of the work and evaluate it in Christian perspective.
I read Pilgrim's Progress in elementary school, so I'm not sure why it would be revisited again in high school, but then I don't know if I remember much about it either. Maybe much of it is lost on an elementary school student. One problem with this curriculum is that everything is very European-centric. There doesn't seem to be any other type of literature taught. Is that normal?

Related Posts
Christian Education: History
Christian Education: Mathematics
Christian Education: Science
Christian Education: My Conclusions

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My Inner Rock Chick  

Thursday, January 17, 2008

You Are Ani Difranco!

Honest, real, and well liked.
You're not limited by any boundaries.
"And you can call me crazy
But I think you're as lazy as white paint on the wall"

(via Janet)

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Christian Education: Science  

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

I am continuing my posts on Christian Education with Science. If you missed my first post on History or want to know the background behind these post you can find more information at Christian Education: History.

Science is the study of God's order, provision, and reasonableness as revealed in His physical creation.

While secular science textbooks present modern science as the opposite of faith, the A Beka Book science texts teach that modern science is the product of Western man's return to the Scriptures after the Protestant Reformation, leading to his desire to understand and subdue the earth, which he saw as the orderly, law-abiding creation of the God of the Bible.
The earth is anything but an orderly, law-abiding creation. We may be able to detect patterns in nature and theorize about what causes them, but that doesn't mean that nature obeys us or can ever be made to obey us even as we try to "subdue" it. Besides, if nature is an orderly, law-abiding creation, why would we need to subdue it anyway? Shouldn't it just obey us as the highest of God's creations. But even though I sense a wrongness with this philosophy, especially when in the context of environmentalism, it is a philosophy, not science itself.
The A Beka Book Science and Health Program presents the universe as the direct creation of God and refutes the man-made idea of evolution. Further, the books present God as the Great Designer and Lawgiver, without Whom the evident design and laws of nature would be inexplicable. They give a solid foundation in all areas of science -- a foundation firmly anchored to Scriptural truth. Teachability is assured through accurate, interesting writing, carefully planned demonstrations that can be performed with a minimum of equipment, chapter terms and questions, full-color illustrations, consideration of the interests and comprehension skills of students at each grade level, and detailed Curriculum / Lesson Plans.
In other words science becomes the memorization of the dogma that the religion purports. Why would you want a science curriculum that can be performed with "a minimum of equipment?" Isn't that one of the points of science, to be able to learn in a practical way in the lab, to experiment, blow stuff up (safely), see the material unfold in example?

I didn't expect evolution to be part of the curriculum. When I was in school learning under the Beka curriculum we had an English teacher who dared say that she believed evolution was a tool used by God for creation. She was fired for it. And now that I think back on the event I realize it was probably the fault of students like me who found her line of reasoning heretical because I'd been indoctrinated to a point that I couldn't even imagine anything apart from the literal interpretation of the Bible (when it suited the church).

However, I did expect science to be taught in a fuller context. My objection isn't with the religion itself so much, though there is objection, but not in personal belief. My objection is in the ignorance it perpetuates.

Related Posts
Christian Education: History
Christian Education: Mathematics
Christian Education: English
Christian Education: My Conclusions

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Sunrise with Venus  

Sunrise this morning with Venus in the lower right shining like a star.

Venus can be seen rising in the southeastern sky passing from Scorpius (the Scorpion), through the constellation Ophiuchus (the Serpent-Bearer), into Sagittarius (the Archer). Venus shines brightly as the “Morning Star” all month. Venus is visible for about 3 hours moving high in the eastern sky before dawn. Venus looks like a very bright white star.

-Sky News

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Christian Education: Mathematics  

Monday, January 14, 2008

I am continuing my posts on Christian Education with Mathematics. If you missed my last post on History or want to know the background behind these post you can find more information at Christian Education: History.

So let's take a peek at what the A Beka Book site says about mathematics. I mean, mathematics is straight-forwardly agnostic, is it not? It neither presupposes or denies a god. Well, not according to A Beka Book.

No subject matter better reflects the glory of God than mathematics. To study mathematics is to study God's thoughts after Him, for He is the great Engineer and Architect of the universe.
So, mathematics is just the thoughts of a god. Well, at least now I can join the rest of religious people in actually knowing what God thinks. But, I wonder what the square root of 9 has to do with loving my neighbor or not suffering a witch to live.
Unlike the “modern math” theorists, who believe that mathematics is a creation of man and thus arbitrary and relative, we believe that the laws of mathematics are a creation of God and thus absolute. All of the laws of mathematics are God's laws. Our knowledge of God's absolute mathematical laws may be incomplete or at times in error, but that merely shows human frailty, not relativity in mathematics. Man's task is to search out and make use of the laws of the universe, both scientific and mathematical.
While I believe the underlying principles of mathematics, just like the underlying principles of physics exist whether there are humans or not, a lot of what we use math for is relative, like our calendar system or applying negatives to finance.

As a disclaimer I must say that I don't have any problem with Christian schools teaching Christian doctrines. I just find it a bit stifling that everything has to reflect back to the religion. And the indoctrination of children bothers me. Yes, it's indoctrination. I may not find it as dangerous as say, a child trained to pick up weapons, but it is a terrible thing to keep a child ignorant in order to keep a child within a religious structure.
A Beka Book provides attractive, legible, workable traditional mathematics texts that are not burdened with modern theories such as set theory. These books have been field-tested, revised, and used successfully for many years in Christian schools. They are classics with up-to-date appeal. Besides training students in the basic skills that they will need all their lives, the A Beka Book traditional mathematics books teach students to believe in the absolutes of the universe, to work diligently to get right answers, and to see the facts of mathematics as part of the truth and order that God has built into the real universe.
No set theory? Now I know why I absolutely hated it (and didn't understand a lick of it) in college. What is the reason that set theory is excluded?

Maybe because it's too complicated for pre-college students? No, I was able to find senior-level classes online where set theory was included in Geometry at various schools across the nation.

I had to research (this series has been good for me already) to find that many people believe that set theory contradicts religious arguments for free will. So the argument goes that if God controls everything then people cannot freely choose, but if people cannot freely choose then they have no say over their own salvation.2 To believe that both God controls everything and yet people can control their own salvation is not logical.

Another interesting, if profoundly wrong, argument is that in studying modern philosophical subjects such as set theory a Christian can be drawn off the path of serving the Christian community as a Christian philosopher3. And I also read an argument that infinite sets conflict with Christianity because they pre-suppose that there is no beginning, and thus no creation.4

Someone that knows more about mathematics and philosophy can correct me where I'm wrong.

But my main argument is that a fundamental part of mathematics is left out of the curriculum because it conflicts with the religion. This is deplorable when you're educating children. If you must, let them know you don't agree, but at least give them the chance to learn.

Related Posts
Christian Education: History
Christian Education: Science
Christian Education: English
Christian Education: My Conclusions

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Sunrise, Clouds, and Moon  

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Sunrise on Friday.

Clouds roll in later in the day.

The moon is just a crescent in the sky.

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This Weeks Reader January 12, 2008  

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Atheist Pride
I feel good about how I escaped the clutches of religious delusion. I am living a more authentic life, free to experience the world for what it is and not simply how I want it to be. I take pride in how I manage to function in accordance with reality even while the majority of my neighbors are plagued with self-deception. To be sure, I experience compassion for them because I know that their path takes them away from truth and makes them dangerous. I seek to improve the present world for the benefit of all and do not concern myself with fantasies of afterlife because to do so would only detract from what I need to do now.

INTRODUCTION: Xavier Onassis
There was no single cathartic experience for me. I just gradually came to realize that it all just a lot of bullshit. I came to the conclusion that all of the world's faiths and belief systems were nothing more than an emotional crutch for people who were terrified of the world they lived in and even more terrified of leaving it behind when they die. These are people who feel like life has to have some sort of meaning, that there has to be A Purpose to everything. They have to feel like someone is looking out for them and caring for them and loving them.

Introduction and humor: Keith Sader
For those that haven't been in an evengelical church, the altar call comes at the end of a long sermon in which the attendee is told what a horrible person they are and how all of their sins will condemn them to an eternity in hell. From this pep-talk, you're given the option to give you life to Jesus so that you can avoid all of this time in hell. As an imaginative eight-year-old I went up because I knew that I was bad and I wanted the get-out-of-hell free card.

Atheists & Rights
As Washington put it, discussing the very same Patrick Henry’s VA Bill that aided teachers of the “Christian religion”:

I am not amongst the number of those who are so much alarmed at the thoughts of making people pay towards the support of that which they profess, if of the denomination of Christians; or declare themselves Jews, Mahomitans or otherwise, and thereby obtain proper relief. As the matter now stands, I wish an assessment had never been agitated, and as it has gone so far, that the Bill could die an easy death;… [My emphasis.]

Atheism Does NOT Require Faith
Now consider atheism itself. An atheist is one who does not accept the theistic belief claim (i.e., a god or gods exist). The theist accepts this claim on faith; the atheist in unwilling to do so. The atheist need to argue that no gods do (or could) exist. The atheistic position is simply that the theist has not met an acceptable burden of proof that is his or hers to meet. In other words, an atheist is an atheist precisely because he or she is not willing to accept the theist's claim on faith.

The 100% Solution: On Uncertainty, And Why It Doesn't Matter So Much
And of course our beliefs are influenced by our preconceptions and assumptions, biases we can never completely filter out. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't try. That's the whole point of the scientific method. Everything about it -- control groups, double-blinding, placebo controls, peer review, transparent methodology, the expectation of replicability, all of it -- is an open acknowledgment that scientists are just as prone to seeing what they want and expect to see as everyone else. It's an open acknowledgment that scientists are fallible... and that they therefore need to try to screen out fallacy, as much as they can. These techniques don't eliminate uncertainty -- but they reduce it, and by a fair amount. They give us a significantly better chance that our theories might be right. They can’t give us absolute truth, but they can give us a pretty good approximation of the truth... an approximation that gets better and better over time.

Destineer reveals secrets behind flood of Wii detritus
The Destineer CEO's answers also confirm suspicions that Nintendo's commitment to quality control isn't what it used to be when it comes to the conceptual stage of development, opening the gates for all kinds of content. "They, privately or offline or whatever you want to call it, will have conversations with publishers where there’s no gatekeeper there... they do look at the quality and they do watch quality. There just isn’t an official concept-through-approval system like they used to [have] and that Microsoft and Sony currently have in place," said Rinde.

EGM denied prerelease games, calls out big publishers
Hsu explicitly names Midway's Mortal Kombat development team, Sony's sports game division, and Ubisoft as companies that are allegedly denying EGM early access to their games as a result of previous negative reviews. Print magazines in particular are driven by early access and exclusive content, so this likely came as a serious blow to the publication as a whole.

Microsoft signs agreement of voluntary software and technology consulting collaboration with Chilean Government
It is interestingly enough the first time of seeing this sort of critical discussion, organization, anger, resentment and anti-imperialistic-like attitude from the normally “receptive” (sedated) Chilean public. But, it is not the first time that public policy, or decisions with potential impact on many, has been created and implemented by a few and behind the closed doors of the elitist democracy of Chile in the 1990’s and 2000’s. Transantiago, the country’s highway concessions and the Celulosa Arauco (President’s Lagos and Frei, respectively) express approval come to mind. The surprise is that it comes with populist Socialist president Michelle Bachelet who has shown sensitivity to citizen demands.

The limited representation of movie atheists
The acceptable atheist is the one who has faced so much tragedy, whose life has been damaged by cruel fate to such a degree that his declaration that there is no god is understandable. He is a failed Job; he's portrayed not as an actual contented atheist, but as someone who has broken under the burden a god has placed on him, and is therefore a sympathetic figure, and also is implicitly endorsing the audience's beliefs about god. Job without god, after all, is just a deluded loser.

What is spirituality?

Music is spirituality to me. Have you ever listened to Pachelbel's Canon in D? Raises my spirit every time, makes me feel very powerful and alive. It flows right through me, fills me with so much energy, and never fails to make me feel better than before.

On Forgiveness
And when we do harmful things that contradict our belief in our goodness, we're extremely adept at coming up with reasons why the bad things we did weren't actually bad. "I couldn't help it." "Everyone does it." "The person I hurt was a bad person, so they deserved it." "That resource-rich country will be so much better off if we invade it." Etc. Like the Threadbare Excuse in the Phantom Tollbooth, chanting endlessly to itself, "Well, I've been sick -- but the page was torn out -- I missed the bus -- but no-one else did it..."

Vote Your Conscience. If You Can.
Watts, a sociologist at Columbia University, said his research challenges central beliefs we have about why some musicians become stars and some politicians become presidents. Quality matters, but when voters intensely watch one another, the success of candidates depends at least as much on network dynamics as it does on the quality of the candidates themselves. Because network dynamics are not governed by intuitively simple rules of cause and effect -- depending on where they are in a network, people with strong opinions might end up with little influence, while the weak opinions of others get greatly magnified -- networks regularly produce outcomes that are partly arbitrary.

Evolution Not 'Just a Theory', and Yes, Huckabee It Does Matter
Huckabee took Republican center stage after the Iowa caucuses, but his clever sidesteps of scientific questions are a warning sign. "Do you believe in evolution?" The short answer? No, he doesn't. People are charmed by him, asking why anyone should care since "[I'm] not planning on writing the curriculum for an eighth-grade science book," and "if anybody wants to believe they're the descendants of a primate, they're welcome to do it." But the real problem is, he will be signing scientific research budgets into law, appointing judges that will be deciding evolution vs. creationism education cases at the state level, and setting a moral precedent that it is O.K. to dis science.

Truth is the Ultimate Consumer Choice
Near as I can figure it out, we live in an intellectually spoiled age when even presidential candidates think they can legitimately pick and choose which facts to believe — as if facts were something good consumers shop for the best bargains on.

Don’t like evolution? Simply don’t buy it! As a good consumer, you have an inalienable right to choose which truths you want to believe. After all, reality is just a product.

Bloopers religious host laughs at singing caller

Walking the Walk
She speaks often about the gospel of Jesus. Her Jesus is very real to her. He’s the Jesus that many good people have created. He’s an externalized projection of her best self. He’s the “moral compass” that believers think atheists lack. Because they think that this projection is some external entity, they don’t realize that we have that moral compass as well. People who fear secularisation, and I’m not speaking of Sister Helen here but people like Mitt Romney, believe that we have the ability to take that external projection away. Because they don’t realize that the good part of people comes from within those good people, they think there is a danger of getting separated from that good part.

Can a feminist be religious?
In retrospect, I agree with the premise that you can’t follow Christianity and be a feminist. The only way to reconcile the two is to ignore a lot of what is taught in the Bible as I did, even as a fundamentalist who would have vociferously defended my literal reading of scripture. It is an untenable position.

The Religious Right vs. Young People
I'd like to see good Christians loudly proclaiming that the short-sighted theocrats of the religious right don't represent them. That xenophobia and hating gay people aren't what Christianity is all about. I don't want to be too hard on liberal/progressive Christians for not shouting loudly enough because, frankly, the theocrats are so loud that it's difficult for anyone to be heard over them. But what I'm saying is for the benefit of the faithful as well as the skeptic. We need a candidate who -- when questioned about his/her faith, regardless of his/her beliefs -- will look the camera in the eye and say "I'm running for president, not for first pastor."

Presupposing God
Try to imagine for a moment that you had no previous knowledge of a god, and that you also understand cosmology and evolution fairly well. Try also to imagine that you will honestly assess the physical evidence using careful observation and rational analysis. Why wouldn't you, if you want to arrive at an honest answer?

Mother Nature is Not Our Friend
Will this be a good thing? The question presupposes that we have a viable alternative. But what is the alternative to our taking charge of our biological destiny? Might we be better off just leaving things to the wisdom of Nature? I once believed this. But we know that Nature has no concern for individuals or for species. Those that survive do so despite Her indifference. While the process of natural selection has sculpted our genome to its present state, it has not acted to maximize human happiness; nor has it necessarily conferred any advantage upon us beyond the capacity raise the next generation to child-bearing age. In fact, there may be nothing about human life after the age of forty (the average lifespan until the 20th century) that has been selected by evolution at all. And with a few exceptions (e.g. the gene for lactose tolerance), we probably haven't adapted to our environment much since the Pleistocene.

Telescope spies newborn planet
Planets are believed to develop within swirling discs of dust and gas around nascent stars.

So studying very young examples could tell astronomers much about the birth and evolution of planetary systems - including our own Solar System.

Looking for ESP in the Brain
In other words, there is no scientific model for how ESP can work - no mechanism. Some proponents make hand-waving speculations about quantum entanglement or cosmic consciousness, but these are ultimately meaningless gibberish. There is no proposed mechanism for ESP that amounts to a reductionist model based upon established physics or biology. No one has even established any physical features to ESP - meaning that it displays consistent characteristics, such as decreasing with distance, or being blocked by dense substances, or anything. There has been zero progress in zeroing in on what ESP might be as a physical phenomenon.

Algorithmic Inelegance
Now I'm a full-time developmental biologist, and unsurprisingly, I see similar expectations in myself and in my colleagues. We don't have the power to design embryos, but we do analyze the "code"—the genetic instructions and the operation of the developmental programs that take the egg from embryo to adult. We look for algorithmic elegance and simple procedures that lead to the impressive complexity of form, and sometimes we see it; there is often a kernel of clean, simple molecular interactions that lay down a framework for the organism. However, what we more often see is the action of the invisible hand of evolution: the evidence of random accidents that have been incorporated into the code, of elaborations built of bricolage, a collage of bits and pieces assembled into a larger structure. Life is a collection of kludges taped together by chance and filtered by selection for functionality; it all works magnificently well, but if you look under the hood you are simultaneously appalled by the sheer inelegance of the molecular gemisch and impressed with the accumulation of complexity.

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Christian Education: History  

Friday, January 11, 2008

Last night I was having a discussion about the type of textbooks I used in the Christian school I attended. I remembered very distinctly the textbook publisher because everyone always raved about how good the books were and how the material was so much more advanced than public school textbooks. By that I don't mean the latest technology, but that people in my school believed that we were learning a few grade levels above the average public school student.

Now there are some subjects that I don't remember being particularly egregious, like math and grammar, but science was mostly memorization (perhaps that's common in middle school) and history was most likely skewed to a particular viewpoint. But let's just take a look at what the textbooks claim to teach children today.

The publisher is A Becka Book and on their Distinctives page they break everything down into different subjects. Let's just take those subjects one at a time starting with History.

Students need a realistic view of history, government, geography, and economics based upon the foundational truths of the Scriptures.

Ever since H. G. Wells published his Outline of History in 1920, the theme of world history texts has been man's supposed progress from savagery toward socialism, from tribal religions toward one-world government. American history is usually presented as a series of conflicts-rich vs. poor, black vs. white, North vs. South, labor vs. management, male vs. female, etc.
I wasn't familiar with H. G. Wells' The Outline of History, so I had to do a little research. H.G. Wells wrote the book because he was unhappy with quality of history textbooks at the time. He published it in the early 1920's to great success. But many religious people criticized it for its secular bias and assumptions about society based on evolution.1
Our A Beka Book texts reject the Marxist/Hegelian conflict theory of history in favor of a truthful portrayal of peoples, lands, religions, ideals, heroes, triumphs, and setbacks. The result has been positive, uplifting history texts that give students an historical perspective and instill within them an intelligent pride for their own country and a desire to help it back to its traditional values.
And what traditional values would those be? I checked around and found the Traditional Values Coalition, "the largest non-denominational, grassroots church lobby in America."
With an emphasis on the restoration of the values needed to maintain strong, unified families, Traditional Values Coalition, focuses on such issues as religious liberties, marriage, the right to life, the homosexual agenda, pornography, family tax relief and education.
Now it's not a given that they're both talking about the same traditional values, but I think it's pretty safe to assume that they are. Let's go on to the next paragraph of Distinctives.
We present government as ordained by God for the maintenance of law and order, not as a cure-all for the problems of humanity. We present free-enterprise economics without apology and point out the dangers of Communism, socialism, and liberalism to the well-being of people across the globe. In short, A Beka Book offers you a Christian and conservative approach to the study of what man has done with the time God has given.
I think that last sentence sums it up pretty nicely. From an early age children are taught that socialism, Communism, and liberalism is wrong. They're also taught "traditional values", which are, in other words, follow the general conservative Christian quest to keep religion as a cornerstone of our society, keep marriage between a man and a woman, outlaw abortion, marginalize homosexuals, vilify pornography, lower taxes, and control education by not allowing anything that conflicts with Christianity to be taught to children.

There's more I could comment on in the above, like how racial issues are marginalized and ignored, but how about you tell me what you think? I'd like to hear if anyone thinks this approach is a good approach and why and also if you think it's flawed, why you think its flawed.

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