Friday, September 28, 2007

Fallacy Friday: Non Sequitur

New Series
Since argument is a large part of atheism, and life in general, we'll talk about a few major logic errors in argumentation every Friday. Being an atheist, I tend to argue a lot. These basic rules of rhetoric and argumentation are not strictly exclusive to atheists; these fallacies should be avoided by anyone trying to establish a correct, watertight argument. So if you're a theist, make sure you don't break these (and other) rules when defending your position. Ditto to you non-theists as well.


Not Followin' Ya
To get things started, we should cover the most basic type of fallacy of which most all others are a subset of: the non sequitur. Latin, it literally means "it does not follow". A big thing when dealing with logical progressions (ie, step-by-step argument) is that the conclusion must follow from the premise. I know, great idea, right? You'd be amazed at how Here's a few examples:

"Millions of people have seen unexplained lights in the night sky. Life on other planets is quickly becoming certainty."

"If I am in Tokyo, then I am in Japan. I am not in Tokyo. Therefore, I'm not in Japan."

Arguing at length, "My religion is of great help to many people." Then, concluding: "My religion is undoubtably true!"

If you're going to construct a chain of causation (A leads to B leads to C, etc.) without justifying each step in the chain, you're guilty of committing a non sequitur. For each step in the chain that you fail to justify, it will be obvious by the end that the alleged chain of causation is tenuous and implausible.

If have a habit of doing this, or you'd like to learn more about non sequiturs, Google is your friend. There are tons of sites on the internet that will show you how to avoid such errors in the future. If you can learn to argue without such incorrect reasoning, we atheists will be more likely to hear your position and, who knows, maybe even concede it!

-STA

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Unholy Word: No Laughing Matter

Disclaimer
Many Christians believe that the bible is the true "Holy Word of God", 100% inspired (if not written directly) by the Almighty Himself. With this new series, we'll take a look at some of the stories in this profane book and see just how "holy" it is.

Warning: Some may find this and other fairy tales in the Christian Bible to be extremely disturbing. Reader discretion is advised.


Can't Take A Joke?
The first bible story we'll look at is one of the sickest things one can read. If you'd like to follow along, open your bible to chapter two of the second book of Kings. Here we find Elisha, successor of the supposed prophet Elijah (who had just ascended into heaven). Elisha is going up the road into town when a group of youths gather around and start to make fun of him, particularly his lack of head-hair. (The phrase they used is reported to be "Go up, thou bald head, go up".)

Keep in mind this is a book supposedly written by God to tell us ignorant humans how to be good and get tickets to Jesus Land.

So how does the pious Elisha handle this mocking? 2 Kings 2:24 says, "
And he turned back, and looked on them, and cursed them in the name of the LORD. And there came forth two she bears out of the wood, and tare forty and two children of them."

I'll let that sink in a bit...

This wise "man of God" can't take being made fun of -- BY CHILDREN -- and asks the Lord to do something about it. As if that's not bad enough, the all-loving Creator responds by sending two bears to rip the kids apart!

This is one of the most obscene and objectionable stories in the bible. Any moral and wise adult would realize that children can sometimes be asses; why can't an all-knowing, all-loving, God understand that?

Of course, some bible versions try to soften the blow by referring to the group of kids as a "gang", but come on, he wasn't dealing with the Yakuza or the Hell's Angels. And even if he was, does it merit them being ripped to shreds by a couple of Kodiaks?


Good Moral Values
Think about how the parents of these forty-two kids would have taken the news. "Well, I guess it was just God's Holy Will. Little Billy always was a trouble-maker; I told him he'd get it one of these days!" They'd have one hell of a time trying to pick out the bloody pieces of their child from the rest. Have you ever seen a mauling?

What does this passage say about an omniscient, omnibenevolent God? What does it say about morality, or dealing with bullies? What does this say about a perfect, timeless book given by an ultimate moral law-giver? Maybe I should get in good with the Lord so I can use this trick the next time those damn Girl Scouts want $38 for cookies.

I personally think it's just another insane story told by delusional men in the desert over two thousand years ago -- back when people were even more stupid than they are today -- just to scare blasphemers or tempt readers with the awesome power of God. Wouldn't wanna make a man'o'God angry if you heard that they could call forth wild beasts at will, would you?

That's enough for now; my stomach is turning just thinking about the horrible stories that are in this book (that parents give to their children!!!). Believe it or not it gets worse. We'll look at some more immoral and objectionable passages in the next installment of the "Unholy Word".

-STA

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Operation Spread Eagle Needs Your Help!

Christian Warfare in Action


UPDATE: As of September 18, the Rational Response Squad's account with YouTube.com has been reinstated. http://www.youtube.com/user/RationalResponse

Thank you for all your support, and please continue to fight the CSE and any others who wish to illegally silence critics of irrationality.

-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-


video

For the last couple of days, the Rational Response Squad has been engaged in a war with Kent Hovind's "Creation Science Evangelism Ministries" over copyright infringements on YouTube.com.

It seems that someone from CSE has been claiming copyright infringements on several videos on YouTube pertaining to Kent Hovind, fucktard. YouTube has therefore banned accounts of several people, including the RRS.

Thing is, these videos are NOT copyrighted by CSE or Hovind -- they wave their copyrights in the videos themselves, as well as on their website. These videos include a completely original animated satire of Hovind with original audio, and audio recordings of Hovind's court case, all public domain materials. This is a deliberate attack from someone within the CSE or supporters thereof, and it's got to stop. These claims are illegitimate and abuse the features of YouTube and the U.S. copyright law.

Please visit www.RationalResponders.com right now and learn more about this. Even if you're not an atheist; even if you don't believe in evolutionary fact; even if you have not had your account wrongfully banned; even if you don't plan to sue the asshats at CSE; please stay aware of the lengths these types of people will go to. We must protect our American laws and freedoms.

-STA

STA Movie Review – Devil’s Playground

Well, since I hold no belief in a deity, I obviously do nothing with my life except watch movies all day. (By the way, have you checked out Blockbuster Online? It’s great; they send me a movie, I watch it, take it to the store, trade it in for another move for free, take it home, watch it, they send me another movie....)

So I got some time to check out Devil’s Playground, a documentary about the Amish rite of Rumspringa. Again, since my life is meaningless without God, I decided to take the time to review some key points of the film for you here.

The documentary states that the Amish were born out of earlier Catholics who felt that the practice of baptizing babies and young children, and forcing the religion upon them before they are of an age when they’re able to make up their own mind, is wrong. And in this, I agree with them. It’s wrong to raise a child up as a "Christian child" or a "Muslim child" before it even knows what the hell it means. It’s wrong, and it’s child abuse.

Running Wild
In the Amish tradition, when a child turns 16, they are free to go out "into the world" and check it out. This Rumspringa custom (meaning literally "running around") frees the child from the church and its rules in the hopes that they’ll be making the decision to join the church out of true desire with an informed decision. These kids – who were raised without electricity, cars, TV, internet, t-shirts, phones, iPods, and beer – go completely apeshit. At least some of them do. Two teens in the film (Faron, a preacher’s son, and his friend Gerald) sell meth, have sexual relationships, smoke pot, get drunk nearly every night, and generally act like typical American teenagers who’ve been sheltered all their lives.

After they sample life outside of the Amish community, they, as well as all Amish children, are allowed to decide for themselves when and whether or not they want to join the church. The church actually prefers them to wait four or five years or much longer before deciding. I love this idea; I think everyone should be able to make their own decisions about religion. The only problem is that in most cases, the child’s whole family is within the church. And these are big families; a woman’s job is to have as many kids as she can. This is what makes the decision to join the Amish church so difficult. Could you leave your entire family and start a life on your own without their help? According to the documentary, after the Rumspringa period, 90% of the youth decide to rejoin the church.

No Backing Out
And once they commit, they are held to that promise. One ex-member, Velda, decided to leave the church a short time after dedication, and is now shunned completely by her family. Think about how horrible that would be for most people. No talking to you, no visiting on holidays, no birthday cards. Same thing with Mormons, you’re excommunicated from the church if you leave. This means that they won’t help you or try to "save" you anymore. (Good, no more banging on my door on a Saturday morning.) But the larger point remains: your family, in a sense, doesn’t love you many more. Velda still stayed religious. After all, there isn’t a whole lot of disagreement between Amish and other Christian faiths that some can’t overcome. They can still love Jesus and be "saved", they just have to wait to see their family until they all get to heaven.

Though this film follows teenagers in Indiana, the same applies to all Amish teens during Rumspringa. Some return to their families, others do not. Some are baptized but later leave the Amish church, resulting in their families' shunning them. The greater part to all of this is what I left the film with, and is what I wanted to post about. These kids are given the choice between all the stupid shit in the world, and the loving safety of the Christian church and the religious beliefs therein. At least, that is the choice they perceive.

Get Right with God
But this is the choice that many people, Amish or otherwise, feel they have. I’ve even had friends who would get into so much shit with the police, and they’d tell me how they needed to turn their life around. They see theism as the way to do this; as the only way to do this.

This can be expounded into a much larger discussion on God and morality, a topic that I intend to tackle in due time, probably in several instances. It’s a big issue. For now, suffice it to say that theism is NOT the only way to be "good", and in fact, it may do greater damage than it claims to fix.

Go check out Devil’s Playground, a non-biased look at the struggles of modern American Amish culture. The tug-of-war between the freedom and luxuries of the "English world" and the routines of religious faith and family play out in an educational and somewhat disheartening documentary.


-STA

Monday, September 10, 2007

An Exercise In Reason

"Jesus died for you, man!"

That's a phrase you'll hear all the time from Christian proselytizers (by the way, since my small town sits in the 'Bible Belt' of the southern U.S., I will most often be writing about the nation's leading religion: Christianity. Please understand that most, if not all, of my claims against a belief in supernatural entities can freely be applied to any religion. If you don't see how, send me an email and let me know!)


Not only is this phrase an "appeal to emotion", an attempt to make the listener feel bad, but it also makes no sense. That's right, I said it: It makes no sense.

HE'S ALIVE!
Think about it. I'll using the standard Christian beliefs as a framework, and this is very important -- this is from their own belief structure. Jesus is God...and is his son (I know, it's crazy). God created the world like it is. Don't try to tell me that it was Adam and Eve's fall that made the world like it is, because a) God created Adam and Eve, and b) he *knew* it was going to happen even before he started the whole 7-day creation. God has everything the way it needs to be according to his 'plan' or else it wouldn't be as it is. That's what omnipotent means. Therefore, in order to save humanity from hell (which he too, made), God sends his son Jesus (himself) as a sacrifice (to himself) to save humanity from torture (from himself). Not only that, but he waited for thousands of years to do it!

Your head stopped spinning yet?

Now that we have this kooky structure established, we can answer the basic question. What exactly did Jesus give up? He came to earth, died for a long weekend, then got to be God again and judge humanity for the rest of eternity! Who wouldn't want that? Christians, you sing it yourself: "He's alive!" What did he sacrifice? Even if he died for two weeks, he still came back to life. What kind of sacrifice is that?

Christians will try to hem and haw their way out of this bug-nutty story, but it's the foundation of their very religion. They'll say something like: "Jesus died so that we could all live." Again, what about those before Jesus? And why does God have to have some psychotic way of fixing a problem (which an omnipotent creator shouldn't have in the first place), when he could just, oh I don't know, LET IT GO? He could just snap is wrinkly, Caucasian fingers and forget the whole thing. He supposedly made us this way, how could he not know, and how could there be a problem in the first place?

The end result is that he gets to go right back up to heaven and send people to hell, and we're left with an all-knowing, all-powerful, all-loving God framing his own lesser creation.

What a dick.

Good thing the whole story's not real, or we might need to start picketing. There's plenty more absurdities with trying to conceptualize an omniscient, omnipotent, omnibenevolent "being" in the first place, let alone the thousands of contradictions and ridiculous claims within the religion and texts of Western Christianity, which I'll get to in good time.

-STA

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Atheism 101: Rational Thought

Rationally Thinking Creatures
We use rational thought every day. Just take some time and think about it. Do you stop at the stop light when it's red?
Do you swim in scalding hot water? Do you put your cup on the table, or just let it go? Stop and ask yourself: Why? Why don't you just let go of your cup? Do you think it's going to fall?

Of course you do. You believe that because it has been proven to you through your own reason. You have a plethora of reliable human experience (both your own and throughout the entire history of man) telling you that it will fall if you let it go. You're not hoping it won't, and you don't have faith in gravity. You know because you have a reasonable expectation.

Try going through one day - even one hour - without using your rationale. I hope you're still around to read my next post!

You can see now that human beings all think rationally (some moreso). So isn't it strange that some people will use their rationale to begin believing in something, and then try to discredit the very ability that got them there?

It's logical, rational thinking that leads some atheists to their position (or rather, away from the other position). Throughout this blog I'll show you why I think that belief in god -- and the supernatural, for that matter -- is irrational and even dangerous.

Day In The Life: Labor Day

Small Town Celebration
I recently attended our town's Labor Day celebration. I was helping my dad's band, who had the honor for playing the celebration for the third year in a row. The incredibly long day started at 6:30am, when we arrived to set up the equipment on Main Street. Soon, the street began to fill with people, and the band played for an hour or so. Afterward, the Labor Day parade kicked off.

If you've never lived (or stayed) in a small town, you might not be able to appreciate the full effect of such an event, but try to imagine. There were several marching bands competing for a $10,000 prize (which some of them desperately needed!). The September sun was shining brightly, and children ran into the streets to catch the candy thrown from the decorated floats. The floats carried winners of beauty pageants and office-elect hopefuls...and church members.

Nearly every church and religious organization within a 50-mile radius
marched in the parade. Now, don't get me wrong; I don't mind that fact at all. I live in a country that safeguards everyone's freedom to express their religious beliefs, and I support these organizations right to march and demonstrate. I was a bit astonished at the number of churches, and disappointed that there were no floats promoting any other opinion (but this was in the Christian Right of the Bible Belt).

And instead of tossing candy from their trucks and floats, some of these Christians threw tiny
booklets for proselytizing...for children. I was (un)lucky enough to catch one of these little booklets, and the thing made my skin crawl. I wanted to take the microphone away from the parade announcer and yell a warning to the kids. Yet again, it is these churches' right to express their believes, but like I said, the book irritated me (along with other events that day) enough to start this blog. I'll try to explain this booklet and hopefully you will see what I mean.


FUNDIE PROPAGANDA
The booklet, being only three-by-three-and-a-half inches big, begins with its deceiving cover: A cartoon image of
Albert Einstein on a solid light-blue background with the text, "Hey Kids, Test Your Memory...See if you are a GENIUS!" in various pink and yellow fonts. I'll admit that I wasn't aware of what the booklet was, as I didn't see the Christians who threw it. My wife handed it to me, and I thought -- for a fleeting nanosecond -- that maybe, just maybe it was about science.

Not a chance in this town. As I turned the tiny page and read "Test Number One", my fears were confirmed: "Memorize the Ten Commandments using these special picture figures, then test your memory and grade yourself!"

The booklet continues to instruct the child (it's targeted reader) to use visual symbols as a way to memorize the Ten Commandments. For example, Commandment #1 (the "you shall have no other gods but me"), is represented as a little image of a 1st place medal (cause God should be Number One). After the tenth and final Commandment, the child is able to grade how many they are able to memorize in this fashion with a ranking system: at least five means you did okay, but you need to try again; six...you did well; seven...good; eight...very good [with an underline]; nine...wonderful!; and ten declares GENIUS status.

Test Number Two is a simple question that holds the ultimate purpose for this booklet. Your "host" throughout the booklet is a child with a dirty face and hands, because according to this particular faith (and the answer to question two), God gave us the Ten Commandments as a mirror to help us realize what a bad state we are in. Then the real preaching begins, and I noticed that the style of sermonizing was familiar:
Do you remember #9? Have you ever lied? What about #5? Have you always obeyed your parents?...The Bible says if you hate someone, you've committed murder...Have you ever stolen something...or been greedy?

I quickly turned the pamphlet over to confirm that it was adapted from a book by Ray Comfort. The booklet goes on with the basic fundamentalist drivel that God doesn't want you to be punished [even though he made the system]. It also re-conveys the story of Jesus via a short tale of a man who had a son who was "really bad" and did bad things like lying and stealing. This boy soon found himself in trouble with the police, who said he'd have to pay a $50,000 fine or go to prison. The boy couldn't pay the fine and was about to go to jail when his dad stepped in a plopped down his life savings so that his son could go free. "That's how much he loved his son."...blah blah blah...accept Christ or burn in Hell...
blah blah blah...live forever...blah blah blah...

The final page mentioned something about "Read your Bible every day--it's full of incredible stories". That really made me laugh. "Incredible" is right. The back cover was honestly the reason I decided to begin speaking out. It depicted a human brain with a thought bubble containing the words "...for kids who like to think".

And honestly, I hope the kids who caught a copy of this booklet really DO think. It's logic and reason that got me to where I am today: religion-free. I was "saved" by reason. Actually, taking this tract's advice and reading the bible is a great way to start.


Sorry if this rant was too long, but some things you just gotta say.

-STA

Atheism 101: Knowledge and Belief

What is Belief?
"Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence." -Carl Sagan

Belief is, simply put, what the mind accepts as truth. If I said to you, "I had cereal for breakfast today", you'd probably be inclined to believe me. That statement wouldn't be hard to accept as true.

However, if I were to say, "My cereal arranged itself so that it spelled out my full name!", then you'd have some trouble taking that as truth. At least, you should.
I'd have to produce some extraordinary evidence to support my extraordinary claim.

It is for this reason that most atheists tend not to believe in supernatural claims of any kind.


Agnosticism - The Default Position
Not taking extraordinary claims without sufficient, serious evidence is the natural, default approach. Despite its many flaws, the court system we have established here in America operates on this very same premise: innocent until proven guilty. Why? Because it has shown itself to be the best approach.

Anyone can make claims about anything, but making the claim alone doesn't make it true. If I told you that I have an invisible pink unicorn at my house, would you believe me? Shouldn't I have to produce some sort of reason for why I could say such things?

Of course, you can't *see* the unicorn -- she's invisible. In fact, you can't touch her, smell her, taste, feel, or conduct any sort of measurement in order to detect her. But she's there! And no, I can't see her. I can't tell you how I know she's there, but I KNOW SHE'S THERE.

Again, there's no reason for any rational mind to place any confidence in the validity of this. The positive claim that something has happened begs for positive evidence. Maybe it really IS true, but we've got to back that up somehow. Until we have a reason, we take the default approach and choose not to believe.

But this very concept causes rifts in many people's minds, though it shouldn't. Atheism is the default position for every child born. They have to be taught of a God. Yes, I said it. Every child is born an atheist. If this statement strikes you the wrong way, then congratulations, you have been the victim of a campaign of misinformation and deliberate attempts to mislead and corrupt the term. You can blame religious leaders for this brainwashing. Hopefully throughout this blog, I will be able to help you separate the term 'atheist' from moral values and help you understand the true meaning of the term. "Atheist" does not equal "evil".

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Atheism 101: Am I an Atheist or Agnostic?

Oh My God! An Atheist?!?!
Recent polls have shown that the stigma of atheism has all but disappeared. It doesn't surprise me though, because the majority of Americans say they believe in God. And their preachers, pastors, fathers, and priests have no-doubt told them what they think an atheist is:
  • someone who hates God (or rejects God so they can be free to live in sin)
  • they hate America / they're Communists
  • they're bigots
  • they have no morals
  • they serve Satan
  • they worship (and/or have faith in) science
  • they don't believe in anything
  • they eat babies
Every one of those accusations is false. Atheists are probably the most feared and misunderstood minority today. These common misconceptions are laughable when one understands the truth about atheism. If you thought an atheist was one of the above, I want to to read this next line very slowly, then stop and let it sink in:

Atheism is the lack of a belief in a god.

That's it. It is not a religion, dogma, creed, political outlook, lifestyle, belief, belief system, or moral code. It's merely a lack of theistic belief. It doesn't tell you anything else about the person, or why they don't believe in god; it only tells you that they don't believe in god. It's a single answer to a single question.

After that, anything goes. You can find atheists who have varying opinions on all kinds of things. There are atheists who support the political left, some who support the right. There are atheists who believe in evolution, and some who don't. Some believe in abortion, and some don't.

Some Buddhists can be considered atheistic, as they don't have a belief in a god (though there are a lot of atheists who wouldn't tend to agree with the rest of the supernatural claims). The Raelians believe that we were created by a race of intelligent alien beings. No god belief=Atheist. A 'theist' is someone who has a belief in a god. The prefix 'a' means 'without', so an 'atheist' literally means 'non-theist' or 'without a belief in god'.

Most people know what it's like to be an atheist with respect to Thor or Zeus. Some just go one god further. The same reason a Catholic doesn't believe in Allah is the same reason an atheist doesn't believe in the Catholic god.


But, You're Not Sure, Are You?
Even if the average person doesn't think that an atheist barbecues babies, they may still have heard (and believed) the following 'escape clause':

"If you think there's no God, you're an Atheist. If you're just not sure, you're an Agnostic."

Again, this common misconception is untrue. In reality:

Gnosticism and Agnosticism address what you know (or claim to know).
Theism and Atheism address what you believe.

The two aren't mutually exclusive; it is possible to be a(n):
  • Gnostic Theist - Someone who claims to know and believe that god exists
  • Agnostic Theist - Someone who doesn't know for sure that a god exists, but believes anyway
  • Gnostic Atheist - Someone who believes that no god exists and claims to know that this belief is true
  • Agnostic Atheist - Someone who doesn't claim to know that no gods exist, but chooses not to blindly believe

The reason that agnosticism is not a "third option" in the question, is that agnosticism addresses a different aspect of the question. Agnosticism is the lack of knowledge of something. It deals with the basis for belief; it is not itself, belief. Agnostic atheism holds that knowledge of the divine is impossible (or currently unobtainable) and thus belief in God is unjustified and illogical. It is often used to soften the blow of such a "harsh-sounding word" as atheist.

Atheists are not making a positive claim. They're not saying "There is no god." (An atheist might say that, but that's not what 'atheism' means. You're free to believe what you want.) Most atheists might say that they are as sure that there is no god as they are that there are no fairies or leprechauns.

I am an Agnostic Atheist. I do not have hard proof of the non-existence of a god or gods, and I am not 100% absolutely sure there can be nor is such a being. But I do not believe in the proposal because the evidence provided that suggests said being has proved to be lacking in substance, structure, and credibility.

So there you have it. Atheists have no charter or doctrine. They are just people who have ONE thing in common: they don't hold a belief in a god or gods. They are everywhere. They are you doctors, your teachers, your computer techs, your airline pilots...your small-town neighbors.

(see more: youtube.com/smalltownatheist)

-STA

Hello (Godless) World

WTF? Who are you?
It's tough harboring dissenting opinions, especially when everywhere you turn you see the opposing majority. I know. I'm the Small Town Atheist. I'll be using the handle STA for now, simply because my identity is not important. Those who need to know will know me, but I intentionally remain obscure for the basic purposes of this blog: I know what it's like to be a minority (a very, very minor minority), and I want to be able to represent and connect with others and help out where I can. That's what I'm doing here.

So, Why A Blog?
This blog is a place for me (and you) to rant about theism and the like, share viewpoints, and help spread the good word. I'm aiming is at my fellow freethinkers, but if you are a person of faith, I'd love to hear your thoughts.

What's the plan?
In these next couple of posts I'll cover "Atheism 101", just to have a place for those less familiar with my position to get their feet wet. In future posts I'll cover the basic defenses of my viewpoint with a few critiques of religion in the process. In other posts I'll talk about books, movies, and events pertaining to atheism, religion, etc. I'll share my comments on events in my own personal life and try to relate it to the larger picture of atheism in America. I'm not sure if there will be a schedule to my posts (I've been unsuccessful with those in the past), but I will try to post at the very least once a month, but probably many more if something sticks in my craw.

That's all for now. My apologies for this hurried and drab intro. Future posts will be a bit more exciting, I'm sure. I hope you enjoy your time spent here, and if nothing else, learn something. I'll try to address every comment (worth a response) and answer any question I can. Change starts with thought.

-STA

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