Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Random Thoughts...

I haven’t written anything for a while because there were no really major issues I felt needed to be addressed. I will however, post a few observations about a number of seemingly trivial issues and maybe some additional things will come to mind as I write.

Ever since I began publicly declaring myself as an atheist I have endeavored to find like-minded people, both in the “real world” and on the web and this has proven a very difficult task indeed. On a more personal note (I suppose that this is where my romanticism creeps in), I have been divorced now for 6 years, and for a time, explored the possibility of a more intimate relationship with a woman. Of course she would have to be of the same intellectual and philosophical bent as I, but finding such a someone has proven nigh impossible, especially given where I am living for the moment. There are several web sites out there that purport to be a way to meet atheist/agnostic singles, so I gave them a shot. Sorry to say, I was not impressed. Perhaps my expectations were too high, but I think not.

Over the last 10 years or so I have had occasion to view personal ads on the web at sites like Match.com and Yahoo! Personals. The ads people post, if not the people themselves, are invariably deeply superficial. For comparison purposes and to be completely fair to the ladies, I checked out the ads other straight men were posting and they were every bit as shallow. When it came to the atheist/agnostic singles sites, I found exactly the same lack of depth with the only difference being the fact that they professed to be non-believers. In many cases, their non-belief seemed superficial as well and used mainly for shock value and to affect the appearance of being hip or edgy, much like the infatuation with the satanic trappings brandished during the heyday of heavy-metal rockers like Ozzy Osbourne, Kiss, Judas Priest, and that exemplar of their generation X progeny, Marilyn Manson. I have realized that atheists of any real intellectual substance are not likely to use such avenues, or like me, if they have, they quickly became disgusted.

It has also been difficult to find online communities of atheists, freethinkers, and agnostics. The Usenet groups devoted to atheists and agnostics are practically empty, Yahoo has ignored repeated entreaties to open (or re-open) a chat room for atheists and agnostics, and it is hard to find active, lively venues for stimulating conversation, the forging of new friendships, the magnification of individual action through group efforts, and if I may go to far, maybe even finding that someone special. I have recently found a few active chat sites for atheists/agnostics and I will be posting a list of such sites soon. If anyone out there knows of any more, please feel free to drop me a line.

Richard Dawkins has observed that organizing atheists is akin to “herding cats” and this would seem borne out by what I have found, as I outlined above. Dawkins also observed that there are more “out” atheists in this country than there are observant Jews and they wield political power that is far out of proportion to their numbers (LET ME BE VERY CLEAR HERE AS MY WORDS COULD BE EASILY TWISTED, EVEN BY HONEST PEOPLE), however, this is NOT the result of some shadowy conspiracy on the part of Jewish folks, rather, it is due to the millenarianism of the Christian Right whose interpretation of the Book of Revelations, accords great significance to the fate of the Nation of Israel as it pertains to the Second Coming of Christ.

This situation can be changed, but it will not be easy. I am not advocating that atheists suppress their individual differences in order to present some sort of faux “united front” to the rest of the world. What we can do is to agree to hold believers, of all stripes, to the same standards of intellectual honesty, logic, reason, and evidence. We can make it very clear to them at the outset of any dialog, that while they have every right to make their case (the choice of the “legal” terminology is deliberate), we have a right to subject them to a rigorous cross-examination and that their assertions will have to meet the same standard of “reasonable doubt” as actual courtroom testimony. We would do well to keep in mind when in the above sort of situations all the courtroom dramas we have seen on TV and in movies, and that, as in an actual court of law, there are some basic rules regarding the treatment of witnesses and that being resolute in our application of reason to specific claims people make does not and should not necessitate being cruel or malicious in our discussions with believers.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

This showed up in my inbox recently and I had to protest and I sent my response in a Word document to all the people in the "to" field of the original email. The text of the Word document is in double quotes.

"Some of you may have recently received the below as one of those annoying, endlessly forwarded emails and as a thinking human being I could not let this piece of pious drivel go by unchallenged. My comments will be in blue and all grammatical errors will be as in the original.

Just think about it. How scary this can be. We all need to do our part to keep it from happening. We can change things one day at at time and one person at a time.

Allah or the Lord Jesus Christ?


...A Bit Scary


This is very interesting and just a bit scary ... The Muslim religion is the fastest growing religion per capita in the United States , especially in the minority races!!!

This statement is not precisely true. If however, you limit the discussion to the monotheistic religions, i.e. Christianity, Islam, and Judaism, then yes, Islam is the fastest growing of that group of three.


Allah or The Lord Jesus Christ? ... By Rick Mathes Last month I attended my annual training session that's required for maintaining my state prison security clearance. During the training session there was a presentation by three speakers representing the Roman Catholic, Protestant and Muslim faiths, who explained each of their beliefs.

I can only imagine what those “explanations” consisted of. I would think that a detailed explanation/debate on whether or not unicorn horns are hollow or the exact coloration of male vs. female fairy wings would have about the same rational content as the “explanation” referred to above.

I was particularly interested in what the Islamic Imam had to say. The Imam gave a great presentation of the basics of Islam, complete with a video.

After the presentations, time was provided for questions and answers.

When it was my turn, I directed my question to the Imam and asked: "Please, correct me if I'm wrong, but I understand that most Imams and clerics of Islam have declared a holy jihad [Holy war] against the infidels of the world and, that by killing an infidel, (which is a command to all Muslims) they are assured of a place in heaven. If that's the case, can you give me the definition of an infidel?"

There was no disagreement with my statements and, without hesitation, he replied, "Non-believers! "

I responded, "So, let me make sure I have this straight. All followers of Allah have been commanded to kill everyone who is not of your faith so they can have a place in heaven. Is that correct?"

In light of the gentleman’s above question for the Imam, my question to Christian faith-heads would be: How is Allah any different from the Yahweh of the Old Testament (OT)? And don’t even try to maintain that because of the New Testament (NT), all the rules have changed, because for every NT scripture you come up with that alludes to a change in the rules, I can come up with a NT passage that says that all the law of the OT is still in effect!

The expression on his face changed from one of authority and command to that of "a little boy who had just been caught with his hand in the cookie jar."
He sheepishly replied, "Yes." I then stated, "Well, sir , I have a real problem trying to imagine Pope John Paul commanding all Catholics to kill those of your faith or Dr. Stanley ordering all Protestants to do the same in order to guarantee them a place in heaven!" The Imam was speechless!

This part above is what motivated me speak out. How blind to their own hypocrisy can Christian faith-heads be? This is every bit as stupid as the Muslims who were running around in the aftermath of the “Danish Cartoon Fiasco” of several years ago in which Muslims were seen to be carrying signs that said “Kill those that say Islam is a violent religion.” All “People of Faith” truly suffer from an “Irony Deficit Disorder.” It was not all that long ago when Christian leaders, both Protestant and Catholic, were instructing their followers to do precisely that. Duh, Northern Ireland! Duh, Bosnia! It is also false that killing unbelievers or dying a martyr’s death is believed necessary to get to the Islamic Paradise. Just as in the concept of “jewels in the crown” for Christian believers, doing certain things for Allah’s greater glory does ensure greater glory and reward upon reaching paradise but is not an absolute requirement for getting there. Also, it was only 150 years ago that Catholics were forcibly removing Jewish children from their parents if it was believed, on almost no evidence, that they had been baptized. The baptism need not even have been done by a member of the clergy, sprinkling of bathwater on an infant by a Catholic nanny hired by Jewish parents (the Catholic nannies were allowed to work seven days a week) was considered sufficient.

The reason Christians (Catholics or Protestants) are not killing heretics or unbelievers en masse today (at least not in Western, civilized countries) is not because they had some profound ethical insight which led them to conclude it was wrong to so. The only reason it is no longer done is because of changes in the larger society have made it inexpedient for them to do so. If Christians thought they could get away with killing unrepentant non-believers, if the clearly stated goals of the majority of Christians are realized and a Christian theocracy is established in the United States, based on Christian history and current events, I have no reason to conclude, based on that evidence, that Christians would not brutally suppress and even kill those that refuse to adopt their way of non-thinking.

I continued, "I also have problem with being your 'friend' when you and your brother clerics are telling your followers to kill me! Let me ask you a question. Would you rather have your Allah, who tells you to kill me in order for you to go to heaven, or my Jesus who tells me to love you because I am going to heaven and He wants you to be there with me?"

What I have a problem with are people that demand that I take seriously their preposterous beliefs about the factual state of the world for which they are incapable of providing any coherent evidence for. As far as the teachings of Jesus being all about love, for every one a Christian faith-head throws out about “Jesus/God is Love,” from the gospels I can provide one from the gospels which entails a violent, militaristic intolerance for unbelievers. The message is very, very inconsistent and maintaining the “Jesus/God is Love” requires an awful lot of “cherry picking” on the part of Christian faith-heads.

You could have heard a pin drop as the Imam hung his head in shame. Needless to say, the organizers and/or promoters of the 'Diversification' training seminar were Not happy with Rick's way of dealing with the Islamic Imam and exposing the truth about the Muslims' beliefs. In twenty years there will be enough Muslim vot ers in the U.S. To elect the President! I think everyone in the U.S . should be required to read this, but with the Liberal justice system, liberal media and the ACLU, there is no way this will be widely publicized.

The only reason this has not made headlines is because Christian (and other) faith-heads have so thoroughly sold the American public on the ridiculous notion that it is impolite to honestly criticize people’s religious faith and the societal consequences of religious faith; we are free to criticize and even discount those who believe that Elvis is alive and well onboard a flying saucer, but to demand a rational explanation of the equally preposterous virgin birth or resurrection, no we can’t do that, that’s not fair. That attitude on the part of faith-heads of all stripes is a load of crap and is merely a way for faith-heads to avoid the embarrassment of having to give a rational accounting of why they believe what they do because deep down they know that they don’t have one!

Please pass this on to all your e-mail contacts.

This is a true story and the author, Rick Mathes, is a well-known leader in prison ministry.

The Man who walks with God always gets to his destination.

If you have a pulse you have a purpose."

Friday, May 11, 2007

I am continually frustrated when I hear people in public forums, i.e. news programs, letters to the editor and the like, make bald assertions that in 5 minutes of web searching can shown to be without merit. This piece was originally written in response to a letter to the editor published in the Rapid City Journal the week of 22 April, 2007. My original reply was never published due to length. As I observed to the editor of the Journal, it is pathetically easy to spout a great deal of nonsense in 200 words or less but to clear up nonsense takes far more than 200 words, especially if one cares about the truth and in communicating it clearly and in enough detail to be compelling. In the original letter to which this was meant as a reply, the author asserted that it would take thousands of years for the amount of CO2 in the Earth’s atmosphere to double so how could anyone be so gullible as to think there was any real danger? He sought to make his case by throwing around some numbers, so I took up the challenge.


According the web site http://hypertextbook.com/facts/1999/LouiseLiu.shtml which lists figures from a number of reputable sources, the mass of the Earth’s atmosphere is around 5.3∙1018 kg. According to another web site, http://www.biocrawler.com/encyclopedia/Earth's_atmosphere, the percentage, by mass, of CO2 in the atmosphere is 0.053% or 0.00053. This may not sound like much, but before one rejects it out of hand, consider that a lethal dose of vitamin A, which in proper amounts is essential for human health, can occur at 9,000,000, or 9∙106, IU’s,∙which roughly equates to 1.8 grams. Compared to the weight of a 72.6 kg (160 lb) person, these 1.8 grams represent 0.0000247 or roughly 0.0025% of their body weight, so small things can make a big difference. Getting back to CO2, according to yet another web site, http://www.llnl.gov/str/May05/Friedmann.html, the amount of CO2 released into the Earth’s atmosphere resulting from human activity annually is 25 billion tons, minus 2 to 3 billion tons absorbed by forests, minus another 7 billion tons absorbed by the oceans. This webpage, from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, also points out that the 7 billion tons absorbed by the oceans can have its own negative effects, like raising the acidity of the ocean’s waters which would disrupt the base of the oceanic food chain by making it difficult, if not impossible (given our current understanding), for plankton to form their tiny shells. That leaves 15 billion tons (US) of CO2 in the Earth's atmosphere that was not there before. Converting that to kilograms yields a figure of 13.6∙1012 kg. Note that these are “back of the envelope” calculations and are merely meant to provide a picture of magnitude.

By multiplying the mass of the atmosphere as a whole by the percentage of CO2 in it we get a figure of 2.809∙1015 kg for the mass of CO2 in the atmosphere. The 13.6∙1012 kg of CO2 which is put into the atmosphere by human activity and NOT otherwise absorbed each year is 0.484% of the total amount of CO2 in the atmosphere. What we have here, in effect, is a problem involving simple interest! Our principal, P, is the 2.809∙1015 kg normally present in the Earth's atmosphere, where the ending balance each year is given by P*(1+n*i) where i is the interest rate (0.484%), and n is the number of periods, in this case, measured in years.

Given all of this, we can calculate how long it would take to increase the amount of CO2 in our atmosphere by 150% or by a factor of 1.5. In equation form this would be 2.809∙1015(1 + n∙(0.00484)) = 1.5∙2.809∙1015. If you do the math, solving for n yields a figure of 103 years. To double, the required time is 206 years. This may seem like a long time, but remember, we are not at time zero here and I am assuming "simple" interest. We have been pouring CO2 into our atmosphere since the start of the modern industrial era and the effect of the extra CO2 is not instantaneous and there is likely a lag, on the order of decades, between the time when the CO2 enters the atmosphere and when that excess CO2 begins to affect global temperatures.

Also consider that 1.5 times the present amount of CO2 may not seem like much but when you consider that, according to numerous sources, including http://www.gmitoxics.com/jan06_killer_article.html, even a decrease of only 1% to 2% in the amount of oxygen (O2) we get has appreciable effects on us humans, and when one considers how much smaller the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere is than the amount of O2 and also considering that, even for the tiny amount that there is in the atmosphere, it is what keeps us from being a frozen world like Mars or a hellish hothouse like Venus, I fail to see on what rational basis anyone can dismiss this as trivial.