Thursday, May 31, 2007

Who Cares What That Idiot Thinks?

In its continuing campaign to confer legitimacy on the creationism and intelligent design movement, The New York Times has today published an opinion piece written by Senator Sam Brownback. "What I Think About Evolution" is the kind of essay so blatantly dishonest that it isn’t even worth dignifying with a comment. You might want to read it though, bearing in mind that this lying ignoramus is running for president.

Here’s a taste:

...I believe, as do many biologists and people of faith, that the process of creation — and indeed life today — is sustained by the hand of God in a manner known fully only to him. It does not strike me as anti-science or anti-reason to question the philosophical presuppositions behind theories offered by scientists who, in excluding the possibility of design or purpose, venture far beyond their realm of empirical science.
Brownback — or, more likely, his ghostwriter — really went to town to obfuscate his meaning, eh? But in plain English, what that last sentence implies is: If a scientist doesn’t accept the concept of intelligent design or purpose, you've got to wonder if he or she is really being scientific. This, as everyone with half a brain knows, is the final unutilized product of the digestive process excreted from the anus of male bovines whose sexual and reproductive organs are intact.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

OK. OK. I Confess.

My local newsrag ran a story today about so-called “confessional sites.” These are places you can go on the Web to bare your soul — whether you have one or not — about whatever it is that you’re sorry for doing, saying, or feeling. I have a few things to confess myself, but I don’t see any reason why I can’t use my very own blog to do so. Here are sixteen sins I’d like to get off my soulless chest:

  1. Despite all my protestations of tolerance, I really do, deep down, think that anyone who believes in god is a moron.
  2. Sometimes, late at night, I watch Pastor Melissa Scott on TV. The woman may be the worst kind of money-grubbing evangelist, and she might prey on her ignorant audience. But I think she’s hot.
  3. Even though I’m an atheist, I sometimes automatically say “god bless you” when a person sneezes. Then I kick myself for the rest of the day.
  4. I love to watch birds, and I often imagine that they’re smarter than humans because, from what I’ve seen, not a single one of them has a metal fish attached to its rear end.
  5. It bugs me that so many people picture god as an old man with a long scraggly beard, but my wife insists that I shave.
  6. In my opinion, debating Ray Comfort and Kirk Cameron is the same as debating a pair of chimps. Whether you win or lose, you’ll still look like a fool.
  7. I say “oh, Christ!” and “oh, shit!” about an equal number of times each day, even though I believe in only one of them.
  8. I think that what happens in Vegas somehow gets around.
  9. When I tell a stranger that I don’t believe in god, I’m a little disappointed if I don’t get a huge, shocked reaction.
  10. I really ought to link to tobe, whose blog I like a lot, and because he has linked to me a few times. But I haven’t yet written a post for which a link to him seemed appropriate.
  11. If I reach into a package of nut clusters and find one that reminds me of the Virgin Mary, I eat it anyway.
  12. My vet’s office has little framed sayings about how our dead pets will meet us in heaven. But I’ve never asked him how my cats will feel when I don’t show up.
  13. When I see someone wearing boots, a shiny belt buckle, and a cowboy hat, and then I hear him bellyaching about how he didn’t treat his wife and kids right, I assume he’s a Christian. That’s why I hate country music.
  14. I know that it’s completely unscientific to do so, but I’ve been known to eat three or four Hostess Sno Balls as my breakfast. And I think they’re very intelligently designed.
  15. When reading other atheists’ blogs, I usually ignore the pictures of their pets or kids.
  16. My wife doesn’t realize that sometimes I spend hours writing a post just to avoid doing the dishes. Like now. Shhhhh.
All right, I feel better. If you'll excuse me, I'm gonna go off by myself and say ten "Hail Darwin"s.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Getting the Door to Open

Believe it or not, this is a post about Charles Darwin and also about Ken Ham. I’m going to begin, though, with a story of how I spent my day. Please bear with me.

Today being Memorial Day, I expected to kick back with a few beers and a couple of hot dogs, and laze away the afternoon idly thinking deep, enjoyable atheistic thoughts. My wife had other ideas.

“It’s a perfect time for you to fix the door on the screened-in porch,” she said.

Now, the word “fix” is laughable when used in a sentence that also contains a reference to me. To say that I’m “unhandy” doesn’t even make a dent in describing my general ineptitude with gadgets and gizmos. I’m basically my own light bulb joke. How many Exterminators does it take to change a light bulb? One, but only if he can persuade someone else to do it. Hell, I sometimes have trouble putting new toilet paper on the roller.

What was wrong with the screen door was: its locking handles didn’t work. The inside lever was permanently stuck into the locked position, so that we couldn’t really open the door properly. If we forced it open and went into the yard, it locked behind us so that we couldn’t get back in. On the other hand, if we artificially propped it open, our cats would try to make a break for it. On top of everything else, the old handles were about twenty years old, installed long before my wife and I became the owners of the house, and they were weather-worn ugly.

But the awesome world of nature has made a small, beautiful niche in our yard. Taking the indirect approach, out the front door of the house, through the gate, and around to the porch side, is ridiculous. My wife was determined to enjoy nature’s wonders through the most direct route, and had planned ahead. She’d already purchased a brand new, pure white handle set. “Just take off the old ones, and substitute the new ones,” she explained.

Well, it wouldn't be quite that easy. The new mechanism was an entirely different size, and worked differently than the old one. Peeking through the impervious plastic packaging, I saw that it contained nearly twenty pieces, most of which looked unrelated to anything that was already on the door. I was sure I didn’t have most of the tools I’d need in order to fit those parts where they belonged. The directions, badly translated from the Chinese, were Greek — or one of the many other languages I don’t understand — to me. This was most definitely not going to be a mere substitution job. It was going to involve measuring and hand-eye coordination on a level far above my normal capabilities, or the limits of my patience.

But I noticed something right away, and tested it. The old, grey outside handle still seemed to operate fine. If I could make the new inside lever fit, I might have a workable door. I ripped open the plastic with my teeth, took out the replacement, and held it up for comparison with the broken part. It looked to me as if a substitution might be viable, but I couldn’t be sure. The only way to tell was to remove the unusable lever and replace it with the new one, ignoring all the other purchased parts. I even recycled the original screws. Voila! It fit.

There was a problem, though. The rusty old strikeplate — the contraption over which the tongue attached to the lever snaps into place — was the wrong shape and size to accommodate the new lever, and it wasn’t even in the right spot. Crap! I have to admit I was really reluctant to remove that piece of the puzzle. Changing the strikeplate seemed like a major step. I was going to have to remove the old one, measure for the new one, drill holes, screw the new bastard into place, and hope that the door held.

But OK. I’d committed myself, hadn’t I? So I carefully removed the old strikeplate, trying to make as little of a mess as possible in case I had to reverse my whole procedure. I held up the new one, gauged it with my eyes, asked my wife to make the appropriate marks because I have trouble working a pencil, and got out the drill. After spending an hour trying to decide which bit was appropriate, I just finally said “fuck it,” and gouged out two holes. Since the original screws were the wrong size for the new metal piece, I raided the plastic kit for the pair of screws that was intended to fit. They did, perfectly. Five minutes later, a new strikeplate was in place, and my door was once again able to open properly.

The color of the handle inside no longer matched the one outside, the jamb bore a few unimportant but unsightly holes left over from the previous strikeplate, and I still had about fifteen new pieces that I hadn’t used. I wasn’t even sure if the new parts would hold for long, but I couldn’t find any obvious flaws in what I’d figured out. I knew my friends and neighbors would make fun of my efforts, and doubt whether they’d pay off in the long run. But the damn door worked.

And suddenly, in the smallest, smallest, smallest (have I emphasized “smallest” enough?) way, I empathized with Charles Darwin. Before Origin of the Species, there was no direct route to nature’s wonders. The door was locked. The outside handle, all the observable effects of birth and death, didn’t need to be replaced. No one could deny that there were myriads of species, that some individual plants and animals survived to propagate while others did not, and that it was possible for various characteristics to be changed through generations by breeding selectively.

The inside lever was stuck, though. It was jammed up with supernatural ideas that kept it from opening the door. Even worse, it was held firmly in place by a strikeplate — the bible — that couldn’t coexist with a new lever. Reluctantly, Darwin measured, gauged, marked, and gouged. Finally, he removed the old strikeplate, and replaced it with a new one: science.

There were tons of leftover parts, which Darwin lacked the tools and understanding to include. The whole field of genetics, the “unraveling” of DNA, the ability to study microorganisms, and the vast expansion of the fossil record, these were just some of the tools that were unavailable to him. His new theory was not pretty, and anyone who looked closely could find a few holes in it. Many of his friends and neighbors made fun of his efforts, and doubted whether they’d pay off in the long run. But the damn door worked.

For a few days now, we rationalists of America have been wrapped up in decrying and deriding the well-publicized opening of Ken Ham’s inane Creation Museum. But another event that happened this May has gone underreported: In mid-month, the Darwin Correspondence Project successfully launched an online archive. Within a few clicks of a mouse, anyone with a computer can access this invaluable collection of over 14,500 letters that Darwin exchanged with more than 2,000 people during his lifetime. So while Ken Ham and his ignorant followers remain stuck, locked behind the rusty old bible strikeplate, the rest of us can relive Darwin’s experiences as he opened the door to nature.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Dozens of Great Rides at This Carnival!

In a stunning achievement, PZ Myers at Pharyngula has produced a mammoth carnival about the Creation Museum. I counted 73 links, none of them "missing," organized thematically. Maybe Myers is that intelligent designer some people are talking about.

Every link is well worth clicking on and reading, even if it takes you 6,000 years (roughly the age of the Earth, according to the Museum) to finish.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Any Comments?

Because the Atheosphere is relatively small compared to, say, the tens of thousands of blogs about people’s cute pussies (in both senses of the word), many of us feel that we’re part of a community. I think that most of us read one another fairly regularly, if not by directly visiting a site, then through checking out the latest buzz on one of the atheist aggregators.

Some of us try to leave comments, when appropriate, on the blogs we’re fondest of. I, myself, do so whenever I have something smart — or smart-ass — to say. Most of us, I venture to guess, really appreciate getting these notes from one another. When someone takes the time to add his or her thoughts to mine, I know I'm not just some nut talking to himself. Maybe Descartes could have been satisfied thinking Bloggito ergo sum, but I'm not as fascinated with contemplating my own navel as he was.

The commenter also reaps a benefit. An interesting observation might draw readers’ attention to a new blog they haven’t visited before.

Well, I’d like to increase the odds that my commenters will get noticed. About a month ago, KC at Bligbi had a great idea. As part of a new look for her site, she began a blogroll of people who frequently leave their footprints. She included even those folks to whose blogs she already had a link elsewhere on her page. I’ve decided to follow her lead.

Unlike KC, however, I’ll list the commenters' names, rather than their Web sites. When a frequent commenter has a blog, clicking on his or her name will link to it. If the commenter has more than one blog, I’ll link to the one that I think is most relevant for my readers. In those cases of commenters who don’t have a blog, or who haven’t revealed their blogs’ URLs to me, the linkless name will be listed anyway. I’ll include the names of all frequent commenters, even those who regularly disagree with me — as long as they’re not blatant trolls with absolutely nothing to say. When warranted, I'll add new names. Of course, anyone who wants to be removed from this list, or feels that he or she should be added, or wants an entry changed, can contact me.

Think of this new blogroll as my equivalent of “Fan Appreciation Day.” If your name is on the list, I thank you.

Friday, May 25, 2007

OK, the Joke's on Me

Um, well, er ... my last post was intended as a sarcastic commentary. Apparently, my attempt at humor fell flat. I know this because I received perplexed comments from at least two bloggers whose intelligence and insight I respect.

So now, if you’ll forgive me for my lame joke, I’ll spell out what I was trying to say.

Tons of atheist bloggers — from the least noticed of us, all the way up to the most heavily trafficked — have seen fit to post the results of a ridiculous test called “What Kind of Atheist Are You?” The questionnaire was obviously skewed, since everyone’s highest-ranking category seems to have been “Scientific Atheist,” and many of us scored at least some percentage as “Theist.” I assume that the test’s creator had an educational/philosophical point to make, and, frankly, I’m not sure that I disapprove.

The danger with this kind of parlor game, though, is that we’re surrounded on all sides by godpushers. In today’s worldwide political climate, what with the global Christian crusade and Muslim jihad, as well as more localized skirmishes fomented by witch-doctors all over the earth, it doesn’t really matter what kind of an atheist you are. Maybe in a hundred years from now, or a thousand, we’ll have the leisure to compare and contrast each person’s specific approach to freethought. But for now, I stand by the following comment, which I left on Larry Moran’s Sandwalk.

As Gertrude Stein might have said: atheist is an atheist is an atheist. Either you believe in god or you don't; if you don't, you're an atheist. To try to draw a distinction between atheistic agnostics, agnostic atheists, nonbelieving atheists, unbelieving atheists, and disbelieving atheists is ridiculous. That's why all the other labels besides "atheist" are hogwash. Let's leave that kind of pointless categorization to the religionists.
Is that simplistic? You bet! But is it practical, given the very real threats we face to learning, to liberty, and, in some places, even to our lives? I think so. I’m not suggesting that we all organize immediately and walk in lockstep. Each of us has a unique worldview. I, for one, have always refused to march to the sound of any drum, different or not. All I’m saying is that endless discussion about labels doesn’t get the theocrats out of our governments or our classrooms. It merely throws us into the same kind of we-and-them mentality that the holy hooligans love so much.

So here’s what I did. I answered exactly the same questions as everyone else. But, as folks in the Bush administration might say, I was not completely candid about my results. I added a few lines of extra HTML at the top of my report. That’s how I wound up as a 100% “Atheistic Atheist.” I thought that redundant label was hilarious, and would be obvious as something I invented. Apparently, it wasn't. But I’d still like to think that most of us in this small circle of blog-hell basically belong in that category.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

What Kind of Atheist Am I?

Atheists all over the blogosphere have been posting the results of this test. I'm surprised that I'm the only one who scored so high in the first category.

You scored as Atheistic Atheist. These guys do not believe in any gods.
The other categories are silly.

Atheistic Atheist


Scientific Atheist


Militant Atheist


Angry Atheist




Apathetic Atheist


Spiritual Atheist



What kind of atheist are you?
created with

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The Genesis of a Lawsuit

Among all the hoo-ha about the opening of the Creation Museum in the wilds of Boone County, Kentucky this weekend, I have yet to see this simple point made:

The minute a public-school teacher takes his or her class on a field trip to the Christian House of Deception, we’ve got a lawsuit a-borning. Ever since the Supreme Court’s Edwards v. Aguillard decision in 1987, schools that are paid for with taxpayer cash have been forbidden to teach creationism as if it were science. As most of us know, this ban emboldened creationists to change the name of their unnatural history to “intelligent design.” But the non-distinct distinction between ID and creationism has not tended to hold up in the few cases that have reached the courts.

In any event, though, the Creation Museum doesn’t seem to be making a pretense of teaching intelligent design; its lessons are creationist, pure and simple. Ah, but they’re passed off as science, and that’s where the courts will be able to step in.

From what I’ve read and seen, the Creation Museum is putting a strong emphasis on its bogus science, advertising itself as, essentially, an alternative science attraction. So it would be the height of dishonesty for a public school teacher, principal, or school board member to justify a trip to this evangelical magic show as a study of “literature,” or “history,” or “comparative religion,”or any other educational endeavor besides the very science it pretends to be. That so-called “science,” as judges in several venues have found, is really fundamentalist propaganda.

Concerned parents, therefore, could certainly sue if a trip to the museum were an outing sponsored by their child’s public school. I think such parents might even be able to bring legal action if a public school official so much as suggested that students visit the place. Even initiating a discussion about it in the classroom—or the lunchroom, gym, or cafeteria — could well be deemed legally suspect. And don’t fool yourself: One of these things will happen. The museum’s in Kentucky, for crying out loud!

Now, Ken Ham and his institution would likely not be defendants in the case; the school board, principal, or offending teacher would. But Ham would then be stuck with the choice between throwing his full support behind the field trip to his museum, or repudiating it as an improper activity for public school children. The latter course seems unlikely if he wants the ignorati to cling to the illusion that his exhibits present honest-to-god (obviously not to anyone else) science.

Ideally, such a case would give Ken Ham, speaking on behalf of the poor, beleaguered Christian kids in the public schools, all the publicity he seeks. But in court, he’s bound to emerge as the ill-intentioned, know-nothing fraud that he is. With decent lawyering for the parents and enough stubbornness on the opposing school board’s side, Ham’s ham-handed brainwashing could well be exposed as fakery on a scale that would make P.T. Barnum envious.

Unfortunately, such a circus trial wouldn't lead to the closing of the museum, or the opening of the American mind. But it might give some of us hellbound secularists far more satisfaction than holding a vain protest in Daniel Boone’s own boonies.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

The Creationist Art Gallery

As we atheists are well aware, the Creation Museum of Faux Science will be opening this weekend. Less well publicized, however, is the accompanying Creationist Art Gallery. Fortunately, I’ve been able to get an advance copy of the catalog, and I can assure you that the displays will demonstrate the same kind of careful attention to scientific and historical truth that the more well-known venue does. Below, I’ve reproduced ten pages from the catalog, just to give you an idea of the high quality of the exhibits. (Note: I’ve taken the liberty to correct the many spelling, grammatical, and punctuation errors.)


Unknown Pagan Egyptian Artist: Dawkinubis, the God of Evolution (circa 1500 B.C.)

The ancient Egyptians had many weird beliefs, unlike modern-day Evangelical Christians. Here, their god of Evolution is depicted with the head of a lying jackal and the body of Tom Cruise. The long staff-like object in his left hand is known as a Dennett, the symbol for a dangerous idea. Notice, however, that his right hand grasps an Egyptian cross, representing the sacrifice of our Lord. Art historians believe that the anonymous Egyptian sculptor was attempting to depict a “compromise” between science and Christianity, an endeavor we now know to be impossible.

Edgar Degas: Degenerate Scientists (1876)

Like most enlightened persons of his day, Degas realized that the pursuit of science, at the expense of religion, leads one into a life of immorality. In this frightening portrait of two evolutionists, Degas perfectly captures the spiritual emptiness of his subjects.

John Trumbull: The Beginnings of a Christian Nation (1817)

This famous painting shows the Continental Congress of 1776, as the draft of the Declaration of Independence is being presented. The tall red-headed Christian in the middle is Thomas Jefferson, flanked by Christian John Adams on his right, Christian Benjamin Franklin on his left, and a couple of Christian guys you never heard of. If you look closely at all the faces, you’ll notice that everyone present is contemplating God.

Francisco Goya: Darwin Eating His Child (1821-23)

It’s a little-known fact, fortunately documented for posterity by Goya, that Charles Darwin once ate one of his children. Darwin and the child were both naked at the time.

Edvard Munch: Don’t Let This Happen to Your Kid! (1893)

In the early 1890s, Munch visited a number of high school biology classes in Norway. He was much moved by the reactions of students while they were being taught evolutionary theory. In this painting, the artist captures perfectly the emotions of one of the children, who has just heard the evil propaganda that his parents were monkeys. It is not known for sure whether the boy jumped over the bridge or not, but wouldn’t you?

Vincent Van Gogh: Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear (1889)

A few days before painting this masterpiece, Van Gogh recorded in his journal: Today, I attended a lecture on the origin of species. I couldn’t stand what I was hearing. I never want to have to listen to that kind of nonsense again! Art historians agree that the artist cut off his ear a few minutes after lowering his pen. While the curators of the Creationist Art Gallery do not necessarily condone Van Gogh’s extreme response, we do applaud his faith, and are comforted by the knowledge that he got his ear back in heaven.

Pablo Picasso: Woman Without Intelligent Design (1937)

For Picasso, who loved the female form, it was a sin of the highest magnitude to deny that woman had been created expressly for man’s pleasure by God. Over the course of his long life, the artist depicted, over and over again, his nightmarish visions of what women would look like if the Divine Intelligence had not been involved in their design. Art historians believe that the model for this particular portrait was Picasso’s 9th-grade science teacher.

Auguste Rodin: Nude Supreme Court Justice (1880)

As everyone knows, Rodin predicted — and deplored — the Roe v. Wade opinion nearly 100 years before it was handed down by the Supreme Court. In this famous work, the artist depicts an unidentified Supreme Court Justice (many art historians believe that it’s Antonin Scalia), as he struggles to come up with a rationale for overturning legal precedent. Although this sculpture is not directly related to creationism, we thought you should see it before signing the petition in the gift shop.

Jacques Louis David: Dover, December 2005 (2006)

The figure in the center of the canvas is the world’s most respected scientist and pre-eminent Intelligent Design proponent, Michael Behe. The agonized disciples surrounding him are various upstanding Christian members of the Dover, Pennsylvania School Board. After a ridiculously biased and completely unscientific decision rendered by United States District Judge John E. Jones III, the citizens of Dover have been forbidden to teach Creationism in their public schools. In this painting, however, the artist shows Behe pointing upward at Christ in Heaven, promising his faithful followers that God will soon reveal his Truth to all. The scroll on the ground near the foot of the bed is an original copy of Of Pandas and People. Off to the left, you might be able to spot the villainous P.Z. Myers, chuckling in the background as he climbs the stairs.

Jerry Falwell: Huge-Penised Flying Devil Monkey (2007)

The artist created this work shortly before dying of a broken heart. In this beautifully Photoshopped illustration, the reverend doctor Falwell shows exactly what the evolutionists believe we’re descended from. Is this what you want your children to learn?

Exploded Women

Last year, linguist Geoffrey Nunberg published a book called Talking Right, the main argument of which was, essentially, that Republicans have seized control of the language. He discusses, among many other points, the fact that the word “values” has become a catchall used by conservatives to mean “morals.”

When Democrats try to push their own so-called “values” agenda, the term doesn’t have the same force. Why? Because liberals tend to use the word when referring to progressive domestic issues, like universal health care, and minimum-wage hikes, and equal opportunity employment. Economics are important to everyone, but a large segment of the American electorate likes to believe that they’ll always choose morals over money. They don’t, of course, but they do in the voting booth. The right-wing owns “values.”

I thought about Nunberg’s book tonight while I was having dinner with a few old friends, all Roman Catholics. My buddies are pretty well resigned to the idea that I’m never going to find their Jesus; they’ve long since given up trying to get me to “think about it.” Likewise, I’ve thrown in the towel on asking them to offer me even the smallest proofs to support their superstitions. Basically, we discuss beer, cigars, and — if available — scantily-clad waitresses. (Digression: I asked our server, only half-kiddingly, “Do you object to being exploited?” and received the mouth-shutting reply, “I ain’ bein’ exploded, Hon. I jes’ dress this way ‘cause it’s parta my job.”)

Anyway, the most religiously zealous of my pals — I’ll call him Russell, because that’s his name — invariably finds some way to steer the conversation to the subject of abortion. He usually starts by asking, “Hey, atheist. I’m still pro-life. Are you still pro-abortion?”

“Well,” I say, “I wouldn’t put it exactly like that.”

“OK. Pro-choice.” He sings that “oy” vowel for a good five seconds, as if he were auditioning for a part in Fiddler on the Roof, before coming to rest on the sibilant. “Are you still pro-choi.....ce?”

Usually this question baits me into a long diatribe about women’s rights, and legislators’ usurpation of bodies that don’t belong to them. But suddenly tonight it hit me. How lame “pro-choice” — our side’s chosen term — sounds next to “pro-life.” And never mind that those people aren’t really pro-life, either on abortion rights or on so many other issues. They define themselves that way, and we, those of us who think they’re wrong about a woman’s right to choose, have to deal with that.

“Well,” I said, “I wouldn’t put it exactly in those words, either. Let’s say that I’m anti-forced-maternity.”

Our server, overhearing the last snippet of conversation as she wriggled toward our table with a pitcher of suds and a few platters of wings, said, “Hey, that don’ sound good, forced maternity. Who makes you do that?”

“Tell her, Russell,” I said to my friend.

But he didn’t.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

More on Post-Pilfering

Re my previous post, VJack wrote:

Has somebody been lifting your stuff? I hate it when that happens, but I suppose it is the price of blogging in a way.

Here’s my answer:

Actually, it should not be the price of blogging. A writer's work is his own, and protected by copyright. It may be quoted in brief, but not stolen verbatim and complete. This is true even if the thief includes an acknowledgement of the writer.

Technically, you may not lift a Carl Sagan essay, or a Doonesbury cartoon, or a five-minute snatch of The Daily Show or someone else's post. The answer that “everybody does it” is not sufficient, at least for us atheists. “Everybody” believes in god, but that doesn’t make it right.

Of course, copyright infringement would be impossible and impractical to police in the blogosphere. But we atheists, most of us, are not stupid. We, of all people, should avoid sinking to the low intellectual and moral standard set by the rest of the e-world. We ought, at very least, to have respect for one another’s work.

Look, a lot of us already contribute happily to the atheist-themed aggregators. I'm delighted to see my work reprinted with my permission in daily anthologies like Planet Atheism. I’m honored when someone links to my writing, or quotes a brief snippet of mine as a springboard for his or her own post.

But my feeling is: if a blogger doesn't have something new of his own to add to our continuing freethinking dialogue, he should just shut the fuck up for that day, or that week, or that month. If he's so determined to have his persona floating out there in the ether every single minute —even if it means pilfering other people's work and publishing it under his own name — perhaps he ought to be straight with his readers. Maybe he should say something like:

I don't have a good idea right now, but I really want you to like me anyway. So don't bother going to other people's blogs. I'll be friendly, and reprint the best posts here. If I find an error, I'll even correct it — without informing the person who created the error in the first place. So my version is better, right? I encourage you to leave comments on my site, and to tag my blog for social bookmarking; with any luck, my reprint will show up before the original on search engines. We’re all atheists here anyway, working for the same thing. Right? After all, let’s not attack one another and encourage those well-meaning religionists to think ill of us. Who really cares which of us actually took the time to think of something innovative? Aren’t we all God’s children? Oops!
For the record, you may not hijack this post and place it on your own blog. But do feel free to link to it, or quote from it, or refer to it in any way, positively or negatively.

Thanks for your respect.

An Ill-Favored Thing, Sir, But Mine Own

I’ve made it a point on this site to include only original material. If I have nothing clever or insightful to say, I don’t dig around for someone else’s hilarious video or cartoon to throw onto my page, or hunt for another person’s post that I can reprint in toto with a mere attribution. I also try not to rehash the same philosophical discussions that atheists have been having since the first primitive freethinker looked at a proto-priest's cave painting and said, “Hey, that’s bullshit.”

If it was a slow news day — and if I’m also out of off-the-wall ideas — I usually just don’t blog.

However, we all know that the massive webehemoth needs to be fed. Our aggregators demand aggregating, and our stat counters cry out for stats to count.

So this is my nothing post for today.

Perhaps you’ve also got nothing that trips your trigger to write about today. Feel free to commiserate with me in a comment.

If you can’t come up with a subject for today, though, please don’t lift an entire post of mine and print it on your own blog. It may be difficult to believe, but I work hard to craft my posts to provide my readers — as few as they may be — with entertainment, information, and food-for-thought. I like to think that my auctorial voice is uniquely my own; it doesn’t sound right coming out of your mouth. If you enjoy something I’ve written, or hate it, by all means provide a well-appreciated link. Print a short quote, as long as you tell your readers that I was its source. Go ahead and use my ideas as jumping-off points to generate your own. But don’t substitute whole chunks of my good stuff for your nothing post.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Bertrand Russell, Atheist

May 18 is Bertrand Russell’s birthday. As most of my readers know, Russell was a mathematician, philosopher, witty writer, and outspoken atheist. In his honor, I’ve created the following test to see if you can follow directions. Start with the words Bertrand Russell, Atheist. Line up the letters, closing the spaces between words and eliminating the comma. Then perform each step. When you arrive at the end, if you’ve followed all directions correctly, you’ll find an appropriate phrase.


02. reverse the order of the 6th and 7th letters from the right

03. change all L’s to C’s

04. move the 3rd consonant from the right to make it the second letter from the left

05. reverse the order of the 4th and 7th letters from the left

06. move the 5th letter from the left to the right end

07. move the 4th, 5th, 6th, and 7th letters from the left, in that order, to the right end

08. change all E’s to Y’s

09. insert MN in place of U

10. change the 4th letter from the left to a W

11. wherever a letter appears twice in a row, remove one

12. reverse the order of the 2nd and 3rd letters from the right

13. double the 2nd letter from the left

14. change all B’s to A’s

15. move the 3rd letter from the left to the right end

16. replace all R’s with I’s

17. replace the 2nd S from the right with O, and drop the letter after it

18. not counting Y as a vowel, reverse the order of the 1st two vowels from the left

19. reverse the order of the 10th and 11th letters from the right

20. move the last letter at the right to the left of the 1st Y from the right

21. reverse the order of the 1st and 4th letters from the left

22. reverse the order of all C’s and the letters just to the right of them

23. replace the 7th letter from the right with an R

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Lettuce Pray

I received an email from a person who read my Falwell obit. Basically, she pitied me, and told me so. “I feel sorry for you,” she wrote. “Obviously, you don’t even believe in human decency. You should be ashamed of yourself for speaking ill of the dead.”

Well, sorry, lady, but I’m not ashamed at all. I can’t think of a time when I’ve felt even the least pang after strongly expressing my views. It’s only when I keep my mouth shut that I occasionally feel like kicking myself.

Last week, for instance, I was a guest at a university awards dinner, at which my wife was one of the hundred or so honorees. In recognition of the occasion, I wore a serious suit, not my favorite attire by a long shot, and promised her that I would behave, which meant no political or religious talk, and absolutely no unsolicited puns — even though I pointed out that I was a groan man.

We mingled sedately during the thirty-minute “cocktail hour” and eventually found our way to seats at a table full of strangers. Before the ceremony began, we joined our neighbors in small talk — minuscule talk, really — about local restaurants, the crappy weather, and the delights of free alcoholic beverages even when the selection is poor.

A ding on a bell summoned us to hearken to the emcee. As we all continued to pick at our salad, he greeted us attendees and made a few unfunny in-jokes, so far “in” that I would have needed an X-ray to see their point. Then, he introduced the chaplain to lead us in prayer.

Now, anyone who has been reading my blog knows that I respect everyone’s right to practice any fool religion he or she chooses, as long as it doesn’t threaten my freedom or my life. I do not, however, respect his or her religion, and I don’t pretend to. While I’m occasionally friendly, I’m never, ever a friendly atheist; I’m a curmudgeonly one. I see no reason whatsoever why I should feel obliged to bow my head, close my eyes, and stop what I’m doing just because somebody else has an itch to pray.

But I didn’t stand up and complain, or start screaming obscenities, or swing from the chandeliers. I even restrained myself from humming “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town.” All I did was roll my eyes at my wife, who — an unfriendly atheist herself — rolled her own right back at me. When we got our eyeballs sorted out again, I continued to dig around my mixed greens. There wasn’t any point, I felt, in letting my romaine go soggy in the vinaigrette just because the rest of the room wanted to say hi to Dad. My wife, only a smidgen more respectful than I, did stop eating. But she stared down at her salad in disgust, holding her fork poised like a dive-bomber over the bowl.

I don’t know how the people whose eyelids were closed in communion with their imaginary pal managed to notice that we didn’t participate in their nonsense, but they did. While no one at our table actually came out and called us commie god-killers, I could tell, when the prayer was over, that a pious pall had settled over us. My neighbors were no longer as enthusiastic about the new Italian place as they had been, nor anywhere near as engaged by the rainstorm that was heading our way. Our second round of free rotgut passed without comment. We were being subtly shunned.

Had I not promised to watch my behavior, I might have begun a thought-provoking dialogue by asking one of the believers nearby: “If I had sat you down and subjected you to a short anti-god speech, would you have remained quiet, eating your salad like a polite idiot? Or would you have stormed out of the room in revulsion?”

But I didn’t say that. Instead, in deference to my wife’s sense of propriety, I acted like a semi-friendly atheist — and was totally ashamed of my silence.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Three Cheers!

Well, ding-dong the witch is dead. Jerry Falwell has gone to meet his maker: evolution, which resulted in the many microorganisms who will happily feast on that villain’s disgusting remains.

But who now will tell us which of the Teletubbies is a homosexual? Or reveal that the Antichrist is most likely a currently living male Jew? Who else can bilk millions of ignorant followers into contributing dollar after dollar to religio-fascistic causes, or threaten believers with an eternity in hell if they dare to even think of voting for a Democrat? What man or woman is left to proudly condone preemptive nuclear strikes on countries whose non-Christian peoples are the “enemies of god”? What voice will cry that there’s a conspiracy to steal Christmas? What smug, hate-filled demagogue will explain away the worst manmade and natural disasters as Jesus’s personal revenge against “pagans, abortionists, and the gays and lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle,” or claim that “the ACLU’s got to take a lot of blame” for the 9/11 terrorist attacks?

No longer will we Americans get to hear words of wisdom like:

  • The idea that religion and politics don’t mix was invented by the Devil to keep Christians from running their own country.
  • If you’re not a born-again Christian, you’re a failure as a human being.
  • Textbooks are Soviet propaganda.
  • The ACLU is to Christians what the American Nazi party is to Jews.
  • It appears that America's anti-Biblical feminist movement is at last dying, thank God, and is possibly being replaced by a Christ-centered men's movement which may become the foundation for a desperately needed national spiritual awakening.
  • It is God's planet - and he's taking care of it. And I don't believe that anything we do will raise or lower the temperature one point.
  • I hope I live to see the day when, as in the early days of our country, we won't have any public schools. The churches will have taken them over again and Christians will be running them. What a happy day that will be!
Well, he didn't live to see that, but, oh, what a happy day this is. In some small way, the world has been made a better—and smarter—place. Hurrah!

ADDENDUM (9:17 p.m. EDT): Now that I’ve had a chance to look over Blogworld’s reaction to this vile monster’s demise, I’m fascinated by how many bloggers, myself included, quoted “Ding Dong the Witch is Dead.” Why did that specific meme spring so readily to mind? I think it’s because the lyric is one of the few examples in popular culture of general jubilation over someone’s death. Normally, we all tend to show “respect for the departed,” at least for a little while. But millions of people — atheists, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Wiccans, feminists, environmentalists, peace-lovers, homosexuals, women in need of abortions, sufferers who would benefit from stem-cell research, Democrats, Liberals, Libertarians, the poor, the sick, the helpless, and all who deplore the purposeful spread of ignorance — were relentlessly targeted by that glib son-of-a-bitch who used his governmental connections to sow hatred and superstition at every opportunity. We’re all delighted to see that bastard finally board the outbound broomstick. As the song says: “Yo ho, let’s open up and sing, and ring the bells out!”

Friday, May 11, 2007

Of Gods and Birds

Hamlet says: “There is special providence in the fall of a sparrow.” But he’s wrong.

The battle between religion and science is a common theme on atheist blogs. I tend to take an extreme position — science and religion are polar opposites. A person, no matter how much science he knows, can’t really be scientific at heart while giving any credence to supernatural phenomena. Yes, he can call himself a scientist, perhaps even practice some science at a high level. But if there’s a god in the mix, that person has bought into an illogical, unscientific explanation of something.

I suppose I’d call myself a “science-ist,” not a scientist. I’m not employed in any of the scientific fields, and I must admit that my knowledge of many of those fields is meager, at best. I do admire scientists immensely, and enjoy reading science books and articles — if they’re written for an unspecialized audience. But there are certain subjects I have difficulty wrapping my head around. I don’t have a particle of sense about quantum physics. Oceanography strikes me as unusually dry. Chemistry and I don’t seem to mix. My intellectual abilities and the skills needed to understand the complexities of astronomy are light years apart. There are so many scientific trails that my brain can’t seem to blaze.

Once in a while, though, I actually get to be a scientist, if only in a small way. Tomorrow, for instance I’ll gleefully spend the hours from 3 a.m. until 7 p.m. identifying and tallying birds as a participant in this spring’s North American Migration Count. This event is held throughout the U.S. on a specified Saturday each May; myriads of birders (they’d be called “twitchers” in the U.K.) take a 24-hour “snapshot” of our nation’s bird life. While the spotting abilities of individual birders vary widely, and the weather conditions change in each location from year to year, trends do lend themselves to mathematical analysis. We “citizen scientists” submit our data, and, with proper statistical analysis, a picture of avian existence emerges.

I can’t find words to explain why I love birds. It has something to do with flight, with song, with physical beauty, and with my awed appreciation of their amazing adaptations. When I was growing up I could recognize only two bird species: pigeons and not-pigeons. I was pretty sure, though, that god created neither of them. Today, I’m reasonably competent at using visual and aural clues to pick out perhaps 100 species without difficulty, and I have a pretty good shot at using deduction and a good field guide to lead me to the correct identification of maybe 150 more. I’m not a scientist, but I play one during the migration. Not surprisingly, I still find no evidence that any god can claim credit for giving us humans the gift of birds. Thus, there is no special providence in the fall of a sparrow, nor any divine hand in the flight of an eagle.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Atheist Jokes

Cruising around the Atheist Sea O’ Blog, I’m often struck by how serious most of us are about ourselves. Maybe that’s because we’ve rarely been the stars in jokes. All kinds of other groups have been featured in gags. Although those laugh-getters are often politically incorrect, it’s hard to deny that they’re funny. There are Polish jokes, Jewish jokes, lawyer jokes, moron jokes, sick jokes, dumb-blonde jokes, lightbulb jokes, and even elephant jokes. But I’ve never heard:

Atheist Jokes

Why did the atheist cross the road?
He thought there might be a street on the other side, but he wouldn’t believe it until he tested his hypothesis.

Why did the atheist throw her watch out the window?
She wanted to see if it was designed intelligently enough to evolve into a bird.

A minister, a priest, a rabbi, and an atheist meet in a bar at 10:00 a.m. The bartender asks the minister what he’ll have, and the minister orders a martini. The priest also orders a martini, as does the rabbi. When the bartender asks the atheist what he wants, the atheist says he'd like a cup of coffee. “Why aren’t you having a martini like those guys?” asks the bartender. “Oh,” says the atheist, “I don’t believe in martinis before lunch.”

Why does an atheist wear red suspenders?
To keep his pants from being taken up to heaven during the rapture.

A Jew, A Catholic, and an atheist are rowing in Lake Erie when their boat springs a huge leak. The Jew looks skyward, and says “Oh, Adonai, if you save me, I promise I’ll sail to Israel and spend the rest of my days trying to reclaim the land you gave us.” The Catholic looks skyward, and says, “Oh, Jesus, if you save me, I promise I’ll fly to the Vatican and spend the rest of my days singing your praises.” The atheist says, “Oh, guys, if you pass me that one life preserver, I promise I’ll swim to Cleveland.” “And how will you spend the rest of your days?” the Jew and the Catholic ask. “Well,” says the atheist, “I’m not sure, but I can tell you one thing: I’ll never go rowing with other atheists.”

How many atheists does it take to change a light bulb?
Two. One to actually change the bulb, and the other to videotape the job so fundamentalists won’t claim that god did it.

An atheist goes to a Christian psychiatrist, who hands her an inkblot and says, “Tell me what you see.” The atheist says, “I see Jesus on the cross.” The psychiatrist hands her a second inkblot, and says, “Now tell me what you see.” The atheist says, “I still see Jesus on the cross.” The psychiatrist hands her a third inkblot, and says, “What do you see now?” The atheist says, “It’s Jesus on the cross again.” The psychiatrist says, “Hmmm. Obviously you’ve got Jesus on the brain.” The atheist replies, “Me? I only read the captions you wrote.”

Atheist: What’s this fly doing in my soup?
Waiter: Praying.
Atheist: Very funny. I can’t eat this. Take it back.
Waiter: You see? The fly’s prayers were answered.

How can you tell if an atheist lives in your refrigerator?
You find a copy of The God Delusion hidden in the cream cheese.

An atheist buys an ancient lamp at an auction, takes it home, and begins to polish it. Suddenly, a genie appears, and says, “I’ll grant you three wishes, Master.” The atheist says, “I wish I could believe in you.” The genie snaps his fingers, and suddenly the atheist believes in him. The atheist says, “Wow. I wish all atheists would believe this.” The genie snaps his fingers again, and suddenly atheists all over the world begin to believe in genies. “What about your third wish?” asks the genie. “Well,” says the atheist, “I wish for a billion dollars.” The genie snaps his fingers for a third time, but nothing happens. “What’s wrong?” asks the atheist. The genie shrugs and says, “Just because you believe in me, doesn’t necessarily mean that I really exist.”

Two cannibals are eating an atheist, and one says to the other, “Can you believe the way this guy tastes?”

Knock, knock.
Who’s there?
Must be the wind.

Monday, May 07, 2007

No Pray, No Pay

Imagine that you’re looking on a job-listing Web service for a spot as a secretary. The site you’re browsing is a “One-Stop Career Center,” which is run by the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry. It’s paid for with funds from both the state and the U.S. Department of Labor.

You find a position that sounds as if it would be a perfect match for your skills. But in big letters, the listing says:

No Jews need apply. Buddhists not wanted. Muslims will be refused. Hindus are not acceptable. If you’re a Wiccan, forget about it. And don’t even think of contacting us if you’re an Atheist.
Seems like that ought to be illegal in the U.S., right?

Well, guess again, buddy. You must not know about the Geneva College situation.

Geneva College in Beaver Falls is one of those schools with an Evangelical mission, and it proudly offers a Christian education (as opposed to a real one). The Geneva application asks students to list the name of their church and the names of both their pastor and youth pastor, as if one brain-washer in their lives were insufficient. Applicants are informed that they might be entitled to additional financial aid if one or both of their parents work as a Christian School employee, Missionary, Pastor, or Other full-time Christian worker. (Part-time Christians are, obviously, not eligible.)

Of course, America is a free country, and students— or, more likely, their parents — can pay for whatever indoctrination they’d like to support. All manure-shovelers are equal under the law.

However, Geneva wants to make certain that the propaganda is laid on as thick as possible. The school’s powers-that-be apparently feel that students might be tempted off god’s path if they have a conversation with a custodian or food-preparer who does not share the institution’s particular brand of superstition. That’s why every potential employee must demonstrate a commitment to Christianity.

The Pennsylvania job-seekers’ Web site heroically refused to permit Geneva College to list its employment openings. The U.S. Secretary of Labor, Elaine Chao, and various Pennsylvania officials decided that the college’s listings violated the Workforce Investment Act, the source of the federal funds. The WIA specifically outlaws discrimination based on various criteria, including religion.

Now, bear in mind that no one was suggesting the school should be denied its right to hire high-level administrative personnel or faculty who conform to Geneva’s stated purpose. The government was not telling them that they must employ rabbis, imams, or scientists to teach the Evangelism-doused classes. In fact, the federal law allows certain exceptions to its anti-discrimination requirement in cases where a candidate’s religion is an honest qualification. But we’re talking here about a hypothetical case of a lower-level employee, the kind of person who, in fact, is most likely to search for work using just such an online service as Pennsylvania offers.

The college filed suit, and was supported by — who else? — the Association of Faith-Based Organizations. Assisted by the nation’s holy hooligans, Geneva argued that it was being denied its constitutional right to freedom of religion. Why should it be precluded from using a publicly accessible Web site? Isn’t everyone in the U.S. entitled to the same civic benefits, regardless of his or her beliefs?

Once again, the theocrats succeeded in setting up a dichotomy between the Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause. To bypass the costly and time-consuming litigation that would surely have ensued, the state of Pennsylvania agreed to allow Geneva to post its help-wanteds on the taxpayer-funded site. The rationale? The college is not, technically, a recipient of government monies.

So go back and read that boldface ad again. Although it will certainly be phrased in a vaguer, more deceitful way, that’s basically what it'll say. And our tax dollars — yours and mine — will pay for it.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

You Must Remember This

I’ve just watched Casablanca for the umpteenth time, and it never fails to move me. The War in Iraq will not generate its own equivalent of this film, because no one involved is fighting for a noble cause. American troops are under the command of a regime that supports torture and trumpets a nonsensical oil-worshiping superstition, with zero moral authority, called Christianity. Iraqi citizens slaughter one another over competing versions of an inhumane, centuries-old myth. Self-sacrifice appears only in the guise of suicide bombers, who give their lives not for the furtherance of freedom and human dignity, but for the continued propagation of religious tyranny. The only link between Casablanca and the events of our own day is the modern version of the reprehensible Signor Ferrari, who takes advantage of every awful situation to feather his own nest. If Sydney Greenstreet were still alive, would it be possible to cast him as Halliburton?

Friday, May 04, 2007

Proposed Amendment to the U.S. Constitution

The following interchange, as recorded in The New York Times transcript, took place during the so-called debate between ten Republican contenders for the United States presidency:

MR. VANDEHEI (a questioner): Senator McCain, this comes from a reader and was among the top vote-getters in our early rounds. They want a yes or no. Do you believe in evolution?


MR. VANDEHEI: I’m curious, is there anybody on the stage that does not agree — believe in evolution?

(Senator Brownback, Mr. Huckabee, Representative Tancredo raise their hands.)

Given that response to Vandehei’s question, I would therefore like to propose the following Amendment to the U.S. Constitution:

Anti-Ignorance Amendment
No person whose religious beliefs alone prevent him or her from accepting an overwhelming expert consensus relating to facts and data of science and/or history shall be eligible to the office of president.
What do you think, folks? Shall we start a grass-roots effort to get this adopted?

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

How Much Is That Dogma in the Window?

I suspect that most American atheists would not enjoy being classified as friendly puppydogs. So it’s time we stopped slobbering and wagging our tails, as if we’ve been offered some fantastic treat, whenever a political candidate says that he or she promises to uphold the Constitutional separation of church and state. That’s not a special yummy for us freethinkers, a First Amendment bone; it’s the law. And it benefits everyone except the ayatollahs among us.

Still, in exchange for that phantom goody, many of us atheists are willing to roll over and play dead while every single presidential contender takes his or her faith out for its daily walk.

Yes, the mythos says it’s impossible for a professed nonbeliever to get elected to high office in the United States. But how does that justify the incessant religious rhetoric? Wherever you turn—left, right, or center—you hear one of the candidates talking about the deep spiritual beliefs that, they all swear, make our country great.

This kind of thing is a well-rehearsed gospel tune of the Republicans. But the Democrats are singing it, too, booming it out loudly and proudly, vying to be noticed in the theocratic choir.

Even the least Jesus-jumping among them are eager for the opportunity to leap for the lord in front of the cameras. Here are a few instances of that phenomenon. Bear in mind: These are just the tip of the Christberg.

Example: According to the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, Hillary Clinton says that she sees “no contradiction between support for faith-based programs and upholding our constitutional principles.” This statement is not necessarily an endorsement of governmentally sponsored initiatives. But it’s not a condemnation, either. It’s neutral. Edwards and Obama have made similar ambiguous pronouncements. Clearly, these hypocrites would like to leave the nation’s holy hooligans with the impression—mistaken or not—that the White House under a new regime would continue to recognize a special role for religion.

Example: The New York Times of April 30 includes a lengthy article that discusses Barack Obama’s “Search for Faith.” Masquerading as news, the piece pretends to examine the candidate’s relationship with Trinity United Church of Christ and its controversial pastor, the Reverend Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr. Whatever else the text says, its real message is clear: Barack Obama is a Christian. This drivel was obviously written with the collusion, or at least the tacit approval, of the Obama campaign. You didn’t see the candidate at a press conference telling the media, “I’d appreciate it if you all left my religious views out of this race.”

Example: While still governor of New Mexico, Bill Richardson created the Governor’s Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. He also gave all state employees a half day off with pay, at public expense, to honor Pope John Paul II when the pontiff kicked the jewel-encrusted bucket.

Example: Last week, Joe Biden, as quoted by the Associated Press, inarticulately urged his party “to demonstrate that it’s not afraid to deal with the faith issue, and has a candidate who the public thinks knows there’s something bigger than he or she is and is comfortable with that.”

Example: Dennis Kucinich, the New-Age Vegan Roman Catholic Munchkin, is a strong supporter of separation. But in 2004, he apparently accepted an invitation to be interviewed by During a meandering and vague discussion, he was asked: What do you think were the spiritual principles that animated the founding of the country? His answer: “An understanding of the role of divine providence. An understanding of the connection between God and nature. An appreciation for the possibility that life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness flowed from a transcendant source. Things like that.”

Well, things like that are what lead to a theocratic state. While Turkish secularists are barking vehemently on the streets of Istanbul to protest a religious takeover of their country, we American atheist puppies are quietly licking the hands of godpushers who give us half-hearted pats on the head, all the while threatening to restrain the country with a heaven-held leash.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not advocating a lack-of-religion test for candidates. They’re free to worship any idol they please. But when they parade their pet dogma voluntarily, in hopes of endearing themselves to a gullible electorate, we atheists should at least snarl.