Monthly Archives: September 2008

“If BS were currency, Palin could bail out Wall Street herself”

I sincerely apologize to those of you who had anything in their mouths whilst reading the above quote, but this political put-down, which has got to be one of the funniest I’ve ever read, was simply too good not to headline.

Consider this an update on my previous blog, “Palin – Not Ready for Primetime?“, in which I ridicule the McCain campaign’s rationale for refusing to expose Palin to the network talk shows.  I must apologize, because, now that Palin has talked to reporters, it’s clear McCain’s people were simply following that sage advice, “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.”

What makes the quote especially delicious is that it comes not from some media elite pinko liberal but from that standard-bearer of online conservatism, National Review Online.  Its author, Kathleen Parker, offers even more devastating blasts:

Palin’s recent interviews with Charles Gibson, Sean Hannity, and now Katie Couric have all revealed an attractive, earnest, confident candidate. Who Is Clearly Out Of Her League.

Only Palin can save McCain, her party, and the country she loves. She can bow out for personal reasons, perhaps because she wants to spend more time with her newborn. No one would criticize a mother who puts her family first.

That last one must be particularly galling to the McCain campaign, since it was National Review Online (particularly David Frum), which played no small part in torpedoing the candidacy of another unqualified nominee, Harriet Myers.  I did not think it was possible, but Palin has actually made me consider voting Democrat for the first time…ever.

If a picture is worth a thousands words, then video is worth millions.  WARNING!  Completely cringe-inducing!  Palin, on her “foreign policy experience” with Katie Couric.

Was atheism the cause of 20th century atrocities?

A printer-friendly PDF version of this document is available here.

Introduction

It is a frequent rejoinder and polemic hurled about by religious apologists.  Yes, certain murderous excesses like crusades, inquisitions, and witch hunts may have been committed by the religious, but they pale in comparison to those done in the cause of atheism.  Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Pol Pot-strident atheists all whose famines, wars, genocides, and purges created magnitudes more dead.  Consider, for example, these words from militant Christian cheerleader, Dinesh D’Souza:

These figures are tragic, and of course population levels were much lower at the time. But even so, they are minuscule compared with the death tolls produced by the atheist despotisms of the 20th century. In the name of creating their version of a religion-free utopia, Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, and Mao Zedong produced the kind of mass slaughter that no Inquisitor could possibly match. Collectively these atheist tyrants murdered more than 100 million people.

Continue reading Was atheism the cause of 20th century atrocities?

“Born again”

I was a surfrat as a kid, growing up near San Diego.  I spent all day at the beach, with a few brief breaks to grab something to eat at Jack In The Box or at one of the hundreds of Mexican food stands that lined Highway 101.

My stepmom was a fundamentalist Christian who attended Calvary Chapel.  The big thing for her, and for like-minded Christians who seemed to me everywhere, was being “born again”–an intense experience of personal renewal in Christ Jesus that is supposed to herald a new life.

My nominal faith was Mormonism, which put more stock in ritual rather personal experience.  So the notion of being born again seemed strange to me, and grew stranger still as I left Mormonism during my teen years.  Nonetheless, my surfrat friends and I always sought after that born again experience, but not in the way the Christians probably envisaged.  This video will show what I mean.

Today’s lesson in bad apologetics

One of the main reasons I’m a follower of no religion is due to religious believers themselves.  Specifically, their arguments, which tend to range from the absolutely fruitcake batty to the…quasi-absolute fruitcake batty.  Today’s exhibit is brought to us by sntjohnny of Anthony Horvath’s Christian Apologetics Ministry, in a blog entitled Why Christians Don’t Believe in Pixies, Fairies, Ancient Legends.

Looking closely at the url of the above, you can see that sntjohnny’s first inclination was to title his blog something along the lines of “Why Christians Don’t Believe in Pixies, Fairies, Flying Monsters”.  Truth be told, it’s a title he probably should have stuck with, because by declaring that Christians don’t believe in ancient legends, he essentially claims that the Bible relates accurate history.  While safe on theological grounds, such a position is untenable on historical ones.  One must search far and wide for any Bible archaeologist who would agree with him.  To quote just one such expert:

With most scholars, I would exclude much of the Pentateuch, specifically the books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers…much of what is called in the English Bible “poetry,” “wisdom” and “devotional literature” must also be eliminated from historical consideration…Ruth, Esther, Job and Daniel, historical novellae with contrived “real-life settings,” the latter dating as late as the second century B.C. –William G. Dever

Sntjohnny is perturbed by the skeptic’s argument that the reason we don’t believe in the Christian god is for precisely the same reason Christians don’t believe in Zeus, Thor, Allah, etc.  Such reasoning, declares sntjohnny, is “stupid” and “idiocy.”

Why?  Because the default position one should have is to believe in supernatural agents, until proven otherwise!

The only people assuming that there isn’t a God or supernatural entities before they lift a finger are the atheists…Christians, of course, are already on record believing that ’supernatural’ entities exist.  The clearest example would be angels, and their fallen counterparts, demons.

So, since Christians believe in angels and demons, therefore such agents must exist.  Take that, stupid atheist!

Sntjohnny continues,

It is entirely plausible, according to the Christian worldview, for there to be other agents besides human agents.

Plausible based on…all that evidence of other (supernatural) agents?  Documentary films such as Poltergeist?

Since, however, the Christian proceeds based on evidence rather than presupposition…

Except for Calvinists, but they’re not True Christians™ anyway.

…he might dismiss a recorded instance of a miracle, say, in the Odyssey, not because he knows it can’t be real because the event is so old, but simply because the attestation of that event is very weak.  In other words, the reasons why a Christian might reject such things are not the same as the atheist’s.

You see, ladies and gentlemen, the atheist has ruled out reports of miracles because he has declared such things impossible beforehand.  No, it couldn’t be that their attestation is very weak, because, as we all know, the Bible and everything in it, has been indisputably verified as history.  Further, no Christian has ever become an atheist after a thorough investigation into Biblical claims.  Nope, none at all.

It gets richer.

Allow me to give just one example of how this might work:  Islam.  According to Islam, the angel Gabriel dictated a bunch of stuff to Mohammed.  I have no particular reason to believe that Mohammed didn’t receive a revelation.  But I do know that according to the Scriptures, ‘Satan masquerades as an angel of light.’  So, I am already alert to the possibility that a fallen angel might be up to no good (see also Gal. 1:8, which is more pointed concerning Mormonism, since Islam has no ‘Gospel’ at all).  I note, too, the inconsistencies in Islamic theology with the revelation that has come before, which Islam supposedly believes was delivered.  Finally, there is quite the epistemological bottleneck:  the only testimony here is Mohammed’s.

And there it is. The litany of the fundie. The Bible says it, ergo, it must be true, and everyone else’s supernatural claims, by extension, are false.

Compare that with something like the crossing of the Red Sea, which would have been witnessed by thousands.

Every one of which, curiously enough, failed to note it in any extra-Biblical record…

Compare that with Jesus feeding 5,000 people at a go, teaching publically in the temples, dying before hundreds, and then appearing- with a new body- before hundreds.

Miracles all vastly attested by the copious writings of contemporary Ancient Near East historians, like Philo of Alexandria.  Ok, maybe not.  But, dangumit, the Bible says they happened, so, voila, they did!

With apologetics like this, calling skeptical arguments stupid is actually a compliment.

Palin – Not Ready for Primetime?

Amidst the upsurge in enthusiasm for the McCain-Palin ticket as a result of last week’s Republican convention, many probably missed a notable absence on the Sunday morning talk shows.  While Obama, Biden, and McCain were on each of the three major networks, Palin was no where to be found, not even on the Republican mouthpiece, Fox News!

A McCain campaign adviser said Palin would not appear until reporters showed a willingness to treat her with “with some level of respect and deference.”

What?

Even if it was true that reporters are not sufficiently respectful or deferential, the appropriate response is not to go into hiding.  Are we to get the impression that this self-styled pitbull is all bark and no bite?  Will this be Palin’s modus operandi in dealing with foreign leaders or even Congress – promise to compliment her hair and then she’ll talk?

The patent absurdity of this excuse underlies the true reason – Palin just doesn’t have the depth to answer even softball questions.  Further, if what I blogged about her before is any indication, she’s prone to making some embarassing factual gaffes.

And this is the person McCain believes is ready to be the next president at a moment’s notice.  Honestly, I’m not sure which of the two is worse: the one severely lacking in judgement, or the one severely lacking in experience.

Are we all subject to God’s Law?

A blog on the The New Republic’s website about the progressive narrowing of the religious right’s social agenda reminded me of a question that’s buzzed around in my head from time-to-time.  We all know this agenda includes banning gay marriage and abortion, because the Bible says these are no-no’s, but the question is, why does the religious right seek to make these social issues, subject to punitive legislation, rather than merely private concerns?

Because God hates them?  Well, God hates lots of things, including adultery, divorce, and linen-wool blended clothing (Lev. 19:19), but no one is proposing to outlaw them, which I suppose is fortunate for a few mega-preachers.

Because they violate the Ten Commandments, upon which the entirety of western civilization is allegedly based?  That might work for abortion (Commandment VI), but gay marriage?  Is there some secret 11th commandment they’re not telling us about?  Should we also ban other religions (Commandment I)?  Playing golf on Sunday (Commandment IV)?

Because Jesus specifically forbade them?  No good there, either; he was completely silent on these issues.

Because they’re personally harmed?  It’s hard to see how two same-sex individuals uttering marriage vows harms anyone.  And wouldn’t aborted babies get a ticket straight to heaven?

Because they’re slippery slopes, leading inexorably to the complete destruction of society? I’d think the religious right would want society to fall into moral turpitude, do everything to hasten it, in fact, since that would fulfill prophecy of Jesus’s return (2 Tim. 3:1-4) and the moving in to their new heavenly mansions.

I’m trying quite hard, but I fail to see the religious right’s method for determining when a Biblical injunction should apply only to themselves, and when it should apply to society as a whole.

Even more curiously, these behavioral autocrats believe that man is inherently fallen and will always do all sorts of nasty stuff.  So why should they even care what any non-believer does?  Are laws against certain sins supposed to make the country more moral?  If so, why not scrap the entire legal code and make the Bible the basis of our laws, turn our democracy into a theocracy?  Because, as we know, that’s worked so well in the past.

As a libertarian, I find their professions of faith in freedom hypocritical.  Liberty is not granted piecemeal; it’s not even a grant, but our inherent right.  The best protection of one’s own freedom is the protection of everyone else’s.  A government with the right to trample on your neighbor’s freedom also has the right to trample on your own.  If the religious nannies really practiced what they preached, they would cease being obstacles and live their lives as an example.

If you wish to observe a particular day as holy or refrain from pre-marital sex in compliance with the dictates of your particular religious brand, more power to you.  Just don’t extend those rules to the rest of us, or you may find yourself living by the rules others think you should live by.

Does God like to punish?

Anyone who’s read the Bible knows that punishing people took up a goodly portion of God’s time.  And it didn’t much matter if you actually did anything wrong or not, or if you were under a certain age.  Guilt by association was just as much a crime as the “crime” itself–just ask the Canaanites or the pre-Flood inhabitants.

And if you think the punishments have stopped because we live in some period of grace, think again.  With every calamity–natural or not–some “man of God” dutifully proclaims it divine retribution for one human “sin” or another–gay pride parades, gambling, abortion, dancing–you name it.  Some even believe calamities are a herald of the imminent end times–the fact that the same things have been occurring for millions of years doesn’t seem to phase these people, however.

The funny thing about these prognosticators of doom is that they also believe in a god who sends the unrepentant (read: those who don’t belong to their particular sect, in their particular religion) to eternal suffering in the fiery pits of hell.  Their god, apparently not simply content with punishing us forever and ever after death, also feels it necessary to mete out punishment during our lifetimes.  And if we poor SOBs should die as a result, then tough shit.  Out of the fire, and into the frying pan!

So, you can see, God really likes to punish. And, I gotta hand it to him, in a number of really inventive ways.  A virus which progressively destroys your immune system, leaving you to die a slow and miserable death?  Who da thunk it?!

But what about the the innocent casualties?  You know, those who’re did everything right, muttered the correct magical words, dutifully contributed to the collection plate every Sunday in the red brick church.  Is God punishing them too when they get run over by a hurricane or tidal wave?

Oh, no!  They are merely being “called home.”  At the worst, they should recall that this is a fallen world, righteously susceptible to God’s carpet-bomb justice.  ‘Cause, you know, sparing the good and innocent is too much to ask of the Omnipotent Creator of the Known Universe.  If I was one of those Rapturians–people who believe they’ll be magically beamed into the sky before the real shit hits the fan–I would feel a little worried about this divine tendency to simply blow everyone away.

The really curious thing is the response of these men of God and their fellow believers.  They sometimes actually help the victims. WTF? I can think of no more sinful act than working against God’s justice.  They may think that poor, hungry child in Somalia deserves food, but they should remember, that kid has got sin-tainted blood and is almost certainly headed for hell.  Best to send ’em a Bible instead (only the KJV1611 version will do).

You can’t help but get the impression God is chomping at the bit to annihilate His creation as soon as possible, and is blowing off a little steam in the meantime.  With divine love like this…

Palin needs a course in American history

The website Fundies Say the Darndest Things! (linked to the left) is a treasure trove of absolute batshit crazy statements from the religious faithful.  While being stupendously funny, they’re also a mite sobering when you realize that they’re made in full seriousness.

While perusing through this month’s entries, I read the following gem:

11. Are you offended by the phrase “Under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance? Why or why not?

Sarah Palin: Not on your life. If it was good enough for the founding fathers, its good enough for me and I’ll fight in defense of our Pledge of Allegiance.

Sarah Palin, in case you’ve been buried in a cave for the past week, is John McCain’s recent choice for running mate, and potential Vice President (not to mention President…).  The “oopsie!” is of course not the obvious grammar mistakes, but the fact that the phrase “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance was not added until 1954.  And it was not written by the Founding Fathers, but by a Christian socialist minister in 1892.  Curiously, the source page for the above quote was deleted, but nothing ever truly disappears off the internet.  A simple search of the page on Google retrieved it from cache.

Frankly, it doesn’t much surprise me that the evangelical Christan Palin holds this mistaken view of American history.  Ask any such Christian, and they’ll offer up a wholly revisionist history of the country’s founding, claiming, among other things, that it was established as a Christian nation (it wasn’t) and that the Ten Commandments inspired American law (sorry, no good there, either).

Palin holds a worldview that doesn’t seem all that dissimilar from the current president’s.  Is that a good thing?  I guess it depends on your view of how the past 8 years have gone.

When atheists get it wrong

One of my favorite bloggers, Ebonmuse of Daylight Atheism, occasionally writes on topics outside the typical atheist fare, such as morality or poetry, but also the subject of capitalism.

Having a better-than-average knowledge of capitalism, I cringe when such blogs appear, because they often deviate from Ebonmuse’s usual high standard of critical thought.  Too frequently, they contain long-discredited capitalist canards which only find currency among the hard left.  These are the “springboards” for Ebonmuse’s larger points he wishes to make about capitalism.  One is tempted to give Ebonmuse the benefit of the doubt and suggest that he is merely responding to one school of capitalism. But alas, its supporters (aka, free-marketeers) are far more in agreement on capitalist economics, than, say, members of a particular religion.  At the least, Ebonmuse should augment his assertions with relevant quotes or examples, but this is rarely, if ever, done.

What follows is my critique of a recent Ebonmuse blog entitled “Spread the Wealth: Further Thoughts on Capitalism“.  Allow me to reiterate that I agree with much of what Ebonmuse writes and greatly appreciate his contributions to free-thought, but I believe that some of his views on capitalism are simply wrong.

Ebonmuse starts with a fair summary of the vast benefits capitalism has wrought, but he goes badly off-track with the following:

Some people, especially libertarians, seem not to grasp this. They act as if competition itself was the end, as if inequality was the end – and this is absurd.

Competition and inequality are ends?! No, no, no! A thousand times, no! The absurdity here is ascribing such a view to people like libertarians.  Free-marketeers (a circle of individuals far wider than libertarians, by the way) would fully agree with Ebonmuse’s view that competition is merely a means to better ends.  When free-market economists like the late Milton Friedman argue for competition in the provision of public education, for example, they justify it not on the basis that competition is the good we will achieve, but what good competition will bring: more choice, better quality, higher standards, etc.  Tsk, tsk.  A few minutes reading Adam Smith, Friedrich Hayek, Ludwig von Mises, or Friedman himself would have quickly dispelled this ridiculous notion.

Ebonmuse continues:

The purpose of the economy is, or at least should be, to produce happiness, not to produce winners and losers. Competition is merely the means; the end is producing greater wealth and greater opportunity, and with them, greater well-being for all members of society.

Happiness is certainly a desired end, but it is most definitely not the economy’s purpose to produce it; only individuals can do that for themselves.  This is more economic illiteracy.  The purpose of the economy–any economy–is to exploit limited resources to produce and distribute goods and services demanded by consumers in as efficient manner as possible.  Winners and losers are the inevitable by-product of a host of factors, many of which lie outside the control of us humans (at least for now), and appear in any economic system.  How does Ebonmuse propose to know when maximal happiness, and thus a fully purposed economy, has been achieved?  He does not say.  At least, he demonstrates a true understanding of competition’s role, though one wonders where he obtained it.  From Karl Marx?  It certainly could not have come from a free-marketeer…

We now come to Ebonmuse’s central point:

This is why progressive, redistributive taxation is a vital part of any civilized state’s economic policy. Those libertarian philosophies which would allow individuals to accumulate unlimited wealth without interference have lost sight of why an economy and a state exist in the first place. By allowing some people to acquire unlimited wealth, they have implicitly decided that their goal is happiness not for everyone, but only for a privileged few. By any reasonable standard of morality, this is wrong. By aiming at a suboptimal standard, they would construct a state that enjoys less prosperity and less happiness in general, and such nations will inevitably be outcompeted by those that ensure a fair distribution of basic resources.

Ebonmuse has committed a sleight-of-hand.  It is now the economy’s and state’s purpose to produce happiness, presumably achieved by the “vital” policy of progressive, redistributive taxation. But economies don’t tax; governments perform that function.  Does Ebonmuse believe it’s actually the state’s, not the economy’s, purpose to produce happiness?

It doesn’t much matter.  As well, a debate on the role of government is beyond our scope.  The question under contention is whether such taxation as Ebonmuse proposes will do as he intends.  Without any evidence or support, Ebonmuse asserts that predation of income translates into an increased level of happiness overall.  If some individuals possess “unlimited income,” this means, ipso facto, that others are sub-optimally happy.  Why is that?  Ebonmuse does not explain, but he does state that such a state of affairs is desired by libertarians.  What’s more, without any evidence or support, Ebonmuse declares that this state will produce less prosperity, less happiness, and relative competitive stagnation compared to countries which follow his prescription.  For someone who claims allegiance to reason, evidence, and logic, his assertions are remarkably lacking these qualities.

“That which can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence,” as an infamous contemporary atheist puts it, so, normally, we could dismiss Ebonmuse’s views on that basis alone.  However, since Ebonmuse is widely and rightly regarded as a studios blogger, I think more is needed to undermine his case.  So, in counterpoint, allow me to present the example of Hong Kong.

Hong Kong is a city governed by China since 1989, but one who’s traditional free-market, low-tax policies have largely been allowed to remain unchanged.  Its tax rate for individuals and corporations around 17%, as well tax revenue as a percentage of GDP of 12.7%, are among the lowest in the world, yet its GDP per capita is one of the highest.  According to Ebonmuse, the citizens of Hong Kong should be downright miserable, what with all that unredistributed income floating around, yet surveys place its citizens above the median among international comparisons, exactly equal to the French.  If Ebonmuse wishes to make his case, he needs to explain away examples like Hong Kong and offer up those which support his claims.

At root of Ebonmuse’s errors, is the view–so common among critics of capitalism–that there is a fixed amount of wealth; if some people have more, it must mean that others have less.  The view is a fallacy.  There is no fixed amount of wealth. Rather than redistribute the pie, government policymakers need to focus on expanding it.  This is what motivates free-marketeers to champion capitalism and low, unbiased taxes.

Another error concerns the assumption that behavior will remain unchanged in light of new economic circumstances.  If we raise the tax rate to X, the treasury will obtain Y income.  True, but only in the short run.  Experience has shown time and time again that taxpayers respond to changes in tax rates.  Exactly how is not always predictable, but for the most part, high marginal tax rates actually produce a drop in revenues.  This is why many countries have actually lowered top marginal tax rates since the ’80s.

I encourage Ebonmuse to direct his considerable intellect toward garnering a better understanding of capitalism and economics.  It’s a bit of a shame to see such an important atheist blog somewhat discredited by a few flawed views.