“We need a leader who is biblically based”

So the Reverend Ralph Martino just got done blabbing his word-flap on CNN about this big shitstorm with Obama alienating lots of black voters by showing that he has a heart. I sort of knew this was going to happen, because black folks in America are slightly more concerned with gender roles and norms than whitey. (Generally speaking; obviously, there are people who break the mold.) Anyway, when asked if he and Watch and Pray Ministries would still be supporting President Obama, he responded that they will be praying for them and went off on a tangent about how we need an über Christ-lover in the Oval Office. I think this is rather coincidental, because I just found out that I got an A+ on my paper about why atheists are qualified to hold public office. If I were clinically insane, I might think this was synchronicity at work.

Anyway, I won’t go into the fine details about why I’m opposed to deeply religious folks running things. If you want, you can read my full project, which is up on my Open Letter to American Atheists page. Really, it boils down to this: Christianity is a deficient belief system, and people who blindly follow its tenets are not going to have the problem-solving skills to run a country. It is perfectly possible to have a secular ethical system based on logic (again, read my paper or this post or the entry on Humanism at ReligiousTolerance.org). In fact, I think it is desirable to have an ethical system based on reason as opposed to faith. You see, the nice thing about basing things on reason is that you actually have reasons for them. Reasons which are objectively verifiable and don’t boil down to gut intuitions.

Also, I was shocked when Rev Martino said that his ministry prays for more than 32,000 minutes a week. What a waste of time. Prayer has never solved any problems. Active doing of things is what gets things done. That’s why it’s called “doing things.” Prayer doesn’t do anything other than shut down certain parts of your brain, causing you to mildly dissociate and think that things coming from your own mind are coming from supernatural fairy-being. Direct action is the way to effect change in the socio-political world.

SOrry, Christians, but you’ve had your millennium of dominance. Time to let the rational empiricists have a turn.


Religion, conservatism, and low IQs

So, for a paper I just turned in about two weeks ago I wrote about the debate over whether or not atheists are qualified to hold public office (50% of Americans say no). I’ll be posting some stuff relevant to that in the next few days (as soon as I get some comments back on it), but until then I wanted to throw out some stuff I discovered in the process of doing research for that paper.

First, I discovered an article in Social Psychology Quarterly from 2010 entitled “Why Liberals and Atheists are More Intelligent.” It was a fascinating read. It was the product of two studies, which found (among other things) that adolescent intelligence is one of the biggest predictors of atheism, liberalism, and monogamy in men. Atheists and liberals tend to score higher on verbal intelligence tests than people who are religious or more conservative. To be honest, it doesn’t really shock me that much, since I’m a liberal atheist and as such I’m biased in that direction. Anyway, it was kind of nice to find out that there was some empirical evidence that my bias is founded. According to the author of the article, intelligent people are more likely to be atheists or liberals because they are more likely to think in evolutionarily novel ways.

I told one of my liberal atheist friends about the study and sent it to him, and a few days later he sent me this blurb on Live Science about a study which found that conservatives are more prejudiced and have lower IQs than non-conservatives. So, apparently conservatives really are just ignorant bigots. Again, didn’t shock me, but it’s nice to have some evidence.

Finally, just now Tony (the guy who sent me the above blurb) told me about this new study which found that religious people are less motivated by compassion than non-religious people. That seems to go well with a 2009 paper by one Gregory Paul in Evolutionary Psychology (which I have on my computer but currently can’t find online) which found that religiosity is strongly correlated with social dysfunction. Once again, I’ve always thought atheists and agnostics are more compassionate that religious folks, who are big on the fire and brimstone thing, but it’s nice to have some evidence.

Also, atheists know more about religion than religious people. Shocker! (Not.)

Obviously not all conservatives or religious folks are ignorant assholes; some are fairly intelligent. However, there seems to be a growing body of evidence that intelligence is not conducive to religion or conservative values. My theory as to why religious folks are less compassionate is that their god judges, so they think it’s okay for them to judge. As for the intelligence bit, progressives and liberals and atheists all tend to arrive at their conclusions through careful, well-reasoned critical thinking, which is usually easier to do when you’ve got a lot of brain-power. As for knowing more about religion, it makes sense to me because we get a lot of people trying to convert us, so we like to know what we’re up against. The easiest way to do that is to read the holy books and such. Maybe religious folks should give it a try.

The only thing that remains to be seen is if atheists and liberals get big heads with all this evidence that we’re smarter. Of course, we’re more compassionate, so at the very least we won’t hold it against you that you’re inferior.

(I was being sardonic there. Apparently it doesn’t come thru on the interwebs.)

Dear liberals: Free Wood Post is a joke news organization

So the Twitters is a-lighting up in reaction to this Free Word Post article claiming that Santorum called Jesus a liberal. Not just that, he accused the Bible of teaching socialism! While I’m no Biblical expert, I do think Jesus was more liberal than the fundies make him out to be. However, this story of a radical believer is just too silly to take seriously. That’s when I noticed the link was to a Free Wood Post article! In case you’re not with it (or can’t read the GIANT FUCKING BANNER ACROSS THE TOP OF EVERY ARTICLE), FWP is a liberal satire website, whose slogan is “News That’s ALMOST Reliable.” They work by making the right-wing believers out to be more openly crazy than they ever would be.

Next time you're at FWP, LOOK UP!

Unfortunately, liberals are just as ignorant and un-skeptical as conservatives (they just prefer their nonsense to be of the New Age variety and all their scientific research to be done by celebrities). This leads to unfortunate snaffus in which liberals make themselves look even stupider than the conservatives. At least the conservatives can read! Since I generally fall into the “crazy radical atheist socialist” category, I tend to be more sympathetic to the lefties and don’t like it when they make themselves silly. Therefore, I urge liberals to be a little more skeptical, at least when it comes to the news. You can still visit your chiropractor for “medical” advice or have your chakras aligned or whatever, just try to know who you’re getting your news from. Take a psychology, sociology, political science, or even linguistics class! A little education in the social sciences would prevent you making an ass of yourself. Or, you can always read their banner! In case you missed it, here it is again:

Seriously, this is at the top of EVERY article!

Seriously, folks. Skeptics really do have more fun. (We laugh more, at least.)

Souls and justice

So being a good atheist, I’m celebrating Easter by writing a paper for class about why atheists are qualified to hold public office. It’s for a literacy class and I’m supposed to demonstrate public literacy by writing about a public debate and I chose the debate over whether or not atheists should hold office. 50% of Americans say no.

Anyway, for my paper I’ve interviewed a few atheists and theists about their opinions on the issue, and one person in particular really made me chuckle a little. He said that atheists are not entitled to belief in justice, because in order to believe in justice on needs to believe in equality, and the only way to believe that people are “created” equal is to believe in a soul. This raises at least on major question: what exactly is a soul?

According to my theist frienemy, a soul is the root of the intellect, emotion, and creativity. This sounds a whole lot like a mind to me, which is one of the things which has always confused me about souls. If one’s soul is simply one’s mind, what do you say about people who suffer a traumatic brain injury and undergo drastic mental or personality changes afterwards? What about folks with schizophrenia or Alzheimer’s? If, however, the soul is not the mind, then what relevance does it have? If we can’t see any evidence of it, how do we know it’s actually always their, or that it’s the same soul we were born (“created”) with? How do we know my soul isn’t currently flying over into my brother’s body on the other side of the room? These are some questions you need to answer if you posit the existence of an immaterial soul.

As for the belief in justice, any good atheist–such as my friend, Tony, whom I interviewed right after this theist–will tell you that what makes people equal is not a soul but our capacity for emotions, empathy, and sensation of pain. Most people are capable of the same basic emotions as everyone else, and everyone has the same basic reactions to some of them: by definition, everyone likes pleasure and no one likes being depressed. Sure, there are rare disorders like anhedonia and congenitive analgesia which prevent people from enjoying (or suffering, in the case of CA) the whole range of human experience, but these folks–particularly folks with anhedonia–are not lesser in any way, because they can still feel other emotions. (Also, anhedonia in particular is usually just a symptom of a larger problem, which can usually be treated, so these people still have the capacity for pleasure.)

So, in a nutshell: souls are silly, and atheists believe in equality. If you doubt that latter fact, just remind yourself that Amnesty International is founded on what is essentially an atheistic philosophy. They don’t appeal to God for the good work they do: they’re just humanists helping humans.

Why magic doesn’t work for/on non-believers: More Mormons

So the Mormon missionaries have been paying me weekly visits and they stopped by today to harass me on my spring break (I say “harass,” but I really enjoy speaking with them, which is why I let them keep it up). Anyway, I’d tried praying a few times to no avail, and then I did some research and studied up on the neurophysiological effects of religious experiences and presented them with alternative hypotheses as to why they feel so sure God speaks to them during their gab sessions and posited that maybe my brain just doesn’t work that way. Since then they’ve been trying to convince me that prayer really works, and these past two weeks they’ve brought in a friend who is not a missionary but is a member of their church and also has a knack for explaining away contrary evidence. Today he tried explaining to me that my prayers weren’t answered because I went into them already believing that I wouldn’t receive any answer that couldn’t be explained through natural phenomena, and in order for prayer to work you have to actually believe that it can work.

This seems to me to be the ultimate ad hoc hypothesis simply because it can be applied in any situation in which magic is involved: if my magic doesn’t work for you it’s because you don’t believe it can. This is rather frustrating, because the way I seem to be wired is that I require some sort of solid evidence before I can bring myself to believe something. (I also found it rather coincidental that they brought up this argument today, since last night I watched Skeleton Key for my nightly shitty horror movie. Perhaps it is synchronicity? Maybe God’s trying to tell me to become a Jungian New-Age therapist.)

Obviously, this sort of argument falls flat on non-believers, because the obvious rebuttal is that the supposed magic is just some psychological side-effect of the belief in the ritual. I pointed this out to them and they began describing something that sounded like priming, which hardly seems magical or godly to me. Sounds like a lot of superstitious magic-believers fooling themselves.

I guess the upshot is that if I have to believe that God is real in order for his magic to work, I don’t have to worry about his divine wrath since he’s obviously impotent when not dealing with one of his followers. This seems like an adequate rebuttal for when the pious frauds threaten me with fire and brimstone if I don’t convert to their brand of magical thinking.

The nice thing about this new guy is he actually listens to evidence, or at least he realizes that when I have contrary evidence it takes a lot more than some teenagers and their fairy tales to convert me. He began by trying to convince me that religion leads people to be more altruistic until I found empirical evidence to the contrary (theists and atheists are just as likely to be altruistic). He also tried to argue that spirituality helps people reach their true potential, but I pointed out that since I began therapy I’ve gotten back to school, back on the dean’s list, offers for scholarships and graduate programs, and a job offer. Obviously secular therapy with a secular humanist helps me with my problems just fine. (Pristiq helps, too.)

One thing these folks seem adamant about is that their received wisdom is the only certain knowledge in the world, which I thought was rather amusing because they were never able to offer me any proof that it was certain. (I like to think that being a clear-headed individual I would convert in an instant to any religion that could offer me proof that their belief system was indubitable.) Really, I think spirituality is less certain than science. Science at least uses some form of logic, whereas spirituality is all about people receiving magical telepathic messages from extradimensional beings. Call me crazy for believing in microscopes and graduated cylinders over telepathy.

Anyway, the point is that if you are a believer of any sort of supernatural or pseudoscientific/pseudohistorical mumbo-jumbo trying to convince a non-believer that what you believe is true, you’re probably going to need some empirical evidence that is universal and easily quantifiable. You may like to live by your gut, but when leaders trust their gut we tend to find nothing but senseless wars and economic catastrophe. Maybe it’s time to give reason a try. As Richard A. Weatherwax once said, “You don’t need the Bible to justify love, but I know of no better tool to justify hate.”

The inconsistencies of God and free will

So I was reading the Objections and Replies to Descartes’s Meditations for class tomorrow and I think I have stumbled upon one of the most damning arguments against any sort of omnipotent, omniscient creator-god, specifically the Abrahamic one.

So, if you’re not familiar with the Meditations, in the First Objection Caterus engages Descartes on a dialogue about cause and effect, which essentially concludes with the assertion that God is the efficient cause of everything (i.e., he is the ultimate cause of all that was, is, and ever will be). This seems like something that most theists could get behind. However, if this is true, and if God is both omnipotent and omniscient, wouldn’t this make free will impossible? It seems so, since if God is the efficient cause of everything, he is responsible for all of our actions.

If God is omnipotent, he could have created the universe in any way that he wanted. If he was also omniscient, he would have also been able to fully understand every single consequence of his actions. Therefore, when he created the universe, he consciously and knowingly set in motion everything that ever will happen, and all of time is set in its tracks, completely predetermined without any chance of deviation aside from direct intervention from God. Therefore, if God exists, and is both omnipotent and omniscient, free will is impossible. This may not be a problem if you’re like most superstitious Americans and believe in the paranormal phenomenon known as fate, but what are the repercussions of a lack of free will? The most startling one is that it puts the blame for all evil in the world squarely on the shoulders of God.

If all of time is predetermined by God, then every action any individual makes is directly caused by God. This means that if I choose to murder someone, it is not my choice, but God’s. Therefore, I am not to blame for my actions; it was really God who murdered my victim. Therefore, God cannot be all-good as the Jews and Christians (and Descartes) believe he is.

Anyway, to me this last bit seems to pretty much put the nail in God’s coffin. If God is the cause of all evil, why the hell should I worship him?