Archive for September, 2010


This is a post I’ve wanted to do for some time.  I finally decided to do it after seeing a co-worker the other day with a copy of “On the Origin of Species”.  I expressed to her that it is, in my opinion, one of the most important sets of ideas ever put to paper.

There are lots of resources out there for people who want to understand the world from a scientific point of view.  Of course, there aren’t really books on “how to be a better atheist” – because such a subject would be pointless as there are no rules to being a “good atheist”.  Also, if you have faith there is a god, reading a book or watching a video isn’t likely to change that – just as reading a book on religion won’t change my mind.

These books and videos give a good narrative on how the world actually works (from a scientific point of view).  They explain the things that were once chalked up to religion and the supernatural.  They also look at the negative impact religion has on our species and our future.

Of course, these only scratch the surface.  Feel free to post your own suggestions in the comment section…

Videos

Richard Dawkins: Growing Up in the Universe

This series of lectures from 1991 provide a fantastic look at the development of life on earth.  It answers many of the questions we are asked about evolution (Why are there still monkeys? Why does everything seem so well-designed? What about organs of irreducible complexity?).  Dawkins simplifies evolution…and makes it accessible.  As a warning, though – the videos are very “British 1991”.  In fact, in America, it may seem like it was recorded some time in the mid-eighties.  Still, the science is strong…and it’s not nearly as old as some of the stuff other people use to get answers about life on earth.

Phil Plait: Don’t Be a Dick Speech

This one is for anyone who thinks that being brash and confrontational with theists helps the atheist cause.  It doesn’t – it just pisses people off and it makes you seem arrogant.  I will probably catch flack for this, but I believe it’s important to always be the better person.  While some religious people can be very “in your face” about their views…I feel it’s better to take the high road.  Be peaceful with people of opposing viewpoints.  I may think that people who don’t agree with the concept of evolution are stupid and delusional…but telling them that isn’t going to change their mind. This doesn’t mean you can’t be passionate or open or expressive about your views…just don’t be a dick about them!  We’ve dealt with the religious being dicks about their point of view for centuries…it pisses us off.  We must be better than that…

Sam Harris: Science can answer moral questions

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I consider morality to be somewhat of an illusion.  There are no hard-fast rules…killing someone is wrong, but killing someone who poses an imminent threat to you or your loved ones is not.  Because of this sliding scale, I can’t imagine that we’ll ever fully apply science to questions of morality.  Harris’ argument is not about deciding what’s right and wrong, but more about applying what we know in science to determine what is best for humankind as a whole.

Penn & Teller: Bullshit!

Bullshit is probably the best show out there for skeptics…points are argued passionately, charlatans are called out for ripping people off, and the record is set at least somewhat straight on myths like astrology and religion and exorcisms.  If you haven’t checked it out – you can NetFlix several of the seasons.  Now, I should point out that these videos go against the “don’t be a dick” rule…

Symphony of Science

I nice diversion…it’s music created by putting the greatest scientific voices through an auto-tuner.  You get passionate music that explains the concepts of science.

Books

Probably no surprises here…these books are all well-known – I put them in my order of preference.

Also, full disclosure – I am not much of a reader, so I listened to the audio recordings of these books – when I say ‘read’ – I actually mean ‘listened to’.

Sam Harris: The End of Faith

This is my favorite among the books I’ve read about atheism.  I like his writing style.  This book looks at religion from the standpoint of reason and morality and takes a critical look at the negative impact religion has on the planet.  His followup Letter to a Christian Nation is also a great read and I anxiously await his latest book about the science of morality.

Charles Darwin: On the Origin of Species

I remember reading about this book in school and thinking that the entire book was about lizards on the Galapagos Islands.  There is so much to this book.  Not only do you get to see the very beginning of the concept of evolution, you get to see the struggle Charles Darwin had with setting what he was raised to believe aside in favor of what he observed.  There are so many times in this book where Darwin says, if XYZ were not true, this theory simply won’t work…but, here’s what I observed…and why that points directly at XYZ.  He opened the door for explaining the diversity of life on earth using logic and reason.  I see this book and the research that followed it as the beginning of the end for theism…it’s just sad that it has not come to pass as it should.

Richard Dawkins: The God Delusion

While Dawkins does look at morality and reason, The God Delusion is more from a scientific point of view.  He explains the origins of life according to Darwinian evolution and some of the evidence to support it.   He uses science to explain the things that have always been chalked up to the supernatural.  I was an atheist before I read the book, so I don’t know what sort of impact it would have if I was not.  I can say that the book made me feel more comfortable with not believing there’s a god.

Carl Sagan: Pale Blue Dot

Pale Blue Dot is a look at the future of space travel for humans.  It’s also a critical look at ourselves as a species.  Sagan’s science is intertwined with his opinions on space travel, the possibility of life elsewhere and how we go about determining our place in the universe.  I love that much of the audio book is read by Sagan himself…his voice carries the gentle passion of a man who truly believes in the human spirit.

Christopher Hitchens: God is Not Great How Religion Poisons Everything

Hitchens is among the greatest writers of our time…and it’s nice to see that he’s on our side.  He’s sharp, blunt and eloquent all at the same time.  This book is probably harshest of the books I’ve read about atheism.   He holds nothing back…and that is admirable.  I put it this far down on the list simply because I feel his writing style may be off-putting to those who are on the fence about atheism.  If you are already an atheist…perhaps this book should be closer to the top.

Stephen Hawking & Leonard Mlodinov: The Grand Design

Hawking does a top-notch job of making the latest theories of the universe easy to understand.  While it does not come right out and say that there is no god, it points out the many reasons that the system that created the universe works better without a conscience.

Michael Shermer: Why People Believe Weird Things

This book opens the door to explaining why people think the way they do. It looks at the reasons behind some of the myths that permeate our lives on a day-to-day basis – but doesn’t touch much on religion as a whole.  Weird Things is more of a manual on skepticism than atheism, but I found it to be worth the time.

The Bible

I’m up in the air on this one…many atheists like to read the bible to “know thy enemy” – but I don’t think that referencing the bible goes very far in arguing our case.  You will not see the bible the way theists see the bible.  The bible is low-hanging (forbidden) fruit…pointing out that the stuff in the bible is just plain silly (it is) is insulting and embarrassing to those who hold the bible dear.  While those who follow science welcome questioning inconsistencies, theists do not.  Besides, there are so many iterations of the bible…are you going to study them all? How about the Qu’ran? There are too many religious texts out there…bogging your mind down with what’s in them uses up valuable brain space that could be used for facts…

In lieu of reading the actual bible…I recommend instead reading:

C.J. Werleman: God Hates You, Hate Him Back (no audio book…gotta do this one the old-fashioned way)

In this book, Werleman takes a humorous, yet scathing look through the bible.  The entire bible isn’t there…but enough of it is.  It’s sort of like reading the bible with the guys from MST3K sitting next to you.  Theists will say that the book just picks and chooses what it wants to portray from the bible without telling the “whole story” – to that I say…tough shit.  Most theists simply pick and choose the parts of the bible they want to follow…so…why can’t we? 🙂  The book isn’t perfect…my copy is riddled with spelling and grammatical errors which hopefully will be fixed in future editions.

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Again, this is by no means supposed to be a complete list…just a look at some of my favorite things I’ve read and watched that have made me more comfortable and confident in my beliefs.  Feel free to leave your suggestions below.

//jb//

So, I’ve been away for the past week or so.  Doing freelance video work for the Kansas State Fair.  It’s a busy week, but I get to work with some great guys, see some great (and some shitty) shows and make great money.  I don’t have anything prepared really – but I thought I’d get on here and post some random junk…

The Pope in England: I cannot believe people still care what this man has to say.  Now, he wants atheists to apologize for Hitler?  I won’t go to much into detail with Hitler, but I will say that his issues went far deeper than religion.

Hitler’s name and deeds have been thrown around so much that they’ve essentially lost all meaning.  How many times have you heard, “Man, our waiter is like the ketchup-nazi.”  “Oh, you mean that our waiter is going to order the slaughter of millions…over the ketchup?”

Not to defend Hitler, but at least his evil was out in the open. The Pope should pay closer attention to his own evils (and the evils of his own organization)…and quit blaming atheists for the world’s woes.

Hawking on Larry King Live: I finally got around to watching Stephen Hawking on Larry King Live…I thought he was brilliant and blunt (if you have not watched it yet, head over to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9AdKEHzmqxA and check it out).  He’s usually brilliant, but not often blunt.  He didn’t go into great detail about what his new book was about, just that the scientific account is complete and that theology was unnecessary.  He was so blunt that at the end of the interview, I almost expected him to throw down the microphone and yell, “Hawking Out, Bitches!”

The panel after this interview left a little to be desired.  I felt Leonard Mlodinov did a good job of explaining how the universe may have come about…but I’m aggravated that he dodged the “Are you atheists?” question…  “Yeah, we’re saying that there’s no reason to believe there’s a Creator. But, we aren’t willing to attach the word ‘Atheist’ to that.”

Father Robert Spitzer talked a lot about why he felt there was a creator, but he mentioned nothing (nada, zilch) about the God of the bible. The one with the rules and the punishment and the Adam and Eve and the Jesus…just, “There’s probably a God.”  He did nothing to back up the bible…

Deepak Chopra…does anyone give a shit what this guy says?  Really…

Also, I listened to “The Grand Design” audiobook once…and am going to do it again.

My Dad: I am noticing more of my dad in my mannerisms as I get older.  This is a good thing.

Pray for Them: Lots of people say “Pray for our Troops fighting overseas” without the slightest inkling that that’s the whole reason they’re in that mess.  I Support our Troops even if I don’t always support their mission.

Theist Coworker: A coworker (who is Mormon) asked me what religion I am, I responded that I have no religion…and that she would be unlikely to meet anyone less religious than me.  She asked if I was against religion.  Unfortunately I didn’t have enough time to answer this properly, I simply said, “Yes and No…I’ve no problem with people using the concept of God to guide their own lives…I am against it when they use the concept of God to guide others’ lives.”

Country Music Idiot: While working at the fair this year, one of the country music performers (let’s call him “Blake S.”…no, that’s too easy…let’s go with “B. Shelton”) said to the crowd, “One of the things I love about Kansas is that everybody gets to be themselves…and you can be as redneck as you want…and no one will judge you” then continued (paraphrasing, but not exaggerating) “But not them people who wear their pants below their ass…man, why do they do that…it just looks STOO-PID!!!  Next time you see one of them, tell ’em to pull their pants up over their asses!”

Implied racism aside (I know, white guys do it, too…), how narrow-minded do you have to be to say that everyone gets to be themselves in one sentence…then dog on people for how they dress in the next?

Activia commercials: Erectile Dysfunction, hemorrhoids, laxatives, that “not-so-fresh-feeling”, and “clean your balls.”  Over the years, companies have bombarded us with TV commercials that deal with very private issues.  We see ads all the time for private products that people purchase for private use…and they’ve never bothered me.  But, I find Activia commercials hard to stomach.  Why? Activia’s sole purpose is to help women who have trouble shitting.  Sure, the ads tout variety and flavor…but the underlying message…eat Activia and you’ll be shitting better in two weeks.  Jamie Lee Curtis is shitting better thanks to Activia…and YOU can TOO!

The problem is that Activia really isn’t a “private” product.  It’s something you keep in your refrigerator.  Have any of you seen Activia in someone else’s fridge? I have…at my mother-in-law’s house.   All I could think of is, “My wife’s mother doesn’t shit right” (shudder).  Not only that…I want to ask her, “Sooooo, are you shitting better?”

Gross.

//jb//

Update: Oh, and then he decided not to do it. 🙂 God apparently changed his mind…

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So, there’s this guy in Florida who’s organizing an “International Burn the Quran Day” on September 11th and all I can think about is…WHY?!  What purpose does burning this book serve?

CBS News: Burn the Quran Day

I feel like I’m in a glass house casting this stone…after all, I did proudly participate in “Draw Muhammad Day” – in fact, you’ll see my rather saccharine contribution here. It’s a simple pencil sketch on a Post-It note – took me all of 16 seconds.

Is burning the Quran worse than drawing Muhammad? I think so…and here’s why…

Draw Muhammad Day, at least for me, was about pointing out how silly some of the practices of the Muslim faith are.  It was a way of saying “Look, I drew Muhammad and I didn’t get struck by lightning.”  I admit, I am well aware that the simple act of putting pencil to paper with the intent of drawing Muhammad was offensive to Muslims.  I also eat pork products nearly every day which, according to the Quran, is also offensive.

Besides, I am not part of the Muslim faith.  As such, I am not bound by their rules.  Just like I am not obligated to wear a uniform or salute military officers because I am not a member of the military (I was, but not now).

Burning the Quran only serves to agitate people of the Muslim faith. Burning the Quran draws attention to hate for their faith and hate is never the right path toward peace.

Besides, why do this on September 11th? Okay, I know the answer to that one…but hasn’t this date been marred by enough hate?  It’s almost like the people who organized this monstrosity of an event want to dwell on the hate and contempt of the attacks. You win a battle by being the better person…and the better person is always the one with less hate towards others.

You probably noticed, I’m not referring to these Quran-burning goons as Christians.  I’ve read enough about this event to know that most sensible Christians (oxymoron?) do not support it. I also won’t refer to the organizer, or his church by name – I feel they have gotten enough attention.

“International Burn the Quran Day” is a publicity stunt for maniacs.  The sad thing is that it will serve that purpose well.  It’s certainly getting attention. I’m writing about it, you’re reading about it and when it happens, you can be certain that TV cameras rolling.  When those clips air in Muslim areas of the world – they will be representative of ALL OF US!  Just like the actions of the 9/11 terrorists were unfairly representative of all Muslims.

I feel the best way to commemorate those who died in the attacks is to do what they were doing when they died…just living their lives.  We aren’t going to forget what happened to them…but spreading hate toward an entire faith because of the actions of a few is at the apex of hypocrisy and the nadir of compassion and tolerance.

I think September 11th should just be “International Go About Your Business Day” – I know I’ll be participating.  How about you?

//jb//