Feuerstein’s new folly

Joshua Feuerstein, excitable youtube preacher, is now offering a $100,000 prize to anyone who can prove god doesn’t exist. I feel like asking him how he has proven that Thor doesn’t exist, so I can just swap in the name Jesus and walk away rich, except I don’t believe that there is such a thing as “proof” in science, so it would be something of a betrayal of my principles. Also, I doubt that he’s honest: does he actually have $100,000 to give away? Does he have funds in escrow? How is this affair managed and judged? It looks to me like he just took a sharpie and scribbled a claim on a piece of cardboard and held it up in front of a cell phone camera, which doesn’t exactly fill me with confidence that this is a legitimate offer.

Look to James Randi’s million dollar challenge for a better example of how to do this: actually have the money set aside. Have criteria and rules, and independent judges. Ask for confirmable, repeatable evidence for a phenomenon, rather than asking to prove a nebulous negative. But Feuerstein can’t do that, because he’s the one making a positive claim in the absence of evidence, so if anyone ought to bear the onus of providing evidence, it’s him.

Seth Andrews does a fine job smacking him down.

22 Reasons to Stop Believing in God

The video below, part of The Atheist Voice series, discusses 22 reasons to stop believing in God:

A rough transcript of the video can be found on the YouTube page in the “About” section.

We’d love to hear your thoughts on the project — more videos will be posted soon — and we’d also appreciate your suggestions as to which questions we ought to tackle next!

And if you like what you’re seeing, please consider supporting this site on Patreon.

Florida youth pastor busted for child porn

Last year Lucas Dillon Brandenburg delivered a sermon slamming a ‘depraved culture’. Yesterday he was arrested for sharing child pornography.

According to this report, the 30-year was taken into custody after investigators said that they found a computer at his home “sharing” indecent images.

A statement from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement said that the St Gabriel Episcopal Church youth pastor was arrested on 10 charges of possession of child pornography.

The statement added that agents first noticed that there was a computer at his residence in Titusville that was “sharing images of child pornography” in July.

Brandenburg was being held at the Brevard County Jail in lieu of $350,000 bond.

In a speech to the 44th Annual Convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Central Florida last year, he explained why he had become a youth pastor.

My life is forever changed by the youth ministries that I attended. I went for the camps, I went for games, I went to hang out with my friends, to meet girls obviously.

He added:

Despite my wrong motives, I had an encounter with Jesus Christ, I heard his call. And like all who respond to that call, I left my pile of worthless things, and I followed him.

There are more pitfalls set before young people today than I have time to describe. The fact is we live in a dark world, and a depraved culture.
And for many teens, a youth ministry is the only port in the storm. The ministry that I run at St Gabriels is just such a ministry.

A video showing Brandenberg delivering his sermon has been removed from YouTube by Episcopal Florida.

POLITICAL SATIRE: “GOP Maintains Solid Hold on Youth That Already Look Like Old Men”/ The Onion News Network

h/t: The Real News

Steve is live on Atheist Hangouts right now

Steve is doing a bit of an AMA with Noah Lugeons and David Viviano on Atheist Hangouts. Check it out here:

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If you've ever had a question for Steve, The Scathing Atheist, or Gamma Atheist, ask it now in the comments of the live video. 

Making money out of fanatics

bad science

Click on image to enlarge

This looks like a Xcd cartoon. I picked it up from a new Facebook page The Girl Against Fluoride Lies. Good to see more and more Facebook pages like this.

Speaking of fluoride – the cartoon sort of reminds me of Paul Connett’s book – The case against fluoride?


Say It With Me: I’m a Hispanic Atheist

This is a guest post written by César J. Baldelomar. César is currently a student at the Florida International University College of Law. He has written several articles on politics, culture, and religion.

Though I grew up in a moderately Catholic household and attended Catholic institutions from age three until my college graduation from St. Thomas University, I felt a constant struggle between accepting what others were saying I should believe and what I thought was the intuitive, rational choice. Yet it is only now that I finally have the courage to publicly state that I am an atheist.

Perhaps my struggle was made more poignant because I was raised by Latino parents in one of our country’s most socially conservative cities (Hialeah, Florida). That may have been why I decided to go into religious studies as a graduate student at Harvard Divinity School (HDS). An institution renowned for its trend-setting scholarship and social progressivism, HDS was my top choice for the study of religion, ethics, and politics. I refused to attend another Catholic institution that would not allow me to pursue my intellectual curiosities, including the history and intellectual underpinnings of freethinking.

During my last year there, I took a course titled “American Unbelief: From the Enlightenment to the New Atheists.” It was a chance to explore, academically and personally, the tenets of atheism and agnosticism. More importantly, with a vast array of academic resources readily at my disposal, I was free to research why Latinos in the United States were unwilling — even afraid — to declare their non-theistic status.

To my surprise, I discovered that over 2,000,000 Hispanics consider themselves religious “Nones,” meaning they don’t identify with any religious organization or spiritual practice. I began to wonder how many of these Nones were actually atheist or agnostic but hesitant to identify as such. This, in turn, led me to focus on and criticize media portrayals of all Latinos as extremely religious, honoring the Virgin Mary, or celebrating Christmas around a makeshift nativity scene. What message does all of this send to those Hispanics who identify as nonreligious?

It’s quite simple: shame. Denying our existence reinforces the stereotype that all Hispanics are religious or spiritual, when in fact a significant number of us are not. Remember also that many non-religious Latinos, especially young ones, remain unaccounted for because religious, political, and community leaders simply assume they are Catholic or Protestant, thus effectively ending any conversation before it even begins.

I taught religious studies and philosophy in high school in Boston and Miami for four years, and I can say with confidence that the majority of my Latino students doubted the existence of God. They viewed religion as antiquated and dogmatic. Still, they felt that eventually they would “find Jesus” or “return to their childhood religion” because of familial and societal pressures. Latino families tend to be extremely close knit, often forming an intellectual, social, and spiritual cocoon around their children. An unfortunate result of this “familial cocoon” is the expectation that children will live according to traditional “family” values, including following a faith tradition.

I believed from an early age that Jesus did not exist and that God was simply a man-made invention. Yet I felt shame in saying such things publicly, partly because of my background, and partly because of the pressures in our society.

With the Latino population growing in the U.S., it’s time for that community to acknowledge that many within it do not have a belief in God. There are a number of things Latinos struggling to identify as Nones can do right now to start changing that: Seek support from atheist and freethinking websites that focus specifically on Hispanic identity (such as Latino Atheists or Hispanic American Freethinkers); encourage dialogue with Latino theists about the merits of freethinking in the modern age; and develop educational and multimedia materials that actively engage questions of ethnic identity in relation to nonreligious or religious belief.

By straightforwardly addressing the questions of identity and freethinking, we become visible to the Latino community (and to others) — perhaps encouraging other Hispanic freethinkers to emerge from the shadows. Once we become partially visible, we may begin to influence an entire generation of Latinos, who will in turn, through their votes and perhaps active political participation, shape public policy and education in our country. Shifts in family values and traditions will accompany these political and educational changes. Yes, we Latino Nones have our work cut out for us, but with a little patience and persistence, we will be able to overcome the shame that many of us felt and continue to feel for thinking differently.

(Image via Shutterstock)

Link blog: programming, C, language, make

Implementing non-recursive make
Recursive makes are considered harmful. Here’s a recipe for a non-recursive one where you can still put project files in subdirectories.
(tags: make programming nonrecursive makefiles build software)
Embedded in Academia : Proposal for a Friendly Dialect of C
John Regehr and friends note that C compilers aggressive optimising around use of constructs the spec says are “undefined” can lead to unexpected behaviour. They propose a friendly C dialect where compilers would produce unspecified values in response to use of these constructs, but would not feel free to make demons fly out of your nose.
(tags: C programming language software-engineering)
The Left must reject the relativism at the heart of the Rotherham scandal | Left Foot Forward
This, from Al Razi of Ex-Muslim Forum, seems a sensible response, although as the worlds only impartial observer, I’d say that both the class of the victims and the race of both victims and perpetrators contributed to the horrors being ignored for so long. The Guardian will only talk about the former and the Telegraph about the latter, I suspect.
(tags: rotherham abuse religion islam news multiculturalism)

Originally posted at Name and Nature. You can comment there. There are currently comments.

Megachurch Pastor Uses Drone Imagery to Convince People to Come to Church

If you were to make a list of the problems with religion, topping that list might be its involvement in wars, both real and cultural. Religion can be used as a weapon to marginalize different groups of people (like the LGBT community) and we’ve all seen the physical destruction devout faith can cause in different parts of the world.

So if you wanted to convince people to come to your church, using a war metaphor would be a pretty horrible way to do it.

But that’s what Fellowship Church Pastor Ed Young has done. The man who owns a personal jet and asked his congregation to give him direct access to their bank accounts created a movie trailer for his recent sermon series making the connection between God and a weapon of war:

Yep, God is a drone. Because they both watch over you… and they both have the ability to ruin the lives of innocent people.

(I’ve heard of drones in church, but they’re usually the ones speaking. *Cue rim shot*)

Matthew Gault is rightfully disturbed by the connection:

the drone metaphor is a terrible and disturbing one. It trivializes the big questions about a scary new technology and equates God with a weapon of war.

We asked Young about his choice of metaphors. He explained that he was following Jesus’ example. Young explained that Jesus made use of cultural icons his culture could connect with to strengthen his sermons. “We do the same thing,” Young said. “We try to use things that our culture can identify with.”

Young also claimed he never thought of Drones as scary. “I hadn’t really thought about it being ominous but you probably have a good point.”

That didn’t stop him from giving a month’s worth of sermons about the connection — you can see the first one here. It’s a loose connection at best and one that plays right into his critics’ hands… but it’s manly and powerful and that’s pretty much catnip for someone like Young.

As someone who has (*ahem*) made unwise comparisons involving God before, I would urge Young to step back from this one.

There’s No Reason Public High Schools Need Chaplains for the Football Team

While we’re on the subject of Christians who think they can get away with breaking the law, what’s with all these pastors who think they can double as chaplains of the local public high school football team?

This is not okay at a public school

The Freedom From Religion Foundation sent letters earlier this year to schools in Florida’s Orange and Seminole counties warning them about that problem (among several other issues). The districts are finally getting around to tellings coaches they can’t have team chaplains and the pastors are not taking the news well:

Pastor Troy Schmidt, who has been working with the Olympia High School team for at least six years, replacing other chaplains, said he still plans to prepare meals for the team with his church, First Baptist of Windermere.

“My heart is with Olympia. I love the kids,” he said. Until last week, he had served as a spiritual adviser to the team, including leading them in prayers and said he never got a single complaint.

“Everything I’ve done has been centered around the Bible, but I’ve tried to apply it to football,” Schmidt said. “I know I’m speaking to Christians, to Muslims, to atheists. I’m speaking to teenagers who are at that important phase in life where they’re making critical decisions.”

He just admitted the problem: He’s a Christian leader being brought in to lead the students in prayer. It’s not surprising that no one has complained since who wants to be the student who rocks the boat and gets punished for it (officially or socially)?

Schmidt appeared on Fox & Friends this morning, by the way, to talk about how he’s being turned into an “atheist chaplain” because he can’t promote Jesus at a public school. Because, in his warped mind, that’s the same as being forced to tell students God doesn’t exist:

(To state the obvious, no one’s telling anyone to become an atheist against their will.)

Another pastor, Todd Lamphere of The Venue Church, still lists team chaplain as part of his job description:

This shouldn’t be a difficult issue. Students are welcome to drop by the church if they want spiritual guidance from a Christian. There’s absolutely no reason to have a religious leader pray to a Christian God with the team, though. Their hearts may be in the right place, but the law matters more.

The students, as always, as welcome to pray on their own. No one’s stopping them. No one ever has.

(Image via Shutterstock. Thanks to Brian for the link)

Quoting Carl Sagan

“You can get into a habit of thought in which you enjoy making fun of all those other people who don’t see things as clearly as you do. We have to guard carefully against it.”
– Carl Sagan, 1987 CSICOP meeting


Yeah, it’s pretty easy to stand on one side and poke fun at the beliefs of others. Religion, climate change, whether Star Wars is better than Star Trek..

Pick your battle and there will be people on every side willing to make the other sides look like fools.

I’d be a hypocrite if I didn’t admit I do that, sometimes…

Filed under: quotable Tagged: beliefs, Carl Sagan, skepticism

Rick Santorum Wrongly Thinks Students “Can’t Pray in School”

In an interview with the website Vocativ, former presidential hopeful Rick Santorum explained (again) that he really doesn’t understand the causes he fights so vehemently against:

The movie argues that the observant are being forced to practice in private, for few hours in church on Sundays. But on a personal level, can’t you observe your religion wherever you want?

Not necessarily. You can’t pray in school, but it’s good to have prayer. Are people offended by prayer? Sure. But the constitution gives us the right to offend. There are a lot of things today in America that offend me.

Since when can’t you pray in school? I support the rights of students who want to pray in school. So do the ACLU and FFRF and other church/state separation groups.

What those groups combat is school-sponsored prayer, like a teacher leading a prayer in the classroom, or a football coach praying to Jesus before a big game, or a principal praying to God during graduation.

But it’s much easier to play victim when you make up all the facts.

You also have to appreciate the complete turn of phrase Santorum uses on another question:

So what about the Quran? Should that be taught in school, too?

I would absolutely encourage more teaching about Islam. Maybe 50 years ago, when Islam had third-world status and not international status—maybe that was different. But given what’s going on, it’s important to teach it.

The question was whether we should teach the Koran in school just as Santorum wants to teach the Bible. But he spins that into: We should teach students about Islam.

You know what? He’s right about that. It’s important to understand Islam because it affects so much of what’s happening in the world right now. And you also need to have a proper understanding of Christianity to make sense of American politics and society.

But teaching about the major beliefs is very different than preaching a very specific belief.

Santorum, no doubt, would oppose teaching the Koran in the same way he wants the Bible to be taught.

The reason he granted Vocativ the interview was to promote his new movie One Generation Away, about how Christianity is that close to extinction because religious rights are constantly being eroded.

His own words prove that there’s nothing to worry about. If he has to make up evidence to justify the movie’s premise, it’s an indication that this is just a fake problem to begin with.

(via Right Wing Watch. Image via Christopher Halloran / Shutterstock.com)

People Are Seriously Defending Public School Plaques Given “in the Name of the Holy Christian Church”

If you visited Mountain Peak Elementary School or Longbranch Elementary School in Midlothian, Texas last year, you would’ve seen this plaque hanging near the entrances:

Dedicated in the year of our Lord 1997 to the education of God’s children and to their faithful teachers in the name of the Holy Christian Church

Soli Deo Gloria

How is that legal at a public school, you ask? It’s not. It’s very obviously not.

But it took a letter from the Freedom From Religion Foundation to have the plaques covered up with duct tape:

On June 26, FFRF Staff Attorney Sam Grover sent a letter to District Superintendent Jerome Stewart, explaining, “The plaque at Mt. Peak Elementary offends the Constitution… since the plaque specifically promotes ‘the Holy Christian Church’ and contains a Latin phrase meaning ‘glory to God alone’ or ‘glory to the only God.’ The two Latin crosses on the plaque further solidify its impermissible purpose.”

That duct tape was torn off of the plaque at Mountain Peak yesterday and school officials, for whatever reason, say there’s no plan to tape it back up. It’s a very strange thing to say considering the school’s property was tampered with…

In any case, the Christian Right group Liberty Institute says the school should stand its ground because the plaques are legal (in Bizarro World) and FFRF doesn’t have the guts to sue:

Hiram Sasser, with the Liberty Institute, says the Constitution also forbids government hostility against religion.

“This type of religious censorship just because it happens to have religious references is really hostility to religion, and that kind of hostility should not be tolerated,” he said.

Sasser believes the school district shouldn’t back down before there’s a lawsuit.

“They probably are not going to bring a lawsuit, and until they do, there’s no reason to do anything with the plaques,” said Sasser.

That isn’t just some mild religious reference like “Under God” in the Pledge. This is a christening of a public school. If the plaque was offered in the name of any non-Christian group, you know there would be hell to pay. By the way, even Todd Starnes quotes the district’s superintendent saying that their attorney advised them to remove the plaques because they “would not prevail in court if it refused FFRF’s request and a lawsuit followed.”

That doesn’t matter to all the Christians defending it, though. They held a prayer rally at the school this morning because… well, they have nothing better to do and I guess they believe their prayers will keep the plaques in place. Considering the district already agreed to remove them, the only question is whether they’ll honor their word and follow through with their promise. FFRF doesn’t sue unless they absolutely have to, but they also don’t send complaint letters unless someone in the community asks them to. The ball’s in the district’s court.

(Thanks to Brian and @OrphanBlackOps for the link)

Modern SMART Recovery treatment supplanting AA 12-step

Prohibition ended in 1933, at least for alcohol. Now we have the War on Drugs which was started by Richard Nixon in 1971 as a response to high rates of heroin addiction among soldiers in Vietnam. During the 1980s, the war … Continue reading

The post Modern SMART Recovery treatment supplanting AA 12-step appeared first on Military Association of Atheists & Freethinkers.

After Religious Convocation in Mississippi School District, Officials Promise a Secular Ceremony Next Year

A few days ago, I wrote about how the Jackson Public School District in Mississippi had held a mandatory, three-hour-long convocation for all faculty members that included plenty of nods to Jesus.

You would have never guessed it looking at the properly bland event description on the district’s website:

The American Humanist Association’s Appignani Humanist Legal Center explained what happened:

Reverend Roy Maine was invited by the School District to deliver the opening prayer.

The Reverend began his sermon by asking the entire faculty to “shut your eyes please” and pray. Following that was a series of “call and responses” where he would ask the teachers, “please say amen to that,” to which they would respond, “amen!” The Reverend said that the reason they were all there was to “to see just what God’s going to do this [school] year.”

The religious proselytization did not end with the Reverend’s sermon. Nearly every speaker at this three-hour event engaged in some form of religious preaching, recitation of Bible verses, and invocation to “Lord” and “God.” The event was best described by our client as “one long church service.”

It wasn’t the first time he had done this. Maine spoke at last year’s convocation, too.

Thankfully, the letter seems to have worked. The AHA announced today that the school district has promised to halt the Christian prayers at future events.

the District will ask its convocation speakers to refrain from religious activity. Additionally, the convocation committee will follow federal and state law with regards to religious activity when planning future convocations.

The AHA is pleased with the response:

“We’re very pleased that the school district has promptly responded to this issue and has made assurances that future school-sponsored assemblies will comply with the Establishment Clause,” said Monica Miller, an attorney with the Appignani Humanist Legal Center.

“By upholding the separation of church and state, the school district is respecting the rights of teachers of minority faiths, as well as the rights of teachers who do not profess any faith,” said Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association.

The only way to verify if the District upholds its promise is to keep tabs on it next year — if the AHA’s informant works in the District, which is likely the case, that shouldn’t be too hard at all.

Time to sit back and wait for conservative leaders to complain about how, somehow, the AHA just took away Christians’ right to impose their religion on everyone else.

(Portions of this article were posted earlier)

The function of IDiots

There aren't very many big questions left to answer. Most ot the great debates have been settled and we're now in a mopping up situation.

One of the few remaining questions concerns the function of IDiots. The Intelligent Design Creationist Movement has been a spectacular failure. The Wedge Document is a joke. They've failed to get creationism into American schools. People are abandoning Christianity. Their books have all been trashed by critics.

One wonders why they're still around. They must be thinking the same thing because David Klinghoffer has put up a recent post on this very issue [You're Welcome: Darwinists Should Thank Us for Quality Control, Fact-Checking]. It turns out that the function of IDiots is to keep real scientists honest by finding flaws in their reasoning and errors of fact.
Casey [Luskin] points out that in any marketplace—whether vendors are promoting consumer products or ideas about evolution—competition improves the products and the service. The absence of competition almost always results in shoddy products and poor consumer service, as anyone who has visited a socialist country can tell you. Darwin advocates should be thanking us.

Of course the flipside to all this is that for every orthodox evolutionist who is made more judicious and truthful in what he argues, there's probably another who prevaricates about the meaning of scientific data, because "What will the creationists say?"

Still, on the whole, they and everyone else who cares about getting at the truth in science ought to be glad we're here.
Who knew?