Millennial Thoughts

January 21, 2010

Vanity Fair Goes to the Museum!

Filed under: atheism, current events — Christine @ 11:44 am

For some definition of “museum”, that is– A.A. Gill went to the Creation Museum in Kentucky and wrote about it. I’ve read plenty of other reviews of the museum, but this one has its own delightfully wonderful scathing tone. Some highlights:

The Creation Museum isn’t really a museum at all. It’s an argument. It’s not even an argument. It’s the ammunition for an argument. It is the Word made into bullets. An armory of righteous revisionism. This whole building is devoted to the literal veracity of the first 11 chapters of Genesis: God created the world in six days, and the whole thing is no more than 6,000 years old. Everything came at once, so Tyrannosaurus rex and Noah shared a cabin. That’s an awful lot of explaining to do. This place doesn’t just take on evolution—it squares off with geology, anthropology, paleontology, history, chemistry, astronomy, zoology, biology, and good taste. It directly and boldly contradicts most -onomies and all -ologies, including most theology.

It’s hard to tell from the article how much, if any, Gill is, but it’s clear that this is one of those things that offends some of the more rationally-inclined theists.

[Creationism] starts with the definitive answer, and all the questions have to be made to fit under it. That’s tough. Science has it a whole lot easier: It can change things. It can expand and hypothesize and tinker. Scientists have all this cool equipment and stuff. They’ve got all these “lenses” and things. They can see shit that’s invisible. And they stayed on at school past 14. Science has given itself millions of years, eons, to play with, but the righteous have got to get the whole lot in, home and dry, in less than 6,000 years, using just a pitchfork and a loud voice. It’s like playing speed chess against a computer and a thousand people with Nobel Prizes.

On Noah’s Ark:

When the waters abated, the animals got off, stretched, and walked around the world eating one another’s children. I’m not making this up. Nobody’s making this up. This is what happened.

On the Garden of Eden:

There’s nothing to do. No hunting, no mating, no nesting, no getting better, no getting worse. Just the infinite drip, drip, drip of bliss. Things that weren’t in the Garden of Eden at its planting but came later as part of the fruit-knowledge-shame-punishment plea bargain—poison weeds, carnivores, carrion eaters, fear, and thorns—are of great concern to creationists. A fossil with thorns is proof that it must have been made after the fall from Eden, because Genesis is quite specific about Eden’s being un-sharp and blunt, or, you might say, dull and pointless.

It’s much shorter than most of the other tour reviews I’ve read– I suspect that the author skipped a large portion of the museum, possibly for sanity-preservation purposes.  Still, it’s a good read, and the bewildered snark brought a smile to my face in the midst of a week containing almost nothing but terrible news.

January 19, 2010

The Problem of Disaster

Filed under: atheism, current events — Christine @ 4:40 pm

The BBC Online has an article attempting to tackle the question of a loving god and disaster. Why, David Bain asks, would a god who supposedly loved each individual human allow for such wide-spread suffering as the earthquake in Haiti? (Or the tsunamis or hurricanes or other natural disasters that have devastated populations for as long as we’ve been around.) He starts from the basic assumption that god exists, although whether or not he agrees with that claim is unclear; I’m inclined to say he doesn’t, judging by his website. The article itself contains many familiar arguments and rebuttals, leaving off with an understandably vague (and likely, for a believer seeking solace, unsatisfying) conclusion:

But, as for those who believe in an all-good, all-powerful agent-God, we’ve seen that they face a question that remains pressing after all these centuries, and which is now horribly underscored by the horrors in Haiti. If a deity exists, why didn’t he prevent this?

The selected comments are also interesting:

  • An Anglican deist arguing that god isn’t interested in human affairs, viewing us as dust (a rather amusing and unintentional, I’m sure, parallel to the cosmic horrors of Lovecraft)
  • An couple atheists/agnostics pointing out the bleeding obvious, that suffering happens due to physics and evolution and geology and there’s no one allowing it to happen, it just happens
  • A couple theists aiming for a odd argument about needing suffering to appreciate goodness and suffering inspiring love (an argument which Bain touches on and, I’ll admit, rather unconvincingly refutes in the article)
  • Another theist making the rather horrifying claim that this life is temporary and our real lives begin after death, so we should all do good because you never know when you might die
  • A couple references to atheistic religions (Buddhism)
  • A guy who… seems to be making some obtuse point about no one is really a good person and thus we all deserve punishment? I think?
  • And finally, an Anglican priest arguing, essentially, that god works in myserious ways and while he could have arranged things so that people would not suffer, without suffering there wouldn’t be free will and without free will people wouldn’t have the choice of loving him and thus their love wouldn’t mean as much. (Ignoring the mythology of angels, who have no choice but to worship god; common descriptions of heaven, which basically seem to involve the loss of free will in the name of sitting around and worshiping god; and the fact that, let’s face it, when you’re being threatened you’re not really making a free choice, and for many theists, hell is an all-too-real threat.)

Of course, there is one simple answer to the problem of disaster and of evil: there is no god allowing or causing these things to happen. They just happen and we must deal with them as best we can. There! Thorny philosophical issue solved.

January 12, 2010

Prop 8 Trial Update

Filed under: current events — Christine @ 12:21 pm

So the YouTube feed has been delayed, but there’s liveblogging of the trial going on here. The blogger has a clear anti Prop-8 bias, but, to be honest, I can’t find it in me to care overmuch. It’s quite good, in my opinion, although it seems the internet connection gets spotty sometimes, so there might be delays in updates. Thus far, it’s a question of… well, what is marriage in America? What does it mean? What is a family? Lots of really good, weighty issues being discussed. I’m not sure how much coverage this is getting in the MSM– I haven’t seen anything on NYT or NPR today, though there were mentions at the beginning of the trial yesterday– so I’m not sure if there is a general awareness of this trial or of its importance.

I’m hopeful. Very cautiously hopeful.

January 11, 2010

Gay Marriage Question in California… Again

Filed under: current events — Christine @ 10:05 am

NPR has a story on the court challenge to Proposition 8. It’s a high-risk, high-reward endeavor; no matter what, this case is going to the Supreme Court, and if they decide to hear it, it’ll be huge. I’ve seen commentary about this sort of thing, going through the courts, that somehow it delegitimizes the movement. Going through the courts, especially after a failed ballot initiative, makes it look like the gay marriage movement doesn’t care about the will of the people, like they’ll go to any lengths to get what they want.

Which is, you know, true. Decisions of minority rights should never, ever, ever be subject to popular vote. The Constitution, particularly the justice system, was put together to prevent the tyranny of the majority. The will of the people is frequently ignorant, petty, cruel, and hateful, and should not be considered when deciding the rights of any group of citizens. Maine and California have made that abundantly clear.

The case is also being broadcast in a delayed feed to YouTube, which is… interesting. I understand some of the concerns about witness intimidation, I honestly do (although the fact that the pro-Prop 8 side is concerned about that indicates that at leat some of them know that public opinion is turning against them), but… as far as I know, these trials are open to the public anyway, right? People can come and sit in the gallery and watch? This is just… expanding that, I guess. I don’t know, I guess we’ll have to see how it goes. In theory, I like the idea. Transparency and very public records and the judge’s goal of raising awareness about the judicial system are all good things. But like I said, we’ll have to see how it goes.

Although… hmm. The link at the bottom of that article is supposed to go to the Ninth Circuit YouTube channel, but clicking on it brings up a page saying that the channel doesn’t exist. I’m going to keep investigating… one hopes that it hasn’t fallen victim to YouTube’s horrifically easily exploitable complaints policy. If I track down the channel and/or videos, they’ll be posted.

December 24, 2009

For the Holidays

Filed under: current events — Christine @ 10:47 pm

Happy holidays, everyone.

December 9, 2009

Climate Change

Filed under: current events, ranting, science — Christine @ 10:05 am

Various representatives and world leaders are in Copenhagen squabbling over how to deal with global warming. No one seems to be expecting much of this meeting, just like no one’s expected much of most of the past climate meetings. Which is a serious problem– if you go into something with low expectations, they’re likely to be met, but the kind of drastic change that’s needed to protect the planet (and those of us who live on it) won’t happen.

The BBC has a rather unsettling slideshow up on their website, with predictions of how the temperatures on earth will change if we don’t curb greenhouse gas emissions (and how it will look if we do). Neither scenario is exactly rosy, but one is infinitely preferable. As you click through the decades, you can see the orange fading into red fading into darker red. You start thinking about how your house or apartment feels at 70 degrees Fahrenheit (comfortable, maybe a little cool) and how it feels at 77 degrees (warm, probably unpleasantly so). That’s the difference that they’re talking about. And sure, the change is over many decades, but it’s still drastic. It’s still going to change the way that the planet looks, the way we live. Who lives.

But no one’s expecting much. There’ll be vague promises and distant benchmarks, but too many people are invested in the status quo to want anything to really change. And so it probably won’t, until it’s too late.

Maybe I’ll be wrong. Hopefully I will be.

November 3, 2009

Choosing to Believe?

Filed under: atheism — Christine @ 5:29 pm

I finished reading Infidel by Ayaan Ali Hirsi last week. Also, a couple weeks ago on the Daily Dish, there was something of a debate over the nature of belief/unbelief in god; specifically, whether or not it’s a choice. The responses ranged from both atheists and believers arguing that it is a choice, with the believers throwing in the added caveat of “god granted us free will so choosing to believe in him makes it more valuable to him”. On the other side, the believers who claimed that faith is natural and inherent in all people and atheists are in denial, and one odd atheist who claimed he had no choice about his unbelief, and that made him sad, because he deeply envied those with faith and the comfort it seemed to provide them, but he just couldn’t make himself believe.

So it got me thinking. My initial reaction to the debate was “psh, of course it’s a choice! duh!”. I mean, the level of freedom to choose might be limited by your circumstances, but there isn’t anything inherent in the human condition that mandates religious belief. But then I started reading Hirsi’s book… and my position got a little more muddied.

Reading her book, the things that stood out most to be were her rebellions. The questioning, either openly or in private, even when she still believed in majority of Islam’s teachings; running away from an arranged marriage; giving up her religion when the Enlightenment ideals she’d come to love conflicted with it far too much for her to hold both belief systems at once. And every time something like that happened, every time she refused to bend to the social pressures around her, I wondered: why? What gave her the strength, the courage, the backbone to stand up and say no? She was brought up in a deeply religious society by deeply religious parents amongst deeply religious friends. There was virtually no support for her questioning, and yet question she did.

Put it another way: there was nothing nurturing her rebellion, so was it something in her nature that made her do it?

Is there something in atheists that makes us question the dogmatic beliefs of our families, our societies? Something that believers lack? Truth be told, I’m actually kind of uncomfortable with this line of questioning. I don’t like the idea that atheism or belief is… genetic, or based on a predisposition, or something like that. And I have no evidence to support or disprove this theory (although I plan on taking a class on Psychology and Religion as soon as I can– free classes for staff at DePaul is a wonderful thing), so I’m really just kind of brainstorming here. But it’s a nagging sort of question. Why atheism rather than belief? I’ve read all these deconversion stories, and they explain the how, but not the why. Why did the arguments against belief stick? Why did the ones for belief fall flat? What is it in a person that chooses atheism over theism?

Much as I want to believe it’s a choice, something that people arrive at after careful thought and consideration… it doesn’t quite match up with my personal experience. Because while I would never have admitted it back in the day, and while it took years and years for me to admit it… I never really believed. In any of it. Raised Catholic, went to church twice a week for nearly seventeen years, and I look back and I did not believe in any of it. And I don’t know why. My mother was devout, my father is fairly religious, I went to Catholic schools my entire life, my culture and life were steeped in religion, but I didn’t believe it!

And I don’t know why. I don’t regret it, I don’t wish that I did, but I just don’t know what made me go to atheism while others embraced religion. I don’t know why. And I’d like to start hunting for some answers.

October 22, 2009

Catholic Dogma: Flexible When Exploiting Schisms!

Filed under: atheism, current events — Christine @ 8:40 am

So, the Catholic Church has been in the news a bit lately; or at least, the news I tend to read (which is, I admit, a wee bit biased to the atheist side of things). The first has been Bill Donohue’s latest screed in the WaPo, which basically is another reason I’m glad I stopped reading that paper. The second has been the fact that the Church has decided to make it easier for Anglicans to join the Catholic Church, by basically allowing them to have a weird sort of mini-church within Catholicism. As best I understand it, they’ll be Catholics in name and they’ll answer to the pope, but in practice (church services, hymns, rules for priests, etc), they’ll be Anglican.

The reason? Well, there’s a split amongst Anglicans right now over the roles of women and gays, and the Catholic Church sees an opportunity to up their numbers by soaking in those conservatives who can’t stand the thought of equal treatment for all. (Okay, that’s mildly polemic, but I was just reading Donohue accuse me of being too busy aborting fetuses to maintain proper American culture, I’m a bit tetchy.) Apparently Pope Benny has been eyeing the rift in the Anglican Church for a while, and made the decision seemingly unilaterally. The Anglicans are kind of flailing to put on a pleasant face and act like this is best for everyone involved. And hey, maybe it is– the Catholic Church will become more conservative and dogmatic and disconnected from the mainstream, and the Anglicans will slowly drift into Unitarian territory. The latter part of that is probably wishful thinking, I’m sure.

An interesting side affect of this is the fact that it once again publicizes the fact that the Catholic Church allows converted, married Anglican priests to stay married and priests when they switch. So you end up with this very bizarre situation in which it’s okay for convert priests to be married, but born-and-raised-Catholic priests can’t. And if a lot of Anglicans make the switch, well, you’re going to end up with a fair amount of married “Catholic” priests. The world will probably not end as a result of this. There was an op-ed somewhere,  I believe in the NYT, that theorized this might be the start of liberalizing the Catholic Church towards allowing married priests. I laughed– not under this pope.

Huh. I was going to quote a priest from that article, but it appears the article has been shortened since I first bookmarked it. That’s a shame. In any case, towards the end of the original two-page article, someone asked a bishop what they would do if a congregation led by a female Anglican priest wanted to conver to Catholicism. The bishop just smiled and said “I don’t think that’s likely to happen.”

No shit.

October 13, 2009

On Education

Filed under: current events — Christine @ 9:31 am

This is just… incredibly inspiring. A sixteen-year-old kid in India is running a free school out of his family’s backyard, teaching impoverished children how to read and write and maybe give them a chance to get out of poverty. I wonder if Kiva or anyone could organize donations for his school… it’d be really nice to get them into a building of some kind, get them more supplies, things like that.

Speaking of education, Tomato Nation is once again running their Donor’s Choose contest. Kick in some money and help out some kids across America. It’s really heartbreaking that teachers, public school teachers, have to more or less beg for the supplies they need… but they do, so we should try to help them out. Give some kids a chance to learn about biology or astronomy or poetry or art or whatever. The thank-you letters you get back are great. I still have mine from past years.

October 6, 2009

Arrogance and Atheism (Again)

Filed under: atheism, ranting — Christine @ 10:54 am

There’s really no excuse for my letting this sit for so long. I’m going to try to get back in the habit of posting here. Perhaps once I’m taking classes again, I’ll have more material to talk about.

Andrew Sullivan’s Daily Dish blog is one of my favorites. He pulls in stories from damn near everywhere, and even if I don’t always agree with him, I can usually at least respect his position. At least until atheism comes up, at which point he falls neatly into the apologist crowd. And it is quite infuriating.

Today, he has a post about an atheist meeting that took place this past weekend. Most of what I’ve read on it has been via PZ Meyers, and it seems like it was a lot of fun (Bill Maher’s presence nonwithstanding). He quotes Jerry Conye’s description of a particular talk, which to me, seems like a fairly standard academic look at theology. Coyne says that sarcasm is the best weapon against this sort of thing, and while I don’t agree 100%, it’s true that sometimes humor can help people have a change in perspective. Not so much for Sully:

They’re really charming, aren’t they? It is as if everything arrogant about the academy and everything sneering about cable news culture is combined into one big snarky smugfest. Maybe these atheists will indeed help push back the fundamentalist right. Maybe they will remind people that between these atheist bigots and these fundamentalist bigots, the appeal of the Christianity of the Gospels shines like the sun.

So… we’re arrogant and bigoted and smug and snarky. I know some would gladly embrace 3 of those terms, I’m just not quite sure exactly how he gets “bigoted” out of the fact that we don’t like religion. Sullivan, it seems, is one of those who is fine with atheists not believing in god, but do we have to, you know, talk about it? And make our arguments about why religion is wrong? Can’t we just shut up and sit down and let the believers run things in peace?

Plus, I’m sorry, but it seems rather arrogant and hypocritical to assert that atheists are arrogant in their beliefs, then spin around and proclaim that “the Christianity of the Gospels”–whatever the hell that means, because no one can seem to agree on it– is so appealing in comparison. He’s making his argument for belief in the marketplace of ideas, same as atheists are making theirs for non-belief, but he doesn’t see it that way. Religion & faith aren’t supposed to be in the same category as anything else. They’re special and fuzzy and should be kept away from outside challenge. Believers can squabble amongst themselves about who’s right, but as soon as an atheists goes “uh, you’re all wrong”, well, that sort of thing just can’t stand.

Hopefully coming soon: a discussion/review of The Canon! Yay science!

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