Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Ken Ham waxing about how atheists are persecuting Christians.

A story has been floating around the blogosphere about a man who was upset to find his child was being taught nonsense science claims at a private school he was sending his child to.

Children are being taught in the classroom that brontosaurs were refereed to as a behemoth in the the book of Job and are encouraged to answer the question "The next time someone says the earth is billions (or millions) of years old, what can you say?" with the answer "Were you there?"

Picture of the offending quiz.

Of course Ken Ham could not put up with the affront to justice that this father, who expected this school to teach science in the science classroom, represented and Ham fired back with a response.  

Now mind you, nothing in the published story even states the religious beliefs of the father in this story so there is no reason to assume he is an atheist, but this doesn't stop Ham from going off into conspiratorial ramblings about how atheists are out to get Christians. He really seems to believe that Christians are all some poor belabored minority.  

He even presents some "examples" in a box to the side of the article of persecution they face:
Billboards promoting atheism and attacking Christianity have popped up across the country.
Because apparently free speech is now persecution.
The American Humanist Association has launched a special website for children to indoctrinate them in atheism.
The site he is referring to is this one kidswithoutgod.com. It isn't aimed at converting children but giving resources to children who already don't believe.  However, even if it were aimed at conversion so what? Christians spend millions if not billions of dollars a year on hundreds of thousands of programs aimed at converting children to their religion. This website is totally passive, you have to go to it to see the content, yet many of the aforementioned Christian programs actively seek out children even when doing so violates church state separation. Why is it totally fine for them to put their ideas out there for others to consider but when we do it it's "indoctrination?"
An atheist rally in Washington DC last year had a special promotion to encourage kids to attend their atheist camps.
The program his talking about is Camp Quest. It is not an "atheist" camp, it's a secular came for children that focuses on teaching kids about science and critical thinking. It's a good program and I plan on sending my kids to it once they get old enough. I have good memories of some of the camps I went to when I was younger (minus the religious teachings of course) and I want my kids to have such memories too.

In any case, this is typical damned if you do damned if you don't criticism. Christians criticize atheists for doing nothing but attacking Christianity but offering no replacements for the "helpful social programs" that churches offer such as summer camps for kids.  Now that our movement has had a chance to establish itself we start putting together such programs and now we are accused of "indoctrinating" kids.
Atheists have been increasingly using terms like “child abuse” to describe the efforts of Christians who seek to teach their children about creation, heaven, and hell.
Several prominent skeptics including Lawrence Krauss have claimed that teaching creationism or teaching them that god sends unbelievers to hell are mild forms of child abuse, in much the same way that teaching your child that the earth is flat would be a mild form of child abuse. I happen to agree with the sentiment, however no one is suggesting that this is the same as physical abuse or that the state should necessarily take a child away from a parent for this sort of thing, though clearly we hope the children will manage to learn better than their parents and try to provide the facts to make that happen.
Many atheists claim that children belong to the community, not to their parents.
I don't know any atheists who think this. However, I do think that, though a parent has quite a bit of leeway to parent as they wish, children are still individuals separate from their parents who have rights and deserve a modicum of protection by the state from certain kinds of parental actions. I don't believe, for instance, that Christan Scientists have a right to allow their children to die from lack of medical treatment because of their belief that modern medicine is immoral.
Atheists have actively opposed any effort in public schools to even question a belief of evolution or suggest there are any problems with it.
And now we get to the dead horse Ham likes to beat, evolution. It should be noted that it is not only atheists that oppose the teaching of creationism or intelligent design in classrooms. There are theistic scientists who promote evolution like Catholic Ken Miller, so Ham's claim is not even accurate, but there are good reasons to promote good science in science classrooms, and evolution is good science.  It's nothing but Ham's biases and lack of understanding of science that leads him to believe that evolution is untenable.

Christians are not being persecuted when they aren't allowed to promote odd pseudo-science in the classroom anymore than a crypto-zoologist is being persecuted when the biology class won't let him share his evidence for Bigfoot and the Loch Ness monster.

If Ken Ham spent as much time actually learning something about science as he did complaining about how atheists are persecuting him he would realize how silly all this actually sounds.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Arizona campus preacher tells anti-rape protesters: ‘You deserve rape'

Christian preacher Dean Saxton wants women to know that they deserve to be raped. 

Saxon was quoting as saying:
if you dress like a whore, act like a whore, you’re probably going to get raped. I think that girls that dress and act like it, they should realize that they do have partial responsibility, because I believe that they’re pretty much asking for it.
Feeling that Christian love yet?

A short message for Saxton: No one deserves to be raped. Even if a woman is doing naked cartwheels in front of you don't have a right to force yourself on her. If you really look at a woman in a mini-skirt and think that her skimpy dress gives you (or anyone else) the right to sexually assault her there is something wrong with you not her.  The only time it is reasonable to have sex with someone is when they also want to have sex with you, this shouldn't even be that complicated.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

According to Turkish scientist atheism is a form of autism.

Ran across this yesterday.

Turkish scientist Fehmi Kaya, a Muslim from what I have read, is arguing that atheism is a form of autism.  From the article:
"That is why they don’t know how to pray, how to believe in God. It is needed to create awareness in these children through methods of therapy.” Kaya added that autistic children should undergo treatment to “create areas of faith in their brain."
Yes, you heard it right, Kaya  is advocating for treating atheism as a mental illness which he wants to cure. He literally wants to force people to be religious against their will. Any guess as to which religion he wants to force on them?

At least he isn't blaming vaccinations, but then I can see some conspiracy nuts using this a way to claim vaccinations are the governments way of turning people into atheists.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Debate on Homosexuality/Gay Marriage: Argument from "Just Saying"

Vocab offered as part of this debate something I have heard from Christians and other theists before, the notion that if we know that certain life style choices (like homosexuality) are unhealthy they feel required to let those people know, because they care about people's well being.  This is an attempt to answer the charge that fundamentalists are either homophobic or bigoted towards homosexuals. To a certain extent I actually accept this argument. Of course to be clear I think there are quite a few people out there both Christian and not who are in fact bigoted towards gay people but I accept that many Christians like Vocab are in fact well meaning in their assessment even if their conclusions are not well supported by the science.

I do have several problems with this statement though. First, as I have shown, much of the information that fundamentalist Christians are providing are either outright wrong, subject to conformation bias, or presented in a such an obviously biased manner that no one really takes it seriously. Vocab, who is certainly one of the more knowledgeable believers I have debated this topic with, still falls prey to these same problems. The point is just to ask a simple question, would you rather get medical advice from a doctor or a theologian? Christians like Vocab want to give homosexuals medical advice but the advice is typically very bad and given by the single group that homosexuals are least likely to listen to anyway. It is like being told that eating red meat is dangerous to your health by a member of PETA. Even if they turn out to be right you know there are other motivations there at work besides your physical health.

The reality is that everything involves risk, it's not like heterosexual sex can't put you at a higher risk for some things as well. For this reason doctors and psychologists don't generally set out to control people's behavior, they simply offer people advice to avoid as much risk as possible and then let people make up their own minds. Yet, when I tried to Google search homosexual health risks while writing this I noticed that the entire first page of results were filled with sites from Christian groups most of whom included many factually incorrect claims and at best failed to correctly reference the studies they based their claims on, I had to go to the second search result page to get a legitimate medical website. Since people can easily find out what they are at risk for by consulting with a doctor, and that information is likely to be more reliable than the advice coming from religious groups, I might humbly suggest that fundamentalist Christian apologists might want to stay out of medicine. If their efforts have any effect at all it is probably to stymie access to real medical information.

I said at the beginning of the show that every time I dig into a new statistic that some religious groups has come up with on this topic I find out that the study was flawed in some serious way. Nothing in this discussion suggests I'm wrong about that estimation.

To wrap up this series of posts, during the debate vocab asked us what the government should encourage.  A good question, my answer is that we should encourage social justice and equality. We should create a society where people are allowed to marry the person they love. I can also tell you what I don't want to encourage. I don't want to encourage a society where people's rights are limited because of things like the shoddy ad-hoc pseudo-science that often seems to fly in fundamentalist circles.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Debate on Homosexuality/Gay Marriage: Sexism and it's impact on the debate.

In the middle of the debate Vocab said something that I hear quite a bit from people who advocate against gay marriage or for more traditional gender roles in general. He said that marriage between a man and woman is needed in society because men are socialized by women, I suppose making them kinder and less violent, and that women get protection from men. I think this is a fair representation of his position but if he feels I  misunderstood his point here he may feel free to correct me.

At the time I said he was unfairly representing the sexes in this argument, but I will actually go a step further here and say that this line of thinking is sexist. Now before Vocab or any other Christians reading this get angry at this assertion, let it be known that I really try to careful in my application of words like sexist, but I do think it applies in this case. To be clear I don't think the statement was indented to be sexist, but few people actually realize they are being sexist when they do it. I know for a fact that I have said and done things in my own past which I only later realized were sexist. So I don't mean this statement as a personal attack but as a conclusion based upon thoughtful consideration about how I think men and women should relate.

In between segments the subject of Pastor Steven Anderson came up. This guy is a local preacher who believes our country was wrong to give women the right to vote. Friendly Atheist has written about him before. Vocab, rightly, distanced himself from Anderson's position the same as I would, but there is a fallacy of extremes that is often employed here where people feel their position does not qualify as sexist, racist, or some other "ist" simply because they disagree with someone with a more extreme position than theirs. If I talk about racists, for instance, most people think of the KKK or skinheads, but most racism is far less overt that this. For that matter, even Anderson probably doesn't think he is a sexist, though he is probably aware that many people think he is. He would excuse it by saying those people have been influenced by worldly values. So the fact that Vocab would likely reject the designation does not change the fact he advocated for limiting the rights of specific humans (I.E. homosexuals) based upon generalizations about gender. His statement was no better than suggesting a woman shouldn't be a CEO because they aren't competitive enough.

But what about all those studies that show men and women are different?  Well the problem is that the evidence actually does not suggest major psychological differences. Take a look at this recent study:

The interesting thing is that I have found when looking at studies like this is that when they take men and women as whole groups they can see a small statistical difference in psychological makeup. However, when they work from the other direction, that is when they take an individual's psychological profile and try to determine gender by this factor alone the difference seems to disappear. The reason for this can be seen in how the two groups over lap in a bell curve. In two bell curves that overlap closely, like the one on the right, most of two groups fall within the overlap. This means that while there may be notable differences on the fringes of the two an average person in either group will usually be indistinguishable from a person in the other group. So when fundamentalist Christian groups start claiming that science backs up their position on gender differences you should now be able to point out why they are wrong.

Vocab's position is therefore sexist in the way it portrays men and women in these stark terms while ignoring the aforementioned overlap between the two groups. Men are presented as being without self control until a woman somehow fixes them, I have seen similar arguments employed by people making apologetics for rapists. The notion that men are just barely containing desires to sexually assault should be offensive to men everywhere but it should also not be a surprising that anyone who believes in the concept of original sin would think this way. I also find it equally offensive that women are portrayed as weak and needing protection. I've written before on how I view Fundamentalist Christian thinking to be inherently sexist here: No war on women? I beg to differ. So you can read that if you want to hear more of my thoughts on the issue.

It is interesting to me that this argument could be used not just against gay marriage, but to favor forcing people to marry, after all a single man in his 30's is just rapist waiting to happen according to this argument. How can we get men to behave if there isn't a woman around to force them? How do women who don't marry manage to survive? More importantly how does one deal with the reality that violence is much lower in the modern world while marriage, particularly marriage the way Vocab envisions it is less prevalent than most of human history. Further, the modern countries with the most traditional views of marriage are the ones with the worst problems of violence against women. As an argument against gay marriage or even an argument for traditional marriage in general it fairs very very badly.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Debate on Homosexuality/Gay Marriage: Statistics Part 2

The subject of ex-gays was also brought up quickly but we didn't really get a chance to delve into it much. Fist I don't much care whether people occasionally change their sexual orientation, that may be possible, but I find it irrelevant. For one thing these people may actually be bisexual and not aware of it. However my main problem with this is that even if sexual preference was 100% personal choice, even if I could simply wake up one morning and decide to be gay (and even most fundamentalists would not claim this) I would not care. Support for gay marriage about supporting the rights of people to marry whomever they love, regardless of gender, choice is a red herring in my opinion.

However, I will go one step further though and point out that the whole concept of ex-homosexual is undeniably wrapped up with gay conversion therapy, and the statistics there show that these programs rarely work and people who go through them have much higher rates of depression and suicide. so it seems a bit ridiculous to claim this is a healthy option.

Vocab claims to know ex-homosexuals, I'll happily admit he may know such people but who cares? I know others who are, and in fact I am, an ex-Christian. I'm sure Vocab would not like anyone limiting his civil rights to practice his religion just because some people like myself decided to stop following said religion. This isn't how civil rights work for good reason.

On the subject of gay marriage Vocab brought up a study done in Sweden suggesting that rates of divorce are much higher than that of heterosexual couples. Upon further research this turned about to be a perfect example of the poor way in which people in his camp frame statistics to make their case look strong when it is weak. First off, divorce is just as an important aspect of marriage laws as the actual marriage is. Relationships that end amicably are fine, but any relationship that ends badly may need legal involvement and marriage gives us such a system.

Secondly, marriage is simply not a very big deal in Sweden, most heterosexual couples don't even bother getting married themselves. It is clear that marriage and relationships are envisioned very differently in that country than here so it is pointless to extrapolate from this data how gay marriage would play out in our country.

So what about studies of divorce rates in other countries?

So the first link here shows a study in which they measured the rate of dissolution of civil partnerships for homosexuals in Great Brittan (they don't call it marriage there yet) and found that the statistics actually show lower rates than heterosexual couples. On top of that male homosexual couples actually had lower dissolution rates that the female couples.

The second link shows statistics that indicate that in states where same sex marriage is legal the divorce rates are again lower than than of heterosexual marriages. This one I find especially interesting because they are figures from the U.S.

The third study is interesting because it shows that the states with legal same sex marriage divorce rates for heterosexuals are lower than the national average as well.  Of course I am not suggesting that homosexual marriage is directly responsible for this, these numbers were lower before it was legalized. The point is that the states who are generally most religious and have the the largest number of people complaining that gay marriage will destroy the sanctity of the institution have the highest rates of divorce. It is interesting to say the least.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Debate on Homosexuality/Gay Marriage: Statistics Part 1.

One of the studies brought up claimed that Canadian homosexuals had an average life span equal to people living in 1871 in the same area. I managed to actually find this a published copy of this study. 

First off this study's goal was to demonstrate that the effect AIDS was having on the gay community in that area. The first problem with this study is that it is rather old, it was published in 1997 and most of the figures were gathered in the early 90's. Not only was AIDS infecting more people at this time but medical treatments for it have improved greatly in the last 20 years. On top of that the published study states that there were certain factors they did not control for like the fact that suicide rates are higher in most homosexual populations. Given the limited nature of the study as well as the age it is difficult to make any definitive conclusion here.

He also brought up gay bowel syndrome. I must confess that I was actually unfamiliar with this term though perhaps I had heard in before and had just forgotten it. I looked this term up too and was unsurprised that this term is no longer used by anyone in the actual medial community. It was a term coined in 1976 that was an umbrella term for a large number of problems. Even as early as 1985 a journal of gastroenterology had this to say about the diagnosis:
The "gay bowel syndrome" was first used to describe not a syndrome, but a list of conditions. The term hides the problems facing the gastroenterologist. Firstly, the sexual orientation of a patient may not be easily ascertainable in the setting of a general outpatient clinic. Secondly, many infections of the gay bowel are asymptomatic and are missed without full microbiological screening. Thirdly, coinfection is common and the organism isolated may not be causing the symptoms and signs. Finally, the bowel has limited and non-specific clinical and histopathological responses to many infections.
There seem to be a myriad of reasons why the medical community do not view this as an actual medical condition, so the fact that it is brought up at all by Vocab begs a question about the quality of the research he is relying on.  It is also worth bring up the general problem I have in bringing up an argument like this seems to be built upon an assumption that sexuality, and indeed in particular anal sex is the only meaningful thing about the relationships of gay men.  I've met quite a few gay men who would disagree with that. (I.E. all of them)

Another host of statistics were also brought up talking about how promiscuous the average homosexual is, on the statistics he brings up I cannot really speak in great detail because; though I looked, I could not find any reputable sites that verify any of the figures Vocab gave. I found many sites published by religious believers and other anti-gay advocates repeating these figures but no links to any studies or abstracts that I could examine to see how reliable these figures are.

I did, however, two studies that offer different figures. The first study can be found here, "So you think gay men are promiscuous?". This one is based upon figures tabulated from OKCupid questions. It's fairly recent, but to be fair it's a self selected group so it may not be representative of the average gay person. However, it does at least show that there are some gay people who do not fit the stereotype.

Another study can be found here, The New England Journal of Medicine: Homosexuality. I found this study four pages deep in a Google search on the Wiki page about promiscuity. Though slightly older (1994) it has this to say:
Of heterosexually active adults in the general population, about 20 percent of men have had 1 sexual partner during their lives, 55 percent have had up to 20 partners, and about 25 percent have had 20 or more partners11. Some older studies conducted before the epidemic of the acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) indicated that homosexual men were more likely than heterosexual men to have had a very large number of sexual partners14. More recent population-based studies have found this to be relatively uncommon. For instance, Fay et al.10 found that of men who had homosexual contact after the age of 20, almost all had 20 or fewer homosexual partners in their lifetimes. Of 1450 men in the sample, only 2 were reported to have had 100 or more same-sex partners10. The inconsistency in the data on the number of sexual partners of homosexual men probably reflects flaws in the sampling techniques of the earlier studies (e.g., recruiting subjects in gay bars) and their completion before the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) epidemic.
So there we have it, according to The New England Journal of Medicine, the studies Vocab brought up are generally discredited because of poor sampling techniques just like the study by Paul Cameron I brought up early on in the debate.

I don't fault Vocab for not giving me the actual study names in the short discussion we had but perhaps if we continue this discussion at a later date he can provide links to the actual papers that make these claims. I won't hold my breath on this one though because similar figures have been repeated among Christian circles for more than two decades now and I have yet to find someone who can actually point to a viable peer reviewed study backing them up. These figures usually come from conservative Christian think tanks and upon close examination the studies don't hold up very well.

Tomorrow I'll be posting about some of the studies about gay marriage that were brought up.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Debate on Homosexuality/Gay Marriage: Introduction.

Just before the American Atheist convention I did a debate on Homosexuality/Gay Marriage with Vocab Malone and here it is. I have a few posts to put up about this debate which will be going up in the next few days.

Homosexuality/Marriage DEBATE [04/14/2013]

Like with most short form debates there are simply lots of things that can't be said in the time allotted. Points were made by my opponent which I was unable to give response to due to time constants and and also points I made which I believe I should clarify here since there are no time constraints on my blog. In fact we covered so many topics that I have broken this post up into several shorter posts rather than ask you to read what could easily amount to ten pages of writing all at once.

A lot of this debate came down to who had the better statistics. Now after explaining why I had a problem with Paul Camron's methodologies I stated that what I generally discovered across the board with the statistics quoted by people arguing against homosexuality was that the studies were either badly flawed or the figures were poorly contextualized. It was therefore interesting to me that Vocab spent most of the debate doing what I just described. He quoted a lot of statistics in the third segment which we did not have a chance to fully discuss because of time constraints, and also because he quoted several studies which I was unfamiliar with and thus could not really comment on. I have had a chance to review some of those statistics/studies now and so I will be posting a few articles over the next few days reviewing them as well as a few other claims made in the debate that I felt deserved closer analysis.

Before I delve into the particulars of the problems with some of  Vocab's arguments, I would start by pointing out that even if the claims were right it would not really change my conclusions about gay rights very much. Most of his arguments did not, and could not really speak to the morality of homosexual behavior, and his references to the bible and people being made in the image of God were pointless since he cannot demonstrate that any of those claims are true.

Furthermore, many of his statements were based upon a naturalistic fallacy. For instance claiming that anal sex is bad because the rectum is designed for expelling things rather than having things enter them. We as humans do many things we were not "designed" to do. In any case, potential risk alone cannot be the sole measure of right or wrong, we must, at a minimum, also measure potential benefits as well. What are the benefits in this case you might ask? Well, for one thing people who accept themselves as they are are generally better adjusted and happier, this is one of the reasons homosexuals who go into programs to cure them of their homosexuality are known for having higher rates of depression and suicide. I'll be talking about this more in a separate post.

It is also problematic that Vocab seems to distil the entirety of what it means to be gay down to "butt sex is unnatural." Most gay people would point out that there is more too it than that. Further, we could also argue that sexual organs are not meant to be put in ones mouth but this doesn't stop heterosexuals from having oral sex either, and many of the health concerns he mentions can apply to heterosexual sex too. Of course we didn't actually address that point so I suppose it's possible Vocab is against both oral and anal sex between heterosexuals too.

In any case, tomorrow I will go into some of the problems with some of the statistics Vocab brought up.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Why Gosnell's abortion clinic convinces me we need to to protect abortion rights.

For anyone unfamiliar here is a link to the story.

First, let me say that what Gosnell has done is immoral and criminal. It's why he is on trial after all. He not only killed infants after they were born, he preformed illegal procedures, used dirty or faulty equipment and used underage poorly trained staff that resulted in women dying from botched abortions. No pro-choice advocate is in favor of protecting or excusing what Gosnell has been accused of. 

It is interesting then that there are so many conservative, pro-life groups claiming that the liberal pro-choice groups are trying to cover up the news story to as to protect the reputation of abortion. When I goggled the topic I found many articles on it, even excluding the articles written about how many other people weren't writing articles about it. One wonders about the irony of people writing about how no one writes articles about a subject while those same people fail to write any articles about the subject they are complaining no one writes about. 

I'm not convinced there is any attempt to avoid the subject, but I'm more interested in how pro-life proponents always take stories like this one as evidence we need to make all abortions illegal. It should be immediately apparent why this is absurd because what Gosnell was doing was already illegal. He should not have gotten away with it as long as he did, and there is evidence there were serious failures in the system that should have worked to shut him down, but you can't use Gosnell's actions as an argument against legal abortions anymore than you can use people who attempt to incite violence through speech as an argument against all free speech of any kind.

The problem is that I think most pro-lifers have a basic misconception about the pro-choice movement. That is to say they believe that pro-choice advocates like abortion. We don't like abortions; this is why, for instance, pro-choice advocates fight so hard for easy contraception access especially for the poor.  I have never personally met anyone who is pro-choice who would be bothered by the number of abortions being zero if all of the reasons people got abortions went with them. If you want a world without abortion then give us a world without birth defects, pregnancy related health issues, rape and incest, birth control failures, and the failures of sex education which often cause people to have unprotected sex when they do not want children.  Give us that world and abortion will disappear because no one will want one.

Is such a world hard to provide, Impossible perhaps? Then we will never have a world with zero abortions and because of this we must therefore focus on how to make the number as low as possible. Which brings us back around to Gosnell. Pro-life advocates act like it is legal abortion that allows people like Gosnell to exist, but this is completely and totally wrong. In fact is the the pro-life movement that allows people like Gosnell to exist.  Don't believe me? Check out these facts.

There are two important facts here. One, the areas of the world who generally outlaw or restrict abortions have the highest abortion rates, often 29-32 out of 1,000 or higher. While areas with the most permissive abortion laws like Europe have the lowest, 12 out of 1,000. On top of that, the areas that outlaw abortion have the highest rates of unsafe abortions. I.E. they have the highest rates of people like Gosnell. 

Now, I'm not claiming that the abortion restrictions themselves raise the rate of abortions though they almost definitely raise the rates of unsafe abortions. Many of these countries that outlaw abortion do so based upon religious sanctions they have on sexual behavior and with those laws often go restrictions on access to birth control safe sex education. They also have little if any social services to help women who have a pregnancy they cannot afford. What we can take from this is that making abortion illegal has little to no affect on how many people seek abortions, the only thing that affects that number is making sure unwanted pregnancies don't happen in the first place as well as providing adequate health care to women who are pregnant or think they might become so. 

Yet on these fronts we see pro-life advocates standing in they way almost every time. Arizona is an abstinence only state who refuses to fund Planed Parenthood because of pro-life advocates. People in Africa are told not to use condoms by pro-life advocates. Every time I turn around pro-life groups claim they want to end abortion but then they do things are are guaranteed to increase it. It turns out that we pro-choicers are better at being pro-life than the pro-life movement is, and it's about time we started letting people know that.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Sexist shirts from Marvel.

I'm a nerd and I'm proud of it, I also think nerd culture should be well positioned to be more aware of gender issues than the population in general, which is why this story made me sad.

Marvel is selling these two shirts, the left one for boys and the right one for girls.

What kind of subtle sexist messages are we selling to children with these shirts? Some people have said that this is no big deal because the shirts are marketed to kids, but I think this actually makes it worse. Childhood and adolescence are when most people form a lot of their ideas about the world including how they relate to the other gender. Of course some people overcome those ideas in adulthood, but many will not. It is a bad idea to start kids out by providing them with sexist gender stereotypes before they are even old enough to fully understand what a gender stereotype is. 

We already have enough of this stuff from religion. I expect better from my nerdy icons.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

This is why we need to legalize gay marriage.

So this happened.

Roger Gorley was arrested because the family members of his partner Allen(presumably because they don't approve of homosexuality) refused to allow him hospital visitation. When he refused to leave security handcuffed him and removed him from the hospital then the family filed a restraining order.

Further, for those who say that a lot of these rights like hospital visitation can be achieved without marriage through other types of contracts it should be noted that Gorley has power of attorney which apparently the hospital refused to verify.

Laws in this area are changing slowly, but it is clear that until gay people are allowed to marry these instances of discrimination are likely to continue with limited legal recourse to the victims.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

An argument I wish people would stop using: Atheism is a religion like bald is a hair color.

A meme has being going around the internet for a while now. It's usually something like atheism is a religion like bald is a hair color, off is a T.V. station, not collecting stamps is a hobby or other similar witticisms.

This is a response to theists suggesting that atheism is a religion. It's not a particularly convincing or useful in my opinion; for one thing I'm not a big fan of pretending an analogy is the same thing as an argument. Now, don't get me wrong I'm not going to argue that the atheism actually is a religion. What I will argue is that this is designed to be a sort of quick witty sound byte, with out any substance or meaning. It does not encourage any sort of discussion about the claim and will likely cause both of you to walk away from the interaction without learning anything about one another or yourself. Religion is a broad word with a lot of different meanings, so dismissing the statement without exploring what the theist means does no one any good.

Perhaps they think we are like a religion because we have meetings and social groups and some of us involve ourselves in activism. In this since I would be happy to admit atheists are like religious people, but only that we are all human and desire social interaction with others, and we also often wish to improve the world in which we live, and make it better for ourselves and our family. What's wrong with any of that? I didn't reject religion for anything here.

Or perhaps they think we are like religion because we are outspoken and possibly evangelistic about our beliefs. This one is only partially true. Of course some atheists, like myself, are quite outspoken, and I think there are good reasons for that, but I do think there is a significant difference between me and many religious evangelists. Most evangelism relies heavily on emotional arguments, not rational ones. In fact I was often told in my religious days to not rely on facts too much because the only thing that would ever convert people was "experiencing the risen Christ." The evidence isn't there so evangelists rely on personal testimonies and salesmanship so tricky an Amway representative would feel shame. Emotional manipulation is not a path to truth, people should be convinced of your claim because it is backed with good evidence.

Of course I often hear is that atheism is a religion because atheists have just as much faith that god does not exist as theists have that he does. On this point I obviously disagree completely. If they agree that faith is belief without evidence then it cannot possibly take faith to reject their claim and if they do not accept that definition then they still need to present evidence for their version of god. In other words this criticism is nothing but a smoke screen to attempt to move the burden of proof.

The point is, instead of using an argument that is completely dismissive, I would suggest asking the theist for clarification of this statement. How exactly is atheism like a religion? What specific thing do we do that they think is something only a religious group would do? Rather than shutting down the conversation this requires the theist to justify their position, and might just change their mind a bit about atheists.Comparing atheism to baldness or inactive televisions does none of this. It is the verbal equivalent of flipping off your opponent, it might make you feel better but it's not useful.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Creationist bets 10,000 dollars no one can disprove Genesis.

Dr. Joseph Mastropaolo
Dr. Joseph Mastropaolo, a member of the Creation Science Hall of Fame, wagered $10,000 that evolutionists cannot disprove the literal reading of Genesis. 

I would note that Mastropaolo's Ph.D. is in kinesiology and is therefore not terribly relevant to an examination of the physics or geology involved in radiometric dating or most of the other things he seems to think he is an expert it.

Full article here:

So Mastropaolo correctly points out that proving the earth is old would disprove the Genesis account.
What evidence do they have that original creation didn't happen?" Mastropaolo said. "In order for them to cast doubt on that Genesis narrative, they have to prove that the Earth is very, very, very old.
So, along comes science with it's radiometric dating, dendrochronology, plate tectonics and the like, all of which demonstrate the earth is much older than 10,000 years. Ah, says Mastropaolo, those tests are all flawed. Why can't we trust radiometric dating?
As evidence he cites inconsistency in radiometric estimates of the Earth's age. In 1921 it was estimated that the world is 1.5 billion years old, while in 1991 it was estimated that the world was 4.5 billion years old.
Ah, that's right science sometimes changes because of new information so it must be totally wrong.

In fact Mastropaolo has a "calibration equation" he uses that basically seems to break down to claiming that every 1.163 million radioisotope years equals only 10 actual years. So apparently his argument is that 1,163,000 equals 10 and therefore creationism makes perfect sense.  He also believes that there were still dinosaurs around as little as 1,000 years ago.

After a bit of internet searching I managed to find his actual website (Science Supports Literal Genesis) in which I discovered what this "calibration equation" consists of. Part of his argument actually consists of claiming that most societies throughout history until recently believed the earth was younger and assuming that those answers must be the correct ones because they are the more common ones. The argument is based in extremely simply algebra and functionally ignores all of the discoveries in physics and geology that caused scientists to the change the estimates. 

Here is another in his long list of bizarre arguments.
Besides unreliability, another reason for rejecting the radioisotope data was their bias for older ages of the Earth. Note that the estimate in 1921 was 1.5 billion years old whereas the estimate in 1991 was 4.54 billion years old. These data would have us believe that in the 70 solar years from 1921 to 1991 the Earth, and everything on the Earth, aged 3.04 billion years.
It's difficult to tell if he statement is sarcastic or if he legitimately believes that these date changes were actually caused by the mere passage of 70 years and not because of a refinement of radio-isotope dating methods gave us more accurate results.

Over and over again he seems like he creates bizarre arguments to deny scientific consensus in order to justify his conclusions.  So it seems that Mastropaolo's claim that it is impossible to disprove Genesis is true...if you start out by throwing out all the evidence that proves it wrong.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Back from American Atheist convention and other things.

I apologize for not posting much this month, but I have been doing things.

I Spent this week in at the American Atheist Convention in Austin, TX. I met a lot of people in the movement I haven't had the chance to meet before and I learned some great things from the speakers.

Most of the talks haven't been posted on YouTube but I did find the one from Matt Dillahunty on skepticism, so I'll post that for those who are interested.

AACON 2013 Matt Dillahunty speaks on Skepticism and Atheism

Here is a few pictures I got at the convention:

With Darrel Ray, author of Sex and God

With Dan Fincke from Camels with Hammers
With a new friend Ben Conner at the pub crawl on Saturday
Some random guy at the bar who jumped into the photo
I don't know who he is.

A photo I took of my leg and a table by accident.

I also did a debate on  March 25th about gay marriage with Vocab Malone, you might remember him as the guy I debated abortion with a few months ago. We touched a a number of topics in the debate some of which we didn't have a change to delve into deeply, and both of us brought up a lot of statistics. I was planning a post to go up when the episode is posted, but it was ending up crazy long so I'm probably going to break it into four of five posts dealing with topics separately. I'm still putting some time into researching a couple of the statistical claims my opponent brought up, since many of the claims he brought up can be found on hundreds of websites most of sites by fundamentalist Christians with clear anti-gay biases,  it makes finding the legitimate published studies or even an abstract difficult. Even then one has to read the study to see if the conclusions reached by Vocab and other fundamentalists are legitimate conclusions to reach from said study.

This is often the way it is with debates, particularly ones that involve statistics. It is incredibly easy to make a claim, but as a skeptic I don't want to dismiss a claim without giving a proper reason so it can often take much longer to debunk a claim than to make it. I'll wait until the actual debate is online in a week or two to post anything though.