Saturday, September 13, 2014

Dear Mr. Creationist,...


In the past few months, a certain loud-mouthed Christian evangelist named Joshua Feuerstein has become quite popular in Christian circles and infamous in atheist circles for his phone camera videos attempting to disprove atheism and the scientific theory of evolution, mostly by repeating long refuted creationist tropes with the delivery of a used car salesman.

His latest video is no exception. But before you click on that link and watch Joshua's video, please take a few moments to read this transcript of the video along with my response afterwards. It may save you from facedesking too hard:

"Josh Feuerstein here. I've been issued a challenge to publicly prove that God exists, and that atheism and evolution are illogical and just don't plain make sense. And, without using the Bible, so here we go:

You know, it's funny because a lot of times people that don't want me to use a Bible, say things like "Oh my gawd,I mean, that's just so illogical. I mean, evolution is the only logical explanation!" But let's really look at how logical evolution really is.

I mean, imagine that you've never read a history book and all of a sudden you're driving through South Dakota and you see a mountain with four big faces on it. Well, we know it's Mt. Rushmore, but say you didn't. Then all of a sudden you see it, would you just assume that that was a product of evolution? That the mountain had just evolved that way? Or would you think that maybe there had been an artist or a designer that had somehow carved those faces into that mountain? I mean, I want you to really think about it, think about the house that I live in or that even you live in. Think about the car that you drive. Those are complex beings, and yet each one of them has a blueprint. I mean, do you really think that the human body was built without a blueprint? Especially looking at DNA, the fact that inside of you there's a three billion letter code? That specifically tells exactly how you're made up? Doesn't that prove intelligent design? The fact that your body has a blueprint? How can it have a blueprint if it doesn't have a designer?

I mean, think about the Earth that we live in. Think about the fact that it's 8,000 miles in diameter. Think about the fact that it's 93 million miles from the Sun. If it was any larger, well the air would be far too dense and turn into water and cover the Earth. If it were farther or closer to the Sun, we would either freeze or burn to death. Think about the fact that it's tilted 23.5 degrees, which allows the seasons. Think about the fact that it's the right distance from the Moon, that when it spins, that it's able to control the tides. Think about the fact that the atmosphere is 78% nitrogen and 21% oxygen. I mean, even Stephen Hawking, the great physicist, had to admit that the universe and its laws of physics seem to be specifically designed for us.

Now think about this: When it comes to evolution, the one reason that evolution can never match up with science, is that an organism has never been shown to gain genetic information. So how can something evolve from an atom, well, to a human being? How could it become molecule to man? You know, I realize that there's a lot of people out there who draw pictures of apes, and "there's evolution into humans", but I can do the same thing with a flower and a windmill. But it doesn't mean that it's true. It's a good artist, and a good story, but the fact is, is that there's not one organism that has ever shown us that it has added genetic information. In fact, science has proven that organisms lose genetic information over time. So how can something evolve when it's actually in the process of "devolving"?

Another nail in the coffin of evolution? Well, this is just plain and simple: "It has never been proven that life can come from non-life!" End of story!"

The rest of the video is just preaching drivel and self-promotion, so I won't include that here. To Josh's credit, he does attempt to make his argument without a single quote from the Bible. But that's the only credit he's going to get.

Josh's first mistake is equivocating complex, man-made structures and machines with biological evolution. Evolution applies to biological lifeforms, not sculpted mountains, houses, and cars.

His second mistake is his misrepresentation of DNA. DNA doesn't live in a vacuum. It is susceptible to modification via mutations, radiation, epigenetic factors, and selection pressures. Also, DNA contains large swaths of "junk DNA" and genes for traits that aren't beneficial to the organism anymore. Genes for molar teeth and sickle cell anemia are such examples. That's not design, that's biological history. And evolution is about changes in DNA, in both gaining and losing genetic information.

His third mistake is an intentional distraction by spouting off irrelevant facts and half-truths about the Earth that have zero bearing on evolution, capped with a quote mine from Stephen Hawking.

Josh then misrepresents those who accept evolution by claiming their evidence is "drawings of apes into man". Go to a museum, Josh, and ask to see evidence of human evolution. You'll see fossils of early hominids such as Australopithecus afarensis("Lucy") up to Homo sapiens(modern man). There is even genetic evidence for evolution when comparing the human genome against any other species on the planet.

Josh's final mistake is the oft-repeated creationist mantra that "life cannot come from non-life". That's true, if we're talking about expecting a human to come directly from mud. But, the origin of life isn't the question that evolution answers. Evolution answers the question of why life on Earth is so diverse. The event that began life on Earth, generally called "abiogenesis", is still a mystery to scientists, but it's clear that it likely had to do with gradually forming the first replicating organic molecule under the right conditions, and then evolution began directly afterwards. That is "life coming from non-life", because if abiogenesis didn't happen, then the Earth would still be just like all the other planets in the Solar System: barren and dead.

So Josh, drop the act and take a real challenge: Stop reading hack articles from Answers in Genesis and the Institute for Creation Research, and read a few articles on evolution from genuine, reputable science sites such as the National Center for Science Education, The National Academies and Encyclopedia Brittanica. It'll take only about five to ten minutes of your time, and it will make you do the one thing you keep telling your audience to do but not do for yourself: THINK!

"God's Not Dead" Review Part 2: Racism and Poor Apologetics

(Note: Sorry for taking so long to release this part of the review. Real life problems got in the way of blogging for a bit.)

Racism's Not Dead

"God's Not Dead" also suffers from some bits of racism, of both the ethnic and religious kinds.

The racism is apparent when you notice the attitudes of the parents of the non-white students: The Chinese father is so busy and paranoid, it seems like he practically lives in his limo. The Arabic Muslim father is an outright bigot, telling his daughter that everyone else at the college is evil. And then we have an actual trope: the pastor's missionary friend as the token black person.
Next, there's the conversation between Wheaton and the pastor when he asks how many students go to church. Wheaton answers "Probably none". Based on... what, that all of them wrote three words on a piece of paper for any easy grade? In reality, the religious makeup would be the majority of students would be Christian.

Speaking of religious diversity, why aren't any Jewish people represented in the film? Or Buddhist? Mormon? Apparently in this alternate universe, they are treated like the Loch Ness Monster: heard of but never seen.

Worst Philosophy Class... Ever!

Right from the first class session, it struck me just how little philosophy is actually taught in the movie. The audience is first primed with a list of atheistic philosophers provided by Radisson, though the list is incorrect in including Richard Dawkins, as he is a biologist, not a philosopher. However this is later explained by the writers giving Radisson an almost religious obsession with Dawkins. Then Radisson tells his class to skip all debates and discussions and write down "God Is Dead" for a passing grade. That is not philosophy. The discussions and debates, however meaningless it may seem to Radisson, are the lifeblood of philosophy. Then when Wheaton refuses to do what Radisson wants, and suggests that the class judge his lectures at the end, Radisson asks "Why would I want to empower them?". If this were reality, that would certainly have been the point where at least some students would have reported Radisson to the Dean. A college professors' job is to empower students, and anybody who wants to deny empowerment to students does not belong behind a teacher's desk.

After the class, Radisson further displays why he's not fit to be a teacher by threatening not just Wheaton's class grade but also his future aspirations. This, more than anything else, should have compelled Wheaton to report Radisson. But, this is the bizarro world of Christian persecution and propaganda, so Wheaton lets it slide despite being very rattled.

The three debates that happen afterwards have very little philosophical content and literally the only question that is asked by a student during the debates is "What's a theist?". And Radisson proves to be a piss-poor debater in the final debate as he's easily goaded into revealing his misotheism. So what does the audience learn about philosophy? Nothing, except really bad arguments and barbed quips to use on atheists to avoid engaging legitimate criticism of their religious beliefs.

(Tune in for part 3, where I explore who comes out worse in this movie, atheists or Christians.)

Monday, July 21, 2014

This Video Is Not Dangerous To My Atheism

The other day I was checking up on my Klout score(something I'm finding to be a fairly useless measure of social media influence), and I seen this blog post listed in the create tab: "Warning: This Video May Be Dangerous To Your Atheism".

Oh, joy. A blog post from the original writer of "God's Not Dead", Rice Broocks. Let's see if we can analyse this blog post, paragraph by paragraph:

"The discovery that the universe had a beginning is a relatively recent realization in the scientific community. The implication of this discovery is that in one moment, all of space and time came into being. In fact, one such scientist named the event the "Big Bang" as a derogatory term, since he feared that the idea was allowing "the divine foot in the door""[emphasis Broocks'].

The last sentence is the first mislead in the blog post. Georges LemaƮtre, the scientist who first proposed the Big Bang model, described it as the "the Cosmic Egg exploding at the moment of the creation". Fred Hoyle, who was the one who coined the theory "the Big Bang", criticized it mainly because it competed with his favorite, but now obsolete, "Steady State" theory. While Hoyle did fear the "divine foot in the door", his fear was unnecessary. The Big Bang theory does not imply an intelligent or supernatural cause, despite Broocks obviously trying to paint it as such. It may allow for a possibility of such a cause, but then such a cause must first be proven before plugging it as anything beyond a hypothesis.

"Further, the notion of a beginning for everything was resisted by certain scientists due to the fact that it pointed people toward a Creator. The fundamental laws of physics appear to have been carefully designed to allow for a life-permitting universe. This evidence of “fine-tuning” further points to a personal, super-intellect creating the universe with life in mind."

Again, this fear was totally unnecessary. And in this paragraph is an appeal to the long debunked "fine-tuning" argument for the existence of God. Unfortunately for Broocks, as the previous link shows, "fine-tuning" can actually be a great argument for the non-existence of God. Consider that we live in a universe that is estimated to be only 2% baryonic matter, and just on Earth biomass is only .00000000117% of Earth's total mass. This seems more like a universe fine-tuned for black holes and dark matter than for life. Moving on:

"The naturalist (one who believes nature is all that exists) asserts that the universe came into being from nothing, by nothing, for nothing. The theist believes the universe came from nothing, by Someone, for something. Naturalists attempt to explain away this evidence by appealing to the existence of multiple universes (the multiverse). However, such claims are based mainly on wild speculation and blind faith, so they are not as reasonable as an eternal, uncreated, personal Creator."
And here is where Broocks engages in projection and metaphysical cherry-picking. Broocks projects that naturalists believe the universe was created ex nihilo(from nothing) without an effective cause. However, all of humanity's experience shows that things that exist within the universe are created ex materia(from materials) with some sort of effective cause. Yet Broocks clearly states that theists believe the universe came into being ex nihilo by a supernatural sentient creator being, based on the same blind faith and wild speculation he accuses naturalists of having. Broocks can't demonstrate or point to an act of creation ex nihilo within the universe, and we certainly haven't found a way to observe anything outside the universe, so ex nihilo itself is nothing more than a hypothesis at best.

But scientists aren't dogmatically naturalists. Scientists are bottom-up evidentialists and empiricists. Until evidence can reasonably show otherwise, Broocks' argument can't advance any further than a hypothesis. And let's be clear, Broocks does not have any evidence to support his claim, just his religious beliefs. He's working top-down by starting with his conclusion and cherry-picking what he can use and ignore what breaks his conclusion. If it were discovered that Big Bang was caused, say for the sake of argument, by an act of virtual particles, would he call those particles "God"? I highly doubt it. He'd probably just move the goalposts and claim "God" made the virtual particles that caused the Big Bang.

The last paragraph of Broocks' piece doesn't really matter, so I'll just say this about the video in the article which was supposed to be "dangerous" to my atheism: The Kalam cosmological argument is not an argument for God at all. It can only claim at best that the universe had a cause. Religious apologists merely jump to "God" from Kalam without any reasoning or evidence to bridge that gap. The most honest answer that can be given at this moment is simply: "We don't know what caused the Big Bang yet, but it seems it will be something that is very crazy to our minds". For a more in-depth refutation of the Kalam argument, I leave you to watch philosophy buff, soap actor and YouTube atheist Scott Clifton do so with ease:



Saturday, July 12, 2014

"Persecuted": The False Persecution Con of Christianity

In the Christian propaganda film "God's Not Dead", all of the Christian characters are portrayed as "persecuted for their faith" while "godless atheists" run the house until one reluctant protagonist is thrust into the spotlight and triumphs over all in the end. This plot device, while having no basis in reality, has become a popular theme in many Christian propaganda films lately.

Later this month, a new Christian propaganda film will be coming out, and it couldn't have a more blatantly fitting title: "Persecuted". The basic plot is this: an evangelistic politician(played by James Remar) is framed for murder after he opposes a sweeping religious reform bill. He must fight to clear his name and take down the bill because it would supposedly persecute the rights of Christians if it passes.

On the movie's Facebook page, all of the posts are meant to elicit vacuous "Amen" comments, promote the movie and it's blog, highlight genuine persecution abroad, or make the audience feel that their rights to be Christians in America are being or about to be taken away.

This movie is not meant to simply pander to Christians, but propagate and reinforce a popular notion that everyone who is a Christian will soon be actively persecuted and they must fight against the "godless politicians" to "bring God back into the government".

However, anybody with a sharp, observant mind will see the fake persecution complex for what it is. The movie itself contradicts it: Here we have a multi-million dollar Christian film, starring popular Hollywood actors, being distributed and shown in theatres throughout the nation, with a guaranteed audience filled with church groups and other believing Christians. If Christian persecution in America existed, this film would not have made it as far as it has. It seems, however, that the opposite is true, as the following video shows:



So why is this false persecution complex propagated? Ironically, it's not used to describe when actual persecution is taking place. It's used when a privilege that's been historically granted solely to Christianity is granted to another faith or by nonbelievers in order to preserve the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment in America. "We are being persecuted!" is the cry when a Hindu priest delivers an invocation in the U.S. Senate, or when an atheist bench or Satanic statue is placed alongside a Ten Commandments statue on public property. Basically, to American Christians who take the false persecution complex to heart, persecution is seen as being forced to play on a level playing field with everyone else, and they do not want to give up their privilege.

So they recast their loss of privilege as a form of rights persecution, even going as far as inventing a new yet nonsensical term in an attempt to validate their faux outrage and try to regain their lost privileges.

Yet "Persecuted" doesn't seem to go that route in propagating the persecution complex. From the trailers and plot summary, it seems that the "persecution" takes the form of a government conspiracy to take away religious rights of Christians. Apparently, in this alternate universe, the Republican Party and the Religious Right don't exist and nearly everybody except the protagonist is anti-Christian or completely agnostic. In reality, Christians are the vast majority in the U.S., including Congress. So just as in "God's Not Dead", this movie sacrifices even superficial reality at the altar of propaganda.

So if you're planning to watch "Persecuted" and expect to see a movie that doesn't misrepresent reality, you'll be wasting your time and money. Better to spend it on a movie that makes no bones about it being purely fiction, like "Transformers: Age of Extinction" or "Rise of the Planet of the Apes". At least those movies aren't out to convince you there's warring factions of giant robots or intelligent apes armed with rifles at your doorstep.

Friday, July 11, 2014

The Cannabis Oil Con: When New Age Woo Attacks, Part 2

The other day on Facebook, a relative of mine posted a link from the psuedoscientific New Age woo page "The Mind Unleashed". In the link was a
NOT a cancer cure.
picture(see left) of 7 tubes of cannabis oil, with the caption "-CANCER CURE- A 60 gram supply of Cannabis Oil is recommended for those suffering from serious dis-ease such as cancer. Each tube is 10 grams. Pictured here is enough to treat one cancer patient. And only $600-$1,200 TOTAL. The health care industry would charge you that much for your first night in the hospital. Cure your cancer or lose your home and pay for chemotherapy".

After pointing out to her that cannabis oil does not cure cancer, she then claims but doesn't link that a study was done in the 1970s that shown that cannabis oil cures cancer, but it was "suppressed" by the government and pharmaceutical industry so they can make money. That's classic conspiracy theory talk. One article I found earlier that mentions cannabinoids used in cancer treatment links to a study showing the slowing effects of two synthetic cannabinoids on lab-grown prostate cancer cell lines and on mice. Now, that is a far cry from a "cure". Human trials aren't even in the picture. Not to mention that there's anywhere between 100 to 200 different types of cancer in humans, with different pathophysiologies, genetics, prognoses, causes and treatments(credit: Skeptical Raptor). In short, cancer isn't some monolithic disease with a single cure-all for it.

Yet, here we have a website that features articles such as "15 Tips For Empaths" and "Can We Reprogram Our DNA and Heal Ourselves With Frequency, Vibration & Energy?" boldly claiming that cannabis oil is a cheap, real cure for all cancer without real evidence to back it up, and you should choose it over proven treatments(chemotherapy). That's recklessly dangerous and can cost lives. But then, this isn't the first time New Age proponents have made dangerous medical claims and I doubt it will be the last.

Friday, May 2, 2014

What's wrong with Christian films these days?

I am currently writing up Part 2 of my review of "God's Not Dead", but I want to share some thoughts on what I've noticed about Christian films today and an idea that may vastly improve the quality of future Christian films so believers won't have to be totally embarrassed by them.

Preaching to a dwindling choir

Many Christian films today aren't made for a general audience. They cater to strictly Christian audiences of a specific type. But in times past, Christian films were made with the intent not simply to depict Biblical stories, but also to genuinely entertain a wider audience. "Jesus Christ Superstar" immediately comes to mind as an excellent example. Even if you weren't Christian, you'd find something enjoyable about the film.

Today's faith-based films focus more on drilling conservative evangelical "values" and horribly poor attempts at proselytizing/evangelization. Take a look at "God's Not Dead", "Revelation Road"(and it's sequel), or the "Left Behind" movies. All they do is reassure believers with a pat on the head and foster a toxic sense of superiority coupled with a persecution complex. Today's films(with the exception of Darren Aronofsky's "Noah") are too high on the preaching and too low on enjoyment. Anybody who isn't an evangelical Christian with a persecution complex will roll their eyes and walk away first chance they get. How can Christian filmmakers fix this problem?

Want better Christian films? I "Noah" guy...

Ideally, if Christian filmmakers want to really make their movies respectable, they should do as Darren Aronofsky did, and treat their myths as exactly that and not take themselves too seriously.

But since that's out of the question for the majority of Christian film companies who treat Scripture as "truth", here's an alternative idea suggested by "The Thinking Atheist"'s Seth Andrews that may give Christian filmmakers the perspective they sorely need when making a film that intends to proselytize:

Before releasing the film to the general public, host a free screening specifically and only for atheists . When the screening is over, ask every member of the audience two questions over a live television stream: 1) Has this film changed your views on Christianity? 2) Are you more interested in becoming a Christian? And please explain your answers.

I guarantee the answers and their reasoning will be quite eye-opening, to say the least.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The Misfit Atheist Movie Review: "God's Not Dead" Part 1

This past Saturday, the much-hyped Christian melodrama "God's Not Dead" was released to select theatres, starring Kevin Sorbo(TV's Hercules: The Legendary Journeys), Dean Cain(Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman), Willie Robertson(Duck Dynasty), Shane Harper and Christian music group Newsboys.

That day, after reading "Camels With Hammers" author Dan Fincke's short yet scathing first thoughts of the movie on Facebook, I decided to plunk down $14.50(highway robbery!) and check it out for myself. It turns out Dan was right, and I can easily say this was the most despicable Christian movie I've ever seen.

Worse than "The Genesis Code"

Quite a while back I did a somewhat sloppy review of "The Genesis Code", which is another Christian film that caricatures academia as persecuting Christians. There was quite a lot of dishonesty and insulting portrayals, mostly by the protagonists' "scientist" brother who concocts a poor hypothesis to reconcile the Genesis creation story with science, and Catherine Hicks' laughably unrealistic portrayal as a college guidance counselor. God's Not Dead(GND from here on out) goes way further, by demonizing anybody in the movie who is not a Christian as one-dimensionally evil and barely even human.

The Main Plot

The main plot goes like this: The main character Josh Wheaton(Shane Harper) enrolls in a philosophy class taught by dictatorial atheist Professor Radisson(Kevin Sorbo). On the first day, Radisson instructs the class to "skip all the meaningless and time-consuming discussions" by writing down on paper "God is dead" to count as a passing grade. Wheaton sheepishly refuses, and Radisson challenges him to argue the antithesis in three debate sessions to be ultimately judged by the rest of the class. Wheaton winds up winning the debate with a trap so obvious and easy to avoid, anyone who wasn't eating up the propaganda was rolling their eyes. After winning the debate, all the characters go to a Newsboys concert, Radisson gets fatally hit by a car and given a pretty ghoulish deathbed conversion, the credits roll and the makers of the film claim the movie was inspired by several court cases(listed in the credits).

The Subplots

There are several subplots, which seem very random at first but, as I've seen in "The Genesis Code", are either connected with other characters or used to further the main propagandic theme of the movie. There's the female blogger who ambush-interviews Duck Dynasty's Willie Robertson just before getting diagnosed with cancer. Then we're introduced to her hotshot businessman husband(Dean Cain). Next we see a woman taking care of her dementia-ridden mother. She calls up her brother, who just so happens to be the same hotshot businessman, and implores him to visit her mother. And as we later find out, she also happens to be dating Professor Radisson. There's the Chinese student Martin who becomes interested in Christianity, but his paranoid father doesn't want to hear because "someone might be listening". Yeah, I don't get it either. Next there is the female Muslim student who secretly converts to Christianity and is thrown out by her overbearing father after finding out. And finally there is the pastor(played by the bland David A.R. White) and his missionary friend, who provide the only humor in the movie in the form of a running joke that they just can't get a working rental car so they can take a vacation.

Oh, and there's also Josh's girlfriend who dumps him after he takes up Radisson's challenge, because apparently it will ruin her already mapped-out 60 year life plan with Josh. We thankfully never see her again after that.

The Writers Apparently Don't Know Real Atheists

The biggest, and most visible problem with this film is that the writers willfully portray atheists and academia as one-dimensional, evil, and/or sociopathic. The blogger is comically annoying(but set up as the easy "redeemable" person at the end), Radisson belittles his girlfriend(who is a Christian, of course) in front of his colleagues(who are apparently also atheist because none of them stand up to help her), and Cain's character coldly dumps his wife on the spot when she reveals her cancer diagnosis.

But the audience didn't see this glaring problem and ate it up like red meat.

Also, the movie propagates the myth that atheists are really anti-theists who had some kind of bad religious experience. "I asked God for something and I didn't get it, so now I'm an atheist and I hate God". The only thing the writers got right was Radisson's claim that "atheists tend to come from religious backgrounds". Every other aspect of the portrayals of atheists seems to stem from the writers looking at atheist vs. theist Internet flame wars and picking the worst of the atheist comments.

Had they consulted with actual atheists, then they would discover that atheists and theists get along nicely 99% of the time in real life. They have friendly conversations, can become friends, get romantically involved and even marry and still happily maintain their beliefs(yes, this does happen!).

Think... Roman Colosseum

At the beginning of the film, when Wheaton signs up for the philosophy class, the student counselor tries to dissuade him after noticing his cross necklace.
Wheaton: "Come on, it can't be that bad."
Counselor: "Think... Roman Colosseum. People cheering for your death."
What the writers of the film apparently do well is how to make a specific audience(white evangelical fundamentalist Christians with a persecution complex) feel validated at the expense of everyone else. The theatre I went to was actually full(church groups most likely), and well over half the audience reacted exactly as the counselor character warned, but predictably cheering for the deaths of those "evil atheists". How did I feel? Slandered. Disappointed. Angry, even. In fact, even angrier than when I watched "The Genesis Code". Pure Flix managed to create a film that gives white evangelicals a hearty pat on the back while gleefully flipping off everybody else. A reverse Roman Colosseum, if you will.

In Part 2, I will explore the racism on display in GND. So stay tuned, folks!