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!

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Meet David Rives, "Creationist Astronomer"

Meet David Rives. David is a contributor to World Net Daily(a flaming conspiracy theory "news" site) who runs a Young Earth Creationist ministry and claims to be an astronomer. David was featured a while ago on Eric Hovind's show "Creation Today", where he claims that the Big Bang theory is "bad science" solely on the basis that it contradicts the Bible.

He then further claims that if we look at the science behind astronomy, it matches up with the Bible.

The Bible on Astronomy

According to the Bible, the universe is geocentric, with a flat Earth and shaped like a tent(Isaiah 40:22). To maintain this view, David would have to reject: heliocentrism, the fact that our Solar System exists on the Orion-Cygnus Arm of the Milky Way galaxy(which we're fairly certain is nowhere near the center of the universe), the discovery that the earth is round, and that current data has eliminated the "tent" hypothesis for the shape of the universe. And the results of these scientific, empirical discoveries have helped enable us to walk on the moon, GPS, send rovers to Mars, discover exoplanets and eventually have the first interstellar space probe.

Big Bang vs. The Bible

Now let's go for the jugular of David's claims: that science backs up literal Biblical creationism. First, it must be noted that the Bible has two incongruent creation stories(Genesis 1 and 2). But we'll focus on the first story for brevity. The first problem we see is that planet Earth is created first, before anything else. No sun, moon or stars. No light-producing objects at all. From what we've observed in the formation of solar systems, this is impossible without a light-producing object undergoing stellar nucleosynthesis first and then ejecting the new elements, which eventually coagulate into planets and moons. And from the same observation linked above, it's obvious that it takes so much longer than a single day. And of course, the Bible runs into major problems with the creation of plants and animals. On the third "day", plants are created. But there's no sun to drive their photosynthetic processes until "day" four. Then on "day" five, all the sea animals and flying animals are created - simultaneously. This directly contradicts observation of the fossil record indicating that sea life came first, then land animals and finally flying animals.

Now let's take a look at the Big Bang Theory. Quoting straight from the Wikipedia entry(emphasis mine):"The Big Bang is the scientific theory that is most consistent with observations of the past and present states of the universe, and it is widely accepted within the scientific community. It offers a comprehensive explanation for a broad range of observed phenomena, including the abundance of light elements, the cosmic microwave background, large scale structure, and the Hubble diagram."

To be sure, there are some problems with the Big Bang Theory, but that doesn't mean it's disproven and we should adopt the already disproven creationist dogma, as David suggests. It just means there's some problems that need to be accounted for. And even if we never get these problems solved, there's still more than enough evidence that the Big Bang or a similar theory is the most likely explanation of the origin of the known universe.

Why "creationist astronomer" is an oxymoron

So why does David lie if he's supposedly a "real" astronomer? The answer: He isn't a real astronomer. He's an invested creationism peddler who uses the fact that he owns a telescope to fool people into thinking he's a qualified authority on the subject of astronomy. It's a common tactic in creationist circles: Dress up in safari gear and people believe you're a paleontologist or archaeologist. Dress up in a lab coat and you look like a physicist/biologist/scientist. Show off a telescope and you're automatically assumed to be an astronomer. Right, David?

The Misfit Atheist on the Sunday Assembly/Godless Revival Split

Earlier this year, British comedians Sanderson Jones and Pippa Evans started the first "atheist church", called the Sunday Assembly. It started out as an experiment, but quickly caught fire in the UK. On a very hot June summer day, coinciding with the gay pride parade, the first Sunday Assembly in America happened in a small bikini bar in Manhattan, complete with an actual protester next to the bar. I attended this event and found it wildly fun. From there, future assemblies started all over the United States. Things were going swimmingly well... up until last month.

Sanderson Jones was recently quoted as saying "I’d like to make this as un-atheistic as possible. Atheism is boring. We’re both post-religious." This, along with several anti-atheist ideas he agreed with, did not go over well with a majority of folks within the SA-NYC board of directors. The minority that did agree with Sanderson decided to relaunch the Sunday Assembly as something more of a general nontheistic congregation.

In response to Sanderson's apparent shunning of the word "atheist", the former board of directors decided to launch their own alternative to the Sunday Assembly, the Godless Revival.

I recently attended the relaunch of SA-NYC, and aside from the venue change(at the NY Society for Ethical Culture, which actually bills itself as a humanistic religion) and that the post-service socialization had tea and cookies rather than beer served(though afterwards many people went to a nearby bar for further socializing), there's virtually no change from previous assemblies. I plan to attend the first Godless Revival meeting later this month, but at this point I'd like to offer my thoughts on the split and where I currently stand on it.

While I understand why Sanderson would want to de-emphasize atheism in favor of greater inclusion, I think he should have used language such as "We'd like to make this more inclusive to where it's appealing not only to atheists, but anybody looking for a nontheistic celebration of life. Sunday Assembly isn't only for atheists, despite the media labeling us as an 'atheist church'". What he did say though certainly came off sounding anti-atheistic.

As for the folks organizing the Godless Revival, I totally get why the split is needed. Atheism is still treated like a toxic word in the United States, and for the founders of SA to bury it as "boring" after successfully showing that atheists can celebrate life just as(and arguably even more) positively as religious people, is a slap in the face to those of us(like myself) who find atheism as anything but boring.

But, I've seen a few conversations between certain GR and SA organizers(I won't name names, but you know who you guys are) on Facebook and I'm dismayed at the bitterness and mud slinging on both sides on display. I'm quite worried that this bitterness may harm the success of both SA and GR. So I'm suggesting both sides take a step back, cool down, get over it and work it out amicably. The last thing I'd want to see is either group devolving into something like what happened with "Atheism+" or worse. There's more than enough room for both endeavors to thrive with their similar yet distinctly different goals, and maybe some fences could be mended down the line.