Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Hurricane Sandy, Atheists and Douchebag Preachers

As I'm typing this, it's just past midnight and Hurricane Sandy is still whipping the New England area pretty bad. I'm relatively safe despite being right in Sandy's path, thanks to a combination of a few things: The house I live in shares an entire wall with the next door neighbors, making it structurally tough; there's no trees right in front of my house, so there's no risk of tree damage, and I live in a neighborhood that is comfortably above sea level, so there's no flooding danger. The worst I've gotten so far is two minor power outages that lasted no longer than a minute(Yay for study electrical infrastructure!) and the crappy plastic storage shed in the backyard is demolished(It's my not-so-bright uncle's shed and I didn't have anything in it, so it's not a worry for me at least).

During my continuing hunkering down in the house with my aunt and cousins, I've been seeing some pretty good hurricane survival advice being shared by fellow atheists on Facebook. Some good tips include: "If you're fairly certain that your water may get shut off and you have a bathtub, clean it good, rinse it, put a drain stopper in it and fill it up before the storm hits", "fill up gallon sized freezer bags with water and freeze them. That way if the power goes out the frozen bags can help keep the fridge cool and you'll have fresh water when the bags melt", "virtually all canned foods can be eaten straight from the can", "If you have a gas grill, you can use it to cook and boil water" and "If you see a zombie, always either cut off the head or destroy the brain"(okay, that last one is made up). Even David Silverman laid out some basic, solid advice to folks last year when Hurricane Irene came around, despite the bullying attempts by the host and guests.

What you won't see from atheists is crap like this: "Christian preacher blames gays for Hurricane Sandy". I should note that Mr. McTernan's irrational and laughable views are not an isolated incident at all. Just yesterday my friend Lee Moore of A-News noted that street preachers were out in force in NYC, no doubt using the fear of Sandy's imminent arrival as a method to get people to believe their religious propaganda. Every time there is a major disaster, such as Hurricane Katrina, the Japanese earthquake/tsunami and power plant meltdown, major earthquakes and other natural disasters, there are preachers of all faiths who will blindly assert that it's not nature behind the disasters, but divine judgement for whatever issue the preacher and his/her religion is currently against(homosexuals, Israel, contraception, abortion, unbelief/apostasy, you name it). Telling people to "pray to be saved" does nothing to help the situation. It only serves to scare people into thinking they are doing something when in fact they aren't. If it did actually do something, then these churches might have still been standing.

So the next time a natural disaster comes your way, remember what Mr. Silverman said: Act like an atheist; be prepared for the worst while hoping for the best. Two hands working are better than a thousand clasped in prayer.

Monday, October 8, 2012

The Misfit Atheist watches "The Genesis Code"

The other night after my work shift was done, I checked the Redbox machine in the store to see what was new. Redbox is known to not only carry major box office titles, but also craptacular B-movies and equally crappy Christian propaganda films(like Ben Stein's "Expelled"). That night, I seen that "The Genesis Code" was "new" and in stock. I never watched a Christian propaganda film before, so I figured to rent it and review it. As I write this, I've just finished watching it and quite frankly, my head hurts from all of the blatant dishonesty emanating from it. Nevertheless, I will endeavour to give as much of a rational review of it as possible.

The Plot

"The Genesis Code" is a religious film surrounding a romance story between a college hockey player and a college student journalist. The movie opens on a college hockey game, where the local team win the game thanks to their new star player Blake. After the game, Blake is approached by Kerry, a college journalist assigned with writing a story on Blake. When Kerry rebuffs Blake's initial advance by telling him that's she "chaste", he instantly picks up that she's a Christian. Later in the movie, we find out the reason why: She's a preacher's daughter(who also happens to be the movie's executive producer).

The titular theme of the Genesis story is introduced via Blake's teammates poking fun at her religious beliefs, citing the Genesis creation as Bronze Age fairy tales(which they are, but I'll save the detailed criticisms for later in this post). Blake doesn't believe the Genesis story as well and challenges her to prove the Genesis story correct as a condition of telling her anything she wants to know for her story. So she enlists her geeky brother and his friends to cook up a pseudo-scientific theory to prove that the Genesis story of creation is correct and in accord with science.

While this is going down, we discover Blake's harsh dilemma: His mother is in a coma, dying from cancer. His grandparents want to honor his mother's wish to die mercifully by putting her off life support, but he refuses to allow it. On this, I can sympathize with both Blake and his grandparents.

Anyways, later on we hit on the third theme of the film, which is the theme most likely to make any reasonable person stand up and point out as utter bullshit(again, as I'll critique later in the post): Kerry's faith gets challenged by her intellectually-vapid academic advisor, played by Catherine Hicks.

Each of the themes are then "resolved" in turn, while steadily amping up the religious overtones, culminating in Blake's team prayer for his mother and the inevitable "miracle" of his mother having a temporary reprieve and being awake. And then the credits roll with the preacher reading off the Genesis creation story.

Critique

For starters, there's the "Genesis Code" pseudo-science involved. The explanation is actually a sleight-of-hand trick. It relies on using the natural phenomenon of time dilation to sound scientific, and hopes nobody looks up anything other than Wikipedia's entry on time dilation(in other words, it's a lie fed to scientifically illiterate people). For example, the theory states the age of the universe at 15.75 billion years. This is incorrect(it's 13.7 billion with 0.13 billion years, give or take), and was likely stated that way to make the "POTS" math fit. But that's a niggle compared to what comes up next.

The most glaring problem, to me, is when they redefine Day 4 in Genesis to read as when the moon, sun and stars "appeared". But Genesis 1:14-19 clearly state that's when God created the sun, moon and stars. Yet the Earth was already basically formed. However, astrophysics and cosmology tell us that in order to have planets(including the Earth), stars must come first. Planets come into play after a star goes supernova, releasing all the elements created during stellar nucleosynthesis, then having the resulting accretion disks coagulate into planets, moons and stars. So right there, science and religion completely disagree, thereby making "The Genesis Code" a failed hypothesis. But wait, there's more.

The movie also gets the Cambrian Explosion(Day 5)dead wrong. Day 5 in Genesis claims that every type of land and air creature appears at the same time. However, anybody who studies the Cambrian Explosion will know that only sea life dominated the planet. No land animals at all. Yet the scientist character claims that land animals appeared at the same time. It's obvious the makers of the film couldn't be bothered to take even 5 minutes to fact-check the actual science they so blatantly misuse. And yes, there's more.

If the movie sets out to prove Genesis correct, shouldn't they also address what comes after the creation? Like Adam & Eve, the talking snake, and all that? Nope, we don't get that because even the creationists know they can't try to square that circle.

Since I've thrashed the movie's main selling point enough, there's one thing about this movie that simultaneously pisses me off and amuses me to no end: Catherine Hicks' role as a blatantly bat-crazy mischaracterization of academia. Through Hicks, you can see just how divorced from reality the people behind the movie are. Hicks is actually portraying the creationist fantasy of what they wish academia would be like. But she overacts it so much, that I wonder if she did it on purpose to clue in the otherwise oblivious audience that "this movie is bullshit".

And finally, there's the end-of-life decision theme. This is the only theme I would say they explored even-handedly up until the literal deus ex machina at the end. The grandparents were trying to do the right thing by their daughter's wishes(and I would side with them), but again, I do sympathize with Blake wanting his mother to hang on as long as possible. However, it's clear the writers use this situation as a catalyst to set up Blake's "come to Jesus" moment in a group prayer.

Conclusion

So I'll end this badly written review and critique with a bit of advice for potential viewers: If you must watch this film(most likely as a punishment), bring something you can safely vent your frustrations on, because this movie will test your patience with dishonesty. Otherwise, avoid this film at all costs.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Why I am not for "Atheism+"

Before I go into detail about why I'm not in support of Atheism+, I'd like to preface the post with a statement in advance of a potential flood of Atheism+ supporters: My objections to Atheism+ does not mean that I am opposed to the platforms of social justice, gender equality, women's rights, LGBTQ rights and racial equality espoused in Atheism+. I very much support these things, but I recognize that these are not borne of atheism at all but rather basic human empathy and compassion. So do not assume that I am somehow a "misogynist", "evil", "privileged" or an "asshole" merely for being critical. Now, on to business.

The first reason why I am opposed to the Atheism+ movement is the intentional conflation of atheism with issues that do not have a logical progression from it(As I hinted at above). Nor does it follow that these issues necessarily flow into atheism(perhaps misotheism, though), since there are theistic groups that support many issues in the Atheism+ platform. This does not mean that atheists should not support these things at all. On the contrary, these issues should be encouraged and we have done this with great success. But it is not a good idea to take one thing and attach so many non-relevant issues to it that it essentially becomes an ideological platform, which can so easily turn into dogmas. And having dogmas in a group can be a telltale sign of religious or cultish behavior.

Secondly, this conflation of atheism with so many issues politicizes and obscures atheism to the point of, well, obscurity. The atheism movement is still facing the issues of: society's still-dim views of atheists/agnostics/freethinkers, theocratic encroachments and woo-peddling. To put these issues on the backburner and say "We shouldn't be doing A as much because A is taking too long, so we should be doing X,Y, and Z because I think they're more important" is inviting disaster because although we've made progress, it is progress that can easily be erased by creationists, theocrats and fundamentalists if we don't keep challenging them. In shorter words, the Atheism+ platform tends to treat atheism and it's direct issues as peripheral rather than integral.

Thirdly, because I don't accept the gender feminism and radical feminism practiced by the vast majority of the Atheism+ movement. They claim egalitarianism or equity feminism, but their own visceral responses to legitimate men's rights issues and men's rights activists put the lie to that. You can also see misandry and androphobia in Atheism+ when they've adopted socially destructive theories such as "Schrodinger's Rapist"(forum link) and Patriarchy. It's even been suggested that Atheism+ is more accurately described as "feminism+" or "A+theism".

There is also the problem of the "special snowflake" and "victim complex" cultures developing within the Atheism+ movement(See "Schrodinger's Rapist" again and this link as examples). These cultures are destructive to the stated goals of Atheism+ and generates conflicts where there shouldn't be. As a result, the group has become quite isolated and insular.

And finally, I cannot in good conscience join a group that is so willing and eager to do unethical things such as plagiarism, copyright infringement, smearing and attacking others for dissenting thoughts, and unthinkingly committing credulity all in the name of "social justice" or "the greater good". In fact, it is this continuing unethical behavior, above all else, that is why I cannot support Atheism+.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

A clarification and addendum on "Nailed To The Plus"

My last post had talked about Matt Dillahunty's recent falling out with the Atheism+ forum. While I did get some of the essential facts right, there were a few inaccuracies and potential points of confusion I had made in the heat of writing the post.

First, on describing Matt's creating the two accounts, folks may get confused and think Matt created both at the same time. That's false. The "Matt Dillahunty" account was created when the forum first came up. The "Curious" account got created just after ban of "skep tickle", which apparently made the mods think "Curious" was skep tickle. However, it still doesn't excuse the bad faith behavior on the mods to treat a new user like that, even if the creation time of the account was suspect.

Second, the post that got deleted wasn't intentionally deleted, but rather not approved. But still, it got deleted as a result of the approval denial process.

Third, I may have gone a bit overboard on the rhetoric. Like the "batshit crazy" quip, for example. I should have said "The other day, Matt Dillahunty(who is the host of the show The Atheist Experience) had done a social experiment in an attempt to prove that the Atheism+ folks weren't as hostile as all of the critics claim they are to new users." Again, I made the post in the heat of things. I'll try to tone the rhetoric down going forward.

And also, the mods didn't "flip" so much as I described them to be. They were somewhat apologetic, but they staunchly maintained that Matt broke the "No sockpuppeting" rule and proceeded to permanently ban him, while actually acknowledging specific process problems he exposed and took steps to resolve them. But instead of thanking him for pointing them out, they now claim he "caused harm to the community" and demand an apology if he wants to return to the forum. So, I'll leave his response to that and this as my final word(in jest) for now on "Dillahunty-gate": Matt got "Nailed to the Plus", but then...
P.S. - If there's anything else I failed to clarify or correct, feel free to drop a comment.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Matt Dillahunty gets Nailed To The Plus

For the past week or so, I've been drafting up a blog post about why I do not support Atheism+. That post is still upcoming, but I want to share a specific instance of one of the reasons why I simply cannot join this group.

The other day, Matt Dillahunty(who is the host of the show The Atheist Experience) had done a social experiment in an attempt to prove that the Atheism+ folks weren't as batshit crazy as all of the critics claim they are to new users. He created two accounts on the Atheism+ forum: One was "Matt Dillahunty", and the other was a "sockpuppet" account called "Curious".

What set the whole thing off was this thread(do read the whole thread, it's awesome). Curious/Matt's post got deleted and was instructed in the notification email to take his case to the moderators. The post that got deleted questioned the merits of a ban(in particular, the ban of "skep tickle" over questioning the now-successful bullying of Justin Vacula). Matt then proceeded to start a thread asking to have his deleted post reposted in that thread or put in an appopriate forum. From there, they ravaged "Curious" like a pack of wolves over fresh meat. That is, until Matt signed a post with his real name. The moderator mocked Curious, going so far as to say(paraphrasing): "Hahaha! I know Matt Dillahunty. He's a good man. You, however, are not".

Then Matt directed the Atheism+ admins and mods to his Twitter feed, where they found this bombshell: "Hello to the admins at Atheism+ forum. Curious is me". And then the mods' attitudes flipped from "Fuck off, troll!" to "We're sorry, we didn't know it was you, Mr. Dillahunty. Had we known, you would have been treated better".

Folks, do you see the problem here? Matt certainly does by now: They refused to treat Matt's questioning as legitimate purely on the bases of "I felt like it was trolling"(caprice) and "You're a nobody, so you must be a troll" instead of on the merits. Matt Dillahunty has finally experienced the pure nastiness that pervades the entire Atheism+ group. It is the same nastiness and failure of logic and skepticism originally born of the Elevatorgate scandal, and has spread to Free(from)ThoughtBlogs and Skepchick. And they have further proven their nastiness in their "resolution", permanently banning Matt from their forum unless he "apologizes" for his actions.

So, a congratulations is in order to Matt Dillahunty. He has joined the ranks of those "Nailed To The Plus"(Stef McGraw, Richard Dawkins, Abbie Smith, Justicar/integralmath, Thunderf00t, Girlwriteswhat, Anna Johnstone and most recently Justin Vacula), but with the unenviable distinction of not being able to go back to the wider atheist community without getting chewed out for his uncritical support of a group that has proven itself utterly toxic and subversive.

Perhaps now that his eyes have been opened, he'll look at the Atheism+ critics' claims with a more critical mindset and judge them on their merits, instead of dismissing them based on the propaganda spewed out by the FfTB/Skepchick/Atheism+ triad. But, forgive me if I'm not entirely holding my breath over it.

Update: Matt directly talks about the forum incident and the "resolution", and comes out with some serious issues with Atheism+.

Update 2: I've posted a clarification and addendum here.