Monday, August 27, 2012

A short rant on indestructible books.

Recently I blogged about the very successful Fiction for Fiction campaign at SDSU.  One person asked in response:
"What was done with the bibles afterwards?"
The answer?
"They'll be recycled. Or turned into mulch. Something useful." -Eric Novotny, VP of  Atheist and Agnostic Programs  for Siouxland Freethinkers
The President of SAAFE also responded on Facebook with this statement:
"Thought about giving them back to the people who handed them out...either way I think recycling in some form is good because no one wanted them to begin with. They were literally forced into people's hands"
I think this is a wonderful idea.  It's an environmentally friendly way to get rid of an unwanted set of books.
The original commenter had this to say though (emphasis added):

"[Why not donate them to] Goodwill. They would accept them. And its a good side cause even though as a non believer I would.not read the book, someone who does could get it there. Or give them back to the original person... Making them into mulch is disrespectful, ignorant and non tolerant."
Forgive me while I rant for a moment.

First of all, it's a book. A book, like an idea, does not garner automatic respect. What do I do with an unwanted book? I recycle it, because that's the responsible thing to do. Mulching a bible has no more or less moral significance than recycling Ayn Rand, Dan Brown, or any other book.

Second, all of the Bibles here are Gideon testaments, which are available for free on more campuses and schools and locations than they are legally allowed to be on. There is no shortage of this book. Even at a Goodwill I'm not sure who would buy it.

Finally, isn't insinuating that the religious text is fiction already a much more egregious disrespect to the believer by this standard? There is a significant difference between tolerance and acceptance. I tolerate people believing that a book is the inerrant word of god, but I cannot accept their demands that I adhere to its tenants. When a book is used to prevent loving homosexual couples from getting married for example, tolerance is no longer the issue.

Why do I care so passionately about this?  Because when an 11 year old girl (reportedly with down syndrome) is threatened with being burned alive for ACCIDENTALLY burning a few PAGES from a holy book this discussion ceases to be an academic discussion. That is what is ignorant if anything here.  Every one of these holey books is available in full text online.  They cannot be destroyed by any simple act of mulching.  The ink and paper with which they are printed is just and paper.  It's not something worth burning a child over.

Rant over.  Deep breaths.

Fiction for Fiction day at SDSU

This year at South Dakota State University (SDSU), the Skeptics Atheists Agnostics Freethinkers and Empiricists (SAAFE) did a Fiction for Fiction campaign at their first ever fall festival booth.  21 Christian groups were represented in the festival (up 2 from last year) and for the first time the Muslim and Freethinker groups had a single presence each.

The idea is simple, turn in your religious fiction in for some fiction by better authors.

The gang hard at work

It was a huge success!  Here is the haul just halfway through the day (note the Gideons were handing out testaments just down the sidewalk):
The Spoils of the Culture Wars

I was thrilled that their first big promotional event ever was such a rounding success.  The leader of the Baptist leaning student group even stopped by to do an exchange.

SAAFE has been around for a few years now but is just now gaining momentum.  With a brand new set of great leaders and official SSA affiliation I'm looking forward to a lot of good things from them in the future.

Moving Horizontally

Well today I'm over half way there in my move from South Dakota to Philadelphia.  This strikes me as a horizontal move in more ways than the obvious geographical one.

Pennsylvania has voted Democratic in the last several presidential elections, but has always been a swing state leaning left.  This year however, things like Voter ID have demonstrated that the extreme right is still making its presence known there and has significant influence.  It's not like I've moved to California where the hippies flow freely.

Religiously speaking, Pennsylvania is a lot less fundamentalist laden than South Dakota.  South Dakota is loaded with extremely conservative mainstream protestants like Missouri Synod Lutheran and Baptists.  Religion is ubiquitous and assumed in everyday conversation.  While the actual beliefs of South Dakotan believers don't usually compare to bible belt antics, the overwhelming majority that they enjoy makes living there as an atheist a bit challenging.

Still Pennsylvania is home to the Year of the Bible and a very large conservative Catholic population.  Earlier this year a Pennsylvania bus company rejected a bus ad that said simply "Atheist." I feel like I'm trading one brand of religious extremes for another.

I'm looking forward to living in a more progressive city with a diverse population but fully expect that I will be facing a wholly different set of issues and religious groups than I have in the past.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Maybe I'm Over-thinking This

Today's Stewardship Thought in the Church Bulletin:
"God's Kingdom is without bounds! Consider how your generous financial support of your church's ministries are helping to grow God's kingdom!"

Two things:
First, why does God always seem to need money?
And second, if God's Kingdom is without bounds, how can it grow?

Just a thought.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Review of "Hooked: New Science on How Casual Sex is Affecting our Children."-Chapter 2 (part 1)

Chapter 2 is entitled "Meet the Brain." It purports to educate the lay audience on the inner workings of the brain and how it is involved in sex.

The Good: Neuroscience

The chapter starts out pretty well, praising advances in neuroscience and laying out some basic terminology.  They go through Neurons, Support Cells, and Synapses in a very quick and simplified but reasonably accurate description of their roles in brain function.  Next they discuss Neuroplasticity, though they don't call it that.  Again, fairly accurate and well established science (though much remains to be learned about how malleable the brain is).

However, a number of the citations given for the above information are a bit confusing.  For example, on page 26 they cite a paper in Nature Neuroscience that appears to have nothing to do with the paragraph that references it.   Many of the articles linked seem to be there just as examples of modern neuroscience research without specifically supporting any claim.

The one that really stood out though was this report by The Institute for American Values.  The institute is cited a couple of times through the chapter so I think a brief digression is called for.  The Institute for American Values is another conservative research that is strongly behind "traditional marriage."  The number of iffy sources is increasing.

Still, up to this point (page 30) the chapter has been pretty accurate to neuroscience and current research.  After this though, the quality jumps straight off a cliff.  The remainder of the chapter is filled with myths and baseless speculations that have surrounded neurotransmitters such as oxytocin and dopamine for years.

The Bad: Pseudoscience
Throughout Hooked the authors treat neurotransmitters as standalone causes for whatever they are associated with.  Not only does this vastly oversimplify the complex biochemical network that is the brain, it also leads to grossly misleading intuitive speculations as we will soon see.  Neuroscience is complicated and the tenacity with which the authors jump into the field and start speculating and drawing new conclusions from old evidence is astounding.  I highly recommend this Stanford Lecture on the Neurology of Depression as an example of how wrong our intuitive conclusions about simple causes of complicated effects often is.  The book focuses on three neurotransmitters: Dopamine, Oxytocin, and Vasopressin.

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that is related to reward and anticipated rewards, providing feelings of enjoyment and reinforcement to certain activities.  While Hooked gets this mostly correct, it is a vast oversimplification to say that dopamine causes feelings of euphoria in response to those activities.  Dopamine plays an important role in a complex reward pathway and also many other functions such as motor control.  Also, interesting research suggests that dopamine neurons also respond to reward prediction.  Some dopamine neurons also seem to respond to negative stimuli or "near miss" phenomenon where the actual experience is not at all pleasurable (i.e. being SO CLOSE to winning a gamble).

All of this should serve to remind us that making broad speculations and intuitive inferences from oversimplifications is a recipe for disaster.  Something seeming logical does not in fact mean it's biological.

With that in mind, let's examine Hooked's claims about dopamine.
"Dopamine is values-neutral...Dopamine will reward for healthy and life-enhancing excitement, but it will also send the reward signal for exhilarating but unhealthy and destructive behavior.

Examples of excitement that dopamine rewards can include the use of nonprescriptive drugs, nonmarital sexual involvement, excessive drinking, dangerous thrill-seeking, and so on."
-Hooked page 34
First of all, dopamine has been implicated in some addiction pathways.  However, recent research also suggests that the connection isn't nearly as clear cut as Hooked makes it out to be.  Jumping from this connection to the claim that all behaviors that release dopamine are addictive is not supported.  For example, some drugs are known as dopamine agonists and bind to dopamine receptors instead of dopamine causing an over-stimulation of the pleasure center.  Drugs like cocaine actually prevent dopamine from being recycled, causing it to flood the brain for about 30 minutes.

Not all dopamine producing activities are created equal.  Grouping drugs, drinking, and dangerous thrill-seeking (which has more to do with dopamine's cousin adrenaline) with sex is misleading.  Eating also releases dopamine, but we don't seem to have any problem enjoying new foods.  In fact, dopamine is released in higher doses with novel experiences.

Also I want to point out a very transparent poisoning of the well here.  Nonmarital sexual involvement is grouped in with drugs, alcohol, and dangerous risks.  Note again that only nonmarital sex is specified, even though marital sex releases just as much dopamine.  If this argument was a valid reason for not having extramarital sex it would be equally valid for marital sex.  As they said before, dopamine is values neutral.  But the authors are clearly not.  Their stance is clear: sex outside marriage is on par morally with drugs abuse and alcoholism.

Interestingly, they also compare extramarital sex to driving too fast:
"...take a heady experience such as driving fast.  The behavior is exciting; it triggers a values-neutral dopamine reward, and strengthens the synapses that lead to making habitually unsafe driving decisions."-Hooked page 35.
What I find interesting about analogizing this to extramarital sex is the stark difference in how the authors propose we deal with the situation  With driving, we teach teenagers how to drive safely.  With sex, the authors want to take away the keys until they find the perfect car and never drive anything else.  We don't ever say "Driving too fast is dangerous, therefore teenagers should be told to not drive at all."

As for what dopamine really does with regards to sex, I recommend another Stanford Lecture starting around 42:30.  There are some really strange and counter-intuitive effects that dopamine has on sexual behavior.  It's not at all simple or straightforward.

One last thing on dopamine and then I promise I'll move on.
"Studies with animals have shown that almost all addictive drugs including alcohol, cocaine, heroine, amphetamines, and even marijuana and nicotine increase dopamine reward signals." 
- Hooked page 34.
I already discussed how all these drugs interact with the reward system in very different ways and it's misleading and incorrect to treat them as all the same phenomena.  But this quote introduces a new problem with uncritically examining research in psychology and neuroscience.  Hooked commits one of the cardinal sins of research by making hasty generalizations from animal studies to human behavior.  This will be a recurring theme so it's important to point out why we shouldn't be too hasty to take animal research as applying to humans.  Consider this analysis of animal studies from Dr. Paul Cunningham, a professor of psychology at River University (emphasis added).
"Subject variables that interfere with drawing animal-human comparisons (extrapolation) are virtually endless and include genetic, biomolecular, metabolic, immunological, cellular, anatomical, physiological, reproductive, circadian, behavioral, cognitive, motivational, and social differences between species. Nonhuman animals are different not only from humans, but also from each other on these variables. Subtle systemic differences in biological organization between species can result in widely divergent responses to the same stimuli.

Most animal species used in psychology experiments are selected on nonscientific grounds (e.g., cost, reproductive capacity, ease of handling, size). Rodents, a favorite species used in psychology drug experiments, sleep 14-15 hours a day, live an average of 2-3 years, produce 8-10 litters a year, are completely colorblind and physically unable to vomit, have a four-day menstrual cycle and sexually mature in four months, possess no tonsils or gall bladder but a liver that regenerates, walk on four legs (quadruped), and have a natural aversion to tobacco, alcohol, and cocaine. Any student of Psychology 101 knows that we cannot automatically generalize results of psychology experiments from one person to another, males to females, infants to elderly, Chinese to Americans, blacks to whites, poor to rich, Rhode Islanders to Californians, or even to the same individual at different stages of the lifespan. The problem is compounded when we want to generalize across species with different genetics and evolutionary histories.
Read More Here
Studies in animals lead to areas of research in humans, not conclusions.  Anyone who treats studies of vole psychology as equivalent to human psychology is making a vast unsupported leap of logic.

I actually thought this was going to be a pretty short chapter after reading it because almost everything in it seemed very plausible and intuitive.  It wasn't until I started reading the literature on the subject that I realized this is probably the most important chapter to tackle.

Looking back on this post it's already getting very long, so I'm going to stop here for now and continue the discussion of chapter 2 in a later post.

Previous: Chapter 1: Let's Talk Sex
Next: Chapter 2: Meet the Brain (Part 2: Oxytocin)
Table of Contents

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

MN For Marriage has gone over the deep end

By an accident of birth I am a registered republican.  I went to a Caucus in 2008, voted for Huckabee in the primaries, and as a result got on every republican mailing list in Minnesota.  Now I've ended up on a new one: Minnesota for Marriage.

For those of you who don't know, Minnesota is putting a constitutional amendment on the ballot in November that will read

"Shall the Minnesota Constitution be amended to provide that only a union of one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in Minnesota?"
For More Details on the Amendment Click Here

Unlike past attempts at an amendment, this one potentially leaves civil unions up for grabs so it actually made it to the ballot.  And right now it looks like it has a very good chance of passing.

This imbalance is due in no small part to groups like Minnesota for Marriage.  The GOP has a major advantage over the Dems went it comes to mobilizing the base, and MN for Marriage has made good on that edge with a series of videos called Marriage Minute.

Here is one scary example, where they list the "terrible" social consequences of legalizing same sex marriage in Canada.

Here are some choice quotes of the negative consequences they see:

1:07 "Marriage commissioners have been ordered by the human rights commission to perform same sex marriages or be fired."  

1:14 "The Toronto school board has decreed that parents have no right to remove their children from instruction about homosexuality because of religious objections.  The board considers it 'Human Rights education' and has adopted an 'equity curriculum' called 'Challenging homophobia and Heterosexism' 
Not content with imposing its 'homosexualist equity' and 'inclusive education strategy' in public schools, the government of Ontario is demanding that catholic schools comply with its 'equity policy'.  A government official said 'implementing homosexual clubs is not a choice'."

1:52 "Junior kindergarten classes teach four-year-old children about gay marriage.  Teachers instruct children using the book 'Mom and Mom are getting Married'.  Parents have no right to opt children out of this instruction.  Students are also encouraged to question their gender identity with books such as 'Are you a boy or a girl?'

2:27 "The marriage protection amendment will help to prevent these kinds of consequences here in Minnesota."

Oh No! Our children are being taught about "equality" and to challenge "homophobia" and "heterosexism".  When will the cruelty end? The next thing you know we won't be even be allowed to discriminate against homosexuals at all!

If you don't see that last statement as dripping with sarcasm, thank you for demonstrating Poe's Law and please stay home November 6.  Remember, if you vote your only choices will be a Mormon or a Muslim, and you don't want that do you?

Sunday, August 19, 2012

It's the little things you treasure.

Today was the first day I was given a choice by my parents to go to church or not.  It's not acceptance of my atheism but it does show more respect and acceptance than I've received since coming out 3 weeks ago.

For the record I went to church anyways partially because I didn't expect I had a choice and partially as a thank you for letting me choose. Most of all though, its what our family does and I'm still family.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Yes, but that last God is a doozy

Richard Dawkins and others often use statements like this one to make the gap between belief and non-belief seem trivial.
An atheist is just somebody who feels about Yahweh the way any decent Christian feels about Thor or Baal or the golden calf. As has been said before, we are all atheists about most of the gods that humanity has ever believed in. Some of us just go one god further.
I myself have used this argument many times, but I just realized today that it may be completely wrong.

As a simple matter of fact it is true that we atheists do believe in one less god than Christians do, but what is farm more important than that is our reasons for disbelief.  On this point, our disbelief in Thor differs greatly from the Christian's disbelief in the same deity.  I would say I don't believe in Thor first and foremost because there is no good evidence for his existence.  A Christian however would say first and foremost that Yahweh/Jehovah/God is the one true God and therefore Thor cannot exist.  Islam even makes this a central creed: "There is no god but Allah."

Believing in a deity that precludes the possibility of any other god existing provides a vastly different basis for disbelief in other gods.  Believers are not (as Dawkins seems to be implying) applying skepticism to all other deities and leaving their own unscathed, they are not applying skepticism at all.

A quick clarification.  I typically see this quote used in conjunction with an argument like this:
"When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours."
The point is that Christians and Muslims have reasons for disbelieving in other gods that will have no impact on their own belief in their own god.  I think Dawkins is wrong in assuming that they disbelieve in other possible gods for good but unexamined reasons.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Review of "Hooked: New Science on How Casual Sex is Affecting our Children."-Chapter 1

Chapter 1 begins by laying out exactly what sex is: a loving bond between one man and one woman in a committed relationship.  Wait, what?

Here is their formal definition of sex (emphasis mine):
"Sexual activity is any intimate contact between two individuals that involves arousal, stimulation, and/or a response by at least one of the two partners."-Hooked page 16
Not too bad until you start to pick up on the recurring themes.  Language like "two shall become one," "lifestyle choice," and other traditionally Christian phrases appear throughout the chapter.  The words gay, lesbian, bisexual, asexual, queer, trans-, and homosexual appear in aggregate exactly 0 times throughout the entire book.  Masturbation gets a one sentence dishonorable mention.  In fact the conspicuous absence of anything other than monogamous heterosexual relationships is troubling.  It puts a lot of normal sexual behavior outside of the norm by definition.  I think this framing of what healthy sex is is not scientific but purely ideological.  The prejudging statement that a more sexually active and open society indicates a "decline" (page 11) also says a lot about the authors' views on sexuality.

Then we get into some things I can agree completely with:
"When one is forced or coerced to have sex, it is not good.  When sex is used to accomplish favors or to influence another, it is not good.  When sex is used for financial gain, used abusively, or used to humiliate another, it is not good.  When sex results in an unplanned, nonmarital pregnancy or a sexually transmitted infection, it is not good.  And when sex produces feelings of regret, depression, suicidal ideation and other emotional problems, it is not good." - Hooked page 18
Agreed.  Rape = bad.  Harassment = bad.  Abuse and coercion = bad.  STIs and unplanned pregnancy = bad (though I'm still not sure about the term nonmarital pregnancy).  Guilt ridden, depression inducing sex = bad.

I have yet to see however what any of this has to do with safe, sane, consensual sex.  Maybe it's just me, but the word consent kinda negates all of the rape, coercion, and abuse stuff.  So how is this relevant to the discussion?

Now we get into the meat of the chapter.  Hooked claims that sex outside of marriage is linked to depression and suicide.
"The study showed that both boys and girls who have had sex are three times more likely to be depressed than their friends who are still virgins.  The study accounted for other factors in the lives of the young people, ensuring an accurate comparison with their peers.  The girls who became sexually active were three times more likely to have attempted suicide as their virgin friends, while the sexually active boys were fully seven times more likely to have attempted suicide." - Hooked page 20
This statement is grossly misleading.  The primary study they cite is a piece by the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank whose mission statement is to "formulate and promote conservative public policies based on the principles of free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom, traditional American values, and a strong national defense."

The study is a meta-analysis of data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Adolescent Health.  If the data is to be believed (and I have very little reason to doubt) there is a strong correlation between being sexually active and at risk for depression/suicide. What the study doesn't show is any causal link, which is what Hooked strongly implies above.

Three other studies are cited to support this statement and each is more damning than the last.

1. Adolescent depression and suicide risk:Association with sex and drug behavior. By Hallfors et al
This study was looking at "combined sex and drug use behaviors" along with other high risk behaviors as a screening for depression.  They found out that depressed people were more likely to engage in risky behavior, not that sex leads to depression.

2. Adolescent First Sex and Subsequent Mental Health. By Meier
Here is a very telling quote from abstract (emphasis mine):
"While some adolescents experience mental health decrements, the majority of those who had first sex did not. This finding highlights the importance of considering contingencies when investigating the effects of life events on mental health." 
The study also carefully explains that a number of contingencies including "timing relative to age norms, romantic relationship factors, and gender" interacted to impact the few cases that did have negative mental health outcomes.  It's not a simple case of did they have sex or not.

This study used the same data as the Heritage Foundation study and found a similar (though slightly lesser) correlation between STDs and depression.  

But then they said this: 
"Compared with nondepressed youth, depressed children and adolescents have poor social relationships and may be more emotionally reactive in peer relationships, factors that may contribute to increased STD risk behavior."  
And this (emphasis added):
"Depressed individuals may also use sexual risk behaviors as part of a coping response to their depressive symptoms. Research has suggested that men, in particular, tend to purposively turn their attention away from depressive symptoms and onto neutral or pleasant activities, such as sexual intercourse. Less is known about the coping responses of adolescents but some research suggests that by early to middle adolescence, boys exhibit distractive coping styles that are similar to those of adult men."
The study strongly suggests that people who are depressed turn to sex (as well as other very pleasurable activities) in an attempt to alleviate their depression.

These studies do not show at all that sex leads to depression. If anything they suggest that depression leads to riskier sexual behaviors. It is entirely dishonest for Hooked to represent sex as a contributor to suicide.

Finally, the chapter concludes with a little JAQing off to more studies that don't quite say what Hooked says they say.  They ask three questions about the study results and then do not answer them:

1. "Why are those who were not virgins when they married more likely to divorce than those who remained abstinent until marriage?"- Hooked page 20

I was unable to access the full text of study unavailable, but appears to use virginity at age 18 as measure, not virginity until marriage. So unless everyone in the study got married at 18 it's irrelevant to the question above. Besides, other research indicates that 95% of those virgins at 18 will still have premarital sex.

2. "Why are sexually active adolescents more likely to be depressed than their abstaining peers?"- Hooked page 20

Same study, same problem. Also see above rant about depression correlations.

3. "Why do married couples report higher levels of sexual satisfaction than unmarried individuals with multiple sexual partners?"- Hooked page 20

No grounds for comparison maybe? I jest but there is another major problem with them using this book to make their point: it doesn't.  A quote from the source:
"The data show that about 88 percent of married people said they received great physical pleasure from their sexual lives...People who were dating and having sex together also were overwhelmingly physically pleased and emotionally satisfied, but, again, slightly less so than the people who were living together."
Bet that second part wouldn't fit in with the book's message too well. The satisfaction does drop off to about 60% for people who were married WITH SOMETHING ON THE SIDE! If you have something on the side it's probably because you weren't satisfied with your partner. I again quote the book:
"Of course, a lack of physical or emotional satisfaction may be what led them to find another partner in the first place, so we cannot say which came first, dissatisfaction or infidelity."
I would have much more respect for hooked if it had included that bit. There is a grain of truth to the question: multiple partners at the same time was correlated with dissatisfaction. They just conveniently left out the part that marriage also didn't matter one way or the other.  Being married made very very little difference to happiness in either the single partner or multiple partner situation.

If this chapter is any indication it will be a very slow read since I will have to read every source for myself. The authors have already lost my trust that they will report studies accurately.

Previous: Hooked: Introduction
Next: Chapter 2: Meet the Brain (Part 1: Dopamine)
Table of Contents

Review of "Hooked: New Science on How Casual Sex is Affecting our Children."-Introduction

Hooked opens with an introduction by Gary L Rose, current president/CEO of the Medical Institute for Sexual Health.

"For much of its history, the organization has concentrated on the two primary factors that can impair sexual health: nonmarital pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections. But today, with this book, Dr. McIlhaney and his coauthor Freda McKissic Bush, M.D., reveal a third risk, one that cannot be prevented with condoms, contraceptives, or morning-after pills."  - Hooked page 7

I'm intrigued by the use of the term "nonmarital pregnancy" rather than unwanted or teen pregnancy.  There's nothing inherently unhealthy about pregnancy outside of marriage if it is planned and wanted by competent adults.  Teen pregnancy is a major concern and the prevention of unwanted pregnancies should be a goal of any organization promoting sexual health, so the very specific word choice here concerns me.

The third risk Rose speaks of is the effect that sex has on the brain.  Since condoms, contraceptives, and morning-after pills have been shown to be effective in preventing their first two concerns, I guess they needed to seek out evidence for their claims in a different arena.  By focusing on the effects that "casual sex" has on the brain, Hooked is trying to support the model of abstinence until marriage as a biological ideal.

The final paragraph sets the ground rules for the book:
"At The Medical Institute for Sexual Health, we endeavor to find truth on issues of sexual health.  We want everyone to be fully informed with the most credible scientific information available on issues of sexual behavior and sexual health." -Hooked page 9
This is the gold standard by which I shall judge the rest of the book.  I plan to hold them to their claims of "truth" and "credible scientific information" at every turn.

Next: Chapter 1: Let's Talk Sex
Table of Contents

Review of "Hooked: New Science on How Casual Sex is Affecting our Children."-Overview

For years the Abstinence Only Education has been a hotly contested topic.  For the most part, those in favor of AOE have been very proud of the fact that they are "following God's plan for marriage."  Virginity pledges, father-daughter balls, and purity rings are all the rage and always laced with the religious underpinning that sex outside of marriage is wrong/immoral.  Now that there is actual evidence to back up the claim that AOE doesn't work, some proponents have finally realized that evidence is important if you are going to make claims against the scholarly consensus.

Enter the Medical Institute for Sexual Health, a conservative think tank created to "identify and evaluate scientific information on sexual health and promote healthy sexual decisions and behaviors by communicating credible scientific information."

I came across the Institute through a book exchange with someone I disagree with on the issue.  I suggested Sex and God by Darrell Ray and she suggested Hooked: New Science on How Casual Sex is Affecting our Children by Joe Mcilhaney and Freda Bush.  McIlhaney is the founder and President of the Medical Institute and OBGYN and has served the CDC in an advisory capacity on HIV/AIDS.  I've been looking forward to reading this book as it purports to provide the latest and best scientific evidence for AOE.

After reading the first chapter though I'm starting to get concerned about the validity and objectivity of the book.  So I decided to record my thoughts and research and make it into a multi-part blog post.  Each post will review and fact check a single chapter.  From what I've seen so far, that still might be too much for each post so we'll see what happens over the next week.

Introducing Hooked
Chapter 1: Let's Talk Sex
Chapter 2: Meet the Brain (Part 1: Dopamine)
Chapter 2: Meet the Brain (Part 2: Oxytocin)
Chapter 2: Meet the Brain (Part 3: Vasopressin)
Chapter 3: The Developing Brain and Sex

Bad Reasons to Believe numbers 185021-185026

I think I finally get why Pharyngula has Christian ads all over every post.  First it was Christian Mingle, then this:

Does God exist? Here are six straight-forward reasons to believe that God is really there.

I get it now!  Atheists want to click on the links either for a good laugh or similar motivations, the Christian cite has to pay FTB through advertisers for the traffic, and they don't get a single new user or convert out of it.

Now I feel like I shouldn't even dignify this site with a response, but reason 5 pushed my buttons so here goes.

All of these reasons are more flushed out on the page, but I'm just going to list most of them.
1. Does God exist? The complexity of our planet points to a deliberate Designer who not only created our universe, but sustains it today.
2. Does God exist? The universe had a start - what caused it?
3. Does God exist? The universe operates by uniform laws of nature. Why does it?
4. Does God exist? The DNA code informs, programs a cell's behavior.
Reasons 1-4 are simplified forms of the Fine Tuning Argument with ComplexityCosmological Argument, Argument from Uniformity of Nature, and Argument from Design of DNA respectively.  I won't spend any more time on these.

5. Does God exist? We know God exists because he pursues us. He is constantly initiating and seeking for us to come to him.
This one rubs up against one of my pet peeves: when someone tells me "You were never a true Christian."  It starts with this gem (emphasis mine):

I was an atheist at one time. And like many atheists, the issue of people believing in God bothered me greatly. What is it about atheists that we would spend so much time, attention, and energy refuting something that we don't believe even exists?! What causes us to do that? When I was an atheist, I attributed my intentions as caring for those poor, delusional help them realize their hope was completely ill-founded. To be honest, I also had another motive. As I challenged those who believed in God, I was deeply curious to see if they could convince me otherwise. Part of my quest was to become free from the question of God. If I could conclusively prove to believers that they were wrong, then the issue is off the table, and I would be free to go about my life. 
I didn't realize that the reason the topic of God weighed so heavily on my mind, was because God was pressing the issue. I have come to find out that God wants to be known. He created us with the intention that we would know him. He has surrounded us with evidence of himself and he keeps the question of his existence squarely before us. It was as if I couldn't escape thinking about the possibility of God. In fact, the day I chose to acknowledge God's existence, my prayer began with, "Ok, you win..." It might be that the underlying reason atheists are bothered by people believing in God is because God is actively pursuing them.

First of all, most atheists don't spend any time being bothered by God questions or believers.  A very small percentage of the atheist population are activists in any sense.  And those of use who are activists have damn good reasons to be angry and vocal about it.  Looking at believers as poor, delusional people is condescending and often not true, and trying to convince them that their hope is ill-founded rather than misplaced is not appropriate.  As for conclusively proving believers to be wrong you can't prove the negative.  There's no good reason to believe in God and that is a good enough reason not to.  You were already free to go about your life regardless of what other people believe.

Finally, this idea that God was seeking after me and He wants to be known.  Then why does he take such pains to hide himself Isaiah 45:15?  As Bertrand Russel would say to God if he existed:
"Sir, why did you take such pains to hide yourself?"  So many atheists that I've met including myself were sincere believers who sought and sought after God yet never found him.  For someone who wants to be found he's damn good at hide-and-seek.
6. Does God exist? Unlike any other revelation of God, Jesus Christ is the clearest, most specific picture of God revealing himself to us.
See above rant.  Why is Jesus so special? Because "He did what people can't do. Jesus performed miracles."  Exactly!  People can't do those things, so why should we believe Jesus could or did?  Just like Muhammed, Joseph Smith, Krishna, Buddha, etc etc etc.  This idea that Jesus is unique in claiming to be God and therefore Christianity is true is not only flawed it's patently false!  The uniqueness of Christianity proves nothing because every religion is unique.

Only the Koran is the literal Word of Allah!  The Bible is just inspired by God, the Koran is actually written by him in God's language: Arabic!  Why are you not convinced already?

Monday, August 13, 2012

Transitive property of the Trinity?

Anyone remotely familiar with Christian theology has seen this diagram.

This is the typical representation of the holy Trinity
It is supposed to make the dogma clearer and easier to understand but it always struck me as a clarification of the contradiction.

Warning! I am about to use logic and maths on theology:

There's a wonderful little property of equality known as the Transitive Property.  If two values are each equal to a third, then the two values are equal.
if A = B and B = C
then A = C

Let us assume that by "is" in the diagram theologians mean "equals".  (note Rational Wiki does a similar exercise by interpreting "is" as "subset", but since the "is" goes both ways (i.e. God is Father and Father is God) I just skipped a step and went straight to equality).

Using standard logic, we would expect that:

if Son = God and God = Spirit
then Son = Spirit

But according to our lovely diagram, Spirit is not equal to Son.  
Is this a contradiction? I certainly think so and haven't found any explanations of how this works out.  I did however find one guy who used the transitive property to prove the Trinity.  

Anyone able to make sense of this or explain what I'm missing?  I seriously don't understand how this one gets out of the gate!

This is all just too confusing:


That'll do Pig...That'll do.

From the Atheist Pig:

Really sums up my most frustrating conversations.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Neil Degreasse Tyson on Scientific Progress

I recently came across this quote:

“Every great scientific truth goes through three phases. First, people deny it. Second, they say it conflicts with the Bible. Third, they say they’ve known it all along.” —Neil Degrasse Tyson
I found it in a clip from Real Time with Bill Maher.

I think that it generalizes a bit too much. Everything goes through the first phase for varying lengths of time, because new knowledge is not instantaneously distributed. Also, science is a process that resists paradigm shifts until overwhelming evidence is brought forth. There are some major scientific theories,such as quantum mechanics, that did not go through phases 2 and 3. People found no conflict with the bible and quantum mechanics (some more liberal churches even took it as a method of God's divine intervention), and they certainly didn't say they knew it all along because it is so darn counter-intuitive.

The big bang theory is another matter though. The term "Big Bang" was coined to poke fun at the theory (phase 1). Many prominent Christians spoke out against the theory because it proposed a naturalistic origin to the cosmos as well as a timescale that was incompatible with their literal interpretation of the Bible (phase 2). Now, most Christians accept the Big Bang claiming that it was already fully described in Gen 1:1-2 (phase 3).

The heliocentric model is another good example. The Geocentric model was pretty good for all practical purposes, so there was pushback (phase 1). The official church position was geocentrism, citing verses such as 1 Chronicles 16:30, Ecclesiastes 1:5, Psalms 93:1 96:10 104:5, Job 28:24, and Isaiah 48:13 among others to demonstrate that the earth stood firm and did not move through the heavens culminating in the infamous trial of Galileo in 1633 (phase 2). The church did not lift its ban on heliocentric books until 1758 and did not allow them to be printed in Rome until 1822. The church finally apologized in 2000. Now people simply say they were wrong in their interpretation of the Bible all along and that it doesn't actually support Geo-centrism, although they do not now claim that the Bible supports Heliocentrism (phase 3).

The theory of evolution is currently in phase 2 and has been for roughly 150 years, though a growing number of denominations are moving into phase 3.

Monday, August 6, 2012

"From one previous atheist to another"

So I just got back from the Midwest Freethought Conference.  It was a blast!  I met a lot of old friends and made a few new ones.  The speakers were great, and the conversation was better.

But then this happened:

My friend Josh was at a Starbucks wearing a "Born Again Atheist" t-shirt Sunday morning, when a young woman walked over and handed him this letter.  Apparently she had seen the shirt and wanted to do something about it.

Here's the transcription:

From one previous atheist to another. 
Hello Sir, 
I know you might think me approaching you was rude or not very comfortable.  But couldn't help but notice you look like a man of great wisdom & truth.  If you are curious or if you like science you should look up the protein Laminin & its purpose. 
Funny right? I am a science major this took me by surprise.  I grew up in a broken home.  My mom was an alchoholic, I has an abusive step mom & started drugs at an early age and raised my brother and sister.  Plenty of people have the same situation, I understand.  But I wonder how many people with this background & anger find a solution.  I studied philosophy my favorite was Friedrich Nietzsche.  Existentiallism -> shortened purpose for existence.  That we control how our life to be.  I was determined to find my destiny.  I searched.  I hated God so that wasn't an option at the time I was an atheist you could say.  I continued to

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Off to the Midwest Freethought Conference

Tomorrow I'm leaving early with a bunch of friends from S.A.A.F.E. (Skeptics Agnostics Atheists Freethinkers and Empiricists) for the Midwest Freethought Conference.

I'm really looking forward to it and hope to meet new people like Hemant Mehta and old friends like Jerry DeWitt and PZ.