Thursday, January 30, 2014

Nature is Beautiful

Amazing photography from National Geographic

That is electric blue lava on the slopes of Kawah Ijen crater in Indonesia.

The effect is caused by sulfur burning on contact with the atmosphere. Since sulfur burns blue, we get amazing shots like this. Please go check out the original images and more here.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Papal Bull

My first column for the Daily Pennsylvanian student newspaper was just published yesterday. My column will be running under the heading "The Devil's Advocate." Here's the whole column, enjoy. 
During his Christmas address in Vatican City, Pope Francis reached out to atheists, saying, “I invite even nonbelievers to desire peace. [Join us] with your desire, a desire that widens the heart. Let us all unite, either with prayer or with desire, but everyone, for peace.” The line received an uproarious ovation, but I wish to withhold my applause.
Which nonbelievers do not already desire peace? Does he think we prefer war, death or destruction? Why not ask us to work toward peace, instead of just desiring and praying for it?
Now, before you start jumping all over me for being too pedantic, allow me to explain why I’m so hesitant to take Pope Francis’ grand gestures at face value.
In early 2013, Pope Benedict XVI captured the public interest by resigning the papacy because “God told him to.” Benedict’s tenure as pontiff was marked by a sharp turn to the right, seeking what he called a “smaller purer church.” Compared to the much beloved Pope John Paul II, Benedict was a disaster for the church’s image. So when the papal conclave elected Pope Francis, the first non-European Pope since 1272 and a man who was renowned for his kind manner and work with the poor, the contrast was incredibly stark.
Ever since, I have watched countless liberal pundits and writers proclaim Francis a godsend for progressive values. I cannot help but be reminded of 2008’s enthusiasm for Obama’s “Yes We Can” campaign. Both generated a large amount of early enthusiasm through their eloquent pronouncements before actually making policy changes — Obama received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009, and the pope was named Time’s 2013 Person of the Year.
Let us revisit some of the pontiff’s highlights from his first year:
On May 23rd, Pope Francis suggested that “even the atheists” can go to heaven. Amid the ensuing media sensation, Vatican spokesman Thomas Rosica quietly released a statement clarifying that the Pope meant atheists can go to heaven … by becoming Catholic.
In a “surprise interview” on a plane back to Rome on July 29th, Francis said, “Who am I to judge a gay person of goodwill who seeks the Lord?” Once again, proponents of social justice lauded the sentiment as new gospel — forgetting to mention that Francis has never changed the church’s opposition to homosexuality. As recently as 2010, he called gay adoption a form of discrimination against children and claimed marriage equality would “seriously damage the family.”
It should have come as no surprise that two months later the pontiff would order the excommunication of Australian priest Greg Reynolds, who was advocating for gay marriage and the ordination of female priests.
Perhaps everything the pope says that sounds remotely liberal should be followed by an asterisk.
“But, Collin,” I hear you cry, “you’re an atheist! Why do you even care what the pope has to say?”
I care because the Catholic Church leads and influences over 1.2 billion (as it likes to boast) parishioners worldwide, with over 70 million in the United States alone.
I care because Pope Francis has made no effort to correct the lie that condom use increases AIDS transmission — a falsehood propagated in Africa by the previous pontiff.
I care because estimates suggest the church’s annual spending approaches $170 billion worldwide, 10 times the annual profits of Walmart. I say “estimates” because the church is tax-exempt, so it is not required to report its earnings.
What do you think?

I care because the Catholic Church spent over $2 million in 2012 fighting marriage equality in Maine, Maryland, Washington and my home state of Minnesota.

I care because Catholic hospitals account for 15 percent of hospital beds in the United States and many more worldwide, and the church’s stances on contraception, abortion and end-of-life care often dictate which medical interventions are prescribed.
I care because Pope Francis could change it all.
Regardless of your beliefs about the pope and his alleged hotline to heaven, he holds tremendous power over many of the people and issues I care about greatly. I hope I am wrong about Francis being purely a PR campaign, but actions still speak louder.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Beck says Compares Creationists to Galileo

I'm sorry for sharing this. I'm so, so sorry.

But when Beck claimed that Bill Nye is on the wrong side of history for attacking creationism, I couldn't just keep that to myself.

Not only did Beck knock common core standards and refer to fighting creationism as "segregat[ing] a group of people" and "eradicat[ing] a type of thought," but he equated Bill Nye's "Big Think" video on creationism to the Catholic Church's attacks on Galileo.

GOP Calls for more Abortion Talk?

The GOP is apparently considering renewing it's vocal opposition to abortion rights.

In the last few years the GOP has tried to tone down it's rhetoric when it comes to women's health issues, especially in the wake of such luminaries as Todd "Shut that whole thing down" Akin. Some strategists and advocates within the party seem to think this was a mistake.
“Not talking about it has not worked well for us. Not responding has not worked well for us. It’s a conversation the party has to have.”-Ellen Barrosse, Delaware National Committeewoman
The proposed measure says "Pro-Life Republicans should fight back against deceptive rhetoric regardless of those in the Republican Party who encourage them to stay silent."

Here's the problem with this strategy. The reason your whole "let's not talk about it" strategy on rape, abortion, and contraception doesn't work very well in conjunction with renewed efforts at the state level to restrict women's healthcare access. Cutting back on rhetoric while taking more actions only makes you look sneaky and disingenuous.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Beardyman finishes like a skeptic

I've been a Beardyman fan for a while. He's more machine now then man, but it only makes him cooler.

So I was extra delighted when he posted a new show on youtube which ends with an ad libed skeptics version of "I Believe I can Fly."

The relevant bit starts at around 59 minutes.

Oh ya, kinda NSFW.

Monday, January 20, 2014

New Rule: Republicans must stop claiming Lincoln

Today, the Republican Party of Minnesota decided to take this MLK day to remind us of how they've never stopped fighting for freedom

Included in their mailing was a link to this video of Louisiana Senator Elbert Guillory explaining why he switched his party affiliation to Republican. I for one cannot follow his reasoning.

It is the right decision, not only for me but for all my brothers and sisters in the black community. You see in recent history, the Democratic Party has created the illusion that their agenda and their policies are what's best for black people. Somehow, it's been forgotten that the Republican Party was founded in 1854 as an abolitionist movement with one simple creed: that slavery is a violation of the rights of man.
Fredrick Douglas called the Republicans the party of freedom and progress, and the first Republican president was Abraham Lincoln, the author of the emancipation proclamation. It was Republicans in Congress who authored the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments giving former slaves citizenship, voting rights, and due process under the law.
The Democrats, on the other hand, were the party of Jim Crowe who defended the rights of slave owners. 
It was the Republican president Dwight Eisenhower who championed the civil rights act of 1957, but it was the Democrats in the Senate who filibustered the bill. 
The rest of the video cries out for rebuttal as well, but this quote was the root source of my irritation.

Yes, Abraham Lincoln and Eisenhower were Republicans, when the Republicans were the liberal party fighting against the racist conservative Democrats. The Parties have change dramatically over the centuries, most drastically over the last 50 years. Eisenhower may have championed a civil rights bill as a Republican liberal Republican, but it was Lyndon B. Johnson (D) who in 1960 would fill in the holes and compromises the 1957 legislation.

When LBJ made that decision, he rightfully feared retribution from his own party, particularly southern democrats. Nixon would soon arrive on the scene to pioneer "The Southern Strategy" which finally secured the southern state voting block for the Republican party. Over the next decade, the Republican Party solidified it control of the Bible belt. Soon, the rise of evangelical movements like Jerry Falwell's "Moral Majority" would come to dominate the Republican party in the name of social conservatism.

In a very short span of time, the pro-segregation Democrats gave way to the pro-equality Democrats and the liberal Republicans morphed into the party evangelical conservatives they remain to this day.

So don't give me any of this "Lincoln was a Republican" bullshit anymore. The only thing the two parties have in common over all this time is the name.

But Guillory isn't done yet:
You see, at the heart of Liberalism is the idea that only a great and powerful big government can be the benefactor of social justice for all Americans. But the Left is only concerned with one thing: control. And they disguise this control as charity. Programs such as welfare food stamps, these programs aren't designed to lift black Americans out of poverty, they were ALWAYS intended as a mechanism for politicians to control the black community.
The idea that blacks, or anyone for that matter, need the government to get ahead in life is despicable. 
And even more important, this idea is a failure. Our communities are just as poor as they've always been. Our schools continue to fail children. Out prisons are filled with young black men who should be at home being fathers. Our self initiative and our self reliance have been sacrificed in exchange for allegiance to our overseers who control us by making us dependent on them.   
Sometime [sic] I wonder if the word freedom is tossed around so frequently in our society that is has become a cliche. The idea of freedom is complex and it's all-encompassing. It's the idea that the economy must remain free of government persuasion. It's the idea that the press must operate without government intrusion. And it's the idea that the emails and phone records of Americans should remain free from government search and seizure. 
It's the idea that parents must be the decision makers with regards to their children's education, not some government bureaucrat. But most importantly it's the idea that the individual must be free to pursue his or her own happiness, free from government dependence and free from government control. Because to be truly free is to be reliant on no one other than author of our destiny [Guillory points heavenward]. 
These are the ideas at the core of the Republican Party, and it is why I am a Republican. So my brothers and sisters of the American community, please join with me today in abandoning the government plantation and the party of disappointment so that we may all echo the words of one Republican Leader who famously said: 'Free at last, Free at last, Thank God Almighty we are free at last.'
Let's assume for a minute that the Democrats are indeed the party of disappointment and they have failed in their attempts to alleviate suffering in the African American community. Even so, I don't understand how you can justify turning to the party implementing Voter ID laws in many states that were considered far too obviously racist by the Voting Rights Act to be implemented before conservatives on the Supreme Court struck it down because apparently racism doesn't exist anymore.

I don't understand wanting government to have less control and joining the party of mandatory ultrasounds and .

I don't understand calling for emails and phone records to remain "free from government search and seizure" and joining the party that instituted the Patriot Act in the first place.

I don't understand joining the party that needs to be coached on how not to sound racist in order to better fight for racial equality.

I don't get it at all.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Read at your own Risk Pt 2.

Our friendly neighborhood silent mouthpiece of right wing inanity is back at work. The street preacher I saw last semester was back again this week with new material.

This one is full of goodies about the horrors of GAY MARRIAGE!!

Here's the full document. The sloppiness is (mostly) due to my scanner.

I especially love the citation at the end:
"Continuous Informatin: Mark Levin, Steve Deave, Glen Beck, Mark Steyn, David Barton, Phyllis Schlafly, D. James Kennedy, Ph. D., Michael Youssef, Ph. D., Walter E Williams"
You can't lose when you've got good material.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Adorable Animated Animals

Just wanted to share this. Great graduation film from 2011, created at the National Film and Television School by Richard Phelan.

Damned from Richard Phelan on Vimeo.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Doubt your doubts?

I've been thinking about the nature of doubt a lot recently, as it keeps coming up in all of the things I'm reading. The more I take in, the more I begin to see the discussion fall into a very simple patterns. Doubt seems to take one of two personas depending upon who is the descriptor: the ally and guide to knowledge, or the enemy and tool of the devil.

I consider doubt to be my primary guide in seeking new understanding and, more often than not, self correction. When a doubt arises, I consider it good cause to dive deeper into my beliefs and either replace my doubt with clarification or justify my earlier intuition of the belief's falsity. Doubt acts as a companion in this way, warning me away from falling easily into credulity.

This is not to say that doubt is omniscient or always legitimate. Doubt should be the nagging question not the final answer.

However, in my former community of believers doubt is an entirely different beast. Doubt is evil. Doubts are there to be combated and replaced with faith. Doubts are the devil's work.

Lest you think I exaggerate the position, allow me to furnish you with several examples from prominent believers.

Tim Keller directly describes how believers should approach doubt in his book "The Reason for God": doubt your doubts.
"The only way to doubt Christianity rightly and fairly is to discern the alternate belief under each of your doubts and then ask yourself what reasons you have for believing it. How do you know your belief is true? It would be inconsistent to require more justification for Christian belief than you do for your own, but that is frequently what happens. In fairness you must doubt your doubts. My thesis is that if you come to recognize the beliefs on which your doubts about Christianity are based, and if you seek as much proof for those beliefs as you seek from Christians for theirs – you will discover that your doubts are not as solid as they first appeared."-Tim Keller, The Reason for God (pg. xix)
Joyce Meyer writes in an article entitled "How to Defeat Your Doubts and Feed Your Faith":
I struggled with two things the devil often threw at me: doubt and unbelief.
Doubt and unbelief are big problems for Christians. They are negative and discouraging. They cause us to make poor choices, which make life difficult. They cause us to say things like, “I wish I could lose weight,” or “I wish my kids would behave,” or “I wish I could keep my house clean,” or “I wish I had better relationships.” 
And doubt and unbelief interrupt faith. 
Every day you need to say, “Something good is going to happen to me today. I can hardly wait to see what God is going to do in my life today!” 
And you especially need to speak this when the devil is trying to flood your mind with doubts. The way you fight the devil is by opening your mouth and saying what God says. Don’t just let the devil use your mind as a garbage dump. 
We can defeat doubt and unbelief if we know how to do it.

Refuse to be a lazy Christian and resist a passive, apathetic attitude. Be determined to do your part to build your faith. Never give up. And you will defeat doubt and unbelief!
Nowhere is the concept of doubt more corrosive to belief than in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Hence why President Dieter F. Uchtdorf felt the need to make this statement:

It’s natural to have questions—the acorn of honest inquiry has often sprouted and matured into a great oak of understanding. There are few members of the Church who, at one time or another, have not wrestled with serious or sensitive questions. One of the purposes of the Church is to nurture and cultivate the seed of faith—even in the sometimes sandy soil of doubt and uncertainty. Faith is to hope for things which are not seen but which are true. 
Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters—my dear friends—please, first doubt your doubts before you doubt your faith. We must never allow doubt to hold us prisoner and keep us from the divine love, peace, and gifts that come through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
William Lane Craig takes a similar approach to doubt:

Craig suggests that since we know in a self authenticating manner "wholly apart from the evidence" that the witness of the holy spirit is accurate and true, that we should regard a temporary setback caused by our lack of access to the full set of evidence for that obvious truth. The "shifting sands of evidence" are a poor basis for our beliefs, according to Craig.  He also claims that doubt always has a spiritual component.
"There is an enemy of your souls, Satan, who hates you intensely, bent on your destruction who will do everything in his power to see that your faith is destroyed. And therefore when we have these intellectual doubts and problems we should never look at them as spiritually neutral or divorce them from the conflict that we are involved in. Rather we need to take those doubts to God in prayer...[that's how] you allow unanswered questions not to become destructive doubts."
Let us leave aside the repeated claims are tools of Satan for the time being and consider how all of these leaders suggest approaching doubt. The common thread is to see doubt as something that must be defeated. Doubts are never even possibly correct. Doubts must be driven into the ground or taken to God because doubt is WRONG! Doubts are destructive and must never be heeded.

This crusade against doubt can rightly be called the armor of god.  It is the first and last line of defense to inquiry and questioning. The vilification of doubt often makes believers ashamed of their questions and hesitant to voice them openly. It provides a deflector shield to questionable beliefs.

However, this view of doubt creates a downside from the religious perspective. It transforms a potentially malleable and adaptable worldview into a rigid structure of unquestionable dogma. In such a state the worldview is strengthened against critique, but when a weakness is found the entire lattice risks shattering. When your entire worldview is held above reproach, the admission of a single failing belief can lead to the decimation of the entire house of cards.

It should be no surprise then that many of the most enthusiastic atheist and freethinking activists came from such rigidly mind controlled backgrounds. Nor should we be surprised that the path from fundamentalism to non-belief is much more worn than that from fundamentalism to liberal theology (the latter route being taken often as a scenic tour to the former's destination).

No one better personifies and understands this risk than Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis. He understands the importance of defending his worldview's weak spot: young earth creationism. Ham is often quite explicit that if Genesis is not inerrant and literally true, then the rest of the Bible quickly falls into doubt.

So to my believing audience, I make this suggestion: accept doubt into your heart. If your beliefs are true, they should fear nothing from scrutiny. Even if they are false, the willingness to adapt your views and unlearn errant teachings only makes your worldview stronger.

In either case, doubt should be nothing to fear.