Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The Move to WordPress


This blog can now be found at WordPress. I moved after Blogspot deleted my blog (or at least removed it from view) and it took nearly a full two weeks to get it restored. Apparently they have software that automatically identifies "link spam" and automatically "removes" these blogs.

If you have a Blogger/Blogspot blog, I highly recommend the change to Wordpress. You can't use adsense there, but I honestly wasn't making anything off of that anyway. If I had thousands of visitors per day, it would be different, but this is just a hobby. If I should someday rise to the level of Pharyngula, I'll move to my own domain. Until then, the Adsense-free WordPress is fine with me and it is very, very flexible. What's more, the editor is far superior.

The new link to my blog is http://breakingspells.wordpress.com

If you have me linked or bookmarked, please update!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Religious Nuts in the News

Not all religious people are nuts. It can be argued that the religous are party to delusion on some scale, but we all become subjected to delusion from time to time.

The religious nuts, however, are not only deluded, but they're often sociopathic and, well... nuts!

J.K. Rowling was confronted by a religous nut

While shopping in a toy store with her children, an American religious nut approached her, put his face very close to his and said, “Aren't you that Potter woman?” and, “I pray for you every evening.”

Religious nuts have long held that her books promote "witchcraft" and "sorcery," so its not surprising that when you have someone writing fictional accounts about the supernatural that nuts who actually think the supernatural exists will be offended. Rowling was quoted as saying, "I should have said he'd better pray for himself but I was stunned. It was very frightening. I want nothing to do with fundamentalism of any sort. It scares me."

Religious Nuts in Russia are Waiting for Armageddon
This group of orthodox Christian religious nuts believes that everything in the world is "evil" and that globalization is "evil" and they've retreated to a man-made cave in a remote region of Russia called Penza, which is about 400 miles from Moscow. Not only are they waiting out the end of the world, they've also threatened to blow themselves up. It would be funny if it weren't for the fact that these religious nuts have their children with them.

Mitt Romney's Problem as a Religous Nut
I'll start with a quote from the article linke above:

If it were possible for a politician to sue voters for religious discrimination, Mitt Romney would have an open-and-shut case against the Republican electorate. Here is a man possessing all the known qualifications for the job of GOP presidential nominee - strong communications skills, a successful governorship, total agreement on every issue,...
... and he's completely batshit. This is a guy that wears magic underwear, that evolution is false, and that the Garden of Eden was in Missouri to name but a few nutty beliefs. So, yeah... Romney has all the qualifications of the typical conservative republican (what do conservatives really conserve anyway?). I think his fellow republicans who are crticial of Romney are just jelous that their cults don't have magic underwear.

Religious Nuts Who Call Themselves Government Officials Behead a Man for Sorcery
An Egyptian man was beheaded because he practiced witchcraft, committed adultery, and put a Koran in the bathroom. Apparently the guy had candles and herbs and liked to read while taking a dump (you'd think he'd find something more interesting, though). Oh, and he was alleged to have committed adultery.
The ministry said Ibrahim was exposed after a foreign resident sued him for practising sorcery aimed at causing him to split with his wife, and authorities found suspicious books and artifacts in his home.
So what else is punsishable by death in Saudi Arabia? Murder, drug trafficking, rape, apostasy, armed robbery and apparently sorcery. This is why we don't need religious nuts running my nation.

Religious Nuts Want it to be Legal to Carry Swords on Airplanes
... from the box-cutters-are-too-small dept
Sikhs in the U.K. want to be able to take their ceremonial swords called kirpans through secured areas where metal detectors alert to the presence of these weapons. The Sikhs argue that they are not allowed access to public places like Parliament, Immigration offices, courts, airports, etc.

Have they considered leaving the weapons at home?

On religious nut argued that, “[u]nder the Offensive Weapons Act, a kirpan is exempt because it is an article of faith but security personnel deny us entry to public places because we are carrying it."

I'm thinking of starting a new religioun in which my Glock is an article of faith.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

The Unscientific Poll Wars!

Every so often a Christian or creationist site runs a poll that gets hammered by atheists, rationalists and the like.

Via Pharyngula, here's the latest 'unscientific poll' from Baylor University's The Lariat Online, the online version of the school newspaper. How should Baylor Approach Intelligent Design.

Go and cast your vote! Skew the poll!

Sure, it's unscientific and doesn't mean that if a flood of atheists tip the results in favor of rationalism that Baylor will officially reject 'intelligent' design. But at least it'll let them know atheists are out there. Anything that gets us counted and noticed as a population that's big enough to affect polls is good.

In the mean time, the IDiots are encouraging their minions to vote and the poll, so far, shows 1039 votes for "encourage it" and 81 votes to "support it." The "discourage it" and "prohibit it" votes are climbing with 472 and 333 respectively. This as of 22:44 hrs on 17 November 2007.

Funniest quote from the IDiot blog comes from the very first post: "Baylor had a chance to be cutting edge in a field that holds tremendous promise: ID!"

"Cutting edge" and "tremendous promise" reminds me of the nutbars that go on and on about cold fusion, free energy, and thousands of crap herbal supplements.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

False Piety and Perceptions of Status

Lots of poll results get quoted on atheist blogs and during debates like the Gallup poll that reported 45% of Americans believe that God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so; or the Harris poll that reports 90% of all Americans believe in God. Then there's the Pew Research poll that reports 20% of American Christians are sure that Jesus Christ will return in their lifetimes.

As startling as these figures are, one point of fact regarding them that is rarely discussed is this: the methodologies of the polls themselves do not allow for an accurate reflection of what those polled actually believe. At best, it can only be said that those polled claim to hold these particular beliefs. What percentage of those polled gave the answers they did because of how they want to be perceived rather than based on what they actually think? I remember once a speech many years ago in which the speaker quoted a Chinese philosopher, perhaps Lao Tzu (though I've been unable to find the source of this), who said that we each have Five Faces:

The face we see of ourselves;
The face we want to see of ourselves;
The face we want others to see of ourselves;
The face that others see;
And the face we actually wear.

I'm not a big fan of Chinese philosophy and I've never been able to find the actual source of that Lao Tzu quote (hell, I'm not even sure it was Lao Tzu), but I've always felt that there was something to this. It would be no intellectual leap or revelation to say that humans have a tendency to "present an image" of themselves that they deem favorable or desirable. Rappers and hip-hop artists have the "gansta" image. Politicians like to be seen as the common man. Living in the south, I've known many a smart man that pretended to be a dumb redneck. Truly stupid people seem to demand acknowledgement of their mental superiority. And so on.

Among these "images" that people present of themselves is also one of piety. What large workplace isn't littered with little religious symbols, bibles on desks, printouts of short scriptures, etc.? In my office, I walk past a half dozen or so bibles on desks just to go to the restroom. Several of the readers of these bibles can be seen taking notes and highlighting their bibles. Another desk has a blanket on the back of a chair with various names of the Judeo-Christian god embroidered on it. I can't count the number of scriptural sayings and quotes that are pinned to cubical walls. And their owners always seem eager to announce their church plans on Sunday; what church they attend; the goings on at this or that church; churches they once attended and why they no longer attend it. My own boss raves about the new Starbucks at his BFC (Big Frickin' Church). Each of these people works at a call center. Nearly every one ends their call with "have a blessed day." In fact, religious jargon litters their vernacular in a way that they may hope seems natural and genuine, but I can't help but think it is all contrived. Perhaps habitual, but contrived nonetheless.

In sports, this is very evident. How many times have you observed a boxer kneel in his corner and sign the cross? I've even watched fights on pay-per-view where both fighters kneel simultaneously and make the same pious gesture! How does that work? Does their god flip a divine coin to choose his winner? What about the baseball player that gives a post-game interview in which he attributes his team's recent win to divine favor? When that team doesn't make it through the playoffs, does that indicate his god has a favorite team; did his god suddenly find disfavor with his team; or did football season start and God changed his channel?

One conclusion that can be drawn from these public displays of piety among sports figures and co-workers is that they are mini-advertisements for their religion. For some or, possibly, many, this may be the case. In most cases, however, I think that these displays are appeals to popularity. Remember the percentages in the first paragraph? Americans are generally given to appealing to popularity anyway, which can be seen in the cars we drive, the clothes we wear, and the music we turn up loud. An appeal to popularity gives group acceptance and provides some status within the group.

It makes me conclude, then, that the percentages I mentioned above aren't what people actually believe, but what they want others to believe about them. If that's the case, then the number of people who actually believe the world to be 10,000 years old may be less. And the number of people who actually believe in God to the degree they claim could be fewer. If this is so, continuing to be vocal about the rational and reasoned point of view about religion and religious beliefs may prove to be effective in marginalizing religious dogma and bringing rational thought into the mainstream.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Magical Thinking: a Common Spell

One of the most prevalent spells that afflict humanity is that of magical thinking. Atheists are familiar with the spell of religion, which they reject, and magical thinking is very much a part of religion. But it goes beyond religious thought and belief. There are even atheists who are guilty of magical thinking!

Before going further, perhaps it would be helpful to define what magic is in order to understand what it means to think magically. Magic is the use of techniques whereby a person expects to exert supernatural power without any assistance from a supernatural being, often a perceived psychic emanation believed to affect or influence the natural world.

The obvious example of magic is the witch, who casts spells or “psychic emanations” to affect health or property of self or others either positively or negatively. In some societies there are those that believe themselves to be witches with abilities to produce magic and the book shelves of the local Barnes and Noble can attest to this fact with titles like Moon Magic and Summer Witchcraft, targeted to western adolescent girls.

Other societies believe that witchcraft exists in others and that being a witch is something to avoid being accused of at all costs. Those accused of being witches in African nations like Mali or Uganda stand a fair chance of being murdered by a frightened and superstitious public.

But neither the suburban, middle-class witches of the Starbucks culture in the west or the West African witches who are alleged to ride banana leaves and abduct people who wander away from the village at night are actually conducting “magic.” The only spell that can truly be at work in either case is that cast by brewing delusion in the cauldron of superstition.

The degree by which believers of either culture’s witches actually perceive witchcraft as real could be debatable, but at least no one in recent times has been publicly executed or lynched for practicing witchcraft in Woodland Heights –or any other suburb of the United States. The same cannot be said for Uganda, where there are actually laws restricting witchcraft practices.

To recognize the more subtle forms of magical thinking, it’s important to first examine some of the main types of magic:

Imitative Magic:
This type of magic is based on the principle that like produces like. IN other words, if you wish to achieve a certain result, you should do something which resembles it. Conversely, if you wish to avoid an undesirable result, you should avoid doing anything that resembles it. If you want rain, for instance, you imitate a thunderstorm by beating a drum; to avoid going into early or complicated labor, a pregnant woman should avoid standing in doorways or lying crossways on a bed.

Contagious Magic:
This type of magic is based on the principle of contact. After two things or a thing and a person have been in contact, whatever happens to one will have a similar effect on the other. AN example might be the use of a voodoo doll, created with an article of clothing or lock of hair from the intended victim –sticking pins into or burning the doll is expected to harm the victim. Another example is wrapping an arrow which wounded a man in damp leaves with an expectation that it will also care for the man.

Incantation Magic:
This is the belief that by reciting the proper words in the proper order will “give power” through chanting, praying, singing or simply saying.
Repetitive Magic: If something worked before, it’s simply repeated. An example might be the “good luck” rituals and talismans of sports figures who always eat the same foods before a game or wear the same underwear.

Written Letters and Words
: these include nonsense words like “abracadabra” and such magical beliefs are used with practitioners of Kabala. Ancient examples might also include the book of the Dead prayers and incantations inscribed into eh tombs of ancient Egyptians.

Magical thinking is most prevalent among ordinary people during situations involving chance and uncertainty. Studies of “baseball magic” revealed that magical thinking may help control anxiety since most use of rituals and “good luck charms” are found among the pitchers where there is the least control over the results of their own efforts and the most complexity, uncertainty and chance involved with their tasks. Outfielders, on the other hand, have the least instances of the use of rituals and chances. They also experience the least complexity in their assigned tasks and exert the most control in the results of their own efforts. Clearly there are several types of magic at work (or at least perceived) in sports like baseball. The repetitive magic of eating certain foods, wearing certain clothes, and tapping the home plate a certain number of times with a bat are prime examples.

There are even taboos within baseball that are silly when examined closely, such as mentioning a “no-hitter” is in progress or crossing base ball bats (on bat might “steal” hits from the other, implying that there exist a finite number of hits in a given bat!). Even the most skeptical and rationally-minded persons involved in a game won’t violate these taboos, perhaps for fear of having the eventual end of a pitching or hitting streak blamed on the violator. Statistically speaking, all streaks end just as surely as they are predicted to occur.

But lest we leave this post thinking that magical thinking is a spell of over-paid athletes and wannabe Sabrinas of Suburbia, consider the number of people who:

  • find Friday the thirteenth unlucky;
  • avoid walking under ladders;
  • believe bad things happen in threes;
  • that things happen “for a reason;”
  • believe that it always rains when they wash their car (my mother used to say when she hung out the laundry);
  • think that a bride must wear: something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue

Even atheists cross their fingers, wish on stars and pennies tossed in mall fountains, and speak directly to traffic lights to make them change!

It is important as an atheist blogger for me to do my part in spreading rationalism while standing up for scientific naturalism and critical thought. But I find it helpful to remember that magical thinking is a human trait and, very likely, one that is evolutionary in its origin.

Related Posts

  • The Scientific Study of Religion

  • Five Stages of Religious Evolution

  • Friday, October 26, 2007

    BlogRush Bigotry: Freethinker, Humanist, and Atheist Blogs are "Hate Speech"

    So I arrive back in country yesterday and finally jump on the net to read some of my favorite blogs and start working on a couple of posts I've been considering. Checking my email, I discover that Blogrush has inactivated my account with them. Not a problem. I was planning on deleting their silly "widget" from my blog anyway since it 1) hasn't really brought me any traffic, and 2) Google Adsense doesn't like it.

    But the email I received from Blogrush said I was "inactivated" because of "[i]nappropriate Content Or Advertising: Hate Speech or Anti-Racial" content.

    What!? "Hate speech?" "Anti-racial?"

    Clearly, the dumb asses running Blogrush are clueless. If you're still hosting their "widget," you might do good to ditch it. Not only does it not work (and that's according to many, many blogs out there ... just google it), but if you use Adsense, you risk not getting a payout. I emailed Google Adsense just before leaving last week and their reply was in my inbox just under Blogrush's inactivation notice. According to Google Adsense:

    While we're unable to comment on any particular program or service, we do not recommend the use of any program that artificially drives traffic to your site. Use of these programs may lead to activity on your site that artificially inflates an advertiser's cost or a publisher's earnings, which would violate the AdSense program policies (https://www.google.com/adsense/policies) and Terms and Conditions (https://www.google.com/adsense/terms).
    I'm guessing what Blogrush didn't like about my blog is that it questioned superstition and challenges religious delusion. Since I've never made any racial comments or even discussed race or racial issues, it seems clear that this is their reason. This is supported by their failure to include channels for science or freethought, two HUGE blogospheric realms with significant numbers of interested bloggers and readers. This might lead one to believe that Blogrush is run by the superstitious who are offended at having their superstitions questioned or criticized.

    Not a problem. I'm not interested in any service that puts my Adsense pay-outs at risk. This blog doesn't contribute to a large degree to my Adsense account yet, but it doesn't need to. My other blog gets about 1200 hits/day and pays well. And the ads are not intrusive nor blatant. They're simple links like I use here.

    I advise anyone that is using the Blogrush pyramid scheme to drop them if they also use Adsense. If there's any doubt, email Adsense yourself if you don't trust the quote above. Not only is Blogrush a risk to your payouts, but their classification of atheist blogs as "hate speech" marks them as bigots as well.

    UPDATE: I've added the following filter to my AdBlock plugin for FireFox: http://widget.blogrush.com* If you use FireFox, you should truly get the AdBlock plugin. If you have it, just copy the url in above and paste it after clicking "New Filter." That way, you'll never have to look at another silly BlogRush Widget again.

    Friday, October 12, 2007

    Atheism for Kids -a warning by the Catholic League

    Bill Donohue of the Catholic League, an organization that bills itself as an "anti-defamation league" for the Catholic Church (as if one can truly defame fantasy and superstition), is protesting the new Nicole Kidman film, The Golden Compass, which is produced by New Line Cinema and Scholastic Entertainment.

    The League apparently finds it to be:

    “Atheism for kids. That is what Philip Pullman sells," said Mr. Donohue.

    He continued: "The trilogy, His Dark Materials, was written to promote atheism and denigrate Christianity, especially Roman Catholicism. The target audience is children and adolescents. Each book becomes progressively more aggressive in its denigration of Christianity and promotion of atheism."
    Donohue warns that "the movie is bait for the books." Hell, I didn't even know about the movie until I read the news item about the protest. Thanks, Catholic League! This is a don't miss movie for December for me! I might even get the books!

    Seriously, protests like this always seem to create interest rather than drive people away.