Atheist Bus News

The atheist bus campaign in Indiana has averted a legal showdown and won the right to display its ads.

From the beginning, the Indiana Atheist Bus Campaign said it knew it was going to win the fight against the Bloomington Public Transportation Corporation.

After two months, the campaign was given the OK to run the ad “You Can Be Good Without God.”

“We’re all elated we won, of course,” said Charlie Sitzes, spokesman for the bus campaign. “We knew we were going to win the lawsuit.”

The decision comes just a week before the lawsuit was supposed to hit federal court in Indianapolis, Sitzes said.

The Bloomington Public Transportation Corporation will also be paying a substantial portion of the legal fees that were incurred. I have no idea why they thought for a moment that they would win this case, but it’s good that they quit before they got embarrassed any more.

Thought of the day

The religious are convinced that it is a mistake for atheists and scientists to mock their beliefs. It is not. The religious simply have no perspective. They hold bad ideas. Many of their ideas are as silly as unicorns, Santa, and celestial teapots. Feel free to believe those things – just don’t ask me to respect you for it.


I often find myself on the lonely side of an argument. I don’t think it’s because I’ve gone off the deep end or that I’m out of touch. It’s that I live in America and my argument-based loneliness is local. The so-called liberals here are the moderate right in most of Europe and our far right-wingers are closer to fascists more than anything. So when I formulated my opinion on spanking in regards to discipline, I expected to be expressing a minority view. That has largely turned out to be true, both in an anecdotal sense and a broader, public-opinion sense (the U.S. is nowhere near banning spanking whereas much of Europe has advanced beyond this neanderthal stage).

The case for why spanking is wrong and immoral is not a difficult one to grasp, but it can be difficult to make it. First and foremost, principle must be emphasized. This is the absolute cornerstone of my argument – and it’s what is most often ignored in the presentation of counter-arguments. Without some sort of broad, yet qualified (see definition number 3) underlining to an argument, there is no good basis; the argument becomes too malleable and convenient. To date, this entirely typifies the sort of arguments favoring spanking that I have heard.

The principle which I follow is simple: hitting is bad. But by itself, that is far, far too broad. It needs qualifications. Hitting is bad except when in self-defense. That doesn’t mean hitting becomes good in self-defense, just that it becomes justified. One can go further and say hitting is bad except when in defense of others. And then one must go further and qualify that what is being defended is something of a high importance. In most cases, bodily defense is the reference. A case can be made for property, but that is not important here.

So now with this general principle, one can apply it to specific situations to check its universality. If the rule becomes “It’s bad to hit except when it’s against a Jew” then we don’t have a universal principle – or we need to justify this new qualification. In the case of specific religions or races, the qualification almost never works. If it does, it’s because there’s something else at work (“It’s bad to hit except when it’s against such-and-such a race” may have some operation value during a time of war). At any rate, it is necessary to test the universality of “It’s bad to hit” (with our justifiable qualifications in mind, i.e., self-defense):

It’s bad to hit children.

This works, but with a limited scope. After we check off our already stated qualifications, this statement leaves open the implication that it is okay to hit adults. Since that clearly is not true, the statement needs to be amended back to the principle: It’s bad to hit.

The issues that arise here should be easily dismissed, but for whatever reason are harder than an Alabama tick to dig out. The first that comes to mind is power. In my experience and in sifting through the Interwebbings, spanking proponents want to make the distinction between really wailing on a kid and some relatively light slaps on the butt. And this is where I am forced to go back to principle. If hitting is wrong, all qualifications considered, then hitting is wrong is wrong is wrong. It is irrelevant how hard one wishes to spank a child. If the intent is to cause physical harm, then there is nothing justifiable in that. It’s like saying stealing is wrong…unless it’s just a little bit. That’s a silly fall from logic.

Another issue is that of parental rights. Most people can agree that parents are the primary caregivers and are primarily responsible for the well-being of the child. To some this seems to mean parents are bestowed with natural rights to discipline as they see fit. But again, it always goes back to principle. If it’s wrong, it’s wrong.

What I find most interesting about the “parents’ rights” argument is that it usually comes down to blood relations. That makes no sense. First, it compromises principle where it is convenient – it is not okay to hit a Jew by virtue of that person being a Jew, and so just the same to a child. Second, I fail to see how genetic relatedness is even relevant to the conversation. It’s so specific and, again, convenient. But besides that, it excludes those who adopt or otherwise become legal guardians of children not their own. What’s more, the child is equally related to the parent. If not for the difference in physical prowess, why shouldn’t the kid be allowed to discipline the misbehavior of the parent? Clearly, something more than genes must be at work. For someone to make such an argument seems bizarre, out of touch, and, unfortunately, all too common (at least in my experience). It’s a “shield argument”, really. It shields the proponent from needing to justify allowing strangers to discipline their child. If it’s okay to hit a child out of discipline for one person, it should be okay for another. Introducing arbitrary guidelines (one must be blood related and/or a legal guardian) does not effectively get around the issue. It skirts it out of convenience.

Finally, in no particular order, there’s effectiveness, effect, and what spanking teaches. Commonly, proponents of spanking either attest to not wanting a “spoiled little brat” or that spanking has no detrimental, long-term effects. Both are terrible points. First, plenty of people grow up without being spanked and were never, nor are, “spoiled little brats”. Second, whether or not spanking has long-term effects is irrelevant. Even is spanking proved to be an effective means of discipline, it wouldn’t affect a single aspect of the argument so far put forth. It goes to principle. Burning a child with an iron would be effective discipline, but the argument has clearly surpassed whether or not effectiveness is at issue. It is not. To bring it up is to simply ignore everything that has been said.

The truth is that the science doesn’t show one way or the other how effective spanking is. The results are mixed, sometimes muddled. However, one thing science does tell us is that for physical punishment to be effective, it needs to be gradually increased over time in most cases. If it isn’t, a tolerance is built to it. We can extrapolate and apply this known fact to spanking through conjecture, but direct evidence is light.

And then there’s what spanking teaches. When one breaks it down, it becomes clear. Spanking tells children that in order to get their way, they just need to hit. In order to correct the unwanted behavior of others, physical force will do the trick. This does not mean that children will grow up to be violent. For most children, that connection probably won’t even be made. Rather, they will see only some people are allowed to hit others. Often, this will be because parents and teachers will give them the conflicting mantra “Don’t hit others”. Ultimately, this confusion turns out to be a good thing for everyone, but that is not the point here. Spanking is teaching that hitting is okay in the correction of unwanted behavior. The fact that most children will not understand what they are being taught is immaterial.

At the end of all this, whether or not spanking is okay should be clear. It is not. It is an immature way to obtain one’s way out of stupidity, miscalculation, frustration, and/or an inability to raise a child who shows intelligently-based respect, rather than just faux fear-based ‘respect’.

Infuriatingly silly

Jerry Coyne has a post about why Francis Collins pollutes science with religion. It’s a succinct piece that basically nails Collins for all his silly, childish, superstitious, frankly stupid beliefs.

The most inane and disingenuous part of Collins’s argument is his claim that without religion, the concepts of good and evil are meaningless. (Collins’s slide 5 in Harris’s piece: “If the moral law is just a side effect of evolution, then there is no such thing as good or evil. It’s all an illusion. We’ve been hoodwinked. Are any of us, especially the strong atheists, really prepared to live our lives within that worldview?”) That’s palpable nonsense. Good and evil are defined with respect to their effects and the intents of their perpetrators, not by adherence to some religious code. It is beyond my ken how a smart guy like Collins can make a claim like this, even going so far as to argue that “strong atheists” like Richard Dawkins have to accept and live their lives within a world in which good and evil are meaningless ideas

It’s inconvenient for Collins or any other religiously-driven person to admit that morality is a purely human affair. And really, it’s getting to be a tiresome argument. Explanations abound for how morality could have naturally evolved. That should be good enough to force any reasonable person to admit that, no, morality need not have a god, it need not adhere to the whims of one individual entity, and it definitely is not universal. Our ideas of morality change with the times, with cultures, with known facts, with context. The only real constant is that every human society has developed a moral system. The details within each system may vary wildly – in bin Laden’s, the death of most of America is just – but they are always put within some sort of construct. That does not mean that bin Laden’s version of morality is equal to any other version which may exist. One key component in any moral system is basing premises on facts. That’s the main reason that god-based moral systems tend to fail or be wacky (see inane hatred of homosexuality among, well, almost all the religions). It’s one of the reasons bin Laden’s system doesn’t work and is not equal to mine or yours or most Americans’ or other Westerners’ (or even most Muslims’).

Collins, like most Christians who think they somehow own the moral high horse, despite all the contrary evidence, does not understand that morality is not universal. It is only moral systems. His is broken and can only work because he’s made it malleable to the progression of secular values and understanding. Indeed, if religions weren’t so agreeable to such change, Christianity would be as much a relic as slavery. Of course, that isn’t to suggest that religion so easily moves along with reason. It doesn’t. It usually comes kicking and screaming, forced by the hand of rationality.

There are, of course, also statements made without evidence, including this one: “God gifted humanity with the knowledge of good and evil (the Moral Law), with free will, and with an immortal soul” And this (slide 4): “We humans used our free will to break the moral law, leading to our estrangement from God.” How does he know? What’s the evidence? Isn’t the distinction between the science slides and the faith slides being blurred here?

One thing I’ve been forcing myself to ask myself a lot lately is “Where’s my evidence?” I recently went on a big hike through the 100-Mile Wilderness, the most remote and difficult section of the Appalachian Trail. I recall passing a tree root that had made a sort of rainbow shape. Each end was in the ground, but the middle was up in the air (as opposed to laying against the ground). It was unusual, but I quickly thought “It must have been buried at some point before being exposed, thus causing it to pop up”. I had to stop myself right there. How did I know that? I didn’t. It was a plausible guess, but other explanations were also plausible. It could have grown that way. Another tree could have been there before being removed, long ago, by the Maine Appalachian Trail Committee (MATC). It could just be a brief, weird angle I had making me think it was a root when in reality it was just a fallen branch that appeared buried in the ground. All I had was a hypothesis, and one I wasn’t about to test. I had to settle with “I don’t know” as an answer. Sometimes that isn’t just a temporary answer. Every single claim/question about the after-life that Collins makes deserves a permanent “I don’t know”. He doesn’t have the evidence. As a scientist, he should value that above all else in his work.

But then again, he is a Christian. Religions do not value evidence.

Catching Conservapedia in a lie again

From their lying front page:

Another new paper was just published in Journal of Climate. Added proof Al Gore & Company are simply lying hucksters, out for a buck. Written by eminent climatologists, called Greenland Ice Sheet Surface Air Temperature Variability: 1840–2007 which discusses data from Greenland since 1840. No unprecedented recent warming is found. For example, they find that the 1919-1932 warming was 1.33 times greater than the 1994-2007 “warming”. [19] The new report mirrors one from the United States Senate back in 2007. [20]

Just like the last time, they make the mistake of linking to the abstract they reference.

Thus, it is expected that the ice sheet melt rates and mass deficit will continue to grow in the early twenty-first century as Greenland’s climate catches up with the Northern Hemisphere warming trend and the Arctic climate warms according to global climate model predictions.

These people are kooks.

Catching Conservapedia in a lie again

From their lying front page:

Another new paper was just published in Journal of Climate. Added proof Al Gore & Company are simply lying hucksters, out for a buck. Written by eminent climatologists, called Greenland Ice Sheet Surface Air Temperature Variability: 1840–2007 which discusses data from Greenland since 1840. No unprecedented recent warming is found. For example, they find that the 1919-1932 warming was 1.33 times greater than the 1994-2007 “warming”. [19] The new report mirrors one from the United States Senate back in 2007. [20]

Just like the last time, they make the mistake of linking to the abstract they reference.

Thus, it is expected that the ice sheet melt rates and mass deficit will continue to grow in the early twenty-first century as Greenland’s climate catches up with the Northern Hemisphere warming trend and the Arctic climate warms according to global climate model predictions.

These people are kooks.

Thought of the day

The higher and tougher and more dangerous the mountain, the more I want to climb it.

Thought of the day

More sports.

There’s that old joke “I went to a boxing match and a hockey game broke out”. Har. I’ve got one better, especially during playoffs.

“I was watching a ton of commercials and an NBA game broke out.”

No, they can't

Yet another person thinks evolution and creationism can live side-by-side.

The image of the Virgin Mary is reported to have been seen on a tree stump in the village of Rathkeale, and thousands of people have flocked there. And yes, this is quite absurd.

But is it more preposterous to believe that that piece of timber, and the willow tree from which it came, and the eye that beheld the wood, arrived in this world entirely by accident?

For in this, the 150th anniversary of the publication of ‘The Origin of Species’, that is what we’ve been endlessly told this year.

Before Darwinian dogmatists sneer the words ‘intelligent design’ and ‘creationism’, let me declare that I embrace neither concept. But nor do I reject them.

There it is. I’ve been talking about it for awhile now, and here’s a prime example. It’s a New Creationist

I’ve been reading up on this subject recently, especially Ernst Mayr, Dawkins and Darwin, and what strikes me most is the sheer act of Darwinian faith which is required for us to accept that natural selection was the prime engine that conjured the vast complexity of modern life from its birthplace in the methanogenic oceans of the pre-Cambrian.

It actually doesn’t take any faith whatsoever. There is ample evidence for evolution, and specifically for natural selection. The only way the author of this piece would think it took faith to accept evolution would be if he was really a sneaky, coy creationist.

Now life as we know it depends on proteins. But even a relatively simple molecule such as insulin, consists of 51 conjoined amino-acids, with a molecular weight of 5808: nearly 6,000 times the weight of a hydrogen atom. And an average living cell contains 100 million protein molecules, involving perhaps 20,000 varieties of protein.

Do you remember those problems back in grammar school where you’d need to pick out the irrelevant part? Suzy and Tom went to the store at 7 in the morning. Tom got 2 packs of gum and a soda. They both returned at 4:30 later that day. For how long were Suzy and Tom gone? It isn’t important that Tom bought anything. No one cares. So in turn, one wonders why the author told us the weight of insulin, not to mention that weight versus a particular atom. Maybe he’s trying to compare complexity. If so, he failed.

Moreover, there are several hundred thousand types of protein, all of them impossibly complex. How were these made by accident? To say that such order is implicit in all of nature — as some scientists do — is begging the question, the equivalent of saying matter is intrinsic to materials.

There’s the problem. This guy thinks it was all “by accident”. He also seems to think, as creationists commonly do, that complex molecules have always existed in the form in which we see them. That is not the case. Evolution is a slow, gradual process. Until creationists understand that – and they usually willfully do not – no progress can be made with these people.

This logically means that there must have been many competing proto-life forms. Just one — apparently the one that depends upon DNA — survived. But how did the dear old double helix come into existence? For DNA doesn’t function at all unless complete. It’s either the final, impossibly complex but useful article, or it’s incomplete and utterly useless. So, no simple evolution here.

Competing lifeforms would not last long in an environment where other lifeforms already exist. That’s one reason we don’t see life spontaneously come into existence – the formation of any molecules will be quickly used up by existing life.

This guy goes on to state the common creationist idea that life must exist complexly immediately upon its inception. Again, no. Interestingly, this all seems like a non-sequitur: many life forms should exist, but only one does, so how did it come into existence, it couldn’t because it’s complex. Weird.

Human-triggered speciation has never occurred, despite separations of thousands of years. The dingo of the Australian desert is five millennia removed from the Arctic wolf; yet they can still interbreed. Similarly, Northern Dancer could have bred with a Connemara.

Dogs? Or all this?

Billions and…googols