Sunday, May 23, 2010

I Must Always Remind Myself

I must always remind myself that the majority of those who post at Ray Comforts blog and others like it are not Christians. At least they are not like any Christians I have met in the real world. I need to remind myself of this to avoid becoming bigoted against Christians. I know that there are those who despite their belief in gods are rational, intelligent and moral people. I know this because I know them. I may not understand why they believe what they do but I can respect them as good friends and good neighbors.

The folks at Comforts swamp, Rapture Ready, Debunking Atheism and other such places give an entirely different impression. They are hateful, lying, degenerates. I say degenerates because by their own admission without belief in their mythology they would be robbing, and raping children and committing murder all of the time. They even describe themselves as evil and wicked. They claim that Atheists must be degenerates because we do not follow the dictates of Christian mythology so we must be raping and murdering and doing all of the things they would want to do if they weren't afraid of hellfire.

I say lying because that is what they do. They lie, they distort and misrepresent peoples statements. They continue to do so after repeatedly being shown exactly how they have taken statements out of context or repeated a lie someone else has told. Ray Comfort, for those who don't know, is a smarmy televangelist and cult leader who is the chief liar of the bunch. Nothing he says is truth and when called on his lies he dodges or changes the subject or simply deletes responses that make him look bad.

I say hateful because they are. They throw around mockery and false accusations. They make generalisations about Atheists and non Christians. They engage in the most atrocious bigotry that if it were directed at blacks or Jews it would be reviled by every decent person on the planet. Yet they get away with it because they do it in the name of their religion and the more sensible and decent Christians are either unaware or look the other way. Not that Christians outside the cult all approve, to the contrary, many Christian denominations widely decry Comfort as a heretic, but not because of his bigotry, it is his doctrine that draws their ire. His works based salvation and slavish literalism is what gets him shunned. This is fine and probably appropriate, but I would also like to see him called out for his lies and bigotry.

That is why, as I have said, I must always remain aware that these creatures are not representative of Christianity in general. Rather they are more akin to other cultists of any faith. They are the fringe loonies. The ignorant wingnuts. The mad bombers that the mainstream members of all faiths be it Islam, Hindu, Buddhism, or Christianity, would very much like to see go away.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Nature with my son

I finally got an actual weekend off after being away from home for over a month with only one day home. My wife was away at girl scout camp with my daughter so it was just the boy and I for the weekend and we made the most of it. We started off Friday after school with a trip to the park to visit the new goslings and feed the geese. Afterwards we took a long walk on the back trails down the river. The Willamette river is just perfect this time of year. Everything is just a wash of green and blue. The riot of different greens from all of the trees, the blue of the sky, and the river swirling shades of both cascading over the rocks. We spent the whole afternoon hiking and talking before going home to make "guy food" in this case bacon cheeseburgers.

Saturday we went with some friends to play disc golf in the park. We played several rounds and my son played right along with us. We give him a substantial handicap but even considering that he played very well. Saturday night is usually the night when my friends come over to play cards and bullshit. We dealt my son in and included him in the conversation and he was absolutely thrilled to be one of the guys.

Sunday was the Wildflower Festival at the arboretum and my son and I went together for the day. It was a great day. There was great food, good music, wine tasting from the local vinyards, and of course the wildflowers which are magnificent. We went hiking on the many nature trails. I let my son lead and he kept taking every trail upwards and after about an hour we had climbed all the way to the top of Mt. Pisgah. Exhausted but triumphant we stopped to survey the fields around us and revel in our victory before making the trip down. Downward I let him lead as well and before to long we were well and truly lost. Well not exactly, I knew where we were and had a pretty good idea how to get back but I let him struggle with it. He decided to use his tracking skills to find the way and started following horse prints. He actually did a good job and got us on a trail I knew would get us back but I also knew it was very long walk. Eventually I suggested we follow the stream down cross country and he loved the idea. We went off helter skelter downhill through the woods and fields, jumping and laughing the whole way until we made it right back down to the festival grounds.

We stayed another hour or so listening to the bands and making friends before going home to meet my wife and daughter.

The most interesting part of our trip was my sons curiosity. The whole weekend he had millions of questions. He wanted to know where rocks come from so I explained erosion and how rivers change course and everything else I could think of about geology. He wanted to know why some berries were poisonous, so I explained about natural selection and survival. Question after question I answered with the best science I had, simplifying it only so far as absolutely neccessary and he soaked it all up like a sponge.

I wonder if this is what religious people do with their children. Do they walk in the woods answering questions with "God did this" or "God wanted it this way" I imagine they do. I honestly don't know. My best Christian friend is without children and the other Christians I associate with don't really talk about child raising at least not from a religious perspective. I was not raised with religion myself, so have no personal experience.

I would think that they would want to but I am not sure how effective it would be with my son. He would not be satisfied with "Goddidit". Even if he believed in a God he would be asking things like "how did God do it" or "Why did God do it". He is only seven but already his brain looks past the surface and as he gets older I hope this continues and I see him probing deeper and deeper. I hear from many Christians of my acquaintance and in articles and reports that a big problem Christianity is suffering is that children are falling away from the faith after adulthood. That when going to college or when moving from home they abandon Christianity either formally as atheists or in everything but name keeping a token Christianity to please their parents. Could this be because my child is not unique in wanting deeper and better answers than the Bible and the church are capable of providing.

Note: Sorry I have still not posted Alaska pictures, my wife has still not located our memory card reader. I bought another one but it turned out it won't work with my camera. I promise they will be forthcoming.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

60000 years of history

Yesterday I visited the Mendenhall Glacier in Juneau Alaska and was impressed not only by the natural beauty, but the sense of age and history. The glacier is a remnant of the last ice age when glaciers advanced accross the globe carving out entire landscapes. The last ice age ended roughly 10000 years ago and began as many as 60000. Somewhat older than creationists would have you believe the entire earth is. I enjoyed seeing firsthand evidence that creationists, at least the young earth variety are wrong.

Primarily though my interest was in the sheer beauty of the glacier and the landscape it sculpted. The water was full of ice floes, the glacier was tall and shining in the sun, beautifully contrasted by the surrounding green forested mountains. There was also a towering and mighty waterfall. My companions and I drank at the base of it and tasted the sweetest water of our lives.

It had been my hope to trek all the way up to the glacier but it was a three hour hike and my friends weren't interested particularly in the light rain which accompanied us. We did however approach the base and marvel up at the huge expanse of blue ice.

Today I am in the town of Ketchikan it is my last stop before returning home. I have enjoyed my working vacation in this remarkable place, but I miss my family and am eager to be home.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

An Abundance of Eagles

At home I live near a wetlands preserve, we often take walks there and picnic nearby. It is home to several nesting bald eagles, which I see one or two of on a fairly regular basis. I had thought I was blessed to be near such amazing animals, but I have come to realize that what I thought was wealth is just a pittance. I am in Kodiak Alaska today and one of the first sights to greet me were Eagles filling the sky like gulls. Several bald eagles and as many or more golden eagles, circling above the harbor, landing in the trees and on rooftops, I even took a photo of two bald eagles and a golden standing in the road like crows. I was in awe, soon I am going to go back out just to watch them and walk along the bay.

My hotel is right on the water which thrills me, I love the ocean and this is the first time since being in Alaska I have had the opportunity to visit it. Now finally I get to see the North end of my ocean. I have now visited the south in Hawaii the north here in Alaska and many points in between. It makes me feel connected somehow with the ocean that I have loved since I was just little.

Alaska really is a paradise for nature lovers, I have done some hiking already, and soon I will be going to Juneau. My colleagues who have made this trip before said there are many great hikes there, including a glacier all very near the hotel. I will be sure to report about it when I am done.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Thoughts on science

I am in Anchorage at the moment and was not in the mood for sightseeing or partying so I spend a quiet evening playing cards with friends. My collegues are fellow atheists and science buffs. We ended up having a discussion about Sephen Hawkings new series on the discovery channel. This was interesting because there has been some talk recently about proffessor Hawkings on Ray Comforts creationist blog. Ray has been mocking Dr. Hawkings for speculating that aliens probably exist. This seems perfectly reasonable to me what with septillions of potential planets it would be incredibly unlikely that there would be only life on one. To creationists however the idea is very threatening.

My friends and I were generally positive about the shows but we had one of the same complaints as the creationists. It was far too much speculation. Now Stephen Hawkings is speculating based on vast knowledge and intelligence but he was speculating and made that very clear. We all agreed that we would have preferred more hard science and math. Of course for most viewers that would have made for dry television which is probably why they didn't do it. Cool hypothesis with flashy graphics are more likely to draw ratings.

I think that is part of the problem with creationists. They are a lot like TV viewers they don't care about facts or Data they want it simple and dumbed down. Of course there are a few creationists with degrees in biology but they are few and far between and most of the most ardent supporters are preachers and other lay folk without even a basic scientific education. I find this strange. I am not a biologist but I have a good scientific background and a few years of college biology. I wouldn't even begin to try to defend the theory of evolution if I did not have a clear understanding of what it said and why. People who oppose it on internet forums however know nothing at all except for sound bites, regurgitated talking points, and obvious quote mines. Myself and many people far more qualified give patient explanations of why they are mistaken in their scientific knowledge and get in return inanities like "So you think nothing created everything" or "You can't prove God didn't do it" not only are both statements logical fallacies they have nothing to do with biology.

I have talked before about a good Christian friend of mine who is both a believer and has a great deal of scientific knowledge. His belief is that the theory of evolution, just like the theory of gravity is the best explanation for observed evidence and acurately reflect the physical world. He acknowledges that the theory of evolution and big bang cosmology both contradict his religion. He is not concerned and is not engaging in cognative dissonance. He believes he can understand the world through science and faith through scripture but can not know the mind and power of his god in this life. He believes that any discrepencies reflect his inability to understand the power of God not a weakness of either God or science. He believes that in the afterlife he will either know because his deity will tell him or it won't matter to him because it won't be relevant in heaven. I don't share his belief or even find it reasonable but I respect that he holds it with honesty and conviction. His attitude shows that one does not need creationism and other denialistic excuses to be a Christian. So I must ask why do creationists exist. I think it is because developing both a knowledge of science and a consistent philosophy require both dedication and intelligence. I think many of those drawn to creationist cults like Way of the Master do not possess either. There are surely exceptions. My most frequent commenter Tracy seems to be a creationist and has expressed empathy with Comforts cult yet nothing about how she describes her faith seems dependant on creationism or justification. That is one reason I enjoy talking to her. As with my friend I see no reason to share her beliefs but since she can hold them without lies and distortions I can respect that. If more Christians relied on faith instead of creationism and other man made constructs they would not need to be threatened by real science even if it seems to contradict their faith.