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Thanks to the following for contributing to July’s Newsletter: Wray Boswell, Lou Fontana, Marc Masor, Maria Doucette, Bob Smith
“How can people believe in evolution when they’ve never seen Darwin appear in a piece of burnt toast? ” -Uncle Bob Smith (timeless)
Next meeting WEDNESDAY SEPTEMBER 21
Meetings are at Irish Embassy, 900 Main Street Durang
Dinner, for those interested, from 5:30PM. Discussion starts at 6:30
The discussion topic for this month:
Well, how embarrassing! Members at the August meeting failed to suggest a topic for September’s meeting! So, I’ll step into the breach and suggest a few topics that I think would make for good general discussions. I’ve felt for a long time that we should focus more of our discussions on what could be called, for lack of a better term, the ‘world view’ of Atheists and how the theistic world perceives people like us. So I spent some time reviewing Christian and Atheist websites and have come up with several ideas for group discussions, to be used either this month or at a future date.
Suggested Topic #1
The first proposed topic is a set of questions, culled from the Christian web sites,that theists would like answered by Atheists like us.
I think it would be good if we had a ready answer for such ‘gotcha’ questions when they crop up:
- If you don’t believe in God, what do you think will happen when you die?
- If you don’t believe in God, how can you say that you are moral?
- Since you don’t have morals, do Atheists believe that they can do anything they wish?
- Since you don’t believe in God/Anything, what do you live for? What gives meaning to your (empty) lives?
- If God didn’t make the universe, where did the universe come from?
- What happens if you (Atheists) are wrong about God?
- Why do you Atheists hate God? Or: Why are you Atheists so angry?
- Have you (Atheists) even read the Bible?
- You aren’t really an Atheist, you are agnostic
- You Atheists say that you hate religion, but isn’t Atheism itself a religion?
Since I won’t be able to attend this month’s meeting, I will now present a brief cheat-sheet of my answers to the above questions:
- If your fear of hell is the only thing keeping you from a life of crime, then you may have a morality problem of your own.
- Belief in the worth and dignity of each individual human life and the hope that, since we recognize that our existence is fleeting and precious, we make the most of our brief lives and leave the world a better place than we found it.
- Don’t know. But saying that an invisible magician poofed it into existence is not an Answer.
- See #1.
- We don’t hate God since we do not believe in the existence of God. But, one reason we are frustrated, which is not the same as ‘angry’, is that Theists (particularly in the U.S.) are trying to hijack Science and are actively trying to supplant science curricula in schools with religious nonsense. Witness ‘Noah’s Ark’ in Kentucky which, benefiting from a state tax loophole, purports to be a ‘science-based’ display that tells gullible children that dinosaurs lived concurrently with human beings. If you have to ask why this is annoying and dangerous, you won’t understand any further explanation.
- In fact, several surveys, including this one by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life ( http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2010/09/28/130191248/atheists-and-agnostics-know-more-about-bible-than-religious ), conclude that Atheists score higher than Theists in tests of religious literacy. My guess is that this is due to the fact that Atheists have done more critical thinking and research into the topic than the Christian-in-the-street who was born into their ‘faith’ and who haven’t taken the time or energy to question it. Reversing the question, I would like to ask Christians (in particular) if they’ve ever read a book about Atheism or a book about the Science behind the theory of evolution by natural selection. For example, a book by Dawkins (The Greatest Show on Earth, which explains ‘evolution’ in exacting detail) or Hitchens (God is Not Great). Further, I would like to ask Christians if they have ever read the sacred texts of other religions, such as the Quran. If not, why not? Theists should explain why, since it’s easy for them to dismiss other religious sacred books, they invest their belief in their own ancient texts? Here is a link to John W. Loftus’ Outsider Test of Faith that encourages Believers to judge their own theological dogma using the same criteria with which they judge other religious traditions: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/hallq/2012/05/the-outsider-test-for-faith-and-how-to-take-it/
- Shut up. Don’t tell me what I am.
- As one commentator on the web said: “Atheism isn’t a religion just as ‘Off” isn’t a TV channel”. Atheists do not believe in superstitions, gods, saints, sprites, imps, elves, angels, demons, devils or anything that is not subject to falsification.
Suggested Topic #2
The second suggested topic comes from Hemant Mehta at The Friendly Atheist. He suggests that we Atheists should be careful about our language and he offers the following ‘things Atheists should not say”. What do you think?
Atheists should NOT SAY…
- “…I ‘lost’ my faith”. As if you misplaced your belief in God and your Atheism is some sort of accident. Better to say: “I grew out of my faith” or ”I discarded my faith” or “I no longer believe…”.
- “…Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof”. Mehta points out that there isn’t a shred of evidence for the existence of God, much less extraordinary proof. So ANY proof would do…
- “…I don’t believe in God”. This is misleading because there is the chance that this phrase indicates that you reject a God who nonetheless exists. Better to say: “I don’t believe in the EXISTENCE of …God”.
- “…Religion doesn’t make any sense”. Implies that you, the Atheist, are simply confused by religion and/or haven’t taken the time to study it. A Theist hears this phrase and concludes that you haven’t studied his religion sufficiently to understand it. Better to say, “Religious dogma is ILLOGICAL or CONTRADICTORY”. This indicates that you’ve studied the dogma in question and have come to a logical conclusion having fully researched the topic.
- “…Tax the churches”. While this is a valid sentiment, what we Atheists really want is for tax-exempt religious organizations to follow the laws that apply to all other ‘non-profit’ organizations with regard to reporting the disposition of the many millions of dollars they collect from the faithful. As it stands, religious organizations raise boggling amounts of money that disappears without any transparency, often to the financial benefit of the ‘pastors’ and other administrators of the religious organizations.
Suggested Topic #3
How should we name ourselves? What’s wrong with using the term ‘Atheist’ to describe our philosophy of Life? Is ‘Agnostic’ just a cop out? What will be the effect of using the term ‘Atheist’ on the public at large?
Suggested Topic #4
The final discussion topic I offer is a discussion of the following statement: “Christianity is a monotheistic religion”. My take is that Christianity is, in reality, a poly-theistic religion beginning with the incomprehensible notion that there are three, separate gods (Father, Son, Holy ‘Ghost’) combined into a single Godhead. (If you think quantum physics is illogical, try three ‘gods’ in one!) Aside from that logical train wreck, Christianity also believes in Satan who (apparently) is also immortal, ethereal, powerful and an active agent in our physical world. And don’t get me started on the ‘saints’ who have the power to intercede with God on our behalf if they are successfully propitiated with prayer or sacrifice. What are saints if not lesser gods who are part of the Christian pantheon, similar to the many gods of ancient Rome or Greece?
Please discuss amongst yourselves!
News of General Interest to Atheists
Are Naturopaths Doctors or Practitioners of Pseudo-Science? (contributed by Lou Fontana) https://www.change.org/p/naturopaths-are-not-doctors?recruiter=30953117&utm_source=share_petition&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=share_email_responsive Why is this a ‘thing’? Because naturopathic practitioners are actively lobbying to be licensed and recognized as ‘primary care physicians’ which would make them eligible for reimbursement by health insurers and Medicare. Member Lou Fontana urges all members to visit the above website for more information about this issue and to sign the petition opposing the licensure of naturopaths.
Lou says: “My skepticism extends to unproven healing methods where neither science nor logical reasoning can be cited. Naturopaths refer to themselves as doctors while embracing homeopathy, as well as other mumbo-jumbo. I don’t argue that sometimes these methods “seem” to work, just as medical intervention isn’t always the reason patients get better. People have the right to buy any thing or service they want to treat their ills, but allowing these undertrained folks to call themselves ‘Doctor’ and use lab tests and x-rays to befuddle their clientele into believing they are receiving science-based treatment is going too far.” Members are encouraged to take a few minutes, read up on the issue and sign the petition.
Lake Nighthorse Update http://www.usbr.gov/uc/progact/animas/index.html A few months ago, members were invited to submit comments regarding the Lake Nighthorse draft recreation plans. The period for comment is now closed and the lake remains closed to the public despite the completion of roads, docks, inspection stations, etc. The construction of a water pipeline from Lake Nighthorse to Lake Durango is starting this fall. More information is available at the above link.
Parental Politics and Vaccinations (contributed by Marc Masor) http://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-vaccination-teens-politics-idUSKCN1152N2 Dividing the states into ‘Red’ and ‘Blue’ based on the results of the 2012 elections, children in blue states were significantly more likely to have received the three important vaccinations recommended for 11 to 12 year olds.
“These associations are important because they demonstrate that there are broader forces associated with political affiliation that may influence acceptance of immunizations for adolescent children,” said senior author Linda M. Niccolai of the Yale School of Public Health in New Haven. “The decision to immunize a child does not occur in vacuum and is not as straightforward as simply accepting a preventive medical intervention or not.” Or, as Marc puts it: “Yes, it does appear that Republicans tend to be “anti-science”.
More Parents in the U.S. Refuse to Vaccinate http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/vaccine-refusal-rising-hpv_us_57c9b0fde4b078581f12d7b6?section= Australia experienced a 90% reduction of human papilloma virus (HPV) after the introduction of the HPV vaccine 10 years ago. But parents in the U.S., according to the journal Pediatrics, 87 percent of pediatricians reported parental vaccine refusal in their practice in 2013 ― up from 75 percent of pediatricians who reported vaccine refusal in 2006. Although the vaccine is strongly recommended for boys and girls aged 11-12, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention “…only 28 percent of boys between the ages of 13 and 17 were fully vaccinated in 2015 ― and only 50 percent had received at least one dose of the three-course vaccine.” Much more information is available at the above link.
10,000 Church Members Leave the Church of Denmark in 3 Months Due to Atheist Ad Campaign (Contributed by Wray Boswell) http://www.christianpost.com/news/10000-church-members-leave-church-of-denmark-3-months-amid-atheist-ad-campaign-169349/ In Denmark, a nationwide campaign by Atheists urging people to question the ‘divinity’ of Jesus and the importance of believing in God has doubled the number of Danes leaving the Church of Denmark as compared to the period of January through March of this year. “…I view [the withdrawals] as an expression of the fact that people can’t really see why we should have an institution like the Church of Denmark that has such incredible influence and that takes one’s money,” said Anders Stjernholm, Chairman of the Danish Atheist Society. The questions that were posed in banners around the country included things like “Why believe in a God?” “Why should faith cost something?” and “Did Jesus and Mohammed speak with a God?”
Member Wray Boswell commented, “Interesting but probably not possible here”. What do YOU think?
Why Are So Many Americans Leaving Religion Behind?http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/08/24/why-americas-nones-left-religion-behind/ Pew Research asked the ‘nones’, people who do not identify with any organized religion, why they decided to abandon their faith. Half of the ‘nones’ left their childhood faith over lack of belief…20% cited their dislike of organized religion. Those who ‘don’t believe’ any longer said they were ‘disenchanted’, ‘disinterested’, or cited ‘evolved views’. Those who cited a dislike for organized religion felt that religion wields too much power in politics or had a distaste for the conflict that organized religion causes. See the article at the above link for a full accounting of the surprising and, for Atheists, encouraging stats.
The Fight Goes On: Atheists Sue PA Over Invocations in the Legislature http://news.atheists.org/2016/08/25/atheists-sue-pa-house-of-representatives-over-discriminatory-invocation-policy/ Another Atheist-phobic legislature has spawned another lawsuit by Atheists who have been banned from giving the opening invocation at a legislative session. This time, it’s the Pennsylvania legislature which allows ministers and other religious figures to address the body of officials, but expressly excludes Atheists from consideration. Pennsylvania House of Representatives Speaker Mike Turzai is being sued in his official capacity.“This is about fairness and equality,” said Amanda Knief, American Atheists National Legal and Public Policy Director. “If the House wants to have invocations, they can’t simply exclude an invocation that would represent the more-than 2.5 million nonreligious Pennsylvanians.”
Pastor Who Delivered Blistering Prayer at Republican Convention Caught in Lies http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2016/09/04/preacher-mark-burns-storms-out-of-interview-after-cnn-reporter-asks-him-about-lies-in-his-biography/?ref_widget=related&ref_blog=friendlyatheist&ref_post=gov-john-kasich-condemns-actor-daniel-radcliffes-atheism-what-the-hell-is-wrong-with-him South Carolina preacher, Mark Burns, who called upon God to “…defeat the liberal Democratic Party” in an explosive speech at the Republican convention this summer was caught falsifying his credentials (academic and military) in an embarrassing interview on CNN. See ‘Reverend’ Burns first try to deny the facts (“my website was hacked”, “I thought this was off the record”) and then flee off camera (he hopped in his van and drove away), leaving the befuddled TV crew sitting along in the pastor’s own church. Oh, and in case you missed his speech at the Republican convention, you will be well rewarded for your time if you check it out now: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qLAAhoOtrv8
Atheist’s Sinful Money is No Good There https://baptistnews.com/article/american-baptists-urged-to-support-murrow-indian-childrens-home/#.V9gwk_krJQI (contributed by Maria Doucette) A donation made on behalf of an Atheist organization to a children’ts shelter run by the the American Baptist Home Mission has become a Big Deal. When the Christian operators of the Morrow Indian Children’s Home in Muskogee OK returned the intial $100 donation made on behalf of the Muskogee Atheist Community, group founders Matt and Keli Wilbourn decided to start a GoFundMe page with the goal of raising $1,000. The idea was to raise the pressure on the Baptists to accept the donation. The Atheists reasoned that surely the good work that would be made possible by the generous donation would trump the Christian group’s qualms. But in the eight days before the site was shut down, more than $28,000 had been pledged! But still the children’ts home operators refused, instead starting their own GoFundMe appeal which raised $1,100 in three days. The Wilbourns now say that their windfall donation will be given to Camp Quest Oklahoma which is described as a summer camp for children of ‘free-thinking’ parents.
Medical Researchers Found to Have Misled Public Concerning the Dangers of Sugar Consumption http://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/13/well/eat/how-the-sugar-industry-shifted-blame-to-fat.html (contributed by Marc Masor)
Newly discovered documents show that the sugar industry paid researchers to shift the blame for heart disease away from sugar and onto ‘fat’ in American diets. The deception influenced decades of U.S. dietary recommendations. “The internal sugar industry documents, recently discovered by a researcher at the University of California, San Francisco, and published Monday in JAMA Internal Medicine, suggest that five decades of research into the role of nutrition and heart disease, including many of today’s dietary recommendations, may have been largely shaped by the sugar industry. … The revelations are important because the debate about the relative harms of sugar and saturated fat continues today. For many decades, health officials encouraged Americans to reduce their fat intake, which led many people to consume low-fat, high-sugar foods that some experts now blame for fueling the obesity crisis.”
Marc observes: “What’s really shocking is that the two docs named in the article, Mark Hegsted and Fredrick J. Stare, are both extremely well-known and respected researchers in the nutrition world. Conspiracy theorists rejoice!!”
And now, Tom the Dancing Bug!
Tom the Dancing Bug is reprinted in the Durango Skeptics and Atheists Newsletter with the permission of its creator, Reuben Bolling.
See more TtDB cartoons at http://www.gocomics.com/tomthedancingbug. Help support Reuben Bolling’s “Inner Hive”