Care Packages of the Damned

The Upstate Atheists of Spartanburg, South Carolina have a lot of experience doing volunteer work with people across the religious spectrum, including Habitat for Humanity and the March of Dimes.  Their philosophy is that volunteering together can not only help the community but build bridges between believers and non-believers at the same time.

Then there are some folks who are convinced that winning the spiritual war is more important than working together to help people.  A few days ago Eve Brannon of the Upstate Atheists was informed by a local soup kitchen that they weren’t allowed to volunteer explicitly because of their lack of belief.  This was even after the director of the kitchen was given repeated assurances that there would be no way for anyone to identify the volunteers as atheists.  Nope.  They did not want to be party to sin.

Lou Landrum, executive director of the Soup Kitchen, told the Herald-Journal she would resign from her job before she let atheists volunteer and be a “disservice to this community.”

I don’t see what difference a person’s religion makes in any measurable capacity to a homeless person in desperate need of a hot meal.  Or, for that matter, to a kitchen that needs volunteers.  Again, though, I’m seeing this from a practical standpoint, not a spiritual one.  These people wanted to help make a difference, and were rejected on principle.  I’m sure some hungry family completely understands.

“This is a ministry to serve God” she said. “We stand on the principles of God. Do they (atheists) think that our guests are so ignorant that they don’t know what an atheist is? Why are they targeting us? They don’t give any money. I wouldn’t want their money.”

You should.  Good Lord, woman, I never asked this question before now to anyone, but what the hell would Jesus do?  Here’s a hint:  Luke 10:25–37.  The moral for you is that you need to spend some time to reflect on who your “neighbors” truly are in the fight against poverty, hunger, and homelessness.

“They can set up across the street from the Soup Kitchen. They can have the devil there with them, but they better not come across the street,” Landrum said.

Hemant Mehta brought my attention to their mission statement, which included this gem:

[We believe that] Every human being should be treated with dignity and respect, therefore we treat all people that eat at the Spartanburg Soup Kitchen as our guests and everyone is welcome at our table.

… except atheists.  She’s far from the first to make grand statements about treating everyone with equal love and compassion, only to drop those principles without a moment’s hesitation when dealing with those people.

The bottom line is that this lady has fallen off her rocker, turned volunteer work into some pointless “spiritual war”, and clearly doesn’t represent the norm when it comes to Christian charities and their willingness to cooperate with non-believers for a common goal.  Honestly, I found the few paragraphs about their success stories far more encouraging than the one case of it going sour.

For their part, the group is planning on setting up a small booth across the street from the soup kitchen and giving out care packages of their own.

The 300 packages contain socks, gloves, toothpaste, toothbrushes, combs, soap, rain ponchos, snacks, shaving razors, antiseptic wipes, deodorants, tissues and gum.

“I hope we can provide a package for everyone who needs one,” said Eve Brannon, president of Upstate Atheists, a group started in 2011 that includes about 200 members. “Whatever we have left, we will donate to a homeless shelter in the Upstate.”

You know … real goods to provide practical help to people in need.  No word yet on whether they contain atheist literature or a set of instructions on how to summon your familiar … but I’m sure they’re in there.

Posted in Freedom from Religion, Profiles in Fundamentalism, Religion and Public Life | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

True Scotsman or Not …

Thanks, RawStory, for providing information that, while factually true, is not relevant to the situation.

Self-professed ‘militant atheist’ brutally beats Ohio pastor

First, let’s start with the description of the attack:

On Sunday, a self-professed “militant atheist” with a checkered criminal past attacked a pastor in a North Hampton, Ohio church.

Rev. Norman Hayes

According to Reverend Norman Hayes, he had approached the girlfriend of James Maxie and asked her if Maxie had been abusive. “I questioned his girlfriend in his presence if she felt safe,” Hayes told WHIO. “He was very, very upset that I’d even suggest that he would hurt her. Then he turned around and hurt me very badly.”

According to the police report, Maxie broke Rev. Hayes’s nose in two places, left 3 and 6-inch lacerations across his left and right eyes, and battered his right eye until it was swollen shut in a manner doctors worry may have caused brain bleeding.

First of all, I don’t care what religion Maxie follows.  Assault is assault, and he should be put away for everyone’s protection.  That said, I’m still a little confused as to 1) how Maxie’s atheism factors into this, and 2) what he was doing in church as a non-believer.

As far as I understand the story, this incident didn’t precipitate from an argument over faith, the existence of God, biblical inerrancy, or some other random philosophical topic; it started when a man with a criminal record and long history of violence against people and animals was indirectly accused by a man for being abusive to his girlfriend.

In a statement Maxie wrote to police, he said he was “trying to regain my faith in God,” and went to hear Hayes’ sermon. He said he “asked questions about science and faith,” and claimed the statements offended Hayes. Maxie said Hayes said his girlfriend was “going to hell for dating me.”

So, he’s a self-professed atheist who wants to believe.  Sure, I guess I can see that.  Non-believers of all stripes are out there, and since atheism has no set worldview it’s pretty much up to the individual how they deal with other aspects of life.  Sill, I fail to see its relevance unless the entire service so offended him that the implication of domestic violence was just one additional insult that pushed him over the edge.  There’s not really enough information to say.

James Maxie

I’ve been reading some of the responses to the attack on places like Reddit or in the comments section of various articles, and the overall theme is pretty consistent.  There are claims that he isn’t a “real” atheist because he was in church trying to become a believer again.  That’s arguable, but it’s entirely possible to not believe yet still want to believe.  They’re not mutually exclusive.  A few say that a “real atheist” wouldn’t resort to violence (hello “no true Scotsman” fallacy).  The majority, however, echo some of my sentiments in that it’s not clear what role faith – or the lack thereof – really played in this.  Based on what we know now, it doesn’t look like there was any, and this was an attack stemming from an unpleasant accusation.

I don’t think this is going to matter in the eyes of the public.  All they’ll see is “militant atheist” (whatever that means) and “attack on a pastor” and many will conclude that it was a religion – motivated attack, and that somehow this guy represents the rest of us.  (You know, the way WBC represents Christianity, or the Taliban speak for Islam.)  The best thing we, as atheists, can do is condemn Maxie outright and offer support to the pastor and his church like decent human beings.

Though, with all respect to Hayes, you might not want to do that again.  In no way did you deserve to get attacked but next time, ask the girl in private.

Posted in Atheism and PR, The Illogical School | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

One More Success for Real Science

(Sorry Deb, I’m picking on Texas again!)  Back a couple of months ago, the Texas State Board of Education met to determine the contents of the next generation of science textbooks.  The importance of this being that whatever they decide basically sets the standard for a majority of the country; therefore, we all have a vested interest in exactly what goes on in these meetings.

(photo from Eric Gay, AP)

As expected, the board was stuffed with hardcore young-Earth creationists in a sad attempt to secure Christianity’s place in our public school science classrooms.  Despite valiant efforts by those on the board who accept the reality that science has it right on evolution, the possibility remains that enough doubt will be placed in the textbooks to weaken evolutionary theory in favor of religious mythology.

Now, we have one more group on the side of rationality:  the publishers.  Apparently all 14 of them are refusing to compromise on the material regarding evolution and climate change, regardless of the wishes of the Board of Education:

Publishers submitted their proposed science textbooks for adoption in Texas last April. Last month State Board of Education Chairwoman Barbara Cargill, R-The Woodlands, asked publishers to submit by Oct. 4 any changes they propose to meet objections to content raised by citizens appointed to review the textbooks. The Texas Education Agency made the publishers’ proposed changes available to the public on Oct. 11.

Some reviewers had criticized the proposed biology textbooks for failing to include a variety of discredited arguments attacking evolution. For example, reviewers lowered the rating of one textbook because it didn’t include the inaccurate claim that scientists have found no transitional fossils and that “the fossil record can be interpreted in other ways than evolutionary with equal justification.” Another reviewer insisted that all of the textbooks teach “creation science based on Biblical principles” alongside evolution.

Editorial changes from all 14 publishers that submitted high school biology textbooks for adoption this year do not reflect those arguments and beliefs, TFN’s examination shows.

The anti-evolution arguments promoted by the textbook reviewers are based on claims that scientists have shown to be false or simply have no place in a science textbook, said Arturo De Lozanne, associate professor in molecular cell and developmental biology at the University of Texas at Austin.

This is wonderful news.  I’m not sure how much power the publishers wield in this situation, but the final vote by the state Board of Education is in November.  What will happen if (when?) they vote against the publishers’ refusal to change the content of the text, I’m not sure … but considering they’re the ones printing the damned things, you’d think it will either get done their way or no way.

Posted in Dr. Bob's House of Crap, Freedom from Religion, Profiles in Fundamentalism, Religion and Public Life, Religion in the News, Science Marches On, Society Marches On | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Sweden Should Have a Lot of Autistic Sluts By Now.

No serious side effects from HPV vaccine

Researchers have examined Swedish and Danish health registers that include roughly 300,000 girls vaccinated with HPV and compared them with almost 700,000 unvaccinated girls born from 1988 to 2000 in Sweden and Denmark.

“We see nothing indicating that the HPV vaccine involves any risk of serious side effects,” says Associate Professor Lisen Arnheim-Dahlström of Karolinska Institute’s (KI’s) Department of Medical Epidemiology and Biostatistics.

They only considered diagnoses of serious life threatening issues, not minor effects like localized bruising, redness, swelling, or fevers.  After going over 300,000 girls’ medical records, there was no indication that vaccination presented any health risks over the baseline population.

It’s also very effective.

“Clinical studies involving nearly ten years of follow-up show that the vaccine works. We see that girls who are vaccinated do not exhibit the kinds of cell changes that preceed cervical cancer. These are the results for nearly 100 percent of cases for the HPV types the vaccine is for. The vaccine has the most effect when it is given to girls who have not had any sexual encounters,” the researcher said.

She says the vaccine is 93 percent effective for girls who are vaccinated at age 10 to 13, whereas the effect is about 70 percent for young women aged 14-17.

The article discusses the results seen to date in Australia, which saw cases of genital warts drop precipitously after the vaccine was introduced.   We see the same trends here in America with Gardasil’s excellent safety record after 35 million doses and counting.

No sign of increased sexual activity either.  Huh.

Preaching to the choir, I know.  By this point the medical community has proven its safety and efficacy many times over in different parts of the world.  The problem, however, is not with medical science, rather with getting the public to stop assuming that just because someone’s famous or on TV that they know what the hell they’re talking about.  Vapid jellybeans like Jenny McCarthy and Michelle Bachmann have near-singlehandedly perpetuated the myth that there’s still something to the long-debunked “relationship” between vaccines and autism.  Hell it was just two years ago Bachmann told the nation that nonsense about a mother walking up to her after a debate, telling her that her daughter suffered mental retardation after receiving the HPV immunization.

This should fall squarely under the First Amendment … in the sense that while free speech should be enshrined, spreading false information that has the potential to prevent people from receiving life-saving treatment should be considered public endangerment and thus illegal.  We’d probably have to throw the book at half of the Catholic hierarchy in America for maintaining the lie that Plan B causes abortions.  Not that I have a problem with this, but I suspect that it won’t get the traction it needs to keep people with enough money and influence from their normal fear-mongering.

Well, at least reality’s on our side.  Let’s hope it means something.

Posted in Dr. Bob's House of Crap, Freedom from Religion, Science Marches On, Society Marches On | Tagged , , , , , | 5 Comments

More Habitable Than Earth?

Today’s post comes to you direct from the world of space where, thanks to the Kepler space observatory, we have discovered 156 officially confirmed extrasolar planets, with another 3,400 awaiting confirmation.  Considering the infinitesimally small region of space within our own galaxy we’ve looked to date, the number of planets climbs to a very high number indeed.  Lower estimates are one planet for each star … or between 100-400 billion.  As we refine our ability to detect smaller planets, this number will likely go up within the next 10 years or so.

Kepler’s search volume. Flooding us with data, yet barely scratching the surface.

The other day I learned about KOI-1686.01.  It’s a planet about 1,000 light years away, roughly 33% larger than Earth, and the closest thing we have to a twin in our neck of the woods with an ESI (Earth Similarity Index) of 0.89.  In fact, by the metrics we use to determine habitability, it’s actually a little better in some ways than our own home.  The parameters are taken from Wikipedia, and I’ve added Earth and KOI-1686.01 for comparison :

  • Standard Primary Habitability (SPH) — Suitability for vegetation on a scale from 0 to 1, with 1 being best-suited for growth. SPH depends on surface temperature (and relative humidity if known).
    • Earth:  0.72
    • KOI-1686.01:  1.00  (winner … my guess is that it probably doesn’t suffer from ice ages, polar caps, or very large oceans.)
  • Habitable Zone Distance (HZD) — Distance from the center of the star’s habitable zone, scaled so that –1 represents the inner edge of the zone, and +1 represents the outer edge. HZD depends on the star’s luminosity and temperature and the size of the planet’s orbit.
    • Earth:  -0.50  (winner, though both are a little far from the center of the “Goldilocks Zone”)
    • KOI-1686.01:  -0.60
  • Habitable Zone Composition (HZC) — Measure of bulk composition, where values close to zero are likely iron–rock–water mixtures. Values below –1 represent bodies likely composed mainly of iron, and values greater than +1 represent bodies likely composed mainly of gas. HZC depends on the planet’s mass and radius.
    • Earth:  -0.31
    • KOI-1686.01:  -0.13  (winner)
  • Habitable Zone Atmosphere (HZA) — Potential for the planet to hold a habitable atmosphere, where values below –1 represent bodies likely with little or no atmosphere, and values above +1 represent bodies likely with thick hydrogen atmospheres (e.g. gas giants). Values between –1 and +1 are more likely to have atmospheres suitable for life, though zero is not necessarily ideal. HZA depends on the planet’s mass, radius, orbit size, and the star’s luminosity.
    • Earth:  -0.52
    • KOI-1686.01:  -0.14  (winner, sort of … this is probably because of the larger size and higher gravity)

Comparing the two worlds gives us a little bit of a mixed bag.  Obviously the ESI index is going to make Earth the winner, since it’s the basis of the comparison.  However, when you look at things like the planets’ ability to hold an atmosphere, the range of suitability for vegetation and other life, KOI-1686.01 gives homeworld a run for its money.  We obviously need to take into consideration our relatively limited understanding of these worlds at this stage in the process, but discoveries like this give us hope that when we finally go to the stars, we’ll have other places we might someday be able to call home.

Posted in Society Marches On | Tagged , | 7 Comments

The Illogical School: Moving the Goalposts

From Wikipedia, moving the goalposts is defined as a logical fallacy ” … in which evidence presented in response to a specific claim is dismissed and some other (often greater) evidence is demanded.

This particular example isn’t an argument, but rather an attempt at persuading consumers to buy one of their products … in this case, a slow cooker.  You’ll notice the large sign saying “55% off!”, with a price of $149.95.

Problem is, it usually goes for $199.95.  You can see the price on the shelf below.  The 55% discount is based on an MSRP of $365.00, which they never charge.  So, while their claim is technically correct, they’re referencing a fictitious price.  That said, a 25% discount is certainly good enough incentive to consider buying this machine in its own right, making me wonder why they went out of their way to pull this crap in the first place.


It’s sales tactics like this that make me go to other places for my business.  Sur la Table, for example.  I hear they have good Dutch ovens …

Posted in generic skepticism, The Illogical School | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Small Town Values

During every election, one of the ways Republicans try to distinguish themselves from their big-city, liberal elite opponents on the other side of the aisle is to make constant references to “small town values” that can be found in “real America”.  I never really understood those phrases, since it obviously implied that essentially every major population center in the country somehow lacks the community, morality, and humanity that we see in places off the beaten path.  You know, the places that remind you of home.

Like Maryville, Missouri.  Oh, to live in a small town where we can see the values of “True America” being demonstrated through the actions of some of their star high school football players drugging and raping young girls, leaving the victims out in front of their house in 30-degree weather, and passing the video they made of the incident around at school.

Daisy Coleman

In a town where everyone knows your name, it’s only natural for the victim to be blamed for her own rape, being called a “slut” or a “skank” in her own school, her brother is bullied, their mother is fired from her job, their house is burned to the ground, and their case dismissed because the suspect’s father has political connections.

Sadly, that’s the very thing I think of these days when I hear the phrase “small town values”.  I know full well it’s not universal, nor does this sort of thing happen all the time … but it happens often enough that I can’t help but build the association.  “Small towns” may vary, but the ones I know are places where “fags”, “dykes”, and “trannies” (forgive the terms) don’t exist, everyone’s Christian, and the star football players are put on pedestals so high that the entire community will rally behind them regardless of their crimes.

Daisy Coleman recently broke her silence to talk about the events of that night.  It’s depressing as hell, but I recommend reading it.

Posted in random musings | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment