October 31, 2007

Every Day Is Halloween For Christians

A line from one of the many Halloween specials I've seen over the years has stuck with me: the idea that Halloween was thought to be the day of the year when the barrier between the world of the living and the spirit world was thinnest and most permeable. Silly to be sure, but I remember being impressed with the idea as a child.

As an adult, I am amazed that many Christians actually claim to believe this sort of thing. They take their bibles literally, worshiping a zombie and feeling confident that angels and demons are locked in battle for their souls. Every day must be like Halloween!

Let me say at the outset that I am convinced that a large number of Christians do not actually believe much of what their bible tells them they are supposed to believe and much of what they claim to believe. They call themselves Christians, attend church, and engage in the occasional religious ritual for reasons other than belief. Maybe they do it to belong and be accepted. Maybe they do it because that was how they were raised and going through the motions feels like they are honoring family traditions. They are not deluded; their mistake is simply that they continue to cling to something they probably suspect is false.

But there are also Christians out there who really do seem to believe that forces of good and evil are at war for their souls. These are your fundamentalists, and they live in a world of magic where their god and its army of angels is at war with Satan. They don't want you to drink alcohol, dance, listen to heavy metal, or watch scary movies because these are among the many paths to demonic possession. They take their children to church on Halloween because the streets are not safe, filled with demons and ghosts. They speak in tongues, perform exorcisms, and perceive danger everywhere. Their daily life must feel like they are trapped in a horror movie. I can't say I envy them.

October 30, 2007

Superstition Reigns Supreme in America

How about a short horror story in time for Halloween? The true ones are always the most terrifying, so this one will be true. In August of 2007, The Barna Group completed a nationwide telephone survey of 1,000 American adults, selected at random and weighted to reflect demographic trends. The results are quite chilling.

A report of the results can be found here. Among the findings, which serve as this brief horror tale, are the following:
  • Americans are confident in the truth of many biblical stories. In fact, two of three adults accept the literal truth of six well-known biblical stories.
  • The story most likely to be accepted as being "literally true" (i.e., as occurring exactly as described in scripture) was "the story of Jesus Christ rising from the dead, after being crucified and buried." A full 75% of respondents said that they interpreted this story literally, including 68% of college graduates.
  • The tale of Daniel in the lion's den was accepted as literal truth by 65% of American adults.
  • 64% of American adults are convinced that Moses literally parted the Red Sea.
  • The creation story from Genesis where the Christian god is believed to have created the universe in six days was taken as literal truth by 60% of American adults.
Pretty horrifying, huh? Remember this survey when moderate Christians try to tell you that atheists are attacking a straw man. Also remember this survey when you are struggling to explain how America could end up trailing the rest of the world in many important areas.

As for me, I'm tempted to go back to bed and spend the week there, hiding under the covers and wishing that the insanity would end. But no, I'll continue on, more determined than ever to defend reason and call for evidence in the face of absurdity.

H/T to Outchurched

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October 29, 2007

What It Would Take For Me To Believe

The raw satellite imagery shown in these image...
The raw satellite imagery shown in these images was obtain from NASA and/or the US Geological Survey. Post-processing and production by http://www.terraprints.com (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Christians are fond of asking atheists what it would take for us to believe in their preferred god. Some are simply curious; others are convinced that asking this question will highlight the atheist's close-minded nature or even prompt some sort of conversion. I'll offer my response to this question both to satisfy Christian curiosity and to help atheists avoid some of the common traps that may be involved.

When a Christian asks, "What would it take for you to believe," he or she is really asking, "What would it take for you to believe in the particular god in which I believe?" Many atheists miss this, and skip what I consider to be one of the most important parts of any atheist-theist dialogue: requiring the believer to define his or her god in a coherent manner. After all, my requirements for what I would need in order to believe could vary as a function of what sort of god I was being asked to believe. By skipping this vital step, the atheist guarantees that misunderstanding will result sooner or later. Do not assume that you know what the Christian is asking about. Thus, the first requirement that must be met for me to believe can be stated as follows:

1. I require a clear, unambiguous statement of precisely what the Christian is asking me to believe.

If the Christian wants to know what it would take for me to believe in "god," make this part of the question and give me a precise definition of this god. Which god are you asking about? It is not enough to simple say "the Christian god" or "the god of the bible." Images of the Christian god range from a loving entity which is personally involved in the affairs of humankind to a wrathful, jealous god who kills regularly over minor offenses. It should also be noted that there are many versions of the Christian bible. Are we talking about the New Testament god exclusively and pretending the Old Testament god is irrelevant? If you really want to know what it would take for me to believe, we must first agree on exactly what it is I am being asked to believe. What attributes does this god have? Is this god omniscient, evil, powerful, what? In short, your question is unanswerable unless you define this god clearly enough that we are talking about the same thing.

Some Christians will protest that it is not possible to define their god or that their god is "unknowable." Such responses render the question moot. When encountering such a Christian, the atheist is advised to point out the absurdity of asking someone what it would take for them to believe in something unknowable and without definition. A Christian who claims to believe in something without definition is claiming to believe in a meaningless nothingness, and I see little that would compel me to join them in such a belief.

Assuming we get through the first requirement, and this is unlikely considering that many Christians seem to know fairly little about what they claim to believe, we come to the second requirement:

2. The god articulated above must be logically coherent.

If the Christian has met the first requirement, we have a clear statement of what "god" is and is not. We have a list of god's essential properties. Now we can move to the task of making sure that these properties do not contradict one another. The god in which we are being asked about cannot be a logical impossibility like a square circle. If our god is supposed to be omniscient, how is this reconciled with free will? If our god is supposed to be both all powerful and perfectly good, we consider the problem of evil. Only after eliminating the possibility of logical contradiction can we move forward.

Part of what we're doing here is figuring out the scope of the theistic burden of proof. If I am being asked what it would take for me to believe in a god named Norman who lives in Nashville, TN, and earns a living by repairing golf carts, the Christian's burden of proof might be relatively small. A trip to Nashville might end up being all that is necessary. On the other hand, asking me to believe in a supernatural entity who exists outside of time and space but somehow continues to meddle in human affairs, killed his son (who was somehow a part of him), etc. will have a massive proof burden. To paraphrase Carl Sagan's famous statement, extraordinary claims do indeed require extraordinary evidence.

3. I require evidence to support the belief claim, proportional to the extraordinary nature of the claim.

Many atheists like to jump directly to this step. Given that the Christian has no evidence for his or her belief and not all atheists are sufficiently familiar with philosophy to grasp the importance of the first two steps, this is understandable. Still, without the first two steps, we typically end up talking about two very different sorts of gods and accomplish little. Only after we've properly clarified the belief claim and made sure it survives rational scrutiny, does it really make sense to consider the evidence.

At this stage, most Christians will attempt to frame the question by asking what sort of evidence I would require to believe in the sort of god we have now defined. I would respond that I require two levels of evidence. First, I want the Christian to provide me with some unambiguous evidence that supports the existence of the god we've been discussing - not just some random god but the one we've defined thus far. I set this burden fairly low for my goal at this stage is simply to provide the Christian with the opportunity to provide some clear evidence that supports the existence of their particular god. I do not expect them to be able to do this, for I have encountered no evidence whatsoever to support a god even remotely resembling the Christian god.

Should this somehow be accomplished, we can entertain the second level. At this point, I'd require clear evidence in proportion to the belief claim. Given the extraordinary nature of the typical theistic claim, this is likely to require a minimum of unambiguous "miracles" involving clear violations of natural laws witnessed by multiple witnesses at the same time. But since mass delusions are known to happen from time-to-time, we'd also need independent verification, replication, and so on. The fantastic nature of the claim requires us to set the requirements awfully high here. We'd likely need clear evidence that something was happening that could only be explained by a major violation of the laws of nature. That is, we'd need something that could only be due to the work of this particular god. Merely identifying a phenomenon without a clear scientific explanation would not be even close to sufficient.


What would it take for me to believe in your god? Simple. I'd need a clear definition of your particular god and its essential properties. I'd need to verify that these properties were not in any way logically impossible or contradictory. Finally, I'd need unambiguous evidence in proportion to your claims.

There's only one small problem with this. Any Christian who accomplished it would have destroyed faith in the process. With the sort of evidence required for us to rationally believe in gods, faith would be irrelevant.

October 28, 2007

BBC Notes "Atheist Moment" in America

Of the many things I appreciate about the Internet, one near the top of the list is the ease of obtaining international news. Mainstream American media outlets do a terrible job of covering what is happening in the world, preferring instead to regale us with pointless "news" of Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan, and Paris Hilton. I am particularly interested in reading about how America is perceived from the perspective of other countries. A story on BBC News recently caught my interest. It appears that they've noticed our "atheist moment."

Tim Egan's article notes that America, "one of the most religious countries in the West," is experiencing a surge of doubt.
It may be daring to say it but America seems to be experiencing an atheist moment. Although "In God We Trust" was declared the national motto by an act of Congress more than 50 years ago and has been stamped on the currency for longer than that, some considerable doubt has developed of late.
That the United States is experiencing renewed interest in atheism is widely known among most who read this blog. Still, it is nice to see that word is spreading in the international community as well. We will have a lot of work to do in order to repair our tarnished reputation once Bush leaves office. I sincerely hope that getting back on the path of reality will be part of such efforts.

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Carnival of the Godless at Greta Christina's

Carnival of the Godless #78 is now up at Greta Christina's Blog in the form of an extra spooky haunted house edition just in time for Halloween. It is a big one, full of sweet godless reading sure to rot your teeth, so make sure you check it out.

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October 27, 2007

Bye Bye BlogRush

I was surprised when I received an e-mail from BlogRush, a new service I had previously suggested and had been using, informing me that Atheist Revolution was being dropped from their system because I "did not meet our strict quality guidelines." Now it appears that I was in good company among other atheist blogs dropped from BlogRush because they have decided to equate freethought with hate speech.

I'm not ready to conclude that there is some sort of systematic anti-atheist bias at BlogRush. Such a conclusion seems premature without additional evidence. I'll be interested to compare my experience with that of other atheist bloggers.

I was ready to give up on BlogRush, at least for awhile. I'd tired of their never-ending beta period and the sheer number of Christian posts I had been promoting for them here. Maybe this is for the best.

If they get their act together, I'm willing to give them another chance. Until then, I don't expect any loss in traffic for not using them. After all, they provided next to no traffic benefit that I could detect.

H/T to Deep Thoughts

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Atheists Continue To Defend Constitution For All Americans

Time and time again, it seems to fall on American atheists to defend our Constitution from believers who trample it in the name of their mythical god. The Cherry Creek School District, an extremely wealthy area of Denver, CO, is the site of the latest attempt to push religion in the public schools. Believers just cannot be content with practicing their religion in their homes and churches; they need to push it on their neighbors via the public schools. Fortunately, the Freedom From Religion Foundation is once again defending the Constitution here.

According to CBS4 (Denver), the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) and an atheist family have filed a lawsuit to stop the Cherry Creek School District from continuing to promote religion in violation of the Constitution.

The program in question, 40 Developmental Assets, is described as promoting "religious community" along with "things like family support, positive peer influence and doing homework." Evidently, the program says that children should devote "one or more hours per week in activities in a religious institution."
"A public school system shouldn't be recommending students go to church or not go to church," said Bob Tiernan, attorney for the atheist family. "That's an individual decision made by parents and children."
It is such a shame that watchdog groups like FFRF are even necessary, but this case clearly demonstrates that they remain essential. Quoting Tiernan again, the article continues:
By the government telling them that because they're atheists, there's something wrong with them, they're outsiders," he said. "Any number of things that the government is doing that makes them feel like they don't belong.
It looks like the school district is refusing to budge on this one. They claim that because the program is voluntary, simply offering suggestions for families, that it is okay and should survive legal review. I wonder who ends up paying their legal fees? How would you like to be an atheist in that community and have to pay the costs of the local school district wanting to push religion on your neighbors with kids?

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October 26, 2007

Christian Extremist Links CA Fires To Homosexuality

As soon as I heard about the fires ravaging the San Diego area, I knew it was just a matter of time before Christian extremists would say that this was the punishment of some god. It did not take long for James Hartline to oblige. Now the California fires can join national disasters such as Hurricane Katrina among the long list of ways a god is supposed to have punished humanity for progressive social values. It seems that this particular god favors hate, intolerance, discrimination, and the like. Such a god hardly seems worthy of admiration, much less worship.

H/Ts to Unscrewing the Inscrutable and Pandagon

The Value Of Education

Even though I spend much of my work life engaged in scientific research, I also teach and regard myself as an educator as much as anything else. Thus, education is a topic I hold dear. Not surprisingly, threats to education are a frequent source of outrage. I believe that our children deserve a quality, secular education and that this is essential to ensuring that the U.S. remains competitive in the global markets of the present and future and that we retain an informed citizenry, capable of participating in the American democracy.

I am saddened by the declining educational standards I observe, and I continue to believe that our children and our nation deserve better. Rather than appropriately funding public education, we have lowered educational standards. At the university level, "recruitment" and "retention" are the buzzwords of the day. Improving the quality of the education these students receive is rarely discussed. More and more individuals enter college, not because more are academically qualified but because we have gradually made it easier to finish high school and gain college entrance.

Our democratic ideals tell us that every child deserves a college education. It is a noble sentiment, but it ignores multiple realities. Not everyone is equivalent in terms of intelligence, academic ability, motivation, and a number of other relevant variables. Not every child is capable of earning a college degree. And if such a degree really means anything, not every child should be capable of earning one. The degree is supposed to be a reflection of real achievement, not a participation award. If we are serious about every child deserving the opportunity to succeed in college, then we need to get serious about making sure they are adequately prepared. Because this entails increases in funding, it has yet to happen.

October 25, 2007

Good Without God

There is a great article by Dan Gardner in The Ottawa Citizen that I encourage you to read. This is precisely the sort of pro-atheist article we need to get out more frequently. Gardner not only dispels one of the most important myths about atheists but he also shows how the Christians who condemn us have to keep revising their criticism as it proves erroneous.

The whole article is worth a read, but I can't resist highlighting my favorite part:
No, they say, we cannot be good without believing in an invisible spirit who, like Santa Claus, knows when we've been bad or good. No invisible spirit, no reward or punishment. No reward or punishment, and moral codes become empty words. Inevitably, atheists must conclude that morality is for suckers -- and so believers are, ipso facto, better people than non-believers.
Gardner notes that religion has been viewed as being necessary for morality for centuries but that believers are increasingly forced to confront the falsehood of this view as the atheist movement grows.
This has complicated the issue considerably because now everyone knows a few atheists who are not lying, thieving, murderous wretches. They work. They pay taxes. They have kids and don't beat them or sell them for medical experiments. How can this be?

An answer comes from the godless science of evolutionary psychology. "People have gut feelings that give them emphatic moral convictions," writes Harvard cognitive psychologist Steven Pinker, "and they struggle to rationalize the convictions after the fact." Those "gut feelings" are not the result of what we learned in Sunday school. "They arise from the neurobiological and evolutionary design of the organs we call moral emotions."
As Gardner notes, those believers who are at least partially connected with reality have been forced to adopt a much weaker position regarding the relationship between religion and morality.
This has led believers to a subtler attack. "People who don't believe in God can be good," writes Reginald Bibby, a theist and University of Lethbridge sociologist. "But people who believe in God are more likely to value being good, enhancing the chances that they will be good."
So religion is no longer viewed as being required for morality but as merely being facilitative of moral behavior. Gardner shoots that claim down too, noting that some of the nations scoring at the top on a list of various indicators of morality happen to be among the least religious.

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October 24, 2007

Religion and Poverty in Mississippi

In feudal Europe, Christianity helped to maintain the rigid class structure. The landowners benefited greatly from serfs who were convinced that complying with the unfair system in this life would lead to heavenly rewards. The church, in turn, received money from the landowners. It seems everyone benefited except those pesky serfs. Something similar is happening today in Mississippi, and I cannot help but wonder what role religion is playing in maintaining our despicable status quo.

Let's start with one simple, undisputed fact: Mississippi is the poorest state in America. This is nothing new, as I'm fairly certain we've been in the bottom 5% since the Civil War. Reasonable people can disagree about the historic causes for this fact and about how best to change it, but there is no disagreement over our last place showing on a list of median incomes.

Believe it or not, Mississippi also has the highest sales tax on food in America. In fact, Mississippi is one of only seven states that taxes all individual food purchases. The poorest state maintains the highest tax on food. Doesn't make much sense, does it? Meanwhile, we have one of the lowest cigarette taxes in the nation. It appears that the tobacco lobby wields considerably more power with our Republican-controlled state government than do our impoverished citizens. Go figure.

Jamie Franks, Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor, said, "I find it quite appalling we live in the poorest state in this union and we have the highest sales tax on food in this union." He argues that we should cut the grocery tax in half and increase the cigarette tax to make up the lost revenue. I agree, and I have a difficult time imagining that anyone could disagree. However, Franks' opponent and current state auditor, Phil Bryant, does disagree. Well, at least Republicans are consistent in their disdain for the poor.

Can it be any wonder that Mississippi consistently ranks at or near the bottom in terms of education and has more churches per capita than any other state? This could just be a coincidence, but somehow I'm not so sure.

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More on Dawkins' Jewish Lobby Comment

Remember Dawkins' comment about the Jewish lobby? A reader e-mailed a link to an interesting analysis by David Berreby on The Huffington Post. It is rather critical of atheism as an identity but should provoke some useful thought. Check it out.

October 23, 2007

AAI Proposes New Atheist Symbol

Atheist Alliance International (AAI), a large umbrella organization composed of various freethought groups around the world has proposed a new atheist symbol. Six options were selected by committee, and attendees of the 2007 conference voted for their favorite. This is the winning symbol, and AAI intends it to serve as an international symbol of freethought. For more on the symbol and a variety of image files using it, see here. What do you think?

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October 22, 2007

Winners And Losers At Values Voter Summit

Reports are now coming in from the Values Voter Summit this weekend, and it appears that we have some winners (Romney and Huckabee) and losers (Giuliani and Thompson) in the contest to pander to the fundy crowd.

It sounds like Mitt Romney excelled at telling Christian extremist voters exactly what they wanted to hear, well except for the whole Mormon thing which he still considers to be a non-issue. Romney won the straw poll, with Huckabee, often considered to be a favorite among Christian fundamentalists, placing second. This is an impressive win for Romney, as Huckabee is sounding more and more like the sort of theocrat these folks are seeking:
He called for a constitutional amendment declaring marriage to be between a man and a woman and decried the "holocaust of liberalized abortion."

"We do not have the right to move the standards of God to meet cultural norms. We need to move the cultural norms to meet God's standards," he said, bringing the crowd to its feet.
Fred Thompson, on the other hand, was described as being a serious disappointment. It wasn't they he didn't try to present himself as a sufficiently rabid Christian as much as it was that he simply didn't stump well.
In his speech, Mr. Thompson, who has admitted that he does not regularly attend church, promised to “go in the Oval Office and close the door and pray for the wisdom to know what was right,” earning him a standing ovation. But he spoke with his chin often buried in his chest, his voice largely monotone, and he cleared his throat or coughed repeatedly, prompting some to wonder if he might be ill.
Meanwhile, Guliani plead with the audience not to abandon him as they have threatened to do.
Giuliani sought common ground with Christian conservatives by casting himself as an imperfect man who has asked for guidance through prayer. He recalled crossing himself during his first day of law school after 16 years of attending Catholic schools.
Some in attendance felt like his appearance helped him simply because he showed up, but his reception did not sound particularly warm.

H/T to The Carpetbagger Report

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October 21, 2007

Vales Voter Summit: Biggest Collection of Theocrats Since Witch Trials

Christian extremists are now threatening Republican presidential candidates with the formation of a third party if the Republicans fail to get in line. Rev. Barry Lynn, director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State described the Values Voter Summit as, "the biggest collection of theocrats in one room since the Salem Witch Trials." An apt description if there ever was one.

According to Americans United, Christian extremist groups are gathering in Washington D.C. this weekend to pressure Republican presidential hopefuls into conforming to their religiously-based political agenda. All major GOP candidates are expected to attend the Values Voter Summit.

According to Lynn,
Their goal is simple: to consolidate their power within the GOP and elect a president who is in their pocket. They want to ramp up their efforts to run everyone else’s lives according to a narrow and rather hateful definition of Christianity.
To pressure the Republican candidates, these extremists are threatening the possibility of forming a third party if they cannot find a candidate behind which to rally. Sadly, no Republican seems able to afford to walk away from this nonsense. After all, they have been raising record amounts of money to support whoever they select for 2008.
Focus on the Family, the Family Research Council and their ideological allies are determined to use the power of the government to force their theology on all Americans,” Lynn said. “They are looking for the candidate who will best help them achieve that goal. That’s what this weekend is about.
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Bestsellers in Atheism

Here is a link to Amazon.com's list of bestselling books on atheism. It updates hourly, and it is interesting to see how much fluctuation there is.

H/T to Debunking Christianity

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October 20, 2007

Moving To Mac? Apple Must Fix iMac First

I am going to need a new computer in the next few months, and I am seriously considering making the switch from Windows to Mac. After reading several reviews in which Apple's Tiger OS compared favorably to Vista, I started researching Mac hardware. Unfortunately, this was where I ran into problems. As much as I want to make the switch to Mac, Apple has some serious hardware problems to fix before I'd be comfortable buying an iMac.

My Dell Dimension 4500 is showing its age, especially when I use Photoshop. I've maxed the RAM, added a faster hard drive and DVD-RW drive, but I've reached the point where additional upgrades are either not possible (RAM) or impractical. A new computer is in my future, hopefully during the next few months.

My computing needs appear to be rather different from many of the consumers targeted by PC makers. I do all the usual office and internet applications, have a massive .mp3 collection, but have no interest in gaming. Most of my computing demands come from Photoshop instead. I value speed, want to be able to run multiple applications simultaneously, but have no need for cutting-edge video cards.

What About Vista?

Initially, I thought about building a new PC for Vista. I've never built a PC before, but I thought it sounded like it might be a fun project. However, I soon scrapped that plan, as I simply won't have time to devote to researching components, etc. until next summer at the earliest. I guess it is one of those situations where I'd rather pay a little more in exchange for saving me the time and hassle of doing the build myself.

My thoughts then turned to buying a PC with Vista preinstalled. But then I started reading about all the user complaints with Vista. Hardware and software compatibility issues were surprisingly common, customer satisfaction was low, and the hardware requirements (especially with regard to RAM) seemed steep. I almost bought a Dell XPS 410 system (which doesn't appear to exist anymore) that probably would have been fine, but Vista was getting such terrible press that I decided to wait.

Considering Mac

I've owned a few Macs, but I abandoned the platform around OS 8 and have been away since. What initially led me to start thinking about returning to Mac was that I read many Vista vs. OS 10.4 (Tiger) comparisons in PC magazines which all picked Tiger as the superior OS. An emerging consensus in PC magazines of all places that Tiger was better than Vista was hard to ignore. Added to this was my discovery that it now appears Macs have figured out how to run Windows reasonably well. I knew that OS 10.5 (Leopard) was coming soon, so I told myself that I'd buy a Mac once Leopard was here and started researching hardware.

Unfortunately, this has not gone well at all. There is simply nothing in the Mac desktop line that I find compelling. I ruled out the Mac Mini because of the RAM limitations and because I can't help thinking that I'm going to want more computer than that for heavy Photoshop work. I ruled out the Mac Pro because it is outrageously expensive. While I could afford one, I see little reason to do so given my needs. This brings me to the only other option in the Mac desktop line, the iMac.

At first glance, the iMac appeared to be exactly what I needed. However, there are three problems that create reasonable doubt. First, I simply hate the idea of an all-in-one machine. Not only is expandability too limited (and I have upgraded every computer I have ever owned previously), but I simply don't like the idea of having the monitor permanently tethered to the computer. What if I want to replace it? What if I outgrow the computer but the monitor is still fine? I know I can add a second monitor to an iMac, but this doesn't help.

Second, I have read some fairly negative things about the glossy surface of the new iMac screens. My concerns here are more about difficulty with color calibration for photo work and less about glare. I think I can arrange lighting to defeat the glare concerns, but it sounds like these monitors present color calibration issues.

Third and most significant, I have read far too many reports of serious problems with the screens of these new iMacs on the Apple.com discussion forums. The 20" model is known to have an inferior screen, but the 24" also appears to have problems. Screen freezes are widely reported, and user after user is reporting an inconsistent color gradient across the screen of the 24" model. Imagine the left side of the screen being a full stop brighter than the right side. This is clearly unacceptable for any sort of photo or graphic work. Apple has not yet been willing to acknowledge the problem, and some users have reporting the same problem on multiple replacement iMacs they received from Apple. Until Apple acknowledges and corrects this problem, I have a hard time recommending an iMac to anyone.

Where Does This Leave Me?

I really don't know. Leopard will be out on October 26, and I would really like to be able to move to Mac. However, I am discouraged that Apple doesn't offer a desktop system that will meet my needs. If they can fix the iMac quickly enough, I will certainly consider it, but this seems unlikely given that they still haven't acknowledge a problem.

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Christian Extremism: Not Dead Yet

Despite this being an excellent year for atheism, it would be a mistake to overlook the continued influence of the so-called Religious Right. Lest there be any doubt, I encourage you to check out this evidence that they are setting new funding records. In fact, Rev. Barry Lynn of Americans United for Separation of Church and State warns that the Christian extremist movement may be more powerful than ever in 2008.

This means that it is even more important for those of us in the growing secular community to continue to defend reason, ask for evidence, and promote a reality-based worldview. I suppose the silver lining to this particular cloud is that a strong religious extremist movement virtually guarantees that our ranks will continue to swell. As more Americans grow dissatisfied with extremist religion, they may become more willing to consider the possibility of life without the delusion of faith.

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October 19, 2007

Christian Extremist Brownback Drops Out

Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kansas) is dropping out of the 2008 presidential race due to poor fundraising performance. While I would very much like to see politics divorced from big money and wish that successful fundraising would no longer be a prerequisite for the political office, I won't lose sleep over Brownback's departure. After all, he was a Christian extremist who denied evolution, supported religiously-based homophobia in the military, and was notorious for pandering.

While Brownback leaving the race is certainly good for America, it sounds like it might be bad for Kansas, where he is expected to run for governor in 2010. Poor Kansas! Haven't they been through enough?

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How Does Pascal's Wager Lead One To Christianity?

Blaise Pascal first explained his wager in Pen...
Blaise Pascal first explained his wager in Pensées (1669) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Many Christians like Pascal's Wager and are quick to pull it out in debating atheists. In popularity, it seems to be right up there with appeals to design. While reading a post at Spanish Inquisitor, I found myself wondering what this odd little bit of philosophical gambling has to do with Christianity at all.

The wager has undeniable relevance to theism in general, as it seems intended as an effort to convince nonbelievers to give god belief a try. But how is it an argument for Christianity? If one follows the idea of the wager, I see nothing that would lead one to Christianity as opposed to Islam or some other religion.

Pascal expressed this famous bit of apologetics as follows:

If you erroneously believe in God, you lose nothing (assuming that death is the absolute end), whereas if you correctly believe in God, you gain everything (eternal bliss). But if you correctly disbelieve in God, you gain nothing (death ends all), whereas if you erroneously disbelieve in God, you lose everything (eternal damnation).
Some Christians claim that they find this compelling even though it seems like an incredibly poor reason to believe anything. But how is this supposed to lead one to Christianity? Couldn't precisely the same argument be made for Islam or any other religion? See what happens if you simply add the word "some" right before every appearance of "God." Now we have a case for theism but not Christianity. Now try replacing "God" with "Allah." Now we have a case for Islam.

Of course, nonbelievers do not find anything about the wager convincing and tend to highlight how it fails as an argument for any sort of theism. But it would seem that another interesting tactic would simply be to ask the Christian using the wager how it justifies the Christian god as opposed to some other god.

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October 18, 2007

Horror Along the Lines of Jesus Camp

Few films I have seen can compare with Jesus Camp for pure horror. And yet, this story from ABC News about "pint-size preachers" comes pretty damn close. In what universe is this not child abuse?

For those tempted to say, "But it makes my child happy to praise Jee-zuhs," I'll point out that there are probably tons of things that would make your child happy that you will not allow him or her to do. I'll also point out that children of this age do not simply discover the joys of preaching about Jee-zuhs on their own; your influence is required. Furthermore, I'll suggest that what your child really enjoys is your approval. Sadly, in these cases you've made it contingent on his or her willingness to broadcast gibberish.

That a parent would do this to their child makes me sick. To deprive a child of reason and fill his or her head with nonsense isn't cute; it is abusive.

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Kentucky Erects Road Signs For Creation Museum

Remember the infamous Answers in Genesis Creation Museum in Kentucky? Of course you do. The opening of this grand monument to idiocy dominated the secular blogosphere for weeks. But if you thought the story was over, you were sadly mistaken. It now appears that the states of Kentucky and Indiana erected signs advertising the museum along local highways and interstates.

Answers in Genesis evidently paid for the four signs ($5,000 each), but state workers put the signs up. Because the museum is considered some sort of tourist attraction, Answers merely had to convince state officials that the signs were necessary.

How they managed to do this should be investigated further. According to The Cincinnati Post, it would have been necessary for Answers in Genesis to convince the relevant state committees that the museum has "cultural, historical, recreational, agricultural, educational or entertainment" value. How the museum was ultimately classified remains unknown, although it sounds like commercial groups are not supposed to qualify for the signs.

Fortunately, it appears that Rev. Barry Lynn of Americans United for Separation of Church and State has been informed of this story and is looking into whether it represents a Constitutional violation.
"It just seems foolish for a state to promote a kind of monument to ignorance anyway, and this certainly does that," he said.
I couldn't agree more.

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October 17, 2007

Atheism In America

While reporting on the annual Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) convention in Madison, WI, the Associated Press notes that it has been a good year for atheism. I agree. Impressive sales of atheist-oriented books have pushed atheism into the American consciousness to a degree not seen during my lifetime. Not only do there appear to be increasing numbers of us, but we are slowly starting to become better organized. A national freethought radio show just launched, and membership in freethought organizations such as the FFRF are increasing. Growing numbers of nonbelievers are tiring of remaining in the closet and beginning to speak out. We seem to have that critical yet elusive force of momentum on our side. The challenge is how we can build on this year's accomplishments and sustain the current momentum while taking our growing movement to the next (and yet to be defined) level.

I suppose this notion of needing to maintain our momentum as our secular movement expands is one of the main reasons I continue to be interested in how best to organize nonbelievers. We really have become better organized, but we have not yet managed to harness the political power inherent in our numbers. Our potential is vast, and many are sensing that we could be on the verge of something truly impressive.

Since I am periodically criticized by Christians for what they perceive as intolerance, hatred, and the like, I'd like to clarify exactly what I hope our movement can accomplish:
  • I want a society where all citizens may receive a quality, secular public education. Such an education will be recognized as necessary to (1) ensure that future Americans are competitive in a global economy, and (2) produce an informed citizenry, capable of intelligently participating in this democracy.
  • I want a society where policy decisions are made on the basis of reason and the best scientific evidence available. Politicians should have access to the best available science and should be expected to base policy decisions on data rather than appeals to fear and ignorance.
  • I want to strengthen separation of church and state because I recognize that this is the only way to (1) guarantee continued protection of personal religious freedom, and (2) prevent theocracy. I recognize that religious belief is important to many Americans, and I want to assure that they remain free to practice their religion in their own homes and churches without interference by the state. Only a secular democracy can assure that all Americans retain religious freedom.
  • I want to promote social justice as a corollary of secular humanism. That is, we should promote the sort of treatment for others that we would seek for ourselves. The idea that an American could have a full-time job and still live in poverty should be sufficiently abhorrent to motivate us to action.
In reading over these goals, it strikes me that making progress on any of them will require greater political activism on the part of nonbelievers. In addition, I can't help thinking that there are many theists who would be interested in working toward exactly the same goals. Perhaps one prong of our growing secular movement should be focused around developing collaborative relationships with believers interested in the same goals.

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October 16, 2007

Suspending Disbelief

The Exorcist I am a fan of horror films, especially those with ghosts and other supernatural forces. When I explain this to Christians, it is fairly common for me to get a reaction along the lines of, "But how can you enjoy such films if you don't believe in demons, devils, ghosts, etc.?" It is as if the believer thinks that I must watch the film criticizing every supernatural aspect. I suppose if I were to watch such films this way, it probably would limit my enjoyment of them. However, I have no trouble temporarily suspending disbelief for a good scare.

Atheists are perfectly capable of suspending disbelief in instances like this. I have little difficulty turning off the rational part of my mind to heighten my experience of watching a good horror film. It is not that different from turning off the lights beforehand.

Where atheists and believers part ways is that I reactivate that part of my mind after the movie is over and actually use it. In fairness to the believer, he or she does the same in most contexts save that of religion. The believer seems to engage religion as I might a horror film, with the rational part of the mind muted.

October 15, 2007

DOD Supported Military Proselytizing

English: The Pentagon, looking northeast with ...
The Pentagon, looking northeast with the Potomac River and Washington Monument in the distance (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Just when I thought the ongoing saga of Christian extremist proselytizing in the U.S. military couldn't possibly get any worse, it now appears that this idiocy may have been explicitly approved by the Department of Defense (DOD) in clear violation of the Constitution. I suppose this should not come as a surprise given that we are witnessing a neo-conservative administration which has routinely the rule of law and appears to consider itself above the laws of our nation.

According to Truthout (update: link no longer active),
The Defense Department (DOD) allegedly provided two fundamentalist Christian organizations exclusive access to several military bases around the country. This access became official sanction for these groups to proselytize amid the ranks, despite the fact that such activities were in violation of federal law.
Lest we think this is a simple error of oversight and not part of a much larger and far more deliberate strategy:
According to a week-long investigation by the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, a government watchdog organization, the evidence it has uncovered proves the Pentagon has been engaged in a pattern of widespread evangelizing in violation of Clause 3, Article VI of the Constitution, which forbids a religion test for any position in the federal government, and the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights, which says Congress shall make no law regarding an establishment of religion. Furthermore, individuals representing a specific denomination may only offer spiritual guidance to soldiers and are prohibited from using the "machinery of the state" to proselytize or try to convert members of the military.
H/T to Dispatches From The Culture Wars

October 14, 2007

Call For Posts On Atheism

I'm working on improving a couple of informational sites about atheism I developed (see Learn About Atheism and Atheism: Welcome to the Reality-Based Community) to promote understanding of atheism, and I'd like to link to some quality posts on other atheist blogs. If you are an atheist blogger and have written or are interested in writing on a handful of atheist-related topics, please consider leaving links to such posts in the comments. What I'm looking for right now are posts on any of the following topics:
  • Definition of atheism (what it is and/or what it isn't)
  • What it is like to live as an atheist in predominately Christian America
  • The case for atheist activism
  • Promoting atheism
I can't guarantee that I'll use every post submitted. I have to be selective so we don't end up with too much redundant material. But even if I don't use the post on one of these pages, you can be sure that I'll read it and consider linking to it at some point.

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Good Godless Reading

Like planets lining up perfectly for an eclipse, we are fortunate enough to witness two outstanding blog carnivals on the same day. Carnival of the Godless is up at The Skeptical Alchemist, and Humanist Symposium #9 is up at Greta Christina's Blog. Enjoy!

H/T to A Load of Bright

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October 13, 2007

Know Them By Their Deeds: Church Leader Accused Of Molesting Children

Heyward Hickman, described as "a respected church leader" and senior warden at All Saints' Episcopal Church in Cayce, SC, has been charged with sexually molesting two young brothers (8 and 11) "more than 100 times each."

The church must be traumatized. Their reaction?
All Saints held a brief prayer service Thursday night. The vestry attended and determined that there are no allegations against Hickman pertaining to the church, Retzlaff said.
“If the charges are true, obviously we grieve for the victims and do what a Christian community does,” he said. “Work on healing, on repentance, on forgiveness.”

October 12, 2007

New Generation Unhappy With Christianity

According to a recent study by The Barna Group in which 16-29 year-olds were surveyed, the reputation of Christianity has declined considerably in just a decade. This finding holds for both non-Christian and Christian youth. Evidently, young people are increasingly skeptical of this ancient religion. Excellent news if you ask me.

This article is worth a read, but here are some highlights:
  • "16- to 29-year-olds exhibit a greater degree of criticism toward Christianity than did previous generations when they were at the same stage of life."
  • "...today’s young non-Christians are eight times less likely to experience positive associations toward evangelicals than were non-Christians of the Boomer generation..."
  • "...91% of the nation’s evangelicals believe that 'Americans are becoming more hostile and negative toward Christianity.'"
  • "Common negative perceptions [of Christianity by non-Christians] include that present-day Christianity is judgmental (87%), hypocritical (85%), old-fashioned (78%), and too involved in politics (75%) - representing large proportions of young outsiders who attach these negative labels to Christians. The most common favorable perceptions were that Christianity teaches the same basic ideas as other religions (82%), has good values and principles (76%), is friendly (71%), and is a faith they respect (55%)."
  • "Half of young churchgoers said they perceive Christianity to be judgmental, hypocritical, and too political. One-third said it was old-fashioned and out of touch with reality."
The authors of the study say that one of many reasons for these trends involves the rise of atheism (hurray!). Perhaps we aren't completely irrelevant after all!
One reason that Christianity’s image is changing is due to the shifting faith allegiances of Americans. Simply put, each new generation has a larger share of people who are not Christians (that is, atheists, agnostics, people associated with another faith, or those who have essentially no faith orientation).
For more, see Daily BBG and Ornicus.

H/T to Daily BBG for bringing my attention to this intriguing study.

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Action Alert: Stop Federal Funding Of Creationism In Louisiana

From the Secular Coalition for America:
Help us stop federal funding earmarked for the Louisiana Family Forum (LFF), a group whose mission is to "persuasively present biblical principles in centers of influence" including public schools. The Senate Appropriations Committee is now considering a bill that would send your tax dollars to the LFF.

Visit our Action Alert now to see if your Senator is on the Appropriations Committee. We are targeting those members today. But even s/he isn't, you'll want to be informed about this issue in case the earmark is allowed to reach the Senate floor. Once you take action, you'll have a chance to tell your friends about this important Action Alert.

The proposed earmark gives federal money to the LFF to be used for suggesting "improvements" (i.e, biblical perspectives) to science education in Louisiana. It would also pay for the LFF to develop and distribute educational materials. Even if you are not a Louisiana resident, it is important to send Congress the message that funding creationism with your tax dollars is never acceptable.

Biblical doctrine must not interfere with the accurate teaching of science.

Visit our Action Alert now
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October 11, 2007

Paying For The Lie

lie vs. truth
When confronted with someone who believes a blatant falsehood, our reactions range from fear to pity to rage. Personal responsibility is relevant, especially as we now live in an information age where it is easy to attribute ignorance to lack of curiosity or effort. At the same time, we probably should not overstate an individual's own responsibility for believing what he or she believes.

Just because some of us have broken free from religious delusion does not mean that it was easy for us to do so or that it should be easy for someone else. If we are to make progress toward a reality-based society which values reason and evidence, we must do something about the cultural forces that shape and maintain blatantly false beliefs. And personally, I have a very difficult time not counting religion as one such force.

October 10, 2007

Sam Harris Is Wrong (And I Feel Fine)

I really enjoyed Sam Harris' The End of Faith and am quick to recommend it to anyone wanting to learn more about the maladaptive nature of religion. But that does not mean I agreed with everything Harris said in the book. As but one example, I found much of his advocacy of Eastern spirituality to be absurd. My great respect for Harris does not prevent me from critically evaluating what he says or even from disagreeing with him on some important issues. You see, I am not blinded by faith; I think for myself and welcome the opportunity to evaluate information critically.

Harris has been slammed throughout the atheist blogosphere for comments he made during a recent speech at the Atheist Alliance conference. In the speech, titled "The Problem with Atheism," Harris argued that we are making a mistake to use the word "atheist" and that this mistake has unfortunate consequences.
So, let me make my somewhat seditious proposal explicit: We should not call ourselves “atheists.” We should not call ourselves “secularists.” We should not call ourselves “humanists,” or “secular humanists,” or “naturalists,” or “skeptics,” or “anti-theists,” or “rationalists,” or “freethinkers,” or “brights.” We should not call ourselves anything. We should go under the radar—for the rest of our lives. And while there, we should be decent, responsible people who destroy bad ideas wherever we find them.
Harris argues that it makes far more sense for us to form a movement around the promotion of reason and evidence than around nonbelief of either particular religions or religion in general. By attempting to forge a secular movement, Harris suggests that we are playing right into the hands of those who condemn us.
Attaching a label to something carries real liabilities, especially if the thing you are naming isn’t really a thing at all. And atheism, I would argue, is not a thing. It is not a philosophy, just as “non-racism” is not one. Atheism is not a worldview—and yet most people imagine it to be one and attack it as such. We who do not believe in God are collaborating in this misunderstanding by consenting to be named and by even naming ourselves.
Rather than promoting atheism, Harris suggests that we should advocate for reason, intellectual honesty, evidence-based decision-making and the like. By continuing to define ourselves as atheists, Harris says that we lock ourselves into the never-ending series of absurd arguments religionists throw at us because they are so deluded as to think they are successful. We make no progress because we are forever playing defense.
Instead of doing this, consider what would happen if we simply used words like “reason” and “evidence.” What is the argument against reason? It’s true that a few people will bite the bullet here and argue that reason is itself a problem, that the Enlightenment was a failed project, etc. But the truth is that there are very few people, even among religious fundamentalists, who will happily admit to being enemies of reason. In fact, fundamentalists tend to think they are champions of reason and that they have very good reasons for believing in God. Nobody wants to believe things on bad evidence. The desire to know what is actually going on in world is very difficult to argue with. In so far as we represent that desire, we become difficult to argue with. And this desire is not reducible to an interest group. It’s not a club or an affiliation, and I think trying to make it one diminishes its power.
This is an excellent and thought-provoking argument. It also happens to be one with which I do not entirely agree. It is human nature to use labels to communicate meaning. Even if we could somehow agree to stop calling ourselves "atheists" and every other label Harris suggests we discard, the media will never stop using these terms to describe us. As PZ Myers points out at Pharyngula, we will be called "atheists" and experience continued demonization regardless of what we call ourselves. We represent a threat to religious institutions, and Harris is naive if he thinks reason itself would not be similarly attacked if it becomes too powerful.

While I do agree with Harris that promoting reason, evidence, and skepticism are worthy goals, I do not see why we can't do this under a secular banner. My attitude is increasingly becoming one of, "Of course I'm an atheist. Now let me tell you what that means and why I find it incredible that anyone could cling to theistic belief in this modern world." I am an atheist because I apply reason and recognize that truth claims require evidence. I take at least a little pride in my ability to do this, and I see little wrong with atheist pride. In fact, we could probably use more of it. Where I would say Harris is absolutely correct is that we do need to devote more effort to promoting reason and evidence outside the context of religion. The promotion of atheism should be a part of what we do but not the entirety of our efforts.

As Hemant at The Friendly Atheist points out, the key issue facing us now is how to bring the many secular groups together to maximize our strength and work together. This is a point I have raised many times here and will continue to advocate.

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October 9, 2007

Options For Uniting Nonbelievers

This is the second post in a multi-part series designed to explore community-building among nonbelievers. In the first part, I argued that uniting the secular community is a worthy goal. This post considers some of the options for bringing nonbelievers together. My intent here is to keep the level of analysis primarily descriptive and to avoid making recommendations about the value of various options. That will be the subject of the next post.

Uniting Nonbelievers

Before considering the relative value of various options, it is necessary to identify the options to insure that potentially viable ideas are not prematurely rejected. Without getting hung up on whether any of the following are desirable, feasible, etc., what have I left out? What should be added to the list to make it as comprehensive as possible?
  • United by Nonbelief. An obvious starting point involves forming communities of nonbelievers around nonbelief and promotion of nonbelief. Groups could form to offer an atheist identity, something which many nonbelievers seek in a religious world. In many ways, this seems to be what Dawkins' OUT Campaign and American Atheists are about.
  • United by Political Issues. Communities of nonbelievers can be formed around political issues likely to be of great importance to we nonbelievers. Separation of church and state provides a perfect example, and organizations such as Americans United for Separation of Church and State and the Freedom From Religion Foundation have had success attracting supporters. These organizations do not need to be primarily secular as long as they emphasize issues of interest to nonbelievers.
  • United by a Desire for Political Representation. It may also possible to bring nonbelievers together with the broader political goal of simply maximizing the political influence of the secular community. The Godless Americans Political Action Committee would be an example.
  • United by a Need to Belong. Communities of nonbelievers can be formed around a variety of social goals which provide participants with opportunities to interact with like-minded individuals (e.g., simply forming social connections with other freethinkers, dating, etc.). Many popular social networking sites have groups for atheists, humanists, and other freethinkers. Examples include Meetup and Facebook. Many secular Internet forums offer similar ways of connecting with others. Yet another example involves secular services designed to convey the benefits of church without the baggage of delusion.
  • United by Anger and Anti-Theism. Undoubtedly, some nonbelievers are angry. I'm not quite sure what this form of organization might look like, but I would imagine that social activism and protest would be core elements. As our numbers increase, we are no longer content to remain silent.
  • United to Defend Reason and Promote Education. Some would argue that this is necessarily political, but I'm not sure that it would have to be. Nonbelievers could unite around a desire to promote reason, secular education, and evidence-based worldviews in many contexts. In many ways, this seems to be what Sam Harris recently advocated.
We Can Unite Around Many Issues

Our task does not involve picking one central theme and discarding the rest. There is no reason not to envision an organization that would have many (or all) of the goals reviewed here.
If we want the benefits that I believe would come from a larger and better organized secular community, we should recognize our diversity as a strength and accept the fact that there is room in our community for all sorts of nonbelievers.

Before we move on and attempt to outline in greater detail what this might look like, what aspects would need to be emphasized, and what might need to be discarded, let's make sure we have not neglected others ways in which nonbelievers might come together. I invite you to share your ideas on your blog or in the comments.

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October 8, 2007

Dawkins Says Jewish Lobby Monopolizes U.S. Foreign Policy

As if Richard Dawkins wasn't controversial enough, he has now been quoted as saying,
When you think about how fantastically successful the Jewish lobby has been, though, in fact, they are less numerous I am told -- religious Jews anyway -- than atheists and [yet they] more or less monopolize American foreign policy as far as many people can see.
Not surprisingly, this is quickly becoming a hot topic throughout the blogosphere. The outrage has began, anti-Semitism has been suggested, and I predict Dawkins will be called a Nazi by the middle of next week.

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October 7, 2007

Review of Freethought Radio's National Premiere

I caught Saturday's premiere national broadcast of Freethought Radio on Air America and figured I'd post my review here. Freethought Radio has been going on for quite awhile, but Air America will give it a national broadcast for the first time. I like the idea of the show going national but found the implementation lacking in many ways. I have hope that it could be great, but it needs considerable work to reach its potential.

Annie Laurie Gaylor and Dan Barker of the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) hosted the show and spent considerable time promoting the FFRF (and themselves). I was willing to overlook their shameless self-promotion because, let's face it, the FFRF desperately needs promoting. It may be the largest freethought organization in America, but it is tiny in proportion to the number of American atheists and freethinkers. So I'm glad they now have this outlet to promote such a worthy organization.

Gaylor and Barker made a good case for the neglect of secular viewpoints in American culture and stressed the importance of providing programming for freethinkers. I agree completely with what they are trying to do. The impressive sales of atheist-oriented books tells me that there is a market out there for secular programming. Wouldn't it be nice to have secular perspectives better represented in the media? It seems like it could go a long way toward replacing stereotypes with accurate information.

Barker and Gaylor also provided some decent information about how America is not a Christian nation even though many Americans are convinced that it is. I thought that the way they presented this material was great - not so scholarly as to alienate anyone but still an effective review of American history. This is exactly the sort of information we need to publicize in order to inoculate people against widespread brainwashing by the Christian extremist community.

My criticisms of the broadcast, and I fully recognize that some of these will reflect my biases, are several but none are what I consider fatal. Gaylor and Barker remind me of kindergarten teachers, and I find this annoying. Barker consistently overdoes his annunciation to the point where he sounds unnatural, and Gaylor is sounds far too much like she's talking to dimwitted children. Admittedly, I am easily annoyed by this sort of thing, so it is entirely possible that others will not mind.

Much of their material struck me as terribly simplistic. I think this would be good for people not at all familiar with freethought but it is likely to be annoying to those of us who consider ourselves part of the growing secular movement.
I'm not sure who their intended audience is, and it didn't seem like they knew either. Our hosts spouted several catch phrases that adorn t-shirts in the FFRF store (e.g., "Beware of dogma," "Imagine no religion," etc.) at odd moments that came across as if they were talking to themselves rather than trying to deliver a message to their audience.

The show was very unprofessional. This may seem like a harsh condemnation, but I believe it is deserved. After every commercial break, listeners were told that they were listening to the Randi Rhodes show right before the Freethought Radio broadcast resumed. I realize this was the first Air America broadcast, but come on! Next, one of the advertised interviews used to promote the show never happened.
Barker and Gaylor said they were going to interview atheist-in-a-foxhole, Jeremy Hall. However, when it came time to do the interview, they said they couldn't get him on the phone and interviewed Mikey Weinstein from the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) to talk about the Hall case. It was interesting to hear more about the threats Hall has received from Christian extremists, but I was looking forward to hearing from Hall.

After abruptly cutting off Weinstein, Gaylor announced that they would next interview Christopher Hitchens. They botched Hall due to poor preparation, and now they were going to get Hitchens? I was skeptical, but enduring the lengthy commercials paid off...sort of. They did connect with Hitchens successfully but managed to do little than heap praise on him and pitch softball questions. Still, Hitchens managed to carry the interview on his own quite well. In fact, he came across as well or better than what I've seen in several of his other appearances.

All in all, I thought the show was an admirable effort but found myself feeling embarrassed for Gaylor and Barker throughout much of the broadcast. I've heard much more polished college radio shows, and I really thought these two would have done better. They need to identify a target audience and tailor the show to this audience. If they are targeting adolescents of average intelligence, then they are on the right track and could even get away with playing more of Barker's awful novelty music on the way to commercials. However, if they are hoping to build a base of adult listeners, then I can't help concluding that they have their work cut out for them. Hopefully, they will either get better with additional experience or realize that their cause would be greatly helped by bringing in someone with broadcasting talent to help spread the freethought message.

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