Saturday, November 28, 2009

Tim Tebow: Football and Christian Privilege

One consequence of my being home for the holidays is watching a lot of football with my dad. I'm currently watching Florida destroy Florida State, but the conversation at the McCreight house isn't focused on football - it's on Tim Tebow.

Tebow is the senior quarterback for Florida. He's well known not only for his great football skills, but for his evangelical Christianity. He was home schooled by missionary parents and noticeably writes Bible verses across his face while playing. For example:Personally, I have no idea why he's allowed to do this (and neither does my dad - yay ranting about religion with your family). I have a really hard time imagining a football player being able to write "Allahu akbar" across his face in Arabic, or even worse, "There is no God." Even if the NCAA would legally allow these other sayings, the fallback from fellow players, coaches, and fans would be so great that a Muslim or atheist player probably wouldn't even consider it. I don't know about you, but I feel uneasy enough labeling myself as an atheist on the internet - I'm not going to do it when 300 pound men are actually supposed to come tackling me.

But it's not just because of its religious. By writing anything distinctive on his face, he's drawing attention to himself. Showboating after touch downs is explicitly forbidden in college football, yet drawing attention to yourself with Bible verses is okay? I guess the news network is partially to blame for this. CBS is currently using every chance to zoom in on Tebow's face and use that as TV filler - would they be doing this without the Bible verse? No, at least no where near to this extent.

If that's not enough, the CBS announcers took the time to read the actual verse that Tebow was referencing today. It was Heb 12: 1-2, though they only read the first line:
1Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. 2Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
Good call leaving off all the Jesus heavy part, at least. They claimed they should read it since it was obviously important enough for him to select and write on his face. So do I get to select passages I find meaningful and have them read on national television? Yes, if it's a Bible verse.

This isn't about censoring Christians so that they can never talk about their faith. There is a time and place for such discussions, and representing a public university in college football is not it. This is about illustrating that you're rewarded for expressing your Christianity, but everyone who disagrees better keep it to themselves. Christians are a privileged group, and crying "Oppression!" as loudly as they can doesn't change the facts.

Obama's godless Thanksgiving proclamation

Every year once the President is done with the serious duty of pardoning a turkey, he addresses the country with a Thanksgiving proclamation. However, Obama's speech was a tad bit different than those in the past - he left out references to God. Well, not completely. His single reference to God was tucked inside of a George Washington quote:
Today, we recall President George Washington, who proclaimed our first national day of public thanksgiving to be observed "by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God," and President Abraham Lincoln, who established our annual Thanksgiving Day to help mend a fractured Nation in the midst of civil war.
But those were George Washington's words, which were balanced with the practicality of Lincoln's quote. Obama himself didn't invoke a deity. When you compare this to some of the things Bush said during his last Thanksgiving proclamation, you can see the difference:
On this day, let us all give thanks to God who blessed our Nation's first days and who blesses us today. May He continue to guide and watch over our families and our country always.

We recognize that all of these blessings, and life itself, come not from the hand of man but from Almighty God....

Having arrived in the New World, these early settlers gave thanks to the Author of Life....
And as noted by Jill Stanek, "President Bush called the 1st celebrants "Pilgrims," Obama said they were "European settlers."" A subtle but significant difference.

Some nonbelievers don't care when Obama gives a shout to non-believers or simply leaves God out of his secular speeches, but I think it's important. If our President invokes God like belief is normal, required, and patriotic, it alienates the "Nones" of America. By simply keeping his Thanksgiving proclamation secular, Obama is making baby steps toward a more inclusive environment. Yes, there is certainly more I think he could be doing, but I'll take what I can get for now.

Friday, November 27, 2009

DarwinTunes: Hands-on evolution of music

Being on nerdy professional ecology listservs has its perks: I get to find out about fun projects like DarwinTunes:
The organic world – animals, plants, viruses – is the product of Darwinian evolution by natural selection. Natural selection expresses the idea that organisms (more accurately their genes) vary and that variability has consequences. Some variants are bad and go extinct; others are good and do exceptionally well. This process, repeated for two billion years, has given us the splendours of life on earth.

It has also given us the splendours of human culture. This may seem like a bold claim, but it is self-evidently true. People copy cultural artefacts – words, songs, images, ideas – all the time from other people. Copying is imperfect: there is "mutation". Some cultural mutants do better than others: most die but some are immensely successful; they catch on; they become hits. This process, repeated for fifty thousand years, has given us all that we make, say and do; it is the process of "cultural evolution".

However, the underlying mechanisms are poorly understood. For example, how important is human creative input compared to audience selection? Is progress smooth and continuous or step-like? We set up DarwinTunes as a test-bed for the evolution of music, the oldest and most widespread form of culture; and, thanks to your participation, these questions will soon be answered.

You can participate in the experiment by clicking here! Pretty neat stuff.

I think I've finally found something to start collecting

Because of Thanksgiving yesterday, I got to see my brother Chris and my sister-in-law Erin. I don't get to see them too often since they live in New York, but they're pretty awesome and I'm always excited to see them. To put it in perspective for you, they're my only family members who know about my blog and who I feel comfortable being heathen-y around.

At one point in the night, Erin pulled me aside and told me they had a belated birthday gift for me, but that it may not be socially acceptable to open it in front of the rest of the family. That made me even more excited, so we ran off into another room where she presented me with a giant bag. She explained that while they could have mailed it to me, it had some back story so they wanted to give it to me in person. She then dug around in the bag and handed me the Thanksgiving Chick tract.
I know this is totally what my Thanksgiving looked like.

I laughed and joked how I was starting to collect these things, since my friend gave me an evolution one a couple weeks ago. Erin smiled and said I wouldn't have to try too hard to collect them...because she and Chris had given me every single current Chick tract. I kid you not:I now own 106 Chick tracts (with a couple of duplicates, but not many). How the heck did Erin get all of these? That story is even crazier. Apparently when she was attending high school in California back in the 80s, Chick tracts were constantly being passed out at her school. One of her friends got to meet Jack Chick and asked Erin if she'd like to meet him too. Being the adventurous heathen she was, she said sure, and had coffee with Jack Chick. Ever since then she's been receiving free shipments of the newest Chick tracts.

Since Erin is a smart cookie and knew these would amuse me greatly, she called up Chick Publications and asked if she could have some more Chick tracts so she could share them with family over Thanksgiving - which is totally true, just not for the reasons they assumed. They were happy to spread the word, so they sent her a free box of the All Tract Assortment, which I now own.

That's not all. Like a sign from some sort of atheist God (shhh, it doesn't need to make sense) the box came with a free copy of a Crusaders comic. Which one? Primal Man?, the comic on evolution. Just too perfect. And if that wasn't enough, they bought me R. Crumb's Illustrated Book of Genesis, which I started reading during the car ride home. Simply awesome.

Not sure if I want to go for the whole set, though. I'd have about 940 left, and I'm not sure what I would do with that many Chick tracts...other than cry at their insanity.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

I am thankful that by chance of birth...

I am thankful that by chance of birth I have running water, proper sewage systems, electricity, and enough food that I'm going to feel sick after eating it all, and then still have left overs for a week.

I am thankful that by chance of birth I have two parents that wanted me, love me, and continue to support me; that I have grandparents, an uncle, brothers, nephews, and in-laws who are all amazing people, none of which I'd want to distance myself from.

I am thankful that by chance of birth first class medical care is available to me, that dying from a curable disease is a foreign concept, that I actually have health care unlike so many others, and that I still have room to complain that it should be better.

I am thankful that by chance of birth I live in a country where my freedom of speech is protected; I can write and blog and criticize religion without wondering if I'll lose my job, end up in jail, or suffer serious physical harm.

I am thankful that by chance of birth I was born in a century where I'm not seen as property to a man, that I haven't been forced to bear multiple children by age 22 (or died in the process of doing so), and that I'm not viewed as less intelligent or capable of a scientist for having a uterus.

I am thankful that by chance of birth my greatest concerns in life right now are where I'm going to graduate school (not if I'll have education at all) and that the internet at my parents' house sucks.

Am I blessed? Did some omnipotent being want favor me while making other suffer through disease, starvation, poverty, and genocide?

No. I am merely lucky, and humbly thankful for that.

Happy Thanksgiving

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Some delicious evolutionary facts for Thanksgiving

There's a cool post over at the Axis of Evo highlighting some fun, Thanksgiving-themed evolution facts. Here's one of my favorites (had to pick the one that talked about sex, of course):
2. That turkey on the table, unless you got one of those expensive, frou frou free range ones, will probably be a Double Breasted. They get as big as 86 lbs. That’s 1 lb heavier than Nicole Richie was in 2006, by the way. They can’t fly, and they can barely run. Males are so supersized, in fact, that they are physically unable to impregnate the females anymore, and thus humans must intervene in the sex act with some rather simple equipment (if you are brave, you can watch some clips from Dirty Jobs: part 1, part 2; don’t). Compare this size to the maximum size of a wild turkey, its ancestor: 38 lbs. Artificial selection for bigger and and bigger turkeys has thus been hugely successful, and is a great table side demonstration of descent with modification. And there’s still room for growth…the elephant bird of Madagascar weighed 1100 lbs (can you image Mike Rowe wrestling one of them?).
Mmmm, I'm thankful for evolution, or we wouldn't have such delicious food to eat!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Best postcard ever

One of my good friends is currently studying abroad in Italy (sooooo jealous), and I received pretty much the best postcard ever from her today:
"Jen and Vanessa,
Please know that when I first saw these classy postcards in Florence, I had a short list of "Who would most appreciate gratuitous peener?" and you came in at the top. Congrats."
I feel like I should be concerned that lots of penises make my friends think of me. Hmm.

Purdue senior tries to return parking ticket, gets arrested for terroristic mischief

What happens when you need to pay off a parking ticket and return a wheel lock, but Parking Services isn't open yet? Maybe you can just leave it in a box outside of their door - seems simple enough, right? Nope, obviously everyone needs to freak out, because a box automatically equals a bomb.

According to a press release, around 7:50 a.m. Thursday, three college-aged men left a suspicious box in a hallway at the center, located at 504 Northwestern Ave. Police evacuated the building and used a portable X-ray machine to examine the box’s contents. Inside of the box there was a wheel lock, a Purdue parking ticket and $20. Police re-opened the center at 9 a.m.

So they closed down the building for an hour...no major harm done, right?

Police arrested 21-year-old Roy C. Sun of Andover, Mass., on preliminary charges of Class C felony terroristic mischief and possession of stolen property, a Class C felony. ...

Terroristic mischief is when a person knowingly or intentionally places a device with the intent to cause a reasonable person to believe it is weapon of mass destruction, according to the press release.

Norberg said it is not a good use of police time when they have to respond to this kind of activity.

“It was a very serious matter to do something that mimics a terrorist activity – it uses numerous resources,” she said. “When they’re doing that they’re not out doing other things that might be needed.”

A Class C felony is punishable by a maximum of eight years in prison and a fine up to $10,000, and a Class D felony is punishable by a maximum of three years in prison and up to a $10,000 fine.

...Are you fucking kidding me?

First of all, it's fairly obvious that the guy wasn't knowingly or intentionally trying to make the box seem like a weapon of mass destruction (really? WMD?). He was trying to return a parking ticket and didn't think that police would irrationally freak the fuck out about it. Maybe if this isn't a good use of police time, police shouldn't be so trigger happy to think there's a freaking WMD in a tiny building on their relatively insignificant college campus in the middle of a corn field. Left outside the White House, I can understand - but outside of Parking Services at Purdue? What did they think, someone got so disgruntled with getting ticketed that it was time to do everyone in?

He hasn't been officially charged yet, so hopefully the prosecutor's office will realize how ridiculous this is. There is a facebook group and they've already held a protest. On top of that, this story is becoming popular on reddit... Lovely that Purdue will yet again be in the news for something stupid. We're really building up our image this year.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Was Kirk Cameron at Purdue for the Origin project?

My friend just alerted me to this article over at DailyTech that claims Kirk Cameron was physically at Purdue University on Thursday handing out Ray Comfort's creationism-sullied Origin. My initial reaction was something along the lines of "Wait. What? WHAT? AAHHHH! HOW DID WE MISS HIM?! ARRGHHABBABBLL!" Then I actually took the time to slowly read the article. It didn't include much more information, other than this picture with the following caption:
Kirk Cameron poses with students at Purdue University, holding copies of "On The Origin of Species", containing a controversial intro he helped pen. (Source: Living Waters)
If you remember my post about our counter-protest, Thursday was cold, rainy, and miserable. You would be hard pressed to find any student not bundled up in multiple, water-proof layers and clinging to their umbrella...or to find a single spot on campus sunny and dry enough for this photo. Either God sent down a ray of brilliant sunlight just for Cameron's photo op, or this article is full of crap.

I'm going with my "full of crap" theory. The article also claims "
Scientists on campus rallied against the handout with a handout of their own..." when it was actually the Society of Non-Theists who were performing the counter-protest. I checked the article they linked to over at NBC Chicago, and it only mentions that Cameron was behind the movement, not physically at Purdue. They also failed to mention the Non-Theists, but we got a plug in the Chicago Tribune!

So has anyone else heard anything about this? I'm pretty certain he wasn't here - can't imagine the local news places wouldn't pick up on that.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Theists completely miss the point of BHA's new campaign

You may have heard of the new billboard campaign by the British Humanist Association against state funded faith schools. It takes a page from Richard Dawkins argument that small children are not yet intellectually or emotionally mature enough to make their own decisions about religion, and should not be labeled with the religion of their parents.Apparently the happy children pictured above came from a stock photo website, and are actually kids of famous evangelical Christian parents. What do people have to say about this?

[Their father] said: “It is quite funny, because obviously they were searching for images of children that looked happy and free. They happened to choose children who are Christian. It is ironic. The humanists obviously did not know the background of these children.”

He said that the children’s Christianity had shone through. “Obviously there is something in their faces which is different. So they judged that they were happy and free without knowing that they are Christians. That is quite a compliment. I reckon it shows we have brought up our children in a good way and that they are happy.”

Gerald Coates, the leader of the Pioneer network of churches, which Mr Mason and his family used to attend before they moved to Dorset, said: “I think it is hilarious that the happy and liberated children on the atheist poster are in fact Christian.”

...

Are people really this daft? The whole point of the bloody campaign is to show we should stop labeling children, yet they go on to repeatedly call them not Christian children. They are not Christians. They are impressionable kids who are currently being raised in a Christian environment and do not yet have the skills to make informed decisions about religion. But with the level of critical thinking we're seeing in the adults, I'm concerned that they'll never reach that level of comprehension.

And the fact that they imply that these children are happy just because they're raised by Christians annoys the hell out of me. Yep, atheists are completely unable to raise children in a healthy, loving environment. That's why we didn't use atheist kids, because they wouldn't stop sobbing or cutting themselves long enough to take a good photograph. Oh wait, no, it's because we don't label children as "atheists" or "humanists."

Good thing being the children of twits doesn't automatically make you a twit yourself.

(Via RichardDawkins.net)

Friday, November 20, 2009

The Sexual Mystery of the Decade: Maleness glue

When I was in high school, I was part of an academic competition called Science Olympiad. Yes, I was a nerd, big surprise - but Science Olympiad was a level of awesome that far surpassed your typical quiz team. A team of fifteen would send two or three individuals to compete in events, with formats like typical exams, building airplanes, creating Rube Goldberg devices, making your own robots, using forensics to solve a crime scene. No area of science was left on covered - we had everything from ecology to quantum physics. But there was one event that was mine, one event that every time I competed in it at Regionals or State, I would win the gold:

Birds and Bees.

Yes, there was an event on reproduction, with a focus on humans. This event was offered to not only the high school teams, but the middle school ones too - shockingly progressive for many states, especially Indiana. The first year I was assigned the event I was a freshmen, though because of the grade cut offs, freshmen competed on the middle school teams. I got stuck with Birds and Bees since I was one of the oldest students and had actually gone through sex ed, unlike many of the other kids.

At the time, I was embarrassed; though looking back, it's what sparked my scientific interest in sex. It was an easy joke for everyone ("Going to go study, Jennifer? Did you find a tutor?") and on top of that, I had a giant crush on our coach, making it all the more awkward asking him questions about sex. I worked extra hard to find answers on my own, but eventually I found a term on our official Science Olympiad study sheet that I just didn't understand:

"Maleness glue."

Eventually I gave up and approached my coach, probably blushing, and stammered out, "Mr. K, er, there's this word I don't know...can you tell me what it means?" I handed over the sheet of paper and pointed at the offending word. His smirk (he was most likely preparing to crack a joke) soon faded to a look of confusion.

"I have no idea."

We ventured off to the computer lab to do some Googling. Apparently Indiana's website blocking software wasn't so hot eight years ago, because Mr. K yelled "GAH!" and quickly closed a window (Of course he wouldn't tell me what it was, so being the curious scientist I was I looked it up when I went home, and it was gay porn). But regardless if safe search was on or off, we couldn't find any useful information on maleness glue. It never appeared on one of the exams, but it became a running gag because of its mysterious nature. What the hell was maleness glue?

At the time, we had created various theories about the cryptic phrase. One male friend joked that it was just a euphemism for semen, but the event instructions were very scientific - no other euphemisms or slang were included. Another friend joked that it was the substance that made men gay (bound them together like glue). As much as I enjoy that theory, it's also not exactly scientific - but if I ever discover the gay gene, it's getting named mglu. The only real clue we had was that it was a process "involved in gonadal determination."

Now I'm 22 years old and about to graduate with a biology degree, and I still don't know what it means. I've asked two different college professors who taught human sexuality courses, and they've had no clue. At this point I'm fairly convinced there is no such thing as maleness glue, but there's still the mystery of how it got on the event instructions to begin with. If you look at the same instructions for the event provided now, they have never been edited - they still contain the mysterious maleness glue. Was it a typo of an actually relevant sexual term? Was it just some disgruntled scientist, hoping to set a young student on a life long wild goose chase?

The world may never know.

Why I'm not going to waste my time reading the Bible

I have not read the entire Bible.

In fact, the only full stories I have read were about Creation (Ch 1 and 2 in Genesis) and the Prodigal Son, and that was because they were required for my Ancient World Literature class in high school. I know most of the stories and famous quotes just from growing up in a predominantly Christian culture (hell, I first heard the story of Moses from Rugrats), but I have not read the original text.

I don't think this is necessarily very surprising, since I was raised in a secular way. Even many Christians have not read the Bible in its entirety. But whenever I get in a discussion with a religious person and they find out I'm an atheist, the first words out of their mouth are "Well, have you read the Bible?" For some atheists, this is so annoying that they feel compelled to read the Bible just to debate better (and to blog about it):
I am told that reading the bible is a life changing experience that will fully and unequivocally convince me of the existence of God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and maybe unicorns. I am also told, when I quote some seemingly strange passages from the bible, that I am merely taking them out of context, and that I would understand the "true" meaning if only I would read the bible in it's entirety. I also look forward to the day that when someone asks me disdainfully "well, have you actually read the bible?" my reply can be "yes, have you?".
While I understand their tactics and find that question equally annoying, I have no plans to read the entire Bible.

"Oh Jen," you say, "you're just being close-minded and set in your beliefs." But I disagree. To illustrate my point, here are my top four reasons why I'm not going to waste my time reading the Bible:

1. There's a double standard. Christians* claim that you can't make an educated argument against Christianity unless you have read the Bible. Yet at the same time, they have often never read any other holy book, let alone all holy books, and they feel like that's perfectly fine. Maybe if they stopped the hypocrisy of their standards, I'd consider them.

2. I don't need to completely master Christian theology before I can realize that it's wrong. As a corollary of #1, this is exactly how most Christians treat other religions. They reject Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Satanism, and Scientology without reading the Tripitaka, Vedas, Qu'ran, Talmud, Satanic Bible, Dianetics. They don't believe in ancient Egyptian, Greek, or Norse gods and goddesses, yet they haven't read every mythological story. We don't need to know every detail about how people draw astrological tables to recognize it as bullshit. One only needs to learn so much about a topic before their skeptical sensors go off.

3. Even if I did read the Bible, Christians will continue to claim that I'm taking it out of context, misinterpreting it, or just outright lying. I have seen this happen over and over again with Bible-savvy atheists who were in debates. These people are so made up in their mind that no amount of reason will work, even if you're using their own tool against them. They see what they want to see in the Bible, and quoting contradictory passages at them is futile.

4. From a purely literary perspective, the parts of the Bible I've read have been incredibly boring and poorly written. For a book that's supposedly God's word, you think he could have done a bit better. I have a queue of excellent books waiting on my bookshelf, and I much rather spend my time reading those than some 2,000 year old mediocre tome that will likely annoy me with its inanity.

I'm sure there are more relevant points that I'm forgetting, but those are the major ones to me. Maybe one day I'll read it, when I've completely exhausted my list of superior literature, or I'm trapped on a desert island with nothing but the Good Book. But until then, I don't feel the need to. I know the stories for the cultural literacy aspect, and that's enough for me.

What do you think? Am I being lazy or practical?

*Obviously not all Christians act in the way I describe in this post. I'm talking about the ones who claim you must read the Bible. I hate making these sorts of disclaimers, but I don't want people trolling me on this little thing.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

A version of the Bible that's actually useful

My friend over at SuperFunAdventureTime! decided (probably out of boredom) to make some improvements to his copy of the Bible. That seems like a daunting task, but I like the final result:His reasoning?

"The SuperFunAdventureBible clears up and confusing or flowery passages and allows the reader to concentrate on the real crux of the Christian faith. Christians should be thanking me, as I carefully removed (with a utility knife) all of the times the Bible urges people to participate in:
  • murder (Ezekiel 9:5-6)
  • genocide (Deuteronomy 20:16-17; Exodus 17:13-16)
  • incest (Exodus 6:20; Genesis 19:30-38)
  • abortion (Hosea 13:16)
  • cannibalism (Jeremiah 19:9)
  • materialism (Proverbs 14:20)
  • domestic violence (Proverbs 20:30)
  • shit-eating (Ezekiel 4:12-15),
  • genital mutilation (Genesis 17:9-13)
  • …and Communist party membership (Acts 4:32-35)

Thanks to me, the Christian apologetics have less to apologize over. Now, Christians can concentrate on the central themes of intimidation and greed without the requisite cognitive dissonance."

I approve.

Though I think I would be more creative in what I stored in my SuperFunAdventureBible. How about condoms? You're in the moment, your partner asks you to grab some protection, you show them your Bible, they freak out (hopefully), you reveal its contents, you both have a good chuckle and then go at it like rabbits. Eh? Eh?

Pssh, fine then. What would you store in your Bible?

Ray Comfort's Origin meets counter-protests at Purdue

Yesterday I commented that Ray Comfort didn't stop by Purdue to hand out his sullied version of Darwin's On the Origin of Species. Since Ray changed the release date to the 18th to screw up secular counter-protesters, I thought that would be the last we saw of him. Well, I was wrong. Around 11:30 I started receiving a flood of text messages, IMs, and emails, all saying the same thing - the books were being passed out at the Engineering fountain at Purdue!

I alerted the masses via my own flurry of texts, tweets, and Facebook status updates, printed off a bunch of flyers from Don't Diss Darwin (thankfully I was in a computer lab at the time), and ran off. I also had the foresight this morning to bring the batch of "I Support Science" Darwin Fish stickers we had been sent for free, and I'm glad I had them.
Oh, and did I mention it was raining all day today? Kind of sucked.

Right after I got outside of I saw someone passing out books in front of LILY - the biology building where I live, sort of extra insulting - which showed me that they were all around campus, not just by the Engineering fountain. After politely receiving a book, I set up camp next to him handing out flyers and stickers to anyone who took a book.

Soon he ran out of books, and I was about to leave when I was approached by two biology professors I know.
Prof 1: Thank you so much for doing this!
Me: Oh, no problem.
Prof 2: Can we give you some money to reimburse you?
Me: Huh? For what?
Prof 1: For printing off all of those books. It must have cost a lot of money.
Me: Ooohhh, the Origin? Nooo, those are creationists handing it out. They added an anti-evolution introduction linking evolutionary biology to Nazism. We're counter-protesting them.
Prof 1: I knew something smelled fishy!! Now I'll definitely have to go read it, hahaha!

After that I ran to the Engineering fountain and found three different people widely spaces out and passing out books. A friend of mine tackled two of them who were closer together, and I focused on one (after getting another book, gotta catch 'em all!). Very quickly he figured out what I was doing, and probably wasn't too happy. I felt a bit bad since he was apparently a high school student roped into this, while everyone else were 40 year old white males. But I continued to hand out flyers and stickers, and more non-theists came to join me and take photos.
Lurk lurk lurk.

One of our members started talking to the people handing out books and asked if they had permission to be here. They skirted around the issue and just said they were with Living Waters Ministries. Purdue's policy states that you can't hand out anything on campus unless you're specifically sponsored by a student group and a member of that organization is there with you - which was clearly not happening. However, we didn't try to get them kicked off since 1) they were almost done passing out things anyway and 2) if they want to spread their stupidity, go ahead. We'll just show how they're wrong.
I then explained to this guy what the book was all about, and he heartily laughed.

Soon they were out of books, and congregated around where I was passing out flyers...and then they tried to debate me. They asked me about proof for evolution, and I started rattling of patterns in DNA, transitional fossils - but then I made the mistake of saying I was studying evolutionary biology. Immediately after that, they changed the topic to the Bible and how awesome it is because they knew they had no chance in debating me in biology.

I've stated this before, but I reeeaaallly hate debating people, especially about the Bible. One, I'm not good at thinking on my feet - I like having a keyboard and three seconds of thought. Two, I'm not a Bible scholar, so I especially hate Biblical debates. And three, I don't freaking care. Their reasoning is so circular that it's maddening, and I hate repeating the same arguments over and over again knowing that it is completely pointless and that I'm not going to change anyone's minds. Thankfully Bryan (the guy I'm dating) appeared, and he was a great help since he's currently reading the Bible and commenting on it daily over at his own blog. Still, after going through Pascal's wager, the inerrancy of the Bible, the circular logic of God's word making the Bible true, the "faith" of science, the God of the Gaps, God being infinite but the beginning of the universe needing a cause, atheists not trying to look for God, and morality as proof of God, I kind of wanted to die a little. Or punch babies, but that probably wouldn't have reflected very well on me.

Eventually I had to escape because I was planning to meet someone for lunch. I later found out they were passing out the books not just in front of LILY and the Engineering fountain, but in front of the Stewart Center Wetheril, Ford dining court, Armstrong...and who knows where else. Unfortunately, we only reached a small group of people who received books since we didn't exactly know what was going on, but something is better than nothing. We've alerted all the local media, so hopefully someone will pick up on it.

But you know what? It doesn't really matter. The most common responses I saw from people who took the book were, "Awesome, I've always wanted a copy!" The most common response from people rejecting the book were, "Ugh, no, I don't believe in evolution." You know what that means?

The only people who took Ray Comfort's bastardized Origin were people who already accept evolution and are most likely to see through his deceitful bullshit. Them, and atheists who were gobbling them up like collector's items. I got two, and other non-theist members were racing to grab one. I know when I'm teaching evolutionary biology at a university many years from now, I'll be happy to wave this in front of my class and talk about the scary past where evolution actually had silly people fighting against it. At least, hopefully I'll be able to say that.
These are going on the book shelf next to the Professor and the Dominatrix and Ken Ham's Evolution: The Lie.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Quick skeptical update

If you haven't yet deduced from my manic tweets, I'm busy. Really friggin' busy. But the best thing to do when you're busy is to procrastinate, so here's a super quick blog update for you guys.

1. Ray Comfort is a douchenozzle. To secretly move the release of his sullied version of the Origin up a day for the sole purpose of avoiding counter events shows his true colors. He is a scheming slimeball who knows his side has no intellectual merit, and the only way to gain followers is to avoid the peaceful reply of his opponent. Oh, and no, his people did not pass out the Origin at Purdue. I guess we're just already so religious and conservative that he didn't want to waste his time here.

2. Guess what came in the mail last week, and what I wore today?Woooo! My PZ vs Ken Ham Creation Museum Memorial Shirt! It looks awesome on black (a little washed on on white, but still alright). If you have no idea why PZ is on a squid and battling Ken Ham on a T-Rex, you should probably go here, newbie.

Ok, back to writing my summary of the sex determining gene in chickens. WOO BIOLOGY!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Indiana schools ban atheist websites

Oh Indiana, you're up to crazy religious shenanigans again. Let's have the Freedom From Religion Foundation explain what's going on:

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, responding to complaints from concerned Indianapolis taxpayers, has sent a letter of strong objection to the Indianapolis Public School system for its policy of censorship of web content that promotes or provides information about "atheistic views."
Hmmm, I wonder what it exactly says?

Sites that promote and provide information on religions such as Wicca, Witchcraft or Satanism. Occult practices, atheistic views, vodoo rituals or any form of mysticism are represented here. Includes sites that endorse or offer methods, means of instruction, or other resources to affect or influence real events through the use of spells, incantations, curses and magic powers. This category includes sites which discuss or deal with paranormal or unexplained events.

Uhhhhh.... Let's have FFRF finish before I get distracted by The Stupid.

This policy ... is unlawful because it violates the Free Speech Clause as unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination, FFRF charges. This policy does not prohibit or even mention religious views such as Christianity. A website like FFRF.org, which educates on freethought and nontheism, would, however, be blocked under this policy. This promotes religion over nonreligion, which is forbidden under the Establishment Clause.

In her letter, Foundation Staff Attorney Rebecca Kratz pointed out that, in addition to the illegality of the policy, it discriminates against the 15% of the population that is nonreligious, the fastest growing segment of the American population (American Religious Identification Survey 2008).

"This policy not only violates the rights of students in the Indianapolis School District, but limits their capacity to expand their knowledge and acceptance of all individuals and beliefs," Kratz noted.

How the hell could they have thought this was a good idea or even legal? You can't look up views on certain religions or atheism, but Christianity is a-okay? Discrimination, much? The only thing I find much stupider than that is lumping atheism with supernatural/paranormal events when atheism rejects those things. I take it back: thinking that spells, incantations, curses, and magic powers can actually work is pretty fucking stupid.

But wait, that's not all.

The policy also blocks LGBT sites "that provide information regarding, support, promote, or cater to one's sexual orientation or gender identity including but not limited to lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, and transgender sites" (see second page of policy).

Yep, let's ban students from helpful information when they need it the most! Maybe if they can't find out that it's okay to be gay, they'll start being straight again.

Though shame on Indianapolis students for not being able to just crack through the censorship. That's the first thing you learn to do in high school! How else are you going to feed your Neopets, watch Homestar Runner, and play crappy flash games? Wait, what? That's what I did 7 years ago? None of that is cool? Damnit.

(Thanks to the seventy billion different people who let me know about this one. Apparently atheism + Indiana = OMG GO EMAIL JEEENNNN!!)
(Via Dispatches from the Culture Wars)

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Secret Diary of a Poor PhD Student...wait, Call Girl?

Some of you may be familiar with the blog Diary of a London Call Girl by Belle de Jour. The stories of a professional woman's secret life as a high class prostitute won the Guardian's Blog of the Year in 2003 and has spawned multiple books and a Showtime series, Secret Diary of a Call Girl. The author had been working behind a pseudonym, but has now outed herself as Dr. Brooke Magnanti.
Until last week, even her agent was unaware of her name. But now Magnanti, a respected specialist in developmental neurotoxicology and cancer epidemiology in a hospital research group in Bristol, has spoken of the time six years ago she worked as a £300 an hour prostitute working through a London escort agency. Magnanti turned to the agency in the final stages of her PhD thesis when she ran out of money. She was already an experienced science blogger and began writing about her experiences in a web diary later adapted into books and a television drama starring Billie Piper.

...

Magnanti said she was working on a doctoral study for the department of forensic pathology of Sheffield University in 2003 when she began her secret life. "I was getting ready to submit my thesis. I saved up a bit of money. I thought, I'll just move to London, because that's where the jobs are, and I'll see what happens.

"I couldn't find a professional job in my chosen field because I didn't have my PhD yet. I didn't have a lot of spare time on my hands because I was still making corrections and preparing for the viva and I got through my savings a lot faster than I thought I would."

This fascinates me for a number of reasons. My initial reaction was how sadly underpaid PhD students can be, which I'm sure I'll be experiencing first hand fairly soon. Not only is it hard to find a job during and after getting your doctorate, but the only decent paying job you can get is prostitution.

But I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing. It's not a job I'd want, but I'm not going to judge those who choose that path. Magnanti stressed that she greatly enjoyed her job, though she was lucky in that she was a high class escort with a generally safer pool of customers. I'm personally in the camp that thinks prostitution should be legalized and regulated (background checks, STD testing, etc). We shouldn't punish people for being naturally sexual beings (and really, is prostitution that much different than buying someone dinner or jewelry with the hopes of sex?), but we should try to protect sex workers from potentially dangerous situations.

While that's my opinion, I know many disagree with me. I'm afraid what sort of bad press this may get for female scientists. I don't think it deserves bad press - more power to her for enjoying what she did - but I know the slut-shamers are going to come out of the woodwork. Women in science already have to deal with being in the minority and dealing with all sorts of biases and stereotypes. I'm just waiting for someone to go, "See, brains don't matter because she still had to resort to being a whore."

What do you guys think?

(Via BoingBoing)

Best Heathen-y Birthday Gift Ever

Last night we had a triple birthday party at my place. Two of my best friends and I all have November birthdays, so we decided to kill three birds with one stone and just have one big bash. Some of our friends (including Mike over at Politics and Pucks) got us some gifts, and they were pretty awesome:Godless cookie cake! It was extra delicious.A Christmas stocking?! That's not very atheistic, since I don't believe...but wait, what's inside?Noooooo! Bananas?!? My worst nightmare!

Oh, and how could I almost forget: my friend Josh brought me this lovely Chick Tract on evolution from some fundies who were demonstrating around the bars:Much loling was had. My friends are great.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

PZ Myers Speaks at Purdue: "A Few Things I've Learned from Creationists"

Yesterday night PZ Myers, who I'm sure you all know blogs over at Pharyngula, was nice enough to give a lecture at Purdue University. I found out through an ecology listserv that he would be speaking at an evo-devo meeting at Indiana University in Bloomington this weekend, and he was willing to fly in a day early to stop by West Lafayette first. We were all incredibly excited, and the atheists at IU were incredibly jealous.

Part of my duty at the President of the Society of Non-Theists was to safely retrieve PZ from the Indianapolis airport. Usually this would be a simple task - I've driven there a couple of times before and it's about an hour and twenty away. The caveat was that PZ's flight was supposed to arrive at 4pm, his talk started at 6pm, and flights are pretty much always late.

It seems the Flying Spaghetti Monster was not watching over us, because I soon got a phone call from PZ saying his flight was running a half hour late. No problem, plenty of time, I thought. I got to the airport and read American Gods in the parking lot for a while to waste time. But pretty soon it was getting later and later, and we both started to freak out on twitter. I unfortunately didn't have internet access, so I had no clue what was going on (though it was apparently fairly amusing to our mutual followers).

I finally got a call at 4:50 that he had arrived, and we zoomed off toward West Lafayette, me trying to drive as quickly as possible without killing two atheist bloggers in one blow. I called my officers because I knew we'd be late, and that they should entertain the audience to prevent a riot - PZ suggested balloon animals, I suggested interpretive dance. We ended up being about 15 minutes late, but my awesome officers held down the fort by playing Mr. Diety videos (PZ: I have to follow Mr. Diety?! Oh no!). PZ then gave a great talk, "A Few Things I've Learned from Creationists" - which can pretty much be summed up by this photo:Thankfully PZ gave us permission to videotape it, so you can watch it yourself! (EDIT: So...apparently people think the sound quality sucks, but I think it sounds fine. Either my computer is awesome, or I'm just not that picky. Regardless, if you think it's crappy, feel free to donate a high quality video camera to the Society of Non-Theists. EDIT 2: Thanks for all of the audio recording tips. If you hadn't figured it out yet, we didn't exactly know what we're doing, and I feel really bad that it came out so badly, so I apologize. I'm still completely baffled by the people who say they can't understand a thing, though. I can tell what he's saying the entire talk...either listening through headphones is the trick, or I have super human hearing.)

I thought his talk was great, and so did everyone else (though I think some of the biology-heavy bits went over most people's heads). He drew a big crowd - I wasn't able to get an exact head count because there were so many people, but I'd estimate a little over 150 individuals were there. Just to give you an idea, here are a couple shots of the majority of the crowd (still leaving out about 30 or 40 people):Surprisingly, there weren't many creationists there, or they were just keeping quiet. Only one question seemed to have a creationist bent, and no one looked especially furious.
We then relocated to Boiler Market, a local restaurant with great food and cheap pitchers of beer, a winning combination. About 35-40 people showed up, and we had a great time talking with our fellow non-theists. This event definitely brought some new faces out of the woodwork - hopefully they'll stay, and we'll see them at future meetings!The best part for me was definitely driving PZ from and to the airport. I was lucky to have him to myself for nearly three hours, and it was great fun talking to him. We talked about biology, grad school, blogging, silly religious topics, the book he's writing, and all sorts of random things. I had a blast, and I hope he did too!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Catholic Church: You approve gay marriage, we stop social service programs

What happens when society progresses on human rights, but a 2,000 year old book is more important to you? Resort to childish strong-arm tactics:
The Catholic Archdiocese of Washington said Wednesday that it will be unable to continue the social service programs it runs for the District if the city doesn't change a proposed same-sex marriage law, a threat that could affect tens of thousands of people the church helps with adoption, homelessness and health care.
What in the world could this bill be saying that has Catholics so upset? Will it force them to perform gay marriages? To watch Bravo TV marathons? To ordain gay priests? ...Wait a second...

Under the bill, headed for a D.C. Council vote next month, religious organizations would not be required to perform or make space available for same-sex weddings. But they would have to obey city laws prohibiting discrimination against gay men and lesbians.

Fearful that they could be forced, among other things, to extend employee benefits to same-sex married couples, church officials said they would have no choice but to abandon their contracts with the city.

So, the bill says you just have to stop discrimination...and they're against this? Do they have any idea how bad this makes them look? I guess they're not worried about PR, though, since their response is to threaten to take away social service programs than benefit the community. That's a pretty jerk move, if you ask me, since it's hurting people not even involved with the issue at hand. Just how many people will they be affecting with their selfish temper tantrum?

Catholic Charities, the church's social services arm, is one of dozens of nonprofit organizations that partner with the District. It serves 68,000 people in the city, including the one-third of Washington's homeless people who go to city-owned shelters managed by the church. City leaders said the church is not the dominant provider of any particular social service, but the church pointed out that it supplements funding for city programs with $10 million from its own coffers.

"All of those services will be adversely impacted if the exemption language remains so narrow," Jane G. Belford, chancellor of the Washington Archdiocese, wrote to the council this week.

Wow, just wow. Thankfully the council members seem to have more sense than the church:

The church's influence seems limited. In separate interviews Wednesday, council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3) referred to the church as "somewhat childish." Another council member, David A. Catania (I-At Large), said he would rather end the city's relationship with the church than give in to its demands.
You know all of those recent debates about if the Catholic church is an overall force of good in the world? I think your "goodness" suffers a bit if you're only using it for political clout. Just a thought.

Two news articles on the Chapman incident

I have a feeling this story is going to take off - not because someone said something homophobic (no news there, unfortunately) - but because it's generating good discussion about free speech. There's an article over at the Journal & Courier, Lafayette's local newspaper, and the IndyStar, a newspaper in Indianapolis. They use a quote from my original post in their article, woo.

If anything, go to check out the comments from the Hoosiers...kind of frightening.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Chapman developments: letters, protests, and interviews, oh my!

You'll remember that a little over a week ago I talked about a Bert Chapman, a Purdue Professor who blamed homosexuals spreading AIDS for our bad economy, amongst other ignorant and hateful drivel. There have been a lot of developments at Purdue since then, but sadly I've been a bit behind in the coverage because I've been busy (you know, classes, grad school, PZ Myers coming - those minor things). Here's a quick run down of what's been going on:

1. Lots of letters have been written about the incident to our local student newspaper, the Exponent. The first wave of letters called Chapman out, the next wave said we were trying to censor him, and the third wave demonstrated how little people understand sarcasm, and the most recent letter from many Purdue librarians (not Chapman) note they support equal rights. The Exponent itself also weighed in, and I pretty much agree with them (free speech is free speech, we can criticize him all we want, but we shouldn't be calling for him to be fired).

2. Today there was a protest in the Stewart Center, outside the library where Chapman works. I was unable to stop by because I had class all day, but another Purdue student wrote a good review of what happened.

3. A reporter from the IndyStar newspaper emailed me, saying he read my blog post on the matter (woo!) and wanted to interview me. I said sure, and did a little phone interview about the whole incident. Of course right after I hung up, I thought of all the things I wanted to say - oh well! If it gets covered, I'll let all of you know.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Replacement penis tissue grown in lab

Whenever I find an article that somehow combines my love for biology with my odd obsession with sex, I feel compelled to share it with all of you (aren't you lucky?). Apparently researchers have grown replacement erectile tissue for rabbits using their own smooth muscle and endothelial cells. And this all wasn't just for show, either:
Functional testing of the implanted tissue showed that vessel pressure within the erectile tissue was normal, that blood flowed smoothly through it, that the response to nitric oxide-induced relaxation was normal as early as one month after implantation, and that veins drained normally after erection.
Rabbits screwing like rabbits - a success!

Random thoughts:

Does this mean they removed the erectile tissue from the original rabbits? Poor bunny - but it was in the name of science!

How long until humans utilize this for people with severe erectile disfunction, or those that have been in some sort of accident?

How long until humans abuse this so you see late night infomercials telling you to inject smooth muscle cells into your penis for better erections?

Or most importantly, does this mean I am one step closer to my dream of a detachable penis*?!?!

(Via Boing Boing)

*This is an inside joke many of you are probably very glad that you don't understand.

This is why I want my PhD in Human Evolution

I love SMBC so, so much:
Though come on, I totally would have evolved a gun arm! That biologists must not have very high fitness.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Gay tourists not welcome at the Vatican

Shocking, I know. It's not a decree from the Pope himself, but it's the attitude of Bishop Janusz Kaleta of Holy See, the Apostolic Administrator of Atyrau. When asked about gay and lesbian tourists visiting the Vatican, this is what he had to say:
“The church teachings are from the Bible. If we change this teaching, we will not be the Catholic Church. Don’t expect the Catholic church to change these issues, because it is our identity.” When asked if the Vatican is open to dialogue about welcoming such homosexual groups of tourists in the future, Bishop Kaleta responded that “such demonstrations are just not ethical.”
Yep, because religion is something that never changes, but homosexuality is totally a choice. Hmm, I feel like I heard that somewhere before... But anyway, so is the Bishop just against a gay pride parade going through St. Peter's Square?

Publisher Steinmetz clarified that what was meant by gay travel was traveling for the purpose of a visit, not as a demonstration. To this the Bishop replied, “I consider if someone is homosexual, it is a provocation and an abuse of this place. Try to go to a mosque if you are not Muslim. It is abuse of our buildings and our religion because the church interprets our religion that it is not ethical. We expect respect of our church as we expect to respect that a person does not have to belong to the Catholic Church. If you have different ideas, go to a different location.”

Nope, simply being gay is provocative, abusive, and disrespectful. Not bears in assless chaps, not rainbow flags, not public make out sessions, not kisses, not holding hands - thought crimes of a homosexual nature are enough. You know how many gays probably go to the Vatican to stare in wonder at the Michelangelos and Berninis (who were probably gay)? Maybe the Vatican would be singing a different tune if they realized how much money they'd lose from banning everyone but upstanding, "moral" Catholics from visiting. Of course, I visited the Vatican when I was already calling myself an atheist, and I somehow didn't manage to get kicked out (I was also 12 at the time...).

As CarnalNation pointed out, the Swiss Guard better start working on their gaydars.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Graduate School Tips?

If you follow me on twitter, you probably know that I've been freaking out about grad school lately because I'm applying to get my PhD...somewhere. It's not so much change that scares me - I just really, really, really hate the unknown. It drives me insane not knowing where I'll be living or what I'll be studying in less than a year. Once I'm accepted and have made my decision, I know I'll be incredibly excited. I'm contacting professors now, but it's still driving me nuts. My current professor suggested I send snail mail, since emails either go to junk mail or get accidentally ignored most of the time. Hopefully I'll get some responses.

For those of you who are in grad school or successfully made it through, do you have any advice? How to pick a professor/lab group/school? Red flags to look out for? How to survive without going insane? Awesome people studying the genetics and evolution of human sexual behavior (such a broad topic, I know)?

Saturday, November 7, 2009

An interesting run-in

Last night the Hot Date* and I were wasting time around Borders before The Men Who Stare At Goats began (which was excellent and skeptic-y, by the way). I pointed out all the different biology books that I've been meaning to read ("...Why are there so many biology books about sex?" "...Do you need a reason?"), we flipped through the Book of Genesis illustrated by R. Crumb, and then of course we ended up in the sex section giggling like preteens. That's where I found a much better version of the Bible, complete with old and new testaments!

After we were standing there for a while, a female student came up to me. "Jennifer?" she asks. "Yes?" "Jennifer McCreight?" "Er, yes?" I didn't recognize her, but a lot of times random people I don't know very well from the club say hi to me, so I thought maybe that was the case. She smiled and introduced herself very politely, then added "I'm from the Stewart Cooperative."

I'll be honest that my first thought was "Oh shit." If you don't remember why, the Stewart Cooperative was the group that put on the infamous Porn and Popcorn event that I tore to shreds on my blog a while back. In person I'm pretty non-confrontational, so I was kind of afraid that I was about to get drawn into a debate (though Hot Date probably would have found it amusing).

But then she surprised me. She apologized for the event and agreed that the message of Porn and Popcorn was bad. She thanked me for writing the review, and said that after reading it she realized how stupid some of the things were that were said. Apparently it was passed around the women of the cooperative, and many agreed with my opinions (though I still have my enemies, which is totally understandable). I commented that part of it was out of their hands - they don't know exactly what a speaker is going to say when they get up there. She said that the event was suggested and coordinated mainly by alumni, and that many of the current Stewart women didn't entirely realize what it was about, and that in the future they don't want such things to happen. She also mentioned she still reads my blog - so hello, and thank you for being so nice!

I'm always incredibly pleased when a run-in like this happens. I have to say, I have significantly more positive run-ins than negative ones, even with people who I think are about to go off on me. It makes me feel that even when I think I'm just ranting, it can actually do some good.

Oh, and as a side note, of course she found me when I was tittering at some sex book. Way to confirm stereotypes about myself, haha.

*Yes, I find it incredibly fun to keep him secret from all of you guys Wilson-style. I'm weird.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Required Christmas Carols in Schools?

'Tis the season for cries about the "War on Christmas," and what better way to start off than attempting to pass a law requiring Christmas carols in school.

Ms. Hyatt, 61, a substitute schoolteacher, is the chief proponent of a proposed California ballot initiative that would require the state’s public schools to offer Christmas music during the holiday season.

Ms. Hyatt said she was inspired to start her ballot drive after working at a school where only nondenominational songs were allowed at holiday parties.

That struck her as unfair.

“We feel kids love Christmas,” she said. “And we’re not allowed to play Christmas carols. And we think that’s wrong.”
I'm one of those types of atheists who loves Christmas. I celebrate it with my family and I love singing the songs, regardless if they're about Jesus or Frosty the Snowman. I grew up singing Christmas carols in concerts for public schools, and it didn't traumatize me. My family was secular and I didn't feel left out; I just saw singing about Jesus's divinity the same as singing about Santa (aka, silly and fictional). I'm still an atheist now - the Noel didn't convert me.

That being said, my experiences do not represent those of every child. Some children of atheists may see it as one big silly joke, but children raised in Jewish families must certainly feel like the odd man out. They get their one token dradle song, and that's it. But at least they get one song - what about the children of Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Jains, Pagans, etc? Well, Ms. Hyatt has a solution for that:

As to whether people of other religious beliefs might take offense at having to carol, Ms. Hyatt, a Christian, said schools would be required to provide other rooms for other faiths, and students could opt out if offended. But she added that in her experience as a substitute teacher in schools in largely Latino, largely Christian neighborhoods in Southern California, she had not often encountered people who do not celebrate Christmas.

“I don’t think I’ve ever had a Jewish child in one of my classes,” she said. “If so they never said anything.”
Yes, because ostracizing small children even further by hiding them in a separate room and making them miss out on a fun party is an excellent idea. Way to show your tolerance and understanding.

There's a point where I think secularization is unnecessary. I personally feel Christmas has pretty much lost it's religious value; rather it represents having time off from school and work, being with family and friends, and spending a crapload of money on presents (yay capitalism). But to require all public schools to sing religious songs just isn't right. Maybe let each school decide if it's appropriate or not, but don't force religion on all public students in California.

What do you guys think? Should there be no religious Christmas carols at all in public schools? Or have they lost their original meaning and it's all for fun? I'd especially like to hear from those not raised in Christian families about their experiences and opinions.

(Hat tip to @jakiking)

Duke sex toy party study upsets Catholics on campus

I might have to start looking at Duke for grad school, after reading this article:

DURHAM, N.C. — A campus religious leader is unhappy about a study at Duke University that invites female students to attend parties where they can buy sex toys.

The News & Observer of Raleigh reported Friday that the director of the Duke Catholic Center has lodged a complaint with researchers. The Rev. Joe Vetter says the study doesn't promote relationships.

Doesn't promote relationships? What? Hey, maybe he uses his sex toys all alone, but I personally think sharing is caring. Anyway, what horrible things could this study be doing?! After purchase do they masturbate all over the desks of the classroom? Does it turn into a big lesbian orgy?!

The study asks female students over age 18 to attend the events that are similar to Tupperware parties but with erotic toys, lingerie and games. The women complete surveys about their sexual attitudes before and after the parties and get product discounts.

A spokesman for Duke said the sex-toy party project went through the peer review process.

Oh. Well. That's considerably less exciting (though still awesome). Every year here at Purdue the Psychology department's Human Sexuality class has a sex toy day, where people come in and talk about sex toys and give away free stuff. It was pretty awesome (though I didn't get anything, sadness). I don't remember the Catholic church exploding about that here, though that would have made it even more fun.

Oh, and one more gem:

Vetter says he plans to discuss the topic at Sunday mass.

Most interesting Sunday mass ever!

On a more serious note, are Catholics seriously against sex toys? Why the hell is it that religious people make sex so freaking impossible? Oh, abortion is evil, but you can't use birth control to prevent abortion. Oh, sex before marriage is bad, but you can't use a vibrator or masturbate to relieve those sexual pressures. Lovely.

Secularism is the best birth control - and apparently dooming Europe

Hey, do you love it when people mistake correlation for causation? How about when people imply atheists aren't good people? Or when they think their silly religious beliefs are more important than massive problems in society? Well, then you'll love what Lord Sacks said:

Lord Sacks blamed Europe's falling birth rate on a culture of "consumerism and instant gratification".

He said the continent was "dying" and accused its citizens of not being prepared for parenthood's "sacrifices"...

The 61-year-old, who took his seat in the Lords last week, said: "Wherever you turn today - Jewish, Christian or Muslim - the more religious the community, the larger on average are their families.

"The major assault on religion today comes from the neo-Darwinians." ...

Lord Sacks said Europe was the most secular region in the world and the only continent seeing populations fall.

He said parenthood involved "massive sacrifices" of money, attention, time and emotional energy.

Linden over at Folklore of Pitong already did a good job exposing the bad science of this idea. In short, birth rates could be down since infant mortality has severely decreased with modern medicine. No need to replace your babies.

It pains the scientist in me when people confuse correlation with causation. Yes, secularism has risen and birth rates have dropped. Frozen food consumption has also risen, but I'm not going to jump to the conclusion that they cause infertility (maybe with the exception of Hot Pockets, I don't trust those). However, things that contribute to secularism (rational thinking, scientific knowledge, improved education, better living conditions, etc) may all lead to someone deciding to have less kids.

But so what?

Why is having less kids a horrible thing? Because we're not giving birth to all "generations not born" as Lord Sacks says? [cue musical overlay of Every Sperm is Sacred] That's a pretty ridiculous way of thinking, if you ask me. Should we be churning out every baby possible like the Quiverfull movement? I kind of prefer being more than a walking baby making machine, than you very much. What about all those precious egg cells wasted before a woman gets married (which I'm sure is the only appropriate time to reproduce in Lord Sacks's mind)? Might as well start marrying off girls after their first period - can't go wasting all of those potential children.

Does Lord Sacks even care that the world is horrendously overpopulated? If anything, reduced birth rates are a wonderful thing. This may irk some people, but I personally feel it's somewhat socially irresponsible to purposefully have more than two children ("oops"s are understandable). To do more than replace yourself contributes to the problem of overpopulation and is a burden to not only society, but to your children who will have to live in said society. For Lord Sacks to be completely oblivious to this is unacceptable.

Of course, I'm an evil, birth-control-using atheist, so I guess I'm simply biased.

Oh, and atheists don't make sacrifices, don't want to invest emotional energy, yadda yadda. It's sad when hearing such ridiculous and slanderous things said about me doesn't even warrant a response anymore. I'm getting so used to it, that I don't even want to waste my time pointing out that it's utter bullshit. Secular people have children, and like all people, love them very much. Quantity isn't better than quality when it comes to raising kids, Lord Sacks.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

PZ Myers to Speak at Purdue University

Big atheist news for anyone within driving distance of West Lafayette, Indiana:
Dr. PZ Myers will be giving a talk titled "A Few Things I've Learned from Creationists," which will be a biting and entertaining survey of bad ideas from those who oppose evolution.

Thursday, Nov 12
6:00 - 7:45 PM
Class of 1950 Lecture Hall Room 224 (main lecture room)
Oval Drive, West Lafayette, IN
Free, open to public
Free parking available at 3rd St and Grant St Parking Garages after 5pm

PZ Myers is a biologist and associate professor at the University of Minnesota, Morris. He writes about science and atheism at an extremely popular blog, Pharyngula. PZ is known for unabashedly dealing with religion and creationism, and has ruffled more than a few feathers by speaking out against the Creation Museum, mocking the movie Expelled, and desecrating a Eucharist (just to name a few things).

Sponsored by the Society of Non-Theists at Purdue University
Hooray! Yours truly is President of the club, so you'll get the added benefit of meeting me (though I'll know who you're really coming for, it's okay).

Facebook event for the lecture is here; RSVPing isn't necessary, but it'll give me a nice head count and make me happy.

I also get the added bonus of picking up PZ at the airport, huzzah! And if his flight is delayed at all (it'll be cutting it close), I get the other added bonus of frantically driving PZ while praying to the Flying Spaghetti Monster that I don't crash and kill a famous and beloved atheist/blogger.* No pressure.

*I should note that I'm joking and I'm seriously a good driver. Really. ...

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

You know what else is an abomination, Maine? Lobster

Dear 53% of Maine,

Today you decided that homosexuals are lesser human beings who don't deserve the same rights as heterosexuals. You have just illustrated to the nation that you, like California, believe popular vote is a valid and moral way to decide human rights. I'm really glad we didn't use this method back when legalizing interracial marriage, but I guess the whole majority rule, minority rights thing isn't too important too you. But if you're going to go and base your legal decisions on the Bible, I thought I'd like to point out one little thing to you so your logic is at least consistent. In the same book that condemns homosexuality, there's another verse that you may find important:

Leviticus 11:9-12 says:
9 These shall ye eat of all that are in the waters: whatsoever hath fins and scales in the waters, in the seas, and in the rivers, them shall ye eat.
10 And all that have not fins and scales in the seas, and in the rivers, of all that move in the waters, and of any living thing which is in the waters, they shall be an abomination unto you:
11 They shall be even an abomination unto you; ye shall not eat of their flesh, but ye shall have their carcases in abomination.
12 Whatsoever hath no fins nor scales in the waters, that shall be an abomination unto you.

Deuteronomy 14:9-10 says:
9 These ye shall eat of all that are in the waters: all that have fins and scales shall ye eat:
10 And whatsoever hath not fins and scales ye may not eat; it is unclean unto you.

I know the Bible can be a little hard to understand, so let me spell it out for you: God hates shellfish. You know what's a shellfish? Lobster. Because of this, I fully expect a ban on Maine's lobster industry ASAP. I know that's a major facet of your economy and all, but you've illustrated that God's word is more important than the well being of your citizens. I'm sure they'll understand the dip in the economy, since getting into heaven later is more important than this life.

So, get cracking on that next referendum. I mean, you don't want to be hypocrites, do you?