Extraordinary [religious] claims require extraordinary evidence

Beware of dragon

“George Bush says he speaks to god every day, and Christians love him for it. If George Bush said he spoke to god through his hair dryer, they would think he was mad. I fail to see how the addition of a hair dryer makes it any more absurd.”

- Sam Harris

If you replaced the phrase “Christians love him for it” with “skeptics must shut up” in the above quote, Sam Harris could be describing the current state of the skeptical movement.

Recently, one of my least favorite issues has resurfaced, what role, if any, atheism has within the skeptical movement. The controversy seems to have begun with Jeff Wagg writing a blog singling out a flyer and four scheduled talks at Skepticon3 focused on atheism or more accurately religious criticism, one of which with a heavy emphasis on physics. Though Wagg hadn’t seen the talks yet, he expressed more than mild disapproval of them based on their titles and his opinions of the speakers themselves. In fact, he suggested these topics have no right being discussed at a skeptical conference at all. According to Wagg, this doesn’t look like a skeptics conference at all, but rather something entirely different, “an atheist conference”…or worse “an anti-Christian conference.”

BUT DON’T PANIC!!! … continue reading this entry.

Thor and the Lightning Pole

A small Nordic camp, 1100 years ago.  A cloudy Thursday.
ERIK and OLEG stand in front of KING LEIF.
LEIF
So where are we on this whole “lightning destroying our crops” thing?
ERIK
I’ve noticed that lightning seems to be attracted to tall things and metal.
OLEG
I think Thor’s mad at us.  Or drunk.  It’s hard to tell the difference. … continue reading this entry.

Undivine DNA

(THE GOD OF ABRAHAM, ISAAC, AND JACOB snoozes in his lounge chair.  ARCHANGEL MICHAEL storms in and slams a newspaper down on God’s lap, waking him up.)

GOD

Aaaaah!

MICHAEL

Have you seen what they’ve done now?

GOD

What!?  Who?!  I’m taking a nap, you slam a paper on my lap and ask me these questions!

MICHAEL

The monkeys, sir!  Who else? … continue reading this entry.

Holidays, Miracles, and Describing God as a Non-Theist

I think I deserve to be at this table

I think I deserve to be at this table

Author’s note: This post is probably about two weeks later than it should have been.  It took me a little while to get to write it.  What can I say?  I’m a busy man.  In the article, I mention God a lot, and when I use pronouns to describe that particular deity, I capitalize them.  Please don’t have a cow over it, it’s what I’m used to and I think it helps make the pronouns distinct from others.

Passover is, without a doubt, my favorite Jewish Holiday.  Well… let’s clarify that.  Since I started keeping Kosher to feel a cultural connection to the only roots I really have, the first two days of Passover are my favorite Jewish Holiday, the lack of beer in the following six days is annoying.  But going back to the original point, Passover is my favorite Jewish Holiday, bar none.  Chanukah, to be frank, is a bit of a bullshit holiday.  It’s only gotten as big as it has due to its proximity to Christmas.  There are interesting things about it, what most people don’t know is that it’s actually the celebration of a military victory, the Maccabees over the remnants of the Greek Empire in the second or first century BCE, but because Jews didn’t like celebrating a military victory, we decided to go for oil burning longer than it was supposed to.  The big Jewish gift giving/party holiday is Purim, but my family never celebrated that.  Rosh Hashanah was never a big family affair for us.  It was a day when we’d go to Shul, listen to Torah and the Shofar (big smelly rams horn hollowed out into a crude brass instrument – well, it’s not brass, but it is played the same way).  Sometimes, we’d get together with another family afterward, but it was never the affair that Passover is.  And Yom Kipor?  The whole holiday I spend waiting for the holiday to be over, and though I do generally enjoy the meal that follows, I don’t think I can give Yom Kipor the credit that as soon as the day is done I have a good time.  Passover, on the other hand, is pretty fun.  It’s like a big Jewish Thanksgiving.  It’s a ceremonial meal where you sit around, get tipsy, tell a big story, and then have a good dinner.  You ask me, it’s everything a holiday should be. … continue reading this entry.

Travis is Asked to Join the Sea Org Too Early

The inspiration for this sketch is an AP article about a former Sea Org member trying to sue Scientology for back pay.  I’m fairly certain getting someone to join the Sea Org is pretty much the worst thing you could ever do to them, so I really hope the members win their case.  Also, if anyone out there has NOT found the time to sit down and watch the Steven Fishman Deposition, might I humbly suggest it. … continue reading this entry.

A Skeptic Gets Squeamish

Solar_system

Photo from NASA

Yes ladies and gentleman, it’s that that we all love, time for Jake to dazzle you all with an anecdote where something uncomfortable happens to me and I do my best to twist it into something more universal about all us skeptics in general.  Admit it, you’re excited. … continue reading this entry.

Miraculous Cruelty

As I’m sure all of you know, this past week a devastating earthquake rocked Haiti.  Two days ago, the country’s Interior Minister said that they’d already found fifty thousand bodies, but they expected the final death toll to be between one and two hundred thousand people.  The people are trying to recover, but there’s only so much that can be done.  Thankfully, survivors are still being found under the rubble.  But what’s strange is that each person found not dead is being reported as “a miracle,” and trying to reconcile the death of over a hundred thousand people and “an extraordinary event manifesting divine intervention in human affairs” (from Mirriam Webster) is really hurting my head.  I understand that the media is reporting these “miracle” stories in order to give people hope in the face of overwhelming tragedy, but the more I try and combine the concepts in my head, the more the miracle just seems cruel. … continue reading this entry.

Non-Shroud of Turin Provokes Story on Jesus

Israeli archaeologists have just found their first burial shroud from about 2000 years ago.  I thought that would be cool enough, but apparently, National Geographic thinks no one will read the story unless they make it about Jesus and the Shroud of Turin.  It’s not all bad news, they’re actually saying that this find makes it even less likely that the supposed burial cloth of Christ was real – though why this is still a story since that piece has been quite well debunked, I can’t tell you.  But still, National Geographic thinks Jesus is the way to sell this archaeological story and who am I to disregard the thoughts of their editors?  So, I’m going to tell you what their story didn’t tell you.  This new shroud proves that Jesus had leprosy. … continue reading this entry.

On Rituals of a Non-Skeptical Nature

Jews praying in a synagogue on Yom Kippur, painting by Maurycy Gottlieb.

Jews praying in a synagogue on Yom Kippur, painting by Maurycy Gottlieb.

Yesterday began Yom Kippur, the Jewish day of atonement. All over the world, Jews are fasting, and though I am a proud member of NYC Skeptics, I am among them.

By spending the day fasting, I do not feel that I am cowing to some angry sky-daddy, hoping he doesn’t put my name in the book of death. I do not believe in any god so petty that he would kill me for a year of non-perfect adherence to a set of mostly arbitrary rules designed to separate me from other people because my parents were Jews and their were not.

But to acknowledging that I have an origin, a people that have survived thousands of years of heartache and strife, for me the hunger is worthwhile. I believe that if one wants, even a skeptic can find a place for a little ritual in their lives. … continue reading this entry.

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