#76 What have we learned?

Well, it's the end of 2011 and I'd like to go over what I've learned.

I learned that some people in CRM are so afraid of change and evolution that they will get violently mad at those that propose change or have moderate to radical ideas.

I learned that some companies have too rigid confidentiality policies to the point where you can't even tweet the property you are working on.  Why are they so afraid of an employee saying they are working for their client?  They do know that this has been going on in local bars for decades right?  Blinders.

I learned that some people in CRM don't understand what a blog or a twitter account really is or means.  They don't understand the medium and are therefore afraid of it.

I learned that if there is a god he/she/it indiscriminately takes the life of whomever they please with no rhyme or reason to it.  A plan?  Really?  Prove it.

I learned that Reno citizens could apparently care less that there are atheists among them.  There was absolutely no reaction to atheist billboards that went up in two locations this fall.

I learned that atheists can be generous, caring, selfless, people without having a reason for it or a basis for it other than a desire to help a fellow human being.

I learned that there are many people out on the interwebs that are tirelessly blogging and tweeting the world around us.  I'd never really experienced blogging before the Society of American Archaeologists Meetings in Sacramento, CA last April.  My good friend Deanna pointed out a well known blogger and I was ashamed that I had never heard of him.  I went that night and started a Google reader account.  I now follow about 40 blogs regularly.  During that conference I started my blog and opened a Twitter account.  It was really a career and life changing experience.  I just can't stop having the desire to tell the public about the science and field that I love.  Sometimes I just don't understand why some people don't love it as much as I do.  Amazing.  What are they doing with their lives?

I learned that starting each sentance with the same two words is a fun way to grab a person's attention and get them to read to the end of the post.  HAPPY NEW YEAR!!

Here is what you can learn in 2012:  Research the Mayan calendar craziness on your own.  Educate yourself.  Find out about the presidential candidates on your own.  Don't rely solely on major news outlets.  They have their own agendas.  Learn something new every week, if not every day.  I'm joining some atheist friends in a 365 day plan to read the bible cover-to-cover this year.  I've never done it before and I think it's essential for good atheists to know what they are up against.  Do good things, not because you are told to or because you think it will favor you among the gods, but because it is the right thing to do.  Do good things because our fellow humans need people to do good things for them.  Don't expect payment or some sort of good thing in return.  Just do it.

That's it for this year.  See you on the flip side.

Cogito Tute - Think for yourself

#48 The Reno Coalition of Reason Billboard Campaign

The Reno Coalition of Reason issued a press release today annoucing the erection of two billboards in the Reno, Nevada area.

Thanks to Ben for getting the photo up so quickly!

The press release was sent out to all of the major news outlets in the area and as of this writting, only one interview has been conducted.  None of the major news outlets have reported on the billboards and the interview has not appeared on KRNV website.  The interview was conducted prior to the afternoon news broadcast but was apparently not important enough to make it on air.  Our hope is that it makes it to the evening news cast.

We hope that the news media in Reno don't decide to brush this ad campaign under the rug.  The billboards are in well-traveled areas so a lot of people should see them.  Also, the Reno Coalition of Reason is marching in the Nevada Day Parade on Saturday. So, at least a few thousand people will hear of us at that time.

We're hoping to gain new members and to step up our activism with these two events.  We aren't looking to disparage anyone's religion or make anyone upset.  We just want people to know that we are here and that if they think the way we do, there are others like them.  You don't have to believe in a god to be a good person.

PLEASE comment if you have an opinion.

Written in Sparks, NV.

#32 Movie Review: The Ledge (2011)

Last night we rented “The Ledge”, a Matthew Chapman movie, from iTunes for $6.99.  We rented it on our Apple TV 2, in HD, and streamed it on our TV.  The movie premiered online as a streaming option on May 26.  Weeks later it opened in a few theaters nationwide and is currently playing in a handful of venues.  I’m not sure why the decision was made to open like that and I think it may have done the movie some harm.  The only reason I knew about it was because of the tireless promotion by the movie’s writer and director, Matthew Chapman (great-great-grandson of Charles Darwin, yes, that Darwin).  I heard Chapman discussing it on several podcasts including Skepticality, The Humanist Hour, and Point of Inquiry.

Here is a short synopsis of the plot from IMDB:

“A thriller in which a battle of philosophies between a fundamentalist Christian and an atheist escalates into a lethal battle of wills.  Ultimately, as a test of faith, or lack of it, the believer forces the non-believer onto the ledge of a tall building.  He then has one hour to make a choice between his own life and someone else’s.  Without faith in an afterlife, will he be capable of such a sacrifice?”

I was prepared for a movie laden with dialogue and heavy, philosophical, monologues and I was not disappointed.  That’s not to say the movie dragged on as some of that type tend to do.  The conversations and thoughts of the lead characters were thought provoking and well written.  Of course I identified with the atheist character, Gavin, played by Charlie Hunnam, and I felt that his passion and level of knowledge about the bible were a accurate portrayal of the modern, educated, atheist.  I wouldn’t, however, characterize his behavior with Shana, played by Liv Tyler, as that of a typical atheist.  The atheists I know are moral, kind, and intelligent people and his actions were immoral and dishonest.  It makes a good movie, though.

The fundamentalist Christian antagonist (or protagonist, depending upon your point of view), Joe, played by Patrick Wilson, did a great job of portraying people of that sort.  He showed how people of serious faith will do anything in support of their god’s mission and vision.  At one point he said that he had no fear regarding the consequences of his actions because God was on his side.  That is a scary thought and the central one of the film.  In the end, Gavin has to decide whether he has the ability to die for his beliefs, or lack there of, to save another.

Since the central plot of the movie is very specific it is hard to discuss it without giving much away.  I will say that the movie is worth watching and that you won’t be disappointed.  The movie should appeal to the fundamentalist and atheist alike since both characters where written very well and honestly.  Chapman, an atheist, did not write the fundamentalist as something that they are not.  He was truthful and accurate.

You can rent the movie on iTunes or from Sundance.

Would you sacrifice your own life, knowing that there is no afterlife, for someone else?  I’m not sure I can even make that decision without being presented with the situation directly.  When religious people sacrifice their lives for their beliefs is it really that much of a sacrifice?  In their own eyes, are they giving up that much?  What is a few decades on this planet when you can have an eternity (ETERNITY!! FOREVER!!) in absolute paradise?  If I thought for a second that god and heaven were real I would be searching for reason to blow myself up so I could get on with the rest of my eternal existence.  Why not?  What do you have to lose?  Oh right, it might all be a fairy tale.  That must be why most people balk at the whole martyr thing.

Anyway, enjoy the movie!


Written in Sparks, NV.

#28 Skeptical Believers: Are you just going for the cookies?

Every time I'm around a group of freethinkers or outright atheists the majority opinion is that people of all types are free to attend. That means atheists, agnostics, believers, you name it. I don't disagree with that part. If all we do is get together with like minded people and preach the gospel of atheism and science then we aren't really doing much for the community as a whole. However, there is something to be said about educating ourselves internally so we can be better advocates for reason and rationalism.

The more easy going and friendly part of the atheism/skeptical movement feel that it's OK that there are people out there that believe in a higher power of some type but that also identify as skeptics. Personally, I think the two are mutually exclusive. If you apply rational arguments to the god hypothesis then the entire argument breaks down before your eyes. Calling yourself a skeptic means that you apply rational thinking to ideas and concepts that are presented to you. I try to do this to every aspect of my life. At work some people know this type of thinking through the axiom, "Work smarter, not harder". This is a simple phrase that allows you to stop what you are doing, apply some critical thinking skills to a problem, and continue on in a more efficient manner. In other words, thinking skeptically.

So, why do otherwise rational people still hang on to archaic beliefs? I think it's because they feel a sense of community when they go to church. I'd be surprised if any of the believer-skeptics out there are going to those mega churches or to the really fundamentalist churches. They are likely going to small community churches where a few songs are sung, the preacher tells a story, and they all go socialize over coffee and cookies. As skeptics, we can, and do, provide this service to the community. There are local skeptics and freethinkers groups, Skeptics in the Pub meet ups, and local skeptical events such as celebrating Darwin's birthday. I have an idea for another community event that should take place on Sundays so we can provide an outlet for families that don't what to go to church but still want to do something constructive with that time. I'm devoting my next post to that idea.

So, if you are a believer that identifies as a skeptic, I ask you to step back and look at your position with the critical thinking skills that the community is trying to teach you. Does your belief really make sense? Or, are you just going to church for the friendship and heart warming stories? It's difficult to see the cherry-picking that the church does to keep people there when they cloak the scary bits of the bible in flowery "Jesus loves you" stories. Don't forget that the bible also condones stoning your children, beating your wife, and killing your enemies. Next time you are at church, look around. Are people really paying attention or are they checking their phones and watches and scolding their children? Are they just sitting there because they, and you, are just waiting for the cookies?

I welcome comments.

Written in the high desert northeast of Winnemucca, NV.

#27 A Question for Dawkins: Is God Necessary?

I just returned from The Amazing Meeting 9 in Las Vegas, NV where Richard Dawkins gave a talk centered around his upcoming children's book, “The Magic of Reality”.  Dawkins discussed his book chapter by chapter with an emphasis on Chapter 9 which dealt with life elsewhere in the universe.

To discuss whether life could exist elsewhere, Dawkins discussed life on this planet.  He  listed the ways that life is unique and the ways that it isn’t.  He also discussed the things that seem to be inevitable when life does spring up somewhere.  I’m not going to go into any of that out of respect for the unpublished book, however, I do have a question that I was not able to ask during the lecture.

Is a belief in a higher power inevitable when intelligent life evolves somewhere?  Do you, Richard Dawkins, believe whether it is more likely or less likely that life will evolve a necessity for a belief in a higher power at some point in their development?

I’m wondering what would have happened if the large civilizations that rose up 4-6 kya  would have progressed in the science and philosophy fields sooner and more rapidly, would belief have been stomped out and not been so ubiquitous?  What if the Romans had promoted a scientific society and had forced atheism on the lands that they conquered?  Would it have been enough?  Are we (intelligent life) destined to believe in a higher power?  Will we ever be without some form of religion?

I’m assuming Richard Dawkins will never actually see this.  For the five of you that are reading this, what do you think?


Written at Walden's Coffeehouse, Reno, Nevada.  Home of Reno’s “Science Cafe” lecture series.

#9 Freethinking

I recently went to a lively Meet-Up of the Reno Freethinkers.  The main topic of discussion seemed centered around what the group is going to do in relation to religion and government in this country and in the Reno area.  There were a lot of ambitious ideas that centered around contacting members of Congress, and other public officials.  There was talk of a billboard, advertising in the newspaper, and of newspaper editorials.

One freethinker started to hit upon what I think is the right way that all local groups should proceed.  He was talking about the need to address people when they are most impressionable, that is, children.  The children of our communities need to be given critical thinking skills early enough so that they can start to see the holes in some of the things they are taught in schools and the things that their friends try to talk them into.  This is also the method of the church, of course.  Hook 'em while they're young.  

It is difficult, however, to speak directly to kids.  It's especially difficult for an atheist group to do so.  They are insulated by their parents and by the community.  I think that local groups would have better success by addressing parents, adults, and the community with information tables set up at religious events; peaceful gatherings outside of religious venues where information could be handed out and questions could be asked.  Don't confront them as they come out of church and say that they just wasted their time (even though they did). Just give them enough information to make them think.  Attack the subconscious with a speck of doubt that will slowly pick at the unused parts of their brains.

I've been working with a colleague all day today and we have been talking about religion and spiritualism. This person is a believer of several spiritual and supernatural ideas that I’m not going to go into here.  I made him think about a few things, though.  For example, he says that he use to have the ability to remote view.  I didn't tear him down right away but I did ask him how it works.  I asked If remote viewing is possible then what is the mechanism that makes it work?  I reasoned that there are three possibilities.  Either there is some sort of quantum effect that we don't quite understand, or there is a god-like entity that is actually facilitating the act, or that it all happened in his head.  My guess is the later but I wouldn't rule out the first one.

The point is, I made him think rather than just nodding my head and dismissing him.  That is our “in”.  That is how we, as atheists, got to this point and that is how others will get to this point.  Make them think.

This colleague of mine doesn't think I can change the world one person at a time.  He's wrong.  I believe that I can.  I believe that all of us can do it.  All I need to do is get one person to think about why they are doing or believing whatever it is they are doing and just maybe that one person will tell someone else during their lifetime.  The pyramid like effects of one person talking to two or more people that also talk to two or more people is how revolutions are started and ideas are disseminated.  It's not impossible.

I look forward to doing good things with the Reno Freethinkers and the Reno Skeptics.  

Think globally, act locally.  In this case, local could me the person sitting next to you.