Skepticism, Religion Archive

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Website Update - NRSV Bible Chapter Listing

BibleI've put a new page on the static portion of tihs site - Bible Verse Listing - New Revised Standard Version. It provides links to all the chapters on the NRSV hosted by the Oremus Bible Browser. The Oremus Bible Browswer is a very useful site that presents the NRSV in a very readable format. Unfortunately, it doesn't have the easiest navigation. I'd found a few sites that had provided links to the different chapters, such as GodWeb. However, none of those sites that I found included the Apocrypha in their listing. BibleStudyTools.com also has the NRSV, but their formatting isn't as readable as Oremus, and they don't have the Apocrypha, either (though that site does have some really handy tools). So, I took it on myself to create a listing that lists all of the books of the Bible. I checked it fairly thoroughly, but not every link. If you find any problems, please let me know. Otherwise, I hope this is useful for people wanting to read the NRSV.

There are other translations of the Bible available. BibleGateway.com has many of them available, and their navigation is superb. But they don't have the NRSV, and for a variety of reasons, that's the translation I prefer to read. For a discussion of why, read my entry, Friday Bible Blogging - Introduction and Picking a Translation.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Atheist Shoe Discrimination

Atheist ShoesSpeaking of mistrust and discrimination against atheists, here's an interesting study from an atheist shoe company. (What the hell is an atheist shoe company? Do their shoes lack soles? Ba dump bump.) They experimented with different ways of shipping their shoes to the United States. Half of the packages were sealed with the company's trademark tape with the word, ATHEIST, repeated over and over. The other half were sealed with plain brown tape. Sadly, you can probably guess the results. The packages with the ATHEIST tape took on average 3 days longer to reach the customers, and even worse, were 10 times more likely to be 'lost' in transit.

The company learned their lesson. On all future packages to the U.S., they're sticking to plain brown tape.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Why Do I Spend So Much Time on Religion

The Out Campaign: Scarlet Letter of AtheismThe other day, somebody asked me why I spend so much of my time on religion if I'm an atheist. Why am I reading the Bible? Why do I write so much on this blog? Why did I self-publish a book ($4.99 from Lulu)? There are actually multiple reasons. I covered this topic briefly in a short pamphlet that I wrote, A Brief Introduction to Non-Belief. I'll list a few quotes from there that begin to address these reasons, and then add some more explanation.


Well, the noble reason would be to say that it's for a love of the truth. And honestly, that is part of the reason. The universe is such a grand, wondrous place, that's all the more enjoyable when you view it without a filter. Looking back on when I was a Christian, it was almost like I was experiencing the world through a haze, and I do want to share that clear sightedness with others.

Anyone who reads this blog knows I'm a skeptic, and I mean that in the positive sense of the skeptical movement. A skeptic isn't a cynic. A skeptic is interested in the truth, and will research claims to determine their veracity. It just happens to be that people are gullible, and urban legends and myths can spread far and wide before someone with a skeptical mindset investigates them. Just take a look at any of my Factoids pages for an example. Most of the factoids I get in e-mail forwards are false, but some turn out to be true. With so many claims out there, once you've determined one to be true, it almost makes it special in a certain sense.

Religion is just one more subject for skeptical inquiry. After looking into it, I don't think any religions are true. And just like I share debunkings of other things on this site, I want to share the debunking of religion.

And like I wrote in that pamphlet, the universe really is amazing. When I was religious, my view was always colored by trying to fit everything into a religious framework. It's nice to to see the universe for what it really is, not tainted with mythology.


There are more pragmatic reasons, though. Thomas Jefferson once wrote, "it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg." If people kept their religion private, I probably wouldn't be as motivated to write this. However, when people use religion as an excuse to bomb clinics, fly airplanes into buildings, interfere with school curricula, discriminate against homosexuals, treat women as inferior, etc., then I feel obligated to speak out.

This is perhaps the biggest reason I spend so much time on religion. I don't think people need religion to behave morally. Rather, I see religion as an obstacle to moral progress.

I just listed a few examples in that quote without providing sources. So, here are links to several examples of religion causing immoral behavior or retarding progress, including a few more examples than what I'd listed before.

I can give personal examples, as well. The other day, I overheard some acquaintances disparaging environmentalism because God gave humans dominion over nature. I know many opposed to stem cell research with the potential to help so many people because they think an embryo has a soul. And I've had people tell me that global warming can't be real because God wouldn't let that happen to his creation, so there's no need to do anything about it.

I could go on at length listing these examples. There's no shortage of immoral behavior motivated by religion. I know some people will read many of those examples and want to respond with some form of the No True Scotsman response. First of all, when enough people do something in the name of their religion, they cease to be the exception, rather they've become the rule. A lot of those examples above aren't fringe beliefs. Second, I'm actually reading the Bible right now (you can follow along in my Friday Bible Blogging series). I see a book full of immoral rules. If people read their Bibles and followed the Old Testament rules faithfully*, we'd be living in a much more violent world than we actually do.

Getting rid of religion is no guarantee to progress. You still need to get people to embrace critical thinking and humanism. But right now, religion is an obstacle to that progress.

But you can't simply outlaw religion. For one thing, our Constitution guarantees religious freedom. But even if it didn't, I'd want to live in a country that did. Only totalitarian governments try to dictate beliefs. And countries that have outlawed traditional religion in the past have simply replaced it by making the state the religion, such as the USSR. The only sensible way to reduce the effects of religion is by winning over hearts and minds - convincing people to face reality of their own accord. (There's also the slim possibility I might be wrong. I'm very, very confident in my atheism, but I don't have an unshakeable faith like I did when I was a Christian.)

So, in my own small way, I am trying to convince people to abandon religion. I'm not pushy. I don't go out on street corners preaching. I don't put leaflets in mailboxes or under windshield wipers. I don't go door to door proselytizing. I write for this website, and I won't shy away from discussing religion when it comes up in conversation (though even then, I mostly stick to the facts without trying to 'evangelize'). And the best way to engage in these types of conversations is to be knowledgeable. I also want to avoid the accusation of being close-minded. A christian might try to say that I haven't looked deeply enough into religion, and that's why I'm an atheist. So, by studying religion as much as I do, I can safely claim to know enough about it to reject it. In fact, this is one of my major motivations for reading the Bible a second time, to make sure that I truly understand what I'm criticizing.

In all honesty, I don't expect religion to disappear in my lifetime. It's simply too entrenched in society. But a more attainable goal is to get people looking more critically at their religion, and to 'soften' their attitudes. If people still claimed to believe in god but didn't participate in all those negative behaviors I listed above, then I'd probably lose much of my motivation to speak out against religion.**


There's also the fact that non-believers are deeply mistrusted in this country. I came to my atheism through honest inquiry. There's nothing dishonest or sinister about my worldview - it's simply the way I think the universe is. I could no sooner choose to believe in a god than you could choose to believe in fairies. I don't want to live in a society where people question my integrity simply because I believe in one less thing than they do.

There is a very high level of mistrust of atheists in this country. As summarized in the article, Research Finds that Atheists are Most Hated and Distrusted Minority, a study by the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis found atheists to be more mistrusted than any other minority they asked about. Almost 1/2 of Americans would oppose their child marrying an atheist. A Gallup poll found that just over half of Americans would vote for an otherwise well qualified atheist presidential candidate. According to a study by the University of British Columbia, "participants found a description of an untrustworthy person to be more representative of atheists than of Christians, Muslims, gay men, feminists or Jewish people. Only rapists were distrusted to a comparable degree." And as if all that weren't enough, there are even laws on the books in some states prohibiting atheists from holding public office (though none of those laws would have a chance in court) - Unelectable Atheists: U.S. States That Prohibit Godless Americans From Holding Public Office.

So, by writing so extensively on this blog, people can see the reasons why I became an atheist. There's nothing about my worldview that should be a cause of mistrust. I only became an atheist after seeking out the truth of the universe and being honest with myself. What is untrustworthy about that?


I'll add a fourth reason why I spend so much time on religion - it's a hobby. While some people go skiing, or skydiving, or collect stamps, or do woodworking, I like to study religion. I always have. In fact, it's probably my interest in religion that in large part led to my atheism. If I'd only been marginally interested in religious questions, I probably would have stayed a nominal Christian. But because I was so interested in these types of questions, I dug deeper and discovered the truth. And it's not just Christianity. I enjoyed reading about the Popol Vuh when I was in college. I like Greek and Roman mythology. I've read the Tao Te Ching. There's just something about religion that I find intriguing, even though I don't believe any of it is true.


So, I spend so much time on religion so that I can do my part to help loosen its grip on society, to help share the beauty of the universe, and simply because I like to.


*This is where you get into different interpretations. Many Christians claim that there's a New Covenant, and not all of the Old Testament rules apply anymore. However, according to Matthew 5:18, "For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished." There are other problems with the New Covenant interpretation which I discussed in a previous blog entry, The Old Testament - It's a Bit Strange.

**Yes, I realize there are liberal Christians who aren't fundamentalists. The problem is that they're a minority of Christians. You may run into them more often in intellectual circles, but go down to a Baptist church on a Sunday morning and see what types of attitudes the people have. For example, according to a Gallup poll from 2007, one third of Americans believe the Bible to be literally true, and all but 19% of Americans believe it to be the inspired word of God. As another example, ten years ago, more than half of Americans were opposed to marriage equality. Now, it's about a third (source - DailyKos). Granted, attitudes are changing, but where do you think the still sizable opposition is coming from?

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Christian Morality

The Out Campaign: Scarlet Letter of AtheismA couple weeks ago when I was checking out websites in preparation for my entry, The Bible on The History Channel - A Disappointing Adaptation, I came across the following page, Week 1 : In the Beginning / Exodus, part of an episode guide to the series. This particular episode contained the incident of Abraham following God's command to take his son Isaac to the top of a mountain to sacrifice him, only to have the human sacrifice stopped at the last second. As I've written a few times before, I knew I was on my path away from Christianity the day I heard this story and questioned its moral.

The episode guide had a bit of discussion on this story, and offered the following lesson.

Faith and obedience. If we obey God only when his command 1) makes sense to us and 2) we agree that it is good, then we are not really obeying God's commands as an expression of trust in his wisdom and his character. Instead, we are merely complying with God's requests only after he has justified himself at the bar of our own moral or intellectual understanding. Will we obey, or merely comply? Will he be the authority, or will we?

That right there is one of the biggest problems with religion. It stunts the development of people's moral compasses. Instead of being moral agents who must try their hardest to determine the best way to behave, people are reduced to slaves following orders. What type of morality can it be to blindly follow rules with no thought given to their consequences?

And even just pretending that there were some truth to Christianity, this blind obedience to God's commands doesn't make sense. Most Christians don't believe in just Yahweh, but also in Satan and his demons. How are we mere mortals to distinguish whether a command is coming from the one true God, or if we're being deceived by the Devil? The only thing we could do is try to determine whether the command was good or not, and only follow the ones that we deemed to be good.

Blind obedience is not a positive trait. We should take responsibility for our own actions, and always try our best to determine the consequences of our actions before we do them. Religion should not be an excuse to shirk that responsibility.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

VW XL1 + E-mail Debunking - China's New "Little Car"

I got an e-mail the other day about a new car supposedly being made in China. The e-mail was partly true, and partly not true. But the truth is so cool that I can't resist blogging about it.

The e-mail claimed that a new car had been developed in China, with a bit of input from Volkswagen, and that the car got phenomenal gas mileage at an unbelievably low price. Well, the price point is unbelievable, and the car was developed by Volkswagen in Germany, not be a Chinese company with input from Volkswagen, but the gas mileage claim is real.

Here are some pictures from the e-mail. These are for the concept prototype, not a production version. The concept was known as the VW 1-Litre Concept Car. The 1-litre designation is because the goal of the car design was to be able to go 100 km on 1 liter of fuel. The car managed to meet that goal, needing just 0.99 liters for 100 km, or to put that in terms familiar to us U.S. readers, it achieved 238 mpg.

VW 1-Litre Concept Car

VW 1-Litre Concept Car

VW 1-Litre Concept Car

Image Credit: Unknown

Volkswagen had a second prototype similar to the original one but with several improvements, and then moved on to a production version. The production version is named the XL1. Here are a couple pictures of it.

VW XL-1

Image Credit: Wikipedia

VW XL-1

Image Credit: Car and Driver

According to Volkswagen, this production version only needs 0.9 liters to travel 100 km, or in other words, it gets 261 mpg. That's pretty amazing. And it sounds like VW is planning on putting the car into production. The catch? It's not cheap. According to a Car and Driver article, the anticipated price is around $50,000.

For those interested in reading more about the car, here are a few good articles on it. And for those interested in the original e-mail that prompted this entry, I'm including that below the fold.

More Info:

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