Saturday, January 12, 2013

I'm Moving

At long last I am departing the world of free blogs to set down roots at It's a cleaner, easier-to-navigate site with links to my songs and my occasional ramblings about skepticism and politics. 

Click here to go there now!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Why Don't We Get Miracles (Like They Had in Bible Days)?

One of the many questions I have about the Bible (and for the believing believers who believe in it) concerns miracles. The wonders of the Biblical "record" - the creation, the flood, the tower of Babel, the ten plagues  the miracles of Jesus, etc.- make for great stories and Hollywood extravaganzas. But if you believe they really happened, then at some point you have to ask yourself why God, if such shows of power and authority were so important to him in Biblical times, doesn't continue to wield such creative might in the world today?

At least I've often found myself asking that question.

And here, I ask it again, through lyrics and melody. Why don't we get miracles, like they did in Bible days?

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Ewoks Are Not Dancing (Anymore)

I wrote this song quite a while ago and had it up on YouTube for a few months before taking it back down. But, with all the talk of Disney buying the Star Wars franchise and the possible advent of episodes VII, VIII and IX...well, it seemed like a good idea to put it out there again.

The premise: it's thirty years after the events we see at the end of episode VI. Luke has been rejected by the Jedi (he is, after all, the bastard son of the worst bad guy the Galaxy has known), Han and Leia are long since divorced and, worst of all, the Ewoks are not dancing anymore!

Yes, it's a distopian view of what became of our heroes after the defeat of the Emperor and Darth Vader.  

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Random Thoughts on the 2012 Elections

Well, November 6th has come and gone - after seeming like election day would never arrive, it now seems like it hardly happened at all! Perhaps that’s because, at the national level, all the sturm und drang of the last two years resulted in virtually no change.  Barack Obama will remain President for four more years, the Democrats control the Senate and the Republicans have a firm hold on the House of Representatives. 

On paper, anyway, not much has changed.

I’ll admit that I’m among those surprised that Mitt Romney didn’t fare better than he did. While I was never quite convinced he would actually win (and, as a Libertarian, I found things to like and to greatly dislike about both parties’ candidates and positions), I certainly looked at all the traditional signs and indicators (particularly the weak economy) and assumed they’d have the same kind of influence they’d had in the past. I totally overlooked the power of demographics and what I now think is a strong wellspring of good will towards the President. At the end of the day, the voting power and turnout of the Democratic Party’s key constituencies was critical, and the economy improved enough to allow people who wanted Obama to succeed to feel good about granting him another term.

I am guardedly optimistic about the next year or two. I’m usually of the opinion that a president and Congress can really only create substantive change in the first year of a term - by the second year, the entire House and much of the Senate is in re-election mode and the third and fourth are dominated by the President’s re-election campaign. Positions become rigid, officials dig in, the media starts playing horse race and gotcha games, and nothing gets done.

Since Obama will have no reelection campaign to distract him, maybe this Congress can tackle real issues in year one and year three - that would be a substantial improvement. Does that mean they actually get serious about debt, deficit and serious budget issues? Probably not...but marginal action is better than no action, right?

And perhaps the Republican Party, rocked not just by their loss at the Presidential level, but also in every swing state and Senatorial election, does a bit of soul-searching and evolves into a movement that can recapture the support of some portion of segments of the population that are currently lost to them (African Americans, Hispanics  single women, young people, gays and lesbians...and on and on).  If the Republicans can’t figure out how to be credible voice on fiscal and economic issues, where there needs to be a hearty and substantive debate, and not simply knee-jerk social issues bigots (as they’re perceived by so many to be), they deserve to wander in the political wilderness for a long time. 

Beyond the national political scene, the election brought some positive moves in the area of marriage and gay rights. The positive results on gay marriage referenda in several states puts an end to the old chestnut that, when put to a vote, people always vote against marriage equality. The tide of history continues to move in the direction of greater acceptance and equality, and that’s a great thing.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

I Think Richard Dawkins is Coming Unhinged

I will be really happy when this election is over, because I’m starting to get a little worried about Richard Dawkins’ mental health. It’s clear, from the tone and volume of the eminent scientist’s public utterances (ie, tweets) over the last several months, that his obsession with Mitt Romney’s Mormonism is taking him to some perplexing places.

Now, I’m a fan; I own and have eagerly read all of Richard Dawkins’ books. I think his ability to put complex scientific concepts into words that the layman can understand and appreciate is phenomenal. With the sad departure of Christopher HItchens (who accomplished the same feat but with more wit and elegance), Professor Dawkins is clearly the world’s leading atheist and freethinker.

But I think this election is making him just a tad unhinged - particularly since his only apparent interest in it (other than the usual academic’s squishy liberalism) is the religious affiliation of the Republican candidate. 

Dawkins obviously disdains Mormonism and all that it represents. Having been raised Mormon, I certainly understand where he’s coming from. The religion’s founding principles and the Book of Mormon itself are goofy and clearly non-scientific.  I too find it odd that people can accept the precepts and premises with such devotion. But, really, I find the same thing odd about believers in all other religions and goofy ideologies. 

And that’s where Dawkins is losing me. He appears to be making the case that Romney’s belief in his Mormon faith singularly disqualifies him from high public office (never mind that, as near as I can tell, he’s made no such judgments about Senate Majority Leader Harry Read, also a Mormon in good standing who, in a divided Senate, wields about as much power over lawmaking as any president).

The most recent example that has me shaking my head is this Twitter exchange between Dawkins and James Taranto, a Wall Street Journal writer:

  • This week, Dawkins tweeted:  "Romney believes a religion which is not only barking mad and utterly unscientific. It is also deeply racist.
  • Taranto: "Who wants to break it to @RichardDawkins that Obama is Christian?"
  • Dawkins: "He SAYS he is but it means nothing. All US politicians have to have a religion. But Romney really IS Mormon--a bishop!"
  • Dawkins, later:  "I don't like it, but a president who lies out of political necessity is a lesser evil than a stupid president."

So it’s better to have a president who actively and consistently lies to the public about his beliefs than one who actually believes in what he professes - because what he believes is somewhat more goofy than what most people believe? 

According to Dawkins, President Obama says what he says about his faith “out of political necessity.” If that's true, doesn't it show an incredible level of disdain for the American people? It's as if President Obama is saying "hey you stupid people, I know you need to think your president believes in God, so I'm gonna say it all the time but," wink wink, (then whispers) "I don't really mean it!"

And it's better to vote for that guy than the one who, however much we may disagree with his faith, clearly believes in it?

Sorry, Professor, I'm not buying it*.

So thank goodness the election is fast approaching. Hopefully, after November 6th, Dr. Dawkins can settle down and focus on making the world safe for evolution again.

*that's not to say that I'm not voting for President Obama. I just thing there are lots of legitimate reasons to do so.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Just How Fundamentalist are Mormons Anyway?

On this week’s Penn’s Sunday School podcast, Penn Jillette and Bill Nye (the Science Guy) were having an interesting conversation about creationism and belief and the like. Penn asked Bill a question about the last time he (Bill) had had an in-person conversation with somebody who truly believed in the inerrancy of the Bible and in creationism. Bill’s answer was that his most recent experience in this regard was when a couple of Mormon missionaries knocked on his door a few years earlier.

They didn’t pursue the conversation very far, and Bill didn’t offer any specifics but the answer he gave struck me as very odd.  Having grown up Mormon and served as a missionary myself, I would never think of lumping Mormons into the fundamentalist camp when it comes to Biblical accuracy. Certainly I was never raised to believe that the Earth was only six or ten thousand years old - yes, Mormons believe in creation as an act of God, but they don’t believe the Bible is any sort of inerrant history text (in fact, that's part of the reason the Book of Mormon was necessary, to correct the errors that had crept into the Bible over the centuries). 

In my experience, Mormons have a healthy respect for, and invest a huge amount of money in, modern science. Certainly many paleontologists are Mormons (lots of dinosaur bones out there in Utah).  I remember being taught evolution in science classes at BYU, and, when some students complained about it, the professor calmly explained that, whatever anyone’s religious beliefs, evolution was the state of modern science, and it was the University’s obligation to teach it. That’s maybe not the most ringing endorsement of evolution one could hear, but it’s a far cry from what you’d get at a fundamentalist Christian college.

So the conversation made me curious. In the 25 or so years since I've been to church, have things changed in this regard? Are missionaries now out there extolling the virtues of young Earth creationism?  

Certainly Mormons have made common cause with fundamentalists in the political arena in recent decades, so maybe they’ve changed the way they look at and teach these doctrines as well. My hunch, though, is that the very fact that Mormons and conservative Christians have been so publicly supportive of each other politically has led people to lump them into that same category. But I'm definitely curious.

I’ll have to check it out.

What Are They Teaching (in Alabama)?

If there's one thing I really don't understand, it's Biblical literalism. The idea that the Bible -- as important as it is -- can be taken as some sort of actual historical text just boggles my mind, and always has. I would consider it just an odd bit of religious flotsam, and add it to the long list of strange things that people accept on faith and talk about amongst themselves on Sunday, if said people weren't so insistent about pushing the concept of creationism on our kids. In a world where we need the smartest, most well educated citizens to help keep pushing the boundaries of science and knowledge, saddling them with the archaic idea that the planet is only 6,000 years old because some holy book says so is unconscionable.

And, as usual, the best way for me to express my feelings on this was through music, so here's a song about what I think we ought, and ought not, to be teaching in schools.

You can find all of my skepticism-themed songs and music videos at The Skeptic's Songbook.