My Reaction to Jindal's GOP Response

Like many Americans, I watched Obama's recent Congressional address. Truth be told, I was more interested to hear from Jindal. You see, I've heard so many wonderful things about him but had not previously seen him speak (aside from brief sound bytes on the news). I'm no conservative, but with Jindal being heralded around here as the next serious GOP presidential contender, I wanted to see more. Having intently watched his response to Obama's address, what most stood out to me was his utter disdain for science. Yep, this stood out for me even more than the fact that he lied during his brief speech. It looks like the Republican Party has not learned much from the catastrophic failures of the Bush administration. Those of us hoping to promote reason, science, and reality-based education have reason to be worried about Jindal.

Hearing Jindal disparage the idea of federal funding to monitor volcanoes was quite telling. I hope the nickname given to him by Homosecular Gaytheist sticks: Bobby "Something Called 'Volcano Monitoring'" Jindal. Perhaps it will remind Americans that he represents more anti-science nonsense.

Maybe my reaction has something to do with the fact that I was living in Oregon when Mount St. Helens erupted. I vividly remember the many deaths and the destructive power. I remember the sky turning black in the middle of the day and ash falling like a heavy snow. I remember what happened to automobile engines when they suck in a sudden influx of ash.

But I would like to think that I would have been disgusted with Jindal regardless of this experience. Remember, here are some other facts about Jindal:
I think it should be fairly obvious that atheists, regardless of their political persuasion, should be at least a bit worried about Jindal.

All Hail Utah, The American Porn Capitol

ELEGANCEImage by ainasa via Flickr

A nationwide analysis of Internet porn subscribers has revealed something which many have long suspected: conservatives are the biggest consumers. Finally, a contest Mississippi should be able to win! Utah is ahead now as the nation's biggest porn consumer, but Mississippi is certainly in the race.

What makes me so confident that we have a chance? This tidbit:
States where a majority of residents agreed with the statement "I have old-fashioned values about family and marriage," bought 3.6 more subscriptions per thousand people than states where a majority disagreed. A similar difference emerged for the statement "AIDS might be God's punishment for immoral sexual behaviour."
Come on Mississippi, we can do this! It would even be good for the economy.

H/Ts to Indelicacy and Pharyngula


An Interview With An American Atheist

Let me start by making it clear that my intent is not to get in the habit of mixing my own personal views, ideals and ethics with my chosen career path of law enforcement as a practice here at msatheists.org, however, this is another timely anecdotal experience I thought many readers might find interesting.

Last week I was contacted by a co-worker (a fellow officer) and asked if I would be willing to submit to an interview and answer some questions “as an atheist” for a theology course he was taking. This actually wasn’t the first time something like this has happened to me. In fact, this was the third officer in as many years to think of me as a resource for helpful information and it still gives me that hopeful feeling that I am on the right track in my approach to the issue of being proactive, vocal and civil in presenting my perspective as an atheist in the open marketplace of ideas.

This particular inquiry was even more valuable to me for two important reasons:
  1. The request was presented in a completely non-judgmental and polite tone from what appeared to be a sincere quest for information and from someone I had not known for very long.
  2. The fact that I was contacted specifically because I was “an atheist” meant that I could be certain that my non-belief in God(s)ess(es) was now mainstream common knowledge.
(The latter is always important because I want to be clear and unambiguous regarding my own personal perspective.)

Anyway, never one to decline an invitation to engage in a “face to face” discussion about atheism and what it is like to be an atheist in a culture steeped in Christian religious dogma and ritual of one form or another, I instantly accepted the offer to be interviewed.

I was provided the disclaimer that there would be a questionnaire involved and that I did not have to identify myself for the purposes of the course he was taking. Naturally, I directly requested that my full identifying information should be annotated on any resulting report for the class in case any follow up was required. We then scheduled a time that would be good for both of us after he was off-duty and we would be free from interruption.

When it finally came time to meet, I was immediately impressed with the character of the officer and it became quite clear that he was a believer in Christianity and an adherent that was in the process of learning apologetics in depth. We made some initial small talk, ground rules sort of stuff, and then we began to go over the printed list of questions he had on a few sheets of paper.

Right after the first question was read, I recognized that the questionnaire was not conforming to any known college survey standard. The first few inquiries on the list were quite obviously relative questions seeking absolute answers. They were linguistically irresolvable without expounding further on philosophical concepts but, by default, the test disallowed such lengthy answers.

Most of the one-liners were also framed in highly subjective and ill-defined ways within the rigid and intentionally deceptive directive that the subject must only answer “Yes or No” without any further elaboration or articulation that could actually provide a greater understanding.

In short, they were intended to support false presuppositions by inference much in the same mold as:

“Mr. Atheist, have you stopped beating your wife?”

“I don’t beat my wife, that wouldn’t be right. I love my wife and have discovered that my life is better lived if I treat others with kindness and care.”

“For the purposes of this particular survey, Mr. Atheist, you must answer either yes or no.”

Once I pointed out how highly subjective and limited this approach was for a survey, I did note that he smiled and seemed to agree that he understood the limitations inherent in such an approach. There were about three pages of these sorts of questions (if I recall correctly) along with some that were scaled (1-10) on how familiar I was personally with Buddhism, Hinduism, The Upanishads, Siddhartha Gautama, Wicca, Anton LaVey, Satanism, Catholicism, Scientology, etc.

From that portion of the survey I did learn that I know very little about “legalism” and “soul sleep” as concepts from the Seventh Day Adventists. He explained them to me implying that they are criticized as incorrect and can be deconstructed and refuted philosophically by his denominational version of Christianity.

I also learned that studies of Christian adherents revealed that the number one reason they didn’t spread the gospel (proselytize) as they were directed to do in the bible was because they felt they would be ostracized after exposing their belief.

Now, my own guess was that it was because they really hadn't spent a whole lot of time personally studying not only their own sacred texts and were not comfortable putting them to a critical analysis by others, but had also not ever considered studying the assorted competing religious holy books for themselves, relying instead on their own authority figures to define and reject them.

He agreed that that was probably high on the list as well. I then expressed my own skepticism that Christians had any support for the notion that they would be outcast for their beliefs given the obvious saturation of their religious symbols and rituals across our great country, most especially here in the bible belt. We moved on without delving further into that tangent.

Here is my perspective on what I hope he learned from me (derived from some of the comments he made during the intervening discussions that still occurred during the interview):

1). I am a well read atheist who is very familiar with other religions and more than adequately informed regarding the Gospels, Christian themes, mythos (what I personally call the “Monster Manual” of Judeo-Christian-Islamic-Mormon lore), evolving religious principles and main creeds of Christianity.

2). That I am dedicated to polite and civil discussion regarding topics of atheism and religion and freedom of expression and not at all interested in being overtly malicious or offensive.

3). That we share a disbelief in the tenets and claims of other religions based on standards of logic and lack of evidence (polytheism, reincarnation, legalism, soul sleep, etc.) and that I further applied the same evenhanded standard and critical analysis we utilized on other religions to the Christian one and that I came to the same conclusion, while he did not.

4). I am open to examining the claims of religious adherents when they make claims about the real physical world and can explain how certain religious claims are intentionally framed in ways that have no quantity or quality can ever be tested, proven or falsified.

5). That I do have moral and ethical standards.

6). That I do not claim to know everything.

Somewhere during our tangents and discussions he made a stark statement that surprised me because up to this point he was so very open about his desire to learn from his experiences studying the thoughts and views of others.

He told me in no uncertain terms that no matter what, nothing could ever change his faith in Christianity even though so much of what I said “rings true”. I expressed to him that this statement seemed to reject, or at least directly contradict, the very effort we were engaging in.

I went on to explain that science was based on the notion that should new and better evidence be discovered, new theories could be derived.

My own view is that based on available empirical evidence related to claims regarding God(s)ess(es) and as a result of the critical analysis of such claims, no God(s)ess(es) actually exists. Should he be the one to provide something new and testable to support his religious claims that his deity was the one true god then I would certainly be open to taking a look at such purported evidence and, depending upon the result of the tests, be willing and open to changing my position.

In the end we had a wonderfully civil discussion without a trace of patronization or veiled insults. I honestly respect that approach and we agreed that more of this was needed from both theists and atheists in the general forums of debate and discussion.

We exchanged resources on our respective worldviews, I gave him the msatheists.org website and my personal email as a contact if follow up would be necessary and we parted ways respectfully.

It is my hope that more exchanges like this occur on both a small personal scale in casual conversation and on the larger public venues.

We should all recognize that fear, irrational responses and outright hate for others is derived from a basic lack of education incorporating all of the facts and circumstances surrounding the topic at hand.

The bottom line for atheists is that we should always strive to be informed in order to present a rational and intelligent counter to religious claims.

Anyone up for Sunday morning Qur’an study?

What is strange about Christianity?

Saint Matthew, from the 9th-century Ebbo Gospels.Image via Wikipedia

I was sitting in a recent church service on the topic of 1 Peter titled "What is strange about Christianity?" 1 Peter is littered with encouragement to act strange with regard to Christian living. Earlier this week I was sitting in a lecture at Rhodes College given by Bart Ehrman on the topic of New Testament forgeries. Ehrman revealed the reasons why 1 Peter is probably a forgery. During the lesson at church, this tidbit kept nagging me.

The preacher opened the up the question to the congregation. What is strange about Christianity? Imagine my complete lack of surprise when all of the responses were good things about Christianity: They care for the poor; they love their enemies; they are the "salt and light in the world." Not a single response thrown out by the congregation was self-critical in any way. One point the preacher made was that "we still follow an ancient text". The fact that a set of teachings is old or new does not really matter to me. I care about what is being taught. To his credit, he mentioned that his faith "rest in an empty tomb," which is strange indeed.

What is strange about Christianity? Christianity is supported by a book that says our universe is only 6000 years old, a single man lived over 900 years, God willfully killed everyone except for 8 people, snakes talked, God speaks through burning bushes, a fish swallowed a man whole then spit him back up, God made planet Earth stop revolving to prolong a battle, and God invented multiple languages because he didn't like a construction project. This is just a quick summary of the strange parts. We don't have to stop there. There are books devoted to the strange, the contradictions, the invented histories, and the down right unpleasant aspects of the Bible.

In my view, the strangest aspect of Christianity is that the earliest written accounts of Jesus' life come 40 years after the time of his death and in a language which he did not speak. Of course, the fundamentalist will say, it was the Holy Spirit who guided the writers to record their gospels. I suppose, but that only adds to the strangeness. Think of the thousands of people that benefited from the miracles that Jesus performed. Indeed, the writer of the Gospel of Matthew boasts of over nine thousand people who were feed by a miracle. Nobody thought to write this down. 9000 witnesses and not a drop of ink was spilled for at least 40 years. Strange indeed. If just 1% of those in attendance were literate and realized what they were witnessing, we should have roughly 90 independent accounts. Instead the Holy Spirit had to find a literate Greek writer to finally get this stuff on paper. To make things stranger, Jesus even comes back from the dead and appears before another 500 people and the only account of this comes from Paul (who wasn't even among the 500).

I want to turn this preacher's question over to you, since many Mississippians are either Christian, Christian and doubting, or non-believers: What is strange about Christianity?


Mississippi Gulf Coast Atheist and Freethinking Association March Meetup

The Mississippi Gulf Coast Atheist and Freethinking Association is planning their March meetup for Sunday, March 8 at 3:00 PM. The meeting will take place at Harmony Hall in Gulfport. For details, see their Meetup.com page.

Non-theist parent to be...in the Bible Belt

I got the news recently that my significant other is expecting a child that I helped make. Talk about a shock. After years of childless bliss our whole world is about to get turned upside down. But this isn't he place to talk about all the typical, or atypical, parent-to-be stuff. The issues I want to bring up are those dealing with my lack of faith and how that plays into this most important life decision. Especially here in Mississippi.

For a little background, I was raised a fundamentalist and was a born-again Christian for most of my life. Today, I have no religious belief and find faith to be a terrible way to try and make sense of the world. To put a label on it, I have no god-belief so I'm atheist, but admit one can never know for sure if some deist-type god isn't hiding out there, so I'm an "agnostic-atheist." The same way I'm agnostic about that famous invisible pink unicorn, of course. My significant other was also raised a Southern Baptist (minister's kid, in fact). Today, she's still a believer, but has left the blinders of fundamentalism behind and is a happy Anglican and member of a local Episcopalian church. Cool with me because those Whiskeypalians are pretty damn fun to hang out with.

So we've recently found out that we'll be introducing a future skeptic to the world. Talk about a whirl-wind of emotions and tsunami of plans. I have no doubt that my partner and I will be able to get through the slight disconnect of religious belief just fine. She'll take the little one to church on occasion, and I'll tell him or her about reality the rest of the time. It's the other little things that are already getting me antsy. For instance, we have had to reserve a spot at a local day care. Here's a fun activity: find a secular day care in Mississippi. Too hard? Try to find a non-fundamentalist daycare. Go ahead. I'll wait.

The best facility we've found, and all-in-all it's pretty good, is firmly god-centered. Here's their own words:
"There is no greater gift from God than our children, [blah, blah, blah]. [Blah, blah, blah,] Our philosophy is to provide social and intellectual development in an atmosphere of Christian love and support."
Problem is, I know far too many believers to not be fully aware of just what "Christian love and support" is really all about. To further complicate things, they use the absurd "A Beka" Fundie home-school curriculum for the older kids which includes young-Earth creationism nonsense among other intellectually stunting beliefs. But I don't suppose I need to worry about that with a newborn. Hopefully we'll find a better solution by the time that's a major concern.

Over the next few months I plan to post occasionally about the various unique issues regarding non-theist parents and parents-to-be here in the Bible-Belt. Maybe I can get some useful feedback from some readers and maybe it can help some others in the future. So please feel free to fire away with your questions, comments, or advice no matter where you fall on the religious or political spectrum. Stay tuned.

How to Strengthen Mississippi's Economy: Abolish Blue Laws

Map of MississippiImage via Wikipedia

Atheists who want a strong reality-based system of public education should take an interest in our state's economy. After all, Mississippi has made it clear that funding public education is a low priority and that cuts will take place each time the economy falters. Atheists should also be interested in religiously-motivated obstacles to the economy such as "blue laws" and dry counties. Several states are now considering abolishing blue laws to boost their economies. Will Mississippi follow suit, or will we once again flaunt our ignorance and the strength of our religious delusion?

Blue Laws and Dry Counties

So called "blue laws" are on the books in many states. These laws restrict certain types of business activity on Sundays out of some misguided attempt to make the day "holy." Had the fiscally conservative Republicans not sold their proverbial souls to the religious right, one would expect them to be the most vocal source of opposition to these antiquated measures. After all, blue laws do indeed restrict commerce and hurt the economic bottom line.

And the whole dry county phenomenon is an even more blatant example of this. I live in a dry county, and each time opponents of this particular law bring it for a vote, the sides are the same. Those seeking to overturn the dry county law are small business owners. They see how their inability to sell alcohol hurts their businesses. Churches, especially Southern Baptist churches, are on the other side. They are not concerned with the plight of the small business owner; they are interested in preaching about the evils of alcohol.

This has to be a fairly schizophrenic experience for many Republicans. On one hand, they see small business owners hurting over unnecessary regulation without benefit. On the other hand, the base of the party (i.e., evangelical Christians) is willing to sacrifice the business owners for a "higher purpose." I do not envy those caught in the middle.

Boosting the Economy

In case it is not already obvious, abolishing blue laws and repealing the various dry county laws would provide a significant boost to the local and state economy. Greater shopping flexibility would mean more money coming in, including additional tax revenue. Permitting small business owners to sell alcohol on their premises would make them more competitive and prevent people from simply driving to the neighboring county with their business.

The best part of this plan for benefiting the economy is that there is no downside. Since the only reasons to maintain these restrictive laws are religious, there are no losers in such a plan.

Other states are beginning to take a close look at their blue laws and consider how they affect business. I hope that dry counties will soon follow. In many areas, public attitudes among voters are changing to support abolishing these restrictions. It is too early to tell whether Mississippi is capable of crawling out from under the thumb of religious influence long enough to do so.

A Role for Mississippi Atheists

I think that we can be a force for change on these issues, but we must be careful not to alienate potential allies in the religious community. This is probably not the optimal time to make the issue one of religion. In our current economic climate, the most effective arguments will likely be those that emphasize the economic costs of doing nothing and the economic benefits of abolishing such laws. Churches will certainly use religion in their opposition, but I think we have the best chance of making an impact by keeping the focus on economics.

In addition to keeping the focus on the economic costs and benefits rather than focusing on religion, I suggest that we remember that this is about more than alcohol. I can use myself as an example here because I do not drink alcohol. I am not going to support these sorts of changes in the law because I think more people should have easier access to alcohol. Rather, I am going to support them because I think that these unnecessary restrictions harm our state economy and create undue hardship for small business owners.

For such initiatives to be effective, we will need allies who are religious as well as those who are not interested in alcohol consumption. If we can accomplish that, I'm not sure there has ever been a better chance of success.

H/T to Friendly Atheist

Gov. Barbour vs. Mississippi

Could Mississippi governor and good ole boy extraordinaire, Hailey Barbour, actually turn down federal stimulus money? Could he possibly decide that it is more important for him to score political points with an increasingly fractured GOP than to help impoverished Mississippians? And perhaps most intriguing of all, will we stand for it if this is his decision?

It is my understanding that the state legislature could overrule Barbour and accept the stimulus money if he tries to turn it down. That is reassuring, and I assume they would do so. Still, are we Mississippians willing to tolerate a governor who would knowingly harm us in this way? And for our Louisiana readers, same question.

Coming Soon: The Southern Skeptical Society

Image representing Facebook as depicted in Cru...Image via CrunchBase

Efforts are underway to create the Southern Skeptical Society, a group from Southeast Mississippi to Orlando, Florida, interested in supporting science and reason in the Southern U.S. The group is now in its infancy but trying to spread the word and stimulate interest. They are working on acquiring a web domain. In the meantime, those on facebook can find them at http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=51753147667.

Introducing Mississippi Atheists' Newest Author, Steve Schlicht

Thanks, vjack, for this great venue and for the opportunity to share my views in the open marketplace of ideas.

As a brief introduction, I am Steve Schlicht (pronounced “Schlikt”). I live, work and play in the City of Biloxi, MS. I’m married to a teacher and have three terrific children. I am also a proactive and vocal atheist involved in community service and a positive voice for educational outreach on issues such as civil liberties, secular government and other socio-political topics most often centering around atheism, humanism, ethics and the importance of an honest critical analysis of religious assertions.

For those who’ve lived a great length of time on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, my grandfather was Norbert E. Tracy (NET), the wire editor for The Daily Herald (now the Sun Herald) and my grandmother was Carmen Tracy, a beloved member of the community of Gulfport for many decades, musician, artist and all around renaissance lady. Together they had seven children who went on to become teachers, soldiers, civil and public servants each with loving families of their own. My mom worked at Keesler Air Force Base and my father was vice president of a major electronics company in California. My parents are now retired and living out west.

Most of my life was spent growing up in Mississippi where I enjoyed many childhood adventures walking the railroad tracks, watching Saturday matinees at the Paramount Theater, collecting Barq's bottles for nickels, reading and learning at the Gulfport Library, running around the friendly oaks of Jones Park and fishing from the harbor docks filled with the majestic sail boats and shrimp boats of the Sound.

I graduated from Long Beach High School (Class of ’82) and then from the University of Southern Mississippi with Honors and Dean’s List awards in the fields of Criminal Justice, Forensic Science and Business Law. I went on to become a police officer and a graduate of the Mississippi Law Enforcement Officer Training Academy (Class 155). I have been a patrol officer in both the City of Gulfport and the City of Biloxi during my 18 year career in law enforcement and am currently a criminal investigator with special training in forensic video analysis, computer forensics and hostage negotiations.

It has been my fervent hope in life that my words and experiences will not only provide better information to the general public who are so often misinformed about atheists and atheism, but will also reach out to those who are skeptical about religion and offer them a bit of basic human commonality and support in meeting the personal challenges of discussing a valid viewpoint that simply runs counter to deeply held cultural and unquestioned religious assertions.

Further, now that I have this first opportunity at msatheists.org, I do encourage even more public educational outreach by atheists of all walks of life especially in Mississippi. In this day and age of high speed internet communications and relatively inexpensive ease of use technological devices, there really is a nearly limitless opportunity to reach a wider audience with a responsible message.

It is, after all, an honest effort to be one to set the record straight about atheists and atheism in general.

In my view, we can do this by providing reasonably articulated corrections countering common mischaracterizations regarding atheists using forums here at msatheists.org, on newly generated and linked personal blogs, in local and national news outlets and by providing whatever financial support we can manage for proactive ad campaigns by groups such as the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Center For Inquiry, American Atheists, American Humanist Association and the New Orleans Secular Humanist Association among many others.

Simply put, silence implies consent and for far too long our society has been provided only one view of atheists and atheism via the bully pulpit of churches on a weekly basis.

It really is no wonder that so many people have such a low regard for folks who merely have no belief in God(s)ess(es) due to a distinct lack of evidence to support the many and varied claims regarding such purported being(s).

It is also no wonder that some atheists must decline to make the effort to set the record straight or must resort to using ambiguous language to deflect any unfounded criticism of their actual views.

While it is truly understandable that certain business owners and service providers have chosen the necessary path of anonymity, this has inadvertently led to the additional problem of allowing the public statements of religious adherents to monopolize the open airwaves defining atheists incorrectly which then successfully remain unchallenged and, by default, perpetuate.

These good atheists simply must remain silent out of a very real concern that to refute the claims of religious authority would lead to being outcast by friends, family, customers and co-workers.

With this in mind, my view is that atheists are fully justified in joining the growing number of meet up groups, blogs, letter writing campaigns, emails, community action and ad campaigns to find support, information, networking and basic human kindness and care by those who are able to come “out” and who have chosen to engage the common mischaracterizations full on, in responsible civil debate and discussion for the greater good of clarity and understanding.

Yes, I know, we’ve heard it before. This is like herding cats.

That said, I think it will continue to be a wonderful challenge to be a part of the historic cause of confident atheists past and present.

This is a sincere cause that has an ethical purpose for the greater good and that can succeed with the understanding that we are not actually striving to be a "melting pot" of conformity under a banner of “atheism”, but that we are adding ourselves to a brilliant and colorful “mosaic” of unique human personalities experiencing the wonders of life, the universe and everything…together.

Y’all take care, see you soon and keep up your great efforts.

Steve

Bart Ehrman to speak at Rhodes College this Thursday (Feb 19)

Bart Ehrman is a biblical scholar, a religion professor at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and has published 21 books on ancient religious text. His most recent book is "God's Problem", which looks at how evil is addressed differently (and conflicting) by the various writers of the Bible.

Dr. Ehrman will be speaking at Rhodes College in Memphis on the question of "Is the New Testament Forged?" The lecture is this Thursday at 4 PM in Frazer Jelke B. It is sure to be an interesting discussion. If you have read Ehrman's book "Misquoting Jesus", then you already have an idea on his take on New Testament scripture.

The Olive Branch Atheists Meetup Group has just added this to their calendar of events.

Mississippi Atheists Welcomes New Author

Beauvoir, home of Jefferson Davis, being resto...Image via Wikipedia

We may not have 1,000 Steves here at Mississippi Atheists, but we do now have one. Steve Schlicht of Biloxi, MS, has joined our team of authors. In addition to being open about his atheism, Steve is very active in the Meetup community. In fact, he has organized the Great Southern Humanist Society since 2006. Welcome, Steve! We're grateful for all you do in the community, and we're happy to have you at Mississippi Atheists.

New FFRF Signs

The Freedom From Religion Foundation has come up with a number of outstanding designs for atheist bus signs. Check out the various designs here.


I think it would be great to see some of these on buses or billboards.

Scientific Organization to Boycott Louisiana

I've just learned from a reader that the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology is boycotting the state of Louisiana and refusing to hold events in New Orleans in order to protest SB 561, Louisiana's Scientific Education Act. Good for them!

You can read their letter to Gov. Jindal here.

Understanding What is Wrong With Mississippi's HB 25

Clockwise from top-left: Loligo vulgaris (a mo...Image via Wikipedia

The following thoughts on Mississippi's latest anti-evolution bill, HB 25, were contributed by J, a Mississippian with ties to both Ocean Springs and Jackson. Since I have little doubt that HB 25 will be the last time we are forced to defend science education in our state, I remain interested in posting statements like this here so that they will be a resource the next time we must go through this. Besides, I don't think I could possibly improve on J's analysis of what is so wrong about this bill and similar efforts.

AN ACT TO REQUIRE THE STATE BOARD OF EDUCATION TO INCLUDE CERTAIN LANGUAGE EXPLAINING THAT EVOLUTION IS A THEORY IN THE INSIDE FRONT COVER OF CERTAIN PUBLIC SCHOOL TEXTBOOKS; AND FOR RELATED PURPOSES.

This bill's introduction follows the tried and failed method of attempting to obfuscate the different meanings of the word ‘theory.’
The word ‘theory’ has many meanings, including: systematically organized knowledge; abstract reasoning; a speculative idea or plan’ or a systematic statement of principles
As expected, the authors left out the definition of ‘theory’ in science. A scientific theory is an overarching explanation of a body of scientific facts and verified hypothesis capable of being tested and falsified through the hypotheses generated from it. This definition may seem a bit cumbersome for high school and middle school students. However, it is imperative that they know that a scientific theory is an explanation of verified facts. It must be differentiated from the everyday usage of ‘theory’ as an educated guess.
This textbook discusses evolution, a controversial theory some scientists present as a scientific explanation for the origin of living things.
The Theory of Evolution is not a controversial theory among scientists, as only 0.14% of all scientists in fields relevant to Evolution, earth and life sciences, do not accept evolution. The use of the phrase ‘some scientists’ is misleading in that it suggests that there is not a preponderance of scientists that accept evolution.
No one was present when life first appeared on earth.
Presence at the occurrence of an event is irrelevant and another misleading ploy, implying that if something is not directly observed, it is somehow unverifiable. Many aspects of science cannot be directly observed, such as atoms, viruses, and the Earth’s core. Either way, the Theory of Evolution does not deal with the origin of life. That would be the realm of abiogenesis.
Evolution refers to the unproven belief that random, undirected forces produced living things.
Evolution refers to the change in genetic frequency of a population of organisms over time due to mutation, reproduction, and natural selection. While a part of this may be seemingly random, such as mutation, the evolutionary process is not at all random. Its non-randomness is evidenced by natural selection. Natural selection is the mechanism whereby environmentally favorable heritable traits in an organism become more frequent in successive generations.
There are many topics with unanswered questions about the origin of life which are not mentioned in your textbook, including: the sudden appearance of the major groups of animals in the fossil record (known as the Cambrian Explosion); the lack of new major groups of other living things appearing in the fossil record;
The two bolded phrases seem to be in direct opposition. I imagine they are referring to differences in the rate of new ‘groups’ of organisms evolving over time. This is not a valid criticism of the Theory of Evolution, unless the authors are suggesting that the environment, thus natural selection, only changes at a constant rate. The evidence of ice ages and warm periods provides the evidence for invalidating this criticism.

The Cambrian Explosion was a period about 540 million years ago that lasted anywhere from 5-40 million years. A 5-40 million year period is not a short time for the evolution of organisms, as many of the more difficult complexities, such as eukaryotic cells, were overcome long before.

The statements are also misleading in that they do not give a definition for ‘major groups’ of animals. Without specifying if a ‘major group’ is a phylum, class, order, etc. the term is meaningless. All of the phyla of plants appeared after the Cambrian Explosion. The major classes of kingdom animalia, such as mammalia, reptilia, aves, and insecta did not evolve until after the Cambrian explosion.
the lack of transitional forms of major groups of plants and animals in the fossil record;
This is most assuredly false. There are numerous publications and online science websites that enumerate the thousands of transitional forms between organisms.
and the complete and complex set of instructions for building a living body possessed by all living things.
This “claim” does not make sense. For an organism to live, it must posses the necessary genetic code to build and support the various parts that make up that organism. Simple Mendelian genetics demonstrates how each organism receives a complete set of instructions from its parent organism.
Study hard and keep an open mind.
Of all the scientific theories, why exactly are our legislators singling out the Theory of Evolution? Why not point out that all of science has areas that require more study? I would imagine this is due to the dangers some people perceive the Theory of Evolution poses to their religious beliefs. Every argument calling the Theory of Evolution into question in this bill can be easily found on numerous religious websites.

By pasting a sticker that only calls into question the Theory of Evolution on the inside cover of science books we are implying to our students that every other theory or piece of information in this book is correct and does not need to be questioned. Again, everything in a science book should be approached critically, including the Theory of Evolution.

To the authors of this bill, ask yourself this question, “Why am I writing legislation that singles out the Theory of Evolution for criticism amongst all of science’s theories?” and answer honestly.


NCSE Needs Help to Defend Science Education in Mississippi

As you will see from the message below, the National Center for Science Education needs the help of Mississippians to protect science education in our state. HB 25 was probably only the first step in a series of coordinated attacks on reality-based education in our state. I am going to contact them today and make sure I'm on their mailing list.

Dear NCSE supporter,

Hello! I'm a staffer from the National Center for Science Education. I'm writing to you because you've shown considerable interest in defending good science education in the past. In the near future we will be starting an email list to discuss threats to Mississippi science education, and to help coordinate responses. We would appreciate your involvement if you have time and interest.

As you probably know, state representative Gary Chism has introduced House Bill 25, which would require Mississippi public school textbooks to carry an antievolution "disclaimer" similar to that mandated in Alabama.

House Education Committee chairman Cecil Brown has told concerned citizens that he expects the bill to die in his committee; this has been the fate of several other anti-evolution bills over the last few years. However, Rep. Chism claims to be "testing the waters" for yet another bill next year, which will support the teaching of "the strengths and weaknesses of evolutionary theory."

Moreover, Mississippi lawmakers this winter have introduced no less than four identical copies of the "Religious Viewpoints Antidiscrimination Act" (such as HB 159 and SB 2054) in each chamber of the legislature.

These bills do not specifically target evolution or science education, but are likely to make it more difficult to evaluate the academic work ofstudents who plead religious motivations.

Similar bills in other states have attracted concern from science teachers' organizations. In this legislative climate, the House Education Committee may find it more difficult to guard against attacks on good science education.

If you would like to be on our mailing list, please let me know. And if you intend to write or speak in defense of teaching evolution, we would be happy to assist you in any way we can.

--
Anton Mates
Public Information Project, National Center for Science Education 420 40th
St. #2 Oakland, CA 94709-2509
510-601-7203
www.ncseweb.org


Picture of Atheist Ad on New Orleans Street Car

We now have a picture of the street car ad the New Orleans Secular Humanist Association is running. I think it is one of the better atheist ads I've seen.



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We're Number 1!

376439750_9b1f2e5969_mImage by vjack via Flickr

As an atheist living in Mississippi, you've long suspected it. Now you have proof. Our state really is #1. Mississippi is the most religious state in the U.S. According to a recent Gallup survey, when asked about the importance of religion in one's daily life, Mississippi came out on top, beating all other states. Take that, Alabama!

This survey tells me that our goal of providing information and resources for atheists in Mississippi is vital. Atheists in our state are not just surrounded by Christians, we are surrounded by the sort of Christians which are rare in some parts of the U.S., those who take their delusion quite seriously indeed.

H/Ts to Friendly Atheist and Unscrewing the Inscrutable