Monthly Archives: August 2011

A Dose of Perspective on Hurricane Irene

Hurricane Irene is slowly plowing her way up the eastern seaboard of the US, drawing inexorably closer to where I live. But by the time she gets here, she’ll be little more than a tropical storm (if that). Earlier in the week, they were predicting that she’d still be a Category 2 by the time she got here. I’ve been complaining on Facebook about how boring things were going to be; I’ve kind of got a thing for big storms.

After reading this post from Hank Fox (author of Red Neck, Blue Collar, Atheist, which I highly recommend), I won’t be doing that anymore. Because I realized that the fact that I’ll be having a boring weekend is largely a result of me being lucky enough to be born anywhere other than in a Caribbean nation.

So I’ll take whatever I get, but I’ll also try to do what I can to help out the folks down in the Caribbean who’ve been hit pretty hard by this. I’ll also continue to be grateful to the scientists who gave us the technology to predict these sorts of things and track where they’re going.

Hank said it better:

All of this is really to make this one point: That here in this era of science (which I maintain is really only about 300 years old), we get to see the storm coming. Days, even weeks in advance, and from thousands of miles away. We can prepare, depart, or just sit tight and amuse ourselves with the approaching spectacle.

By contrast, in the era of religion, the previous tens of thousands of years, you got to see a storm when it hit your horizon, mere hours ahead of time, and you could flee at the speed of a human walk or — if you were rich enough — a horse’s trot.

Religion: Impotent. Lame. Late. Worse, as far as understanding the real world, religion not only fails to deliver the light for seeing things clearly, and at a distance, it blinds its followers from seeing what really is there. (Evangelist Pat Robertson said the recent Virginia earthquake is a sign of the end times, and Glenn Beck sees both the earthquake and the hurricane as a message from God.)

Science: As fertile as a thoroughbred stallion, it spawns stunning technology, useful information, world-spanning power to make change (admittedly not always a fantastically good thing), and, in this case, time to take shelter from the storm.

THIS is how lucky we are: We have science in our lives now. Instead of just religion.

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Am I smarter as an atheist than I was as a Christian?

Reader Alex recently asked a question in a comment on an older post:

Hi Mike, I’m sorry for my hard words, but there is no other way to tell it. I just read what you say in “About Me”. The very important question that you should pose to yourself some day, when you feel strong, is the following: Considering that just very recently I was stupid enough to be fundamentalist Christian, how can I be now so sure that being an Atheist is very intelligent?

In other words, if I was so wrong before, how can I know I’m right now? It’s a perfectly fair question, and it’s one I’ve asked myself several times. And there are several reasons I think I’m smarter now.

Continue reading

Free will is no excuse.

Today I saw a video that disturbed, depressed, and angered me. It’s a clip showing starving, shriveled, polio-crippled children in Somalia who have been abandoned to die. It’s just as bad as it sounds.

If you really want to see it, go here. (Warning: that site has some very NSFW ads.) But be prepared to cry.

It’s a great example of the problem of evil. The problem of evil is familiar to most people, and can generally be summed up as “why does God allow bad things to happen?” Of course, so far as I can tell, there’s no god to blame. Bad things happen either because of nature of because of the actions of other living things (especially people). In this case, it’s a complicated geopolitical problem involving the failure of food aid programs, the lack of a functioning government, the greed of regional warlords, and so on. It’s a situation that desperately needs to be resolved, but we typically feel helpless to resolve it because there’s little any individual person can do other than call attention to it.

Anyway, back to the problem of evil. Continue reading