Thursday, April 30, 2009

Rethinking the Republican party

The Republican party has announced a new effort to rebrand its image: Boston Globe Article

Starting today, the National Council for a New America will begin work to resurrect the Republican image and recapture its viability as a national political party.The Republican party must do two things to appeal to a broader base than it currently reaches.

First, it must divorce itself from the religious right. Forcing religious dogma into public policy will not work in a pluralistic society. The religious fundamentalists have far too much influence in the Republican party as it stands now. We are becoming more diverse as a nation, and need a secular framework for our government.

Second, the party must demonstrate that it can return to its much-ballyhooed principle of financial conservatism. Record deficits and out-of-control spending have been the norm for the past few Republican administrations. Republicans must propose an approach to budgeting that will cut spending to their own sacred cows (i.e. corporate welfare), recommend a tax structure that does not alienate the poor in favor of the wealthy, and pay down the massive debt that is accruing at our children's expense. The Republicans will have to implement improved fiscal policies at the state and local levels to convince skeptics that their revitalized apprach is serious.

These two changes - a secular approach to government and a return to fiscal responsiblity - would result in an appealing platform for a large number of Independents, Libertarians, and moderate Democrats. I don't think they'd lose much of their base, though a fringe Christian party could emerge. The potential gains in the middle far outweigh the losses on the periphery.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Dangers of Woo

Antivaccinationists scare the hell out of me because people with no understanding of science will listen to their gibberish and believe it. I've had a negative view of pseudoscience for a long time, but it's only snice becoming a parent that I've really come to grips with the scope of the horrors that lurk among the scientific illiterati.

Our herd immunity is compromised when there are groups of unvaccinated individuals. Kids are now dying from measles and whooping cough because parents aren't vaccinating their kids. Antivaccinationists are scaring people into preventing their own children from getting sick, and many are dying from preventable illnesses.

Autism isn't caused by vaccines. This myth has been debunked in study after study. We've spent millions to combat an alleged connection that has never been shown to exist. Yet windbag celebrities like Jenny McCarthy and Jim Carrey, neither of whom has the slightest idea of how science works, go on national television and claim that there is a link between vaccines and autism. Whether or not they've got good intentions, they are wrong about the science and are endangering people's lives.

Peddlers of woo are not only scientific illiterates, but they are a danger to society.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

How I became an Atheist

Time to change my blog to something I'll be more likely to maintain. My interests as a skeptic, secular humanist, and atheist will be the primary topics.

I'll start by describing my deconversion from fundamental Christianity. This isn't my argument against faith, but is a story of my own personal journey to enlightenment.

My upbringing was notably devoid of religious instruction. My parents were Believers in a general sense, but not practitioners of any faith. It wasn't until I was in high school that I developed any interest in religion. I joined a Christian church after attending with some friends for a while. Within a few months I was an energetic Bible-toting true believer. My entire life seemed to revolve around my faith during that time.

While I was in college, my Shakespeare professor assigned us to read a book of the "Old Testament" in the King James translation. The reason was simply to compare the linguistic conventions between Shakespeare and the King James Bible.

Not having read much of the OT, I chose to read the book of Numbers. What I found there shook my faith and made it crumble. I could not believe the acts of cruelty, blood lust, and absolute evil that Moses exhibited, and God apparently approved.

In Numbers Chapter 31, Moses' army, under God's direction, destroys the Midianites. The army slaughters all of the adult males, and then captures the women and children. When Moses discovers that his soldiers left the women and children alive, he bellows: "Have you saved all the women alive? Kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him. But all the women children, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves." Num 31:17-18.

So Moses' army went back and killed all of the little boys in this city, along with their mothers. An exception was made for the young virgin girls, who were kept by the soldiers. The not-so-subtly implied prurience here is horrific beyond belief.

There is more indiscriminate killing throughout Numbers, but reading this specific passage enraged my sense of justice and destroyed forever in my mind the image of a loving God. Any God who would do such evil is not worthy of reverence. Those who would willingly follow such a God exhibit a shocking moral deficit.

My commitment to Christianity began crumbling then, accelerated by ongoing critical analysis of the Bible, a formal education in history, mythology and science, and an application of my natural skeptical worldview into religious matters.

I soon dispensed with the notion of the literal truth of the Bible, so my days as a Christian were numbered. I considered myself a deist for a long time, believing that perhaps there may have been a god at some point, but such a god didn't have any direct contact with our culture now. I don't think there's much of a difference between deism (like that of Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Paine) and atheism; both contend that no supernatural being directly interacts with human society or the natural world around us.

When the "new atheism" began to gain some traction a few years ago, it was like a breath of fresh air. Embracing a skeptical, rational approach to truth is a liberating way to dispel unsubstantiated claims of paranormal, superstitious, and pseudoscientific charlatans.