Friday, November 30, 2007

Now I'm Not Sure I Want to Live Here

I'm currently moving to my new place of residence in El Paso, Texas. It seemed all nice and good until I stumbled across the disturbing news that the director of science curriculum for the Texas Education Agency, Chris Comer, has been forced to resign because she forwarded an email annoucing a speech by Barbara Forrest, who is a philosopher of science and traces ID's connections to creationism.

Why was it so terrible to announce a speech by a reknowned scientist? Because a Baby Jesus lover who is offended by reality is the Chair of the State Board of Education. Dr. Don McLeroy is a well known advocate of Creationism and ID, and in September he put in place a policy where the TEA must remain neutral on evolution and ID. Obviously part of the new effort to quietly diminish evolution since creationists have been unable to force it out overtly.

Now, what was the offending email that cost Comer her job? Here's a copy of it (from The Austringer):


To: Glenn Branch
From: Glenn Branch
Subject: Barbara Forrest in Austin 11/2
Bcc: [redacted]

Dear Austin-area friends of NCSE,

I thought that you might like to know that Barbara Forrest will be speaking
on “Inside Creationism’s Trojan Horse” in Austin on November 2, 2007. Her
talk, sponsored by the Center for Inquiry Austin, begins at 7:00 p.m. in
the Monarch Event Center, Suite 3100, 6406 North IH-35 in Austin. The cost
is $6; free to friends of the Center.

In her talk, Forrest will provide a detailed report on her expert testimony
in the Kitzmiller v. Dover School Board trial as well as an overview of the
history of the “intelligent design” movement. Forrest is a Professor of
Philosophy in the Department of History and Political Science at
Southeastern Louisiana University; she is also a member of NCSE’s board of

For further details, visit:

Glenn Branch
Deputy Director
National Center for Science Education, Inc.
420 40th Street, Suite 2
Oakland, CA 94609-2509
510-601-7203 x305
fax: 510-601-7204

Not in Our Classrooms: Why Intelligent Design Is Wrong for Our Schools

Eugenie C. Scott’s Evolution vs. Creationism

NCSE’s work is supported by its members. Join today!


Hmm...I don't know if that warrants a firing. Tell me if I'm wrong.

I wonder if Ben Stein's new movie, Expelled, will talk about his. After all, this woman actually lost her job, unlike the Creationist hacks featured in the movie who simply couldn't get their papers published because they didn't have anything scientific in them. But I doubt it. Ben Stein is blinded by religion too, and the fact that supporters of evolution are having it worse wouldn't work to well in Stein's tale of Intelligent Design persecution.

What's worse is the TEA's proposed facilitator. (Sounds almost like a comic book villian, doesn't it...The Facilitator)

The State Board of Education (SBOE) has a proposal before it to hire a "facilitator" or "standards writing consultant" to write the standards document after workgroup members consisting of master teachers and university professors have initially written the initial standards document and after additional university professor experts review that standards document. One wonders why the initial writing and review are necessary when the facilitator will have complete freedom to write whatever he or she wants at the conclusion of the process.

One does wonder. Perhaps it's a way to put something in place that none of those experts would approve of? What's the point of even having all those experts? You might as well fire all of them too and just have a Bible to consult instead. After all, it has all the knowledge one really needs, right?

Anyway, we'll see what happens, but I certainly plan of living far from here before I have any kids.

For more information, read this report on the firing and information on the facilitator, both from the Texas Citizens for Science.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

This Guy Is Great

Sometimes it's just nice to hear unrestrained rants against religion. One of my favorite sources is Pat Condell's series of videos on YouTube. Here's a sample:

I love this guy, and I see nothing disrespectful in being truthful. The fact remains that most religions are simply interpretations of antiquated stories that don't tell us anything useful beyond providing a window on the culture that wrote them. No one should feel hesitant about pointing that fact out.

Anyway, Condell has a whole bunch of videos on YouTube, and I encourage you to check them out.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Planet Atheism

Like my old blog, The Iron Chariot is now a member of Planet Atheism. If you've never heard of it, Planet Atheism collects the recent posts from several contributing atheist blogs and reposts them in one easy to find location. So if you're a big fan of rationality and free thinking, I suggest out check it out.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

The Golden Compass Controversy

It hasn’t received much attention in the media, but religious groups are raising a stink over the upcoming fantasy film The Golden Compass. The complaints aren’t with the movie itself, but with the fact that it might lead children to read the book the movie is based upon. What’s wrong with the book, you ask? It’s written by Phillip Pullman, a well-known atheist, and the book expresses a number of anti-religious views. These themes have been mostly watered down for the film, but that hasn’t stopped the Catholic league from launching a crusade against the film. On their website, they state:

The Catholic League wants Christians to stay away from this movie precisely because it knows that the film is bait for the books: unsuspecting parents who take their children to see the movie may be impelled to buy the three books as a Christmas present. And no parent who wants to bring their children up in the faith will want any part of these books.

First, I just want to say that censorship is the worst possible way to deal with criticism. Often, criticism addresses a legitimate concern. If people simply ignore that criticism, the problem will continue unabated. Furthermore, criticism can be the result of a misunderstanding that can never be corrected if the criticized side refuses to take part in any dialogue. Unfortunately, refusal to hear criticism is an essential part of religion, so it’s not unexpected.

Second, what’s the problem with “selling atheism to children”, as Bill Donahue, head of the Catholic League, put it? Donahue obviously has no qualms about promoting theism to children and criticizing atheists. If Donahue’s faith is so weak that he believes a fantasy story will destroy the next generation’s belief, maybe he needs a stronger worldview.

I say, let the criticisms be out there. I don’t mind the religious being critical of atheists. In fact, I encourage it because it leads to fruitful discussions, which allows me to better define my positions and rethink my conclusions on different issues. Nothing is above critique. It’d be nice if the believers would be as open. Of course, I’m not going to hold my breath on that one. To perpetuate itself, religion must be rigid, lest reason and logic reveal the kinks in the armor.

As for The Golden Compass, I doubt it will be much of a success with the knowledge of its atheistic origins in the public awareness. I was in Barnes and Noble last week when a woman in front of me tried to return the book saying, “It was written by an atheist who hates God.” Considering this country is mostly Christian, I’m sure there’s a large body of people out there just like her who will refuse to see the film. Even atheists are upset over the producers watering down the book’s original themes. While the success of the movie itself doesn’t matter to me, I do worry that it will set an unfortunate precedent. If it flops, it could be a long time before we see another movie with godless themes. Film studios would not want the financial risk when making something like The Passion of the Christ is a guaranteed money maker. But only time will tell.

DefCon Shuts Down

This morning I just recieved the unfortunate news that one of my favorite organizations, The Campaign to Defend the Constitution, is shutting down due to a lack of funding.

DefCon provided an essential service, raising public awareness of the Religious Right's efforts to subvert the Constitution. It was especially important when the Republican Party was at the height of its power before the 2006 elections.

Even though we've found a bit of relief from those frightening days, the Religious Right is certainly not going away. The pendulum will eventually swing the other way again, and we will need organizations like DefCon to do what they did.

Luckily, there are still a number of organizations keeping up the good fight including Americans United for the Separation of Church and State (Americans United, for short) and the Secular Coalition for America. There are others out there, but those are the major ones fighting for our essential freedom of and from religion.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Obsess Much?

Kieran Healy from Out of a Crooked Timber has brought to light an amusing, yet extremely telling set of statistics from Conservapedia.

If you don't know what it is, Conservapedia was created as a counter to Wikipedia, because of Wikipedia's supposed "liberal bias". I think it just goes to show that Stephen Colbert wasn't too far off when he said, "Reality has a well-known liberal bias." So to fix this, a group of conservatives decided to create an online encyclopedia with their mythical version of reality.

Anyway, if you go to Conservapedia's Statistics page, you'll find the following:

I hate to make generalizations, but it seems obvious that the subject of homosexuality is an obsession for many conservatives. Of all the legitimate problems in this country conservatives could focus their efforts towards, they choose the non issue of homosexuality because they seriously believe that if homsexuals get married, it will somehow destroy everyone else's marriage. It makes no sense. It should be obvious that a marriage is solely dependent on the relationship between the two people involved. It doesn't matter what happens between other people you will never meet.

Unfortunately, I think it's just a symptom of a greater problem. Americans are deathly afraid of the wrong things and politicians are able to use this to their advantage. For example, terrorism is a threat, but Republicans act like it is the greatest existential threat our country has ever faced. I'm sorry but jihadists will never be able to destroy this country. They simply don't have the means. The only enemy that ever had that capability was the Soviet Union, and it's gone now. In the same way, Conservative Christians are terrified of the prospect of homosexual marriage for irrational, religious reasons, and Republicans use it to their advantage, which only reinforces the problem.
I say, let the gays get married and let's focus on something that is actually hurting the country. We'll all be a lot better off for it.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Getting Caught Up

Just got back from a few days in the woods. Once I get caught up with the news, I'll find something to rant about.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The Out Campaign


I know I'm way behind on this due to my hiatus from blogging, but for anyone who doesn't know, The Out Campaign is an idea from Richard Dawkins to provide a way for atheists to make their beliefs (or lack thereof) known by publically displaying a scarlet "A". Dawkins hopes to model it on the gay rights movement, which encouraged homosexuals to make their orientation known so they could stand up for their rights. In much the same way, the Out Campaign encourages athiests to "come out" and see that they are not alone in the world. In this way, we can better interact, organize, and stand up for our freedoms.

While I may not wear the t-shirt (the A is just a little too big), I fully support the ideals of the campaign and will proudly display its logo on this blog's sidebar. No athiest should be afraid to share his or her views of the world. Theists do it everyday without thinking. Why shouldn't we?

In the end, it's my hope that efforts such as this will cause the public to view those who blame atheism for the nation's woes no differently than those who would blame it on specific creeds or ethnic groups. This is a free nation. We shouldn't have to censor our basic view of life.

Read more about the campaign here.

Georgia Governor Resorts to Talking to Himself to End Drought

Even though there's not much one can do to end a drought except wait, I find it amusing that Governor Sonny Perdue of Georgia is holding a public prayer vigil at the statehouse, promising to "pray up a storm."

Unfortunately for Georgians, even Governor Perdue seems unsure of the effectiveness of his actions:

[Perdue] said God may still answer the prayers with rain tomorrow or next week.

It's good to see God came into Perdue's heart and gave him a nice accurate date to expect rain.

Of course, where being vague won't cover all your bases, Rev. Gil Watson of United Methodist Church, who led the prayer vigil, said:

"We have not been good stewards of our land. We have not been good stewards of our water. Lord, have mercy on your people, have mercy on us and grant us rain. Oh God, let rain fall on this land of Georgia."

Nice. Even if God doesn't provide what we ask, it can't be his fault. It must be the fault of us poor, wicked sinners who should feel nothing but shame for the crime of merely existing.

This is where I have to tip my hat to the simple genius of the world's major religions. If things go right, the faithful give credit to God. If things go wrong, it must be the people who messed up since God is perfect. With logic like that, no wonder it has such an easy time perpetuating itself amongst those who refuse to question it.

Happily, the article ended with the predictions of those I'm more inclined to believe:

The National Weather Service said some light rain is possible later this week, although not enough to break the drought.

You can find the complete article at NewsDaily.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial

I just finished watching PBS' documentary on the Kitzmiller v. Dover School Board trial titled Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial (visit the documentary's website here), and I must say, it was a stellar defense of rational thought.

Not only did the documentary lay out the events of the trial, but it attacked and refuted the essential arguments of ID including irreducible complexity and the "just a theory" claim. Furthermore, it featured Barbara Forrest who brought the "Wedge Document" to light, showing the undeniably religious nature of ID, which I fear few Americans know about. Even speaking with just a few of my friends, I always seem to find that no one understands that ID is the antithesis to evolution and that the two are not in any way complimentary. One is science, the other wants to us take back to a pre-Enlightenment understanding of the universe.

Anyway, a nice touch was how the documentary presented the ID arguments from the mouths of its supporters. Then after letting them have their say, it presented the best scientific opinions on the matter from real scientists. Needless to say, it wasn't terribly flattering to the ID cause since the entire ID movement is political and religious rather than scientific. In fact, it made the IDists look positively silly.

I loved the little bit at the end when the ID supporters painted themselves as the poor victims of persecution for their beliefs. Then Bill Buckingham (the former school board member who pushed for creationism in the first place) came off looking like a jackass, especially when he resorted to ad hominem attacks of Judge Jones and displayed his ignorance of the US Constitution. All I have to say to them is: if you want your kids to stay ignorant, homeschool them and stop using well-funded propaganda organizations to push your ideology on the rest of us at the same time. Scientists don't have enough funding to make your safe, comfortable lives possible while fighting your willfil ignorance.

Though I doubt many Americans will see this documentary since it's on PBS, at least it says what needs to be said.

To you PBS, I say bravo.

Religion Does Not Make Someone a Better Person

From time to time, I will place some of my better posts from my old blog here. This is one of those times:

The claim I always have to shake my head at is the idea that religion will make someone a better human being since it provides something a person would not otherwise have. However, is there any real validity to this claim? Let’s look at a little evidence and use a little logic, shall we?

Without a doubt, nearly all religious people are good, moral people. It’s silly to claim otherwise. However, I’d argue that most people are naturally good to start with. Can we really attribute religion to that person being good? All people have a natural sense of empathy. It’s what makes us feel bad when a person is harmed or what makes us feel guilty when we do something that harms another. It seems more like religion is the way humans try to codify that sense of empathy. Plus, the existence of empathy is easy to see even before the development of the Ten Commandments. In the older Code of Hammurabi, one can find the same general rules that basically direct people not to harm one another. At least as long as there’s been civilization, humans have felt empathy towards one another. The next question becomes: could we have developed empathy without a higher power?

One can easily see why evolution would favor humans who help others within their own social groups. Besides our cognitive abilities, humans excel at few things. We can’t run fast. We don’t have any natural defenses. We dehydrate quickly. Our brain requires a vast amount of energy to operate. Our young are helpless for more than a year after birth. There seems to be no reason for us to have survived until one adds empathy to the equation. Since empathy makes people feel good about alleviating suffering in others, it makes people want to work together because it lessens suffering throughout the society. Working together, humans can acquire more resources than loners, and empathetic individuals care for the sick and wounded, making it more likely empathetic humans will live long enough to reproduce. Loners would not have these benefits. We can see it today. People who lack a sense of empathy, rapists, murderers, etc., are quickly shunned from society, preventing them from gaining the benefits of society. Therefore, it’s not a huge stretch of the imagination to see why surviving humans would naturally develop a sense of empathy. Plus, we can see the same behavior in chimpanzees, so it’s not a trait unique to humans.

Now, if religion is just how people codify empathy, then what’s the problem? The problem is that religion can also remove the sense of empathy one feels towards a different group of human beings. Every religion proclaims its believers are the only people that matter and nonbelievers are to be despised. This removes the sense of empathy a group of religious people would otherwise feel towards nonbelievers. This dehumanization then allows the believers to maim, torture, kill, and otherwise harm other humans with no sense of remorse. Plus, it makes the believers feel good because they believe they have helped others within their social group. Just look at the historical example of the Inquisition. Inquisitors happily killed heretics because they felt they were helping society by removing the destructive influence of sin. This willingness to kill in the name of religion is just an unfortunate side effect of our ability to be selective with our empathy.

Of course, religion isn’t the only societal construct to do this. Racism and the efforts of Social Darwinism do the same things. However, most modern people can agree that adherence to racism and Social Darwinism is harmful to those who suffer from it. Why should religion be any different? It needlessly categorizes people along lines that would otherwise not exist.

In the end, most people will be good because we’ve evolved that way. It’s what allows us to survive in a dangerous world. Unfortunately, our sense of empathy only extends to humans within our perceived societal group. Religion inadvertently exploits this shortcoming, making it easer for religious people to discriminate those of a different faith. In the end, it’s an extra rift that simply doesn’t need to be there and doesn’t add anything substantial to our sense of morality. We don't need fear of a giant, invisible man in the sky to be good people.

Why "The Iron Chariot"?

The name for this blog comes from a passage in the Old Testament of the Bible:

And the LORD was with Judah; and he drave out the inhabitants of the mountain; but could not drive out the inhabitants of the valley, because they had chariots of iron.

- Judges 1:19

If God is omnipotent, then why should iron chariots, of all things, be a problem?

Since this blog is an argument against the existence of any gods, I feel there is no better literary device to represent this blog than the iron chariots God found impossible to defeat. So I ride my Iron Chariot of Reason against the theistic hordes...


Hello, and welcome to The Iron Chariot. For those of you who were readers of my old blog, Lord J-Bar for Democracy, Not Theocracy, you can expect more of the same. For those of you who are new, let me tell you a little bit about myself:

First and foremost, I am an atheist. I have found religion to be a rather superfluous exercise and a waste of time and money that could be better spent on things that actually help people. I'll be sure to give you the reasons as time goes on, but, for now, just know that I have not come to my current worldview lightly. I agree with the late Carl Sagan in that, "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence." Considering that the God hypothesis is an extremely extraordinary claim, I am disinclined to believe until the theists have more than a mere ancient book and a few anecdotes to back up their claims.

Besides, I have found the intellectual freedom that comes from atheism to be far greater than any wishful thinking that might come from religion. It allows one to truly contemplate the nature of the universe without the blinders of religion and better understand why the universe is the way it is.

Finally, I worry that the recent religious upswelling in this country poses a significant threat to our way of life. I'm concerned with how the conservative, Religious Right wants to destroy many of our essential civil rights to recreate a historical era of Christian values that never actually existed. As far as I'm concerned, the only way to provide freedom for all this nation's citizens is to ensure the government will not impose any sort of religious dogma upon them. It is unfortunate that atheists seem to be the most vocal group on this critical endeavor, but I am proud to be a part of it and wouldn't have it any other way.

As for my credentials, I have a bachelor's degree in military history from the US Military Academy with a focus on ancient and medieval warfare. Beyond that, I have done as much as I can to further educate myself on historial and scientific issues. I certainly don't know as much as I would like--and never will--but I strive to learn more everyday, and I'm more happy to hear new ideas and views on every issue.

In short, here you'll find rational arguments to support science and pleas to maintain the US Constitution as the secular document the Founding Fathers intended it to be. I may even groan a bit over the intolerances of fundamental religion. Anyway, you may disagree with everything I have to say, but I hope you at least learn something....