Thoughts on “Hug an Atheist Day”

My wife keeps track of weird days and today is “Hug an atheist day” (one of many days). Now I know why she chose this one to post, but never mind that.

I haven’t been shy about saying that I am a non-believer and I’ll present some reasons below. And no, I am not going to get into classical definitions (e. g. atheism/theism is about “belief”, agnosticism/gnosticism is about knowledge, so technically I am an “agnostic atheist” as I do not accept traditional human beliefs about deities (the ones that I’ve heard of) but remain agnostic because it is possible that there might be some grand conception that I am unaware of ..or lack the intellect to comprehend ..perhaps some sentient beings elsewhere in the universe “get it right”.

But in public, I leave off the “agnostic” part as when many hear that, they think that I haven’t made up my mind about Jesus or the Abrahamic deity.
So Dear Reader, rest assured that I am painfully aware of my intellectual limitations. But when it comes to the deities most commonly worshiped in our society, I am not buying it and I refuse to lie. 🙂

So, what is with my belief?

1. Atheism is compatible with naturalism. Example: the other day, we noticed that when we washed clothes, a puddle of water would appear on the floor of the washer/dryer room. Of course, I didn’t assume that there was some devil, angel, or pixie putting the water there; I assumed that there was a physical cause! Sure enough: one joint in our washer drain had corroded and leaked; I found it by running the washer through a “rinse/spin cycle” and observing (with a pan under the joint that I suspected, given the water marks on the pipe. See how that works? Well, I just extend that principle a bit further.

What about larger issues? Well, many have claimed isolated miracles. But remember that any medical prognosis is really a stochastic forecast; after all, even 1 percent of people survive stage 5 inoperable pancreatic cancer. That is not evidence of divine intervention.

Oh, I love sports and see athletes give thanks to their deities all of the time. But I also note that every single one of these has all of the physical characteristics that one would expect of someone who is good at that sport. Now if I walk out on the field and perform at the level of those athletes (e. g. hit major league pitching, dunk a basketball, or successfully block and NFL lineman) THEN you can talk about divine intervention.

Now it is true that some concepts of deity can include naturalism; example: deism, or perhaps their deity has already met their “ration of miracles” some time ago. But such deities really do not interest me. I quote Mano Singham (a physicist at Case Western) here:

What atheists like me say to religious believers is simply the following: If the existence of your god has empirical consequences, then provide empirical evidence that supports your contention. If it has no empirical consequences whatsoever, then say so and we will not interfere with your theological and philosophical ruminations because we do not really care to speculate on the properties of what we consider to be a mythical entity.

2. Atheism is mentally healthier for me. Why? Well for one, if I thought there was some deity that could grant me favors IN THIS LIFE for being obedient enough, well, why aren’t I as smart as Steven Hawking was and why don’t I have an Olympic athlete’s athletic ability? I so related to the envious and jealous Salieri character in Amadeus (who was nothing like the real life composer, save being very good at music) who was just livid that his deity didn’t give him what he REALLY WANTED.

And if something bad happens to me…well, why shouldn’t it? I am not “owed” anything by Providence. It is unrealistic to expect the universe to make exceptions for me.

3. Atheism makes sense on philosophical grounds, at least to me. Why? Well, everything I’ve read about science shows that my location, my country, my planet, my solar system, and my galaxy are really unexceptional.

Do I really believe that we (as in humans) are that special? Why would I do that? To me, it is far more likely that early humans struggled to understand what they saw and deities is something that they conjured up.

Now I can understand why some might not want to talk about it; there is quite a bit of anti-atheist prejudice out there. But in my circle (academic, math/science) atheism is very common and “believers” tend to be those who don’t put a lot of stock in miracles and supernatural things.

And yes, I can understand how religious practices can help someone. A church gives one a community to socialize with and that has some measurable benefits. Many times, religious people get together and do good things (e. g. feeding the hungry, providing clothing, etc.) And as someone else told me: “a church is one of the few places where someone challenges you to be a better, more compassionate person”.

Private religious practice can help too. Prayer and meditation can calm the mind. Here is a summary. I happen to be a fan of yoga (at least yoga poses) as such poses really keep me physically more limber, makes my back feel better, and can leave me relaxed.

So, I am really not hostile to religion, though I understand that there ARE toxic forms which, all too often, leads people to do truly dreadful things. And it should NEVER be forced on anyone.

Please note what I did not say.

I am not an atheist because the Bible contains hilarious nonsense (example, example), is inconsistent (the way it was written, how could it NOT be?) or because it contains truly horrible things done at the bequest of its deity.
The reason I do not have this as a reason is that while the Bible makes one deity look ridiculous, there are other conceptions of deity.

I am not an atheist because of “evil in the world”. Who says that a deity has to coddle humans?

I am not an atheist because some believers are horrible people. After all, Nazi Germany had some smart scientists who were truly horrible people. The truth of a proposition is independent of the morality of those who accept it or reject it.

I am not an atheist because I am “defiant”. Defiant of what, exactly? When it comes to secular law, I am reasonably law abiding; society tends to work better that way (though I respect those who broke evil laws, such as those that established racism)

I am not an atheist because I want to smoke, drink, drug and be sexually loose. My personal habits are reasonably conservative. I do not smoke, do not drink (though I happily serve alcohol to guests that do), do not do drugs (though I am pro legalization) and, as far as sex, I am a 58 year old man with the usual physical limitations. My sexual ethics are really just basic human ethics: be honest and trustworthy, and don’t view humans solely in terms of what they can do for you or give to you.

I am an atheist because that is what makes the most sense to me, given the data that I’ve seen. That’s really it.

Workout notes usual weights (pull ups went very well; usual 5 sets of 10), no bench, but incline 10 x 135, 7 x 150, decline 7 x 170, military: 10 x 50, 10 x 45, 10 x 50 (dumbbell, standing), I just didn’t have the attitude to attack 55’s while seated; rows 10 x 200 (Hammer, 3 sets), usual abs, planks sucked again. (they ALWAYS do). 3 mile walk outside; saw the lovely Cassie.

June 1, 2018 Posted by | atheism, religion, social/political, walking, weight training | Leave a comment

Death of Expertise (really not that new)

This is an interesting article:

How conversation became exhausting
Critics might dismiss all this by saying that everyone has a right to participate in the public sphere. That’s true. But every discussion must take place within limits and above a certain baseline of competence. And competence is sorely lacking in the public arena. People with strong views on going to war in other countries can barely find their own nation on a map; people who want to punish Congress for this or that law can’t name their own member of the House.

None of this ignorance stops people from arguing as though they are research scientists. Tackle a complex policy issue with a layman today, and you will get snippy and sophistic demands to show ever increasing amounts of “proof” or “evidence” for your case, even though the ordinary interlocutor in such debates isn’t really equipped to decide what constitutes “evidence” or to know it when it’s presented. The use of evidence is a specialized form of knowledge that takes a long time to learn, which is why articles and books are subjected to “peer review” and not to “everyone review,” but don’t tell that to someone hectoring you about the how things really work in Moscow or Beijing or Washington.

This subverts any real hope of a conversation, because it is simply exhausting — at least speaking from my perspective as the policy expert in most of these discussions — to have to start from the very beginning of every argument and establish the merest baseline of knowledge, and then constantly to have to negotiate the rules of logical argument.

I see this all of the time on social media. No, I am NOT talking about “only conservatives” but also fellow liberals. Take any issue: sexual violence statistics, safety of GMO foods vs “organic” foods, who is ahead in a primary election (really), creationism, vaccinations, you name it.

Ok, yes, you might accurately point out that *I* am not an expert in these fields. But I know that I am not and so I DO turn to the experts. Yes, sometimes there is genuine debate within the expert community (degree of certain problems in climate change, the mechanisms of evolution, supply side vs. demand side economics, etc.) and all I can do is say “this makes sense to me”.

As far as math: I make it a point to not discuss mathematics “in public” (though I do have a blog aimed at other college teachers). It is simply too exhausting to do.

And yes, some students have gotten caught up in this too:

Universities, without doubt, have to own some of this mess. The idea of telling students that professors run the show and know better than they do strikes many students as something like uppity lip from the help, and so many profs don’t do it. (One of the greatest teachers I ever had, James Schall, once wrote many years ago that “students have obligations to teachers,” including “trust, docility, effort, and thinking,” an assertion that would produce howls of outrage from the entitled generations roaming campuses today.) As a result, many academic departments are boutiques, in which the professors are expected to be something like intellectual valets. This produces nothing but a delusion of intellectual adequacy in children who should be instructed, not catered to.

Sorry, but regardless of what some educators will tell you, the students aren’t going to “discover calculus on their own” (calculus was developed by some exceptionally intelligent people). And no, your undergraduates (or the vast, vast, vast majority of them anyway) will NOT be doing “cutting edge research” while undergraduates. Fact: at a typical 9-12 hour teaching load institution, your FACULTY won’t be doing such research either. Being a genuine “cutting edge” researcher is a 24/7 job.

And what might be worse: some who have never become experts at anything don’t know what expert knowledge is. And those who are: well, some think that being really good at, say, law, means that their opinions on, say, biology, ought to be taken as seriously as those of a professional biologist.

The confidence of the dumb
There’s also that immutable problem known as “human nature.” It has a name now: it’s called the Dunning-Kruger effect, which says, in sum, that the dumber you are, the more confident you are that you’re not actually dumb. And when you get invested in being aggressively dumb…well, the last thing you want to encounter are experts who disagree with you, and so you dismiss them in order to maintain your unreasonably high opinion of yourself. (There’s a lot of that loose on social media, especially.)

But remember: EVERYONE ELSE is dumb; you are smart. 🙂

Oh well…

But here is my quibble: this sort of dismissing expertise is not that new. Think: creationism. Think: the church’s reluctance to even admit that heliocentric astronomy was completely wrong.

Religious people have been dismissing expert opinion for a long, long time.

June 26, 2016 Posted by | religion, social/political | , | Leave a comment

West Virginia votes today and…and uncomfortable right wing cartoon

The cartoon:


Yes, liberals tend to reflexively take the side of the underdog and, all too often, liberals conflate complaints about the more regressive practices of Islam (example) with justifications of anti-Muslim bigotry (which I openly oppose).

I’ll make it clear: saying that Islam (on the whole) enables many regressive practices is NOT the same as opposing the building of mosques, backing noxious anti-Muslim immigration policies, etc.

West Virginia votes today This should be a rather easy victory for Sanders. This would cut Clinton’s lead in pledged delegates from 285 to 280 or so. However, this shouldn’t be like the 2008 blowout where Clinton crushed Obama by about 40 points (and still trailed by 100 delegates or so); the link is to an old Daily Show (with Jon Stewart) episode which had a funny take on it. Of course, I can put West Virginia in the Republican column right now, though it wasn’t always that way.

National Election

Donald Trump is now turning to the Republican Party for funds. So maybe this election will be more conventional than previously thought.

And yes, you’ll hear that Hillary Clinton is trailing in this battle ground state or that one. Reality: she has a good sized lead right now and it will take something special to change it.

And about the election coverage: Gin and Tacos, while giving Nate Silver proper credit, seems annoyed that many don’t realize that what he does is really, at least by academic standards, well, sort of basic. (and yes, Ed admits some jealousy, but what about me? I don’t even have the best blog on the 4’th floor of my building! 🙂 )

I’ll tell you what I like about Nate Silver: he got his stuff out there, and in 2012, it was a very useful counter to all of the garbage that places like NPR were putting out. My friends who followed the election on NPR were scared to death, even though I told them that the election wasn’t close and showed them the battle ground state polls:

Screen shot 2012-11-06 at 4.38.49 AM

Romney only lead in a few of these and always at “margin of error” levels. There was no hope for him here, though the media constantly reported a “close race”. Silver was the public face against such nonsense; I call the 2012 election as a “victory for the nerds.”

May 10, 2016 Posted by | political/social, politics, politics/social, religion, statistics, Uncategorized | , , | Leave a comment

Longish run/walk and Bishop Spong…


I started this run/walk 45 minutes later than planned because I had to scramble to find my winter stuff. It was 27 F a the start! It then warmed into the mid to upper 30’s and there wasn’t much wind. So the day it self was sunny and pleasant.

The workout went fine, though I was disappointed in my return leg: 1:31 out, 1:33 back; both times via Tower Park and the Goose loop. The way back is downhill and I like to do that faster than the way out. Not today; I got very sore and heavy legged. I did run sort of hard on Thursday though.

There were other runners out; one lady told me that she knocked off 18 miles; I also saw Mat.

I finished with a slowish 3 mile cool down walk; that felt a lot like what one feels during an ultra walk.

Later: Barbara took me to Indian buffet and then to the UU Church to hear a lecture by Bishop Spong. He was an entertaining enough speaker and he gave some Bible basics. Most of what he talked about can be found in Rogerson’s book in greater detail. I can recommend the lecture part; he IS worth seeing.

The “questions” session was ..well, what one would expect: a forum for the lonely to have a captive audience. 🙂 Here Bishop Spong got a bit out of his element; there is far more to Trump than “white male anger” (try: economics). In fact, I’d defy someone to name a constituency that is NOT angry. Everyone is angry and only OUR anger is justified. 🙂

He also talked about his “word salad” deity concept; that was rather hollow and unconvincing. Interestingly enough, Spong emphasized the Jewishness of the Gospels and mentioned that the idea of God was that “there is neither Jew nor Greek…” Interestingly, I think that Jews are as exclusive as anyone else; the Jewish Bible is full of stories of Jews killing others for worshiping other deities.

April 9, 2016 Posted by | books, religion, social/political, walking | | Leave a comment

People have inherent worth and dignity. Ideas do not.

Hat tip: Why Evolution is True.

March 3, 2016 Posted by | religion, social/political | | Leave a comment

More uplifting that it sounds…

I truly believe this:


In short, humans are a consequence of the universe and the laws of nature. Humans are NOT the cause of the universe; no deity made this for our benefit.

BUT, this is still uplifting because, while you do not matter to the universe, if you are my friend or loved one, you matter TO ME. That is what it is about: we have to look out for one another because nothing else can.

March 1, 2016 Posted by | nature, religion | , | Leave a comment

Being PC and being correct…


Now do I approve of this headline? Well, no, not really, though it is accurate.

Here is why: when some Mullah pronounces a Jihad (say, because someone wrote a book that they don’t like) and some Muslim either kills or attempts to kill, then yes, in that case, “Muslim killers” would be appropriate. That is Muslim terrorism. I’d say the same for the Boston Marathon bombing or the Fort Hood shooting.

Or, if some Christian attacks an abortion clinic or liberal church (happened in Tennessee), then yeah, that is Christian terrorism.

But, as far as I know, this California mass murder appears to be “mere” garden variety murder.

December 3, 2015 Posted by | religion, social/political | , | Leave a comment

Why I cannot accept “human centered” theism, in one snarky GIF


It is the principle of Copernicus, really. I don’t see any philosophical reason to put the earth as “front and center” in any “creation of the universe” scheme.

This is not “proof positive” that no deity exists, but I see no signature of one, and neither does the scientific community (on the whole).

This doesn’t rule out other concepts of god, nor does it mean that religious practices can’t have some secular benefits. Prayer and meditation can calm the nerves and clear the mind; yoga can relax and strengthen the body.

November 3, 2015 Posted by | atheism, religion | , | Leave a comment

Science, Boehner, and Ramirez getting something right…

Mike Ramirez is a right wing cartoonist. Ironically, he did get something right, albeit perhaps not in the way that he intended:


I mentioned that John Boehner is stepping down. He had some interesting things to say. I just hope that Democrats aren’t falling into a similar trap; so far it appears that isn’t the case.

One thing that is bipartisan though: being anti science when it clashes with one’s intuition.

Personal: yep, people change with time, and often not for the better. This is one aspect of that. There is also the “hot” chick who now..well, doesn’t look so hot.

Pearls Before Swine

Pearls Before Swine

September 28, 2015 Posted by | atheism, Personal Issues, religion, science | | Leave a comment

On the road relatively soon

I slept in as I have a long drive ahead of me both today and tomorrow.

Workout notes weights only. Legs were heavy.

pull ups (hip hikes, Achilles) 3 sets of 10
bench press: 10 x 135, 3 x 180, 7 x 170 (rotator cuff)
incline press: 10 x 140
pull ups: 2 sets of 10 to finish 5 sets.
military: 10 x 85 standing barbell, 7 x 85 standing barbell, 10 x 40 standing dumbbell.
super set: pull downs: 2 sets of 10 x 160 traditional, 7 x 160 traditional 7 x 85 very low with
3 sets of 10 x 200 Hammer Machine rows.

I started to jog on the treadmill but gave up; I figured some light walking around would loosen my legs a bit.

This is a very interesting take on Mike Huckabee’s candidacy:

Huckabee appears to be aware of his liabilities, and is thus angling not only for the evangelical vote, but for the old person vote in general. He’s adopted the view, unfathomable in modern Republican politics, that support programs for the elderly shouldn’t be tampered with, and not just for today’s seniors, but for at least a generation. By doing so he’s violated the GOP’s implicit pact that discourages members from accentuating the tensions between the party’s fiscal priorities and its aging political base. If he makes good on this cynical strategy, he will probably still lose, but his candidacy will have served a valuable and revealing purpose.

Let’s be clear up front that Huckabee’s positioning here is 100 percent cynical. As John McCormack of the neoconservative Weekly Standard reminded us last month, Huckabee was a proponent of the Republican consensus as recently as August 2012, when he wrote on his Facebook page that “Paul Ryan is being demonized for his suggested Medicare reforms. But the alternatives may be scarier.”

Today, Huckabee says he wouldn’t sign legislation codifying Ryan’s Medicare reforms if he were president, and lambasted New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s proposal to further raise the Social Security retirement age over time. In Iowa this week, Huckabee told a crowd of supporters, “It is a foolish thing for the government to involuntarily confiscate money from your pockets and paychecks for 50 years, and then suddenly tell you, oh, we were just kidding.”

You might call this a “government hands off of my Medicare” moment. 🙂


And yes, some conservatives are rather upset with him.

I love it. 🙂

Social This is a case in which religious beliefs can cause harm. Someone has something bad happen to them (e. g. they get cancer). Someone, in an attempt to comfort, says “God’s will” or “God has a plan for you” or “Everything happens for a reason” or “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle”; to be fair some give a secular version of such sentiment (e. g. they call your ordeal a “journey”.)

You know: sometimes people just have horrible luck and the idea that there is some cosmic puppetmaster calling the shots is just plain stupid.

May 11, 2015 Posted by | 2016, huckabee, politics, politics/social, ranting, religion, republicans, social/political, weight training | | Leave a comment