Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Believers' Favorite Arguments Are Admissions Of Defeat

If you watch debates between noted Freethinkers like the "Four Horsemen" (Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, and Christopher Hitchens) and prominent theists, you will quickly notice a trend. Whenever theist debaters attempt to argue for the existence of gods, they keep going back to the same arguments like swallows returning to San Juan Capistrano:
  1. The "First Cause" Argument.
  2. The claim of "fine-tuned" cosmological constants that require a Designer.
  3. The claim that the creation of the first life required a Designer.
Whenever a theist resorts to these sorts of arguments, they are confessing that they cannot show that their god du jour is real and active today. When the theist is a representative of one of the Abrahamic faiths this really amounts to a complete capitulation to the Freethinker's position.

Why? The Abrahamic religions are "revealed" religions. That is, they are based on the claim that God has revealed his existence, personality, power, and commands to humans through certain books. These books contain numerous truth-claims concerning their featured deities and the nature of the universe itself. They are not content to cram God into the confines of the infinitesimally tiny Big Bang singularity, or assert that he once meddled with a few proteins and enzymes to put together a working bacterial flagellum motor.

To the contrary, they describe a God who--if he existed--would be the woolly mammoth in the living room of the Cosmos, a being of immense supernatural power who isn't afraid to use it openly. And he isn't alone. The Abrahamic revelations posit a whole supernatural bestiary populated with angels, demons, djinn, and powerful wizards working astounding magic.

For example, the Book of Exodus tells us that ancient Egyptian sorcerers had the power to transmute wooden staffs into living serpents (Exodus 7:10-12). Magic is such a potent and dangerous force that its use is prohibited to the faithful. Can we know if Egyptian wizards ever wielded such powers? Thanks to archaeology, we actually know quite a bit about ancient Egyptian magic. We have recovered spells complete with incantations and lists of necessary components, and actual magical tools and implements such as wands, amulets and figurines.[1]

We have numerous mummies of pharaohs and high officials, which reveal the kind of ailments and health problems these people suffered and by extension, the limitations of medical treatment available to them. From this it should be possible to experimentally demonstrate an Egyptian spell in action, or at least determine whether or not the pharaohs had access to modes of healing that could not be produced by ordinary means available to the Egyptians. Magical power capable of transmuting dead wood into living reptiles ought to be capable of lesser tasks like transmuting a decayed tooth into a healthy tooth. There is no evidence that Egyptian sorcerers possessed such wondrous powers. The bodies of the pharaohs themselves testify to the contrary.

Perhaps the achievements of Egyptian sorcerers were overstated. After all, they were Pagans, serving gods modern theists reject as non-existent. Perhaps it is only the faithful of the One True God who can work great wonders, through His grace and power. The story of Elijah and the Prophets of Ba'al (1 Kings 18:20-38) provides a powerful illustration of the sort of things we could expect to happen if the Abrahamic God existed. In this famous story, the prophet Elijah goes to the northern kingdom of Israel and challenges the prophets of Ba'al to a contest: each side shall set up an altar with a sacrificial bull, and the side whose god can light their altar with miraculous power validates that their god is the true god.

And Elijah came unto all the people, and said, How long halt ye between two opinions? if the LORD [be] God, follow him: but if Baal, [then] follow him. And the people answered him not a word. (v. 21) And call ye on the name of your gods, and I will call on the name of the LORD: and the God that answereth by fire, let him be God. And all the people answered and said, It is well spoken. (v. 24)

And they [the prophets of Ba'al] took the bullock which was given them, and they dressed [it], and called on the name of Baal from morning even until noon, saying, O Baal, hear us. But [there was] no voice, nor any that answered. And they leaped upon the altar which was made. And it came to pass at noon, that Elijah mocked them, and said, Cry aloud: for he [is] a god; either he is talking, or he is pursuing, or he is in a journey, [or] peradventure he sleepeth, and must be awaked. And they cried aloud, and cut themselves after their manner with knives and lancets, till the blood gushed out upon them. And it came to pass, when midday was past, and they prophesied until the [time] of the offering of the [evening] sacrifice, that [there was] neither voice, nor any to answer, nor any that regarded. (vs. 26-29)

The first thing we notice about this story is that Elijah's God sanctions a very open and unambiguous test of miraculous divine power. Notice also the way Elijah mocks the fruitless prayers of the prophets of Ba'al. From this we can see that:
  1. It is OK to set up a scenario calling for unambiguous proof of a deity's power.
  2. It is also OK to have some fun mocking the faithful when their prayers have no effect.

Notice also the verdict: "There was neither voice, nor any to answer, nor any that regarded." If you're a believer, ask yourself: has that ever happened to you? Have you ever prayed, especially for something urgent, and received "neither voice, nor any to answer, nor any that regarded?" The recently-released letters of Mother Teresa (someone widely hailed as a very "holy" person) reveal this exact situation in her life.

According to the tale in 1 Kings, Elijah was luckier than Mother Teresa:

Hear me, O LORD, hear me, that this people may know that thou [art] the LORD God, and [that] thou hast turned their heart back again. Then the fire of the LORD fell, and consumed the burnt sacrifice, and the wood, and the stones, and the dust, and licked up the water that [was] in the trench. (vs. 37-38)

Here, we are told that God can and will actually deliver unambiguous public demonstrations of miraculous power. It does not violate "free will" or any other ethical principle of God's for people to "know that he is the Lord God." This is a fully testable claim. So, are there any believing Christians who would be willing to conduct such a demonstration today? If we were to set up two altars, one for the Christians and one for a team of scientists equipped with technology, like a megawatt-class laser, a cruise missile, or set of reflecting mirrors of the type used in a solar furnace, would there be any Christians who would be willing to come forward and demonstrate the superiority of faith over science? Would any Christians be willing to bet their faith on their god's power to light an altar against the ability of science and technology to do the same?

If you want to argue that animal sacrifice is obsolete, we'll leave out the bulls and just worry about lighting the fire. For those Christians who sneer at the idea of conducting such a test of divine power ("God is not a genie!" "Thou shalt not put the LORD thy God to the test"), take note that the skeptical technique Elijah uses to debunk the existence of Ba'al is exactly that--putting God to the test. Do you have as much faith in your god as the prophets of Ba'al had in theirs (or Elijah had in his)? Or will you make excuses?

The bottom line: this story establishes the principle that a god that cannot unambiguously demonstrate miraculous power is not a god at all. It is only if the proposed deity can demonstrate his existence that we have any reason to, in the words of Elijah, "let him be God."

Theists today do not for a moment consider putting their own faith on the line in this manner. This is ironclad proof that even believers devout enough to gladly give their lives for their faith know that the miraculous super-being of their holy books simply does not exist and manifest his power as claimed. They live in the same godless universe we do.

Instead of demonstrating the truth of their holy books' claims, modern intellectual theists avoid their own "Scriptures" like the plague, offering "sophisticated" arguments borrowed from Pagan Greek philosophy. Even if theists could demonstrate that once upon a time, the Demiurge dialed in a set of "fine-tuned" cosmological constants before hitting the red button to trigger the Big Bang, and perhaps engaged in modest little interventions to give evolution a hand in making DNA molecules, complex proteins, and flagellum motors, this does nothing whatsoever to validate belief in the Abrahamic deity and his grandiose magical cosmology.

To the contrary, this sort of argumentation is an abandonment of the cosmologies of the desert faiths and a rejection of their claims about the nature of spiritual reality. The "divinely inspired" holy books were wrong about recent miraculous creation, wrong about the reality and power of magic, wrong about demons being the cause of disease and psychological disorder, wrong about the existence of a deity who works Cecil B. Demille miracles on a grand scale, wrong about weather and natural forces being weapons in the hands of an angry God. Nearly every believer implicitly agrees with this, even if they'd never say so openly. They show this every time they rush a sick or injured child to the hospital instead of to the elders of their church (James 5:14-15).

Now, if the divinely-inspired holy books are wrong about every testable claim they make, why should we take seriously any un-testable claims derived from their doctrines?

[1] Magic in Ancient Egypt by Geraldine Pinch, University of Texas Press, 1995

Israeli Forces Arrest Militant Leader; Sources Say Teen Killed

JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Israeli forces arrested the local head of a Palestinian militant group in the West Bank town of Bethlehem on Monday night, Israel Defense Forces said.


See also:

Hamas helps Egypt tighten Gaza border

Madrid train bombs suspect held

Aid workers, journalist killed in Somalia blast

Monday, January 28, 2008

Roadside Bomb Kills 5 U.S. Soldiers In Iraq

BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- A roadside bomb struck a U.S. military patrol in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul on Monday, killing five U.S. soldiers, the U.S. military said.


See also:

Five U.S. troops killed in northern city of Mosul

Inside The New Terror Capital Of Iraq

Group Says It Has Legal Standing To Sue Over Boys Ranch

The Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation alleges that referrals to the Dakota Boys and Girls Ranch, which serves troubled children, are unconstitutional because the children are indoctrinated with religion. The group sued last summer.


Scientists Oppose ICR Certification In Texas

Now that the Institute for Creation Research's application for Texas certification of its graduate school is on hold until April 2008, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board is being inundated by e-mails from "some of the state's leading physicians and scientists" critical of the ICR's proposal to offer degrees in science education.


Experts Urge Florida Education Board To Adopt Creationism-Free Science Standards

Oakland, CA (AHN) - The National Center for Science Education (NCSE) and a science education expert have urged the Florida Board of Education to approve and adopt the final draft of state science standards that exclude teaching of the intelligent design concept in public schools.


Senior Priest Removed From Duties

A SENIOR Dundee priest has been effectively sacked from the Catholic Church after admitting to a lengthy affair with a married woman.


Saturday, January 26, 2008

U.S. Woman Abducted In Afghanistan

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AP) -- Gunmen kidnapped a burqa-clad American aid worker and her driver while they were driving through a residential section of southern Afghanistan's largest city early Saturday, a provincial governor said.


Traveling around Kandahar city has turned increasingly dangerous in the last year, as the Taliban insurgency has spread throughout southern Afghanistan. Western civilians who operate there often travel with armed guards and with extreme caution. The area is rife with Taliban militants and also with criminals linked to the country's booming opium poppy trade.


See also:

'Dozens hurt' in Gaza border clashes

Lebanon mourns car bomb victims

Boy Has Say In Circumcision

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) -- The wishes of a 12-year-old boy should be considered in a dispute between his divorced parents about whether he should be circumcised, the Oregon Supreme Court ruled Friday.


Friday, January 25, 2008

Launch Of 'Atheists in Foxholes' Book Anthology

MAAF is collecting stories for an anthology to ensure that everyone knows that there are atheists in foxholes. This anthology will include first-hand accounts of Atheists, Agnostics, Freethinkers, Humanists, Secularists, and other non-believers who have served in the military in any capacity or who have a close association with someone who has served.


See also:

New Website on Secular Philosophy


Take a virtual tour of the latest solar system imagery, from hot Mercury to cold Pluto.


Europe Terror Plots Trace Back To Pakistan

(CBS) Five European countries are investigating suspected terrorist plots, which track back to al Qaeda's sanctuary in the tribal areas of Pakistan.


Blast Kills Lebanese Terror Investigator

(CBS/AP) A car bomb ripped through eastern Beirut on Friday, killing Lebanon's top anti-terrorism investigator as he returned from a meeting on the probe into the 2005 assassination of a former prime minister, authorities said. Three others died in the blast.


Syria, along with Islamic militants, has been fingered in many of Lebanon's recent bombings, though the targets have become more diverse in the past few months, with the killing of a top army general close to the opposition in December and the attack on the U.S. Embassy vehicle.


Iraq Sends Troops For 'Decisive' Battle With Al Qaeda

BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Iraq is sending troops for a "decisive" battle with al Qaeda in Iraq militants in Mosul -- one of the cities where the fighters remain strong -- Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said Friday.


Gazans Find Egypt's Border Door Shutting

RAFAH, Gaza (CNN) -- Despite an Egyptian official's pledge to keep the border with Gaza open as long as there is a humanitarian crisis, Egyptian forces Friday started clamping down on the free flow of Palestinians.


Jesus In A Potato?

MARION COUNTY, Fla. -- Pastor Renee Brewster and her husband Bishop Winston Brewster are a very spiritual couple. But the site of their savior in a potato has reinvigorated their faith and their desire to help others.


Thursday, January 24, 2008

Humanist Legal Center Acts To Stop Funds For Religious Training Camp

(Washington, D.C.) The Appignani Humanist Legal Center sent a demand letter today to the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Honorable Alphonso Jackson, advising Secretary Jackson not to follow Congress' instructions to distribute funds to a sectarian religious group. The letter also declared the AHLC's intention to sue if the letter goes unanswered and funds are allocated in violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

"A recent spending bill passed by Congress and signed into law by President Bush sets aside $595,000 for Morning Star Ranch, a Christian-only evangelist training camp," said Mel Lipman, president of the American Humanist Association. "This is a sectarian religious camp where no Jews need apply, nor any other non-Christians, including humanists. Providing this operation taxpayer dollars is a clear and outrageous violation of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution."

According to the Morning Star Ranch website at http://www.worldimpact.org/ministries/camps/msr.php, the ranch belongs to World Impact, an evangelical Christian mission organization, and is primarily used for the group's "Christian Leadership Training Program," a two-year program for "single, urban young men, ages 18-25, who have made a commitment to Christ." The facilities, located in Florence, Kansas, are also "available to other Christian groups." The earmark was sponsored by Senator Sam Brownback and Representative Jerry Moran, both of Kansas.

The spending bill that contained the earmark in the House-Senate Conference Report was signed into law by President Bush on December 26, 2007.

"Religious groups aren't barred from receiving federal funds so long as there is some guarantee that the tax monies will be used exclusively for secular purposes," said Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association. "But there is no guarantee of that in this case, and it in fact appears as though the federal funds will be used to repair buildings that will be employed exclusively by Christians for a sectarian purpose. That is why we're writing to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, to advise them of this problem and to stop the flow of funds for unconstitutional purposes."

The letter asks that Secretary Jackson inform the AHLC by Wednesday, February 6, 2008, of any money granted to or plans to grant money to Morning Star Ranch. The letter also informs Jackson that if word has not been received by that date then the AHLC will seek redress in federal district court.


Lonely People More Likely To Believe In God

People who feel lonely are more likely to believe in the supernatural, whether that is God, angels or miracles, a new study finds.


Anti-Gay Church To Protest Ledger Funeral

A fundamentalist church whose members demonstrate at the funerals of soldiers killed in Iraq and believe God hates gays will protest the Academy Awards and the funeral of Heath Ledger, because the actor played a gay cowboy in the 2005 film "Brokeback Mountain."


Attacks Imperil U.S.-Backed Militias In Iraq

BAGHDAD -- American-backed Sunni militias who have fought Sunni extremists to a standstill in some of Iraq's bloodiest battlegrounds are being hit with a wave of assassinations and bomb attacks, threatening a fragile linchpin of the military's strategy to pacify the nation.


See also:

Split loyalties among Iraqi tribes

Suicide bomber kills police chief

Violence Flares On Pakistani Frontier

(CNN) -- The Pakistani military reported killing 40 militants Thursday near the border with Afghanistan -- the latest in a string of clashes in a frontier region rife with extremism.


See also:

Afghan Attacks Drop as Al-Qaeda Focuses on Pakistan, U.S. Says

More Intel Needed on Pakistan Terrorists

U.S. Commander Orders Plans on Pakistan

Suicide bomber falls down stairs...

Goods, People Cross Freely In Gaza Border Bazaar

RAFAH, Gaza (CNN) -- Tens of thousands of Palestinians jammed the Egypt-Gaza border region Thursday, picking up everything from camels to cigarettes in Egypt, a day after overrunning the border wall.


See also:

Tens of Thousands More From Gaza Enter Egypt

Teacher Crosses Line Between Church, State

IRASBURG -- Mel Downs doesn't object to academic discussions over the relative merits of varying religious philosophies.

But when his daughter came home from her public school with a handout titled "Why Jesus Is Better Than Santa Claus," the Irasburg father took offense.


US Scientists Close To Creating Artificial Life: Study

US scientists have taken a major step toward creating the first ever artificial life form by synthetically reproducing the DNA of a bacteria, according to a study published Thursday.


Secrets Of Bird Flight Revealed

Scientists believe they could be a step closer to solving the mystery of how the first birds took to the air.


Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Evolution's Status May Be Debated By State Board

Texas -- The state's standards for teaching science are up for approval this year, and the recent dust-up over the teaching of evolution may be a signal of events to come.


Albany Pastor Arrested For Burning Church

Albany -- An Albany Church Pastor is arrested Friday, and charged with having his own church burned.


See also (unrelated):

Excommunicated from his church, pastor draws praise and condemnation from pagans and Christians

For Women, Bisexuality May Not Be Just A Phase

Bisexuality in women could be a lifelong sexual orientation, not a phase, a new study suggests. The finding runs counter to the idea that bisexuality is an experimental or transitional period for women who, for instance, are uncertain or have fear of commitment.

In addition to debunking stereotypes about bisexuality, the research sheds light on the complex nature of sexual orientation in women.

"These findings demonstrate that the distinction between lesbianism and bisexuality is a matter of degree rather than kind," writes University of Utah psychologist Lisa Diamond in the January issue of the journal Developmental Psychology.


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Eat your way to great sex

Gene may be why antidepressants fail for some

Heart bypass better than stents, study says

Yellowstone Launches Live Webcam

SAN FRANCISCO -- Fans of the great outdoors can now watch many of the world's most powerful geysers erupt via Yellowstone National Park's first live streaming webcam, launched on Wednesday.


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Crab fossils called oldest in the world

Virgin's Branson Unveils Commercial Spaceship Model

Entrepreneur Richard Branson Wednesday unveiled a model of the spaceship he hopes will be the first to take paying passengers into space on a regular basis next year.


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First Look at Spaceshiptwo

Officials: UFO Sightings Were Military Jets

FORT WORTH, Texas -- U.S. military officials said Wednesday that fighter jets were training in a rural area the night of Jan. 8 when dozens of people reported seeing a UFO.


Taliban Killings Of Afghan Students Triple

KABUL, Afghanistan -- The number of students and teachers killed in Taliban attacks has tripled in the past year in a campaign to close schools and force teenage boys to join the Islamic militia, Afghanistan's education minister says.


Terror Attack Thwarted In Spain

A group of extreme Islamists was planning to attack the public transport system in Barcelona, said a judge in Spain today.


Blasts Kill At Least 17 Across Northern Iraq

BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Conflict flared up Wednesday in an area of northern Iraq where U.S. and Iraqi troops have been taking on al Qaeda in Iraq and other militants.


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Blasts In Northern Iraq Kill At Least 22

Gunmen kill 8 Iraqi soldiers in Baghdad

Troops move in after Qaeda in Iraq target bombed

The Boomerang Effect

For more than a decade, Pakistan's powerful and secretive intelligence service has fueled a treacherous dynamic in South Asia by supporting Islamic militants in Afghanistan and Kashmir. Now comes the distressing, but not surprising, news that the ISI, or Inter-Services Intelligence, has lost control of some of these Taliban and Al Qaeda-linked networks. The militants have turned on their former patrons and helped carry out a record number of suicide attacks inside Pakistan in 2007, including possibly the one that killed Benazir Bhutto.


Israel Forced Into U-turn Over Gaza

Israel has reversed its decision to stop all supplies reaching Gaza after a storm of international protest accusing the Jewish state of the "collective punishment" of the territory's civilian population.


See also:

Gaza's power shortage worse than expected

Gazans Knock Down Border, Flood Egypt

Israel expects Egypt to 'solve the problem' of mass border crossing

Hamas 'spent months cutting through Gaza wall in secret operation'

U.S. immigrant beaten up in 'pogrom' by ultra-Orthodox gang

Extremists Turn Attention To Muslim Women

Growing numbers of young Muslim women are being "groomed" by extremists, the Government has warned.


Death Sentence For Afghan Student

KABUL, Afghanistan -- An Afghan court in northern Afghanistan sentenced a journalism student to death for blasphemy for distributing an article from the Internet that was considered an insult to the Prophet Muhammad, the judge in charge of the court said Wednesday.


See also:

Afghan journalist sentenced to death for 'anti-Islam' paper


Editor jailed over Muhammad cartoons

Another Anti-Koran Film Stirs Up Holland

A Dutch politician plans to release a film that rips the Koran for promoting violence and intolerance. Politicians and Muslim leaders alike are afraid of a repeat of 2004, when filmmaker Theo van Gogh was murdered on the streets of Amsterdam.


Turin Holy Water Theft Blamed On Satanists

Satanists have struck at one of Turin's most famous churches, stealing a vial of holy water and a missal, or prayer book.


Brothers Set Up Jedi 'Church'

A Jedi 'church' has been born in a galaxy far far away -- North Wales.


Life-Forming Chemicals Found In Distant Galaxy

Radio astronomers collecting data from a galaxy about 250 million light-years from Earth recently stumbled upon something intriguing: building blocks for life.


Mixing Mammals

Putting bat DNA into mice sheds light on how limbs evolved.


The Devilish Church Practice Of Exorcism

This December, Father Gabriele Amorth, official exorcist of the Rome Diocese, and friend of the "Holy Father", announced that the Pope will soon undertake a new campaign to unleash a fresh batch of 400 exorcists on the world, in addition to the thousands already in operation. "Thank God," he said, "we have a Pope who has decided to confront the devil head-on." (One representative of this evil, he added, is Harry Potter.)


Sunday, January 20, 2008

New Findings Confirm Darwin's Theory: Evolution Not Random

ScienceDaily -- According to Darwin's theory of evolution, individuals in a species pass successful traits onto their offspring through a process called "deterministic inheritance." Over multiple generations, advantageous developmental trends -- such as the lengthening of the giraffe's neck -- occur....


...the findings of an international team of biologists demonstrate that evolution is not a random process, but rather occurs through the natural selection of successful traits. The collaborative study by researchers at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Israel, the U.S, France and Germany is published in the November 2007 issue of Current Biology (vol. 17, pp. 1925-1937).


See also:

Pacific Islanders' Ancestry Emerges in Genetic Study

7th Circuit Won't Rehear Ind. Legislative-Prayer Case

INDIANAPOLIS -- The U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals declined this week to reconsider a ruling that threw out a lawsuit challenging the practice of sectarian prayers in the Indiana House.


City To Pay $760K To Settle Cross Dispute

The attorney who took San Diego to court over the Soledad Cross can expect to receive a large financial settlement after the City Council agreed to the payment.


Some See Jesus On The Cross In Granite Slab

TAMPA, Fla. -- A granite distributor in Florida expects to fetch a good price for a 400-year-old slab that he says bears an image of Jesus Christ pinned to the cross...


Jesus 'Tomb' Controversy Reopened

When the Discovery Channel aired a TV documentary last year raising the possibility that archeologists had found the family tomb of Jesus Christ in the hills behind Jerusalem, it caused a huge backlash among Christians. The claim, after all, challenged one of the cornerstones of Christian faith -- that Jesus, after his crucifixion, rose bodily to heaven in his physical form.


Banned From Church

On a quiet Sunday morning in June, as worshippers settled into the pews at Allen Baptist Church in southwestern Michigan, Pastor Jason Burrick grabbed his cellphone and dialed 911. When a dispatcher answered, the preacher said a former congregant was in the sanctuary. "And we need to, um, have her out A.S.A.P."


Dow Jones Launches Faith-Based Indexes

Dow Jones Indexes, a leading global index provider and Dharma Investments have joined hands to launch the Dow Jones Dharma Indexes.


Three Suicide Bombers At Large In Anbar Province

BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- U.S. planes bombarded al Qaeda in Iraq safe havens on the southern outskirts of Baghdad on Sunday, hours after a suicide bomber carrying explosives in a candy box killed six people in Anbar province.


Saturday, January 19, 2008

Prophet Mohammed Cartoon Publisher Jailed

BELARUS - Belarus on Friday jailed for three years an editor of an independent newspaper who reproduced cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed that first appeared in Denmark in 2005 and caused mass demonstrations across the Muslim world.


See also:

'Secret' terrorist gets life in embassy plot

Israeli Attack Levels Hamas Building, Kills 1

JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Israel Defense Forces carried out two airstrikes on an old Hamas Interior Ministry building in Gaza City on Friday, killing one Palestinian woman and injuring 14 people, Palestinian security sources said.


Terror Cell Held In Spain Swoop

MADRID, Spain (CNN) -- Spanish police arrested 14 people early Saturday who they say are linked to an Islamic terrorist cell, the country's Interior Ministry said.


Survivor Describes Yemen Attack

(CNN) -- Suspected al Qaeda militants opened fire on a convoy of tourists in a remote desert mountain valley Friday, killing two Belgian women and their Yemeni driver.


Dozens Dead From Iraq Fighting

BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Fifty-six people were killed and 70 were wounded Friday when fighting broke out in Basra and Nasiriya between security forces and members of a violent Shiite messianic cult, authorities said.


Scores Dead In Pakistan Gunbattles

(CNN) -- Pakistani military forces clashed Friday with Islamic militants in mountainous northwest Pakistan, in battles that left at least 90 militants dead and four military personnel wounded, a military spokesman told CNN.


See also:

CIA agrees with Pakistan on who killed Bhutto

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Humanists To Honor Lead Imaging Scientist On The Cassini Saturn Project

(Washington, D.C.) The American Humanist Association announced today that planetary scientist Carolyn C. Porco, leader of the imaging science team for the Cassini space mission to Saturn and director of the Cassini Imaging Central Laboratory for Operations (CICLOPS), will be honored with the Isaac Asimov Science Award in Washington, D.C., in June. "It is important to show the world how a humanist philosophy, inspiring and nontheistic, can motivate significant achievements and major contributions to society," declared American Humanist Association Executive Director Roy Speckhardt. "We feel proud that humanism has influenced and attracted people of Dr. Porco's caliber."

Upon announcement of the award, Porco said, "I think there is a deep need today to spread the word, that science is a positive transforming feature of human culture and has shown us, with great clarity, our place in the magnificent scheme of universal evolution. And that knowledge, along with a secular moral guiding philosophy emphasizing goodness over evil, can be empowering, spiritually fulfilling and form the foundation of a meaningful life spent on this planet. That, in my mind, is what humanism is all about, and I'm honored to be included, with this award, in the ranks of its celebrated citizens."

Past recipients of the Isaac Asimov Science Award are Dr. Herbert A. Hauptman, mathematician and Nobel laureate in chemistry; Dr. Eugenie Scott, executive director of the National Center for Science Education; and Dr. Joe Nickell, folklorist and investigator of paranormal claims.

Porco first rose to prominence during the 1980s as a planetary scientist on the Voyager Imaging Team. She was among the first to study Voyager's results on the rings of Saturn, Uranus and Neptune, and made germinal contributions to the understanding of the interactions between planetary rings and moons.

Her work as leader of the Cassini imaging team has led to many discoveries at Saturn, including new structures and phenomena within Saturn's rings and atmosphere, new Saturnian moons, uncovering the surface of Saturn's largest haze-enshrouded moon Titan and imaging the geysers of the small, icy, geologically active moon Enceladus.

Some of her imaging efforts have been directed at home. Along with Carl Sagan she was co-originator of the idea to take a "Portrait of the Planets" with the Voyager spacecraft and participated in the planning, design and execution of those images in 1991, including the famous Pale Blue Dot image of Earth. And in 2006 her team was responsible for the breathtaking image of a dot-like Earth seen from Saturn during a total solar eclipse, recently voted as the most spectacular Cassini image taken thus far. (Cassini, and Voyager, images can be found at the official Cassini imaging team website at http://ciclops.org/.)

In Saturn's Shadow

She is also an imaging scientist on the New Horizons mission on its way to Pluto.

Porco was interviewed in the current January/February 2008 issue of The Humanist magazine, published by the American Humanist Association, in an article entitled "Science and Spirituality."

The Isaac Asimov Science Award comes in the wake of other recognition. In 1999 Porco was selected by the "London Sunday Times" as one of 18 scientific leaders of the 21st century and by "Industrial Week" as one of "50 Stars to Watch." Also, her pioneering contributions and leadership in the exploration of the outer solar system were recognized with the naming of Asteroid 7231 Porco.

The World Humanist Congress at which she will be honored has as its theme "E Pluribus Unum: Reclaiming Humanist Values" and will bring humanists together from nearly every continent. Conducted jointly by the American Humanist Association and the International Humanist and Ethical Union, the event will take place June 5-8, 2008, and will also feature "The Golden Compass" author Philip Pullman, Congressman Pete Stark, Feminist Majority Foundation President Eleanor Smeal and Maryland State Senator Jamie Raskin.

Other leading humanists are being lined up as speakers and will be announced on the American Humanist Association Web site at http://www.americanhumanist.org/ as they are confirmed. Porco will receive her award and speak Saturday evening, June 7.


Palestinians: Israeli Military Kills 6 In Gaza

GAZA CITY (CNN) -- The Israeli military carried out two airstrikes Thursday on vehicles in northern Gaza, killing six Palestinians -- including two civilians, Palestinian security sources said.


Canadian Planned Attacks In U.S.

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A Canadian who has pleaded guilty to charges including conspiracy to kill Americans and conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction against U.S. property will be sentenced Friday, his lawyer said.


Jabarah, also known by the nickname "Sammy," also allegedly pledged allegiance to al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.


See also:

Feds: Al Qaeda Figure Plotted Killings in Captivity

CIA chief places blame for Bhutto assassination on Al-Qaida

'Al-Qa'eda death threat' to Gordon Brown

Al Qaeda Claims Its Space On The Web

Creationist Museum Auctioning Mastodon Skull

DALLAS, Texas (AP) -- A Texas museum that teaches creationism is counting on the auction of a prehistoric mastodon skull to stave off extinction.


Cruise Extols Scientology In 2004 Video

(CNN) -- Tom Cruise expounds on his beliefs in Scientology in a 2004 video that made its way onto the Internet this week.


The Video

Pope Has Say In Row

VATICAN CITY -- Pope Benedict XVI was to have said he was the "voice of moral reason" in a speech he decided not to give at Rome's secular La Sapienza university, according to a text released Wednesday by the Vatican.


Archbishop Pleads Guilty To Perjury

ATLANTA (AP) - Court officials say the 80-year-old leader of a suburban Atlanta megachurch pleaded guilty Wednesday to a charge he lied under oath. Cobb County Superior Court Judge Frank Cox said Archbishop Earl Paulk of the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit at Chapel Hill Harvester Church was sentenced to 10 years probation and a $1,000 fine for the felony charge.


Catholic Brother Accused Of Child Abuse

A 75-year-old former teacher at Canberra Marist College has appeared in court accused of sexually abusing six students in the 1980s.


Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Humanist Leads Biodiesel-Fuelled Convoy To Sundance

(Washington, D.C.) This morning, humanist and AHA member Michael McOmber drove the lead vehicle in the Biodiesel-Fuelled Convoy launching the Fields of Fuel National Edutainment Action Tour (NEAT). The trip, going from Flower Avenue in Venice, California, to Park City, Utah, is tied to the release of the documentary, "Fields of Fuel" at the Sundance Film Festival. The vehicles in the convoy were of various makes and models, all fuelled on B100.

Josh Tickell, the creator of "Fields of Fuel" and the man who drove across America in a Winnebago fueled solely through used cooking oil from fast food restaurants, officially launched the convoy with a speech to inspire his supporters. He declared: "You are not going to Sundance to promote a film. You're going to Sundance to lead the world in a peaceful energy revolution. You are the leaders, the soldiers selected to carry our message to millions of people, starting at Sundance. Few other revolutions have been this peaceful. No other is as important as this one today. What we're talking about is a global shift in consciousness."

The convoy is expected to arrive in Park City tomorrow afternoon, Wednesday.

The American Humanist Association is a partner and fiscal sponsor of the 90-minute documentary that chronicles one man's search for an alternative to America's dependence on foreign oil. Filmed over the past 12 years in 5 countries by a team of scientists and filmmakers lead by Tickell, who is an alternative energy activist and humanist, the documentary explores fossil fuel production and its impacts and provides innovative, ethical and practical solutions. Most importantly, it empowers individuals to change their own energy use as well as the energy use of their communities.


Congress Aims To Dumb Down History, Pushes Fiction Of Christian Nation In Public Schools

Washington, DC - Rep. Randy Forbes (R-VA) and 31 other Representatives could bring House Resolution 888, introduced December 18, 2007, to a floor vote as early as this week. H. Res. 888, "Affirming the rich spiritual and religious history of our Nation's founding and subsequent history" specifically proposes an "American Religious History Week" to be taught in public schools each May.


Evangelical Christian Film Is Inappropriate For Public School

A church-produced evangelical Christian movie is aimed at evangelism and is inappropriate for public schools, Americans United for Separation of Church and State has told Alabama educators.


Scientists Create World's Blackest Black

CHICAGO - Researchers say they have made the darkest material on Earth, a substance so black it absorbs more than 99.9 percent of light.


See also:

Scientists decode dogspeak

Fossil remains of 2,000-pound rodent found

Mercury's hidden side revealed

This palm tree is set to self-destruct

Why Incest Makes Us So Squeamish

It isn't taboo in nature, but we may have evolved cues to avoid behavior.


Texas Delays Decision On Offering Science Degree At Creation College

The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board said Tuesday that it will wait until April to decide whether the Institute for Creation Research can offer an online master's degree in science education. The board was supposed to take up the issue next week.


Woman With Bomb Kills 6

BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- A woman suicide bomber set off a blast on Wednesday in an outdoor market in Iraq's Diyala province, killing six civilians and wounding seven, authorities said.


It was the fourth such suicide strike carried out by women in the province over the last three months, said Col. Ragheb al-Aumairi, the spokesman of Diyala military operations headquarters.


Hamas Mourns Israeli Raid Victims

GAZA CITY (CNN) -- Hamas leaders in Gaza have declared a three-day mourning period after an Israeli raid on eastern Gaza City left at least 17 dead and more than 20 wounded.


See also:

Israelis kill senior Islamic Jihad leader

Al Qaeda In Lebanon

The Iraq War Spreads


Bin Laden: Saudis Are Main Enemy In Iraq

WASHINGTON (UPI) -- As President Bush visits Saudi Arabia, al-Qaida leaders now say the kingdom, not the U.S military, is their main enemy in Iraq.

In an hour-long audio message last month, Osama bin Laden told Iraq's mujahedin that their main enemy was now Saudi Arabia, rather than the U.S military, according to a new analysis.


See also:

Bin Laden Identifies Saudi Arabia as the Enemy of Mujahideen Unity

Militants Escape Control Of Pakistan

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- Pakistan's premier military intelligence agency has lost control of some of the networks of Pakistani militants it has nurtured since the 1980s, and is now suffering the violent blowback of that policy, two former senior intelligence officials and other officials close to the agency say.


The growing strength of the militants, many of whom now express support for Al Qaeda's global jihad, presents a grave threat to Pakistan's security, as well as NATO efforts to push back the Taliban in Afghanistan.


See also:

Militants abandon Pakistan fort

Indiana Jones Meets The Da Vinci Code

Islam watchers blogged all weekend about news that a secret archive of ancient Islamic texts had surfaced after 60 years of suppression. Andrew Higgins' Wall Street Journal report that the photographic record of Koranic manuscripts, supposedly destroyed during World War II but occulted by a scholar of alleged Nazi sympathies, reads like a conflation of the Da Vinci Code with Indiana Jones and the Holy Grail.


Senator's Inquiry Into Megachurch Money Hypocrisy

Consider Bishop Eddie Long, who pastors a megachurch in Lithonia, Ga. With a salary approaching $1 million a year and a nine-bathroom mansion situated on 20 acres, Long's choice of vehicles reflects his opulent lifestyle: He drives a $350,000 Bentley.

Far from casting out money changers, Long is likely to join them. In a 2005 profile in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, he defended his high-flying ways, insisting, "I pastor a multimillion dollar congregation. You've got to put me on a different scale than the little black preacher sitting over there that's supposed to be just getting by because the people are suffering."


'Islamic Jesus' Hits Iranian Movie Screens

A director who shares the ideas of Iran's hardline president has produced what he says is the first film giving an Islamic view of Jesus Christ, in a bid to show the "common ground" between Muslims and Christians.


See also:

Amnesty urges Iran to stop stoning executions

Daughter 'Threatened If She Denounced Islam'

A GOLD Coast man threatened to kill his daughter and himself if she denounced Islam for Christianity, a court was told yesterday.


Israel 'Back Of The Bus' Rule Sparks Religious Row

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Every time Israeli student Iris Yoffe takes the bus to Jerusalem, she has to be ready for abuse from ultra-Orthodox Jews who say she should be kept off because she's wearing trousers.


See also:

Knesset approves reestablishment of Religious Affairs Ministry

Harry Potter Condemned In Vatican Newspaper

An article in the Vatican's official newspaper has condemned JK Rowling's Harry Potter books for posing a danger to children by promoting witchcraft and the occult.


Scientists Protest Against Pope

Sixty one Italian scientists have signed a letter protesting against a planned visit this week by Pope Benedict XVI to Rome's Sapienza University because of his stated views on Galileo.



Pope Cancels University Visit

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

FreeThoughtAction Is Off The Ground -- Literally

After years of planning and discussion FreeThoughtAction is finally in action. Our first billboard is finally up on the New Jersey Turnpike just outside of NYC. (For those in the area who are interested, it's facing southbound traffic just north of exit 18 near the Meadowlands.) It carries the following simple, positive and provocative message: "Don't believe in God? You are not alone."

FreeThoughtAction Billboard

Although the first billboard just went up, we have already received a lot of attention. We have heard from hundreds of people across the country and around the world who support this project to raise the profile of nontheists in the United States.

The key to the success of FreeThoughtAction is generating positive momentum by using ads, press and word-of-mouth to generate more donations which results in more ads, press and word-of-mouth... and so on. Thanks to all of you who have already contributed. Of course, we would love you to contribute as much as you are comfortable with to help us make the biggest splash possible. Remember, every dollar you send goes toward our ad campaign and is tax deductible to the full extent of the law. In addition, anything you can do to spread the word helps create buzz including telling your friends, bringing up FTA at your freethought meetings, posting on discussion boards or blogs, and so on.

We are still working on polishing up the site, adding new links and content, responding to inquires, and looking at locations for our next billboards. Help us spread the word and be a part of helping America evolve into a more rational, less superstitious society.

Our press release and more information is in the post below....

Monday, January 14, 2008

NJ Turnpike Billboard Speaks To Nonreligious

FreeThoughtAction Billboard

A bold message towers high above the New Jersey Turnpike on a new billboard outside of New York City. "Don't believe in God? You are not alone."

The ad was placed by FreeThoughtAction, a new organization using traditional advertising and the internet to market secularism in a positive and provocative way. FreeThoughtAction is planting a few billboards and other ads around the country to "seed" a grassroots movement raising the profile of "freethinkers," a broad term that includes atheists, agnostics, humanists, secularists, skeptics and others who do not have a belief in the existence of a God or gods.

The billboards promote the website FreeThoughtAction.org where internet visitors can find out about the initiative and contribute to the campaign. The site provides a range of resources including links to dozens of freethought groups, research material on religion and freethought, a news and views blog, plus materials nonbelievers can purchase to help spread the word. FTA will also work with groups and individuals to place local ads in their market.

Jan Meshon, the group's founder, is optimistic the action plan will garner support. "So far, response has been overwhelmingly positive. People are thrilled to see their view expressed in such a visible way. Just the other day someone saw the ad for the first time and whipped out their checkbook on the spot." One of the strengths of the program, according to Mr. Meshon, is how easy it is for supporters to join the action. "There are no meetings to attend. Everyone doesn't have to agree on every point of philosophy or what to label themselves. You can contribute and know that your voice will be heard."

The billboard has only been up a couple of days and already dozens of people have contributed and/or signed up for the email list. FTA has received dozens of thank you emails from around the country - and even a few from as far away as Britain and Israel - expressing their appreciation of the effort. To quote one: "The billboard is absolutely fantastic and so desperately needed in every community across America. Thank you so much for this." Freethought blogs were abuzz with word of the billboard with very positive reaction like the following: "Bravo... billboards like these help non-theists feel less alone and less alienated."

FTA sees itself as a small counterpoint to aggressive, well-funded efforts by religious groups to increase the role of religion in American society and government. Mr. Meshon believes that a little marketing push for a strong "product" will help move America to a tipping point where secular Americans are as readily accepted as the religious. "For all the attention given to religion lately, the number of secular Americans is booming. The tide is definitely turning." The American Religious Identification Survey (City University of New York) supports this view. Nonreligious Americans doubled from 1990 to 2001 while the number of religious Americans actually decreased.


FreeThoughtAction is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization and an independent adjunct of the American Humanist Association. FTA creates marketing and public relations programs to increase the size and influence of the freethought community.


Earlier Press Release by the American Humanist Association HERE.

Earlier coverage:

God's skeptics get comfort from above

Beware of the fruit of the 'Tree of Knowledge'

Don't believe in God? You are not alone.

Sign of the times?

More to come...

Hat tip to the Ethical Culture Society of Bergen County, NJ which is the nearest humanist organization to the billboard. This organization is a family-oriented community that offers a humanistic Sunday school and is a member of the American Ethical Union (AEU).

They referenced our billboard on their Society's blog HERE.

Texans Report Seeing UFO

STEPHENVILLE, Texas (AP) -- In this farming community where nightfall usually brings clear, starry skies, residents are abuzz over reported sightings of what many believe is a UFO.


"People wonder what in the world it is because this is the Bible Belt, and everyone is afraid it's the end of times," said Steve Allen, a freight company owner and pilot who said the object he saw last week was a mile long and half a mile wide. "It was positively, absolutely nothing from these parts."


The Enduring Mysteries Of Mercury

NASA's Messenger probe will be the first spacecraft to image the whole planet, making its initial flyby of Mercury Jan. 14 as part of a long process to settle into orbit.


Doctors Create Tiny, Magnetized Disease Fighters

By injecting tiny magnets into your body, doctors hope to treat diseases without using chemicals or hormones.


See also:

Tinkering extends life of organism by 10-fold

Columbus blamed for syphilis spread

Mayor/Pastor Accused Of Seeking Sex With Girl

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. - A small-town mayor and church pastor was in jail Monday on charges of soliciting sex over the Internet from a police detective posing as a 13-year-old girl.


'Absolute Power'

It is one of the darkest chapters of sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic Church. More than 110 children in Eskimo villages claim they were molested between 1959 and 1986, raped or assaulted by 12 priests and three church volunteers. Families and victims believe that another 22 people were sexually abused by clergy members but have since killed themselves. The Jesuit Oregon Province, which includes Alaska, has agreed to pay $50 million in damages. It is believed to be the largest settlement ever against a religious order.


Sharif: Pakistan Is "Drowned In Blood"

In the latest violence, suspected pro-Taliban militants ambushed a military convoy in a tribal region close to the border with Afghanistan, sparking a clash that left 23 fighters and seven troops dead, said army spokesman Maj. Gen. Waheed Arshad.


6 Dead In Afghan Luxury Hotel Attack

Taliban Takes Responsibility For Kabul Blast, Gunfire Killing 6, Including 1 American


See also:

3,200 Marines Headed To Afghanistan

House Passes, Considers Evangelical Resolutions

A Republican congressman, who has spent the better part of the past two years on a mission to ensure Jesus Christ has a place in all aspects of federal government, has introduced a resolution to designate a week every year to honor the nation's "rich spiritual, and religious history."

House Resolution 888, sponsored by Congressman Randy Forbes (R-Virginia), is currently before a House committee and has 31 co-sponsors. It purports to be free from singling out a specific religion, yet contains dozens of proclamations with clear fundamentalist Christian overtones. Five pages of footnotes cite specific Bible passages, the Gospels, churches, and include Biblical references taken from historical monuments such as the Lincoln Memorial.


"House Resolution 888 is perhaps the most disgraceful, shocking and tragic example yet of the pernicious and pervasive pattern and practice of the unconstitutional rape of our bedrock American citizens' religious freedoms by the fundamentalist Christian right," said Mikey Weinstein, founder and president of MRFF [The Military Religious Freedom Foundation], a nonprofit watchdog group that aims to keep a close eye on the military to ensure it abides by the law mandating the separation between church and state. "Its myriad tortured and deliberate historical fictions, fused by it's Congressional-member drafters into a sorry screed of fascistic Christian exceptionalism and triumphalism, clearly illuminate its private sector and legislative sponsors' unbridled lust to spare absolutely no effort to complete the transformation of our country into "The United Christian States of America."


Conservative Pastor Urges Buying Microsoft Stock To Fight Its Gay Rights Efforts

A conservative Christian pastor plans to launch a high-profile campaign Tuesday urging religious followers to load up on Microsoft Corp. stock, in an attempt to force the company to "stop financing ungodly ventures."


Sunday, January 13, 2008

God's Skeptics Get Comfort From Above

FTA Billboard

A group of atheists and agnostics has rented a billboard along the New Jersey Turnpike to trumpet what it says is a seldom-heard message in 21st century America.

"Don't Believe in God? You are not alone," the 48-foot-wide sign says.


A sampling of other coverage so far:

Beware of the fruit of the 'Tree of Knowledge'

Don't believe in God? You are not alone.

Sign of the times?

More to come...

Scientists Grow Rat Heart In The Lab

Experiment could lead to new treatments for cornorary disease.


Mind Reading Is Now Possible

A computer can tell with 78 percent accuracy when someone is thinking about a hammer and not pliers.


Texas Official: Call It Creationism Degree

AUSTIN, Texas (UPI) -- The Texas commissioner of higher education suggested that a creationist group call its proposed on-line science education degree a degree in creation studies.


The program is open only to students who believe that God created the universe in six days and that those who deny Jesus Christ face eternal damnation, the newspaper said. Adultery, homosexuality and fornication are banned.


Mom Charged In 'Possessed' Girls' Deaths

Authorities estimate the four girls - ages 5 to 17 - had been dead for at least two weeks. Jacks told police they were "possessed by demons" and had died in their sleep, one by one, within a week of each other, court documents say.


City Chief Who Killed His Daughter Believed Satan Had Possessed Her

A millionaire City executive and "totally devoted father" killed his two-year-old daughter by smashing her head against the floor because he believed she had been taken over by a "malign and satanic entity".


Terror Plot To Blow Up Eiffel Tower Uncovered

A plot by Islamic terrorists to blow up the Eiffel Tower has been uncovered.


See also:

Fears of terror attack in Germany

Where "Soft Islam" Is On The March

Indonesia has some worrying radicals but it seems to be following Turkey, with Islamists moderating as they get closer to power.


See also:

Saudis behead Indonesian maid

Fish Out Of Water: Your Inner Fish

Hernias, hiccups, and snores - oh, my! It's been 3.5 billion years, and the human body's past still plays a role in our lives and health.


Why People Believe Weird Things About Money

Would you rather earn $50,000 a year while other people make $25,000, or would you rather earn $100,000 a year while other people get $250,000?


The Moral Instinct

Which of the following people would you say is the most admirable: Mother Teresa, Bill Gates or Norman Borlaug? And which do you think is the least admirable?


Friday, January 11, 2008

Mark Your Calendar For 2008's Sky Shows

This year's astronomical calendar features not just one, but two pairings of the sky's brightest planets -- plus a total solar eclipse visible from exotic locations, and a total lunar eclipse that most Americans will be able to see from their backyards.


See also:

Cosmic Log: Double bull's-eye for Einstein

Suicide Bomb In Lahore Kills 24

A suicide bomber killed at least 24 people and injured 70 others in Lahore, Pakistan's second largest city, in the first major attack since the assassination of Benazir Bhutto two weeks ago.


See also:

Strong Blast Hits Pakistani High Court

Study: 151,000 Iraqis Slain As Of June 2006

(CNN) -- A study published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine estimates that 151,000 Iraqis died of violent causes between March 2003, when the war began, and June 2006.

This is much lower than a national survey published in the Lancet journal that put the number during the same period at more than 600,000, but higher than the figures compiled from media reports by the Iraq Body Count, which registered more than 47,000 deaths, the study said.


See also:

Who Is Killing the Women of Basra?

Six U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq house explosion

9 US Soldiers Killed in Iraq in 2 Days

Nine US Soldiers Die in New Iraq Offensive

U.S. airstrike in Iraq one of largest of the war

Major Offensive Targets Insurgents

U.S. bombs 'safe haven' for al Qaeda in Iraq

In Iraq, U.S. airstrikes target insurgents near supposedly safe zone

U.S. Attack in Iraq Is No Surprise to Many Insurgents

Battling in the Bread Basket

Pentagon Weighs Sending 3,000 More Troops To Afghanistan

WASHINGTON (AFP) - US Defense Secretary Robert Gates is considering sending some 3,000 additional marines to Afghanistan to boost forces ahead of a Taliban spring offensive, a Pentagon spokesman said Wednesday.


See also:

Afghanistan welcomes U.S. troop "mini-surge"

Somali Police Kill Kidnapping Suspects

MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) -- Police killed two men suspected in the recent kidnappings of three foreigners during a fierce gunbattle Thursday in northern Somalia, witnesses and officials said.


Puntland is generally considered safer than the war-wracked south, where government troops and their Ethiopian allies are battling an Islamic insurgency and thousands of Somalis have been killed this year.

But in recent months the two northern regions have seen an upsurge in piracy and kidnappings, and a border dispute has raised tensions.


Chateau Scientology

Inside the Church's Celebrity Centre.


10 Commandments Hung Monday In KY Courthouse

A new ten commandments display was unveiled Monday morning, after the fiscal court voted unanimously to place it in the courthouse.


Spate Of Executions And Amputations In Iran

TEHRAN -- Using strict enforcement of Islamic law, the judicial authorities in a restive region of southern Iran amputated the right hands and left feet of five convicted robbers this week, part of what the government said was an effort to deter other troublemakers.


Man Cuts Off, Microwaves His Own Hand

HAYDEN, Idaho (AP) -- A man who believed he bore the "mark of the beast" used a circular saw to cut off one hand, then he cooked it in the microwave and called 911, authorities said.



Cop: Suspect says God made him kill, cook girlfriend

Funerals Set For Sisters Found Dead After 'Magic Spell'

SIOUX CITY, Iowa -- Funeral services are set for two sisters found dead in their burning home in Sioux City last weekend.


'Honor Killing' Motive For Slain Sisters?

Still, the case has generated significant speculation -- including by some friends of the girls -- that the father's motive may have been some sort of an "honor killing" in the Muslim tradition. Specifically, the reported Westernized behavior of the teens, including the boys they dated, may have brought shame to a father said to be strict and religious, prompting the killings.


Joy Behar: No More Saints Due To Modern Medicine

Saints were psychotic and advances in modern medicine have essentially wiped them off the planet. That's "the view" of comedian Joy Behar, as expressed on national television Wednesday.


Missouri Senator Wants To Require Using B.C. And A.D.

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) -- Legislators have started a fight with Father Time - at least with his name tag.

Worried about a push to take the religious references out of time, a state senator has filed a bill that would mandate the use of B.C. (Before Christ) and A.D. (Anno Domini or "Year of our Lord"). Many historians and textbook publishers have switched to B.C.E. (Before Common Era) and C.E. (Common Era) as a nod toward non-Christians.

And that's a problem, said Sen. John Loudon.

"There is an effort to sort of scrub our public institutions of acknowledgment of God," said Loudon, R-Chesterfield.


Evolution Debate Heats Up In Florida

MIRAMAR, Fla. -- Kelli McCormack decided to homeschool her two daughters because she didn't want them being taught "medieval superstitions" and "religious doctrine" in their science classes, especially when it came to evolution.


Youth Pastor Admits Fondling Little Girls

Testimony started Tuesday in the trial of a Sinton youth minister accused of sexually assaulting a 6-year old girl.


Egyptian Liberal Hisham Al-Tukhi: 'I Have A Dream'

"Fifty Years Ago, A Great Egyptian Declared 'Religion Belongs to Allah and the Homeland Belongs to All'"


Motion Called For Abolition Of Church Of England

EYEBROWS were raised in Britain's House of Commons when a motion calling for the Church of England to be disestablished was listed with the number 666, a symbol of the Antichrist.


Voodoo Flu Vaccine

Health experts in the West African country have warned that the manner in which Voodoo priests slaughter chickens in sacrifice could lead to contamination into the human population. The priests say that their faith will protect them from the virus but there have been two cases of the virus in poultry from the country in the last four weeks.


See also:

Benin priests battle bird flu with Voodoo

Spain's Deputy Premier Raps Church Influence

Madrid (CWNews.com) - The deputy prime minister of Spain, Maria Teresa Fernandez de la Vega, has charged that Church leaders in the country are "falsifying the truth" with their criticism of government policies.


Buddhism Forced To Turn Trendy

Priests visit bars to reach out to young sceptics amid dramatic decline.


Jail For Terror Plan To 'Kill Many'

A London dentist detained as he boarded a plane to Pakistan carrying night sights and computer discs full of military information was jailed yesterday for four and a half years.


Two Ex-Jehovah Witnesses To Tell Why They Became Atheists

New York, Jan. 9, 2008 -- Ann and Ben (not their real names) have asked us not to disclose their true identity because, only a year out of Jehovah's Witnesses, they still fear the repercussions from the their parents and what they call "The Organization."


The New Encyclopedia Of Unbelief

Successor to the highly acclaimed Encyclopedia of Unbelief (1985), edited by the late Gordon Stein, the New Encyclopedia of Unbelief is a comprehensive reference work on the history, beliefs, and thinking of America's fastest growing minority: those who live without religion. All-new articles by the field's foremost scholars describe and explain every aspect of atheism, agnosticism, secular humanism, secularism, and religious skepticism. Topics include morality without religion, unbelief in the historicity of Jesus, critiques of intelligent design theory, unbelief and sexual values, and summaries of the state of unbelief around the world. More than 130 respected scholars and activists worldwide served on the editorial advisory board and over 100 authoritative contributors have written in excess of 500 entries.


Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Nontheist Billboard Greets NYC Area Motorists

January 8, 2008

For Immediate Release

Don't believe in God? You are not alone.

(Washington, D.C.) "Don't believe in God? You are not alone."

Starting tomorrow morning,these words will be read by southbound motorists on the New Jersey Turnpike at the section of I-95 near Ridgefield, between the George Washington Bridge and the Lincoln Tunnel. They are part of a highway billboard that features an image of blue sky and clouds with the words superimposed over. The billboard will be placed by FreeThoughtAction, an independent adjunct of the American Humanist Association.

"The point of the billboard is to let nontheistic people, such as atheists and agnostics, know they're not alone," explained Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association.

Jan Meshon, founder of FreeThoughtAction, added: "For all the attention given to religion lately, the number of secular Americans is booming. The tide is definitely turning."

"So why have nontheistic Americans been made to feel marginalized and deviant?" Speckhardt asked. "This billboard demonstrates our will to push back and refuse to be passive in the culture wars. And after so many religious billboards, it's only fair that we should have one that gives voice to nontheists."

The billboard will be up until February 3 and is only the first of a series that will appear around the country, raising the public profile of humanists and freethinkers. The billboard is backed by an active Web site at http://www.freethoughtaction.org/ that sets forth the larger mission of the effort and offers ways that individuals can get involved.

# # #

The American Humanist Association (http://www.americanhumanist.org/) advocates for the rights and viewpoints of humanists. Founded in 1941 and headquartered in Washington, D.C., its work is extended through more than 100 local chapters and affiliates across America.

Humanism is a progressive philosophy of life that, without theism, affirms our responsibility to lead ethical lives of value to self and humanity.


"Witchcraft" Suspected In Family Slayings

(CBS/AP) A man has been charged with stabbing and strangling his two stepdaughters in what police describe as ritual slayings at the family's home in Sioux City.

Lawrence Douglas Harris Sr. was charged with two counts of first-degree murder after authorities arrived at his burning home and found the girls in their second-story bedroom and blood on Harris, police said Monday.

Police Lt. Marti Reilly said Harris had been performing "some strange ritual" and told officers he cast a spell that had gone bad. Reilly said he could offer no other details on how the girls were killed.


Iraqi Awakening Council Members Kidnapped, Killed

BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Insurgents have kidnapped eight Awakening Council members and killed 14 other people in Baghdad attacks, said an Iraqi Interior Ministry official on Tuesday.


Pakistanis Want Larger Role For Both Islam And Democracy

An in-depth survey of Pakistani public opinion reveals majority support for a moderate and democratic Islamic state, though a small but significant minority shows sympathy for Islamist militant groups.


See also:

Next-Gen Taliban

Pakistanis See U.S. as Greatest Threat

Texas Authorities Find A Body...

TYLER, Texas: A Texas man who told an emergency dispatcher he killed his girlfriend and cooked parts of her body later described his actions as being compelled by God, police said.


UK Court Investigates Unsolved Death

KENDAL, England: A coroner was due to reopen an inquest Tuesday into the unsolved killing of a British teenager who opposed her Pakistani parents' plans for an arranged marriage.


Bereaved Find More Solace In Pets Than Priests

Family pets have emerged as the number one comfort for Irish people who are suffering from bereavement, ranking ahead of even priests, spiritual advisers and counsellors for people trying to come to terms with loss.

The research was based on the Bereavement Care Service at Beaumont Hospital in Dublin.


Monday, January 07, 2008

Carl Sagan's COSMOS Begins Airing On Jan 8th

Carl Sagan's Cosmos will be airing in its entirety beginning January 8th on the Discovery Science Channel in the US, check your local listings.


Police: 2 'Satanists' Held In Church Arsons

PHENIX CITY, Ala. -- Two men who authorities said dabbled in satanism have been arrested in connection with a recent rash of arson and vandalism at rural churches.

Satanic graffiti was scrawled at or near some of the east Alabama churches, and the 21-year-old suspects "called themselves professed spiritual satanists," Russell County Sheriff Tommy Boswell said Monday.


Anti-Al Qaeda Leader Among 15 Killed In Baghdad Blasts

BAGHDAD, Iraq CNN) -- A well-respected Sunni leader who was key in helping reduce violence in his northern Baghdad neighborhood was among at least 15 people killed in three separate suicide bombings Monday, officials said.


Pakistanis Flee Into Afghanistan

Thousands of Pakistanis have fled into Afghanistan with the security situation deteriorating in Pakistan's tribal regions over the past week.


The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) says historic clashes between Shias and Sunnis in the villages in Kurram, North West Frontier Province, have escalated in the past couple of weeks.


Woman Finds Christ-Like Image In Potato

A Houston woman and her husband have discovered what she says appears to be the image of a crucifix in a potato.


Earlier Oddball Religious Sightings HERE and HERE.

Vatican Calls On The Faithful For Mass Apology For Sex Scandals

The Vatican has called on Catholics to atone for the sex abuse scandals that have engulfed their church in recent years by taking part in what may be the largest global prayer initiative ever seen.


As The Regime Cracks Down, Life Goes On Behind Closed Curtains

A last dispatch from Tehran...


Sunday, January 06, 2008

God, Science And An Unbeliever's Utopia

Last year's wildly popular Beyond Belief 1.0 scientific conference primarily focused upon and championed irreligion. The Beyond Belief 2.0 conference held at the Salk Institute in La Jolla, Calif., this past November was wider in scope. Rather than aiming to be another undiluted atheist lovefest, it attempted to consider changes in the ideas of the Enlightenment that are necessary given advances in various disciplines since the 18th century.


Pakistan: You Can't Hunt Al Qaeda Here

(AP) Pakistan reiterated that it will not let American forces hunt al Qaeda and Taliban militants on its soil, after a news report said Sunday that the Bush administration was considering expanding U.S. military and intelligence operations into Pakistan's tribal regions.


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Pakistan: Militants Kill 8 Tribal Elders

Palestinian Sources: 4 Dead In Gaza Attacks

JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Four Palestinians were killed Sunday as a result of fighting in the area of al-Breij, in central Gaza, Palestinian security sources said.


Al Qaeda Taps Cell Phone Downloads

CAIRO, Egypt (AP) -- Al Qaeda video messages of Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahri can now be downloaded to cell phones, the terror network announced as part of its attempts to extend its influence.


Iraqi Soldiers Throw Selves On Suicide Bomber

Story Highlights:

Suicide bomber kills 11, including Iraqi soldiers who tried to block blast

Shiite sheik shot dead by gunmen in Baghdad neighborhood, officials say

Ismaiel Abbas had been active in efforts to counter militia activity

16 people killed, 32 wounded in three separate bombings in Iraqi capital


See also:

American al Qaeda member renounces citizenship

Dallas Judge Rules Silence Is Secular

AUSTIN -- A mandatory moment of silence for Texas schoolchildren has a secular purpose of encouraging thoughtful contemplation and does not advance or inhibit religion, a federal judge said this week in a ruling upholding the 2003 state law.


Atheist Sues To Prevent Son From Attending Catholic School

LA GRANGE, Ky. -- A father is in a courtroom battle, trying to keep his son from attending a Catholic high school.


Some Churches Take Stand On Gay Unions

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- It doesn't matter if you're gay or straight, you can't get legally married at Lyndale United Church of Christ.

The small, liberal church in south Minneapolis was the first of several Twin Cities congregations last year to stop performing civil marriage ceremonies as long as gay marriage is illegal. These churches, and a handful of others around the country that took the same step, will still hold a religious ceremony to bless the unions of straight and gay couples -- but straight couples must go separately to a judge or justice of the peace for the marriage license.


Church's Abuse Defense Takes Hit

A judge has thrown out a jury decision that Vermont's Catholic Church isn't liable for a pedophile priest because an accuser's civil lawsuit was believed too old to prosecute under the state's statutes of limitations.


Friday, January 04, 2008

Ads In Presidential Campaign Call For Protection Of Religious Freedom

For the first time in a presidential election and on the eve of the New Hampshire and South Carolina primaries a new series of television and newspaper ads is being launched to urge presidential candidates to protect religious freedom.


Inside The Supernova Machine

The exploding-star people on TRIUMF's DRAGON research team select short-lived isotopes that are thought to exist naturally only inside a star, and smash them into hydrogen or helium nuclei. The results shed additional light on the primordial nuclear reactions that gave rise to the heavier elements we see on Earth today - including the elements needed for life as we know it.


Someday, ATLAS may pick up the first evidence of the Higgs boson, an elusive subatomic particle that is thought to be responsible for giving other particles their mass. "The first guys who see it probably will get a Nobel Prize," Ramsay told us.


Academy Stresses Evolution's Importance

WASHINGTON - The National Academy of Sciences on Thursday issued a spirited defense of evolution as the bedrock principle of modern biology, arguing that it, not creationism, must be taught in public school science classes.


Creationism, based on the explanation offered in the Bible, and the related idea of "intelligent design" are not science and, as such, should not be taught in public school science classrooms, according to the report.


A 2006 Gallup poll showed that almost half of Americans believe that humans did not evolve but were created by God in their present form within the last 10,000 years.


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Survey: 61 Percent Agree with Evolution

Americans would rather hear about evolution from scientists than from judges or celebrities, according to a new survey that finds a majority agree that evolution is at work among living things.

A coalition of 17 organizations reacted today to the survey by calling on the scientific community to become more involved in promoting evolution and other aspects of science education.

The coalition, including the National Academy of Sciences, the American Institute of Physics and the National Science Teachers Association, released this statement:

"The introduction of 'non-science,' such as creationism and intelligent design, into science education will undermine the fundamentals of science education. Some of these fundamentals include using the scientific method, understanding how to reach scientific consensus, and distinguishing between scientific and nonscientific explanations of natural phenomena."


"The bottom line is that the world is round, humans evolved from an extinct species and Elvis is dead," Weissmann said.

Creationism dismissed by scientists

A revised version of a book supporting the theory of evolution as "the foundation of science" and discrediting theories of creationism and intelligent design will spark controversy but do little to change minds, proponents of both theories said Thursday.

The third version of "Science, Evolution and Creationism," released Thursday by The National Academies of Science, was revised by a committee chaired by Francisco Ayala, an award-winning UC Irvine evolutionary biologist.

Evolution Book Sees No Science-Religion Gap

The book also denounces the arguments for a form of creationism called intelligent design, calling them devoid of evidence, "disproven" or "simply false."


Is Darwin Losing the Battle With God?

Some TX Biology Professors Support Evolution Education