Movieguide’s New Low

I've written before about the Christian movie review site Movieguide. I've come to expect dishonesty if it furthers their worldview but they've got a new article that's appalling even by their standards.

Entitled "Wake Up Google," I first thought (hoped?) that maybe they'd take a stand for simple human decency and condemn the so-called Google manifesto that's been circulating on social media for about the past week. That manifesto is the stuff of another essay, but I'll just say that diversity is almost always a good thing and you look stupid if you try to argue otherwise.

No, Movieguide is up in arms about the supposed hypocrisy of Google for simultaneously supporting The Equal Justice Initiative while lobbying congress in opposition to changes to the controversial Communications Decency Act of 1996.

Let's ignore, for a moment, that whatever lobbying is done by Google's parent company, Alphabet, is completely unrelated to its social outreach. But the CDA is problematic on simple first amendment grounds. If any right guaranteed by the constitution is sacrosanct, it's the freedom of speech. No matter how outrageous the speech is, it is protected. It's why we have the right to protest outside of military funerals with signs reading "god hates fags." If that kind of speech is legally protected, I can't imagine what wouldn't be.

Certainly not pornography. And the CDA is thinly veiled censorship. When you hear people say things like "what about the children?" you know they don't know how to protect their children from some of the less desirable aspects of the world and/or things the children are not yet old enough to see and hear. Google is right for not wanting to expand the CDA.

Movieguide then goes on to list six murder victims in defense of their position that we need to get violent pornographic images off the internet. Since they didn't provide any links to their stories, I decided to google their stories (ironic, I know…). And damn, did they mislead its readers about what happened in their cases.

What do the six victims have in common besides being female? First off, they were all citizens of the UK, which means that nothing related to changes to American law would have made a difference in their cases. Five of them were strangled, and the sixth we simply don't know how she died because her body was never found and the killer isn't talking. Of the other five killers, only one could claim to be influenced by violent pornography he found online. But even he said that he was interested in erotic asphyxia before he found the porn of it. And the sex was consensual with his girlfriend/victim as he choked her. He went too far and pleaded guilty to manslaughter. He was convicted of murder anyway.

I get that sites like Movieguide are big on censorship and they have no use for sexually charged imagery. But let the truth get in the way of a good narrative when the lie serves your purposes much better?

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Profiles in … something

The popular TV show The Twilight Zone has seen multiple reboots since it first went off the air in 1964.   I’ve been thinking a good deal about one particular tale from the mid-1980s reboot.  “Profile in Silver” envisions a world where time travel is possible, and a “field historian” named Joseph Fitzgerald from about 200 years in the future is observing the events of the presidency of his ancestor, President John F Kennedy.  

The episode begins with Dr. Fitzgerald giving a lecture at Harvard on November 21, 1963 and he gets a visit from one of his colleagues from the future.   He expresses the great existential crisis of every field journalist: why must he only be observer and not participant?  She tries to talk him out of going to Dallas the following day but he’ll have none of it.   

In what appears to be an unplanned moment, he trains his camera on the open window in the book repository, sees Lee Harvey Oswald leaning out with his rifle, and panics.  He calls out to the president to duck, and effectively saves the president’s life.   How Gov. Connally didn’t get hurt, isn’t answered.  

This seriously damages the fabric of time.   As history tries to restore the original trends, first a tornado touches down in Dallas but when that doesn’t work, Nikita Khrushchev is assassinated, and his successor seizes West Berlin.  As the history computer analyzes all possible outcomes from this turn of events, the world would be completely annihilated within a century.  The only solution is for the Kennedy presidency to end as history originally intended.  Of course, this is The Twilight Zone, so there’s a twist at the end.  I won’t reveal the twist but you can watch the episode below.  

There’s a scene in this show where JFK and Dr. Fitzgerald are aboard Air Force One, and Kennedy talks about how maybe his father might have been wrong about the importance of power.   “No one man should have that kind of power.   No man should have to have it.”

There is no question that Donald Trump has long had a love affair with power, and this goes back to long before he announced his candidacy for president in June, 2015.   Recall that this isn’t the first time he sought the presidency: back in 2000, he sought the nomination on the Reform Party ticket.  (Side note: I admit to being surprised that the party still actively maintains its website…)

They say that power corrupts and that absolute power corrupts absolutely.   There’s a truth to that, but part of the problem is that once people get a taste of power, they tend to want more and more.  Someone with such blatantly narcissistic tendencies like Donald Trump would fall into this trap more quickly than the average person.  (Note that I’m not holding myself to a higher standard here.  If I were given more power than I could handle, I doubt I’d be any less vulnerable to its appeal…)

During one of the Republican debates last year, Trump all but admitted his corruption, albeit from a different angle than where he currently resides.  As his opponents, most notably Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, tried to illustrate that he’s not a true republican, they pointed out that he had invited Bill and Hillary Clinton to his wedding.   He shrugged off the charges, pointing out that he would do things like that to gain favors.  Nothing necessarily illegal about it but telling all the same.  

Which brings me to the recent firing of FBI director James Comey.   Let me make it clear that the president has the right to fire the FBI director at any time and for any reason.   Based upon that fact alone, this is neither an abuse of power nor a constitutional crisis.  

Or at least it ought not be either of those things.  After all, Bill Clinton fired director William Sessions a few months into his first term and nobody batted an eye over it.  

But it’s clear that this is a function of all of the negative trappings of power.   Comey had just requested more funds and personnel to investigate reports of collusion between the Trump campaign and a foreign power, Russia.   I suppose it’s possible that these facts are unrelated and that the real reason for Comey’s dismissal is as the White House said: the way he mishandled the reporting of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email server.   Then again, it’s also possible that Gary Larson got it right in his old Far Side cartoon when he explained how the dinosaurs became extinct.

The congressional investigation into the Trump-Russia affair doesn’t seem to have much in the way of force.  With the status of the FBI investigation up in the air now that Comey’s gone, we should really consider an independent investigation.  

Oh, and it needs a flashy name, too.  May I suggest Russi-a-Lago?
Profile In Silver

I have even less respect for Trump now

On January 29, 2017, a mere nine days into the nascent administration of Donald Trump, a US Special Operations force carried out a raid on the village of Yakla in the nation of Yemen.

While all of the details of this raid will be the stuff of investigations that, if they’ve even begun, certainly haven’t been completed. But here’s what we do know:

The initial groundwork for the raid was started during the Obama administration but Obama himself never greenlighted the mission. Donald Trump did that.

One US Navy SEAL, Senior Chief Petty Officer William “Ryan” Owens, was killed in the raid, as were some number of civilians. The number of civilians killed, depending on which reports you might read, ranges from the low teens to as many as 25.

Very little, if any, intelligence was gained from the mission.

To his credit, Donald Trump was present when Owens’s body was returned to the states and to offer condolences to his family.

Now let me make it clear that any number of factors can lead to the success or failure of any given mission, most of which are outside of the control of anyone who’s not on the ground in the middle of the mission. I’ve seen some articles from the fringe political left refer to Trump as a “murderer” because of the results of this raid. If I’m being at my most polite, this characterization is grossly inaccurate.

But there’s plenty of fallout from this raid that should fall squarely on Trump’s shoulders. First and foremost is the fact that he tried to shift the blame for the raid first to Ex-President Obama and then to the generals who oversaw it. I’m sorry, Mr. Trump, but you authorized the raid and therefore it’s up to you to accept the consequences, good or bad. By trying to deflect the blame, Trump has turned this mission into more of a news item than it needed to be.

The President of the United States is often called upon to make extremely difficult decisions. This particular decision involved him serving as Commander in Chief of our Armed Forces but not all decisions need to involve that particular responsibility. Some decisions prove, in hindsight to be good decisions while others prove to be, um, not so good. (And, as I’ve written before, it’s not always immediately obvious whether it was a good decision.).

I would argue that, with regard to this particular decision, Trump was lucky in that he received near-immediate feedback that caution would have been the more advisable path. Someone with good leadership skills would have taken this miscue as cause for introspection, reflection, and a changing of tactics for the next time a similar decision might be warranted.

Last night (February 28, 2017), President Trump gave an address before a joint session of congress. It had its high moments and low moments, to be sure, but the lowest moment of the night was when he called out Carryn Owens, the widow of the slain SEAL from that mission. It was arguably two minutes of the most uncomfortable television I’ve ever watched.

I don’t blame anyone who gave her a standing ovation, but she clearly was still grieving over her loss, and rightly so. What I saw was someone whose wounds from a traumatic event were still fresh, praying for strength, crying. I don’t know what was going through her head and whether or not she appreciated this gesture, but when Trump doubled down and claimed the raid to be a success despite the casualties, it was clear that he learned nothing from this basic lesson in on-the-job training for the presidency.

If I were Mrs. Owens or any other member of Ryan Owens’s family, I’d be furious at being used as a prop in his speech, his totally misguided attempts to defend the indefensible. And I do question if we’d even know about this raid had Owens not died.

I don’t know if this raid would have come out differently if Trump had waited longer before authorizing it. I don’t know if I’d be writing this blog post if either Owens, or the Yemeni civilians, or both, had survived. It’s a lot harder to get a learning experience from having made a successful decision.

But Trump had a golden opportunity to demonstrate himself as being up to the nuances and complexities of the presidency — something I previously doubted. After all, when was the last time a new president’s decisions were tested this soon after he took the oath of office? (By comparison, September 11 happened nearly eight months into George W Bush’s presidency and the standoff with David Koresh’s Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas, started a little over a month into Bill Clinton’s presidency and ended a month and a half later. Trump wasn’t even president for two whole weeks when Yakla happened.)

I may have previously doubted Trump’s fitness to be president. I don’t doubt it any more. I’m convinced that he’s unfit to be president.

Edukayshun in Pencilvainya

My parents bought a house in Langhorne, Pennsylvania, when I was five months old, and my mom still lives in that house. Langhorne is located in the Neshaminy School District and my entire undergraduate career was spent in the schools of that district.

Earlier this week, the Neshaminy School District School Board voted to close two of the schools in its district, including the elementary school that I attended from Kindergarten through 4th Grade, and then 6th Grade as well.

My interest in the fact of this closing is more sentimental. If I still lived in the district, I would probably oppose the closing on the grounds that the plans to replace the closed schools involve building a massive, sprawling school that would have far too many students in it. But as a resident of a different school district in the state of Pennsylvania, I’m simply watching it closely and hoping that something similar doesn’t happen where I live. But yeah, I’m sad that the school where I have so many memories soon will be no more.

The decision to do so is undoubtedly a cost-cutting measure. I would like to believe that, no matter what else might or might not be true about this vote, the long term results will be some degree of cost savings, regardless of the question of whether or not it would actually improve what the students actually learn.

On the same date as the vote to close those two schools, the Pennsylvania House Education Committee approved House Bill 1640 and sent it to the greater PA House of Representatives. I don’t know when they’ll vote on it, but I’ve already called my local representative to tell him to vote against it.

This bill, if passed, would compel the phrase “In God We Trust” to appear in every school in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

I’ve written before about the phrase “In God We Trust” as our national motto and feel that it’s shameful that it is our motto.

I think it’s interesting that the text of the bill that’s coming up for a vote lays out in no uncertain terms that the person who first pushed for the usage of the phrase on our currency, Pennsylvania Governor James Pollock, was known as “The Great Christian Governor”.

Doesn’t this fact alone contradict the 1970 Federal Court Ruling in Aronow v. United States, which held that

It is quite obvious that the national motto and the slogan on coinage and currency ‘In God We Trust’ has nothing whatsoever to do with the establishment of religion. Its use is of patriotic or ceremonial character and bears no true resemblance to a governmental sponsorship of a religious exercise. …It is not easy to discern any religious significance attendant the payment of a bill with coin or currency on which has been imprinted ‘In God We Trust’ or the study of a government publication or document bearing that slogan. In fact, such secular uses of the motto was viewed as sacrilegious and irreverent by President Theodore Roosevelt. Yet Congress has directed such uses. While ‘ceremonial’ and ‘patriotic’ may not be particularly apt words to describe the category of the national motto, it is excluded from First Amendment significance because the motto has no theological or ritualistic impact. As stated by the Congressional report, it has ‘spiritual and psychological value’ and ‘inspirational quality.'”

No. It’s not obvious that the national motto has nothing whatsoever to do with the establishment of religion. In fact, it certainly seems to push for exactly that.

As I said above, I called my local representative and asked him to vote against the bill. I gave three reasons, actually.

I maintain that direct references to any deity in official government writings is absolutely an establishment of religion as not all religions worship the same deity. It effectively excludes any different religion as well as non-religion. It shouldn’t be our national motto but as long as it is, there’s no compelling need to post it everywhere unless you want to pander to Christians who are pushing for their religion in places where it doesn’t belong.

Second, it actually wouldn’t do anything to improve education in the state. At best, it would do nothing (positive or negative) in a given school. At worst, it could create two classes of students as officially recognized by the state: those to whom the statement applies in their day-to-day religious life and those to whom it doesn’t.

And finally — and probably most importantly — is the cost. I hardly think that the Neshaminy School District is unique in having budget issues. Why waste scarce educational resources on something like this?

If it’s a foregone conclusion that my elementary school will be little more than a pile of rubble in the near future, let’s at least not let the same thing happen to the concept of education itself.

If you live in Pennsylvania, call your representative and ask him or her to vote against it, just like I did.

They Lack Simple Human Decency

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to vote in an online poll thereby skewing the expected results of the organization that hosted the poll. The group that hosted it, the Minnesota Family Council, asked whether same sex marriage ought to be legal and I, along with many other people online, voted that it should be. This is, of course, despite the stated goals of this group.

Side note: I resent the fact that so many organizations that use the word “family” in their names teach hatred, bigotry, xenophobia, and scare tactics, which are most certainly not values I teach my children.

The cost of voting in the MFC’s poll, was my email address, and I have been receiving emails from them with some regularity ever since. In recent years, as same sex marriage has become legal throughout most of the United States (and with cautious optimism that the Supreme Court later this month will overturn the remaining laws later this month), they have shifted their rhetoric to opposition of other worthwhile topics, such as transgender rights, legalization of marijuana, and surrogate motherhood.

About a week ago, on June 11, 2015, I received an email that solidifies the notion that the people who communicate on behalf of their organization, have absolutely no human decency or any compassion. I have said it before and I’ll say it again: if the ideas they express are in any way reflective of mainstream Christianity, I can not possibly ever picture myself calling myself a Christian.

The email exists on their website, and I recommend that you read it here.

(Note that this came out before the Rachel Dolezal scandal, and they have since sent out a mea culpa not knowing that transracial is a thing.

But even before we get to their hypothesizing about other “trans{blank}” attitudes, we can see how disgusting they really are.

Without even getting into the issues that the transgender community has to deal with, here’s a little thought experiment: whether we like it or not, society asks us all to play certain roles in our lives. Some of those roles are a result of the accident of our birth, others happen with the normal passage of time, and others still are ones we find ourselves playing by virtue of choices we actively make.

That explains how we are given the roles we play. How much we feel those roles fit who we really are can vary from one role to the next. And some of the roles we might even be bold enough to say don’t apply to us, despite society’s expectations.

As specifically pertains to gender, there are no shortage of expectations that society places upon those of us who are considered “male” and others for those considered “female”. Very few, if any, of us, meet all of these expectations without regard to the gender assigned at birth.

So can you really blame someone — anyone — who might identify primarily as the opposite gender?

So when the MFC says this:

The push for “transgender rights” is based on the false ideas that you can divorce your mind and feelings from your body, and that however you feel you are or should be–that’s what you really are, regardless of the physical reality. And you should receive social recognition, honor, and legal rights based on your perception of who you are.

Or when they say this:

All along the way people who disagree will see their religious freedom rights trampled upon, people who truly need compassionate help and counseling won’t receive it and instead face greater turmoil and in some cases even fatalities, and the privacy and legal rights of others will be taken advantage of.

Or when they offer this advice:

Stand firm on the Truth, and be ready to run towards the cultural, media, political, and societal bullets boldly sharing the Truth and Hope you have in Christ, in love. Our darkened culture needs the Light YOU have so fear not!

They’re demonstrating how repulsive they really are. The LGBT community has asked for little more than tolerance of the fact that they’re different from the mainstream.

Tolerance is an exceptionally low bar if you think about it. All it really takes to be tolerant of something is to acknowledge its existence and not try to wish it away. It’s not acceptance of the concept and certainly isn’t embracing the idea or the people seeking tolerance. And you certainly don’t have to like it or even agree with it.

When you tolerate people, really all they’re asking is that you not want to destroy them.

These people are so completely devoid of human decency, it makes me angry. People can be excused for not understanding some ideas and concepts when they’re far enough outside of our own experience. But when the information becomes available to them and they cling to what they thought they understood, that’s when they need to be cut loose.

I’m glad I get those emails. It reminds me that there are truly awful people out there. And however much I’m reluctant to use the word, maybe even “evil” might be appropriate for — if not them, then at least their attitudes.

But I will be shocked if they ever take a position with which I agree.

Let’s Count the Logical Fallacies!

About a month ago, I happened upon the Facebook page for the Institute for Creation Research, a young-earth creationist group that, along with groups like Answers in Genesis apparently believes that the average American IQ is just too damn high.

When I found that page, it gave me the opportunity to write a review their site / page, and I thought I was more than generous when I gave them one (out of five) star. My actual review was as follows:

It makes me sad when I see valuable financial and intellectual resources being wasted trying to either prove the unprovable, or trying to disprove reality as it actually exists. The anti-intellectualism exhibited by this group is little more than self-serving autofellatio that should be relegated to the dustbin of antiquated ideas and concepts.

Note that I wrote this review on the spur of the moment but I think it pretty accurately encapsulates what I think of their organization.

As I write these words, there have been a total of 643 public ratings of the ICR; mine is one of 103 1-star reviews. When weighted against the 485 5-star reviews, 30 4-star’s, 15 3-stars, and 10 2-stars, the average rating of this group is the appallingly high 4.2.

So it’s fair to say that my views are in the minority, at least on this Facebook page. It therefore shouldn’t be much of a surprise, then, that most of the comments received on my review, have disagreed with my perspective. Surprisingly, the reference to autofellatio in my review really hasn’t been (much) of a sticking point.

I would like to take some of the more interesting comments I’ve gotten, quote them verbatim (other than redacting the names of the posters and/or others they might have engaged in dialogue as a part of my posting), and address their arguments in this blog posting. Depending upon what might come up with future responses to my review, this could be the first of many blog entries. Who knows?

So, without further ado…

Actually Jim, it doesn’t require a lot of finances or intellectual resource to prove the existence of God. In fact, the existence of God can be proven with only one word…Israel.

I’m going to ignore the subtle anti-Semitism that I inferred from this comment. The geopolitical boundaries of any nation-state, even those whose borders might be in dispute (and without regard to which other countries recognize those geopolitical boundaries) are a human construct, pure and simple. There may be some who might argue against the rationale for the existence of any given nation and/or for modifying those current boundaries, but those, just like the processes that created those boundaries in the first place, is the work of men and women, pure and simple. No gods required or even expected.

Failure to recognize that for life’s complex order and design that there must be a Creator, is an obvious closed minded attitude that lacks the simplest acknowledgement or attempt at logic. I pray God will soften your hearts and open your eyes to this obvious reality. Whatever the reason for dismissing a God who loves you, is an attempt at holding on to the sinful ways of your existing life and failure at taking accountability for your own actions. I pray that you all will find your way home to our God’s open and loving arms. God bless!

Life is a lot of things, that much is true. It’s messy, dirty, and, quite frankly, pretty amazing. Yes, life is complex, but it’s not really very orderly and although it exhibits the appearance of design, that’s not the same as saying that it was designed. It doesn’t need a creator and that creator certainly doesn’t need to be capitalized. Natural selection is more than sufficient to explain this, as countless studies have confirmed beyond any reasonable doubt.

Additionally, what does it mean to “pray [that your] god will soften [my] heart… and open [my] eyes to this obvious reality.” This is something that keeps recurring in other comments so I’m going to say this now. There are two things that far too many Christians tend to do, both of which are far too detrimental to their greater cause. I am not, have never been, and cannot possibly imagine myself deciding to become a Christian if the faith even remotely requires either of the following attitudes:
— Focussing heavily on a story of appalling brutality and human sacrifice. A little bit over two years ago now I blogged about this very point
— Disguising their arrogance behind the mask of a false mask of humility. Don’t you love the subtle dig at me and people who don’t fall in lockstep with this writer’s attitude in the above quote? This writer wishes the best towards me and other posters who’ve agreed with me, eagerly awaiting the day when his Weltanschauung is somehow validated despite the mountains of evidence to the contrary.

Note that someone who agrees with me took that quote above and pointed out, accurately, that even if his presumption of a creator were true, that in no way means that the creator must be the Christian god. That person responded to their response and said this:

‘re free to have your own opinion and I respect that. Your statement is wrong, but I know what you mean. There hasn’t been thousands of Gods, just thousands of idols worshipped by those who are lost and haven’t been yet found. There is only one God and he’s not just mine but everyone’s. Something our God has given to us is the gift of free will. Even if our free will brings us to our demise. I’ll pray for you it doesn’t. If there’s no guarantee then what does it hurt to follow the doctrine of a loving God and the example Jesus Christ has set forth to us to emulate? Nothing. But what does it hurt to ignore our God and Father and turn our backs to him and keep living in sin? Everything. I’ll pray for you. God bless you brother.

Again we see more of that arrogance masquerading as humility. We can trace the evolution of belief systems at least as far back as human writings, and, knowing how different gods and goddesses carried over from one faith tradition to another, it’s a pretty safe bet that very little of the Bible, is completely original. It’s almost all universally borrowed from older texts and even the most remedial studies of the history of religion demonstrate this. To somehow think that your one particular religion is the only true one and all of the others, past and present, are fake, nonsensical, or otherwise misleading… man, talk about hubris.

Anyway, moving on…

If you say that Michele Anglo is not a real person, only a myth, the Sistine Chapels’ celling is a great mystery, and the statue of David, a great miracle.

This one just plain doesn’t make sense. No one argues that those works of art weren’t made by people. There’s no shortage of works of art that have some religious overtones. This is at least partially because churches paid money to the artists in the first place.

Stringing together cliches and ad hominems does not certify YOUR intellect. Real science isn’t about closing doors that might lead to a conclusion you have precluded for purely emotional and/or philosophical reasons, adamantly refusing to consider alternative explanations simply because you don’t want them to be true. Quit pretending to have a monopoly on reality. It doesn’t lend itself to intellectual credibility.

(Note that this one was directed straight at me after quoting select portions of my review above…)

Interestingly, I never said anywhere in my review that I don’t believe in the supernatural (even though I don’t). The accusations of ad hominem attacks fascinate me the most. Let’s back up and talk about what science is and is not. This commenter is correct that real science isn’t about closing doors that might lead to a preconceived conclusion. The whole of science is dedicated to demonstrating inaccuracies of other people’s hypotheses and not being afraid to follow the evidence where it leads, even if the place you end up isn’t where you expected to go or even where you wanted to go.

I am not a biologist or even a professional scientist. But I am sufficiently well-read on the topic of evolution to know that the theory of evolution is as close as you can come to established fact within the sciences. There may still be a few open debates about certain processes within evolutionary theory but I’m not qualified to be a part of those debates because, as I said, I’m not a scientist. It is therefore not an ad hominem attack to point out that those who attempt to rebut the most basic points of evolutionary theory (or worse, set up strawman arguments for what the ToE actually says, in order to rebut them), are wasting time, money, energy, and brainpower in their endeavors. If anything, it’s doing them a favor by suggesting that their efforts are better placed elsewhere.

I find it curious that I’m writing this after I saw a news article on Andrew Wakefield earlier this week. For those who either don’t recognize his name or recognize it but can’t place it (and don’t feel like following the link to Wikipedia I just posted, he’s the disgraced scientist who first wrote that vaccines cause autism in young children. The study he conducted to support this thesis serves an example of horrible scientific methodology start to finish and it was thoroughly debunked. Now I can forgive any scientist for conducting a bad study. It’s not an easy job and it can be more than a little bit tempting to cut corners. What I can’t forgive is what he did next: when his study was found to be flawed, he doubled-down and went after those who pointed out the flaws. Earlier this week, he was denied standing to sue for damages from those who debunked his study. So if he were to publish some other study, especially on the topic of vaccines, I think it’s safe to say that I wouldn’t pay attention to the study on the grounds that it has his name on it. That might be an ad hominem attack, but it’s also because his history is so well documented.

That brings me to the last comment I’ve received thus far on my review. I strongly recommend not drinking anything as you read this, unless you want to risk it coming out of your nose and possibly damaging your computer:

It can be proven in a court of law beyond a reasonable doubt that God the Creator exists, that the Bible is true, that alleged Bible self-contradictions melt away when historical context and chronology (when alleged contradicting passages were first written) are taken into account, that the Biblical history of Israel is the true and reliable history of Israel, and that Jesus is the promised Jewish Messiah who will one day return to rule this physical earth. More than one student and practioner of law has tried to prove the Bible false by using court of law (beyond a reasonable doubt) rules, and ended up becoming Christians instead. 2 of the most famous in the 20th century were Frank Morrison-author of Who Moved The Stone and Josh McDowell-author of Evidence That Demands A Verdict and More Evidence That Demands A Verdict. My main point is this: God hasn’t told us everything, but he has told us enough, so that unbelief is unreasonable. Believe me, I was not raised in church and used to be agnostic and or atheistic, so I know what I’m talking about. God has provided enough rope, so that if we “hang ourselves” by being unbelievers it is our own fault. I used to disbelieve because I accepted evolution over creation because Astronomy is my favorite hobby and Astronomy is ruled by the evolutionary thinking of the masses. You guys should understand what I am saying because I know you are smart.

I admit it, I’ve tried several times to count the sheer number of logical fallacies in this word salad, and I’ve lost track every time. The most glaring are the arguments from false authority and personal experience, with a little bit of goalpost shifting, false equivalency, and the argument from ignorance. So where do you begin with this one.

I’d start with the court of law analogy, I suppose. In a court of law, person A might accuse person B of having committed a given crime. In short hand, person A might say “He did it!” while person B responds with “No I didn’t!” The fact that person B is innocent until proven guilty means that, unless we can prove beyond a reasonable doubt that person B is lying, we have to assume he’s not. If we extend this logic to the question of the existence of any given god of any religious tradition, person A is saying “This god exists” while person be is saying “No it doesn’t!” The burden of proof lies with the person making the statement in the affirmative, not with the person making the statement in the negative. If you need any more evidence that this is the right way to go, I recommend that you look up Russell’s Teapot, or The Flying Spaghetti Monster, or even the Crumple-Horned Snorkack. And then tell me that you can be absolutely certain that none of these things really exists.

What about the predictions of the Jewish Messiah from the Torah to the New Testament? When one book predicts something that’ll be reported in another book, that more likely tells me that they’re separate works in the same greater canon. Kind of like how Lord Voldemort learned of a prophecy and chose Harry Potter to be “marked as his equal” and thus be the chosen one. But no one thinks that events predicted in the earlier Harry Potter books that actually happened in the latter ones, makes them any less fictitious.

(And besides, not everything that the Messiah was supposed to do, according to the book of Ezekiel, were reportedly done by Jesus in any of the gospels…)

Then we’ve got the writings of Frank Morison (note the tpyo in the quote above; if you’ve never heard of Frank Morison or his book, it’s only one R. Frank Morison was the pseudonym of Albert Henry Ross) and Josh McDowell. Just because two people came to that conclusion doesn’t mean that theirs is the consensus conclusion of others who’ve observed the same evidence. Both of them seem to delve pretty heavily into presuppositional apologetics. I’m a little bit too tired to get into the full flaw of this particular argument for the existence of god, and others who are far better at debating this than I am, have already done the necessary gruntwork. But the link provided here to the Iron Chariots Wiki is a great resource for debunking most apologetics’ claims of the existence of god. And it’s a site I enjoy reading when I have the time.

This commenter then went on to say “I was not raised in church and used to be agnostic and or atheistic, so I know what I’m talking about.” Actually, no you don’t. As I said before, I wasn’t raised in a Christian household and yet, somehow, I understand Christianity better than you do. When Greta Christina wrote her book on Why Are Atheists So Angry, one of the most important ones is the fact that atheists have to know the bible better than their faithful counterparts. And she was right.

The most interesting thing about these comments, I think, is that all of them presume that I don’t believe in any gods, that I’m somehow misled or misinformed, and that I’ve turned my back on their god.

I guess they don’t realize, then, that I proved the existence of god in a blog entry nearly a year and a half ago…

I guess the only real question that needs to be asked, is whether or not there will be a need for a second blog entry to address as-yet-unposted comments. Let’s wait and see…

Outrageous

Back in 2005, I sent an email to Arlen Specter to express my disappointment, at the time, in his decision to vote for a proposed constitutional amendment banning flag burning. The amendment was a direct response to Texas v. Johnson, the 1989 Supreme Court ruling that declared a portion of a Texas law that banned flag desecration, unconstitutional. I don’t feel the need to go too much into that particular ruling other than to say that anyone who supported this amendment, obviously didn’t read the Supreme Court ruling.

Ever since then, I was on a mailing list for Sen. Specter. In 2010, he changed his party affiliation from Republican to Democratic, lost in the Democratic primaries to Joe Hoeffel, who in turn, lost to Pat Toomey, a darling of the Tea Party. And my presence on the mailing list transferred to Toomey.

I’ve written before about my distaste for what Sen. Toomey has said and done.

So I got a new email from him today (May 9, 2014), and it has sunk to a new low, even by Sen. Toomey’s standards. The subject line of his email, was “Outrageous.” Here’s what he said, verbatim:

The Internal Revenue Service – the agency responsible for collecting taxes – is rewarding employees who violate its own laws.

A recent Treasury report reveals more than $1 million in cash bonuses was awarded to 1,100 IRS employees with federal tax compliance problems. $2.8 million in monetary awards was given to 2,900 employees with recent conduct issues resulting in disciplinary action.

This is absolutely outrageous.

If anyone is wondering why Americans are so mistrustful of government today, he or she doesn’t need to look any further than the IRS. Hardworking Americans who lawfully pay their taxes should not be funding the bonuses of IRS employees who fail to do the same.

I have contacted IRS Commissioner Koskinen demanding the agency do all it can to rescind these bonuses and stop such awards in the future. Rest assured that I will be looking into this troubling issue further.

First off, Sen. Toomey, I strongly recommend that you read the report to which you’ve linked and which raised your ire. While there may be some inconsistencies in the way the 1,100 IRS employees filed their taxes, the report clearly states that their bonuses were consistent with Federal guidelines. Inconsistencies in their tax reporting, then, is by and large attributable to things they do on their own time. Being outraged at this would be tantamount to being outraged that an Apple employee buying a Microsoft product.

Second, do the math. A million dollars distributed among 1,100 employees works out to less than $1,000.00 per employee. Ditto for $2.8 million distributed among 2,900 employees. Let’s assume that the average IRS employee earns about $75,000.00 per year, and everyone gets a bonus at the end of the year, not unlike what might happen in the private sector. At salaries at this level, less than $1,000.00 in bonuses is extremely low, not high. I would imagine that this is what happens for the lower performers; the top performers are undoubtedly receiving much more.

Third, as a related point of the math, let’s round the total amount across the two bonus pools, up to $4 million and contemplate the fact that there are more than 300 million residents of the USA. That averages out to just over a penny per taxpayer. I sincerely don’t know why these politicians have such outrage over what is literally nickels and dimes in the budget while allowing huge expenditures — especially for military budges which the military itself hasn’t asked for — gets nary a blink of the eye.

I’d like to propose an alternative, Senator, to your hypothesis of why Americans are so mistrustful of government today. It’s because the Republican leadership in both houses of congress would rather spend time wasting votes to repeal Obamacare, deny the scientific consensus on climate change, force religious thoughts into parts of life where it’s not welcome or desired, and form yet another committee to research what happened on September 11, 2012 in Benghazi, Libya, even though every prior committee has already answered it pretty thoroughly.

But then again, that would require you to actually listen to your constituents, wouldn’t it, Senator?