Friday, September 23, 2011

Extraordinary Claims

The OPERA neutrino experiment from the underground San Grasso Laboratory has recently published a paper regarding the development and testing of a more accurate mechanism to detect the velocity of neutrinos.

If you heard about this, then you probably didn't hear it described in the above terms. You probably heard something to the effect of:

FASTER THAN LIGHT TRAVEL PROVEN BY DIRTY EUROPEANS!!!

OK, probably not the 'dirty Europeans' part. We love you Europe. You think we are nuts for believing in God and executing our citizens...we agree.

So, what's going on with this extraordinary claim? Well, scientists from the San Grasso Laboratory and CERN got some wacky results from the experiment they were running that, if accurate, represent a fundamental problem in our understanding of all matter, and all energy. To give the appropriate weight to this discovery: It makes E = MC^2 not true.

Over a distance of 730 Km (453.6 M,) Neutrino particles travelled, and arrived at a detector a whole 60 nanoseconds faster than they should have if they were travelling at the speed of light. That's 0.00000006 seconds.

This is not a large amount of time, as you can imagine. The OPERA team, however, calculated the possible error in their detection method to be 6.9 nanoseconds, a whole order of magnitude smaller.

They checked, double checked, triple checked, quadruple checked all of the data. They tested their equipment, and then retested it. They did every possible thing that they could think of to explain these anomalous results in a way that doesn't violate our fundamental understanding of physics.

And when they couldn't, they published a paper. They published a humble, and fact driven paper describing the experiment, the data collection, and the analysis. They opened their books to the physics community and the world at large, and said one very important thing: We don't think we are right. We don't think we are right, and we can't find where we went wrong. Somebody please look at this and tell us where we went wrong.

To quote the last paragraph of the conclusion section of that paper:
     Despite the large significance of the measurement reported here and the stability of the
     analysis, the potentially great impact of the result motivates the continuation of our studies in
     order to investigate possible still unknown systematic effects that could explain the observed
     anomaly. We deliberately do not attempt any theoretical or phenomenological interpretation of
     the results.


And so it remains to be seen what will come of these results. The OPERA team released findings that would result in an extraordinary claim, a claim that would represent a paradigm shift in our understanding of physics. The OPERA team are skeptical of their own results, as they should be.

In debates about the existence of God, a concept is frequently brought up by those arguing atheism. That concept is that extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof. As far as extraordinary claims go, anything of the 'supernatural' variety would certainly fit the bill. The invisible man in the sky who created the earth in seven days 6,000 years ago? Well, that is quite extraordinary indeed. That is, if it were proven true, it would represent a paradigm shift in our understanding of the universe. A shift far greater than being 60 nanoseconds off on the speed of light.

When we ask for the extraordinary evidence to back up your extraordinary claim, what we are asking for is this. We are asking you to set aside your beliefs for just one moment, and allow for the possibility that you might be wrong. We ask for you to prove your case. We ask for you to address the statements of others, and to justify how your beliefs are accurate in light of the arguments presented to you. We ask for you to be honest.

We only ask for you to admit that you might be wrong.

-Paul Wittmeyer

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

I killed Troy Davis

So, tonight a man will die. We killed him. All of us. In a democracy the state is a collection of all the voters. Tonight in Georgia we will kill Troy Davis. And he is probably innocent. He is almost 43 but will not reach his 43rd birthday.

Officer Mark MacPhail was working as a security guard at Burger King for extra money. Officer MacPhail saw a man being assaulted in a nearby parking lot and intervened. Officer MacPhail was killed. MacPhail was a former Army Ranger and father of two children. Troy Davis was convicted for the crime. There were eyewitnesses to the crime and two people claimed that Davis confessed to them that he did it. Nine witnesses in total. The gun was never recovered but there were bullet casings found nearby.

Seven of the nine have recanted their testimony and signed an affidavit to that effect. They said they were pressured by the police to implicate Davis. New witnesses implicate Sylvester Coles for the crime. The courts found the new evidence unpersuasive.

Amnesty International, The NAACP, Jimmy Carter, Al Sharpton, Pope Benedict XVI, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and former FBI Director and Judge William S. Sessions called for a new trial or evidentiary hearing.

Sylvester Coles (who was later implicated in the crime)reported that Davis was seen with a .38 calibre pistol (calibre used in the shooting).

During the trial Coles testified that he had argued with the victom of the parking lot scuffle but that Davis had hit him. Coles also admitted to owning a .38 but that he had given it to another man earlier on the night of the shooting.

Troy Davis was convicted of murder and sentenced to death. Tonight will be the fourth and final date for his execution. Courts have stopped it the three prior dates. Not this time though. Tonight he dies.

I have always had a problem with the death penalty. It seems to be a statement that government sovereignty includes our lives. The government has the right to kill its own citizens. They have the right to kill you or me. I cannot accept this. It is fucking barbaric! What purpose does this serve? Punishment? He is dead, he can't feel pain anymore. Revenge? Who gets satisfaction from a needle going into his arm? It is sterile of vengeance. It does not make the populace safer, he was already incarcerated.

We do it because it is the worst we can do. That is only because we decided that it is. We have all the power. We could stone him. We could cut off body parts and poke him with a stick. We could torture him. We think those are too much. But state sponsored murder is ok. We decided that is where we drew the line. All of us. We are all killing this man. I am killing him.

There are times that I wish there were a God who could bring divine punishment on all of us. Were fucking murderers. Apathetic to the murder we sponsor.

My family is pretty liberal. As a child my mother dragged me and my sister to anti-nuclear protests and save the whales and all kinds of crap. My sister, who died when I was nine, really had only one cause she felt deeply about. My sister Katie had this button "Why do we kill people who kill people to show people that killing people is wrong?" I still have that button. I think of her more from holding that button than looking at her picture.

I am a man of ideas and abstractions. These are the things which hit me deeply. That idea is my big sister. She died at 12. She would have given her life every year for all 12 years to prevent guilty men from being killed by the state. The killing of innocent men is just murder.

Rick Perry is one of the front runners in the Republican nomination for president. This is a man who killed 235 people. He took all of us with him. This is your Republican party. These people who hate so much that they kill. I wish I could blame the 'other party' but the democrats are almost as pro murder as republicans.

Only 12 states have no Death Penalty. Since 1976, 1,267 human beings have been killed by me. A democracy is not just rights but responsibility. I am responsible. You are responsible. We have murdered people in cages. We had them in fucking cages. And we killed them.

I mourn today. Were I a man who had faith I would pray to whatever God I accepted for mercy for my crimes. I would pray that my soul could be cleaned from this horror. If I were that God though, I would refuse. Apathy to horror in your name is horror committed by you.

Troy Davis refused to choose his last meal.

At six they offered him Ativan, an anti-anxiety drug.

It is now 6:25 pm. In thirty-five minutes he will die. It just started to rain. I can hear it. So loud. It cannot was away our sin. We are guilty of this act.

Tomorrow I will go to work, eat lunch, go to the gym, and spend a little time with my girlfriend. I will go on. I will go on as if nothing happened. I would like to say that I will stand up and shout NO! But we don't. We sit back and let the world spin. We watch things happen. We get better and go on. What are we supposed to do? New York does not use it's Death Penalty. Where is the fight? How do I vent this rage. Who do I focus my rage on?

I know this post was like the ranting of a madman. For that I am sorry. I would have hoped that I could create a coherent line of thought or a particular perspective or something of use. All I could do was think of my sister. How I had failed her and failed all those who reel from this thing we do. All the murderers who go free because they do not like to bring up the fact that they killed an innocent man.

Why am I writing? I am writing to get out the demons that are in me. I am writing to free myself of the guilt and the sadness and the rage that I feel. This impotent rage. I am writing because that is what I can do.

It is 6:43. I am gonna just stop writing. There is a terrible crime being committed tonight. I thought writing would release the bad that was inside. It just turned rage to sadness. Dark, cold, empty sadness.

-Joshua

Addition: The Supreme Court has stayed the Execution! A temporary stay to see if there should be a stay! Troy may not die after all!


Sunday, September 18, 2011

Hazing

I think I may be pro-hazing. Weird to say but I have been giving this a lot of thought. Some hazing is just a lot of crap but the idea seems somewhat sound. You need to accomplish something. You need to be challenged and need to rise to meet the challenge.

I guess I am looking at the way we group people. Officially as in a club or more unofficially as in a friendship or circle of friends.

I was never in a fraternity or anything like that. I was in scholastic clubs at college but those require an interest in the subject as the hurdle to overcome. Same idea though. You need to be different from other people in a way. The Anthropology club will require you to be interested in Anthropology as a prerequisite.

A country club requires money. They are expensive and so they require that you be the kind of person who has worked to acquire the kind of income necessary to support membership at the club. Though, even with the money required they are still choosey about the kind of person they may allow in their club. To maintain the elitist thing.

Some of you out there may think elitism is a bad thing. It is not. There are many different metrics which we choose to grade people on. Some require good breeding others require lots of money or a high education at an Ivy League school or whatever. These people have seen what they think is important and they look for it. You do too. You look for a good sense of humor or similar interests or a pleasant conversation flow or whatever. You have a personal metric upon which you grade people. You are an elitist. In your category.

I like smarts. Not education but raw intelligence. I grew up going to an honor school and living in the ghetto. I come from a family of eccentric and weird geniuses who have always been the smartest person in whatever room they are in but never got the piece of paper.

The people I look up to can think. I appreciate a thinker. The things which impress me are internal consistency ingenuitive thought and creative problem solving. Oh, and if you are wondering why I used ingenuitive even though it is not really a word, go to hell!

I am an intellectual elitist. I grade people by their intellect. I will, when deciding to move a person into my closer sphere, sometimes test or haze people. There is a hazing required to enter the club of Josh. But if you look closely into your behavior you will see that you do the same. It is not always deliberate or obvious but we always test people. For the intimacy a real friendship provides you should. There is a lot of vulnerability there and you had better make sure that you can trust this person.

Look at the people you surround yourself with. They will reveal a lot about you. What do you prize? What do you seek? What do you desire? It may not be what you think.

Look to see what you chose people for. Do you want to fight or cooperate? Do you want to feel like a god or an equal? Do you want to look up to someone?

I have found that I choose people for a few 'ecological niches' in the garden of Josh. Some think I am great and others challenge me. Some do both and that is the best. There is something about your circle that makes you the person that you are. And that makes your circle what it is.

So, hazing.... this was a long walk to get back to this but I have been hazing my peeps recently and some have moved up and in. They are my elite circle. I think they they are elite.

As a member of a few atheist and skeptical groups and I have been looking to see how I am supposed to gauge people. How do I decide who to keep close and who to step away from. I guess I am going to have to move on to making plans on how to haze.

-Joshua

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Under Oath

In the long career of being me, I have done a number of different things in order to make a living. I have been everything from a high school chemistry teacher to a chef at a Middle Eastern restaurant, to a tour guide at 'The World's Largest Dry Cave.' Currently, and for quite some time now, I work in law.

I argue for a living. Surprised?

In the course of the duties of my employ, I have argued cases in what is referred to as 'Alternative Dispute Resolution,' or Arbitration. It's fake court. Typically, I'm the one with the paper in front of me, asking questions, and making arguments. Yesterday, however, was a bit different.

Because of a conversation I had three months ago regarding a particular file, I was going to be asked to testify. In order to do so, I was going to have to be sworn in. Not a problem, I can tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth...so help me God.

Now, I'm not going to rant here for pages and pages about how this is wrong, and bullshit, and arrgh. I am, however, going to share some of my thoughts surrounding this. First off, the oath doesn't REALLY mean anything. It is a ceremony done to remind people that there are greater than average consequences now if you do not tell the truth. I doubt that even the most dyed in the blood of Christ Christian Fundamentalist believes that God's wrath for perjury is swifter than the judicial branch of the United States Government. The oath is a blinking neon sign that there are dangers ahead.

But, and I don't know if everyone knows this about me, I am an atheist. My angry side does want to refuse to say it, which is my right. I could ask for a different oath, I could refuse to swear upon a bible, these are perfectly within my rights.

Of course, the Judge, who is Christian, my boss, who is Catholic, and opposing counsel, who is wearing a cross on a chain, might look at me in a light less favorably if I were to make a big deal over this 'stupid thing,' and would probably never understand my protestation under any terms other than me being an asshole.

It's harder to win cases when you piss the judge off. If I were to make this little protest, I would be doing a disservice to our client, which is tantamount to malpractice. No, the though had never entered my mind that I would not take the oath.

I did get a brief chuckle in my head over the fact that I might be perjuring myself by taking the oath, which essentially says 'I won't lie because I am afraid of God's wrath.'

Well, I'm not afraid of God's wrath, I'm afraid of losing the case.

We drive past church billboards, religion is thrust at us in life at every turn. We can't escape it, and, a lot of times, we can't even fight it. Sometimes I feel a bit like we are trying to scream the tide back. We are so hated, so despised. For the life of me, I can't understand why...I really can't.

I find solace in doing what I do. I write this blog, I do my podcast, I attend my meetings. I spend a lot of my time fighting back, and I'm happy to do it. It's a fight I believe in, because I believe in people.

Every once in a while, though, something reminds me of the depths to which we are hated. This hate does not make me angry. Go ahead and hate me, because I can take it. It's the hating of the people I love that makes me angry. Hurt the people I love, and you can rest assured that I am going to bring a gun to that knife fight.

But hate me? Well that doesn't make me angry, it just makes me sad.

-Paul Wittmeyer

postscript - Since I had argued in front of this judge about 200 times, she thought the oath was unnecessary. So, it never happened.

Monday, September 12, 2011

some questions

I have spent way too much time on the web reading "Questions for Theists" and "Questions for Atheists". Far too much time. I have fallen prey to the question bug. The problem I have is the questions all seem to be "gotcha" questions. I decided to come up with a list of questions that I really want answers to.

1) Do Indians go to Hell?

The native people who never had the option of experiencing the good word of your faith have a bit of a problem. I have heard some ideas that if they never had the option of hearing the good word they automatically get into heaven. That does make one wonder why people proselytize? Seems like screwing them over to save them from the screwing. If there are other explanations I would love to hear them. This hemisphere was without the word of God. Maybe God is just a prick but seems to me that an omnipotent being would have a contingency for being born in the Americas.

2) Is there anything you would not do if God commanded it?

Would you kill your own child? Would you slaughter towns full of people? Would you stone adulterers to death? These are all things done by the command of God in the Old Testament. Would you, as a western monotheist, do these sorts of things if commanded by God? If not, why not? How would you decide on the actions to follow?

This is a question which always bothers me in regards to biblical commands. People choose which ones to follow. They use common sense and personal morality. I wonder why they need the bible in the first place if they have common sense and individual morals. The question becomes more extreme were one to receive this command directly from God himself. If God says kill your child, do you?

3) How can one tell the difference between the actions of God and Satan?

If there is an event which defies physics and nature how can one tell if it is a miracle or dark magic? You could argue that it is the result, but God seems to do terrible things in the Bible. Are those boils are the result of black magic or the wrath of an angry God? How does one make that determination? I had a friend who said the tsunami of a few years ago spared the Masques because Allah caused the tsunami and was sending a sign. Michelle Bachman said something of the like recently. How do we know it was the Deity and not the demon? Just referring to the last question: how do you know God is God and not the Devil lying to you?

4) What would convince you that there is no God?

I often hear this for atheists, "What evidence would convince you that there is a GOD?" Well, I wonder if the question posed the other way bares any fruit. I am not suggesting that you have seen this evidence or that it is possible to see it, only some piece of information that, if true, would change your mind. If I met a big foot I would accept the big foot theory. If I were awakened from the Matrix and saw all the pods, I would accept that I had lived in the Matrix. Both of these seem silly to me but there is evidence which could change my mind. Is there any for you?

5) Define God.

What does that word mean? It is used so vaguely that it makes no sense to me. How about a solid definition which explains the concept. Maybe I am a theist. I do not know since I do not understand the concept. It could be my ignorance and I am willing to accept that. Educate me. Teach me what to look for. What are the parameters of God? The word is confusing to me.

I am not asking to prove a negative, as we all know there is some real difficulty in doing so. I am simply asking what would grant a preponderance of evidence.

These questions are not intended to trump or to catch people unprepared. I really want answers to these questions. Were I a theist I would hope these questions would be answered. I cannot imagine accepting a belief like God and not addressing these fairly pragmatic questions. None of these are intended to appeal to theologians or philosophers but to regular folks who accept a belief. The same sorts of questions could be applied to any proposition. In this case there are clearly things you (theist) know or understand that I (a-theist) do not. Explaining these to me and other atheists might go far in showing us the error of our ways.

-Joshua
Darwinseye


Throughout this post I have referred to only the Old Testament God since it is an area of some agreement among Jews, Christians and Muslims.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Old School Reasons

I was raised Catholic, and as far as I was aware, so was everyone I had ever met until I was 18 years old. Everyone, except of course, my father. My father's family were 'Protestant.' I say Protestant, and not Lutheran, or Baptist, or Westleyan, or Episcopalian, because to this very day, I have no idea which divisional tree branch of the Protestant Reformation my father's family ascribed to. We just never talked about it. My father is a bit of a man of science, and certainly not one to be contagious with his Christianity.

As far as I was taught, as far as I was aware, everyone was Catholic. It's just what you did. Being raised that way instilled in me the beliefs and arguments that I currently hear from those non-lapsed Catholics who care to talk about their beliefs on rare occasions.

Catholic Dogma is, I think, pretty well understood. Virgin Mary, Jesus, Trinity, Nuns and Priests, and the Pope's big hat. The actual 'beliefs' of actual Catholics are bit harder to wrap one's head around, and that's because I'm pretty sure that they don't have any.

Catholicism is a job. You go to church on Sunday, tithe away, send your kids to Catechism to learn the rules, and enjoy in the social aspects of a large group of people with similar beliefs playing bingo. Catholicism has long ago dropped the 'fire and brimstone' proselytizing in favor of a sedate 'Hosanna in the Highest." (Look it up.)

Questioning a Catholic on the tenets of their faith can be a frustrating endeavor. Questions about 'The Holy Trinity,' and how that could possibly make any sense are typically rebutted with "Religion has done more good in the world than harm." That's probably why you don't see any Catholic debaters going up against the likes of William Lane Craig, or even Christopher Hitchens.

For me, religion has been a constant annoyance. Church was boring, with long winding sermons only punctuated by "Let us proclaim the mystery of Faith." I think that chant, more than any other, defines the current state of American Catholicism. My questions on the logic of all of it were refuted one of two ways: You can't know God's plan, or, more honestly, "No one actually believes that."

And so, I went on my way, slowly evolving over time into the no-man's land of lapsed Catholicism. Religion didn't bother me because I didn't bother with it. The people on the television espousing stupidity were laughed at, and that's about as far as I went.

And then something happened. 19 people who had beliefs unfounded but unwavering hijacked 4 planes, crashing three of them into the monuments that represented for them the antithesis of what their religion told them was right.

Ten years later, I think I have finally realized how I came to be here writing this. It was a slow process. I didn't come out on September 12th, and state "I'm an Atheist, and you all are fucking nuts!!!" Instead, I spent a fair amount of time wondering how these things I had called "beliefs" were the same unproven, untestable claims that would lead people to do what they did.

We called them evil, we said that they hated our freedom...and then we consecrated a set of crossed I-beams left standing, and carved the word 'Jesus' into it.

In the past ten years, religion has become a more vocal aspect of the American Zeitgeist. From the Westboro Baptist Church to the Tea Party to Proposition 8 to Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry. The American response to fanaticism has been fanaticism.

And we are getting worse. In the September 2011 Republican debate, former Governor John Huntsman argued, unsuccessfully, that we shouldn't turn our back on science. He was referring to the fact that Bachmann, Perry, and many others on that stage proclaim absolute certainty about creationism. And Huntsman is a goddamn Mormon!

Catholicism taught me that religion does more good in the world than harm, that no one really believes that stuff, or takes in seriously, that religion is simply a way for people to come together as a community. The decade after September 11th has taught me that religion fosters hate, divides, that science is to be ignored when the facts conflict with faith, and that people believe so strongly in these campfire tales of comfort that they are willing to die, that they are willing to kill.

Unfounded beliefs will always lead to fanaticism. When the position is indefensible, where will always be those who choose to defend their position with a fist.

And I can't believe that we don't see it. When I looked around with open eyes, and watched our culture heading down the road of insanity as we have so many many times before, I never once thought that I was alone in realizing where this goes.

Was I wrong?

-Paul Wittmeyer

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

To bow or not to bow...

I went to Easter dinner with a friend of mine a couple years ago. Both he and I are Atheists. Both out of the closet, as they say. When it came time to say the grace I bowed my head, closed my eyes and started wondering if they were gonna serve pork (I don't eat pork). People always have pork or lamb on Easter. I cracked open my eyes to peek out and there was my friend boldly not bowing. He was actively not bowing his head. Like he was trying to push it out there.

Here is my question, who was being disrespectful? He was going out of his way to make it clear that he was not praying. I, on the other hand, was trying to stay below the radar and just mimicking the behavior of those around me. I have done this all my life. At the age of eleven I gave a really nice prayer to a family of Christians because they said it was customary for a guest to do so. So I did.

I understand there are different dynamics for my friend and me as it is his family and there is baggage in any family. I still wonder about manners. Should we just go along to get along or do we upset the balance by acting defiant and different?

If you've read my paranoia post, you know that I like to stay hidden until I know how people are going to act. Get to know the landscape, so to speak. That probably causes me to miss a lot of really interesting situations. Perhaps there are two reserved atheists who do not say anything or act all heathen-y. Just standing next to each other acting polite and grumbling silently. How many of us do that?

How many of us are out of the closet but bow our head during a prayer? I do it to fit in as I was raised Unitarian (if anything) and they don't pray. I never prayed in my life. Not once. Never tried. It is too silly. But, when the group is doing it I bow that head and wait bored and annoyed. I do it out of a deep fear of being ostracized.

Problem I have is that it seems more disrespectful. I am feigning a faith that people have and revere. It seems like mockery. Like the times I got Communion. Apparently that is a big no-no. Is this the same?

When people go out of their way to show they are not praying they seem like jerks to me. Just defying to make a point. Everybody gets all weird and they don't say anything. I have never seen this spark a conversation or debate, just dirty looks. How does that help?

Of course the best option is to not bow your head and not seem that out of place. That is an option for many but seems really hard for some.

I think we need to all sign a petition saying we will not bow our heads and stick to it. If we can be confident that there are others doing it it will be a great way to find Atheists in crowds. Ask for a prayer. Look around and find your kindred spirits.

That is it!! I have figured where this rambling post is headed. I propose that we never bow our heads during any kind of prayer and ask for prayers to be said at every event of 10 people or more. Yes, I am suggesting that Atheists go out of their way to get prayers said at any event. City Council meetings, exercise classes, random bus rides, or fast food restaurants are all great places to try this out. Just make sure everyone hears you and knows this is in reference to their God. Keep those calls for prayer general, people. No Arabic or Yiddish words or speaking in tongues or sacrificing babies (Satanism is a religion) just general calls for prayer.

Y'see, when the Atheists do not bow their heads we will identify the silent majority. We will find the 18% nonreligious and we will bring them together into a Utopia of freethought and skepticism and...

Maybe I will just start with not bowing my head. Try it if you are a bower as well. When other heads are bowed, look around, you might not be as alone as you think.

-Josh

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Agreeing to disagree

 I'm a bit of an asshole.

At various times in my life, I have been arrogant, condescending, argumentative...annoying. A dear friend of mine once asked me why I have this compulsion to always be right. I didn't have an answer for her then. My answer now? Agreeing to disagree is immoral when the right answer leads to a better understanding of our world, and how to improve the lives of the humans contained therein.

When I was in graduate school, I had an argument with my lab mate, Tom, about which reagent would work best to accomplish the chemical reaction we were trying to do. This argument lasted 3 hours. It lasted so long for two reasons: number one, I was certain, beyond any shadow of a doubt, that I was right...as was my lab mate, and, two...we were too stupid to go grab the book off of the shelf that would tell us who was right.

Until finally, this occurred to us. I grabbed Carey and Sundberg off of the shelf, (a compendium familiar to anyone who has spent any time doing organic chemistry for a living...three of you, right?) flipped to the chapter containing the information we needed...and read it. And, it said:

I was wrong.

I turned to Tom and said, and I quote, "Shit...you are right."

My lab mate was stunned. Not over being right, as he was convinced of this all along. He was stunned because I immediately conceded. We spent a while after that looking up the points in both of our arguments, where I was right but came to a false conclusion, where he began with a false premise.

Tom did the reaction, it worked, and he got his product. Had he done it my way, the reaction would not have worked. The point?

There is objective truth, it is possible to know things. Tom and I could not simply 'agree to disagree.' There was a right answer for the question being asked. There are right answers for everything, absolutely every question ever asked has an answer...somewhere. And many of the questions being asked have answers that will directly affect the lives of those asking, their family, friends...all of humanity.

I am an atheist, in short, because the information presented to humanity by every single religious institution or 'personal experience' leads to a conclusion, based on the evidence, that we are really really afraid of dying and have been searching for a way to suppress that fear.

But that's not why I am an atheist 'activist.' In answering that question, one needs to look no further than "Jesus Camp." In this documentary about a Christian summer camp, you will meet a very young man in anguish and torment, crying his eyes out because he can't understand why he can't hear God. This boy is being tortured by his own mind, convinced by family and clergy that he needs to find Jesus or he will burn in the fires of damnation for all of eternity. This is an eight year old kid.

I fight religion because I cannot bear to tolerate this sanctioned torture. Not when there are questions to be asked, and answers out there to be searched for. Not when this boy, who is not alone, stands a chance of being mentally crippled by the abuse done to him, and may be limited in his capacity to be a useful and contributing member to society. Not when this boy stands a chance of going through life without ever being taught to question, and seek answers.

So long as we dwell in these dark age beliefs, we do not, as a civilization, get better. I have a compulsion to try to be right because I'm trying to improve, and that's all I can do. I have a compulsion to try and be right because I can imagine how much we will be capable of when we leave this demon haunted world behind.

-Paul Wittmeyer