NECSS – See you there!

I’m going to be attending the Northeastern Conference on Science and Skepticism this weekend. I find that this is the rational antidote to Michael Voris coming to my area. I hope to see many of my Facebook friends there!

The Northeast Conference on Science & Skepticism (NECSS – pronounced “nexus”) is an educational conference held annually in New York City. As its name suggests, NECSS explores the intersection of science, skepticism, the media, and society for the purpose of promoting a more rational world.

Ignorance and Distortion in Rhode Island: Prayer Banner

 

I’ve been following the controversy surrounding what is quite a clear cut-and-dry case in Rhode Island regarding separation of church and state. A public high school has a prayer banner on its wall that should be taken down because endorsement of religion should be kept out of public schools. The words “Heavenly Father” and “Amen” denote a very clear endorsement of religion! The responses of the community at large in this Rhode Island case and the nativity controversy I was involved in are very similar; the same distortions and levels of ignorance are displayed. The “arguments” from the “pro-prayer banner” people are simply horrible.

 
Here’s a video from a Rhode Island FOX station distorting the issues:
 
 
Comments at 0:28 begin the distortions. Throughout this discussion, newscasters focus on the word “offended.” Offense, whether real or contrived, is not the issue here and is not the basis for a complaint about violation of the separation of church and state. The complaint here is that the school is endorsing a religion by displaying a prayer banner. Let’s focus on the real issue here.
 
0:40 contains a fallacious appeal to tradition. So what if the banner was up for a long time? If the banner were up for 40 years, 4 years, or 4 days, this would not make the banner any more or less legitimate. The banner is a violation regardless of how long it has been up.

1:15 Don’t like it, don’t look at it! Missing the point…and a really bad argument. If a sign were at the school saying “All Christians are inferior human beings who are deluded and worship imaginary gods. Scientology is the real deal,” Christians (or anyone else) certainly would see the huge flaw in this non-argument. The issue is not about people looking at a sign, liking the sign, or disliking the sign; the issue is whether or not the sign is a violation.

1:50 focus on offensive although it really has nothing to do with the real argument

2:09 another appeal to tradition

2:22 The city is hurting financially…so what? It’s obviously going to lose if it goes to court, but the school wants to go to court anyway. Claiming that the school is poor doesn’t matter at all. This is a veiled fallacious appeal to emotion.

2:50 Non-sequitur. The commentator asks why parents would allow their child to be public about this. Who cares? This isn’t relevant to the argument.

3:35 The majority want the prayer there. So what? It doesn’t matter what the majority wants because the constitution trumps mob rule. If everyone suddenly wanted to own slaves, this wouldn’t suddenly legalize or legitimize slavery.

5:12 features a poll that is not dealing with the central issue at all.
 
 

Nepatized Book Tour: April 15 Book Signing #2

Author Kenny Luck and I will be at Borders in Dickson City, PA on April 15th at 6PM to 8PM. Kenny Luck and I will be singing books and I will be giving a speech/presentation regarding the nativity controversy and separation of church and state.

Since 2008, Northeastern Pennsylvania has been the crossroads for presidential politics, the national media, and, above all: Fraud. Dominating the headlines are stories of greed and controversy; news reports that reveal the corrupt, the immoral, and the idiotic. With so much attention given to the region in recent years, it inevitably leads one to ask: Who and what defines us?

NEPATIZED! investigates the most recent scandals, controversies, and corruption in Northeastern Pennsylvania. With more than thirty interviews by local politicians, media figures, and activists, this book takes a critical look at some of the people and events that have redefined the region. Lou Barletta’s anti-minority rage; Bishop Martino’s divinely-inspired bigotry; and Steve Corbett’s cacophonous diatribes are all part of, what the author calls, “a spectacle of unequivocal idiocy.”

With wit and intellect, author Kenny Luck’s fact-filled expose, complimented by Ted Michalowski’s engaging illustrations, explores the region through the people who have helped to mold it: Lackawanna County Recorder of Deeds Evie Rafalko McNulty, former WILK host Kevin Lynn, Filmmaker Josh Fox (“Gas Land”), Political Scientist G. Terry Madonna, Union Leader Michael Milz, Blogger Dan Cheek, and King’s College student Justin Vacula tell the recent story of Northeastern Pennsylvania in their own words, their roles in shaping it, and their grievances against it.

 

“Quake Victims Deserve God’s Love, Our Prayers” Times Leader 3/30 Letter to the Editor

My recent Letter to the Editor regarding the problem of evil and the Japanese earthquake is getting many responses from Christians who are making my case look very good. Here’s a response that was published today.

Someone writes,

I’m writing in response to a letter to the editor titled “Natural disasters require our help, not our prayers” (March 17), which was submitted by Justin Vacula, co-organizer and spokesman of the NEPA Freethought Society.

Vacula wrote: “The recent devastation in Japan has led many well-meaning believers in God to pray, but their prayers are futile, displaying an obvious contradiction in their supernaturalistic worldview.

“Theists believe that God created the universe and that everything happens according to his will.”

He further wrote, in part, “disasters of the world should lead us to the conclusion that belief in an omni-God is irrational.”

Mr. Vacula, by your words, you appear to be an atheist and/or New Ager and hold the belief that you are what I lovingly refer to as a “monkeyman,” evolved from your ancestral ape lineage. Your views on God and prayer are irrational and without merit. Ask the countless believers who have and do know the power of the living God, which contradict your unsubstantiated viewpoint. Why you had to publicly associate God and prayer with disasters and death, and then with the American Red Cross and donations, is beyond comprehension.

God did create the universe, and man was created in his image. Jesus is our salvation, for no man will come to the father but through him. God does not wantonly kill men. He is a loving God. Men kill men. Sin, irrational thinking and stupidity destroy men.

If a man builds a house on top of a volcano, would it not be logical and rational to believe that one day that house will be destroyed? Would it not be rational to believe that people will die? If men build nuclear power plants on or near volcanic fault lines, would it not be rational to believe one day catastrophic events will ensue?

And, yes, it is our moral obligation to try to help our fellow man in times of disaster or misfortune, but it doesn’t necessarily mean the help must come in the form of material things or money, as you suggest. Prayer is far more powerful and lasting.

I respond,

The reader who responded to my letter hasn’t done much research at all because it’s quite easy to come to the conclusion that I’m an atheist and not a new-ager. He offers no arguments, but rather just makes assertions and resorts to name calling such as “monkeyman,” whatever that means. Of course I accept evolution. The scientific community has gathered the evidence and genetics, speciation, the fossil record, etc show that evolution happened.

The author makes a fallacious appeal to popularity when he says “ask the countless believers who know the power of the living God.” Personal testimony in this case is worthless because naturalistic explanations can offer a better reason for this “power of prayer.” Millions of people from different religions attest to their gods answering their prayers and they certainly all can’t be right. I associate God with natural disasters and death because theists believe that he created the universe and everything happens according to his will. If this is the case, he’s responsible for natural disasters and obviously did nothing to stop them if he does exist.

I want people to donate to relief efforts because this humanitarian aid is actually needed. The moral priorities of many religious people are greatly skewed, including this author’s, who think that help need not be material and “prayer is far more powerful and lasting.” The author says “men kill men,” but he somehow neglects the presence of natural disasters. My arguments are not against moral evil, but rather natural evil. The author fails to respond to my natural evil arguments. In the Old Testament, God actually does kill a great number of men. Remember the Great Flood that wiped out almost all of humanity, for example?

The author tries to place the blame on humans who build homes near areas of potential disaster, but this still doesn’t work because God set these conditions and presumably knew that these people would die, yet he didn’t build the earth in a different manner. Also, it’s not very obvious that people build their homes in areas of natural disaster. In any case, the argument is a non-sequitur and fails to answer my arguments. You can’t possibly put the blame on humans for natural disasters. I rest my case. The mind of the religious can often be very harmful when people think that donating money to relief efforts is not a priority.