Background Probability

The Agnostic Popular Front has moved to its new home at Skeptic Ink, and will henceforth be known as Background Probability. Despite the relocation and rebranding, we will continue to spew the same low-fidelity high-quality bullshit that you've come to expect.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Bidding on Biden

I hope these political futures traders know something that we don't.

Mything in Action (II)

A deeply principled man and eventual national hero is suffering horribly in a Communist prison camp, in which communication between prisoners and others is strongly discouraged.  When this particular prisoner’s spirits are at low ebb, an improbable expressionless figure appears and draws a cross in the sand, silently sharing the love of Christ.  At this point, the woeful prisoner experiences a spiritual renewal; an uplift of hope and faith which helps him to carry on until his eventual release.

Does this brief yet relatively detailed summary encapsulate a series of events allegedly experienced by Alexander Solzhenitsyn or by John McCain?  Does a complete lack of firsthand documentary evidence in the quarter-century after these events allegedly transpired cast reasonable doubt on whether they actually occurred at all?  Does the unlikely level of similarity between the two stories suggest they are not biographical but mythical?  Was this wonderfully uplifting story (like so many others) nothing more than a collection of free-floating pious fictions spread from one pulpit to the next?


I’d really like to believe that John McCain is a truthful fellow, but then I would have to wonder whether he has trouble sorting out his own experiences from those he has heard from some long-forgotten pulpit.



Tuesday, August 19, 2008

McCain - 21st century mythmaker?

Here is a screenshot (thanks be unto YouTube) of a message which John McCain personally voiced over and approved, wherein he is seen gazing ever so serenely upon a cross scratched in the dirt by an unknown Brother in Christ – improbably enough – a prison guard in a Communist POW camp.

Andrew Sullivan has been deconstructing this story: here and there, hither and thither and yonder, and yet again. I’ve no doubt that he will continue running this to ground (like a terrier set loose upon a wounded rat) until finally the MSM decides to “break” the story that McCain is, in point of fact, creating pious fictions out of whole cloth.

Money quote:

If McCain has fabricated a religious epiphany for political purposes, it is about as deep a betrayal of core integrity as one can imagine, and the latest example of how pernicious the religious domination of political life in America has become.

My money is on this story being a pious fiction of relatively recent vintage, cooked up in a crock pot to serve to credulous evangelical voters who believe Obama was born a Muslim and see not a hint of irony in a certain controversial magazine cover.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Motivational Thought of the Day

Mondays being such as they are, I need a little extra motivation to help me slog through it all.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Sunday Sermon (2008-08-17)

Check out this video of Reggie "The Infidel Guy" as his guests debate whether the most important Bible stories about Jesus are worth the parchment they were scribbled upon.

Friday, August 15, 2008

The Obama-Nation that Causes Desolation

Christian Newswire:

John McCain's campaign ad "The One" has generated a lot of buzz regarding the Left Behind series [pious fictionalizations of a Christian apocalypse]. Political commentators are comparing McCain's portrayal of competitor Barack Obama with the blockbuster apocalyptic series' depiction of the antichrist. But even the series authors Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins don't think Obama is the antichrist.

Well thank the gods someone has finally had the guts to put out a viral video implying his political opponent is the anti-Christ. All aboard the Straight Talk express!

Amoral Rovian tactics aside, this is a rather clever strategy. McCain cannot come across as convincingly born-again like George II, but he can subtly and deniably spread the meme among credulous evangelicals that Obama is the anti-Christ, “The One.” Having followed Evangelical Christian apocalypticism for years before LaHaye started “writing” his novels (the first of which I actually slogged through) I caught the undertones of this video the very first time that I saw it. Nevertheless, the video breakdown and analysis from TIME magazine notes several particular symbols and allusions which may be easily missed.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Of Bism and other -ism's

Bism is a fictional world of the unfathomable depths, where fantastical creatures lead lives barely imaginable to us surface dwellers.  So it is with almost all the other “–ism’s” which I’ve come across.  Agnosticism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Daoism, &  Egoism might make a certain degree of sense to me, but only insofar as they comport with everyday (as opposed to philosophical) pragmatism.  Admittedly, there are a few –ism’s which I don’t mind having around for the sake of recreational reading and the occasional flash of insight.

That said, I find most –ism’s abominable, execrable, irrational, onerous, & unnecessary to boot.  Slip-shod, ad-hoc, jury-rigged, super-glued agglomerations of disparate, ragged-edged ideas hanging together solely on account of the strong force of human credulity.  Sometimes, though, you just have to tack the “ism” onto a religious/political ideology just to make sense of the situation.  Hence “Islamism” to denote (radical) politicized Muslim nationalism, and “Zionism” to denote politicized Jewish nationalism.  Their goals are something like Muslim and Jewish nation-states, respectively, with some degree of argument over the extent to which the ultra-orthodox will dictate policy and personal morality.  Why, then, do we not have a widely-known term for the Christian nationalist equivalent to these ideas – Christianism!

Andrew Sullivan is leading the charge in defining and spreading this meme, and thank all the gods for him.  No doubt this term will prove much more useful than the ill-begotten “Bright” in framing the issues in important debates.


Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Shocking Doctrine from "Mainstream" Baptists

My friend Bruce Prescott is a comrade-in-arms for whom I've great respect and from whom I've learned much over the years. I enjoy his blog and usually tune in to his radio show. However, a recent post entitled Shock Doctrine and the SBC has a few points with which I beg to differ. I’m not going to comment on Naomi Klein's book (seeing as Tyler Cowen has already published the definitive takedown) but rather on Bruce’s post itself.

First off, if you want to dress down the neo-liberal free-marketeers, Chile is not your best bet. From Wikipedia’s list of countries by GDP per capita :

Note that the only other bright-green spot on the entire continent is actually a region of France (Guyane) and thus heavily subsidized by the EU. Evidently, Chicago school thinking has not exactly chilled Chile’s economic growth and prosperity, which would explain why other South American countries are queuing up for a taste of free markets and the good life.

Secondly, this comment is too much of a gem not to lampoon:

Fundamentalism has been as disastrous to Baptist life as Friedman's economics has been to capitalism.

Replace "disastrous" with "essential" and I would heartily agree. Friedman's economics are essentially capitalism, just as Baptist life has now become fundamentalism in both theory and practice. As much as I would like Bruce's approach to theology and ethics to be mainstream among Baptists, this ceased to be the case well before Naomi Klein graduated secondary school.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Christianity, Celibacy, Pederasty

The Chicagoist:

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago announced today that it will pay $12.7 million to settle a suit against 11 priests brought by 16 victims of sexual abuse. Over the last 30 years, the Archdiocese of Chicago has settled 250 such suits.
Sun Times, Tribune]

Forget about the money for a moment, if you can, and just work the math for victimhood: 250 suits / 30 years is over 8 lawsuits settled out of court per year, on average. Since such suits may bring together multiple victims and perps (as this one did) the numbers of persons abused and molested in Chicago alone may be well in excess of eight persons per year. Probably most of these were young boys, if history is any guide to broad social trends.

Now, what is it about a profession which requires and enforces celibacy that attracts pedophiles? Wait…now that I think about it, who else is most likely to consider celibacy an employment benefit rather than a cost? Who else but would-be pederasts find their own sexual impulses so repugnant as to crave enforced celibacy? Necrophiliacs, maybe, but their victims almost never sue.

Saving the Planet

Just when you thought Sally Kern has wrapped up the award for greatest confusion between politics and piety:
"[Pelosi] is committed to her global warming fanaticism to the point where she has said that she's just trying to save the planet. We all know that someone did that over 2,000 years ago, they saved the planet -- we didn't need Nancy Pelosi to do that,"

- Michele Bachmann, quoted by TPM
Thank you, Minnesota. Nice to have the national spotlight off Silly Sally, if only for bit.

Tues. Tee

I hope someday to find an agnostic IDist who is angered (or at least discomfited) by both of the implications of this shirt. Most people I know do believe in some sort of god & some sort of biological evolution, so this shirt shouldn't piss people off too often.

Monday, August 11, 2008

The Genius of Charles Darwin

Today I finally got a hold of a recording of The Genius of Charles Darwin from BBC 4.   Here is the most depressing segment of the show, although it is somewhat cheering to me personally to see that evidence-resistant religious indoctrination is a problem even in London.  Makes me feel a bit better about sending my children to the local public schools.


Money quote:

Charles Darwin's Origin of Species is one of the most precious books in the entire library of our species.  This book made it possible no longer to feel the necessity to believe in anything supernatural.  It completely revolutionized the way we see ourselves, the world, and our origins.


Reading This Week - Lewis Black

After several weeks of straight non-fiction, I deserve a little break. Lewis Black combines humor, satire, biography, and vitriol in this takedown of mainstream religion. This book is sort of like the experiencing the Four Horsemen on laughing gas and MILF-weed. I was going to read C.S. Lewis again this week, but decided that yet another series of supercilious sermons laced with Gordian-knotted illogic would just be too depressing.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Pray for Rain

I approve this message. If only the radical right would stick to influencing politics through ineffectual prayers, we'd have no need of Americans United or any other church/state watchdogs. Wooo!

Sunday Sermon (2008-08-10)

Daniel Dennett gives the definitive talk on infectious ideas.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Friday Fishbait - Darwin (Original)

My original Darwin fish sticker (not pictured) has since evolved into an FSM but the original is still the most potent and on-point.

Why Darwin of all the freethinkers who might serve as a counterpoint to Jesus?

Probably one reason is that Darwin has allegedly made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist. More importantly, though, other great men of scientific progress (e.g. Galileo, Einstein) are no longer enduring a sustained attack upon their breakthroughs by those who sport the original (ΙΧΘΥΣ) fish. The opponents of Christian Nationalists are more reactive than progressive, striving to hold the line (e.g. on science curricula and textbooks) rather than push the envelope.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Sally Kern: God Warrior

While the Wikipedia entry for God Warrior is already taken by a woman widely known for her paranoid delusional ranting against non-Christians, Oklahoma’s own hometown heroine is not to be outdone. Yesterday Sally Kern lit up the AP wires once again on account of her militant message of ‘Judeo-Christian’ values; values such as intolerance, homophobia, islamophobia, reintegration of church and state, and the deference of all upright citizens to an apocalyptic ethical scheme spewed forth from a homeless street magician and motivational speaker with pretensions to greatness.

So, where exactly does one volunteer to stump door-to-door for Ron Marlett?

Ontological Argument for God

This is my very favorite argument for God, because it is so wonderfully sophistic, solipsistic, and (in later formulations) linguistically slapstick:

  1. If God is defined such that God exists, then God really does exist.

  2. "God" is defined as a being which, among other things, exists (necessarily)

  3. Therefore, God exists.

Given the tenuousness of the first premise, I really don't think we ought to waste loads of time on this one.

Clasping hands (if you've got them)

I know the perfect prayer for demonstrating the unquestioned divine power of whomever those calling themselves TheCall believe they are ringing up:

"Lord, heal our amputees!"

As it happens, American evangelicals strongly supported Gulf War II, and so it is only fitting that they should use their influence with the Creator of the Cosmos to help ameliorate some of its consequences.

So, Lou Engle, if you really believe “There are moments in history when a door for massive change opens” why don’t you prove it by opening wide the handicap accessible doors? Show us what your God can really do! I will personally repent and become an itinerant evangelist if only you can get God to grow back a few dozen limbs. It’s not much to ask, just a few veracious and verifiable miracles.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

The Most Dangerous Hypocrite

Does our society suffer more on account of “hypocritical pretenders to religion or by the openly profane?" Given the relatively recent resurgence of the religious right in all branches of government, this question is no less relevant now than when it was originally posed.

Here are a few (mildly paraphrased into modern English) of Benjamin Franklin’s thoughts on the matter, excerpted from Albert Henry Smyth’s collection of Franklin’s writings:

[A] public hypocrite every say deceives his betters, and makes them the ignorant trumpeters of his supposed Godliness: They take him for a Saint, and pass him for one, without considering that they are (as it were) the instruments of public mischief out of conscience, and ruin their country for God’s sake.

* * *

[T]he most dangerous Hypocrite in a Commonwealth, is one who leaves the Gospel for the sake of the Law: A Man compounded of Law and Gospel, is able to cheat a whole Country with his Religion, and then destroy them under color of Law: And here the Clergy are in great Danger of being deceived, and the People of being deceived by the Clergy, until the Monster arrives to such Power and Wealth, that he is out of the reach of both, and can oppress the People without their own blind Assistance."

I wonder what Franklin would say to Huckabee's grassroots groundswell, or Obama's faith in faith-based programs, or McCain's explicit conflation of Church and State?

Where your Google Hits Are, There Your Treasure Shall Be

Googling (as opposed to just having a go ogling) the Uncommon Descent blog reveals an interesting trend…

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Tues. Tee

Now that the possibility of salvation for unbaptised infants is accepted by most (not all) Catholics, and since Protestants generally already hold this view, it would seem that the vast majority of devout pro-lifers (as they like to call themselves) here in the U.S. assent to the idea that aborted fetuses probably pass directly into a beatific state rather than being damned to hell or resigned to limbo.

That said, one must wonder why our anti-abortion activists are so actively anti-abortion. What precisely is the spiritual harm done when a child is denied to opportunity to grow up, reach the age of accountability, reject the gospel, and be damned to hell? Given Jesus’ pronouncement concerning the narrowness of The Way, one might well conclude that the aborted children stand a far better chance than those born into this world, especially those born to those mothers who are persuaded or coerced into foregoing abortion.

Perhaps I ought to wear this shirt to the next Operation Rescue rally just for the sake of polling the people and getting a few choice vox pops on these matters, eh no?

Monday, August 4, 2008

Theistic certitude by state

Reading this week - St. Paulos the Apostate's Letter to the Americans

John Allen Paulos is witty and often humorous in his presentation and deconstruction of common theistic arguments. At times, though, he oversimplifies and understates the difficulty of the subject matter (surfacing from philosophical depths up to the shallows inhabited by the likes of Ray Comfort, Kirk Cameron, and the Rational Response Squad) presumably because his editors overemphasized the art of underestimating the understanding of literate laity. To each his own, though, and surely Paulos can do no worse than Dawkins when it comes to armchair theology.


What is the deal with Christian Nationalists and the flagrant abuse of scare quotes? Seriously, guys, if you are want to emphasize a word, please use italics or boldface or underlining, or some combination of these legitimate techniques. This really oughtn’t be so hard to grasp.

Moreover, why do these right-wing-nuts believe America should be blessed rather than damned? Either the Haggard/Dobson/Falwell crowd is correct in claiming the nation has turned its back on God (making Jeremiah Wright’s jeremiads right, and properly prophetic) or else America is on the narrow path and warrants divine blessing rather than cursing. Either we are minding god or we are damning our country, but (for the love of god and country) please make up your damned minds!

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Sunday Sermon (2008-08-03)

"Queerer than we can suppose" with Richard Dawkins

Friday, August 1, 2008

Friday Fishbait - FSM

The Flying Spaghetti Monster is quite possibly one of the rarest and most controversial of the Endangered Species in the context of the Fish Wars.  Here is our fundamental creed:

Let us remember that there are multiple theories of Intelligent Design. I and many others around the world are of the strong belief that the universe was created by a Flying Spaghetti Monster. It was He who created all that we see and all that we feel. We feel strongly that the overwhelming scientific evidence pointing towards evolutionary processes is nothing but a coincidence, put in place by Him.

In His Most Noodly Name - rAmen!