Archive | February, 2011

There’s Still Time, Heathens….

25 Feb

The cupcake surly giveaway ends on March 1st, so you still have a little time.  The original announcement was posted here.

So far, I’ve received a grand total of ….. wait for it….. 0 recommendations.  That’s right.  Zero.  I thought I could bribe you intelligent people into helping me increase the blog subscriptions, but alas.  You cats simply will not be herded.

Seriously, if you like giant ceramic cupcakes, this is your lucky day.  Get friends to subscribe to this blog or like the facebook fanpage.  They need to email me at cupcakeatheist@yahoo.com and let me know you recommended them.  The person with the most recommendations as of March 1st wins.

Or I’m keeping the damn cupcake.

Anthropocentrism: All of God’s Special Little Snowflakes

24 Feb

My four-year-old has a book of science activities.  One rainy day not so long ago, my husband and son decided to pull out the book and complete a biology activity on classifying living things.  The objective was to cut out pictures of animals in old magazines and decide how they should be grouped together.  Should they be grouped by the number legs they have?  By whether or not they are plant-eaters or meat-eaters?  Sea or land animals? Daytime or nighttime creatures?

Let’s be honest here.  My boy is only four.  Even with my husband’s help, the project basically turned into playtime with magazine clippings, safety scissors and glue sticks.  By the time they showed off their final product, the animal photos glued on their poster weren’t even close to being classified in the right groups.  Mammals, birds, fish, and reptiles had all been mixed together on his poster board in a beautiful, biologically diverse, gluey mess.  For some reason, amphibians and those spineless invertebrates didn’t make the poster. Maybe we don’t subscribe to the right magazines.

To my rapturous joy, near the top of the poster was a picture of a sleeping Homo sapiens.  That’s right.  My husband had thought to include a picture of a human baby.  It was glued squarely between an ocelot and a rhinoceros (at least they got them in the same phylum and class, right?).  Still, I thought it was quite clever of my husband to use such a simple exercise to demonstrate the characteristics we share with the animals on this planet and, in doing so, show that we are animals too.

Parents expect their children to have short memories, and are thus caught off guard when something we think was overlooked or forgotten ends up being significant.  Several days later, I was pretty sure my son had moved on from the kingdom Animalia to more exciting things like trucks and candy. Out of the blue one day he asked me, “Mommy, are we animals?”  My mind immediately went back to the science activity he’d completed the week before.  “Yes, we are animals,” was my response.

“But, Mommy, we seem… different.”

There it was.  An uncomplicated observation from a very brainy boy.  There was no disputing it. He was right.  We are… different.  So how to help him understand our place in the animal kingdom?  I was taken back to my own childhood where I was raised in a very anthropocentric mindset.  Not only was I taught that human beings were the most significant and special of all god’s creatures, my parents took it even further than that. I was taught that I was god’s special girl, that god knew me before I was even born, and that god knew the number of hairs on my head at all times. Why this hair-counting, voyeuristic god didn’t completely creep me out at the time, I have no idea.  Maybe I wanted very much to hear how special I was and maybe the god myth filled that need.

Yes, humans are different, but are we supreme?  And if we are supreme, was it a god or gods that made us that way? The Bible would lead us to believe so.  Why, it is completely integral to the Genesis story.

Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.’ Holy Bible, NRSV, Catholic Edition

What does science tell us?  Well, for starters science in no way confirms the Genesis account.  Science tells us that we are very tiny life forms in a very, very big universe.  Compare your mass to the mass of the planet.  Then, compare our planet to our entire galaxy.  Then think about our galaxy in terms of the entire observable universe.  It blows the mind.  We are so tiny compared to all of that, how can one ever begin to feel special or significant?  We are not only tiny in size, but in time as well.  The age of the universe is reckoned at approximately 13.7 billion years. The Earth itself is dated at 4.5 billion years old.  Out of that 4.5 billion years, anatomically modern humans only originated in Africa around 200,000 years ago.  This means that for the majority of the life of the universe and, indeed, our planet humans have not been around. How then can we be supreme, the most significant entities in the universe, as Christianity would have us believe?

The answer is that we are not supreme.  We are, collectively, a blip on the radar.  The earth will still be here long after we are gone.

How are we to go about the 80 or so years we have on this planet knowing how tiny and inconsequential we are?  The answer is that we are not insignificant.  We are living things!  You, reader, are the product of millions of years of gradual, inching evolution.  Every cell in your body is a triumph of nature.  You are incredible because you are here and you are alive.  It is not necessary to believe in a deity or that as humans we have something supernatural within us that separates us from other animals.  Our significance is our place in the natural world, and the fact that that place is only temporary.

My little boy is far too young to understand this, so my response was a visit to the new Africa exhibit at the zoo.  My overly-cautious little one looked on as I stood inches away from a chimpanzee, separated only by a pane of glass.  The chimpanzee put his hand up to the glass.  I held mine up to meet his.  His eyes met mine and we considered one another.  In absolute awe (and yes, a little choked up), I looked back at my tiny son as if to say, “See.  Not so different.”

“We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born. The potential people who could have been here in my place but who will in fact never see the light of day outnumber the sand grains of Arabia. Certainly those unborn ghosts include greater poets than Keats, scientists greater than Newton. We know this because the set of possible people allowed by our DNA so massively outnumbers the set of actual people. In the teeth of these stupefying odds it is you and I, in our ordinariness, that are here.” – – Richard Dawkins, Unweaving The Rainbow, 1998.

Making love to Dawkins’ brain, then leaving $5 for a cab: An interview with Jake Farr-Wharton

20 Feb

Hello, Cupcake readers. Meet Super Jake.

Jake is a Freethinker, Secularist, Skeptic, Naturalist, Atheist, Anti-theism-ist, Humanist, LGBT Activist, Garden Gnome Makeup Artist, Writer, Underpants Enthusiast and Self-Professed 2011 Sexiest Atheist on God’s Green Earth.

When fighting irrationality, his weapon of choice is the ImaginaryFriendsShow.com podcast, which was recently nominated for an atheism/agnosticism award on About.com which makes it in the top 5 of atheist/agnostic podcasts IN THE WORLD!  You can click here to vote for Jake’s podcast and move it from its current ranking at #5 all the way to the top.

Also, Jake has recently published his book Letters to Christian Leaders; Hollow be thy claimsThe book is now available on Amazon.com

Jake was kind enough to spend some time speaking with me about his new book.  Enjoy!

Q: Welcome to The Cupcake Atheist, Jake.  I really enjoyed your book. One of the things I enjoyed most was that each chapter begins with an excerpt taken from the speech or writings of an evangelical Christian, followed by your rebuttal.  Why did you choose to use your subjects’ own words and do you think that is important to the aim of your book?

A. I read a lot of atheist literature and find that atheist books often misrepresent Christians and in misrepresenting them they distance themselves from them. Atheists who likely spent the majority of their lives as atheists often write these books, and they are trying to put in words what they think the Christian or Muslim believes.  What I wanted to do in my book is quote word-for-word what these Christians are being taught by these morons, by these disgusting people who are trying to infect the minds of potentially productive, intelligent people.

Q: Did your own experiences with religion influence that decision?

A: Effectively, I was raised a fundamentalist Christian. When I was a Christian, I’m not sure I would have appreciated an atheist screaming in my ear.  I absolutely would have listened if an atheist or scientist would have gotten up in front of my church and debated my priest and taken apart his own messages.  So that is what I wanted to do in my book.

Q: The foreword of your book indicates that the rationalist message is “getting out but it isn’t being bought.”  Why do you think this is the case?

A:  It is the way the message it is packaged and sold.  You can scream all you want at a believer or a theist.  It simply doesn’t work. The message will never reach them.  Their mind is blocked and that’s it. I absolutely love Dawkins and have read most of his books.  I’m an avid lover of biology and genetics and I would just love to make love to Dawkins’ brain. He is a really incredible person.  It is the way he structures his message.  Effectively, his texts are structured toward people who already get the message and just want to learn more about it.  No Christian wants to think about their belief in god as a “delusion.” I’ve chosen a different attack.  I want to let the theists know that it’s not their fault.  They were complicit, but in most cases they were just children who were being taught bullshit by people they trusted.  How were they to know what they were being taught is completely contrary to all evidence?

Q: Can you speak to why you chose to target Christian leaders as opposed to all believers?

A: By leaving the believers and the individual theists out of the attack and going right for the jugular, right for the people who disseminate that message of garbage we leave the believer to think on their own.  They don’t have to challenge themselves because it is their pastors who are being challenged.  I’m not pointing at individual believers and saying, “hey, pick up your brain, you left it behind.”  It’s the pastor who is saying that he has this beautiful new cloak on but no one else can see it.

Q: A quote from the book: “It seems all Christianity is good for is holding humanity back.”  In your opinion, has religion anything positive to offer humankind?

A: Yes, it does, and not just Christianity but all religion. I spoke with someone the other day that is going through cancer. Basically, this person said that when he was told he has cancer he immediately sunk into a deep depression.  He almost put off treatment, but it was faith in god that helped bring him through. This is a very specific situation.  I don’t think this benefit translates to belief in general.  Religion has something to offer in very small, personal ways.  To the greater society, it just impedes us and keeps us from progressing. If religion is to have any benefit to society, it is by keeping the hell away from society.  It needs to be kept in the home, out of government buildings and off the streets.  You have a religious belief? Great, keep it inside your home.

Q: What topics might you address in future works?

A: I don’t want to make my next book all about religion. I am a lover of science and skepticism, and I want to target some other things such as homeopathy.  I want to smash the shit out of homeopathy.  Also, ghosts and these sort of ridiculous things that permeate culture. Then urinate on them.  I’m not sure you can urinate on the entirety of homeopathy, but its only water anyway. Then, my plan is to take on Islam.  I will not sleep until I get a fatwa. If I could get a cleric to put out a fatwa of non-communication towards Jake Farr-Wharton, that would be great.

Q: You mention noted atheists and skeptics such as Richard Dawkins and Michael Shermer.  Do you have a favorite public skeptic?

A: I look up to a few people for different reasons.  I like the work of Guy P. Harrison.  He wrote 50 Reasons People Give for Believing in a God and Race and Reality.  He respects the individual believer.  I love CJ Werleman who wrote God Hates You, Hate Him Back. It analyzes the Bible from a skeptical point of view.  I love Richard Dawkins for his work on evolutionary biology. One of my favorite books is The Greatest Show on Earth, his most recent one.  Neil deGrasse Tyson tops my list though, he speaks and I have a nerdgasm!

Q: Lastly, what is your favorite dessert?

A: I’ve got coeliac’s disease, so I can’t digest wheat or gluten.  That being said, there are very specific desserts that I take immense pleasure in.  One is Orange and Poppyseed Friands, but only when done well.  I love my Nona’s Tiramisu.  She makes it just for me, and being Italian, she puts in too much alcohol and you end up drunk after eating it.

Build This Blog, Win a Surly

18 Feb

This is the first ever subscription give-away on The Cupcake Atheist!  Help promote this adorable blog, and you could win THIS!

It is a unique, handmade ceramic cupcake pendant on a gun-metal chain. And best of all… its made by Surly-Ramics!

Visit the Surly-Ramics website by clicking here.

Or visit the Surly-Ramics etsy store to view more art here.

Here is how it is going to work:

  1. You must be a blog subscriber or fan on The Cupcake Atheist facebook page to win.
  2. Recommend this blog to others.
  3. All they need to do is subscribe or like the facebook fanpage and email me at cupcakeatheist@yahoo.com saying that you recommended them.
  4. At the end of the contest, whoever has the most recommendations gets the surly.

Not only do you win a cupcakey surly, but you have the satisfaction of knowing that you helped promote this blog.

The contest ends March 1st.  Aaaaannnnnnd GO!

 

Atheist Activism: An Interview with Jonathan Meddings

17 Feb

Jonathan Meddings is the Queensland State Convener of the Freethought University Alliance in Australia, President of the James Cook University Society of Atheist Philosophy, Head Coach of the North Queensland Fencing Association and member of the Humanist Society of Queensland.

He studies Medical Laboratory Science Honours at James Cook University and his research involves serology and haematology in freshwater turtles.

His writing includes contributions to the Young Australian Skeptics and those of his own blog The Carapace. He is currently writing a book about atheism which he aims to have completed by the end of 2011.

Jonathan was kind enough to spend some time talking with me about atheist activism.

Q. How did you become involved in atheist activism?

A. I first read The God Delusion in 2007 during a trip to Malaysia. Dawkins had reaffirmed my atheism by supporting it with valid arguments. Over the next couple of years I continued reading books by the likes of Hitchens and Harris and found that the arguments supporting atheism far outweighed those supporting religion; although I didn’t really become active about my atheism until March of 2010, when I attended the Global Atheist Convention. It was the largest gathering of atheists in history as I understand it.  Meeting so many other atheists there who were doing so much inspired to get involved. I also had the opportunity to get my copy of The God Delusion signed by Dawkins which was nice, even though I waited in line for nearly two hours.

Q. Did you finally get to meet him?

A. I had enough time to congratulate him on his talk before being ushered away by security trying to keep the line moving.

Q. As a movement, atheists are generally described as notoriously difficult to organize.  It is often likened to trying to herd cats.  How do you get atheists involved and working together toward a goal?

A. This is something I have experienced as President of an atheist club. I think it is fair to say that atheists are generally individuals and freethinkers whereas the religious follow a group mentality and are more like a herd of cattle or sheep. I am not sure how to go about organizing atheists, but I think if they see that we are acting to create positive change they will get on board.

Q. Tell our readers about your organizations and your blog The Carapace. What would you like them to know?

A. Well I run a club at my university called the Society of Atheist Philosophy and I represent the Freethought University Alliance for my state. The Freethought Alliance is a coalition of atheist, humanist, secular and skeptic groups from around the country. I started The Carapace after attending the Atheist Convention and meeting scientists and skeptics who are also bloggers like PZ Myers and Kylie Sturgess. Before that I didn’t really know what a blog was to be honest.

Q. Australia has an openly atheist PM, whereas the U.S has an unspoken religious test for holding our highest political office.  What political challenges do you see ahead for atheists in Australia?

A. Well, I think it is important to note that while our Prime Minister is an atheist one of her first acts of office was to ensure over $200 million dollars to fund the school chaplaincy program. In addition, she remains opposed to gay marriage. I think it has less to do with one’s religion or lack of religion and more to do with whether or not one has the courage to hold to personal convictions in the face of political pressure from the religious right.

Q. Do you have a favorite public skeptic or atheist?  Someone who has inspired you?

A. As someone involved in science I enjoy the work of Dawkins, Myers and Harris. I find that my views in particular are very much aligned with those of Harris.

Q. And how do you find your views are in line with those of Harris?

A. I like the way he has approached the problem of Islam and is going where few others have dared by discussing science and morality.

Regarding Islam I think he and I are very much on the same page. It is sad that people usually misunderstand what people like Harris and I are trying to say and instead label us as racists or xenophobes. However, although I cannot speak for Harris, I think we both understand the difference between Muslims as people who identify with the religion of Islam and Islamists who follow the political ideology of Islam.

It is an important distinction to understand because although all Islamists are Muslim, not all Muslims are Islamists. That doesn’t mean that I have to agree with Muslims who say that Islam is a religion of peace though – and I don’t. Having looked at Islam objectively I find it is more of a political ideology than a religion and that at best it can be called little more than a religion of hate. In my view the Islamists are following the objectively true Islam.

It seems to me that there is no such thing as religious moderates, only moderates who wrongly consider themselves religious, and this is especially true in the case of Muslims. I am not saying that there aren’t moderates out there who hold some religious views. I just think it reaches a point where one is ignoring so much of what their religion teaches that they either have to start a new religion or stop identifying with their current one.

Q. A hot topic in the atheist movement is how best to engage religious people in dialogue and how tolerant or accommodating of religion we should be.  What are your thoughts on this?

A. Well that is a tough one. I think if people are reasonable you should try to reason with them. If they are unreasonable though you are just wasting your time, because you can’t reason someone out of a belief they weren’t reasoned into in the first place. For example I really don’t think you could have a reasonable discussion with a creationist. It reaches a point where some people are just so ignorant that when you talk to them it is like you are speaking a different language, which suits them just fine seeing as they don’t care what you have to say anyway, they have already made up their minds, which remain very much closed to rational discussion.

Q. As a researcher and someone involved in science, what are your thoughts on the current state of science education in Australia and/or the U.S.?  Do you feel like science education and rationalism are related and if so, how?

A. Well in my experience as a science and a research student we tend to teach science students what science has discovered, and ignore actually teaching them the scientific method. The result is that you get students who have good scientific knowledge but lack scientific intelligence. To explain that — I always say knowledge is what you know and intelligence is how you know it. That is the difference between someone who studies science and someone who is a scientist, the former can tell you a lot of scientific facts and the latter can explain them. Frankly it worries me that I know people who get to the end of their science degrees without even being able to distinguish between the general public’s definition of a theory and a scientific theory.

To answer the second part of your question — I think that all types of education should be based on rationalism, which is simply using reason and evidence to justify your conclusions, as the scientific method does. This is why creationism shouldn’t be allowed in schools. There is simply no evidence supporting it. That is why creationism cannot be taught, only preached.

Q. What are your future plans for atheist outreach?

A. Well I am in the middle of writing a book which I aim to have finished by the end of the year. I plan to keep blogging and working with the Society of Atheist Philosophy and Freethought University Alliance. I’m also currently trying to organize an atheist art exhibition to involve artists who are willing to create and display art with atheist themes. Through the Society of Atheist Philosophy I am also organizing an event on campus so people can bring their Bibles and other holy books and trade them in for sex toys, lubes and condoms. We would trade pornography but my state has strict censorship laws about that.

Q. Lastly, what is your favorite dessert?

A. That’s an easy one.  My favorite dessert is Poffertjes, which are little Dutch pancakes. They are typically served with syrup but I like them with lots of chocolate sauce.

The Rite: A Brief Movie Review

12 Feb

***Near-spoiler Alert***

This is a movie review.  If you are the type of person who gets easily angered by movie spoilers, near-spoilers, or anything that could potentially be considered a spoiler, please click somewhere else now.  Or go make yourself some hot chocolate.  Or I hear there are some adorable videos of kittens playing the piano over on YouTube.


I was very much looking forward to seeing The Rite.  I cannot resist spooky movies, especially the kind filled with creepy, Catholic hoo-hah.  Also upping the creep factor?  Sir Anthony Hopkins.  He plays an unorthodox Catholic priest who specializes in exorcisms. That is literally as much as I knew about the film before sitting down in the movie theater a few hours ago.  What I found so intriguing about The Rite is that from the previews it appeared to have a slightly skeptical flavor to it.  I had heard that Sir Hopkins himself is a doubter who was quoted in an interview as saying, “Our existence is beyond our explanation, whether we believe in God or we have religion or we’re atheist. Our existence is beyond our understanding. No one has an answer.”

Creepiness.  Acting talent.  Doubt.  All fine ingredients for the making of a great movie where religion is front and center.

In the film. a young man with a troubled homelife seeks the priesthood to get away.  After four years in seminary, he finds himself in Rome at what basically amounts to an exorcism retreat.  After expressing his doubt in the existence of demons, devils and gods to the head dress-wearing priest dude, he gets sent to observe Father Sir Hopkins perform an exorcism for “proof.”  Like a good skeptic, the troubled young priest thinks the subject of the exorcism would be better served by medical science.

However, the tables are soon turned when the doubter finds himself experiencing the supernatural firsthand. Father Sir Hopkins cautions him that, “choosing not to believe in the devil will not protect you from him.” The young man is faced with a choice: continue in his disbelief or turn to god.

The majority of the film is beautifully set against the backdrop of Rome. It is well shot and visually stunning.  Also, the acting talent assembled for this film is top notch.  It should go without saying that Sir Hopkins is absolutely convincing in his role as the elderly Jesuit exorcist.

Unfortunately, that is where my praise of this film ends.  What begins as a promising film about the intersection of faith and skepticism morphs into something else entirely.  By the end, I realized I had just watched a 114-minute long advertisement for belief.  The young apprentice exorcist provides the only skepticism in the entire movie and he ends up being totally wrong.  Please don’t mistake me, I’m not disappointed in the film because the demons end up being real and the skeptic ends up having to revise his point of view.  That is precisely what any good skeptic should do when presented with overwhelming evidence.  The real trouble occurs when doubter-priest finally accepts that god and demons are real and is immediately granted the power to cast out the nasty demons thereby saving the day.  I slowly came to the painful realization that the whole point of the film is that faith saves you where science and medicine cannot. And everybody duck because there goes my extra-large soda at the screen.

It didn’t even deliver the anticipated creepiness that I had hoped for.  The demonic possessions were pretty standard fare.  Strange, growling voices speaking Latin.  Unnatural body contortions.  Black eyes and disgusting “demon” skin.  Frankly, the most unsettling part of the entire film is a scene where Sir Hopkins is shirtless.

And speaking of Sir Hopkins, I thought he was a skeptic and a doubter.  I want to invite him over for tea, bake him some cupcakes, sit down on his lap and sweetly ask him what in the burning hell he was thinking. As a skeptic, I couldn’t imagine signing on to a project where the message is so anti-skepticism.  Even if that was not the writers’ intention, the end result is:

  1. Faith gives you automatic superpowers.  Just believe!
  2. If you are experiencing voices, disorientation, hallucinations, or skin rashes do not waste your time going to see silly doctors.  You’d better call in a priest.
  3. Doubting, questioning and critical thinking will cause you pain and confusion.

In spite of Sir Hopkins, The Rite is a faith-filled flop.  The tag line from the movie poster summarizes it adequately:  You Can Only Defeat It When You Believe.

My Ginger Valentine

6 Feb

Let me tell you how good these cookies are.  If you have someone you love, bake these cookies for them in honor of Valentine’s Day.  If you don’t have a valentine, bake them for yourself and don’t share with anyone.

These cookies are amazing.  Fresh ginger gives them a spicy bite.  The lemon royal icing lends a bright finish.  Most importantly, they are totally pretty.

Pink and White Goodness

Ginger Lemon Valentine Cookies

Cookie Ingredients:

5 cups all-purpose flour

3 tsp ground ginger

1 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened

2 cups granulated sugar

2 large eggs

2 tbsp grated fresh ginger

Icing Ingredients:

4 tbsp meringue powder (if you can’t find this at your grocery store, try the cake decorating section of a hobby shop)

4 cups confectioners sugar

1/3 cup and 1 tbsp fresh lemon juice (approx. 4 lemons)

Prepare the icing ahead of time. Combine the meringue powder, confectioners sugar and lemon juice in the bowl of a stand mixer and mix on low speed, stopping occasionally to scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl as necessary, until the icing is smooth and glossy (about 5 minutes). You can thin the icing by adding some water 1 tbsp at a time.  For the appearance in the above picture, separate some of the white icing in a separate dish leaving about half in the mixer.  With the half in the mixer, add a few drops of red gel food coloring and mix until the icing is a pretty pink.  You can store the icing in an air-tight container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.

Now time to make the cookies.  Prepare 3 baking sheets by lining them with parchment paper or by coating them in a thin layer of unsalted butter.  Set aside. Whisk together flour, ground ginger, baking powder, and salt in a bowl and set aside.  In another bowl, cream the butter and sugar together with a mixer until pale and fluffy, approximately 3 minutes.  Add eggs and fresh ginger and mix to combine.  With the mixer on low, add the flour mixture gradually, beating until incorporated.  Shape dough into two disks and wrap each in plastic; refrigerate until firm (about 1 hour).

On a lightly floured surface roll the dough to 1/8-inch thickness and cut hearts using a 3 1/4-inch heart-shaped cookie cutter. Transfer to baking sheets and bake 15-17 minutes or until the edges are just golden. Don’t overbake. Let the cookies cool on wire racks.

Spread icing on the cooled cookies and sprinkle with white nonpareils while the icing is still soft. Let stand 3 hours or overnight until icing sets.

Cheers and most Happy Valentines Day!

Cupcake

Thank you, Australia!

3 Feb

The Freethought University Alliance in Australia made The Cupcake Atheist the featured blog in their February newsletter.  So, a thank you to them.  Pop on over to their website http://freethoughtalliance.org.au/ and show them love.

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