Dawkins in Boston, Oh Yeah

dawkins_tour_landing-page-6Owing to … well, owing, I don’t often get to attend the big atheist events. But this time there’s one near me, so I’m going to see and hear Richard Dawkins in Boston this Thursday, June 11.

I’m carpooling with some of the cool people of the Capital Region Atheists & Agnostics Meet-Up group.

I’m pretty excited about it. Always wanted to meet the guy, and I hope that will be possible here.

Tickets are $35. I’ll be the guy in the cowboy hat.


I’ll also be posting a followup with some pictures, a day or so later.

God, The Wet Blanket

COE SquareOne of the things I enjoy doing on my daily van trips — I’m in transportation at an addiction recovery facility, and I drive every day a round trip between Schenectady, NY and New York City — is play tourguide. Since the trip is close to three hours long each way, there’s plenty of time to point out interesting details of the scenery along the way. I often see deer (today I saw a doe with a newborn fawn in the roadside grass), sometimes wild turkeys, occasionally great blue herons. There are apple orchards along the way, cattle, horses, a grass-field airport, hills and forest.

But I also drive through numerous road cuts which bare sections of Upstate New York’s fascinating geology. Most of the rock here is sedimentary — that layered, sometimes multicolored stuff — and almost all of it has undergone folding or uplift. It’s common to see the layers standing on edge, or at some angle quite far from the horizontal, and you’ll sometimes see it humped and bumped so that the naturally flat layers are rippled into a crude sine wave with red and white layers alternating.

My knowledge of geology is rudimentary. I have wished all too often that I could drive the roads of New York with a qualified local geologist, so I could learn how old the stuff is, what era each layer originated in, how far back in time I’m seeing.

Anyway, today I’m driving two clients, a man and a young woman from New York City, and pointing out bits of this and that along the way. (Orange County Choppers, the motorcycle customizers from TV, is right along the way, and that always piques interest.) But as we come up to a section of vivid vertical layers in a road cut, I start to explain about sedimentation and layering, and how significant it is that these normally-horizontal layers of stone are now almost completely vertical.

For myself, I LOVE knowing that this stone MOVED, over however many millions of years, and is, in fact, still in ultra-ultra-ultra-slow motion. And I love imparting that tidbit of knowledge to others.

But this time, as I’m in mid-explanation, the man breaks in and says happily “And you know who did all that? One guy! God! He made EVERYthing! He did it all! Ain’t that amazing!” He wasn’t correcting me or anything, he was just sharing HIS knowledge, adding his own remarks to what he thought I was getting at.

That was the last of the tourguiding on today’s trip. For the next hour or so I thought about how limited, how disturbingly frozen and ungrowthy is religious thinking.

I’ve often reflected that the entire world around us, every aspect of it, projects information at us. If you have ears to hear and eyes to see, the entirety of existence is this constant COMMUNICATION, and that fact in itself is endlessly fascinating. For the open mind, the world burns hot with knowledge — throwing off the sparks of pictures, processes, drama, wonderfully deep sequences of ideas and understandings — and it just makes me laugh to think of it.

But religious thinking of the “God did it all!” sort is a wet blanket tossed on that fire, dousing it to ashes. Nothing remains but the dead gray cinder of faith, separating each believer from an entire world of luminous knowledge.

Damn. That’s just so … sad.

Yes, it’s been a while

At some point I’ll probably be taking down this blog. Not because I’m not ever going to blog again, but because I’m blogging elsewhere.

The new blog is in support of the book I just wrote:

Red Neck, Blue Collar, Atheist: Simple Thoughts About  Reason, Gods & Faith

The landing page for the book, with the full description, is HERE.

The book is up on Amazon.com HERE.

And the new blog, Blue Collar Atheist, is HERE.

Thanks to all those who have stuck with me as readers over the years — a lot of what went into the book was material I developed here and in my earlier blogging and blog commenting.

This is  a pretty good  book, and it’s not just me saying it. Early reviews have been really positive. I hope you’ll order one and let me know what you think.

‘Culture Wars’ and the Ground Zero Mosque

To tell you the truth, I’m not really in favor of it.

I’m reading a piece over at Dispatches from the Culture Wars, where Ed Brayton focuses on the “hypocrisy of opponents of the Manhattan mosque, particularly the American Center for Law and Justice …”

And I understand that a religious freedom broad enough to allow equal rights of belief to all is, in some undeniable ways, in all our interests.

But it seems to me that it’s turning into a black-and-white knee-jerk issue of equal rights with too many of us unbelievers, when there’s a few shades in between that we should be pointing out.

I left a reply:

Continue reading “‘Culture Wars’ and the Ground Zero Mosque”

Thanks, PZ

I’ve been writing a book: Red Neck, Blue Collar, Atheist.

And I’ve been really busy with Life, and all that entails, so I haven’t been posting much.

But I went to see PZ Myers last night, in a talk at Syracuse University, and I see he mentioned me in his blog post, Early Morning on the Road, so I figured I’d better respond, just so people who click over to here know I’m not dead.

I can say from this experience that if PZ ever comes within a 3-hour drive of where you live, you should make a point of going to see him. He gives a great talk, there was a stimulating Q&A after, and afterward we went to a nearby pub and quaffed (according to Terry Pratchett, quaffing is like drinking, only with more spillage) beers until late.

Just FYI, I’m getting some last-stage feedback on the book from a few people, and I’d like to do the formal roll-out in early summer. The response so far has been overwhelmingly positive.

To the organizers of this talk, the great people at Syracuse U’s atheist group — great event, guys! Really nice meeting you, and I look forward to being on the other side of the podium when my fabulously successful book comes out.

Below: PZ Quaffing with friends (Carl Buell just to the left) — and yes, that’s a pic of Noah’s Ark behind him.

Unfinished business … finished

This is a reaction to a post by my friend Chris Clarke, a notoriously bright and creative guy whom I admire very much. Among many other things, he writes the blog Coyote Crossing.

His original post is about depression, but it also touches on his own life accomplishments. Both subjects strike a chord in me, and I had to comment. As often happens, the things I write elsewhere I echo here, just to keep a record:

Continue reading “Unfinished business … finished”

Lonely Words

Here’s something I’ll bet you never considered before:

We have a lot of words in common usage, and I mean a LOT of them, a whole specialized vocabulary, that refers to things that don’t actually exist.

So there’s a word for the thing, but no thing for the word.

Fairy. Werewolf. Ghost. Bigfoot. Vampire. Channeling. Telepathy. Telekinesis. Clairvoyance. Goblin. Teleportation. Afterlife. Leprechaun. Zombie. Valhalla. Hell. God.

There are multi-word terms in the same vein: Spirit guide. Trance medium. Guardian angel. Mutant powers.

Knowing this, and knowing that there was a time when I DIDN’T know it, I think that’s a fairly profound problem.

Continue reading “Lonely Words”

Earth Day 2009: Thoughts Like Falling Leaves

Leaf One

Con games and sleight-of-hand magic work because, one, we humans only have so much attention to spare at any one moment, and two, they direct that attention deliberately in one direction. If you look at where the finger points, you miss … well, everything else.

Like the movie teen backing through a darkened doorway in the serial killer’s lair, we focus intently on one thing while something more important takes place just outside the sphere of our focus.

I’ll give you a real-life example that has bugged me for a long time.

Continue reading “Earth Day 2009: Thoughts Like Falling Leaves”

Head to Head

I’m caught up in a back-and-forth argument with a guy online. He maintains that all news media are in the business of entertainment, and that there’s no difference between them. The far right, the far left, they’re the same. Fox News equals CNN equals MSNBC equals Jon Stewart, yada-yada-yada.

This was my final shot at explaining how wrong I think that view is:

Shane: The news media are entertainers, yes. I’m glad you see that. I worked in the news media for a number of years, and yeah, news pieces are put together as “stories.” Each item is framed in a narrative the viewer will find interesting and digestible. This is known — from the first days a budding journalist is  learning to write news, you’re taught to do this. And yes, sometimes the story can overpower the facts.

Continue reading “Head to Head”

Letter Home to Texas on the Eve of Seccession


Hope things are going well for you all down there.

I’m self-employed just now, and struggling with it. I think things are about to turn around, but argh, I’m in a bind right at the moment. It’s not the economy so much as a few of my own bad choices, but the economy is definitely playing into it.

Other than having no money, life’s going good. It’s spring here. The place I live, I wake up most mornings to the sounds of wild turkeys in the yard. So far this spring we’ve had whitetail deer, raccoons,four kinds of squirrels (gray, red, chipmunks and flying squirrels), blue jays, cardinals, goldfinches and crows (plus a lot of other birds passing through) as daily visitors. Some nights we see red foxes, and there have even been a few coyotes strolling through in the moonlight.

Continue reading “Letter Home to Texas on the Eve of Seccession”