31 July 2011

QualiaSoup: "Good Without Gods"

I posted the first part of this some time back, and QualiaSoup released part 2 last week. These are, in my opinion, some of the most clear, concise arguments I've ever heard regarding a rational approach to moral reasoning. Since there's been a pretty decent time gap between the release of the two videos, I've included both parts. The first part deals more with moral reasoning, while the second addresses many of the problems with theistic morality.

Why I'm an atheist (in a nutshell)

I'm an atheist for many reasons, but this quote from Richard Dawkins (from River Out of Eden), perhaps more than any other, sums up the biggest one:
"The total amount of suffering per year in the natural world is beyond all decent contemplation. During the minute that it takes me to compose this sentence, thousands of animals are being eaten alive, many others are running for their lives, whimpering with fear, others are slowly being devoured from within by rasping parasites, thousands of all kinds are dying of starvation, thirst, and disease. It must be so. If there ever is a time of plenty, this very fact will automatically lead to an increase in the population until the natural state of starvation and misery is restored. In a universe of electrons and selfish genes, blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won't find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference."
When I was in college, I worked as a physical therapy tech for a couple of years. I saw some pretty heart-wrenching stuff, but one stands out above all others: I saw an eight-year-old girl who was dying from a brain tumor. Her parents had to watch their daughter become weak and emaciated; and they had to watch her slowly lose her cognitive functions, to the point that when I met her she was in a nearly vegetative state.

Most of us are shielded from this kind of thing in our day to day lives, so we don't have to think to much about its implications. The believer will always try to rationalize with shallow maxims like, "The Lord works in mysterious ways," or "It's just part of God's divine plan." This is simply an excuse to avoid confronting the elephant in the room: that "God's divine plan" is, for all intents and purposes, completely indistinguishable from randomness.

If you look at the suffering in the world, you'll never find any rhyme or reason for it, nor any pattern to it.  It is truly, utterly random and meaningless. Dawkins' last sentence is powerful stuff, but it's also liberating. When that eight-year-old girl got cancer, it wasn't anyone's fault. She didn't get sick (or fail to get well) because her parents lacked faith, or because God was testing them (or her), or because it was part of some mysterious divine plan that for some reason involves giving brain cancer to kids. It's just a cold fact of our existence, a product of our imperfect evolution. With God out of the picture, we don't have to waste time figuring out who to blame; we can grieve, and go on living our lives in peace, absent unfounded anger at imaginary forces malicious or cruel toward us.

The Problem of Suffering
A World Without God

30 July 2011

Things Jesus said that Christians ignore

This idea just sort of popped in there after I saw a witty comment from the always entertaining Betty Bowers (America's Best Christian) on her Facebook page.

She made mention of Matthew 6:5-6, in which Jesus said,
5 And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 6 But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. 
Betty was commenting on an amusingly ridiculous NASCAR prayer, but it brought to mind things like evangelical Texas governor Rick Perry's monstrous prayer convention, or congressional republicans getting together for a very public prayer to defeat the Health Care Reform Act in 2009. It sounds to me like Jesus was being pretty unambiguous here. There are no "buts" or "excepts". He spells it out: don't make a scene when you pray. Do it in private. Do modern Christians care about Jesus' commandment? Pfft. 'Course not!

I just thought it was an amusing coincidence in light of something else I've mentioned a few times recently, which is the Barna survey which found that even though Jesus clearly states that divorce is a sin unless adultery is involved, the majority of Christians simply reject that belief. In Matthew 5:32, Jesus says:
32 But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, makes her the victim of adultery, and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.
So not only are you not supposed to divorce (unless adultery is involved), but you're not supposed marry a woman who's been divorced! Barna didn't ask respondents about the latter doozy, but I'd speculate that the numbers would look even worse for poor ol' Jesus.

This all goes to show that Christians don't actually derive any moral teachings from the Bible; they just interpret it in whatever what suits them arbitrarily.

29 July 2011

More on the debt

House republicans are pros at the fine art of reciting cliches, but they seem to expect Americans to have a short-term memory about how we actually accrued all this debt in the first place. Here's a handy visual aid, courtesy of Ezra Klein:

Another fun fact: over 80% of our current national debt was brought on by the last three republican administrations (Reagan, H.W. Bush, W. Bush). And look carefully at the graph above: the Bush tax cuts are the single greatest addition to our national debt. But the real problem is that Bush not only cut taxes, but did so in a time of war. That means spending was skyrocketing, but revenues were plummeting.

Here's the hard truth: Al Gore was right. Back in the 2000 elections, Al Gore argued that tax cuts were not wise – that we needed to continue to pay down the debt as we had been doing under Clinton. Bush argued that the surpluses were a sign that the government had too much money, and it needed to be given back to taxpayers. That might sound tempting on the surface, until you realize that the debt is a tax on all Americans.

And now, republicans are refusing to raise the debt ceiling on a debt for which their policies are primarily responsible. Worse, they want massive cuts in government programs that are there to help the poor – medicare, medicaid, and social security. What they won't tell you is that medicare and medicaid have already had reforms that reduce costs, courtesy of the Healthcare Reform Act. Social security will be able to pay 100% of its benefits through 2027 without any changes at all. So why won't republicans compromise on a debt deal?

It all goes back to the centerpiece of republican policy: taxes are evil. Taxes are always too high. We're at the lowest tax levels in over 50 years, and they're still too high. Even a 3% increase on 2% of the population, they tell us, will be devastating to the economy. I remember Bush's election and presidency, which exemplified the irrational nature of conservatives' attitude toward taxes. In 2000, he argued that tax cuts were needed because we had a surplus. We didn't need to worry about the debt back then, apparently. Then, in 2003, when neck-deep in two wars and running record deficits, he argued that we needed more tax cuts – to "stimulate the economy". So if we're doing great, tax cuts. If we're struggling, tax cuts. Taxes are always too high, so cutting them is always the answer.

And now it's to the point where the people in office are such staunch ideologues that many of them want the country to default, to force massive cuts in spending. It might leave millions of people – the poor, elderly and sick, in particular – unable to pay their bills, but hey, as long as those in the top 2% don't have to pay 3% more taxes, it's all just collateral damage to these clowns.

Don't forget!

Ask me anything.

A few very good questions so far.

28 July 2011

Fox News vs. the Norway shooter

The conservative media has never had any reservations about bashing Islamic extremists, and painting all Muslims as people to be feared and marginalized [1]. Norway shooter Anders Breivik is a Christian extremist obsessed with Crusader mentality. This makes conservatives uncomfortable, and they're trying really hard to weasel away from reality. Here, John Stewart sums the whole thing up incisively:

50 renowned academics talk about God

H/t John Loftus

This is a fine time to bring out (again) the statistics about scientists and beliefs:
  1. Among members of the National Academy of Sciences, a paltry 7% of scientists believe in a personal God. [1]
  2. Religious belief is statistically correlated with a lower IQ and lower education. [2], [3], [4]
  3. The only places in the world in which religious belief is thriving is in developing nations bereft of literacy. [5]
  4. A well-publicized Gallup survey showed that atheists were more knowledgeable about religion than most believers. [6]

25 July 2011

House Republicans are like spoiled children

Hey, so, remember when Bush was in office, and the Democrats who controlled congress were so damn stubborn that in just one year they threatened a government shutdown and later threatened to allow the country to default on its credit, sending us into a massive recession?

Me neither.

I do however remember when the Republicans threatened a government shutdown during Clinton's term, and actually went through with it.

President Obama has already offered Republicans a $1 trillion cut to entitlement spending, which justifiably pissed off many Democrats. Let's not forget that those who depend most on entitlement spending are the poor and destitute, not people bitching about paying sales taxes for their yachts.  But that was not good enough, because Obama also wants to close corporate tax loopholes and get the rich – oh wait, I'm sorry, rich people are now called "job creators" – to pay a small fraction more in taxes.

To me, that sounds like a damn generous compromise. Democrats do not want such deep cuts to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. Republicans do not want any tax increases on anyone ever, and certainly not on rich peo... er, "job creators", as the supply-side train of linguistic bullshit goes. So, let's compromise. We won't raise taxes on 98% of Americans. We'll cut the corporate tax rate, but close the loopholes so everyone pays their fair share. In exchange we'll give you over a trillion in cuts to all those poor-people-helping programs you hate.

Well, Boehner and friends aren't having any of it. As if Boehner crying all the damn time isn't pathetic enough, now he's storming out of compromise meetings even after being handed what by any measure is an extraordinarily generous proposal. This guy's the wrinkliest baby I've ever seen.

Time for House Republicans to grow the hell up. If the nation defaults on its debt, it is the poor who will feel it the most. I realize that since Republicans think all poor people are just lazy, that's probably their just comeuppance. But those of us without such self-aggrandizing glasses on do not want Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security checks to stop going out. We don't want our military personnel to stop getting paid. We don't want interest rates to climb. We want this chest-beating to stop instead of sacrificing the welfare of this country because you're too prideful to compromise.

23 July 2011

Marc Hauser resigns

Sad news (by way of WEIT): Embattled Harvard psychologist Marc Hauser has resigned. Hauser was found guilty of ethical misconduct by the university, and was subsequently put on a year's leave. Why he opted to resign is anyone's guess.

This is disappointing for several reasons. Hauser was a first-class researcher, a star of sorts in his field. His book Moral Minds: How Nature Designed Our Universal Sense of Right and Wrong is still on my must-read book for anyone interested in learning the science of moral behavior instead of attributing it to deities. But now a shadow will be cast over all his work, legitimate or not.

It's also a difficult issue because, while it was demonstrated that misleading data was recorded and published in the studies in question, it was virtually impossible to prove that Hauser deliberately fudged the data. It is entirely possible that he simply exhibited poor judgement, rather than conspiring to publish bogus studies. Whatever the case, it's too late now. This will be his legacy.

Noah's Ark (and a musing on Biblical history)

NonStampCollector is back with a brilliant return to form.

In the words of a commenter, "If you're stupid enough to believe that the story of Noah's Ark actually occurred, you're far too stupid to understand why this video owns you."

Here's what gets me though, and it comes up in the second video. Obviously there are a great many Christians who aren't ignorant enough to think the Flood actually happened. These Christians re-interpret the story as some kind of parable or metaphor. But... metaphor for what? God slaughters everything when he doesn't get his way, and Noah ends up a drunken loon.

The real elephant in the room, though, is this:
Although the account of the Ark was traditionally accepted as historical, by the 19th century the growing impact of scientific investigation and biblical interpretation had led most people to abandon a literal view in favour of a more metaphoric understanding.[2][3][4]  [from Wikipedia]

Before modern science came along, you didn't have too many theologians, if any, arguing that stories like Adam & Eve in the Garden of Eden, the Flood, the Exodus, etc., were just metaphors. They were not only historical, but they served as a foundation for theology – after all, what is Christianity without the Fall?

Over time, science has forced believers to either abandon a literal belief in these things, or look like morons. Then theologians extoll the progressive virtues of theology, telling us how science has brought "new understanding" to religious scriptures like these. This was not a progression of theology. Where were the theologians prior to Darwin saying that evolution by natural selection would most certainly be God's favored method of creation? Where were the theologians saying that the universe was a vast expanse of emptiness that was billions of years old, because clearly that's the kind of universe God would have created?

Here's the harsh truth: theology does not innovate. It has no methodology by which to expose fallacious or erroneous information (the way science can), so it cannot impart us with new knowledge. Instead, theologians are forced to change their views in light of science, then retroactively proclaim that, of course, Noah's Ark is just a metaphor. As awareness of the mistakes, forgeries and contradictions of the New Testament manuscripts become better known, how long before we have Christians saying the death and resurrection of Christ is a metaphor?

19 July 2011

Religious nutbaggery of the week

It's a marquee week for unintentional comedy among the religious.

1. Pat Robertson warns Christians of "witchcraft" in Harry Potter:
During a May "Bring It On" segment, a viewer wrote that "my pastor says we shouldn't read the 'Harry Potter' series because it contains magic. But how is that different from the Narnia series, which contain the same?"
"Well, Narnia is different. It's not glorifying magic and the occult," Robertson replied. "The lady who wrote Harry Potter [J.K. Rowling], I understand, was deeply involved in some of the occult things."

2. It's been pretty dry here in Oklahoma, so our Governor, Mary Fallin, has asked us all to pray for rain. Since, as we all know, science has proved that prayers come true! Notably, Fallin's request comes only a few months after Texas Governor Rick Perry did the same thing, which – shockingly! – didn't work. I guess drought is part of God's perfect divine plan.
“I encourage Oklahomans of all faiths to join me this Sunday in offering their prayers for rain,” Fallin said. “For the safety of our firefighters and our communities and the well-being of our crops and livestock, this state needs the current drought to come to an end. The power of prayer is a wonderful thing, and I would ask every Oklahoman to look to a greater power this weekend and ask for rain.” 

3.  Speaking of Rick Perry, he's being challenged by the Freedom From Religion Foundation over his prayer rally to fix America, cleverly entitled "The Response: a call to prayer for a nation in crisis."
"Right now, America is in crisis: we have been besieged by financial debt, terrorism, and a multitude of natural disasters. As a nation, we must come together and call upon Jesus to guide us through unprecedented struggles, and thank Him for the blessings of freedom we so richly enjoy."

You have to love the prayer-rally mentality. I mean, how does it work? Do prayers get amplified when everyone says them together? Would God not really notice if everyone just prayed in their homes? Some might say that this sort of religious pageantry bears a striking resemblance to the Pharisees in the New Testament. Others might say that prayer rallies are really just a way to reinforce groupthink. But not me – no, I know that what the economy really needs is a good laying on of hands. That'll fix the debt crisis in a jiffy!

4. Another creationist museum is in the planning stages, this one called the "Northwest Science Museum". Planned exhibit include the totally scientific evidence that God made all the animals fit on the Ark with magic, and that they didn't have to eat or poop for over a month. Praise! Of course, these intrepid scientitians need your help. Well, mainly your money:
"As you may know, our goals are beyond what we, as individuals, can do on our own.  This means that we must rely on our mighty God to accomplish the task that he has set before us. This also means that we must ask you for help."
Yes! We must rely on God, who of course is all-powerful, to carry out his perfect divine plan. But the Lord needs some cash to get it rolling.

17 July 2011

Empathy comes from the brain

Science Daily has an article detailing a study which examined the origin of empathy – our ability to put ourselves in the emotional shoes of others (in case anyone didn't know that) – in the brain.
According to Aziz-Zadeh's findings, empathy for someone to whom you can directly relate -- or example, because they are experiencing pain in a limb that you possess -- is mostly generated by the intuitive, sensory-motor parts of the brain. However, empathy for someone to whom you cannot directly relate relies more on the rationalizing part of the brain.
Empathy is a big deal. It's the driving force behind moral values, and it's the reason why people suffering from sociopathology are doomed to construct their moral behaviors based on a desire for self-preservation. Empathy is the reason we're supposed to want to write a check after we see a starving African child on TV. It's the source not only of day-to-day moral behavior, but altruistic behavior as well.

And it comes from our brains. Our biology. Does this "disprove" that it's not bestowed upon us from on high, and that the brain is merely running supernatural "software"? No. It can't. What it does do, however, is add to the pile of evidence which shows we have no need to invoke supernatural explanations to understand our moral behavior. And as I always like to say, the only thing worse than a God who doesn't exist is one who might as well not exist.

Pat Condell insults religion, or how religious antagonism needs a closer look

I used to like Pat Condell. Well, I still like him, but he lost me a bit with some of his anti-Islamic screeds. He's losing me a bit more now, with his latest rant about how we should all proudly insult religion:

Look. I don't like religion either. I think it's irrational and generally divisive, and I'm not afraid to say so. And when it comes to certain fundamentalists or science-denying stupidity, I'm not above some mockery myself. But here's the thing: most religion people aren't actually raving nutjobs. They're normal people. If any atheist doubts this, it's probably time to stop watching Christopher Hitchens videos on Youtube and get out of the house for a change.

16 July 2011

More unintentional comedy from liberal theology

Jerry Coyne has reposted a scathing review of The Bible Now, a book in which some liberal theologians try to tell us how all those barbaric, homophobic and misogynistic scriptures in the Bible are really very enlightened pearls of wisdom, if we just interpret them in... wait for it... the proper context. Here's an excerpt from the original review at Powell's, reviewed by Adam Kirsch:
The first chapter of The Bible Now is devoted to homosexuality, and it is not long before Friedman and Dolansky run into Leviticus 20:13. It is easy to sympathize with their embarrassment. Here the Bible is saying something they obviously regard as cruel and retrograde, something they would not hesitate to brand as homophobic in any other situation. What to do? Well, "for one thing, one must address the law in its context." Turning from ancient Israel to Assyria, Egypt, and Greece, Friedman and Dolansky observe that these other Near Eastern societies generally had nothing against homosexual acts as such. They reserved their odium for the passive partner in anal sex, the man who was penetrated. A "Middle Babylonian divination text" instructs that "If a man copulates with his equal from the rear, he becomes the leader among his peers and brothers"; on the other hand, Plutarch writes, "We class those who enjoy the passive part as belonging to the lowest depths of vice."

15 July 2011

Computers: DIY

This makes me kind of nauseous. Okay, it makes me really nauseous. Not literally though, just figuratively. According to a report by The Consumerist, Best Buy's repair department, known as the "Geek Squad", has been holding the laptop of an invalid and they refuse to give it back to her. Basically, the story is this:
Jenni's sister is disabled and bed-bound, and her laptop is her portal to the world. So when her HP laptop had to go in for repair, it was a big deal. It was an even bigger deal after the Geek Squad spent over a month dickering with the repair and while it was in their hands, the warranty ran out. Now Geek Squad won't give it back unless the full out of warranty price is paid, and HP says it's not their problem, it's Geek Squad's.
I've heard plenty of horror stories about Geek Squad, including this damning article by a former employee, which coincidentally or not was also published by The Consumerist. It contains some revealing tidbits of unethical management, like this:
Selling services and warranties are pushed more than actually completing repairs. I remember one instance where my GM said that selling a new computer with services was more important than completing a customer's unit that they had already paid for.
An ex-girlfriend of mine once took her laptop to Geek Squad, and got an $80 bill. What had they done? The work receipt said:
  1. Uninstalled Internet Explorer
  2. Re-Installed Internet Explorer
Now look. It's easy to hear these kinds of stories and demonize Best Buy and/or the Geek Squad. The reality is that there are hundreds of Best Buy stores in the United States, and lots and lots of Geek Squad outfits. They handle thousands of cases, and the ones that are resolved without issue are not the ones that make the news. It's likely that some of them are managed professionally, while others are managed poorly and even unethically.

10 July 2011

Thunderf00t interviews Westboro Baptist members

This brings to mind the old saying, "Never argue with an idiot. They'll bring you down to their level and beat you with experience." I do applaud Thunderf00t (does this guy have an actual name?) for trying to be reasonable, but there's just way too much anger to cut through. I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if there's a long history of familial abuse in the church.

And just because I know that was painful to sit through (I couldn't make it through the whole thing), here is something random, and awesome:

Ask me anything

I'm working on a new project – a video, in the style of Big Think, in which I'll answer questions about... well, just about anything related to my faith, deconversion, atheism, recipes for chicken, etc. I can't promise I'll answer all of them, but I'll sort through them, pick the best ones, and answer them in a 10-15 minute video. Just stick your question in the comments section below (please don't email me or use Facebook).

Aaaand GO.

09 July 2011

Elevatorgate III: On feminism, and being a victim

Alright, this will be the last post on this. Honest. There's just one thing I want to get off of my chest, and it's the "women are victims" ideology being parroted on various blogs.  Let's start with Rebecca's own blog:
I hear a lot of misogyny from skeptics and atheists, but when ancient anti-woman rhetoric like the above is repeated verbatim by a young woman online, it validates that misogyny in a way that goes above and beyond the validation those men get from one another. It also negatively affects the women who are nervous about being in similar situations. Some of them have been raped or otherwise sexually assaulted, and some just don’t want to be put in that position. And they read these posts and watch these videos and they think, “If something were to happen to me and these women won’t stand up for me, who will?”
Then we have what Jen posted on her blog, as an open response to Richard Dawkins.

Words matter. You don't get that because you've never been called a cunt, a faggot, a nigger, a kike. You don't have people constantly explaining that you're subhuman, or have the intellect of an animal. You don't have people saying you shouldn't have rights. You don't have people constantly sexually harassing you. You don't live in fear of rape, knowing that one wrong misinterpretation of a couple words could lead down that road.

07 July 2011


Bruce Gerencser has a post up where he's talking about the way the Bible – specifically, the New Testament – treats women. Bruce doesn't have to use any tricks or ploys with this; all he has to do is let the scriptures speak for themselves. There are lots of scriptures about how a woman should be submissive, silent, and kept from positions of authority. And that's the New Testament. The Old Testament is far worse, more or less treating women like cattle.

But this, I think is the money quote in Bruce's essay:
Liberal and progressive Christians try to make all these verses go away by saying they are no longer applicable or that they must be interpreted in their historical context. Fine. Let’s do the same with Jesus. A case can be made for Jesus being no longer applicable and surely we must interpret the teachings of Christ in their historical context.
In fact, Christians are already doing exactly that. I've mentioned recently the Barna survey from 2008 which, among other things, asked Christians if they believed Jesus' command that divorce is only permissible when adultery is involved. It may have been commanded from Christ's lips, but the overwhelming majority of Christians said they don't believe it. One could, of course, re-interpret the scriptures to mean a general "unfaithfulness" to the vows rather than a sexual affair.

06 July 2011

Elevatorgate, part II

I'm starting to see an uprising of sorts; it seems like I wasn't alone in my sentiments in the last post, and I'm seeing more like-minded people speak up. But there are still some who insist that the guy was totally insensitive to the fact that she was in an enclosed space, and that his proposition was, like, obviously, a thinly veiled proposition for sex.

So, here's something important:

You do not know what the guy's intentions were.

Nobody does, and speculating about it is pointless. But let's imagine for a moment that it was an indirect sexual proposition. So the fuck what? Men and women both make sexual advances, because, y'know, sex is a big part of what we humans are about. As soon as Rebecca declined, that was the end of it. Nothing else to tell.

Now, if the argument is that men shouldn't ask for dates in enclosed spaces, I completely agree. If it's that even if his intentions are pure as an abstinence pledge, one's hotel room is too easily construed as a cheap ploy to coerce a girl into sex, then I also agree. But what if Rebecca had been totally hot for the guy? There are, in fact, many women who enjoy spontaneous sex with strangers and they have every right to do so. 

03 July 2011

Attack of the feminism: Richard Dawkins v. Jen McCreight edition

If you follow Pharyngula and Blag Hag like I do, you probably caught wind of this whole fiasco in which Richard Dawkins is being decried by Jen and many others for apparently making some dude-privilege remarks.

Here's how the story unfolded, as I understand it:
  1. Rebecca Watson of Skepchick posted a video talking about her experience at an atheist conference in Dublin. At around 4 a.m., she got onto an elevator to go back to her room, and a man got on the elevator with her. He said, "Don't take this the wrong way, but I find you really interesting and I'd like to talk more. Would you like to come to my hotel room for coffee?" Rebecca then goes on to say that being "sexualized" like that made her uncomfortable.
  2. Stef McGraw, a girl who was at the conference, says that Rebecca was overreacting to being hit on. Rebecca responds with a blog post in which she decries Stef's comments as "anti-women rhetoric", among other things.
  3. PZ Myers posts about it on Pharyngula, and Richard Dawkins posts a couple of comments in which he mocks Rebecca for equating being asked on a coffee date to sexual objectification and harassment, suggesting that it's an insult to women who have to deal with actual harassment, oppression, and objectification.
  4. Jen then posts a blog deriding Dawkins for being insensitive and clueless about women, and showing his "privilege" as a rich white male. 
Well, count me as being clueless and insensitive, then. Sure, asking a woman for a coffee date in an elevator at 4:00 in the morning is not the most tactful or effective way to get a date. But I'm flabbergasted at Rebecca's insistence that she was being "sexualized" because the guy said she was interesting and he'd like to talk more. Did he have an ulterior motive? Maybe, maybe not – nobody knows. What matters is that she refused, he ceased all advances, and that was the end of it. And yet people are lighting up the comments on these posts equating Rebecca's experience to "harassment".

What should a designed universe look like?

There's an article I spied via RichardDawkins.net in which NIS Director Francis Collins claims that Richard Dawkins "admitted admitted to him during a conversation that the most troubling argument for nonbelievers to counter is the fine-tuning of the universe." Apparently hard to explain = Jesus, because Collins uses this as a springboard to recite the oft-debunked fine-tuning argument:
“If they (constants in the universe) were set at a value that was just a tiny bit different, one part in a billion, the whole thing wouldn’t work anymore,” said Collins, the director of the National Institutes of Health, during the 31st Annual Christian Scholars’ Conference at Pepperdine University in Malibu, Calif.
These constants regarding the behavior of matter and energy – such as strong and weak nuclear forces, gravity, and the speed of light – have to be precisely right during the Big Bang for life as we know it to exist.
“To get our universe, with all of its potential for complexities or any kind of potential for any kind of life form, everything has to be precisely defined on this knife edge of improbability,” said the world renowned scientist.

01 July 2011

What the hey is Sam Harris up to?

I like Sam Harris. The End of Faith is one of my favorite polemics, and he's always very articulate, incisive and concise when discussing matters of faith and reason.

Well, almost always.

Sam Harris has always been a sort of quasi-Buddhist, and his ramblings on transcendence have confused his readers on more than one occasion, not the least of which is the big section he has on it in The End of Faith. Today on his blog, Sam posted another musing about transcendence in response to Jerry Coyne's comments on an interview Sam had conducted earlier in which he extolled the virtues of transcendent experiences. Now, I've meditated, prayed for hours on end (not recently), studied Zen philosophy, etc. And I still don't have the slightest clue what Sam is trying to say. First, he says that a lot of atheists are missing out on transcendent experiences:
It is, in fact, possible to be utterly at ease in the world—and such ease is synonymous with relaxing, or fully transcending, the apparent boundaries of the “self.” Those who have never experienced such peace of mind will view the preceding sentences as yet another eruption of “mumbo jumbo” on my part. And yet it is phenomenologically true to say that such states of well-being are there to be discovered. I am not claiming to have experienced all relevant states of this kind. But there are people who appear to have experienced none of them—and many of these people are atheists.