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Showing posts from March, 2010

Why is parsimony so difficult for some people to grasp?

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I'm exhausted. I've been in two discussions lately regarding consciousness and morality, respectively. I've found these conversations to be somewhat frustrating, if only because my own position, and that of like-minded atheists and skeptics, seems so woefully misunderstood. Here's a quote from the gentleman with whom I was having the debate about morality:

Should the government be able to force you to buy health care?

One of the larger controversies of the new health care reform bill – one that is now the subject of a number of lawsuits brought on by assorted state attorney generals – is that if you do not purchase health insurance, you will be fined by the IRS. According to this rant by Jim Cafferty over at CNN, by 2014 the fine will reach $700 ($2k per household) or 2.5% of income – whichever is higher. In order to be fined, you have to be without insurance for at least three months of the year. There are exceptions for low-income people and, weirdly, people objecting on "religious grounds" (can't wait to see how that's exploited). Apparently a lot of people, Jim Cafferty obviously among them, think this infringes on personal freedom. That it's unconstitutional and unethical.

"I am not ashamed"

It seems like I can't throw a rock at my Facebook news feed without hitting some stupid post where someone claims how unashamed they are about being a Christian. Here's a little gem I tripped over today, which is pretty typical of the crap I see:
For my Savior, Jesus Christ, A new Facebook challenge...I am out to prove that my friends will repost this, I hope I am right!!! Let's lift up His name and make a statement!! When Jesus died on the cross he died for YOU and me. If you are not ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ, copy and repost. I am not ashamed. I ride in the spirit of his grace! AMEN!!!!

Is there such a thing as "scientific fundamentalism"?

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After Richard Dawkins wrote a scathing op ed lashing out at the National Academy of Sciences for hosting the announcement of the 2010 Templeton Prize – an award which, according to the Templeton Foundation website, "honors a living person who has made an exceptional contribution to affirming life’s spiritual dimension, whether through insight, discovery, or practical works" – the winner, evolutionary geneticist Fransisco J. Ayala, accused Dawkins of "scientific fundamentalism":

Blogger issues

I've gotten email from a number of people recently telling me they've been unable to leave comments. First of all, it's awesome that anyone's actually reading all my blathering, much less actually wanting to comment on it, so thank you very much for the support. It looks like the issue has to do with CAPTCHA not giving you a space to actually type the word; so, I'm disabling it and turning on comment moderation instead. Hopefully that does the trick, because beyond that I really don't know what to do. This is just a default blogger template and everything's pretty straightfoward.

If you have any issues, send me a message on my Facebook page (facebook.com/mikebot) and tell me as specifically as you can what went wrong. If problems persist I'll contact Blogger. Thanks again for those of you reading the blog, and especially those of you taking the time to offer comments and criticism. Live long and prosper. Or something.

Yours in Jesusness,
- Mike D

James Randi came out today

It's a little sad he had to wait 81 years, but good for him!


http://www.randi.org/site/index.php/swift-blog/914-how-to-say-it.html

Beware the slippery slope

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With the health care bill on the verge of being passed, there's a chorus from the right: it will lead to socialism. First we pass tighter regulations on the insurance industry; later, we pass a public option; eventually we expand medicare to everyone, and we have bona fide socialized medicine. Then we begin to socialize other sectors, and before you know it, we're hanging Soviet flags on our porches.

This also popped up in the news lately when a US general declared that allowing gays to serve openly in the military will lead to genocide. Openly gay soldiers weaken the military, he reasoned, which makes for defeat in battle, which means our enemies will then slaughter us wholesale.

This is called the slippery slope fallacy. The fallacy lies in the claim that A leads to B, B leads to C, etc. etc. While a slippery slope argument can be valid, each step along the chain must be independently established. For example, the establishment of medicare – a wholly public health system – w…

Child sacrifice, nonsensical theology, and other questions Christians can't answer

Being a Christian is easy, as long as you ignore most of the Bible and don't actually bother trying to figure out how the theology works. Sam Harris recently teamed up with Steve Wells, creator of the Skeptics Annotated Bible (he's also annotated the Qur'an and the Book of Mormon) to develop The Scripture Project, which Harris intends to make the authoritative resource on the web for Biblical skeptics. This got me thinking about the kind of scriptures you see in the SAB, and how, when I was a Christian, no one ever really talked about them. Actually, no one talked about them at all.


Why I want Obama's health care reform to pass

You can't please everyone. As we approach the historical vote for health care reform, it seems like not everyone is really happy; some less so than others. But that's just the nature of the beast. In my perfect little liberal world, the United States would catch up to most other industrialized nations and use a single-payer system. I think a public option would have been a good thing. But even with the bill in its current state, it does a lot of very important things – it extends health care coverage to millions of people while reducing costs. The bill remains controversial, however, so I wanted to articulate why I personally think this is a vital piece of legislation, despite any shortcomings I may feel it has.

First, however, it's worth addressing the falsehoods that have been spread in order to defeat this bill. In the tech world, when companies spread misinformation about their competitors, it's called FUDfear, uncertainty and doubt. The most common line I hear …

A scathing rebuke of religion

Johann Hari: The Pope, the Prophet, and the religious support for evil


Not much else to add to this one, but it's a fine read. My favorite quote:

Yes, I understand some people feel sad when they see a figure they were taught as a child to revere – whether Prophet or Pope – being subjected to rational examination, or mockery, or criminal investigation. But everyone has ideas they hold precious. Only you, the religious, demand to be protected from debate or scrutiny that might discomfort you. The fact you believe an invisible supernatural being approves of – or even commands – your behaviour doesn't mean it deserves more respect, or sensitive handling. It means it deserves less. If you base your behaviour on such a preposterous fantasy, you should expect to be checked by criticism and mockery. You need it.


Are you an ex?

As an ex-evangelical Christian, I'm fascinated by other people's stories of de-conversion. I'm particularly fascinated by former preachers who have de-converted such as Dan Barker and fellow bloggers John Loftus,Bud Uzoras, and the anonymous gentleman over at Going Apostate.

Daniel Dennet did a fantastic lecture about closet atheists in the clergy, which you can view below; I suspect the phenomenon is far more prevalent than one might imagine. But I also suspect that closet agnostics and atheists are similarly prevalent in the pews, as leaving one's religious institution can be, as the Mormon fellows remarked in Religulous, "social suicide".

The interesting thing about us ex-believers is that we tend to be a lot more passionate about our agnosticism or atheism than people who were simply raised in predominately secular societies. That's because we've experienced first hand the pervasive, destructive influence that religion has, and we know what it…

The real problem with religion

I haven't been as busy lately with the whole blogging thing, which may seem kind of odd in light of some of the stuff happening in the world right now. Muslim radicals have been trying to murder cartoonists who dared to satirize religion by drawing Mohammad. Nergal, frontman for Polish metal band Behemoth (of whom I am a huge fan) has been arrested on charges of insulting the Catholic church after he tore up a Bible as part of his act. And the Catholic church is in a messy state of affairs, with literally hundreds of new sex abuse cases rising up, and once again the problem is not that they happened, but that the church covered it up. This time around, the Pope himself looks at least partly culpable in the cover-ups. There was also some news about vice president Biden having a rather unsuccessful (to put it charitably) visit to Israel. Apparently peace is not in the making anytime soon.

All this had me reflecting on what exactly the problem is with religion. Because religious peo…

Dialogues with ultraconservatives

I'm not opposed to engaging people with opposing viewpoints. Quite the contrary – I think it's important to one's intellectual growth. But in order to have a meaningful discussion, both parties have to approach the conversation with a mindset of free and open inquiry – that is, a willingness to subject their ideas to critical scrutiny. Incredulity has no place in any such conversation.

I'm a pretty liberal guy, which one would rightly expect being that I'm an atheist (the two are strongly correlated). I spent this afternoon attempting to engage some ultraconservatives in a discussion on Facebook. Lesson learned. I won't bore with details, but here are some snippets:

Conservative: Hey there Mike, one more thing buddy, where would you like for me to ship the candy that your Muslim Boss is selling so that it does not melt? what will it take you for you blind brainwashed people to see what the hell is going on here, this is no longer about a party, but it is …

The internet is bad for religion

This excellent video from famous creationism debunker Thunderf00t articulates very well something I've thought for a long time – that the internet is bad for religion. It's easier than ever to be exposed to counter-arguments, criticisms and opposing views, which in my experience (and as the video shows) tend to be bad for religion, which often thrives on emotional appeals, childhood indoctrination and groupthink. The precipitous drop in religious affiliation in developed nations over the last 15 years is a testament to that.

Thoughts on digital rights management

As you can tell if you've ever glanced at my profile and taken a gander at my other blogs (which I don't really bother updating much), you know I'm a PC gamer. And I would probably post this on my PC gaming blog, except that this is a consumer rights issue that crosses many mediums. I took note of the recent controversy over the DRM embedded in the game Assassin's Creed II, published by Ubisoft.  DRM has long been a bane of PC gamers, with Sony's infamous SecuROM causing a litany of problems for innumerable users, and it seems that Ubisoft decided to see if they could top Sony in the "treat your customers like crap" department.

Essentially, the game requires the user to be constantly logged into a server on the internet. Other companies have done similar things by requiring internet authentication for updates and downloadable bonus content, but Ubisoft is the first to mandate that players be constantly connected to the internet. Predictably, over the wee…

The folly of prayer

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I recently saw a group on Facebook called Praying for Layla Grace, a support group for a beautiful little girl suffering from stage 4 neuroblastoma, which is cancer of the nervous system. "Stage 4" means the cancer has spread to other organs – in this case her bone marrow – meaning her prognosis is grim. Perhaps it's just my fascination with psychology, but I think tragic situations such as this provide a unique insight into human behavior. In this case, I'm curious what people's rationalization is for praying on Layla's behalf. Presumably, they hope that God will cure her. Presumably, they want a miracle. And who among us wouldn't? I can only imagine the pain of losing a child to cancer. When I worked as a physical therapy tech in college, I witnessed first-hand a child wasting away from brain cancer. It was difficult for me to witness, as a total stranger; for her family, the tragedy was certainly overwhelming.

It's my position that prayer ultimate…

Buyer Beware

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Update 3/11/2010: Apparently blogging is good for something other than just me shouting into the ethereal void of the interwebs. An employee from Music123 found this blog and took it upon himself to personally rectify the situation. I can confirm, having just viewed my adjusted credit card statement, that the problem has been fully resolved. So, a big thanks to Skaught Parry for taking the time to address this issue personally. As for Music123, well, they've taken fine care of me in response to this issue, and I feel confident enough to buy from them again.

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You may have noticed that I haven't been blogging for a while. Or, maybe you haven't because you've been busy reading other, more interesting blogs. But I wanted to take a break from my usual armchair philosophy b.s. and vent something that has been bugging me greatly.

See, I just wrote a check for $1,023.40. And I am really, really not happy about writing this check.

I…