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Showing posts from July, 2011

QualiaSoup: "Good Without Gods"

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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 obse…

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…

More on the debt

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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 sou…

Don't forget!

Ask me anything.

A few very good questions so far.

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:

The Daily Show
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50 renowned academics talk about God

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H/t John Loftus

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

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 trillioncut 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. De…

Marc Hauser resigns

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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 t…

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 cam…

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 p…

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 …

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

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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.

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 …

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 t…

Thunderf00t interviews Westboro Baptist members

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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.

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&#…

Context!

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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, amo…

Elevatorgate, part II

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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…

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:
Rebecca Watson of Skepchickposted 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.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.PZ Myers posts about it…

What should a designed universe look like?

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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 co…

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…