Posts

Showing posts from August, 2011

NonStampCollector on objective morality

Image
Here's more serious video from NonStampCollector in which he assails the idea of connecting objective moral law with Christianity. He brings up some of the same conundrums that I brought up recently, but puts his unmistakable flair to the argument.




Updatery

You may have noticed that things have been a little slow 'round these here parts (as we say in Oklahoma). Or, as is more likely, you may have been too busy doing interesting things to care. In any case, I've been doing some deep thinking about this blog – specifically, about the direction I want it to go such that the limited time I can devote to it feels worthwhile.

This blog originally started out as The Apostasy, which was basically just a way for me to sort out the thought process of my deconversion. Originally, I didn't even identify as an atheist – I actually spent time talking about my "theistic agnosticism". By chance, some others started reading my blog. I received praise and criticism alike, and in time grew a small but respectable readership.

After a while, the topic of religion seemed too confining. I'm interested in skeptical thinking about lots of things, not just religion. So I axed The Apostasy, ported over some of my favorite content, and us…

A nice video on the Adam & Eve controversy

Image
A while back, I mentioned that the conclusive evidence that Adam & Eve are fictitious creates some real problems for modern Christians [more]. In this video, Youtube user "ProfMTH", who's done a number of very good articles on the problems in Christian theology, gives a thorough overview of the issue and why it's such a conundrum for the faithful.

Republicans want to raise the payroll tax

Jon Stewart's rant (see previous post) attacking the political right's contempt for the poor seems to have been truer than even he realized. Republicans absolutely decried the suggestion that we ought to allow the Bush tax cuts to expire on the top 2% of earners. And they fought tooth and nail against any sort of tax increase that might accompany the spending cuts in the deficit-cutting deal. But it seems like some conservatives are okay with tax cuts after all – as long as they're raised on those lazy poor people, and not those hardworking rich folks. While Obama wants to extend the payroll cut, some Republicans are demanding that the cut be allowed to expire.

Jon Stewart on class warfare and conservative hypocrisy

In yet another brilliant segment, Jon Stewart incisively exposes the hypocrisy behind conservatives' "class warfare" rhetoric. The look on his face at the end of the segment says it all.


The Daily Show
Get More: Daily Show Full Episodes,Political Humor & Satire Blog,The Daily Show on Facebook

The numerous ways Rick Perry is an unintentional comic

Image
The forthcoming field of Republican Presidential hopefuls has some pretty entertaining loons. The old front runner, Mitt Romney, only faces problems among the base because of the influence of conservative evangelicals who do not consider Mormonism to be a legit Christian religion. He also ran for President last time, and failed to secure the nomination against a 70 year old man, which doesn't speak well for his charisma. Michelle Bachmann has plenty of appeal in that, like her partner in stupid Sarah Palin, she's folksy, dumb, and blindly religious. But most conservatives seem to realize she's not Presidential material.

Enter Rick Perry. It's my prediction that Rick Perry will be the Republican nominee for the 2012 elections, as polls seem to be indicating. He's a charismatic, Christian white male from the South who's got all the makings of a great conservative candidate: he was a terrible student in college [1], he loves to yammer about his upbringing in a sma…

Dennis Markuze aka Dave Mabus aka DM arrested by Montreal police

I used to get spam from Dennis Markuze all the time. Countless attempts to thwart the spam were only solved when I moved to Disqus, which allows me to block IP addresses, and even that hasn't stopped him completely. This is one obsessive hombre. He moves from one internet cafe to the next, creates dozens of email addresses every week, and sends incoherent threats and harassment to a litany of non-believers, scientists, and journalists.

Well, people got fed the hell up. Kyle Vanderbeek in San Fransisco started a petition that ended up inundating Montreal police with emails about the threats. And today, Dennis Markuze was finally arrested.

Here's hoping he gets the help he needs, and that police can keep him off the web in the meantime. 

Full story here.

Tea Party: less popular than atheists

According to an op ed in the New York Times, recent polling data is showing that the Tea Party is one of the most disliked groups in the country. More disliked than Muslims and atheists. And apparently, the "Christian Right" isn't real popular either. The article states what anyone with half a brain knew from the start – the Tea Party, contrary to their early declarations that they were not about any particular political party, are overwhelmingly Republican Christian conservatives. They've never really had a uniform, coherent ideological stance, but if they all favor anything, it's Jesus:
Next to being a Republican, the strongest predictor of being a Tea Party supporter today was a desire, back in 2006, to see religion play a prominent role in politics. And Tea Partiers continue to hold these views: they seek “deeply religious” elected officials, approve of religious leaders’ engaging in politics and want religion brought into political debates. The Tea Party…

Sam Harris and determinism

Image
H/T to Tristan: I recently watched a video on Sam Harris' blog in which he answered a series of questions submitted by readers. Now, I am most definitely a fan of Sam Harris, and I agree with much of what he says. But I do disagree with him occasionally, such as when he rambles about "transcendence". And to add to this short list, I have to take exception to his arguments about free will. Sam is a "hard determinist" who more or less believes that we are, for lack of a better term, automatons. He maintains that conscious decision making is nothing more than an elaborate illusion pulled over us by the complex circuitry of our brains. He further attempts to argue – unsuccessfully, in my opinion – that this should not demean our sense of responsibility and justice, for reasons I'll touch on momentary.

Sam is certainly not the first to raise the issue of free will, consciousness and determinism – it's one of the oldest debates in philosophy and science. And …

The essence of moral reasoning, part 1: why "evil" fails

Image
In my previous post about morality, I argued that all moral reasoning requires a subjective value judgment – that is, rather than adhering to some objective standard which tells us whether an action is unequivocally right or wrong, we examine each situation contextually and, based on the available information, decide whether an act is right, wrong, or somewhere in between. I also argued that our reasons for behaving morally are rational and non-arbitrary. Over the next three posts, I'll talk about how we make those moral decisions and how we reason about them.

The evidence from biology is unambiguous: certain behavioral tendencies are hard-wired through our evolution. We are, more often than not, cooperative, empathetic and reciprocally altruistic. Save for sociopaths, we tend to feel empathy and sympathy for others who are suffering. Of course, people also behave badly. We can be selfish, ambivalent, or cruel. We can be conditioned to erode our natural empathetic connection to o…

Could porn be reducing rapes?

Image
Folk wisdom suggests that pornography has a great many ill effects on society. It denigrates women, it creates unrealistic expectations about sexual relationships, and it may indirectly contribute toward a rise in sexual assaults. A report in a recent issue of Scientific American Mind calls this convention wisdom into question:
With access to pornography easier than ever before, politicians and scientists alike have renewed their interest in deciphering its psychological effects. Certainly pornography addiction or overconsumption seems to cause relationship problems [see “Sex in Bits and Bytes,” by Hal Arkowitz and Scott O. Lilienfeld; Scientific American Mind, July/August 2010]. But what about the more casual exposure typical of most porn users? Contrary to what many people believe, recent research shows that moderate pornography consumption does not make users more aggressive, promote sexism or harm relationships. If anything, some researchers suggest, exposure to pornography…

20 Christian academics speaking about God

Image
One of the best ways to experience firsthand the almost comical absurdity of religious thought is just to listen to various modern theologians muse about God. That sophisticated theology we atheists are, like, totally not getting? Here it is, straight from the horse's mouth.


Theology: the art of making stuff up

Hat tip to Jerry Coyne over at WEITfor this one:

NPR recently did a program featuring various religious thinkers discussing the implications of the entire story of Eden being scientifically discredited. There were a few fundies, and several accommodationists including some writers for Francis Collins' organization BioLogos.

Dr. Coyne has a fine summary on his blog, but I wanted to add my own thoughts. Basically the issue is this: there is simply no possible way that Adam and Eve existed as described in the Bible. All genetic evidence we have shows that we modern humans are descended from a population of at least 10,000 – not two.

This creates some serious problems for Christians. Paul, for example, in both the book of Romans and 1 Corinthians, explains that the whole point of Christ's death and resurrection is to undo the Fall. But if Adam and Eve did not exist, then the Fall – at least as it is described in the Bible – did not happen. It's a major dilemma for Christians, …

Morality is subjective

Image
In the previous post I argued against the notion of "objective morality". Now, I want to turn to the subjectivity of moral judgments. All moral judgments are, by necessity, subjective. But that doesn't mean our concept of right and wrong is arbitrary, nor does it mean that our judgments themselves are arbitrary. To illustrate this, I'm going to revisit an example I used in the previous post.

First, I want to suggest that there are three broad "tiers" of moral judgment; an act can be:

ForbiddenPermissible Obligatory
Is lying an objectively immoral act? The Biblical God explicitly forbids it in the 10 Commandments, and most of us believe, in general, that lying is wrong. But it doesn't take much effort to imagine a circumstance in which lying is either permissible or even morally obligatory –unambiguously the right course of action.

In Nazi-occupied Poland, families sympathetic to the plight of Jews would hide Jewish families in the attics, walls, or basem…

Objective morality does not exist (and nobody believes in it anyway)

Image
It's been parroted by just about every Christian theologian I've ever encountered (even the armchair kind): Without God, anything is permissible. God is the only source of objective moral law. If there is no God, then there is no objective morality, and no one can say with any authority or rational certainty that any given act is patently immoral.

So, why believe a "moral law" exists in the first place? For some reason, we want to be treated fairly. We want our autonomy respected. Even when we treat others unfairly, we usually still want to be treated fairly ourselves. There's some intuitive sense in us that constitutes what is right and wrong. If we're asked why it's wrong to indiscriminately kill and eat infants, our answer tends toward, It just is.  This intuitive understanding of moral behavior indicates that there exists an objective moral law to which we are subject. If such an objective moral law exists, it must come from a moral law giver whose au…

Discovery Curiosity: Did God Create the Universe? (Hint: No)

Image
A quickie here, between shed time with the 7-string. I just watched the Discovery special with Stephen Hawking, asking if God created the universe. Hawking's answer? "No." If, like yours truly, you've read A Brief History of Time and The Grand Design, there's nothing particularly new here. But it stays away from complex discussions of physics and explains everything in very simple terms.

I like Hawking's almost childlike curiosity. Like me, he's not interested in whether we can prove or disprove the existence of God. He's a scientist, and he wants to know if the only way we can hope to understand the universe is by positing a Creator. It's certainly what a lot of wishful thinkers desire to be the case. But, as he explains, the laws of nature reveal something very different.

Part 1:


Part 2:


Part 3:


Part 4:



Week off

Hi.

I've published two lengthy posts this weekend. That should do. I'm going to take the week off from blogging. Not only is it time-consuming to research and compose all this stuff, but it's also very time-consuming to get caught in the back and forth in the comments section. Talk amongst yourselves, enjoy the posts, yadda yadda. I have a brand-spankin' new Ibanez 7-string and some ambitious musical projects, and I don't want to get sidetracked with blogging which, in terms of sneaky time-draining, is almost as bad as Civilization V. Almost.

See you in a week!

Good reasoning, bad information

There seems to be a general consensus among modern atheists, including myself, that religious belief is irrational. It would seem to follow, then, that attempts to defend religious beliefs are fine examples of bad reasoning. And sometimes, they are.

But recently, when I was watching QualiaSoup's outstanding videos on morality, I took notice when he raised a provocative point in the first video that I think has broader implications for rational inquiry.
"Sound reasoning won't lead to valid assessments if we're operating with flawed information; nor will sound information if our reasoning is flawed."I think that if we take a close look at apologetics, we can see precisely that: good reasoning based on flawed information. I've mentioned in the past that one of the catalysts for my rejection of Christianity was C.S. Lewis' book The Case for Christianity [link]. To his credit, Lewis attempts to substantiate Christianity without making the initial assumption th…

The ex-non-believer

The other day, when doing some research for a forthcoming post, I came across a lengthy interview with renown geneticist and evangelical Christian Francis Collins. In the interview, he discussed his tenure as a somewhat obnoxious non-believer:
I concluded that all of this stuff about religion and faith was a carryover from an earlier, irrational time, and now that science had begun to figure out how things really work, we didn't need it any more. I think you wouldn't have enjoyed having lunch with me when I was in that phase. My mission then was to ferret out this squishy thinking on the part of people around me and try to point out to them that they really ought to get over all of that emotional stuff and face up to the fact that there really wasn't anything except what you could measure.  He goes on to discuss some conversations he had with a minister, who subsequently loaned him a copy of C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity. Then, this happened:
I was on a trip to t…

Some syllogismy-things

Here's a quick thought:
God is omnipotent (all-powerful) and omniscient (all-knowing)People who reject God will ultimately go to HellGod, being omniscient and transcending space and time, knows all people's decisions before they happen Ergo, God created people knowing they would reject him and go to Hell foreverAnd this one:
God gave us free willGod is omniscientGod knows our choices before we make them Unless it is possible for God to be wrong, all our future actions are decidedErgo, free will is an illusionDiscuss.

It's hot

I've lived in Oklahoma since '85, and I've never seen or experienced a heat wave like we're having now. Today, the high is 114°. It's been over 100° for a solid month, if not longer. I'm dreading getting my electric bill.

Is this evidence for global warming? Well, not really, no. Localized, short-term weather isn't an accurate measure of global warming trends, which is why it's stupid when conservatives say that snow is evidence against global warming [1]. Evidence for global warming – particularly that we're playing a big role – comes from a litany of long-term, global evidence [2].

Let me tell you, I love the heat. I'm originally from Milwaukee, and I hate the weather there. I loathe even the brief Winters we have here. But 114°... well, it's not much fun. With any luck, we'll have a long Fall.