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Showing posts from November, 2011

The disastrous results of gay marriage

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This has been lighting up my Facebook feed today, and it's pretty impressive:



Of course, this is just a single example, but it's consistent with research.

Let me take a moment to really shove that abstract down the throats of religious conservatives, whose arbitrary interpretation of Bronze Age scriptures is the driving force behind most of the opposition to gay marriage in this country:
"More than two decades of research has failed to reveal important differences in the adjustment or development of children or adolescents reared by same-sex couples compared to those reared by other-sex couples." All those horrible effects of gay marriage? They don't exist. Science has proved religion wrong, as usual.


Traditional Biblical marriage

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The other day on Facebook, a lesbian friend of mine pondered why Christians are not as anti-divorce as they are anti-gay-marriage. "You know", she said, "to preserve the 'sanctity'". This elicited the predictable response from several conservative Christians who opined about 'scripture' and 'Biblical marriage'. It is ironic that Christians don't crusade against divorce nearly to the extent the crusade against gay marriage, particularly because Jesus specifically stated, in Matthew 5:28, that it's a sin to divorce unless your spouse had an affair. That's every bit as much scriptural justification as their crusade against gay marriage – more actually, since Jesus himself never said anything about gay marriage.

But I digress.

Let's get something straight: the line that conservatives push about Biblical marriage being between one man and one woman is just something they made up. This is a classic case (there are lots!) of holier…

Greta Christina: Why are you atheists so angry?

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I wish every believer I know would listen to this. 



(h/t: Shaun)

Giving thanks

I hope you've all had a great holiday. I have many things to be thankful for:


My amazing family. My parents live about 15 minutes away from me, and I love being able to see them so easily. I wish it were easier to visit my brother and his wife out in California, but a lot of people I know hardly see their family at all so I count myself lucky. My parents are supporting, loving, kind, humble, and honest. I admire them both very much.

My friends. I've had many of the same friends for many years (one of my best friends is someone I've known since middle school, nearly 20 years ago) and I feel very fortunate to have such awesome, fun, and supportive people in my life. I've had friends stick with me through good times and bad, and there's no real way to repay that except to pay it forward.

My co-workers and clients. I'm lucky to have a job that has good hours and is very low stress, and I work with some first-rate trainers and loyal, hard-working clients. I…

Physicist Lisa Randall on the conflict between science and religion

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I totally stole this from Tristan (with his permission, of course), but it's just too good. I read Lisa Randall's excellent book Warped Passages a few years ago, and loved it. Her new book Knocking on Heaven's Door is on my short list, but Tristan beat me to it and yanked out a few quotes from her on the conflict between science and religion. I've never known her to have a Dawkinsian anti-religious agenda, but she knows her epistemology and these quotes really capture the heart of the matter:

"For a scientist, material mechanistic elements underlie the description of reality. The associated physical correlates are essential to any phenomenon in the world. Even if not sufficient to explain everything, they are required."


"The materialist viewpoint works well for science. But it inevitably leads to logical conflicts when religion invokes a God or some other external entity to explain how people or the world behave. The problem is that in order to sub…

Reddit

My blog originally started out simply as a way for me to organize my thoughts. I never really had any expectations of a regular readership... y'know, people actually caring about what I have to say. But over the last couple of years my little blog has gotten itself a mildly respectable following, and I'm happy to say that 99% of the comments have come from intelligent, nice people.

But I'm also a bit frustrated that, over the last year or so, the blog has pretty much plateaued. My hits are up marginally, as are comments, but I haven't seen a dramatic growth in the numbers. The Facebook page has helped, as has dialogue on other blogs.

Anyway, in an effort to promote the blog a bit more, I decided to start sharing posts on Reddit. Bud over at Dead Logic had some crazy success with it, and the Secular Student Alliance got a big boost from it too.

Sure enough, in terms of raw hits, it's a success. My previous post garnered nearly 1,300 hits in a matter of hours (that…

Leading Republicans want a Christian theocracy

Slate has a rather disturbing article filled with quotes from the Republican presidential candidates, uttered at a recent event called the "Thanksgiving Family Forum", in which they make it quite clear that they don't mind the idea of a theocracy at all – as long as it's an evangelical, probably Protestant theocracy. Noticeably absent from these proceedings? Mitt Romney. Of course, he's a Mormon, which means he's not a True Christian™. Anyway, read on for some highlights from this monstrosity. Truly, the best way to keep these people out of office is to just let them open their mouths.

p.s. – I'm reminded of Newt Gingrich's statement that the U.S. is in danger of becoming an atheist nation run by radical Muslims. Whatever that means....

The conflict between science and religion

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I occasionally peruse the blog of former-frequent commenter, now-banned Jack Hudson, and he recently posted this video interview with physicist/theologian Stephen Barr, which I wanted to comment on. It's essentially promoting accommodationism – the idea that there's no inherent conflict between religion and science. I'll let you watch the video for yourself, but because it's fairly lengthy, I've summarized what I view as the central points below.


The themes are as follows:
Science and religion answer different questionsScience has confirmed some of the things in the BibleChristians are responsible for some significant advances in science Atheists are committed to a dogmatic form of materialism that discounts the possibility of the supernatural (see the 19:00 mark) This video does a great job of illustrating just how detached theologians are from the real issues concerning atheists. It's a terrible misunderstanding of our position at every front, and begs a few i…

Freethought Blogs sucks

I don't know what it is with the migration of several of my favorite blogs to this network, but:
The templates are all totally generic and uglyThere are lots of intrusive ads I don't see what the payoff is. Blogger and Wordpress are so much nicer.

The silliness of prayer, encapsulated by a believer

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I came across this video over on the always entertaining Christian Nightmares (which is entertaining because it more or less exposes the absurdity of Christianity in the words of its own practitioners). It's a clip about something called 'prayer circles' (not people standing around holding hands, if that was your guess). This guy is going on about the power of prayer, but the money quote is just past the 1:30 mark.



He says,
"Our prayers are like time capsules. You never know how or when or where God is going to answer them, but you can live with the holy anticipation."  There's a massive hole in logic in that sentence. The question is a simple one, but it's a big one to which no Christian (or theist in general, for that matter) has ever been able to give me a straight answer. Ready? It's this:

How do you tell the difference between a prayer that wasn't answered the way you hoped, and a random even that would have happened anyway?

The problem with …

I'm a little bothered by this

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A few years ago, at the encouragement of my (devout Christian) older brother, I contacted the pastor of my parents' church just to see if he'd be interested in chatting. He replied that he would love to meet with me, and we eventually met and talked for about an hour and a half. At the end, he loaned me two books – one by Frank Tipler, a physicist, called The Physics of Christianity, which turned out to be one of the most loony books I've ever read. The other was a much more reasonable accomodationist tome by John Polkinghorne called The Faith of a Physicist. I originally tried to take notes on things I found questionable, but filled up pages so fast I had to stop.

Anyway, some time later I contacted the pastor about meeting again. I wanted to talk about the books and about some of the issue we'd covered in our previous conversation. At the time, he had some medical issues, so I simply left a message. After he got through that, I contacted him again, through his secret…

Theistic strategies for elevating faith to the stature of science

I think that if there's one overarching goal of the modern new atheist/skeptic/freethinking/whateveryouwanttocallit movement, it's to remove from our culture the notion that faith is a good thing. Faith is, by definition, believing in things in spite of – or even because of – a lack of evidence. When we have good evidence for something, we don't actually need faith – we can just accept reality as it is. I mean, isn't that alone a good reason to chuckle at the so-called logical 'proofs' of God's existence? If it was that easy, if we really had proof that God existed, faith would be pointless.

If there's another position that should be evident among new atheists, it's that we love science. We love it so much that we're even accused of scientism! One of the interesting contrasts between science and faith is that both claim to be means of "knowledge", yet only one of them has given us reliable information about the reality we inhabit that …

Hiding behind a fallacy

It really grinds my gears when Christians try to give their religion credit for all the sociocultural progress we've made, all while blaming atheism for everything from economic woes to Stalin's genocide. It's astounding self-deception, one in which the innumerable Christians responsible for histories greatest cruelties and injustices are dismissed as not being 'true' Christians; that way, Christianity is responsible only for the pleasant things, and all the unpleasant things can be blamed on atheists or misguided believers who never would have done such things if only they'd had the correct theology.

It simply cannot be ignored that Christians were responsible for, among many other atrocities:
The wanton killing and displacement of Native AmericansEncomiendaThe Atlantic slave tradeThe CrusadesThe InquisitionThe Nazi regime and the antisemitism that inspired the Holocaust Witch burningsThe KKK The murder and forced conversions of Germanic peoples (the Saxon wars…

Explaining the Holocaust

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Back when I did my series on morality, I used the Nazis – and the Holocaust in particular – as an example of people doing really cruel things. In truth, the inhumanity of the Holocaust – while still fairly fresh in our minds because it was relatively recent – is far from an isolated incident. Encomienda, the Atlantic slave trade, the Trail of Tears, tribal warfare in Africa are just a few of the many examples of humans doing horribly cruel things to others en masse.

How do we account for this cruelty? It seems a little easier to account for something like a serial killer or child molester – we just say something like, that person was a sociopath. One of my clients works as a prison nurse, and has told me that one thing the prisoners frequently have in common is a horrible childhood full of abuse and neglect. Another former client works as a public defender specializing in death penalty cases. He's told me that only a very small percentage of killers are true sociopaths – that most…

A quick thought on divine morality

The idea that our morality is bestowed upon us by God is one that, to me, has always suffered from a problem so obvious that it really shouldn't even need mentioning.

Nobody has direct, objective access to God. Now, some people will of course claim they have personal access to God, but these claims are not independently verifiable – which is pretty important when you're living in an social, cooperative and interdependent society. If someone tells you God spoke to them, how could you possibly substantiate – objectively – whether their claim was true? Revelatory claims, by definition, fall outside the realm of empirical knowledge. Are God's commands known from his Holy Book? Whose interpretation of which one? And again, how can those claims be independently verified?


So even if it were true that God's commands form the basis of our moral compass (and of course I don't think it is), it would pretty useless to us unless we all could independently verify e…

"Scientism"

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I linked to this over on the A-UnicornistFacebook page, but I also wanted to link to it here because I think it's just that damn good. Shaun at The Atheist, Polyamorous Skeptic has an outstanding post responding the accusation of "scientism" that is often leveled at non-believers. Choice quote:
Part of the problem, as I see it, is that the critics of the so-called “scientistic” people (one is tempted to juts call them “scientists”) seem to not understand the position as it is commonly used by those, such as myself, who believe that science is the preeminent epistemological methodology in the world (perhaps the universe!).  The other part is, as has been pointed out, that this method conflicts too much with theological methodology which is often non-empirical.  People like [theologian John Haught] have a bias, a conviction that ties them to a set of doctrines which make claims at odds with science, and so they see something beyond the reach of empiricism. But t…

I can haz computer?

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Thanks to the modern miracle of express shipping, I have a shiny new motherboard. Literally shiny, since my old one was a little dusty. I still won't be blogging much... I had to reinstall Windows, so I'm in the exciting process of re-installing all my programs and getting everything the way I like it. Then, since everything is working now (y'know, like that new memory I was installing when my computer keeled over), I'm finally going to get around to overclocking the living shit out of this thing, which will take a few days. Oh, and Skyrim will unlock tomorrow night, so I'll basically be in my underwear for the next week, eating reheated pizza and drinking Mountain Dew by the gallon.

Here's a pic of my new rig. I'm thinking of painting some flames on it:

















Update: Well, that was easy....

4.1ghz. And I'm not even pushing the damn thing. When I started building PCs back in 2006, the AMD FX chips were the kings, and it was a huge deal if you could overclock …

Moral objectivity and oughtness

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QualiaSoup continues his already outstanding series on morality by absolutely demolishing William Lane Craig's pet moral argument (and more!). A must-watch:

That which we most desire...

Hey look! Computer access... after hours at work.

In my computer-less evenings, between lengthy bouts of guitar practice, I'm reading a great book called On Desire by William Irvine, a professor of philosophy at Wright State University. It's a thought-provoking examination of how desires drive our behavior, how they're formed, and how we can deal with them. In my reading thus far, Irvine has briefly touched on an interesting point which strongly links desire to our moral behavior, and it got me thinking in new ways about some theistic arguments I've heard in the past.


Motivated self-interest

In his debate on morality with William Lane Craig, Sam Harris asserted that our desire for well-being is something we take as axiomatic. Craig's response was that we don't have any objective reason to desire well-being, so using it as a cornerstone of moral judgment, as Harris does, is just begging the question. The theistic argument is that morality is derived from authorit…

It may be a little slow...

So I decided to upgrade my RAM on my PC, from 4GB to 8GB. RAM is really cheap these days (4GB was a measly $30), so I figured why not? I got the RAM yesterday, popped the two new modules into my motherboard, and... the computer wouldn't boot. Two hours of troubleshooting and a call to the motherboard maker's tech support and it was determined that somewhere in the process of installing the memory, the motherboard shorted out. I'm in disbelief! The easiest upgrade possible ends with me replacing a motherboard. Ugh.

Anyway, I'll have pretty limited computer access for the next couple of weeks, so it'll be pretty quiet 'round here. Of course, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim comes out this week, so when I do get my PC back up and running I will quickly become enslaved to the massive time drain of Bethesda's open-world RPG. Set expectations accordingly.

In the meantime, check out some of my favorite blogs:
Dead Logic
Advocatus Atheist
For the Sake of Science
The Atheist…

Hey atheists!

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A few reasons to reject "God did it"

God did it is more or less the cornerstone of all 'sophisticated' theological arguments. The First Cause arguments, the design arguments, the moral arguments... they all fall back on the same appeal. If it sounds like I'm oversimplifying, well, I'm not. Because the thing about using God as an explanatory mechanism is that nobody has the first clue how God actually does anything. He just, y'know, does. Worse, no one can offer the slightest explanation as to why God does anything. It's just, errr, his 'will'!

For example, we now have the theistic camp firmly split into (coincidentally) a trinity: young-earth creationism, intelligent design, and theistic evolution. The last group is by far the least wrong, and make an effort to show that evolution is compatible with faith. But here's the problem: all you can ever do, even if you fully accept modern science, is retroactively make God fit. You can never tell us before hand why or how God would design any…

Jerry Coyne vs. John Haught debate (with a slice of controversy)

In case you haven't been paying attention in the atheist blogosphere, there's been a bit of a fuss. On October 12th at the University of Kentucky, Jerry Coyne debated John Haught, a Catholic theologian who's written a lot of books about the compatibility between science and faith. Jerry Coyne, as anyone who reads his blog could figure out, argued that science and faith are antithetical.

The controversy comes from the fact that bizarrely, Haught refused to consent to the release of the video. After a massive influx of emails, student petitions, and outrage on the blogosphere, Haught relented... sort of. At first, he made a list of strange demands, including that Coyne apologize for something Haught presumably found offensive, and then publish a three-page letter from Haught on his blog. Coyne didn't apologize, and he stuck Haught's letter in the comments section. Haught relented, and consented to release the video. What a facade! Don't agree to a public debate i…

Cosmically insigficant

People sometimes ask me if it's depressing facing death as an atheist. I mean, when you die, you're just gone. No white light, no harps in the clouds, no gold-paved city, no reunions with those who went before you. Just the end. And I tell them, no – it's actually kind of the other way around. To me, it's a much more depressing thought that this life isn't good enough – that it's just a preparation for the eternal life to come. Over at Evolutionblog, Jason Rosenhouse phrases it eloquently:
I really don't understand people who say life has no point or meaning unless it's a prelude to the eternity we will spend with God in heaven. This seems precisely backward to me. It is hard to imagine anything more pointless and soul-crushing than the thought that we are just marking time here on Earth while waiting for our real lives to begin after we die. Whatever meaning life has surely arises in part from the fact that it is finite. You have only so many…