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Showing posts from March, 2012

Some questions are just irrelevant

I watched most of the debate in my previous post, and there was a common theme hammered home by the theistic side – that there are certain questions science cannot answer. These are questions like...
Where did the universe come from?What happens to us when we die?What is the meaning of our existence? etc. etc.

I'm a little disappointed that Carroll and Shermer didn't hammer back on this one, because this is like shooting fish in a barrel.

All of those questions are based upon certain assumptions, like:
The universe had to have come from something elseSomething happens to us when we dieThere is a meaning to our existence The problem, which is so obvious it shouldn't even need mentioning, is that these are baseless assumptions. Asking any theist to explain why they make such assumptions is a sure-fire way to watch an entertaining show of rationalizing wishful thinking.

Has science refuted religion?

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Full video of the recent debate featuring Sean Carroll, Michael Shermer, Dinesh D'Souza and Ian Hutchinson.





p.s. – This debate reinforced my utter disdain for Dinesh D'Souza, mainly for the fact that he constantly speaks in a half-yell. He must hang out with William Lane Craig.

Gallup poll shows Americans becoming less religious

Friendly Atheist has a terrific summary of the latest Gallup poll. I won't bother retyping all the details, but I do want to quote the whopper from the survey (emphasis Hemant's):
Gallup classifies 40% of Americans nationwide as very religious — based on their statement that religion is an important part of their daily life and that they attend religious services every week or almost every week. Another 32% of Americans are nonreligious, based on their statement that religion is not an important part of their daily life and that they seldom or never attend religious services. The remaining 28% of Americans are moderately religious, because they say religion is important but that they do not attend services regularly or because they say religion is not important but still attend services. As Hemant points out, it's not to say that 32% of Americans are atheists. The term "nonreligious" leaves room for all kinds of "spiritual, but not religious" pe…

Penn Jilette and Nate Phelps at the Reason Rally

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Penn Jilette addressed the Reason Rally via video (I'd heard he attended the first day, but I may have been mistaken). There's not much substance to his address, but it's good for a cheer:



More substance is to be found in the speech of Nate Phelps – the estranged son of the notorious Fred Phelps of the Westboro Baptist Church (who were a short ways away, protesting the Rally). He hasn't updated his blog since July of last year, but there's some good stuff on there as well.

I absolutely love this line from his speech, which echos Sam Harris' thesis in The End of Faith: "If you invoke faith as justification for your belief, you must accept the same from others. And every person who retreats to faith bears a responsibility for every act of hate and violence justified by it".

Bart Ehrman on a historical Jesus

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I'm normally a big fan of Bart Ehrman. His book Jesus, Interrupted is one of those books where, if you can read it and still call yourself a Christian, you're suffering from some serious denial.

Bart Ehrman is certain about one thing: Jesus really existed. He's confident that all the supernatural stuff that Christians believe is a bunch of hooey, and the comical state of the Biblical manuscripts he discusses in his aforementioned book goes a long way toward establishing that. Others are not so sure that Jesus is anything but a made-up figure. They're usually categorized, sometimes derisively, as "mythicists".

So Ehrman penned an op ed for the Huffington Post entitled, "Did Jesus Exist?" in which he makes the case for a historical Jesus. Well, maybe not so much "makes the case" as "insists it's true without presenting any good evidence." I'm not going to bother addressing all his claims; Richard Carrier already published …

An overview of free will and determinism (or, I may or may not be choosing to write this)

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Jerry Coyne and Sam Harris have been pretty busy on the subject of free will lately, and I've engaged in some discussions across the interwebs with various people who share their perspective. It's one of the oldest debates in philosophy, but interest in the topic doesn't seem to be going anywhere. What's new, though, is the idea that science can actually prove we don't have free will. I think that's wrong, but I'll save it for another time.

I'm what's known as a "compatibilist". If there are two common ideas of free will, they are:
Dualism and libertarian free willNaturalism and determinism There's a common, and in my opinion misguided, assumption that the only way we can talk about free will is if the mind is somehow disembodied from the brain, and able to circumvent those pesky laws of physics. That kind of argument has never made sense to me, even from a theistic standpoint – after all, why would God go about making this incomprehens…

Thunderfail

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Lady Atheist posted this over on her blog yesterday, and it caught my attention because... well, because it sucks. Thunderf00t, who in my humble opinion hasn't been worth subscribing to for a while, made a video positing an argument that is supposed to expose William Lane Craig's fallacious reasoning and prove that God couldn't have free will. Except, it's a shitty argument. I usually address bad arguments made by believers, but non-believers make crap arguments too, and this is definitely one of them. Here's the vid:



Thunderf00t seems confused about what the law of identity actually is. It simply means that something is itself. The example of two identical universes fails simply because being identical does not mean they are the same thing, any more than having a sibling with identical genetic material means that you are actually your own twin. In other words, you have universe A and universe B. They both possess identical properties and are for all intents and pu…

Why the Mass Effect 3 ending kind of sucked

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I finished Mass Effect 3 last night. Like a lot of people, I wasn't really happy with the ending. I'm gonna explain why, but I have to put this disclaimer here: full spoilers ahead! If you're going to play the game, do not read this!

I'm a huge fan of the Mass Effect games. In my view, they're the first science-fiction video games that are truly on the level of any other great sci-fi epic in any other medium – books, films, comics, etc. It's a rich and beautifully realize universe filled with choices that have meaningful consequences. Its characters are well-developed, and it's hard not to feel attached to them – I was genuinely sad when several characters from the first two games died in the third. And in the end, as my Shepard sacrificed herself, I was sad that she wouldn't have the white picket-fenced house she'd talked about with her partner, just before she'd said "I love you" and went on what was for all intents and purposes a su…

The supplement industry is a sham (plus, an argument against libertarianism)

Being a personal trainer, I'm often asked about dietary supplements – mainly, "do they work?" The answer is no, they are almost always snake oil. Steve Novella over at Neurologica has a great post up about a comprehensive review of research literature for weight loss supplements – a category that includes carb/fat blockers, metabolism boosters, thermogenics, and appetite suppressants. Turns out that the verdict is in – they don't work. I've been sayin' it for years, but it's nice to have some more research behind me.

I'm gonna take it a step farther though, and say that most likely, all supplements are a sham. We already know that glucosamine and shark cartilage don't actually do anything for joints; vitamin megadoses don't make you healthier and may have adverse side effects over the long term. Alternative medicine supplements like Echinacea don't work. In fact, in all the years I've been following supplements, there's only one th…

Alister McGrath is either willfully ignorant or intellectually dishonest

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Bud over at Dead Logic brought to my attention this embarrassing video by Alister McGrath about the 2012 Global Atheist Convention. McGrath repeats some pretty standard-issue fallacies, but there's one thing in particular that is simply not up for argument that I want to hammer him on. Here's the vid:



The part that grinds my gears is when he parrots the supposedly shocking confession that Richard Dawkins isn't 100% certain there is no God, that he 'admits' he can't prove there is no God, and that he's an "agnostic atheist". Atheists, claims McGrath, were "appalled" by this revelation.

Here's the thing. McGrath wrote a book a while back called The Dawkins Delusion, which was (obviously) supposed to be a response to Dawkins' bestseller The God Delusion. But it just so happens that The God Delusion has a whole freaking chapter in which Dawkins explains, in lucid detail, his agnostic atheism. He even charts it out in a handy list he…

This is me geeking out

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The first full trailer for Ridley Scott's Alien prequel Prometheus has arrived. Make sure you watch it in full HD.

Oklahoma: honor culture and open-carry laws

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I haven't read much of Steven Pinker's monstrous book The Better Angels of Our Nature lately, mainly because I randomly decided I wanted to read Bram Stoker's Dracula. But I got to thinking about Pinker's book in light of the Oklahoma House passing an open-carry law.

Despite living in the most red state in the country, most of my friends are pretty moderate or liberal. So naturally, some concern has been expressed about the open-carry law, which basically means that it would be fine if you wanted to carry around a holstered gun, Wild-West style. The restrictions are the same as the current concealed-carry law already in effect, in that you have to complete a certain amount of training before you can do it, so that has some people asking, "What's the big deal?"

In his book, Steven Pinker talks about the "honor culture" in the South, and describes an experiment to that effect [abstract here]. In the study, young men are selected to fill out a ques…

"5 Questions Every Intelligent Atheist Must Answer".... answered

Note to readers: this is another post from my previous blog, The Apostasy, published in 2009. I'm continuing to clear out the archives before I delete the blog entirely. Unfortunately, this one is based on a video that's no longer up. But the questions are verbatim.

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I've seen a million of these little lists, but this one was different... because it's a video, not just a list of questions. The author actually takes the time to explain why each question is valid, and despite demonstrating an elementary misunderstanding of some basic scientific and logical principles, he does a good job explaining why he's skeptical of an atheistic world view. So, without further ado, here is the video, followed by my answers:



Question #1: You accuse Christians of using "God of the Gaps" to explain things we don't know; but aren't atheists just using "chance" in the exact same way?

Dinesh D'Souza on evidence for an afterlife

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Note to readers: this was originally published in my previous blog, The Apostasy, in 2009. I've still got just a few posts I'm going to move here before I delete the blog for good.

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I was thumbing through the latest issue of Newsweek when I came across a review of Dinesh D'Souza's new book, entitled Life After Death: The Evidence. D'Souza, like any good Christian apologist, has taken to using words like "evidence" and "reason", if not employing the actual concepts, to providing evidence that their faith is not arbitrary.

A few quick words before I continue. Firstly, evidence, where valid, renders faith moot. You don't have to have faith in the standard model of particle physics; it's proven to be extraordinarily accurate through decades of empirical research. We don't "believe" in it; we just accept it as the reality it is (or, perhaps more accurately, as the description of reality it is). If all the…

Sometimes, good and evil depend on your point of view

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Luke, you will find that many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view. - Obi Wan Kenobi
I'm almost done reading Bram Stoker's Dracula. I love the Coppola film adaptation, so it hit me that I ought to read the original story. It's quite fantastic, and I see now why it's hailed as such a classic. Dracula is not some emo kid like the vampires of Twilight or The Vampire Diaries – he's the stuff of nightmares: truly evil, perverse and frighteningly powerful.

The character of Dracula, as many know, is loosely based on the real Dracula, Vlad III of Romania – otherwise known as Vlad the Impaler. What strikes me as interesting about Vlad III is that, to many of us in the West, he's viewed as one of the most horrible human beings who ever lived. His military campaigns against the Turks, who sought to subdue Wallachia into the Ottoman empire, were merciless – he slaughtered peasants, killed women and children, and promptly (and preemptively) kill…

William Lane Craig misses the barn on the problem of evil

I hopped over to the comically titled website Reasonablefaith.org to see if by some remote chance WLC had responded to the question I sent in a while back. He hasn't, but the most recent "Q&A" on the problem of evil is a dandy. You can read the whole shebang here, but basically someone who identifies as a sort of agnostic theist challenges Craig on the problem of evil. Craig's reply is an extraordinarily long-winded version of "the lord works in mysterious ways". It's typical of his unimpressive level of critical thought, but he makes a few snafus I want to jump on.

Regarding what, exactly, the problem of evil is, he says this:
The problem of evil or suffering is an argument on behalf of atheism. It is offered as a defeater of the theistic claim that “God exists.” The atheist wants to prove that statement false on the basis of the evil in the world. So it’s up to him to present an argument that the evil in the world is in some way incompatibl…

KONY 2012... a reality check

If you haven't caught it yet, there's a video that's gone viral on the interwebs called "KONY 2012". The rather lengthy video explains the atrocities committed by Joseph Kony and the Lord's Resistance Army in Uganda, and makes a case for how Kony can be brought to justice.

Now, there's no disputing that Joseph Kony is a horrible person. He has allegedly kidnapped 30,000 children in his military campaign, turning them into child soldiers and forcing them to kill their friends and families. Children in Uganda live in constant fear of being kidnapped or killed. It's easy to be moved by the video because we can all sympathize with the plight of those children.

But this kind of campaign smacks of naivete. The military conflicts in Uganda are decades-old and underpinned by complex cultural and political conflicts. It's the height of ignorance to think that capturing one person, no matter how nasty he may be, is really going to change anything. Kony is…

It just IS

Regardless of whether you're a theist or an atheist, we all agree that the regress of explanation has to terminate somewhere. At a certain point, you get to some fundamental facts for which there is nothing to explain them – they simply are.

The difference between a believer and a non-believer, then, is that non-believers don't see any reason, scientific or otherwise, why the universe itself cannot simply be. Theists, though, are not satisfied with that and want to push the problem back a step, where "God" is the explanation for all physical reality. But what's the explanation for God being the way he is? Why does God even exist at all? Well, so the theist would opine, God doesn't need an explanation. He just is.

The 12-week trainer transformation

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I have a confession to make: I'm out of shape.

As someone who earns his bread helping others to get into shape, this is, to put it bluntly, embarrassing. It wasn't always this way. But over the years, while I helped others achieve their own success, my passion and focus on bettering myself fell by the wayside. Instead of making time to exercise, I worked out when it was convenient – such as downtime at work. My workouts, though certainly intense, were short – around 30 to 40 minutes. Cardio? I've always hated cardio, and simply didn't do it. After all, it was enough 'work', so I rationalized, that I squeezed in that quick workout.

Now, there's not anything wrong with a relatively quick workout; at Fitness Together, our workouts are 45 minutes, and we push our clients very hard in that time frame. But we seldom train people like myself who have many years of workout experience and for me, squeezing in short workouts – particularly given that I've seldom…

Jerry Coyne tour de force

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I'm a big fan of the biologist Jerry Coyne and his blog Why Evolution is True, and I think he's quite effective when he turns his critiques toward the folly of theistic epistemologies. Lately he's been on a bit of a streak with two excellent pieces each on the Christian apologists John Polkinghorn and Alvin Plantinga, who are generally regarded among Christians as more "sophisticated" theologians. I think Coyne nails the core issues so incisively that I really can't think of much, if anything to add. I just highly recommend you read them, so here they are:





The sophistry of Alvin Plantinga: does your religion become less credible if you adhere to the faith you were taught?Sunday Sermon on Sophisticated Theology: Plantinga proves GodPolkinghorne’s empirical evidence for god: math and a comprehensible universeMore “sophisticated” theology: John Polkinghorne proves that the Resurrection happened

The mentally ill and unemployment

There's a provocative editorial in this month's Scientific American which discusses the prevalence of mental illness in the United States and how its effects tend to disproportionately affect the poor, who often do not have health insurance and/or cannot afford proper care.

Something that is often overlooked in the debates on welfare and health insurance is that many people are not out of work because they choose to be, but because mental disability prevents them from being able to work. And without work, they cannot afford access to treatment, leading to a vicious cycle: they can't find work because they can't get better, and they can't get better because they can't find work.

It's issues like this that make me a political liberal. All you have to do to be a liberal is to recognize that the playing field is not level, and that there are millions of people who are condemned to poverty through no fault of their own and who need our help. It could be argued t…