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Showing posts from April, 2012

Sam Harris says we should profile Muslims

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Alright, so I disagree with Sam Harris about free will (kind of). I disagree with him about the safety of fireplaces, and I think his musings on transcendent experiences are kind of nonsensical. But I still love The End of Faith, I thought The Moral Landscape was right on the money, and I agree with him about all sorts of other random stuff (like self-defense).

But with his latest piece, I really have no idea what he's smoking. It must be powerful stuff though, so I hope he's nice enough to share. He begins his thesis by pointing out something we all agree is ridiculous: searching children and/or disabled elderly people as part of airport security. I mean really, how many bomb threats do we think we've thwarted by asking grandma to park her scooter off the side so she can be frisked by a rubber-gloved TSA agent? He then proceeds to argue, unconvincingly, that profiling is okay – specifically, Muslims. Because, y'know, a non-Muslim jihadist is an oxymoron, and everyone …

Did Dan Savage cross the line?

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Dan Savage recently spoke at the High School Journalism convention, presumably to discuss bullying. He helped start the "It Gets Better" campaign which aims to address the bullying of LGBT youth, and he's long been an outspoken advocate of gay rights. But things got a little tense when he started criticizing Christianity and the Bible, and a small group of offended students left the auditorium in protest. Here's the vid:



The link in the video description (if you view it on Youtube) is for a conservative website affiliated with Focus on the Family. Not surprisingly, they were none too thrilled, and some conservatives are demanding an apology.

Now, even Hemant Mehta of The Friendly Atheist, whom I respect and admire greatly, criticized Savage's remarks in part:
No matter the topic, I don’t know why he was compelled to use the words “bullshit” and “pansy-assed.” Right off the bat, he’s alienating the people who believe in the Bible (and, therefore, the people who…

Theists and atheists: who has the burden of proof?

Yet another outstanding vid from QualiaSoup:




One quick thought to add: I've often seen it stated by theists over the years that atheism is the positive claim that gods do not or cannot exist. William Lane Craig famously begins many of his debates by asking, "What is the evidence for atheism?", conflating atheism with some sort of philosophy. When atheists 'admit' they cannot prove there are no gods, he says they are merely 'agnostics'. QualiaSoup has another great video on this topic – the Lack of Belief in Gods.

Theists like WLC are overlooking the fact that agnosticism and atheism answer different questions – "gnosis" meaning knowledge, and atheism dealing with belief. We can say:
There is no evidence that gods exist, therefor I remain agnostic until evidence is presented Because there is no evidence, I do not hold a positive belief that gods exist, thus I am an atheist Clearly, atheism and agnosticism are not exclusive positions – and, for th…

Christian privilege

"I have to say, as someone who is not a Christian, it's hard for me to believe Christians are a persecuted people in America. God-willing, maybe one of you one day will even rise up and get to be president of this country - or maybe forty-four times in a row. But that's my point, is they've taken this idea of no establishment as persecution, because they feel entitiled, not to equal status, but to greater status." – Jon Stewart
Hemant Mehta has an article up about a high school student named Jeff Shott who dressed up as Jesus on the school's "fictional character day". I thought that was pretty funny, and apparently so did many of his peers – even religious ones. But his teachers and the principle didn't think it was so amusing, so they asked him to take it off.

It's worth reading through the full article, just because it shows how absurd Christian privilege really is. His 'science' teacher flatly said that she does not believ…

Don McLeroy on the Colbert Report

I thought this would be unbearable to watch, but it ended up being damn entertaining thanks to Colbert's wit. Don McLeroy is a young-Earth creationist who was on the Texas Board of Education when they were busy butchering annoying obstacles to blind faith like "science" and "facts" in textbooks. He ends up just looking like the butt of a joke, which he was, but Colbert plays it expertly as usual.

The (im)morality of God

This video is nicely complimented by one of my favorite quotes from Richard Dawkins:
"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 observe has precisely the properties we should expect if t…

Brian Green: Why is our universe fine-tuned for life?

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Good TED Talk from the most well-known popularizer of String Theory.

So, you're an atheist. Now what?

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Some time ago I was having a discussion with a Christian friend of mine, and he mentioned (as he often does) the proliferation of various Christian charities, and that it is (supposedly) rooted in a sense of religious duty. Deriding atheism, he said, "So, you're an atheist. Now what?" I didn't have the chance to respond as I would have liked in that conversation (it was about a completely unrelated subject), but I've had this retort pent up in me ever since, and I want to set it free.

Essentially, he was knocking atheism for its nothingness. While Christianity, he would argue, calls people to be charitable and kind and whatever, atheism is just one big vacuum. And it's true! Atheism has no creed, no philosophy, no dogma, no doctrine, no decrees. It just means you don't believe in gods. But for someone who's been swimming in Jesus-love their entire life, atheism can probably seem pretty dark, because it can seem like you're not just rejecting God,…

I'm losing more respect for Bart Ehrman every day

Posted on his Facebook page:
As many readers know, Richard Carrier has written a hard-hitting, one might even say vicious, response to Did Jesus Exist. I said nothing nasty about Carrier in my book – just the contrary, I indicated that he was a smart fellow with whom I disagree on fundamental issues, including some for which he really does not seem to know what he is talking about. But I never attacked him personally. He on the other hand, appears to be showing his true color. What? Carrier's criticism of the book was scathing, no doubt. But he didn't attack Ehrman "personally". He attacked the book, quite relentlessly, for being a really shitty and poorly-researched book. I suppose it's hard for anyone not to take that personally, but Ehrman should have done his homework – and he definitely shouldn't have misrepresented Carrier's credentials. It also doesn't help Ehrman's case that he's stuck his own blog behind a paywall, basically…

Prayer is still stupid

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Once upon a time, I found a group on Facebook called Praying for Layla Grace, about a young girl suffering from terminal cancer. I blogged then about how stupid prayer is, and unfortunately her tragic and untimely death only cemented in my mind what an utterly ridiculous charade praying for sick people really is.

Tonight, I spied (through a friend who is a pastor) a very similar group, called Prayers for Lane Goodwin. Like Layla Grace, Lane is suffering from a rare and deadly form of cancer. I took a couple snapshots of the page, to give you a sense of what the mindset is:




"Praying and believing" that the cancer is gone forever? I'm gonna go out on a limb here and guess that they probably "prayed and believed" that back in 2010, when his cancer went into remission before it ultimately returned. And I posted these two particular shots for a reason – the first specifically says that they're praying for "no fevers", which is shortly followed by the n…

The Bible practically wrote itself

I was reading Richard Carrier's merciless critique of Bart Ehrman's new book Did Jesus Exist?, in which Ehrman tries to argue that even though he thinks all the God stuff is hooey, Jesus is (or is based on) a real historical person.

I've never been particularly impressed with Ehrman's arguments on the matter, and frankly I'm not particularly interested in the book because, well, I don't see the point of it. Obviously what matters is whether Jesus existed as he is described in the Gospels, which even Ehrman would argue (and has argued) he did not. Anything beyond that seems pretty masturbatory.

In any case, Carrier mentioned something kind of cool, that I never knew about. Here's the quote:
Paul in his own letters frequently talks about revelation as a source of Jesus’ teachings. Again, Ehrman even agrees that some of the teachings of Jesus were probably “learned” that way. But if some, why not all? Paul never once mentions any other source (except script…

I can't help but feel like this is a metaphor for religion

Study finds that opponents of gay marriage think it will ruin other people's straight marriages, but not their own

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From Live Science:
Opponents of same-sex marriage worry that extending the institution's rights to gay people will harm heterosexual marriages. But a new study suggests that no one really believes their own relationships are at risk — only other people's. The study is a demonstration of the "third-person perception," a common psychological bias in which people are convinced that others are much more influenced by outside sources such as media and advertising than they themselves are. In the realm of same-sex marriage, people who strongly value authority and tradition were the most likely to demonstrate this third-person effect.
Full article. 



Freethought comes to Oklahoma

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You didn't think it was possible, but here it is: there's a freethought convention happening right here in Tulsa, Oklahoma – smack in the middle of the Bible belt, in the most conservative state in the country (also, home to one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the country!). I'll be there, and I hope you will too.

With any luck, my attendance will finally give my blog international megafame, and I'll make billions of dollars and retire with my 10 supermodel wives in Bora Bora. Or maybe I'll just meet Hemant Mehta and that'll be way cool.

The importance of evidence

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Over the years, I've watched many debates between theologians and atheists. I've engaged believers in countless discussions, both in person and online. As I look back on all these discussions, I've come to believe that much of the reason for the continued impasse and, often, frustration on both sides is that prior to the discussion, we aren't really clear on the terms of the discussion. Academics spend hours debating the existence of God without first defining what they mean when they say "God"; and they battle over claims of evidence without first agreeing on the role of evidence in the acquisition of knowledge.

If I had to sum up the argument of modern atheists in one fell swoop, it would be, "there is no evidence for a god or gods." Theists will usually attempt to counter by proffering what they believe to be evidence, but what is too often lost is what really counts as good evidence, and what the value of evidence actually is. Because that cent…

It may or not be a miracle

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Back in the recent debate about science and god, Ian Hutchinson made the 'argument', if you want to call it that, that miracles really do happen. His knock-down, airtight argument: I've seen miracles and science can't disprove it, so there.

Whenever people claim to have either personally experienced or witnessed something supernatural, my response is usually something like this:
Just because a rational explanation for what you experienced is not immediately apparent to you, or to those around you for that matter, does not mean that a rational explanation for your experience does not exist. How do you know you didn't just see or feel what you wanted to? What self-critical thought have you engaged in to try to rule out confirmation bias, wishful thinking, and groupthink? Of course, the response is always some bullshit like, I just know in my heart what I saw. I know that it was real. No, fucktard, you don't. A strong conviction is not the same thing as knowledge.

Thoughts on that old morality thing

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If you haven't watched Frans de Waal's excellent TED talk I post the other day, do so now – it's very provocative and informative.

De Waal's central point, which he emphasizes in his books as well, is that human conceptualizations of morality are not uniquely human at all, but form a continuity with our evolutionary ancestors. The pillars of morality, as he calls them – a sense of fairness and justice, and empathy and cooperation – are deeply embedded in many of our modern evolutionary cousins. While deWaal rightly points out that morality is more than these two foundational pillars, he notes that without them it is nothing at all.

The religious claim to moral authority is perhaps the single most vacuous argument for religious belief that exists – arguments that only religion provides an "objective" standard of morality, and without religion no one has any reason to treat other kindly instead of cruelly.

The most obvious elephant in the room is that even if …

Jessica Alquist receiving notifications of impending departure to afterlife from pious Christians

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Jessica Alquist successfully sued the Cranston, RI school committee so a prayer banner would be removed from her (public) school, rightly on the grounds that it is a violation of the Establishment Clause.

Since then, pious Christians have been kind enough to let her know that she's cordially invited to a gang rape and a trip to the hereafter. From her Twitter page:


Praise!

Frans de Waal on the evolution of morality

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I love this guy.

Bill Maher interviews Sam Harris

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From 2010, but I hadn't seen it before. I've disagreed with Sam about various things (transcendence, free will, fireplaces), but he's exceptionally lucid when he's discussing the trappings of accomodationism and religious moderation.

Easter and Passover are dumb

Lady Atheist did a great post talking about how Easter exposes all kinds of problems with the Trinity (as in, it doesn't make any sense). Since I was going to blog about basically the same thing, I'll just direct my readers to her excellent post. An excerpt:
The basic story is that we are stained by original sin, or sins we've committed, or by being sinful beings by design, and only animal sacrifices could save us from God's wrath until Christ allowed himself to be betrayed, marched through the streets of Jerusalem in shame, and then killed by crucifiction.  .... then he gets put into a tomb (typical of the time) and then disappears from it, and then appears to people, Elvis-style, for a time... and then goes to live with God.

...except that he is God.  And in the story, he cries out to God, "Why hast thou forsaken me?"  Now, if he was so powerful that he could have liberated himself if he'd wanted to, why would he say that?  And why refer to God…

God is a dick!

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South Park, which has a rich history of mocking various religions, did a hilarious satire of Passover:



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Sports, beer, rock, and tits

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Tonight I went, for the first time, to the restaurant Twin Peaks. If you haven't heard of it, it's basically like Hooters – basic Americana grub served up by scantily clad hot women. A friend of mine is going through some marital woes, and he wanted the scenery.

Now, I'm not going to pretend like I don't love a scantily clad hot woman. If I'm gonna eat fish tacos, better they're served by a hottie than by some fat old bastard. But I'm not a fan of the way our culture panders to stereotypes of guyness. Oh you're a guy? You must like sports. And draft beer. And top 40 mainstream rock. And of course tits. Sports, beer, rock, and tits. Oh, and stuff. Y'know, cars, gadgets, the polished Harley parked in the entryway, etc.

Except actually, I'm not that into beer... I like wine and Scotch. I fucking hate sports. I listen to death metal and I think Nickelback should be launched into the sun. I really don't give a shit about cars and bikes and gadge…

Oldie but goodie

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This is one of my favorite memes. Being an ex-Christian, you really don't see how ridiculous your religion is until you take the goggles off and view it from the outside... y'know, the way Christians view every other religion. Once you deconvert, it's like, Wow... I actually believed that crap?


Dealing with religious apologists, in a nutshell

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Penn Jillette on the distinction between agnosticism and atheism

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The hullabaloo over Richard Dawkins' "confession" that he's not 100% certain there is no god apparently reveals that lots of people are still confused on this basic issue. Penn Jillette gives a nice concise summary.