Posts

Showing posts from 2013

I'm taking a hiatus

Being a personal trainer, January is the busiest month of the year for me – at least in terms of marketing and leads. I'm in the midst of helping my lovely fiance plan our wedding, and I'm going to be moving this month. For my own part, I've been making a better effort to manage my time more efficiently and get more intensive guitar practicing in every day.

I really enjoy blogging, especially here and stirring the pot at various Christian blogs, but for one little problem: I'm way too easy to bait into a debate. Even though I'm generally about as easy-going and non-confrontational as they come, I do get a kick out of a spirited discussion about philosophy, religion, science, or whatever else. But participating in those things creates a nasty little side effect: my time disappears. I'll be typing up some big long response to some religious person, and before I know it an hour has disappeared. Or two. Whatever. It's like playing Civilization – you keep thinki…

Unpacking Randal Rauser's claim that "testimony is properly basic belief"

Image
I have to confess that when I first came across Randal Rauser's claim that testimony is properly basic, my gut reaction was that it was one of the most ridiculous apologetic arguments I'd ever heard. Surely, I thought, he cannot actually be arguing what I think he is. Surely there is some sophisticated aspect to the argument I'm overlooking or failing to properly comprehend.  Recently the debate was rekindled after I pointed out the research which shows eyewitness testimony to be of fairly dubious reliability. Spurred by the debate, I decided to revisit Randal's original post and see what I might have overlooked. Is it really as stupid an argument as I think it is, or am I totally failing to comprehend an incisive philosophical argument that helps substantiate (among other things) the Resurrection of Christ and modern-day miracles?
In fairness to Randal, I'll reprint his summary of his original argument:
It is true that you can think of testimony as evidence just …

The spirit of Christmas

Image
Even though I'm an atheist, I celebrate Christmas with my family. I mean, why not? Christmas itself is the descendent of the Winter Solstice festivals of Germanic pagans, so it's not like one religion has a claim on it. I know I'm not alone either – many non-believers still like to celebrate family, friends, and the spirit of giving.

If anything bugs me, it's not so much the rampant consumerism or even the occasionally overwhelming obligation to see lots of extended family that you may or may not actually like. Hell, those of us who have such obligations ought to count ourselves lucky given how many people are alone on the holidays.

No, what bugs me is the spirit of bitterness and self-righteousness that comes from certain religious conservative every year, as reliable a showing as the day-after-Christmas-megaturd. You can't throw a rock at a conservative without hitting some rant about how there's a "war on Christmas", and some people have the audaci…

The conservative reaction to the Duck Dynasty fiasco shows that religion is the single biggest obstacle to gay rights

Image
In case you haven't heard by now, Phil Roberston of the hit show (for some reason) Duck Dynasty was suspended from the show by parent network A&E following some anti-gay comments that he made in an interview with GQ:

“It seems like, to me, a vagina — as a man — would be more desirable than a man’s anus. That’s just me. I’m just thinking: There’s more there! She’s got more to offer. I mean, come on, dudes! You know what I’m saying? But hey, sin: It’s not logical, my man. It’s just not logical.”
… “Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there. Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men,” he says. Then he paraphrases Corinthians: “Don’t be deceived. Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers — they won’t inherit the kingdom of God. Don’t deceive yourself. It’s not right.” Alright, so at the very least he implie…

Religion continues to lose ground

Image
I'm happy to say that despite the fussing of the religious majority, a new Harris poll shows that religious belief in the US continues to decline – and decline quite steeply. 
Among the highlights:
Atheism and agnosticism are up 7% and 4%, respectively. It's worth noting that the poll does not use the term "atheist", but "belief there is no God". They're synonymous of course, but oddly enough there are people who do not believe in God but who reject the "atheist" label, as indicated by other polls which show the atheist population to be much lower. Youth correlates with non-belief, and the youngest generation is 19% less likely to believe in God than our elderly generation.Predictably, republicans are more religious than democratsOnly 29% of Americans believe God controls what happens on EarthLess than half of Americans believe the Bible is "all or mostly" the word of God, which is more than a bit ironic considering that some 70% or …

Life as a blogger

I originally started The A-Unicornist – well, actually it was originally called The Apostasy – as more of a personal sort of thing. Since I was a wee lad, I've found that writing is great way to help myself organize my own thoughts, work through difficult emotions, or think more critically.

Over the years as this blog gained a steady readership, it sort of took on a life of its own. I thoroughly enjoy the many debates and discussions I've had over the years, despite how exasperating I've occasionally found some religious apologists. But hey, I tell myself, I used to be that guy, too.

My blog writing also to some extent represents my own path in life. And, truth be told, things change. I was looking back at the archives this year, and my post count is way down from last year – although ironically, I hit record numbers of viewers this year. But as I've mentioned recently, my motivation for engaging religious apologists is pretty well sapped. Not gone, as there are still …

I get mail

So I got this in my mailbox this evening. I first received a friend request from this person, who is apparently a young kid. I deleted it, thinking "Who the fuck is this kid and why does he want to be my friend?" Anyway:
Hello, Mike, how are you?

My name is Giuseppe and I'm typing from Brazil, so I apologize for any mistake I may commit in this text. Anyway, I would like to suggest you some reasons why the gospels are good and reliable historical sources, indicating the actual existence of Jesus. There are five reasons to believe so:

1. There was insufficient time for legendary influences to expunge the hardcore of historical facts.
    Sometimes people will say: "How can you know anything that happened two thousand years ago". What they failed to understand is that the crucial time gap is not the gap between the evidence and today; rather, what is important is the gap between the evidence and the events that the evidence is about. If the gap between the …

I'm a music snob (and you should be one, too!)

This past July, Vanessa and I visited my brother and his wife in lovely Pasadena, CA. We spent an afternoon in the Norton Simon Museum, a fantastic art museum just a short drive from my brother's house. The museum houses ancient Asian art, European art from the 14th to 19th centuries, and modern art. We were quite amazed by the primitive but beautiful sculptures from ancient India and Asia, often religious in nature and impressive in their detail. The huge tapestries and paintings of Europe dazzled us with their complexity and beauty.

Then, there was a modern art exhibit. I forget the name of it, but it was a temporary exhibit celebrating a few modern artists. One of the items on display was a roughly square-shaped piece of smooth marble with a cylindrical hole drilled through it. That's it. The description detailed the artist's epiphany over her celebration of 'space' or 'emptiness' or some such nonsense. We saw a few such exhibits, rolled our eyes, and mo…

Am I biased against Christian music?

I'm a metal head. As you might expect, metal isn't always the most religion-friendly genre of music. The frontman for one of my favorite bands, Behemoth, has stood trial in Poland on blasphemy charges (the charges, filed by the Catholic church, were was dismissed). I listen to plenty of music that's overtly anti-Christian, and today I was scrolling through my YouTube subscriptions and found this gem:



Hell was originally part of the "New Wave of British Heavy Metal" in the early 80s; they re-formed in 2008 and have a new album coming out this year – from which the song above is taken.

Personally, I thoroughly enjoyed the video. One, because I like the NWOBHM style – they're clearly a throwback to bands like Judas Priest, Iron Maiden and even Black Sabbath, and the singer has some seriously impressive vocal skills. But I also really dug the occultish theatricality of the whole thing. I think too many mainstream bands have forgotten about the value of theatrical…

The atheist heroin addict who got schooled, why prayer is stupid, and my psychic connection to The Simpsons

You may have spotted this viral video being spread around social networks: a 30-year-old man struggling with his faith, addicted to heroin and who had hocked his son's toys for drug money, receives a generous monetary gift the day after praying for help. It was too good to be a coincidence – it must have been God. Here's the vid:



Years ago, my local Fox affiliate used to run reruns of The Simpons twice a day, five days a week. With the new episodes airing Sundays, that made for eleven episodes of the show each week. I watched them all. I was – and still am – a huge fan of the show.

But a funny thing would happen. Sometimes, I would think of a random joke from a random episode. It'd just pop in my head. And then the next day, that would be one of the episodes that aired. Well obviously, when you're watching eleven episodes a week, certain ones are bound to repeat. But it happened with such frequency that it freaked me out for a while, and then eventually I just stopped …

Ted Cruz's dad on how atheism leads to child molestation

Senator/dillhole Ted Cruz is an apple that evidently did not fall far from the tree. His father, Rafael Cruz, recently spoke here in Oklahoma and told an audience of gun nuts that atheism leads to sexual abuse:
Let’s look, for example, at the behavioral consequences of these two foundations.Well, if there is nothing, if there is no God, then we are ruled by our instincts. There is no moral absolute, which means we operate by situational ethics. Of course, when there are no moral absolutes leads us to sexual immorality, leads us to sexual abuse, leads us to perversion and, of course, no hope. No hope!
You hear that, atheists?! No hope! No hope for you!

Well, here's the problem with that whole "God gives us moral absolutes" thing: nobody has direct, objective access to the mind of God. At best, even if (for the sake of discussion) we were to grant that the Christian God is real and does indeed have a standard of moral absolutes, God's messages are inevitably filtere…

Novella on skepticism

Skepticism is about the serious business of doing science, which combines open-minded curiosity with rigorous methodology. Of course what happens is that whenever skeptics point out a lack of rigorous methodology the true believer claims that we are trying to kill their curiosity. – From Steve Novella


He's talking about Deepak Chopra's penchant for pseudoscience, but I think it's an apt description of theologians as well.

Toward a science of morality?

I listened with great interest during the recent exchange between Lawrence Krauss, Dan Dennett, and Massimo Pigliucci, particularly the section in which they discussed the increasingly popular thesis (at least among popular gnu atheists) that morality can be a science – that it has objectively right and wrong answers that can at least in principle be answered by empirical data.

I capped this off with a read of Richard Carrier's take on it*, as well as Pigliucci's responses to Carrier over at Rationally Thinking. It's likely that none of these conversations would be occurring without Sam Harris' controversial book The Moral Landscape. I've always been intrigued by Harris' ideas, but being a bit of a novice myself on the whole meta-ethics thing, I can only really take what seems the most sensible to me. For the most part, I've agreed with folks like Harris, Carrier, and Michael Shermer, and I confess that I've been a bit dismissive toward people like Pigl…

Tristan Vick is tearing apart The Swedish Atheist

Okay, so, y'know how I was doing this review of Randal Rauser's book? Well, I got a new guitar, Battlefield 4 on my totally sweet gaming PC, and I've been spending more time thinking on more broad (and to me, more interesting) philosophical issues. I watched a great talk between Massimo Pigliucci, Dan Dennett and Lawrence Krauss that has spurred some deep thought and inspired some new content that I'll have up soon.

Long story short, I haven't really had the interest to finish Randal's book. It's yet another apologetics book, for crying out loud. How many of these stupid books do I really need to waste my time on? Besides, if I've learned anything, it's that after I take the time to read and deconstruct one book, some theist will come along and tell me that of course I shouldn't have wasted time on that book, because such-and-such book is the really sophisticated one. There's no winning with some sheeple.

In any case, the mighty Tristan Vick…

Do you really need to wash produce before you eat it?

Image
I'm curious about something. We generally take it as a given that we should wash produce before we eat it. But I've never actually seen any evidence that washing produce at home makes it safer to eat. I'm highly skeptical that rinsing produce under cool water would be sufficient to wash away bacteria or pesticide residue in the first place, and I have never seen any evidence that ingesting trace amounts of (most) bacteria or pesticide residue produces any long-term health consequence.

In the cases where bacteria has contaminated produce, it's either inside the produce itself or washing isn't enough to get rid of the bacteria (case in point: surface-contaminated bean sprouts). It seems like most regulations deal with the handling of produce before it's shipped, and I can't find a lick of research that shows that washing produce at home improves food safety at all. Google Scholar and PubMed were dry, mostly with studies about food safety in thir…

Can we prove God does not exist?

Image
It's a trite old maxim of folk logic that you cannot prove a negative. It's also a staple of religious apologetics to argue that belief in God need not be subject to methodological inquiry and verified evidentially. Combined, these two fallacies form a powerful weapon of perpetual ignorance among the faithful. Atheists themselves are fond of saying that atheism is a "lack of belief in gods", since that clears them of any sort of burden of disproof. Personally, while I think that atheism is at least in part a "lack of belief in gods", I think atheists who take the "weak" stance are to an extent selling themselves short. There are good reasons to say we can prove that God does not exist.


How should we go about this whole God thing?

First up to the plate is the contentious old question of whether the existence of God is a scientific question. I'd say that it depends on how one defines "God". If you simply mean some nebulous pantheistic-…

The Swedish Atheist: The review – part 2

Now things are getting a little heavier, with a discussion about how cultural influences shape religious belief. Sheridan seems convinced of something much like what Richard Dawkins said in a response to the question, "What if you're wrong?" after a reading of The God Delusion in 2006:
Well, what if I'm wrong, I mean — anybody could be wrong. We could all be wrong about the Flying Spaghetti Monster and the pink unicorn and the flying teapot. You happen to have been brought up, I would presume, in a Christian faith. You know what it's like to not believe in a particular faith because you're not a Muslim. You're not a Hindu. Why aren't you a Hindu? Because you happen to have been brought up in America, not in India. If you had been brought up in India, you'd be a Hindu. If you had been brought up in Denmark in the time of the Vikings, you'd be believing in Wotan and Thor. If you were brought up in classical Greece, you'd be believing in Zeus…