Showing posts from April, 2013

Life lessons in tenacity

I began playing guitar when I was 17. Well... there was a two-year stint when I was nine, but it's safe to say I lost most of what I had learned in the years between (spent as a drummer, incidentally). When I started, I was practically the world's biggest Dave Matthews Band fan. Coming from a drum background, I like Matthews' percussive playing style. Quite randomly, I dabbled in some classical and fingerstyle guitar as well, including a year-long stint under the tutelage of a local classical virtuoso. During college though, I lost interest in progressing at guitar. I'd jam fairly regularly, but I didn't really practice . Nothing really stood out to me that I wanted to learn, and my ability was to the point that I could learn most rock and pop pretty easily by ear. But there wasn't really much of anything that lit a fire in me and drove me to be a better player. That all changed around 2006, when I got deeper into the metal scene. I'd been listening to hea

The pseudoscience of McDonald's hate

The other week I went to a local restaurant and had their $12 "prime burger". It was cooked to a perfect medium and had cheddar, bacon, spinach, grilled onions and remoulade. It was easily one of the best burgers I'd ever had and I enjoyed every sinful calorie. In terms of calories and nutrients, that's easily as bad or worse as anything you can get at McDonald's or any other fast-food chain. Ditto with major chains like Chili's, Applebees, etc. -- you can easily throw down a massive excess of fat, sugar and salt. And yet for some reason, McDonald's often gets singled out as some sort of bane of the civilized world; an evil organization that wants to fill your belly with cancer-causing junk and chemicals while they laugh all the way to the bank. True to that image, I spied this on Facebook today, from the page "Godless Liberal Social Society":    It's hard to even know where to begin. The salt, saturated fat and simple carbo

Tom Gilson of on gay marriage

Tom Gilson of might be a familiar name around here – he edited the book True Reason , which I read and reviewed chapter by chapter . He recently opined on gay marriage , and had this to say: It’s impossible to be wrong about feelings: we feel what we feel, and that’s it. It’s also impossible for me to persuade another person that my feelings rightly, truly, and justly rule over his or hers, because of course they don’t. There’s nothing really there even to talk about except as statements about ourselves — which provides no basis for discussion, much less agreement, on common principles or beliefs. So the basis for agreement is being cast aside; and yet we must come to some agreement in order to make and to practice public policy. In the comments section, he clarified: I didn’t say our processes must be guided by “this transcendent truth,” as if we have to agree on what is true before we begin; that would be silly. I said rather that a healthy debat

It's important to criticize Islam

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is not making any secret of the fact that his Islamic beliefs played an important role in his motive for the Boston bombings. From the NY Times : Dzhokhar Tsarnaev admitted to playing a role in the marathon bombings, which killed three people and wounded more than 260, and told federal agents that he and his brother were motivated by extremist Islamic beliefs, when he was interviewed Sunday at the hospital, law enforcement officials said.  And.... Elmirza Khozhugov, 26, the ex-husband of Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s younger sister, Ailina, said that Tamerlan Tsarnaev had been enamored of conspiracy theories, and that he was also concerned by the wars in the Middle East. “He was looking for connections between the wars in the Middle East and oppression of Muslim population around the globe,” Mr. Khozhugov said in an e-mail. “It was very hard to argue with him on themes somehow connected to religion. On the other hand, he did not hate Christians. He resp

Hey look! Time may exist after all.

A few posts back , I mentioned how my inquisition into the metaphysics of time led me to get pretty exasperated of the absurdity of metaphysical philosophy. Part of the whole controversy was the debate between "presentism" (only the present exists) and "eternalism" (the past and future also exist) which is an integral feature to something called the " block universe ". Supposedly, Einstein's theory of relativity deals a big blow to the idea that only the present exists, simply because what is the present for one observer is not necessarily the same for another. This is known as the "relativity of simultaneity". If eternalism is true, then time doesn't really "exist"; it's more of a useful fiction that describes the relationship between objects in space, which seems more consistent with relativity. But to me, eternalism seems kind of nonsensical; I subscribe to model-dependent realism, and I can't imagine any experime

The problem with presuppositionalism

There are basically two routes that apologists will take in trying to argue the case for the existence of God. They often subtly shift back and forth between the two – perhaps not even really being aware of what they're doing – but they can indeed be delineated by two broad categories. The first is that they'll attempt to argue that an examination of evidence leads us to the existence of God. This is essentially (though often unstated) conceding the importance of an empirical epistemology, and using empiricism to lead to God. This usually fails pretty hard, so they bring out what Stephen Law calls the "nuclear option": presuppositionalism. That oversized mess of a word means just what it sounds like: the believer argues that one must presuppose the existence of God in order to have any kind of valid epistemology at all. This isn't some fringe idea at all – Frank Turek argued it recently in his debate with David Silverman (I suffered through some of it); it'

Robert Price on William Lane Craig

I caught this on Youtube earlier today, and I thought it was worth listening to. Much of what he says is a more eloquently stated version of my criticisms of Craig -- that he's just an evangelist masquerading as a philosopher, whose belief in the "internal witness of the Holy Spirit" trumps all evidence and argument, thus rendering his engagement in debates to be little more than a cynical facade. The full debate is on Youtube as well, if you can stomach it.

I'm totally skipping this debate...

.. but maybe you're interested. David Silverman, president of American Atheists, debated Frank Turek – who is probably most famous for an embarrassing debate performance against Christopher Hitchens and some cliche apologetics books . I'm skipping this one for two reasons. The lesser reason is that I think these debates are totally played out. I hate this format where each speaker rambles for ten or twenty minutes without interruption. They do eventually get into a discussion (so I've been told), but not until they've both had plenty of time to have their little monologues. But the bigger reason I'm skipping it is because the title of the debate is astoundingly stupid. It's "Which better explains reality: theism or atheism?" That's not even a question. Belief in god (theism) or disbelief in god (atheism) don't "explain reality". Some better ideas for titles: Which better explains reality: naturalism or supernaturalism? Is b

Arguing with brick walls

I admit that I occasionally check out Ray Comfort's Facebook page just for the rampant anti-intellectualism, fundamentalism, the incessant straw-manning of atheism (and evolution, which is apparently related or something – sorry, Francis Collins ) and the spades of unintentional comedy. It's like a train wreck – it's hard to look away. I visit various religious blogs and websites out of the same idle curiosity. There are lots and lots of atheists who comment on Ray's page; some civil, others just to mock and scorn (I don't support the scorn). Either way, I catch myself wondering why. I've never commented on Ray's page or blog, and I can't fathom any reason to do so. You can't force someone to think critically or to have a dialogue. If Ray wanted to understand atheism, he'd at least read Atheism for Dummies by Dale McGowan (seriously, it's a terrific book). But he doesn't. He wants to promote his brand of fundie reality-denial, and bas

Thought of the day – on science and naturalism

Science uses reason, experimentation, empiricism, replication, etc., to study reality. We aren't limited to studying natural phenomena unless you limit the definition of "natural" to that which can be studied by science, in which case the claim becomes a tautology. Science studies supernatural claims all the time – esp, psychic clairvoyance, ghosts, near-death-experiences, miracles, you name it. If God exists, then either God has an empirically detectable effect on the physical world, or he is irrelevant to human nature. Claiming that God is somehow knowable through human experience and/or evidence and reason but is utterly undetectable to the tools of science is tacitly admitting that God doesn't matter and doesn't do anything, and the only thing worse for religion than a non-existent God is an irrelevant one.

Sometimes, it's hard to care about philosophy

An alert reader of mine, the astute Jonathan M.S. Pearce, commented the other day on my post about William Lane Craig and philosophies of time (the "substantival" versus the "relational" view of time) referencing an essay about something called the "block universe" . I hadn't heard of it before, but essentially the block universe says that the past, present and future all exist and are equally real – basically meaning that time would just be a useful fiction that we use to measure the relationship between events (or points in space), rather than something that actually "exists". I caught myself reading several lengthy essays on this stuff, reading all about "presentism" versus "eternalism" and all this other jibber jabber. I read quite a few chunks of Sean Carroll's book From Eternity to Here , which talks about all of these obscenely esoteric subjects in a lot of detail. My brain was being twisted in knots by all th

Valve refunds Christian gamer offended by new Bioshock game

Shacknews is reporting that a Christian gamer named Breen Malmberg who purchased the new video game Bioshock Infinite from the PC client Steam, which is owned by Valve Corporation, was so offended by a scene in the game that he complained and got a refund. This is pretty unusual because Valve has a pretty strict no-refund policy. If I'd known it was that easy to finagle a refund, I'd have returned plenty of shitty games because I was offended by their mediocrity. The scene of contention involves the protagonist going through a sort of baptism in which he must pledge his allegiance to the fictional sky-city's America-is-the-greatest ideology before being allowed to enter. Said the gamer: "As baptism of the Holy spirit is at the center of Christianity--of which I am a devout believer--I am basically being forced to make a choice between committing extreme blasphemy by my actions in choosing to accept this 'choice' or forced to quit playing the game befor

Reaction to the Boston bombings

Today, I've seen all manner of reactions to the bombings. Many offer "thoughts and prayers"; many lament the apparent descent of humanity; others still call it judgement from God – Westboro Baptist Church, so I've heard, is already prepared to picket the funerals of the victims to remind us that God is judging us because we're becoming more tolerant of gay people. My thoughts are simply that it's easy to become cynical in times like this and lose sight of the fact that we are living in the most peaceful era in all human history . That can be a pretty counter-intuitive concept in times like this, but it's the truth. Let's not lose sight of how far we've really come. On another note, I think that while the media does a pretty decent job of sanitizing the tragedy, the reality of this horror doesn't quite sink in until you see it. There's a gallery here , though it's probably not for the feint of heart. It's scary stuff, and it'

More apologist question-begging – on the nature of time

When I visited last week and found Bill Craig's utterly asinine comments regarding gay marriage, I also took a few minutes to peruse a couple of the previous Q&A sections, and found a recent one entitled God's Creation of Time . The question is a good one: One common objection (e.g., Grünbaum) to your view of the universe's beginning is that the moment of creation cannot be "before" the universe's actualization, since that already presupposes the time of the universe. In response, you've proposed that perhaps the moment of creation of the universe was simultaneous with the universe's beginning, thus no longer needing a "before". But our notion of what it is for an event to be simultaneous with another event can only make sense within an already existing space and time (irrespective of whether simultaneity is taken here as absolute or relative). So to talk of space and time itself as being in a simultan

Remembering Hitch

This past Saturday would have been Christopher Hitchens' 64th birthday. It's hard to overstate just how influential he was to me, and how much I admired him. I didn't always agree with him – I parted ways with him on the legitimacy of the Iraq war and his occasionally antiquated views of women, to name a couple. But his flaws and civil disagreements aside, he nonetheless rose to become one of the most formidable popularizers of atheism and rational thought in the last decade. I still feel as though much of Hitch's conversations simply fly over the heads of some of his interlocutors. Watch his debates with Frank Turek and Bill Craig, for example, and it's as though they're so accustomed to a script that they can't keep pace with Hitchen's off-the-cuff approach. He left us far too soon, but he did leave us with some fantastic and provocative books, tons of entertaining soundbites on Youtube, and a cornucopia of quotable quotes.

You can't make this stuff up, William Lane Craig edition

"Laws permitting gay marriage would be clearly unconstitutional, since they would not be blind to the sexual orientation of the persons involved. Such laws would sanction marriage for same-sex couples only if they were homosexuals, thereby taking cognizance of their sexual orientation and discriminating against heterosexuals who wanted to enter into marriage with someone of the same sex." From this Q&A . This is so mind-numblingly stupid that I'm not sure it even merits a response, but I'm going to give one anyway. If the Supreme Court votes against DOMA and Prop 8, they will not be adding some sort of amendment to the Constitution that in some undefined way will infringe upon the rights of straight people (who apparently are waiting in line to marry same-sex partners even though they're straight). Rather, the rulings would mean that it is unconstitutional, at either the state or federal level, to forbid marriages based on sexual orientation. SCOT

Who can we count amongst us?

I think that people like myself are the exception to the rule. I was raised in the church, deconverted, eventually made my way to atheism, and have embraced a good deal of anti-theism. I'm interested in religion and its effects on society; I want to advance humanism and do what I can to reduce the influence of religion on our culture, and I'm involved in the public forum. But I also realize that the vast majority of people, regardless of whether they are inclined to believe in some sort of God or not, simply don't care that much about religion. I remember hearing somewhere, in reference to the large percentage of non-believers in Sweden, the term apatheism . Sure, some people might be more inclined to say God doesn't exist, while others might be more inclined to say that some sort of God does. But in people's day to day lives, it's completely irrelevant. They live accordingly to what are essentially humanist values, and the question of God's existence neve

Bondage porn illegally downloaded by someone... at the Vatican!

Here's one that no one ever saw coming! Porn Downloaded From IP Address In Vatican City Now there's no way to know whether it was anyone directly affiliated with the Vatican, as Vatican City has some 800 residents. It was probably the town atheist! Since of course Christians think porn is evil and don't look at it, right? Anti-gay pastors being outed as gay is so commonplace as to make it virtually a sure bet. Christians preaching the sanctity of marriage who have had multiple affairs are a dime a dozen (one of them even ran for President!). And it's no secret that the same religious conservatives railing against the evils of pornography are also its biggest fans . A survey by the Religious Institute found that 20% of religious professionals admitted to viewing porn; 16% declined to respond on that issue, and half unconvincingly claimed to have never visited a porn site – but only 4% admitted to being concerned about the time they spend on porn sites. And wh

My new co-worker is an uber-Christian

There's been some turnover at my job of late, and we recently hired someone new after a long and frustrating search that resulted in me working a fair few split shifts. Things are back to normal now, and the new guy seems to be doing well. This evening I had a chance to shoot the breeze with him for a bit. He's from out of state and said there was some "drama" he needed to leave behind so he could start over. He told me about his recent divorce, during which he peppered the conversation with references to how frequently he prayed ("I resolved to pray for her every hour on the hour", he said at one point), that God spoke to him and gave him sage advice along with revealing that his now-ex was having an affair with a good friend of his (because apparently he could not possibly have figured that out otherwise), that she knew she needed to choose between "God's path" and "the world" but that she chose the world, that their marriage coun

Camp Quest kicked out of fundraiser for being non-religious

Camp Quest is a non-religious kids camp here in Oklahoma whose mission statement is (in part) "to provide children of freethinking parents a residential summer camp dedicated to improving the human condition through rational inquiry, critical and creative thinking, scientific method, self-respect, ethics, competency, democracy, free speech, and the separation of religion and government." Horrible things, those! It's not an atheist organization per se, but one dedicated to "freethinkers"; it'd probably be better described as a group for the people who, when filling out religious surveys, circle "none of the above". But today they were booted out of a fundraiser at local barbeque restaurant because the owner didn't like that they were a bunch of evil atheists. Now of course, this is a private business and the owner has every right to kick out whomever s/he wants. But my goodness... what are people so afraid of? It's quite telling

What if I'm wrong?

An atheist Facebook group recently posed the question, Well, well! What a surprise! You have just died and found yourself face to face with God. Which God? THE God. What's the first thing you say to him? Ignoring the fact that their own answer to "Which God?" isn't particularly helpful, I'm just going to assume they're talking about some deity of Western Monotheism. I can accept the possibility, remote though I think it may be, that I'm totally wrong about the existence of God. I can't know for certain, and neither can anyone else. Epistemic humility ought to be par for the course for any rational human being. But let's say God exists and, even though it doesn't necessarily follow from God's existence, an afterlife exists as well despite all its paradoxes and absurdities . And now, after spending most of my life as a non-believer, I'm forced to explain myself before God and hopefully avoid being fitted for a suit of flames. Well,

A.C. Grayling on The Colbert Report

A.C. Grayling was on The Colbert Report to talk about his new book, The God Argument: The Case Against Religion and for Humanism :

Remembering Roger Ebert, with thoughts on the afterlife

Even as a kid, I remember seeing new theatrical releases proudly trumpeting "Two thumbs up!" from Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert. They had a TV show for a while in the 90s, and I remember always marveling that these guys actually considered themselves friends the way they got so worked up over their opinions of movies. I gained a lot of respect for Roger Ebert during my tenure as a writer and editor for the video game webzine . His plain-spoken style served as a nice contrast to the haughty pretentiousness that sometimes seeps into criticism of the arts and served as a model for my own writing. I liked that he seemed to recognize movies for what they were, not for what some would want them to be. He often praised schlocky action movies like the run of B-action flicks that Jackie Chan released in the late 90s, because he knew that they were intended to be silly escapism and judged them accordingly. Plus, he loved Prometheus ; in that review and many others (his

Judge rules that the 9/11 cross isn't religious

Apparently the secularization of Christianity is well under way. First we have Bill O'Reilly declaring that it's not a "religion", but a "philosophy". And now a U.S. District Judge has ruled that the ubiquitous symbol of Christianity – the cross – isn't actually religious. From Huffpo : U.S. District Judge Deborah Batts in a ruling released publicly Friday rejected the arguments of American Atheists, which had sued the National September 11 Memorial & Museum's operators in 2011 on constitutional grounds, contending that the prominent display of the cross constitutes an endorsement of Christianity, diminishing the contributions of non-Christian rescuers. Batts wrote that the cross and its accompanying panels of text "helps demonstrate how those at ground zero coped with the devastation they witnessed during the rescue and recovery effort." She called its purpose "historical and secular" and noted that it will be