Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Here's A Quote Every Atheist Should Memorize

“The invisible and the non-existent look very much alike.”
Delos McKown

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The Bank Robbery Analogy To The Problem Of Suffering

Suppose I had a goal to give you a bag of money. And suppose I'm omnipotent and I can literally poof the bag of money into existence without any effort. But instead of doing that, I decide on a more elaborate scheme. Right before your eyes I decide to poof an entire bank that has a safe with a bag of money in it into existence, and I populate it with bank tellers, a bank manager, a few security guards, and a few dozen customers. Then I enter the bank and declare a robbery and pull out a machine gun and start indiscriminately shooting people, starting with the security guards. The bank patrons are horrified at the brutality. I grab a terrified bank teller at gun point and force her open the safe where the bag of money is. She does what she's told and promptly opens up the safe and retrieves the bag of money for me. Then, after killing several people, and seriously wounding a dozen others, I calmly walk out of the bank with the bag of money in hand, and deliver it to you.

I fulfill my goal of giving you a bag of money. Then I quickly disappear, and vanish into thin air. You stand there, wondering why I chose to deliver the money by brutally slaughtering several people who need not have existed, instead of the many easily conceivable less violent ways. You ask one of the surviving bank patrons, who's still a bit shook up from the incident, why he thinks I chose to give you a bag of money the way I did. His best answer is that I must have had a sufficient reason for doing it the way I did, but that no one can know why. Another patron stumbles out, covered with blood from one of the deceased victims all over her shirt, and suggests that maybe I'm a mysterious artist who takes pleasure in the method that I lavishly concocted to give you the bag of money. Yet another, clinching his still bleeding arm from a surface wound, chimes in and hypothesizes that maybe it was to make the money mean more to you after you've seen how much death and suffering went into its delivery. You stare at them, perplexed, looking at the result of all this carnage, unconvinced of any of these hypotheses.

This pretty much describes how I feel about explanations to the problem of suffering, particularly the suffering found in the millions of years of evolution. If god is omnibenevolent, and can do anything logically possible, if he could have simply just poofed human beings into existence, why use a method that required millions of years of suffering? Theists have struggled to explain this and usually resort to saying either a) human original sin was applied retroactively, b) demons created all that suffering, it was not originally in god's plan, c) the suffering is somehow required for "soul-making," d) god isn't an engineer, he's more like an artist who takes pleasure in the extravagance of creation, or e) we just don't know.

I don't think, nor do many philosophers think, that any of these explanations are plausible. Theists, you've got to try harder.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

I'm A Sam Harris Fan

At a cocktail party last night I ran into philosopher Massimo Pigliucci and we had a nice little conversation on philosophy and science. Talking philosophy is very different when you're talking with an actual philosopher who knows their shit. I brought up free will because it's one of my favorite subjects to talk about and I mentioned how I'm a big fan of Sam Harris. "Nobody's perfect," Massimo replied (he's a vocal critic of Harris). Like Harris, Massimo rejects libertarian free will as he says just about every respectable philosopher does, and says that he's "some kind of compatibilist." I told him of my struggles between compatibilism and hard determinism and mentioned how I think Harris, who's a well known hard determinist, makes a reasonable case defending the position. (Harris wrote a short book on it called Free Will.) This prompted Massimo gave me his thoughts on why he thought Harris' view on Free Will was wrong.

Even among atheists, I find myself occasionally defending Harris against his haters.

I first came across Sam Harris probably back in 2009 when I became obsessed with watching debates on YouTube between theists and atheists. I liked his ability to poke fun at religion and to use humor to expose the absurdity of religious belief. He's a controversial figure, even among atheists. He's got his fans, and he's got his haters. I'm a Sam Harris fan. I don't agree with him on everything, but I do tend to agree with him more often than not.

For example, I totally agree with him when it comes to Islam and the negative effect its beliefs have on people who are inspired by it to commit violence, oppression, and acts of terrorism. There is no doubt in my mind that violent verses in the Koran inspire terrorists like those in ISIS to behead infidels and take female sex captives. And political correction, especially among liberals, is preventing us from having an honest conversation about the relationship between Islam and violence, terrorism, sexism and homophobia.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Even If I believed In God I Still Wouldn't Be A Christian

The religion that I am most familiar with is Christianity, because it's the dominant religion in the culture that I grew up in. And although I'm reasonably knowledgeable about Islam and Judaism, I primarily debate with Christians. The Christian apologist has two goals when he's trying to convert you. First, he has to try to convince you that god exists. Not just any god. It has to be an all-knowing, all-powerful and all-loving god. Then he has to try and convince you that Christianity is true. That is to say, that there is only one true religion, and it is Christianity. That means (in most cases) that he must try and convince you that Jesus was the son of god and died for our sins and that salvation can only be achieved by believing this.

In my opinion, this is a monumental task for an apologist to fulfill, especially to a well informed skeptic like myself. Not only does the Christian have to show me Jesus is divine, he has to make a convincing case that Jesus even existed in the first place. It's no longer a given that Jesus existed and that the New Testament accurately describes the events surrounding him. In fact, there is plenty of room for doubt. (I've become a little bit obsessed with the debates over the historicity of Jesus between mythicists and Christians.)

That said, even if you could convince me god exists, I still wouldn't be a Christian. I simply cannot trust the Bible as a book that describes god or history accurately. It's flawed on so many levels I can grant you an omni-god's existence and the Bible doesn't become 1 percent more plausible. The same is true for the Koran. In fact, since Christians believe in the same kind of god as Muslims do, and yet they reject the Koran's divine authorship, they way they view the Koran would be the same way I'd view the Bible if I believed in god: man-made.

If I believed in an omni-god it wouldn't change anything about me. I'd still have the same moral beliefs, political beliefs, the same views on sex, money, and family, and I'd still have most of the same goals and aspirations - I'd just believe in god. That's it. I wouldn't praise god, or worship it, and I wouldn't claim to know anything about it or its will. I'd hold the view that no one else can either, because god existing doesn't make any supposed revelation any more probable than a lie or a hallucination, no matter how brilliant it seems. After all, regular people have have brilliant ideas all the time who claim no divine inspiration.

I think it's logically impossible to connect the idea of an all-knowing, all-powerful and all-loving god, to Yahweh. You'd have to twist your logic into a pretzel to even try, and it still wouldn't work. I'd challenge anyone to make a coherent argument trying to do this. To me, belief in god is irrelevant to what's just, what's moral, or what our purposes in life are. There is simply no way of knowing what a god would want even if it existed. And no human being can be trusted when they tell you they "know" the mind of god. Period.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Christianity and Homosexuality

The topic of homosexuality continues to be a hot button issue among many Christians. Most liberal Christians have accepted homosexuality as a natural aspect of human nature that is not harmful or sinful and have moved on. Most conservative Christians however, still think homosexuality is a sin that is unnatural and an abomination, and should either be discouraged or outright punished. Then there are Christians in the middle of this spectrum who are somewhat undecided on whether it's a sin per se,  it's unnatural, or should be tolerated.

Personally, the relationship between Christianity and homosexuality always showed me what a farce Christianity is. There are many reasons why. From within the conservative Christian mindset, I ask why god would create people who only desire a form of sex that god has deemed an abomination, and that possibly warrants the death penalty? This never made sense to me. So the conservative Christian often responds by saying that god didn't make anyone gay, rather, gay people "choose" to be gay through sin out of free will. This makes no sense either given the evidence. One cannot "choose" what sexually arouses them. I cannot make myself get an erection from something that does not naturally turn me on. I either get aroused, or I don't. I don't choose what sexually arouses me. So why would a heterosexual man, who is sexually aroused by women, one day "choose" to only get an erection by other men? That just doesn't happen. Homosexuals are wired to be sexually aroused by the same gender and is not something of their choosing.

So, the fundamentalist position on homosexuality is obviously false. Homosexual desire is not due to willful sinning, it's something innate. And that leaves us with the moderate position within Christianity, who rejects the fundamentalist's view that homosexuals are just straight people who are willfully sinning and recognizes that it's an innate part of human sexuality, but are not willing to go as far as the liberal Christian and say that homosexuality is just as normal and good as heterosexuality. That is, they still think it's a sin and against god's will, even though they acknowledge it's put into the "design" of human beings by god.

Friday, November 28, 2014

A Video Showing How Secularism In The West Helped It Dominate In Science And Warfare

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Thanksgiving Day Blog Post 2014

It's time for another mandatory Thanksgiving Day blog. Holy shit what happened to 2014? It's true what they say, as you get older time seems to fly by faster. When you're a kid, 5 years is a lifetime. When you're in your 30s it doesn't seem that long. I remember being a teenager back in 1999 hanging out with my friends talking about bands that had started in the 80s, like Metallica, Slayer and even the Beastie Boys. Back in 1999, the 80s seemed like ancient history, but it was really only 10 years prior. Now when I think of ten years ago, it just doesn't seem like it was that long ago. I have fresh memories of 2004. I can't believe that 1999 is as long ago from 2014 as 1984 was to 1999. Man time flies, but it doesn't flow.

I want to comment on the recent events in Ferguson Missouri. I don't have any personal views on the case because I wasn't there and I cannot say for sure what really happened. But I can say that it is very apparent that we have a system that treats minorities differently than white people. I also want to say that protest is important. Regardless of what your politics are, if you do not protest and make yourself heard, you cannot expect change to happen. Protest is a fundamental right. There would be no Civil Rights "Movement" if there were no protests. Civil disobedience is a necessary condition for bringing about change. I'm a little bit ashamed that I've never taken place in a protest, being how political I am. I would have considered going out in the streets to protest the Ferguson decision, but I'm recovering from surgery I had earlier this month and I can't really move without pain. I've actually been home for 6 weeks.

Which brings me to what I'm thankful for this year.

I'm thankful for modern medical technology. We take it for granted that we can go to a hospital and get treated for an ailment or a disease that decades ago would have killed us or left us in a debilitating condition for the rest of our lives. I thank the professionals, the doctors, and scientists who advance our technology and knowledge in the medical field. I owe them big time.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Greatest Stupidity

Someone slipped a Christian pamphlet under my door today as I was debating the nature of god with several theists online. Gotta love irony. The pamphlet is called "The Greatest Tragedy" and says "the greatest tragedy is the death of someone who could have been saved!" It even mentions the worldwide flood story of Noah - as fact - and says that wasn't as tragic as the possibility of them being saved. You have to get a kick out of those who thinks that a worldwide genocide of the entire human race, save one family, and billions of animals, save one pair of each "kind" is not worse than then people's "salvation."

Christians, I know you're really trying hard to make your religion seem plausible, but you've got a huge image problem at your hands. Take it from me, and the millions of people who think your religion is utter nonsense. The most ignorant among you make the most noise. They are the ones we hear about. They are the ones who take your religion seriously. Any educated adult who still thinks the worldwide flood story in the Bible is real needs to have their head examined. When will religious people learn that the Bible is not the evidence, it's the claim. Don't assume that events reported in the Bible are fact. They're not. Almost none of the shit that happened in the Bible, happened in real life. There was no Adam and Eve; there was no flood; there was no Jewish enslavement in Egypt; there was no mass exodus; there was no military conquest of Canaan. The four Gospels were not written by eyewitnesses. Paul never met Jesus and wrote his Epistles 20 years at the earliest after Jesus supposedly died. At least 7 of the Epistles aren't even considered authentic by most mainstream New Testament scholars. The Bible has hundreds of contradictions. And few, if any, of its analogous stories even make any sense given the true nature of our animalistic evolutionary origins.

Did god really think that creating man in "his image" by way of an evolved primate was going to allow us even the possibility of having a sinless nature? You gotta be fucking kidding me. No Christians, if you want to convince informed, educated people, who aren't vulnerable from hardship and ignorance, that your religion is true and that all other competing worldviews are wrong, you've got to try much, much, much harder. You pretty much have to shed as much of the irrational and non-scientific bullshit from your religion as possible, and that means dropping the Biblical historicity of most of these ridiculous events. It's an impossible task, because the meaning and foundations of Christianity fall apart without them. It simply makes no sense bereft of the fundamentalist presuppositions.

"The Greatest Tragedy," then, is actually believing any of this bullshit to be true. It's The Greatest Stupidity. Allowing yourself to get infected by the social disease that is religion, whether it comes in the form of Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, or any of the thousands of strains out there, is the greatest tragedy of mankind, who, of all known species has the unique ability to apply reason and rationality to his view of the world. Religion keeps us steeped in superstition and ignorance and prevents us from seeing the world the way it truly is. So, I've been inoculated from this blinding disease. You can't use fear to try and persuade me, you need to use facts. But facts are the one thing religionists don't have on their side! And that's another one of their tragedies. The first is that many of them were helplessly brainwashed into their religion against their will as children, that's tragedy number one. The second is that many of them remained in the bubble of religious ignorance after growing up, often due to force or social pressure and isolation. The third is that uneducated and vulnerable people often fall victim to apologists offering "forgiveness" and "salvation" by playing into their fears and hopes. It's tragic. But it doesn't have to happen. Inoculate yourself now!

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Is God Really Simple?

Theists like to make a big deal over Richard Dawkins' objection in The God Delusion that to posit a god as the creator of a complex universe, one has to posit an even more complex god. Theists typically react to this objection by saying that god is simple, and point to god's non-physical nature as having no moving parts. I get that a non-physical being is physically simple, but this common theistic reply assumes that the only kind of complexity is physical complexity. It totally ignores conceptual complexity. Thus, I'm arguing that god is conceptually more complex than the universe is physically complex. This is supported by the ability for us to understand the universe in terms of laws of physics and every theist admitting that a true understanding of god is fully beyond human comprehension. If our universe is comprehensible and god is not, then the universe is more simple than god. The fact that the laws of physics are currently incomplete says nothing about the universe's intelligibility. If fact, the universe's intelligibility is used as an argument for god's existence!

Friday, November 21, 2014

Why We Tend To Infer Design And Purpose In Nature

Here's a quote from a New York Times article by Paul Bloom and Konika Banerjee on why we tend to believe things happen for a reason:

This tendency to see meaning in life events seems to reflect a more general aspect of human nature: our powerful drive to reason in psychological terms, to make sense of events and situations by appealing to goals, desires and intentions. This drive serves us well when we think about the actions of other people, who actually possess these psychological states, because it helps us figure out why people behave as they do and to respond appropriately. But it can lead us into error when we overextend it, causing us to infer psychological states even when none exist. This fosters the illusion that the world itself is full of purpose and design.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Do Extraordinary Claims Require Extraordinary Evidence?

Almost all atheists live by the principle that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. We recite it almost like a reflex whenever some theist trots out a claim to the supernatural "truth" of their religion. The atheist demands a high standard of evidence because the nature of the claim is high. But realizing the difficulties with being able to produce extraordinary evidence to support their extrodinary claims (which they can't), some theists have chosen to attack the principle instead.

Randal Rauser is one of them. He's written criticisms of this popular atheist saying several times on his blog and even tried to parody it with the idea that "Extraordinary cars require extraordinary acceleration". There's a categorical mistake by comparing cars and acceleration to claims and evidence. Claims always need to be backed up by evidence, no matter how ordinary or extraordinary. For every claim, there needs to be evidence. The more extraordinary the claim, the more extraordinary the evidence should be. Seems reasonable. For cars, extraordinary cars do not require extraordinary acceleration. There's no relationship between how rare or unusual a car is and how much acceleration it needs. A custom made car that is one of a kind doesn't require any extra acceleration needs.

Randal objects to the idea that claims about god, virgin births, resurrections, and spirits living among us are extraordinary. He's thinks they're perfectly, well, ordinary. But there are problems with this position.

In order for something to be ordinary it has to be common, routine, standard, or typical. That's the definition of ordinary. So to claim that gods, virgin births, resurrections, and spirits living among us are ordinary, is to say that they are common, routine, standard, or typical. But things that are ordinary are uncontroversial because they are backed up by lots of empirical data and we experience them frequently.

People flying on airplanes are ordinary; people flying on magic carpets are not. We recognize this because no one has ever seen or documented a flying carpet. Thus, such claims would be extraordinary, because they aren't common, routine, standard, or typical. If we were living in a world infused with spirits, resurrected bodies, virgin births, and flying carpets, then a claim that there was a virgin birth, and a resurrected body 2000 years ago would be ordinary. But we don't live in such a world. We live in such a world where these things are never shown to have happened. And that's why such claims are extraordinary and require extraordinary evidence.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

An Atheist Reviews The Last Superstition: A Refutation Of The New Atheism (Chapter 1 Bad Religion)

On almost every page of Feser's book he seems to make about 10 ballsy points that I disagree with. It makes me want to refute his book line by line like I sometimes do with Christian apologists like William Lane Craig, but that would take me forever and isn't realistically possible. Instead, I will have to summarize what I think are his important points and address them, while hoping that I don't miss his intended argument.

Feser opens up chapter 1, entitled Bad Religion, mentioning the alleged conversion of Anthony Flew from atheism to deism. To be honest with you, I never knew about Flew until a few years ago, and even today I know little about him. He was known for being a prominent atheist during the 20th century, but in 2004, it was reported that he became a deist. I can see how many theists would love to showcase such an example of an atheist's change of mind. Feser brings up Flew's alleged conversion because he thinks it was due to an underlying adoption of an Aristotelian metaphysic, and Feser argues that this is what's been erased in modern philosophical thinking. Adopting classical Aristotelian metaphysics, Feser states, "effectively makes atheism and naturalism impossible."(7)

Without defining secularism again, Feser asserts it's a "religion to itself" and is "necessarily and inherently, a deeply irrational and immoral view of the world". (2-3) He accuses secularists of being intolerant of defectors with "close-minded prejudice" and that they hypocritically act just like the religious believers they oppose. (2) He seems to have no problem conflating "secularist" with "atheist."

There are many ways one can use the term secular. It has both a political meaning and a philosophical meaning. In the political sense, secularism is "the principle of the separation of government institutions and persons mandated to represent the state from religious institutions and religious dignitaries." To be a "secularist" in the political sense is to maintain that principle regardless of whether one believes in god or not. A theist can therefore be a political secularist. However, in the social or philosophical sense, secularism can be a "social philosophy that rejects all forms of religious faith and worship." This definition can be almost synonymous with atheism, since virtually all atheists are secularists in the philosophical sense. But a deist can be a secularist in the philosophical sense too, and a non-religious theist arguably could be as well. This makes the term "secular" very confusing and the context it's being used in very important, and Feser should have made that less confusing by defining what he means, especially when he calls secularism "deeply irrational, immoral, and indeed insane." It seems that Feser is using the philosophical sense of the word rather than the political sense, but he never makes that clear.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

The F-Word

There's a dirty work that begins with the letter F in the atheist community. It's often met with horror and disgust at its mere utterance and often as a result leads to a nasty argument. If you've guessed that it's faith, you've guessed right.

I generally define faith as the belief in things that you do not have good evidence for. The American philosopher Peter Boghossian defined it as "pretending to know things you don't know" in his book A Manual for Creating Atheists. Many theists want to define faith as belief in things you have good reason to think are true. The many ways to define "faith" are similar to the many ways to define "religion."

What is the role of faith in a religion that says the purpose of life is to "know" god? I've been curious to know from theists what they think the relationship between faith and god should be.

I ask this because there are so many theists trying hard to argue that there is indisputable evidence that god exists. If there are slam dunk arguments that "prove" god exists, doesn't that dissolve the need for faith in god? Conversely, I often hear theists saying that god doesn't want to give us proof that he exists, because then we wouldn't need any faith, we would just "know" it. So on the one hand there are some theists who are saying god gives us indisputable proof that he exists, and on the other there are some theists saying that god deliberately make his existence ambiguous and hidden so that faith is required in order to believe in him. And many of these theists claim to believe in the same god from in the same religion.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

An Atheist Reviews The Last Superstition: A Refutation Of The New Atheism (Preface)

Feser starts out the preface of his book going on a long tirade about the "metaphysical absurdity and moral abomination" of same sex marriage. He bemoans the "sexual libertinism and contempt for religion" that has been allowed to become common and public and no longer the "private eccentricities of a decedent elite". In doing so he comes off sounding a lot like Archie Bunker did when seeing the effects of feminism and the civil rights movement, and to me it's very off-putting.

Feser would fit right into the Fox News spin machine. In fact, he could be the spokesperson for the religious right. He's angry that homosexuality is now tolerated to the point where gays have the chance to marry each other (the horrors!). He's angry that belief in god is no longer the default position accepted by academics, scientists, and philosophers. He's angry that the New Atheists and "secularists" have ushered in the "near total collapse of traditional morality," as he phrases it. The bottom line is that Feser is very angry with the way things are and the way things are headed. And I can totally see why. If I were a conservative Christian, I'd be pissed at the direction Western culture is headed. "Traditional" values are being replaced by "progressive" values, traditional religion is being replaced by non-religion and atheism, and the cultural and legal power structures that have allowed religious conservatives a stronghold on society and politics for so long are collapsing. While this is all music to my ears as a progressive and an atheist, it's no wonder people like Feser are pissed.

Feser's conservative Catholic attitude towards morality, society, science, and philosophy are exactly why I'm an anti-theist and hold religion in contempt. The kind of theist Feser represents is what motivates me to spend the hours that I do trying to refute and help destroy the religious worldview that I think poisons the mind and is harmful (not to mention false). Feser not only contends that belief in god is perfectly rational when seen in its best light, he maintains that atheism is logically impossible. Secularism, he says, "ought to be driven back into the intellectual and political margins whence it came," because it's a "clear and present danger to the stability of any society". The thing is, Feser never actually defines secularism in the preface and seems to use it interchangeably with atheism. So it's not clear what he's arguing against and he seems to think his audience will just know that secularism means something tantamount to atheism, which is untrue. But nonetheless, these are bold claims and Feser knows it, and in the following chapters he will try and justify them all. For now, he just seems to need to get his disdain for New Atheism off of his chest.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

An Atheist Reviews The Last Superstition: A Refutation Of The New Atheism

A Christian that I often debate with was kind enough to buy me a book that he thinks makes a good case for god's existence and addresses many of the arguments made by the so called New Atheists. In return, I promised to actually read the book (of course) and write a chapter-by-chapter review of it here on my blog.

Well the book, called The Last Superstition: A Refutation Of The New Atheismwritten by a philosopher named Edward Feser, arrived a few days ago. I've read the first chapter and the preface and I have to say that the book seems like an interesting read. I like Feser's writing style. He's very polemic and clear about articulating his point of view and he's able to keep my attention while reading (which is very important). And at 267 pages of content, the book isn't too long.

I had very little knowledge of Feser before being told of this book. He's an associate professor of philosophy at Pasadena City College according to Wikipedia. There are thousands of professors like Fesar who stay under the radar and never make a whole lot of noise outside of esoteric philosophy circles, and one can make a name for themselves by criticizing or debating big name philosophers and scientists, like those that comprise the New Atheists. But so far Feser is still relatively unknown, even to many theists and atheists active in the debate over god, religion, and secularism.

Feser's book is a critique of what's become known as New Atheism, and I'm told it's a very good one. Here on this blog I will be critiquing Feser's critique of New Atheism. But here's the problem. I don't always agree with many of the New Atheists myself. And to be honest with you, the only two books I've read in their entirety made by a New Atheist author is Christopher Hitchens' God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything (which I still regard as an excellent critique of Abrahamic monotheism and its social effects),* and Sam Harris' The Moral Landscape. I've read part of Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion, which is arguably the most famous of the New Atheist's books, and I've read excerpts of Sam Harris' The End of Faith (which is the book that started the "New Atheism" phenomenon) and Daniel Dennett's, Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon. I agree with these guys on a lot of stuff, but not on everything. So when I criticize Feser it won't necessarily be from the perspective of the New Atheists, it will be from my perspective. And that means I might at times agree with Feser and not with the New Atheists, or I might disagree with them both.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

List Of Capital Offenses In The Old Testament

Here's a list of all the capital offenses in the Old Testament as compiled by Thom Stark in Is God a Moral Compromiser? It makes for a handy reference.

  • Premeditated Murder (Exod 21:12-14, 22-23)
  • Kidnapping (Exod 21:16)
  • Striking a Parent (Exod 21:15)
  • Cursing a Parent (Exod 21:17)
  • Rebelling against a Priest (Deut 17:12)
  • Rebelling against a Parent (Deut 21:18-21)
  • Sacrificing to Deities Other Than Yahweh (Exod 22:20)
  • Working on Saturdays (Exod 35:2)
  • Using Yahweh’s Name in Vain (Lev 24:10-16, 23)
  • Being the Owner of a Goring Ox That Finally Gores a human to Death (Exod 21:29)
  • Prophesying Incorrectly (Deut 18:20)
  • Sacrificing Children to Molech (Lev 20:2)
  • Divination or Magic (Exod 22:18)
  • Adultery (Lev 20:10-21; Deut 22:22)
  • Bestiality (Exod 22:19)
  • Incest (Lev 18:6-17)
  • Homosexuality (Lev 20:13)
  • Consensual Premarital Sex (If You’re a Woman) (Deut 22:20-21)
  • Temple Prostitution (Lev 21:9)
  • Rape of a Married or Engaged Woman (Deut 22:25)
  • Failure To Scream When Being Raped in the City, If You’re an Engaged Woman (Deut 22:23-24)

Interestingly, pedophilia and owning slaves is not a capital offense, but working on Saturday, premarital sex and prophesying wrong is. Considering how horrible this list is, it's a damn good thing we don't have absolute unchanging morality.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Does Acupuncture Work? (Part 2)

(continued from part 1)

Early last summer I began a series of acupuncture treatments to help myself quit smoking. My on-again off-again addiction to tobacco since I was 17 has been one of the most frustrating things to give up, and when Hitchens died of esophageal cancer back in 2011 after decades of having been a heavy smoker, the idea that I should really quit became more pungent. I know that smoking can degrade the quality of life, especially in the latter years, as well as cut years off of it and can cost tens of thousands of dollars over a lifetime. So when I heard that acupuncture can cure this addition, and that my insurance covered the treatment 100% I thought, why not give it a try.

After about 3 dozen sessions what has the result been? Did it cure me of my addition to tobacco? Did it get rid of the desire?

Even though I'm a skeptic, I admit that I wanted acupuncture to work really badly. But after several months of treatment, I can't say that it has cured me of my smoking addition. I definitely smoke less now than I did before I started the treatment, but I don't know if that was due to my psychological desire to quit or whether the acupuncture actually did anything. It is really hard to tell. Maybe the acupuncture just provided me a false sense of security, but I don't know.

Throughout the treatment I was continually asked by the therapists what my smoking level was. This made me feel like I had to report that I was smoking less because I wanted to make them think that it was working. But this also had the effect of making me smoke far less than I normally smoked. I eventually began having days when I didn't smoke any cigarettes at all, which I didn't have before the treatment.

YouTube Atheists

I enjoy my share of YouTube atheists from time to time. They can provide a lot of entertainment and help you understand and refute the many apologetic tricks theists never cease to conjure up.

One YouTube atheist I've come to like is this guy calling himself TheMessianicManic. I like his videos because they're usually short and to the point, no more than 5 minutes or so, and he takes on many of the common arguments theists make. I also like the style of his videos. They're well edited and straightforward and not too over the top. Check him out below:

This other guy CultOfDusty is pretty well known. This particular video humiliating Ray Comfort is genius.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

What A Week

I've been out for sometime due to a medical issue that caused me to spend a few days in the hospital. Life's been pretty shitty for me the past week or so. I can tell you that if I didn't have medical insurance I'd be fucked. It's sad to think that in the richest country on earth, a person's life could be nearly ruined because of a treatable medical emergency. I have private health insurance through my job and so far it's been OK, but I wonder what Obamacare would've been like.

I have some pending posts I hope will be interesting. I will follow up on my post Does Acupuncture Work? and I will have my personal answer to whether it worked for me. Also, a Christian interlocutor of mine who I debate with regularly has offered to buy me a book he thinks makes a good argument against the New Atheists called The Last Superstition: A Refutation of the New Atheism. I hope it's a good read. The reviews I've read however, are not too kind, but we shall see.

I've spent years trying to find the best arguments for god and against atheism. In the early years I've focused on a lot of Ray Comfort level idiocies but were then told by theists that I really needed to check out William Lane Craig, because unlike embarrassments like Ray Comfort et al., Craig was a "sophisticated theologian" who was able to address all the atheist's challenges for evidence. Well, after having spent years following (and critiquing) Craig's arguments, I'm not that impressed by him. In fact, although I think he's a superb debater, I think many of his arguments and views are a joke. But then I was told yet again by internet Christians that Craig is not a real sophisticated theologian, and I had to check out Alvin Plantinga, because he was a real sophisticated theologian. Then I read some of Plantinga's arguments, and although I do indeed find them sophisticated in that they're complex and very esoteric, I didn't find them compelling and found some of them also to be joke-worthy.

But yet again I'm told that the real "sophisticated theologians" are the ones behind the scenes who aren't the well known popularizers. And now I land of Edward Feser, a Catholic philosopher who I'm lead to believe is the real real sophisticated theologian. Well, I will read his book and give a chapter by chapter review on this blog. It will be a nice little winter project, as I'm generally inclined to stay home in the long cold winter months. And as an interesting note, I was told that reading Feser's book would deeply challenge my atheism. Oh really? This should be fun.

Stay tuned.

Monday, October 13, 2014

William Lane Craig On Identifying Objective Moral Values

Listen to our favorite apologist William Lane Craig in the video above explaining where he thinks we can identify the objective moral values he believes are grounded in Yahweh. He says the way you can know moral values are objective are that you can "appeal to your moral experience. Don't you think as you reflect on it, that certain things are genuinely evil, for torture a little child for fun."

But listen to this. Craig's basis for objective moral values is actually our subjective emotional responses. This is quite interesting and problematic, for at least two reasons:

First, how does Craig explain the sociopath who doesn't feel that it is evil to torture a child for fun and may even enjoy the idea? The truth of the matter is that we don't all respond emotionally to different moral situations the same way. Some of us lack the physiological ability to empathize with the suffering of others and may even enjoy the idea of torturing others. The basis for objective morals is therefore on shaky ground if it is going to be rooted in one's subjective emotional response.

Second, our emotional responses differ from culture to culture and from people to people. Take an issue like same sex marriage. There are people on both sides of the issue that are very passionate and emotional about their views. Trying to "appeal to your moral experience" will do nothing on these kinds of moral issues to establish an objective basis. Craig might think that his moral experience is somehow more objective than others, but he has no basis to make such an argument.

What Craig is actually doing is a microcosm of what all religion does on morality. What religion does is it takes the moral values that are held by that culture - what repels them, what attracts them - and codifies it into a religion and assumes that these morals are now somehow properly basic. Craig is just taking his own moral experience as a Christian American and making them "properly basic" and declaring them objective, but in reality there's no objective basis for them, it's totally subjective. That he doesn't see this is telling.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Islam, ISIS, Ben Affleck, Bill Maher, And Sam Harris, Oh My

I can't believe that I haven't yet written a single post about the radical Islamic militant group ISIS, although I've tweeted plenty about it. ISIS, or the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or simply just the Islamic State, are a band of radical Islamic militants who, through a campaign of violence and terror, have gained control of many parts of eastern Syria and western Iraq and seek to establish a new Islamic caliphate based on a strict interpretation of Islamic law, known as Sharia. They've been accused of beheadings, crucifixions, and mass killings, and are considered even too extremist for Al Qaeda.

ISIS's brutality is once again reigniting a debate that we never actually finished having which became part of the national conversation after the events of September 11th, 2001. The debate is over whether Islam is a religion that condones violence and oppression, and whether the problem with terrorism and violence among Muslims is caused, at least in part, by the Islamic religion.

Recently, on Real Time with Bill Maher, Ben Affleck got into a scuffle with Maher and guest Sam Harris over this very issue. What ensued was a classic failure of liberals like Affleck to understand the argument. Affleck did exactly what Harris says liberals do when he said, "We have been sold this meme of Islamophobia, where every criticism of the doctrine of Islam gets conflated with bigotry towards Muslims as people and that is intellectually ridiculous." Almost right after that Affleck does exactly what Harris just said people do by calling it "racist" to criticize Islam, which is a fucking religion! What Affleck fundamentally doesn't understand is that Maher and Harris are criticizing the religion of Islam, not the followers. They're criticizing the Koran and what it says, and you can criticize the Koran without saying all Muslims are violent or sexist. The Koran has many violent and sexist verses in it (as I will get to), but we all fully acknowledge that most Muslims are not violent. They're not all trying to blow themselves up to get 72 virgins, or cut the head off of the nearest infidel. Critics of religion like Maher, Harris and myself, can recognize this important distinction that far too many liberals like Affleck fail to see.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Brian Greene On Free Will And The Laws Of Physics

Sunday, September 28, 2014

A List Of Psychological Biases That Humans Have

I'm always baffled when I hear theists make the Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism (EAAN), where they argue that naturalistic evolution would make our beliefs fit for survival, and not for truth, but somehow think that with god's guidance our brains were designed for truth. Below I have a list of some of the biases that affects virtually every human being taken from Michael Shermer's book, The Believing Brain. So the challenge to theists who hold to the EAAN is this: if god guided our evolution so that our brains would hold beliefs that are true, why do we have so many psychological biases that prevent us from the truth that appear to be the product of that very evolutionary process?

Confirmation bias: the tendency to seek and find confirmatory evidence in support of already existing beliefs and ignore or reinterpret disconfirming evidence.

Hindsight bias: the tendency to reconstruct the past to fit with present knowledge.

Self-justification bias: the tendency to rationalize decisions after the fact to convince ourselves that what we did was the best thing we could have done.

Attribution bias: the tendency to attribute different causes for our own beliefs and actions than that of others.
  • Situational attribution bias: we identify the cause of someone's belief or behavior to the environment.
  • Dispositional attribution bias:  we identify the cause of someone's belief or behavior in the person as an enduring personal trait.

The Great Religion Debate Part 3: Is the world better off without religion?

Religion is a notoriously difficult word to define. For the purposes of the Great Religion Debate I defined religion as "the belief in, worship of, or obedience to a supernatural power or powers considered to be divine or to have control of human destiny." Although it may be impossible to find a perfect definition of religion and many will find some issue no matter what definition is provided, this definition differentiates religion from things like philosophy, worldviews and politics.

Although every religion is a worldview, not every worldview is a religion. Under this definition Christianity is a religion, Judaism is a religion, and so is Islam, Hinduism, Mormonism, Scientology, and some forms of Buddhism and Confucianism. Political ideologies, theories and philosophies like liberalism, libertarianism, conservatism, socialism and communism are not religions. Neither are naturalistic philosophies such as existentialism or determinism.

One of the best orators against the social effects of religion was the late Christopher Hitchens. He put forth four basic reasons in the beginning of his best seller God is Not Great indicting religion as a poison to the enlightened world. Religious faith he argued:

1) wholly misrepresents the origins of man and the cosmos
2) because of this original error it manages to combine the maximum of servility with the maximum of solipsism
3) it is both the result and cause of dangerous sexual repressions 
4) it is ultimately grounded in wish-thinking

Many argue that it's not religion in and of itself that causes any harm, it's people acting wrongly in the name of religion that results in this harm. This is usually coupled with the view that it's only some versions of some religions that can be harmful, but that religion as a whole is not to blame. There is no doubt that we must consider nuance when dealing with a concept as complex as religion. I do not in any way think all religions are equally harmful. The term "religion" is like the term "sport," to use Sam Harris' analogy. Some are much more prone to harm than others. To think all religions are equally harmful (or equally good) is therefore naive.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Great Religion Debate Part 2: Is America truly a "Christian" nation?

A recent YouGov survey found that 34% of Americans favor establishing Christianity as their state's official religion. The same survey found that 32% of Americans would support a constitutional amendment that would make Christianity the official religion of the United States. A 2009 Newsweek poll showed that 62% of Americans think the US already is is a Christian nation. That's a lot of people.

The debate over whether America is a "Christian nation" is hotly debated and has been since its inception. Today the issue is largely divided by politics. Liberals for example generally disagree that the US is a "Christian nation" while conservatives generally believe it is. In order to begin debating this we first need to define what we mean by a "Christian nation."

We don't mean whether or not the majority of Americans are Christian. The answer to that is clearly yes. What we mean is whether the US was founded on Christian principles. Meaning, did the Founding Fathers envision America as a Christian nation to be guided by the Christian religion? Or was the US founded on secular values and philosophies and not intended to be guided by the Christian religion? The heart of this disagreement comes down to interpretations of America's Founding Fathers and documents, and has profound political and legal effects relating to almost every aspect of government.

Those that believe America is a Christian nation argue that many of the Founding Fathers were deeply Christian and drew upon their Christian heritage and beliefs as inspiration for creating the political precepts that underpin the nation. In other words, they say that America was founded on Christian (or Judeo-Christian) values and that our Constitution is based on the Bible. David Barton is a notable example. He's the darling of the Christian Right, who's been called one of America's greatest "historians." He's been accused of being a revisionist and one his books attempting to portray the Founding Fathers as deeply committed Christians has been revoked and pulled off of shelves for its abominable scholarship. But even with this, people like Barton remain successful in convincing those who want to believe that America is a Christian nation, is a Christian nation. They just don't have the facts on their side.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Great Religion Debate Part 1

Later this week I will be hosting a debate about religion at my local debate club and I'm very excited. Some of the debate topics that will be covered will be:

• Is America truly a "Christian" nation?

• Is the world better off without religion?

• Is god necessary for morality?

If you've read my blog before you'll know where I stand on these issues. None of these topics are about the metaphysical debate over whether god exists or not or whether one particular religion is true over another. That can be a side issue. Instead, what we'll be debating are the social effects of religion on society along with the role it plays in government and public policy. 

I expect that many people will have varying ideas of what they think "religion" and "secularism" are, so defining these terms is paramount to these debates. Religion for example, is a notoriously hard to define word. There are at least 5 or 6 different commonly used definitions. We throw the word around colloquially to mean a variety of things. We say things like, "In Brazil soccer is a religion," and "Bankers worship money as their religion." For the purposes of these debates, I will define religion as the belief in, worship of, or obedience to a supernatural power or powers considered to be divine or to have control of human destiny. This definition differentiates religions from political philosophies like liberalism or conservatism.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

What Debating Means To Me

How could someone who claims to be a man of love and compassion be so argumentative and polemic? The question has arose from time to time. I think it's perfectly rational to be for love and compassion while at the same time rigorously debating deeply held ideas.

To use an analogy, it's similar to how two boxers can pummel each other in the ring, and then are able to sit down together and enjoy a peaceful diner. There is a right time and place for punching someone in the face. When two consenting people step into a boxing ring, it's the right time and place. Punching someone on the street for no reason is not the right time or place.

I see debating in a similar manner. There is a time and a place for debating. Challenging someone random on the street in a hostile manner unprovoked is not the time or place for debate. That's just being rude. On the internet however, it's a little different. Comment threads on apologist and counter apologist websites are the time and place for debate. The same goes for political websites. In fact, any time someone expresses their views publicly could warrant a debate. If I'm forced to hear your views on anything, whether it be political or religious, then you must be forced to hear my criticism. If you can't handle getting challenged, keep your views to yourself.

I welcome debate on this blog and actively seek out prospective interlocutors. I admit that I can sometimes get nasty and can appear very cocky, and if I were a theist I'd definitely think an atheist like myself would be an arrogant antitheist, to say the least. I'm conscious of this and I'm actively working to conduct myself with a certain level of politeness and courtesy, but the impersonal nature of the internet perhaps brings out the worst in me. Intellectual debates should be civil, most of the time. But as Christopher Hitchens often said, "civility is overrated." He was the kind of polemicist that I deeply admire. He could be ruthless in a verbal or written  disagreement, but nice and courteous in regular social functions.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

How Popular Is The Many Worlds Interpretation Of Quantum Mechanics?

It is hard to say as statistics vary. But here is one showing that majority (58%) of scientists surveyed hold to it over other interpretations.

Elvridge., Jim (2008-01-02). The Universe – Solved!. pp. 35–36. ISBN 978-1-4243-3626-5.OCLC 247614399. "58% believed that the Many Worlds Interpretation (MWI) was true, including Stephen Hawking and Nobel Laureates Murray Gell-Mann and Richard Feynman"

You're A Filthy Unworthy Sinner And Don't Deserve To Live

Many atheists find it highly offensive when we're told by a religious fundamentalist that we're wretched, filthy, sinners who are unworthy and undeserving of our lives (that we didn't even ask for) and that the only remedy for this situation is to follow their stupid religion. Just think about what we're being told.

To give you an analogy, it would be like if a person forced you to accept a brand new Ferrari. Then while driving it you start to enjoy it, and then the person who gave it to you notices this and begins hounding you with insults, saying things like, "Oh you're enjoying the car I gave you, huh? Well you don't deserve it! You're a filthy, unworthy sinner!" And they never shut up about it. And you try reminding them that you were forced to accept the car, but it doesn't change their attitude one bit.

Any person who would give you a car in this manner would be absolutely crazy, and yet that's exactly what religions like Christianity say is the case when it comes to god and our lives. And yet theists who are thoroughly brain washed into their faith will never see this because they must maintain their dogma at all costs, even if it they recognize the absurdity that parallel examples provide.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Was Your Grandfather A Monkey?


Sunday, August 31, 2014

My Rebuttal Of The Fine Tuning Argument From My Debate With A Theist

A few months ago I was challenged by a theist to a formal written debate on the existence of god over on a theological website called theologyweb. I accepted. We agreed that he would make the opening arguments and make a positive case first and that we'd be debating the existence of a theistic god and not merely a deistic one (because theists have this tendency to retreat into deism when the going gets tough and I hate that). After my response back in June he never got back to me, eventually saying that he was busy with work and other things. So the debate is just sitting there, now closed, with only our initial opening arguments. I took the time in my opener to rebut my opponent's arguments. This is how I like to debate since atheists are often accused of not addressing their opponent's arguments, and in the hundreds of god debates I've watched, there is some truth to this.

My opponent, who on the website goes by the name of "LaplacesDemon" (LD for short), used the fine tuning argument as part of his case for god. And I just noticed that I have not written about the fine tuning argument as much as I should have. So below I have my response to LD rebutting the fine tuning argument. You can see the whole debate here, but you might need to log onto the site for access.

The FTA (fine tuning argument) is in my opinion the only halfway decent argument for god. But even if granted, it doesn’t lead one to conclude the existence that theism is true any more than deism, or that the universe is a computer simulation. In fact, if the universe is fine tuned, those two options are overwhelmingly more probable than theism. And I will argue why. 
I’m not going to dispute the parameters LD mentioned even though a few of them are a bit off because almost all scientists agree that the life permitting range for those values is very narrow. What I will instead argue is that the apparent fine tuning is better supportive of atheism, not theism.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Freedom Of Speech Is A Two-way Street

A young man came up to me on the street after work trying to "enlighten" me with the spirituality of an Indian guru by the name of Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. He told me that attachment to this material world is a problem and that once one can grasp the knowledge that we are spiritual beings one can seek the true happiness. I listened while he went on for about 30 seconds and then he tried to offer me some books in return for a donation. I settled on a free pamphlet instead, which I read on the subway going home. It's got a lot of spiritual ideas and metaphysics that I don't hold to, but nonetheless was an entertaining read.

This experience made me think about freedom of speech. In a free society, everyone has the right to believe whatever they want and be open about it. You have the right to believe the craziest shit imaginable and be open about it in the public square, so long as it respects secularism. And this is true for the Hindu, Mormon, Muslim, Scientologist, Christian and Wiccan alike. But I also have the right to publicly criticize your beliefs however harshly I want. You can't tell me that you have the right to force me to acknowledge your beliefs but that I don't have the right to criticize them. It doesn't work that way. You have the right to be open about your beliefs and I have the right to criticize them.

Freedom of speech is a two-way street.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

A Question For Free Will Believers

Imagine if free will did exist and I could choose otherwise when making a decision, but what if given the exact unfolding of events in the universe and in my life that happened, when I'm about to make a moral decision I will always choose X instead of any other choice 100% of the time, even though, I still could have chosen otherwise? If I would always choose a particular decision given a very particular set of events in the past, then could this be the case supposing that free will is true? And in what sense would I really have free will if this was the case?

Cool Idea For Neuroscience Experiment

I love the recent experiments in neuroscience that are shedding light on the nature and origin of consciousness. I just thought of a cool test I would love neuroscientists to do if it hasn't been done already.

Imagine if instead of asking the subjects to flicker their wrist, or push between one of two buttons, why not have them viewing a hostage crisis and being put in a sniper's position where they have their hand on a mock gun with a trigger and they're asked to save a person who is being held with a gin to their head, and they have to either do nothing, or try to shoot the perpetrator in order to save the hostage. Then we can monitor their brain patters and ask them to acknowledge when they had the desire to kill the kidnapper, the same basic way we do in other experiments. This would be more challenging of course because the subject would have to be thinking about whether or not to shoot a kidnapper, and they'd have to try and remember to note what letter appeared on the screen at the time they thought of it. I'm not saying it can be done without problems but it's a nice idea to see if the same kinds of predictable signals occur before conscious knowledge of a choice when there is a moral factor to the decision.

Dear Theists, A Question About Dualism And Neuroscience

Dear Theists,

So you believe we have an immaterial soul in addition to our physical bodies, don't you? What's that? No, you don't believe in dualism? OK, fine. Then I'm not talking to you. I want to talk to the substance dualist. Imagine that you're a neuroscientist right now and you want to be the person who finds out something groundbreaking in the field about consciousness. What epistemological framework are you going to adopt while in your work? - that there are parts of the immaterial and/or supernatural world interacting with and causing neurological or conscious activity, or that there are natural and physical explanations to seek in order to help shed more light on consciousness?

Generational Divide On Attitudes About Sex

55% of Americans now think that same sex marriage should be the law of the land, but when you look at it demographically from an age-point perspective, you can see a clear generational divide. 78% of 18-29 year olds think it should be legal but only 42% of those 65 years or older think so.

But more than just same sex marriage, the older and the younger generation are divided on basic attitudes on sex that have long persisted. The Sex Positive movement, with the help of the internet (or perhaps because of the internet?), is helping to shape progressive, positive and healthy attitudes towards the most taboo subjects on sex. It is bringing the long held myths about sex and its many quirks and kinks out into the light from a perspective that doesn't look at it with shame and embarrassment, but instead examines all forms of sexuality from the clarity of reason and science.

And the older generation is slowly catching up, although they're where the younger generation was a generation or two ago. Many of our old-fashioned attitudes about sex persist because of religion, and it is no surprise that many in the Sex Positive movement reject traditional theism. The older generation is much more religious than millenials are and their attitudes about sex perfectly correlate with their religiosity. Older, mostly religious, Americans tend to hold old-fashioned attitudes and myths about sex and sexuality, while the younger and increasingly secular and non-religious Americans are embracing progressive views on sex at dramatically high rates. Gallup recently ran a poll that showed 72% of those 18-34 think premarital sex is morally acceptable, while a smaller (but still majority) 56% of those 55 and older think it's morally acceptable.

It is clear in which direction views on sex are blowing and we're never going back, lest radical Islam somehow triumph. Aside from that, it appears the Western world is steadfastly sailing towards a complete abolishment of traditional, often religious based views on sex that have persisted for millennia. I'm all for free and open reasonable perspectives on sexuality that are free from myth and all forms of ignorance, especially dogmatic antiquated religious ignorance, and it recently occurred to me that I should be more vocal about it. So expect in the future more posts addressing the divide between progressive and conservative views on sex and sexuality and where I stand on the issues.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Blogging Frequency

We're already more than half way through August and I've only made two posts so far. Yes they're pretty long ones, but still. This time last year I had made already 13 posts in August, and in July last year I made 45 posts - the highest number of posts in any month. I was blogging every day last summer, sometimes several times a day. This summer, not so much. I have a new job that is taking more of my free time away. That's one major reason I'm not blogging as frequently. On top of that I just got back from a one-and-a-half week vacation, and I didn't have any time then to blog much as well. Last summer I didn't go on vacation.

I have been commenting a lot and debating with theists on many blogs and that's been taking up a substantial amount of my writing time, preventing me from writing new material. I've been going out on the weekends to enjoy the outdoors also, and that of course prevents me from writing. But also, I've just been dry on topics lately. I haven't had much inspiration for interesting topics to write about. I plan on writing more counter apologetics in the future and hopefully other interesting topics related to atheism and urban living, but they're mostly just fuzzy ideas right now. My viewership has declined significantly as I've started to write less. It's down to about half of what it was last summer.

So, I'm certainly not going to stop blogging anytime soon. I hope to post more frequently in the future, at least 1-2 posts per week. I don't think I can blog everyday as I did last summer, unless they're really short blogs or links. I try to have original material here, instead of reblogging or linking to other content, but I might ease that up a bit in the name of frequency. Cheers to a good summer!

Saturday, August 16, 2014

A Few Notes On Spirituality & "Beloved"

I just got back earlier this week from a week-and-a-half long vacation in Oregon. I had attended a music/art/spiritual festival called Beloved and I also got to see my mother, sister and my eight year old nephew. At Beloved, I got to spend several days camping with thousands of free-spirited hippies, many of whom take their spiritual beliefs very seriously. And I have to say it was a very enlightening experience. I spend my time around mostly secular people who rarely, if ever, show any strong outward signs of religiosity - even those who believe in god. So after speaking and spending time with several thousand people who'd probably self identify as "spiritual," I have gained a new perspective.

I wasn't there to preach to anybody. In fact I kept my atheism in the closet the whole time. I was there to learn. I was there to absorb. I was there to warmly educate myself on a slice of humanity that I rarely encounter. "Beloveds" as the attendees are called, are free-spirited hippie types, who mostly feel very passionately about the earth, the environment, humanity and humankind's connection to the spirit world.

On the first night, around the "sacred fire" where at night I would sit to warm up from the cold mountain air, one of the hosts gave a speech about fire. He spoke of the ways in which fire is misused, such as in war, and spoke of the ways it should be properly used. Then we were all instructed to give thanks to all four directions, north, south, east, west. I played along and participated, hoping that there would be a strong emotional response in me, but there wasn't. I seem to have an adverse reaction for group rituals. To me, anything that appears religious or cult like, such as group rituals, makes me uncomfortable. On the second day, we did another group prayer. We were asked to think about those suffering in the world and I did get an emotional response. It wasn't the group prayer that I think did it, it was my empathy for those suffering. I've had emotional moments like that all by myself and so I know the way my body and brain react. Group prayer or singing still isn't my thing. Even Sunday Assembly didn't quite rub me the right way. I was amazed however at some of the people attending who really seemed deeply and sincerely connected to whatever spirits they believed in.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Naturalism: Not Even Wrong?

When you say that something is "not even wrong" it usually means that it's so incoherent that it's not even worth considering right. It's supposed to be so badly constructed that saying it's merely wrong would be a compliment. I was recently linked to a blog post that argues that the worldview of naturalism is so ill-defined that it's not even wrong. And since I am a naturalist, (and a staunch one at that) my curiosity couldn't resist investigating as to whether there was something to this claim.

The blog post, called Not even wrong: The many problems with Naturalism, written by Randal Rauser, who is a Canadian Christian theologian and apologist, criticizes an argument from Jeffrey Jay Lowder called the The Evidential Argument from the History of Science. Lowder, (who by the way writes an excellent counter-apologetic blog called the Secular Outpost) is accused of defining naturalism in such away that makes it open to the existence of an immaterial soul. This is suppose to highlight the problem naturalists face. Naturalism is so ill-defined, according to some of its critics like Rauser, that there is little point in considering it seriously. After all, it could be argued that if immaterial souls are compatible with a definition of naturalism, then why not immaterial gods?

The definition of naturalism

In my mini-biography, Natural Born Skeptic: My Atheist Journey, I defined naturalism as “a worldview with a philosophical aspect which holds that there is nothing but natural elements, principles, and relations of the kind studied by the natural sciences” or “the thesis that nothing besides the natural world, or nature, exists.” But this definition doesn't define what "natural" is and isn't, and many think this therefore begs the question. So what is the difference between something natural and something supernatural? Suppose for example that we lived in a world where ghosts existed and everyone had empirical evidence that they existed since the beginning of recorded history. Would ghosts be natural or supernatural in such a world? Trying to define what is natural can be difficult if you don't know what nature is. To compound the problem, consider that if someone who lived 2000 years ago was exposed to modern technology, they would most likely think it was supernatural. Indeed, Arthur C. Clarke's third law states that, "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." If such a statement is true, then how could we ever know what is and is not natural given future advancements in technology due to a greater understanding of the laws of physics?

Thursday, July 31, 2014

A Beginner's Guide to the Israeli Palestinian Conflict

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Lawrence Krauss On Quantum Mechanics And Determinism

"Quantum mechanics is not indeterministic as many people think, it's a completely deterministic theory. It's second order differential equations with boundary conditions and they're completely determined. Once you give the initial conditions the wave function of a particle after some time is completely determined, so there's no indeterminacy. Now what happens when you measure the properties of that particle based on its wave function that's probabilistic." 

Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Reality of Past, Present, and Future—Video

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Yet Another Catch-22 On God And Free Will

If god's free will is limited by his nature, then he has no free will. And if you say he has free will but always wills to do good, then we too could have been created the same way and there'd be no evil and we'd have free will.

You simply cannot argue that human moral evil exists because god gave us free will and we therefore can chose evil actions. If god has free will and can only chose good actions, then there's no logical reason why we couldn't as well. You'd be admitting that "free will" is compatible with "always choosing to do good" and would be undermining the free will defense.

Republicans Have The Same Misconceptions Of Reagan As They Do Jesus

What's wrong with republicans?

Today's republican party are politically the biggest and most stubborn babies perhaps in the history of the US; certainly since World War II. They're a bunch of anti-birth control, anti-middle class, anti-secularist, anti-evolution, anti-science, climate change denialists who have been completely bought and sold by their corporate fundraisers. They hate the President with a passion and are willing to disrupt government and jeopardize the welfare of the people just to prevent him from getting any serious bills passed because they don't want him to leave the White House with a positive legacy. Any time you hear a republican sound off on science, sexuality or economics you can almost guarantee that you're going to be hearing something profoundly idiotic.

Republicans have two dead heroes that they love to put up on a pedestal and idolize: Ronald Reagan and Jesus Christ. And what makes these two icons of the republican part so odd, is that if you really look at what each of them did and said, it is antithetical to their primary agenda. While the hypocrisy is astounding, it's what you'd expect from an anti-intellectual party.

Let's look at former President Ronald Reagan, the political icon of the republican party, who all party members must speak about with the utmost admiration. Ronald Reagan raised taxes 11 times when he was in office, he gave blanket amnesty to millions of illegal immigrants, he traded arms with terrorists, he nearly tripled the federal deficit, and he increased the size of government. Reagan wouldn't even be able to win a primary in today's republican party because he'd be too far to the left. And yet, republicans have this image of Reagan as the ideal president - a model for every future republican with presidential aspirations. But his record clearly deviates from the modern script the party has devised today. Reagan was willing to compromise, he was sometimes willing to do the right thing and get government moving by finding a middle ground between his party's ideology and the left's. Compromise has become a dirty word today in the republican party and as a result we've got a congress that is the least productive in history.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Does Acupuncture Work?

The prevailing view among skeptics is that acupuncture is a pseudoscience. It's said to be based on unsubstantiated spiritual claims and should be considered in the same vein as homeopathy, faith healing and astrology. There have been some conflicting reports over the effects of acupuncture within scientific studies. One BBC documentary made a few years ago claimed that there was scientific evidence that acupuncture had an effect on the brain's chemistry. However, there are many sites claiming that acupuncture is nothing more than a "theatrical placebo."

I'm not convinced either way.

While I don't believe in the claim that we all have a "Qi" or energy field that acupuncture taps into, there is no reason for me to doubt that there could be certain pinpoints on the body that when stimulated can ease pain and certain ailments. The reason why I'm getting acupuncture is to help quite smoking. Since I was in high school I've been an on-again and off-again smoker. I initially started smoking because all the "cool" kids did it, and it soon became a staple of my party lifestyle. I managed to quit for a period of 2 years when I was in college but then it came back with a vengeance and that's where I am today, trying to quit yet again. At the height of my addiction I was smoking nearly a pack a day. And at $14 per pack here in New York that's a very expensive addiction.

I've gotten down to smoking a few cigarettes a day but I can often smoke a lot more if I'm drinking. The worst thing about trying to quit smoking is that the stubborn desire keeps coming back. It's such a psychological addition that it gets to the point where just thinking about having a cigarette makes me happy and puts me in a good mood, and that's what makes it so dangerous. I'm hoping acupuncture can alleviate me of this condition.


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