Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Christmas Seen More As A Cultural Holiday Than A Religious One By Millennials

As we finish up the year of our Lord 2015 I'm taking the week off to use up some vacation days I won't be able to carry over to the next year. I haven't been blogging much mostly because I've been trying to read my new book, On the Historicity of Jesus, by Richard Carrier. It's 600+ pages of well cited text arguing for minimal mythicism of Jesus Christ, and for a non-scholar like me is quite a mouthful. I'll certainly be blogging about it soon. As far as this past year, it's been pretty good for me I have to say. I got a raise at my job and my job didn't really get that much harder. I made many new friends. I met some new women as well. And nothing really bad happened to me this past year. So all in all I can say it's been good, and I hope 2016 is just as good, if not better.

Here's some more good news. My fellow millennials are much more likely than previous generations to see Christmas as a cultural holiday, rather than a religious holiday, according to Pew. The largest percentage of them take this view. This confirms what I've already been experiencing for years in my liberal secular neck of the woods. Christmas after all was a pagan holiday that got incorporated into Christianity years later. Many of the traditions usually associated with it, like putting up the Christmas tree and the mistletoe, for example, have little if anything to do with Christianity or Jesus originally, and today, Christmas has really become a celebration of capitalism and consumerism.

Is Christmas more a religious or cultural holiday?

Given this trend, should atheists celebrate Christmas? This has been asked on my numerous social network feeds in the past few weeks by people in the atheist community. My answer is—sure, if you want to. There is nothing really all that Christian about it given its long history going back to pagan solstice celebrations. So I say celebrate. See the family, put up a tree, give a gift to friend of family member, hang up the stockings, sing carols, or, volunteer to help those in need — if you want to. We atheists have no problem celebrating the traditions of other pagan holidays, like Halloween, so why should we make a fuss over Christmas? I do however, think we should of course strip the holiday of all the things Christians tried to add to it, like the nativity, and that's exactly where the long term trend is heading for atheists and non-atheists.

Here's a look at Seth Andrews of the Thinking Atheist at his take on the holiday:

Here's to a Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Look What Santa Got Me For Christmas

Looks like I got my reading material for the next few months. With the help of a gift card I also preordered Sean Carroll's forthcoming book, The Big Picture, which will be his argument for naturalism from a scientist's perspective, which you can do too. I'm really looking forward to that book. By the time it comes out in May I should (hopefully) be done with Carrier's 600+ page epic. So much good things on the horizon.

The lord sure does work in mysterious ways.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Quote Of The Day: Paula Kirby On How Evolution Threatens Omnibenevolence

This is from Paula Kirby's post on the Richard Dawkin's site (the old one) about how evolution threatens Christianity, and by extension, the premise of an omnibenevolent god. It espouses a view I've had for years that evolution is incompatible with an infinitely good being due to the insane level of suffering and cruelty it requires. Unfortunately, I want all theists to embrace evolution, and I'm glad that a growing number of theists are, but I can't help but see the major philosophical problems one has to wrestle with in order to be honest with themselves about a being who is said to be infinitely good and the grounding of goodness itself, with the cruelty of evolution.

But of course evolution poses a problem for Christianity. That's not to say it poses a problem for all Christians, since many Christians happily accept evolution: they see Genesis 1 as merely a metaphor, and declare that if God chose to create us using evolution, that's fine by them. I used to be this kind of Christian myself; but I must confess that my blitheness was only possible because I had only the vaguest possible idea of how evolution works and certainly didn't know enough about it to realize that unguided-ness is central to it. While I welcome anyone who recognizes that the evidence for evolution is such that it cannot sensibly be denied, to attempt to co-opt evolution as part of a divine plan simply does not work, and suggests a highly superficial understanding of the subject. Not only does evolution not need to be guided in any way, but any conscious, sentient guide would have to be a monster of the most sadistic type: for evolution is not pretty, is not gentle, is not kind, is not compassionate, is not loving. Evolution is blind, and brutal, and callous. It is not an aspiration or a blueprint to live up to (we have to create those for ourselves): it is simply what happens, the blind, inexorable forces of nature at work. An omnipotent deity who chose evolution by natural selection as the means by which to bring about the array of living creatures that populate the Earth today would be many things - but loving would not be one of them. Nor perfect. Nor compassionate. Nor merciful. Evolution produces some wondrously beautiful results; but it happens at the cost of unimaginable suffering on the part of countless billions of individuals and, indeed, whole species, 99 percent of which have so far become extinct. It is irreconcilable with a god of love.

Merry Christmas!!!

Sunday, December 20, 2015

An Atheist Reviews The Last Superstition: A Refutation Of The New Atheism (Chapter 4 Scholastic Aptitude - Part 3: Faith, Reason, And Evil)

Faith, reason, and evil

In the final section of chapter 4 Feser defends the notion of faith and its relationship to reason in Christianity and addresses the problem of evil. He makes so many points I want to address that I apologize in advance for how long this chapter's review as become.

Faith, Feser defines, is "the will to keep one's mind fixed precisely on what reason has discovered to it." (154) In order to keep things relatively short, I'll accept this as a definition of faith for this review even though I have objections to it. We also get Feser's definition of a miracle, which is "a suspension of the natural order that cannot be explained in any way other than divine intervention in the normal course of events." (154) This is the traditional definition of a miracle, but not the only one. In fact, some Christians like Kenneth Pearce have even argued that such a definition is incoherent with the traditional notion of an omni-deity. If that's so, I'm afraid Feser's view on miracles would have to be false, and if they are false, the central argument in his book for theism is even less plausible. This is just an extra layer of falsity in addition to the fact that Feser's view is already incoherent for requiring libertarian free will while his metaphysics refutes it.

Feser machine gun blasts several dozen points rapidly here, so let me address some of them one by one. Regarding Christianity specifically, he says:

If the story of Jesus's resurrection is true, then you must become a Christian; if it is false, then Christianity itself is false, and should be rejected. (154)

Um, it's false. We can be fairly confident of that. There is no reason why any rational person should accept the historical or miracle claims in the New Testament, even if one believes there is a god, or a person (or persons) that the character of Jesus was based on. We have plenty of reason to doubt his existence and his divinity if such a person existed.*

Given that God exists and that He sustains the world and the causal laws governing it in being at every moment, we know that there is a power capable of producing a miracle, that is, a suspension of those causal laws. (155)

Feser is of course proceeding as if his previous arguments from before have stuck, but we have no good reason of thinking they have. Some of them are flat out refuted by science or are internally inconsistent. How does an utterly timeless being "lacking any potentiality whatsoever" produce a miracle, like impregnating an under-aged virgin who gives birth to himself as "God incarnate"?

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Comparing Hillary & Bernie

In light of tonight's #DebDebate, here's an interesting comparison between Hillary and Bernie.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Quote Of The Day: The "Halle Berry Neuron" Helps Show The Mind Is Caused By The Brain

iconFrom The Myth of An Afterlife: The Case against Life after Death, pp 55-56:

The physical structures of the brain are causally responsible for consciousness and its capabilities. A neuroscientist examining the scans of a stroke victim's brain can now predict, sometimes with remarkable accuracy, exactly what sorts of cognitive, conceptual, emotional, or psychological problems that the patient will experience as a result of his or her brain damage. The connection is too direct, too pervasive, too immediate, and too strong to be ignored. The physical foundation of mental functions shows that the alleged separation of the mind from brain posited by the dualistic survival hypothesis (hereafter simply "the survival hypothesis") will not occur. If a region of the brain is damaged or removed, the correlated mental capacity goes, memory is lost, emotional affects are abbreviated, conceptual abilities disappear, or the cognitive capacity is lost.
       In a remarkable study published in 2005, neuroscientists reported the discovery of what they called the "Halle Berry neuron." In order to isolate the location of the electrical chaos that induced their epilepsy, patients' brains were implanted with electrodes. Then each patient was shown a variety of pictures while the activity of neurons in the vicinity of the probes was recorded. In several instances, a particular neuron could be singled out whose activity spiked in response to specific images, such as those of Halle Berry, Bill Clinton, or the Eiffel tower. One neuron fired when the subject looked at a picture of Halle Berry in an evening gown, in a catwoman suit, and as a cartoon, and even when the words "Halle Berry" were displayed, suggesting that the neuron played an integral role in a large web or neurons responsible for a variety of abstract and high-level representations of Halle Berry, rather than some simpler function such as edge discrimination. The neuron did not respond comparably to the hundreds of other images used in the study (Quiroga et al., 2005). Contrary to what we would expect on the survival hypothesis, every year we discover more brain functions responsible for specific mental functions; and in none of the carefully investigated cases have we been able to find mental functions that appears to be autonomous from the brain.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

The Thinker - A Novel (Chapter 1 - Part 1) A New Beginning



Chapter 1 - Part 1 - A New Beginning

IT WAS THE MIDDLE OF THE SUMMER as I recall, and I found myself sitting alone in Union Square Park on a beautiful sunny day thinking about what had just happened to me. I had just gotten fired from my job. The actual firing itself was rather uneventful. My manager had pinged me over the company instant messenger program to come to the HR office. I had a strong premonition what was in store for me. He told me that I was being terminated due to my performance on the job and although hearing the actual words was slightly shocking, I was actually relieved knowing that I wouldn’t have to trek over to New Jersey to work and spend 11 hours a day anymore at a job that I hated. The lovely young female human resources manager briefed me on a few things and then told me that I was free to leave. And that was it. I gave her my building pass, got my stuff from my cubicle, and then walked out for the last time. I remember leaving the building and stepping out into the blinding sun and feeling so awkward on the way out. A few of my coworkers were just coming back from lunch and we waved hello to each other. I didn’t have any real friends that I hung out with from work on my personal time and so that was the last time I ever saw them. The train station I had used everyday appeared foreign to me because of how the angle of the midday sun made it look. I had not ever seen it at that hour being that I was always at work during the middle of the day. I stood in the middle of the nearly empty platform patiently and boarded the next train back to Manhattan.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

An Atheist Reviews The Last Superstition: A Refutation Of The New Atheism (Chapter 4 Scholastic Aptitude - Part 2: Natural Law)

Natural law

I really suspect, at some level, that religion for many people today exists primarily as a means to justify their desire to control other people's sex lives and social interactions. It seems as if all the previous chapters and arguments were really just to lay the foundation for natural law ethics, whose proponents are totally obsessed with sex, as is the Catholic Church historically (and many religions in general). But first, Feser scoffs at Richard Dawkins' molestation incident when he was a boy and the "truly creepy vibes" he gets from a possible secular education standard which might be led by Dawkins' totally normal yet "blasphemous" views on sex that say, in part, "Enjoy your own sex life (as long as it damages no one else)". Oh my! How "creepy" of Dawkins to advocate for guilt-free consensual sex! The horror! No. The truly "creepy" views on sex are of course best exemplified by Feser's Catholic Church, given its obsession with chastity, homosexuality, and its massive pedophilia scandal. But anyway, to the heart of it:

The "nature" of a thing, from an Aristotelian point of view, is, as we've seen, the form or essence it instantiates. Hence, once again to hail in my triangle example, it is of the essence, nature, or form or a triangle to have three perfectly straight lines. 
When it comes to biological organs, we have things whose natures or essences more obviously involve certain final causes or purposes. So, for example, the function of final cause of the eyeball is to enable us to see. But suppose someone's eyeballs are defective in some way making his vision blurry. In that case, to wear sunglasses isn't contrary to the natural function of eyeballs; rather, it quite obviously restores to the eyeballs their ability to carry out their natural function. 
...whether homosexuality has a genetic basis the question is largely irrelevant. For it is quite obvious that the existence of a genetic basis for some trait does not by itself prove anything whether it is "natural" in the relevant sense. To take just one of many possible examples, that there is a genetic basis for clubfoot doesn't show that having clubfeet is "natural." Quite obviously it is unnatural, certainly from an Artistotelian sense of failure to perfectly conform to the essence or nature of a thing. And no one who has a clubfoot would...find it convincing that the existence of a genetic basis for his affliction shows that it is something he should "embrace" and "celebrate." Nor would it be plausible to suggest that God "made him that way," any more than God "makes" people to be born blind, deaf, armless, legless, prone to alcoholism, or autistic. God obviously allows these things, for whatever reason; but it doesn't follow that He positively wills them, and it certainly doesn't follow that they are "natural." So, by the same token, the possibility of a genetic basis for homosexual desire doesn't by itself show that such desire is natural...Even if it is established beyond a reasonable doubt that there is such a basis, with respect to the question of naturalness of homosexuality, this would prove exactly zip. (133-134)

Whew. Couple of thoughts. Why wouldn't a genetic basis for something be natural? If failure to perfectly conform to the essence or nature of a thing makes it unnatural, then almost everything we do and have is unnatural. The whole problem once again is trying to argue what you can do for triangles, for humans. Triangles are simple shapes defined a certain way. Humans are much more complicated and irregular to be compared in such a way. What is the perfect form, essence, or nature of a human being? David Hasselhoff? Brad Pitt? Michaelangelo's David? Joseph Smith? The Islamic prophet Mohammad? Or is it Jesus? He was supposedly celibate. Does that mean all sex is unnatural? No Catholic says that, but it would seem to conclude from the concept. Of course, I reject the whole conception of "natural" in this sense and many of us do too. "Natural" means of nature; it means existing in or caused by nature; not made or caused by humankind. There's a simple logical argument to show how god cannot merely allow natural defects, he must cause it, and whatever he causes he must positively will since god cannot cause something he doesn't will:

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Dear Christians: You Do Know That Anti-Muslim Rhetoric Helps Atheists, Right?

Source: The Real News
If you're a Christian and you're vehemently anti-Muslim in the really bad racist-against-Arabs/Asians way, and you actively support shutting down mosques, or banning Muslims from entry into the US, or from holding public office, or you support deporting all Muslims living in the US now, or banning Islam in favor of promoting Christianity, or all of the above, consider that you might actually be helping the atheist's agenda. You see, we atheists love nothing more than to be able to point out inter-religious conflict. It helps us point out how stupid and harmful religion is by how it helps create tribal in-group/out-group ways of thinking and distrust of "others." The rising anti-Muslim rhetoric mostly seen on the political Right will inevitably inspire someone to mass-murder Muslims in a mosque or gathering, and that person will probably be a Christian fundamentalist. And this will only escalate to even more backlash, violence, and inter-religious conflict between Christians and Muslims. In debates that we atheists have with Christians, we'd love to be able to cite polls that show that the more religiously Christian you are, the more you tend to harbor xenophobic, racist, and bigoted views towards certain ethnic groups and religious groups, like Muslims. It helps support the idea that religion poisons everything.

So yeah, you Christians should amp up the anti-Muslim rhetoric as much as possible so that this is more likely to happen, and that way we atheists can use the worsening Christian/Muslim conflict to point out how stupid all religion is, which will help our secular agenda.

Just sayin'.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

I Think I figured Out Trump

I think I figured out Donald Trump's appeal. He's simply saying out loud what a very, very large percentage of republicans have been thinking for years. Decades. I have family members who, sadly, are white separatists. They want all the Latinos, Asians, and Muslims deported. They've been talking about banning Muslims from coming into this country for years. They don't like "minorities." They don't like foreigners. They don't like black people either of course. And this is a big chunk of the conservative base. A recent Bloomberg poll stated that 65% of likely republican voters support temporarily banning Muslims from entering the US who are not citizens. I'm not at all surprised.

Most of us think he's crazy. Trump's political goals are impractical even if he gets elected. He really doesn't seem to know how American politics works. He couldn't ban Muslims from entering the US even if he became president. He couldn't call up the CEO of General Motors and demand they build a plant here in the US or else pay a 35% tariff on their imports. Presidents just can't do that on a whim. He thinks America is his corporation, where he can just issue declarations. It's hard to imagine how someone so stupid has even been able to become so successful in business.

Maybe Trump is just saying this to get his numbers up. Every time he says something racist, his numbers go up. That says more about the republican party more than anything. I mean, I'm as big a critic as anyone about Islam, but banning entry to the US on the basis of religion is one of the most un-American things I can think of.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Atheism Offers No Hope, No Future, Only Despair And Annihilation: A Response

How exactly do I say this...

In my interactions with theists, I'm sometimes confronted by this accusation that atheism offers no hope, no future, only despair and annihilation. Often, the eventual heat death of the universe is brought up to paint the picture of our bleak ultimate demise. There's no heaven, they say, there's no life after death. What's the point of living or doing anything if you're ultimately going to die and be annihilated?

And my response to this is—much to their surprise: so what? Who cares if the universe is going to reach heat death in 10^100 years? That's so far into the future it's irrelevant to anything I do now. Who cares if there is no magical eternal heaven after death? The finitude of life makes it more precious. Rarity increases value. It's the law of supply and demand. That's why we cherish diamonds. If diamonds were as common as dirt, their value would immediately plummet. You see, religions often culturally indoctrinate their members into dependency, and that's exactly what I see happening when I hear these views expressed by various religious adherents.

So I decided to come up with another analogy to express how I feel to give you a chance to hopefully see where I'm coming from. Here it goes.

Imagine you were raised from birth believing that you would inherit 1 million dollars when you turn 21. This promise makes you extremely happy and gives you tremendous motivation. It gives you something to look forward to—so much so, that the idea of not getting 1 million dollars makes you depressed. You fantasize about all the things you're going to do with it. And then, finally the day comes when you turn 21—and guess what—you are sadly informed that it was all a lie. You will not be getting that 1 million dollars you were promised. Unsurprisingly, this makes you extremely depressed. You curse your parents who lied to you. All of your dreams and fantasies that you entertained for years are now shattered. How are you going to live without the million dollars? Well, being raised without religion is kind of like being raised without the promise that you're going to inherit a million dollars when you turn 21. I wasn't raised with the promise of heaven. I wasn't raised with the idea that I will live forever. So the idea that I will one day die and be annihilated is totally normal to me. I didn't grow up with an emotional dependency on heaven and eternal life. But so many theists who believe in an afterlife have become so emotionally dependent on it that they just cannot accept the possibility of there not being an afterlife without thinking it's the most depressing thing in the world.

Or, to look at it from another angle, consider once again being that person who's lied to who thinks that he or she is going to get a million dollars on their 21st birthday. Imagine being confronted by a person who knew the truth that you weren't going to get that million dollars who's trying to convince you that it's all a sham. And imagine how that initially would make you feel. This person would be tearing apart your dreams and fantasies, your hopes for the future, the thing that gives you the most happiness—the most to look forward to. Imagine how you'd argue with this person. Imagine how much the emotional attachment to believing your whole life that you're going to get a million dollars would influence your response. Well, I feel like I'm dealing with this kind of situation when I interact with some theists on the issue of heaven and the afterlife. I'm the party pooper to them. I'm the one splashing them in the face with the bucket of cold water to sober them up. I'm the one ruining that promise that they've been believing their whole life that gives them so much to look forward to. That's what it's like dealing with theists who think that there being no eternal life is the most depressing possible news in the world. Many religions make people emotionally dependent on unsupported metaphysical claims, and that's how many of them keep their adherents under their power.

I hope that any theists reading this can at least appreciate the perspective.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

An Atheist Reviews The Last Superstition: A Refutation Of The New Atheism (Chapter 4 Scholastic Aptitude - Part 1: The Soul)

In chapter 4, Feser lays the ground work for the soul, the natural law theory of ethics, and the relationship between faith and reason using the concepts he's laid down in the previous chapters. I've decided to break this review into three parts because the review became so long.

In the beginning of the chapter Feser finds room for two more insults on Daniel Dennett and Sam Harris—Dennett for "sheer speculation" on evolutionary psychological explanations of religion, and Harris for apparently being boring in his book, The End of Faith. Certainly there's a lot of speculation in evolutionary psychology, but the argument for the naturalistic origins of over-active agency detection forming the basis of god belief I think are pretty strong and well supported by evidence. Anyway, onto the soul.

The soul

There are a lot of misconceptions about the Aristotelian conception of the soul. It differs significantly from the Cartesian conception where there is a physical body and a non-physical soul that operates the body like a "ghost in the machine." Although many lay people still hold to this concept of the soul, it has severely fallen out of fashion in the relevant sciences and philosophy, and is considered by most in those fields flat out false.

The Aristotelian-Thomistic (or A-T for short) soul is different. The "form or essence of a living thing is just what Aristotle (and Aquinas) mean by the word 'soul,'" Feser explains. The "soul" is "to refer to the nature of a living thing, whatever that turns out to be," adding, "The soul is just a kind of form." (121) But what if it turns out to be that we're just complex arrangements of matter and energy governed by the fundamental forces described by the laws of physics, with no free will of our own? This is after all what science is showing us more and more everyday. It seems to me that terms like "soul" at best are a metaphor, like when we refer to the "soul" of a city, and at worst an outright metaphysical falsehood.

The soul being form and essence means all things have a "soul" on the A-T view. But there are three kinds of souls that Feser describes (121-122) and this means that for you Christians (spoiler alert!), you sadly won't be seeing your cat or dog in heaven:

Nutritive soul: a form or essence that gives a thing that has it the powers of taking in nutrients, growing, and reproducing itself.
Sensory soul: a form or essence that gives a thing that has it both the powers of a nutritive soul, and also an animal's distinctive powers of being able to sense the world around it (by seeing, hearing, etc.) and to move itself (by walking, flying, etc.).
Rational soul: includes both the powers of the nutritive soul and the sensory souls and also distinctively human powers of intellect and will: that is, the power to grasp abstract objects - namely, the forms or essences of things - and to reason on the basis of them, and freely to choose different possible courses of action on the basis of what the intellect knows.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

It's Time To Be Thankful Again - A Short Rant

So, it's been another year since Thanksgiving. This time last year I was recovering from surgery and having to work from home. That episode involved two operations and two nights in the hospital, and totaled nearly 40 thousand dollars. It was $7,000 per night just to stay in the hospital. The hospital was decent but the food was absolutely horrible. Can you believe it costs that much to stay at the hospital per night? It's outrageous.

Thankfully though, I had health insurance, and good health insurance at that. I only ended up paying $500 out of pocket for the whole thing. Had I needed surgery a few years earlier when I was unemployed and without insurance, I would have been financially fucked. So this has made me appreciate what I've got and its always good to set aside a time of the year to remind us of this. I have a good job that is low stress, pays good, and provides me good health insurance. I'm a middle class person living in a first world country. Right there I have it better than 90 percent of the world's population. I live in the best city in the world. I have good friends. My family relationships are mostly good. I have my health (thanks to my insurance). And I have a new girlfriend and things are going well (so far). Right now my life is pretty good. I don't really have anything that's causing me tremendous stress. Things aren't perfect of course. I have problems here and there, but overall things are pretty good.

And this is mostly due to pure luck. I'm simply lucky that I was born with a healthy body and a healthy brain, into a secular middle class family in a first world country where I enjoy levels of freedom billions of people are not afforded. I got dealt a good hand. I lucked out in the genetic lottery. That's the reality of my situation. I'm just luckier than most other people in many ways. But with that luck I plan to make this world a better place so that other people can be just as lucky as me. That way, a greater number of people in the future will win this genetic lottery. If anything we should always thank the people who've made the pleasures in our lives possible. I thank them mostly.

I am optimistic that the world will get better. We no doubt have problems—climate change, income inequality, terrorism, war — plenty of stuff. Religion is declining in the West and I'm happy about that. We're going to have problems with the Islamic world for generations to come unfortunately, but I think the Islamic world will eventually liberalize and secularize. It won't be easy. Technology is going to improve all of our lives. Diseases will be eradicated by genetic manipulation. We've not even begun to reap the rewards of our ability to manipulate DNA and realize its potential. This is going to utterly change our ability to combat disease and make nature work for us. We can't pray for change, we must be active agents in making the world a better place — at least in the sense of making it a point to not cause any unnecessary suffering. If we all were negative utilitarians in this sense, the happiness and well being of the world would go up tremendously. That's one of the reasons why I had to give up eating meat.

This will also be my first Thanksgiving as a vegetarian. It will be interesting, but I like mash potatoes and stuffing enough to call it a meal.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

On Being Offended

What if I created an ideology that said Muslims are the most vile animal in the world, who are ignorant, niggardly, diseased, disobedient criminals and sinful liars, whose hearts are hardend, and who are deaf, dumb, and blind? Would you think that Muslims would find that offensive? Would you think many non-Muslims would find that offensive about Muslims? You probably guessed the answer is yes. And you probably guessed that such an ideology would be considered bigoted, Islamophobic hate speech, and perhaps even racist to many as well. Such adherents to this ideology would be routinely discriminated against and mocked with bitter disgust and no doubt most liberals would equate them with the Nazis or the KKK.

Well, this is exactly what Islam says about unbelievers, be they Christians or Jews, polytheists or atheists. And yet, Islam is not considered hate speech, nor is it considered bigoted or racist or anything else like that to most people. So how does Islam get away with such a double standard? Oh, that's right — it's a religion, and not only that, it's a minority religion. Once something operates under the title of "religion" it gets a privileged status. Criticizing it becomes "offensive" to an adherent's cherished beliefs and the PC police will come out in full swing at anyone who dares offend a believer. Meanwhile, the Muslim gets to espouse all the hateful rhetoric he wants from the Mosque, or the street, about how wicked and diseased us non-believers are with virtual impunity — because he's just doing what his religion says.

This is madness.

I'm supposed to be concerned about offending him? What about my sentiments? If we're going to truly live up to the standards set out by the PC police then let's at least be fair. If it's politically incorrect for me to have an ideology that calls Muslims the vilest of animals and sinful disobedient liars, then it's politically incorrect for Muslims to have a religion that says the same thing about non-believers. So that means we're going to have to censor the Qur'an to make it PC friendly. Or, we're going to have to ban it altogether. And while we're at it, let's do the same to the Bible and the Book of Mormon. They each have hateful, sexist, or homophobic bigoted rhetoric. How's that sound? Why don't we all consider how offended atheists are when they are told mean, nasty things in religious texts? Don't we all believe in fairness and equality?

Monday, November 16, 2015

What Countries Have Secular Majorities? An Interactive Map

Majorities in Canada, the UK, Ireland, France, Spain, Germany, the Netherlands, Australia, Czech Republic, Sweden, Denmark, Austria, Switzerland, Israel, Azerbaijan, Vietnam, South Korea, China & Japan are either not religious or convinced atheists:

I know this came out months ago and isn't exactly breaking news but I just wanted to put that into perspective when we realize just how secular a large portion of the population of the world is. I thought about this in the recent #PrayForParis fiasco, especially in how France is one of the most secular and least religious countries in the world. The US is behind the pack but slowly catching up to the rest of the first world. However, it will likely take another generation to match up with where the UK or France is today. Patience is a virtue.

You can check out the interactive map below:

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Don't Pray For Paris, Become An Advocate Against Regressive Beliefs

The recent news out of Paris is horrible. At least 129 are dead in 6 orchestrated terrorist attacks, less than a year after the Charlie Hebdo massacre. The hastag #PrayForParis started trending on Twitter as a result. This is very common when there is a tragedy somewhere. Praying for someone means thinking about them in a nice way. It involves asking some higher being, power, or spirit to show love, compassion, help, and mercy towards the person or persons you're praying for. As atheists, we know such prayers are useless. Your prayers do not affect the universe in any way. At most, we can say that when we know we're being prayed for, we feel good. It's little different from finding out someone likes you and is thinking positively about you. It makes us feel good. But prayer has no metaphysical effect.

When dealing with these kinds of tragedies, rather than praying, we should resist that urge however powerful and instinctive it may feel, and instead apply a more rational and practical response. We should donate money, food, and supplies, whenever possible. And when dealing with terrorism based on perverted and false ideology, like that of Islam, our response should be to become advocates against their regressive beliefs. We should refute them and their ideology at every chance we get, within reasonableness. And we should become advocates for the modern, secular, progressive way of life that we live and stand for. Let's make #TerrorismSociallyUnacceptable as Bill Maher recently tweeted. Let's stand for liberal principles! But let's also not become racist xenophobes in the process. Of course, it goes without saying that not all Muslims are terrorists, and not all terrorists are Muslims. It is bad ideology that we need to be advocates against, regardless of whether it is religious or secular.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Was Jesus A Bastard?

Meme time.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Why Isn't Jesus Mythicism Taken Seriously In The Field?

According to Dr. Richard Carrier, the history of the mythicist debate is relevant:

  • Over the last 100 years there have been many terrible and outright crank arguments that Jesus was a myth. They were often logically fallacious or they had uncorroborated fact claims, and so many scholars in the field have simply dismissed new arguments as being of the previous kind and have assumed that they've already dealt with all such claims and that they've all been debunked.
  • Much of the push back has come from scholars in the field who are either Christian, so they cannot accept that Jesus didn't exist for the obvious reasons, or they're in secular schools that are integrated into the Jesus studies academic network and they're relying on grants and donations that are heavily controlled by Christian donors and cannot concede mythicism or historicity agnosticism for that obvious reason. 
  • Scholars can get punished by their colleagues, and there are some historicity agnostics who will not go on record out of fear of losing their jobs. 
  • For example, in the 1970s when Thomas Thompson argued that Moses didn't exist, some of his colleagues tried to forcibly remove him from conferences and tried and get him fired. Now Moses mythicism is the mainstream view among scholars and Thompson has been vindicated. Jesus mythicism might be the same way in the next few decades.
  • In the last 10 years or so, many new effective arguments have developed that have cut out the bad arguments completely using new evidence scholarly methodology and have gone through peer reviewed academic standards. Dr. Carrier's book On The Historicity Of Jesus includes them and has been peer reviewed by a major academic press.

Are we on the cusp of a major revolution in biblical studies on the historicity of Jesus in the same way we were on the historicity of Moses and the patriarchs 40 years ago? Only time will tell. My prediction is that we are, and that once the good arguments get their due and the field of biblical studies changes such that scholars do not have to worry about their career if they become agnostic, we will see more and more scholars accept the arguments. And this will further facilitate Jesus mythicism among lay people, as we're already starting to see, and as a result Christianity will continue to perpetually decline, much to the dismay of Christians.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Your God Is Dead And No One Cares

In light of the recent good news that the United States continues to become less religious, I decided to pay homage to a band that was very important to me in my high school and young adult years. I remember rocking out to the song Heresy with my friends, some of whom where theists, usually while drinking and doing drugs. It's a great industrial metal song critical of Christianity by one of the greatest industrial metal bands of all time, Nine Inch Nails. I think songs like this played a small but significant role in turning people away from traditional organized religion by pointing out its absurdity. In my social circle growing up it was cool to hate on religion, and bands like Nine Inch Nails, Marilyn Manson, and others made that possible. Many of us were teenage nihilists. God was dead, and no one cared. And if there was a hell, we'd see you there. Read the lyrics of Heresy and see if you spot some popular criticisms launched against Christianity from atheists and secularists.

He sewed his eyes shut because he is afraid to see
He tries to tell me what I put inside of me
He's got the answers to ease my curiosity
He dreamed a god up and called it Christianity

Your god is dead and no one cares
If there is a hell I'll see you there

He flexed his muscles to keep his flock of sheep in line
He made a virus that would kill off all the swine
His perfect kingdom of killing, suffering and pain
Demands devotion, atrocities done in his name

Your god is dead and no one cares
If there is a hell I'll see you there
Your god is dead and no one cares
If there is a hell I'll see you there

Drowning in his own hypocrisy
And if there is a hell I'll see you there
Burning with your god in humility
Will you die for this?

"Heresy" by Nine Inch Nails

Monday, November 2, 2015

The Thinker - A Fictional Novel

I'm currently recovering from a long weekend partying and haven't been blogging as a result of this. I have a new idea on the horizon brewing for this blog. I want to start writing fiction that is atheist, science, and philosophy themed that aims to both entertain and to teach. I've already been writing a book about my experiences and views through fictional narrative under the working title The Thinker, but I'm now considering just posting some of the work as short episodes on my blog as an ongoing series. I'm debating on whether I should post it in chronological order, or mix it up, but I'll probably do it in chronological order. It will be based on a fictionalized version of my life and will explore philosophy, religion & atheism in the context of contemporary urban life - exactly what my blog's subtitle is. I envision it as a 21st century On the Road, but I can assure you I'm no Kerouac. It will explore culture, dating, and economics as well. It might be a millennial's guide to the universe.

It will be interesting to see where it goes.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Quote Of The Day: Is New Atheism Too Protestant?

From an article by Theo Hobson at the Spectator that is critical of atheism and morality. It makes an interesting point from an author:

In his book Reason, Faith and Revolution: Reflections on the God Debate he explains that rational humanism is rooted in the Protestant passion for reform: the Enlightenment opposed aspects of religion, yet ‘in a choice irony, it inherited its brave campaign against superstition partly from Christianity itself, with its rejection of all false gods and prophets, all idols, fetishes, magical rituals, and powers of darkness, in the name of human flesh and blood’. He draws on the work of the Canadian Roman Catholic thinker Charles Taylor, whose book A Secular Age discusses the Christian roots of humanist universalism (and incidentally Taylor himself was partly responding to the popularity of the new atheist narrative). Eagleton accepts that his own socialism is a faith-based position, one that derives from Judeo-Christian tradition. Without the atheists to kick against, he might not have felt inclined to present himself in such religion-friendly terms.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

If I Was Aborted

With republicans in Washington having recently voted over the funding of Planned Parenthood due to the recent flurry over their legal practice of selling fetal tissue for medical research, I decided to chime in on the issue of abortion from a perspective that I'm not sure has been done before. I want to write from the position of the fetus.

My view on abortion is very clear. I am pro-choice. I always have been. I have my reasons for my view. But of course, being pro-choice in a country that legally allows abortion, I could have been aborted. In fact, in the early eighties when I was born, more abortions happened per 1,000 women than at any time in American history. I made it through, but it could have been me. If I was aborted, obviously I wouldn't be able to write any of this. So I want to imagine for a moment and entertain a hypothetical scenario, one in which I speak from the position of a fetus who could've been aborted but who is alive to tell about it with the ability to think and reason given what I know now. Here's what I'd say.

When I was a fetus in my mother's womb I was not an independent person. I was part of her body. She had total control over what she can do with her body. If she had decided to abort me, that is fully her decision. I would not feel bad in any way if my mother had aborted me, even knowing what I know now and having had all the joys, struggles, and experiences of life. In fact, my concern would not be about me and my life, but about my mother and her condition. If having me would have caused a substantial burden on her life and if she didn't think she had the ability to handle me, or if she just didn't feel like it was a good idea to have a child, then my concern would be that she do whatever she thought was best for her at that time. I'd fully accept that this could include aborting me. I would not want to be a substantial burden on her life and cause her much suffering and hardship. Her condition and well being was more important than my life, as I was part of her and not an independent person. I did not have a right to life. And regarding the issue of using fetal tissue for medical research, if I was already going to be aborted, I'd actually prefer that my body be used for medical research, rather than just being thrown in the trash.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

What Makes Some Atheists Anti-Theists?

If you're a Christian, I'm not sure if you can appreciate what Christians look like to us atheists. To us, you're just another religion proudly proclaiming that you've got the "one true religion," and like, you're really [totally fucking] serious this time. We're a little bemused by this. I will admit I have often looked condescendingly down on Christians and had pity for them, but I'm starting to reconsider all that. See, every once in a while I meet a Christian who's totally cool and who I get along with and who I see eye to eye with on a lotta shit, and I think to myself, man, if every Christian was like this, I'd be totally cool with Christianity. And if all religious people were like this, I'd really have no reason to be an anti-theist. But then, inevitably, in comes the asshole Christian who wants to shove his religion down my throat, both culturally and politically, deny basic science, assert religious propaganda as historical and metaphysical fact, and who is a 180 degree difference from me when it comes to politics. And then I realize, once again, why I'm an anti-theist.

Remember, anti-theism is largely a reaction to fundamentalist religion. Many of us atheists were very quiet about our atheism years ago. Then, through a variety of ways, we recognized that there are many religious fundamentalists who are very socially and politically active who wish to install their version of a theocracy upon all of us as best they can. Because of this, we've recognized that we have to get organized to prevent this from happening and to be able to maintain the very existence of our naturalistic worldview, and not be discriminated against. Paramount to this of course is the principle of secularism: the separation between religion and government. The wall of separation must continually be defended from theocrats and the like. So, it would be nice to be able to just be an atheist, or a naturalist, but to be an atheist activist, it usually takes some degree of anti-theism. It's interesting to note however, that promoting secularism doesn't technically require an antipathy towards religion, just its encroachment on government. But the two are often hand in hand. An anti-theist is against religious belief. It is the belief that gives theocrats their motivation.* That's one salient reason why I'm against religious belief. I certainly want all religious believers to modernize, be moderate, and be pretty damn liberal in their theological views. But it's hard for me to picture myself advocating for liberal religion, instead of no religion, because, although I find liberal religion more tolerable, I still find it hard to believe. Nonetheless, encouraging the moderation of religion, seems to be imperative.

* And yes, of course, religion is not the only thing that motivates people to power and abuse, plenty of other non-religious things do too. I shouldn't even have to write this, but feel I do.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

An Atheist Reviews The Last Superstition: A Refutation Of The New Atheism (Chapter 3 Getting Medieval)

Feser starts chapter 3 lauding Aquinas' lifelong chastity and devotion to god, as if that's supposed to impress us. Religious obsessions with chastity always reminds me of how masochistic it is. There's also something about serious Catholics that I really don't like. I've always hated Catholicism, but it's hard to hate most Catholics today because most of them are so non-religious that they act almost indistinguishable from your average secular atheist. But the ones who take their religion seriously, like Feser, get me agitated. Feser is convinced his religion is true and wants the world to conform to it, and that's dangerous. I suppose then that it's a good thing he doesn't get much traction.

It's in chapter 3, called Getting Medieval, that Feser lays out his argument for god. He starts by making several insults about the New Atheists and their apparent failure to address the "greatest philosopher of the Middle Ages," especially Richard Dawkins, who is arguably the most famous atheist in the world. As a reminder once again, I haven't fully read The God Delusion, and so I unfortunately cannot speak on Dawkins' behalf. But, from what I did read, Dawkins does make a lot of common sense arguments against the belief in a theistic intervening god - the kind who ensures you have parking space at Walmart while he ignores the prayers of millions of kids starving to death. Hitchens' God is Not Great is really a critique of religion, specifically the Abrahamic ones. He doesn't really try and refute the existence of god per se. Perhaps this is a weakness, but I think his criticisms against Abrahamic theism are strong enough that no argument anyone can make could establish the probabilistic existence of Yahweh. The biblical god and the religions that derive from him are just too absurd to be taken seriously, even when Aquinas' arguments are met head on, as we're about to see.

Feser makes a big deal about the New Atheist's criticisms of William Paley's popular design argument. The reason why so many atheists mention Paley's argument is because it's a very popular argument that a lot of theists make. It's also a very simple argument; one doesn't need to learn complex, esoteric metaphysics like one has to do in order to understand Aquinas. That's why Paley's argument keeps coming up again and again, and the New Atheists (and atheists in general) have to make it a point to address it. Aquinas' arguments are generally too complex and require too much philosophical knowledge for your average wannabe apologist to successfully make. It's much easier for them to memorize the simple premises of the cosmological argument, or remember the scene involved in Paley's watchmaker analogy. It's fair to say that it isn't a straw man to attack design arguments of the Paley variety as Feser thinks on page 81. It's a legitimate argument for god, albeit a really bad one. No, a more proper straw man is like what Feser did in his opening chapter when he says your average secularist thinks strangling infants or fucking corpses or goats is perfectly normal in order to show how secularism is "irrational, immoral, and indeed insane," without even defining what he means by "secularism."

Feser's attitude seems to be that none of the New Atheist's arguments mean anything, until they refute Aquinas. And to be fair, the New Atheists have, by and large, not taken up Aquinas. Feser accuses secularists of swallowing "anything their gurus shovel at them." (80) But he must realize how absurd it is for him to make such a claim, when everyone knows it's organized religion that brainwashes its masses and requires its adherents make statements of faith, usually starting at childhood. And the Catholic Church is about as organized as organized religion can get.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

My Atheist Debate Dream Team

I love watching really good debates between theists and atheists, but many of them are lackluster. Last year's debate between Sean Carroll and William Lane Craig was a particularly good one when it came to the cosmological evidence for and against theism. But those kinds of debates are the exception. The one thing Sean Carroll can't do well is debate the historicity of Jesus, or morality. And for other atheist debaters like Richard Carrier, the one thing he can't do well is debate the fundamental cosmology theists try to use to argue for god. William Lane Craig for example can debate both of them well - in that he's got enough knowledge of each to make a case that appears convincing, even if it isn't.

That's where a group debate would come in handy. To entertain my debate fantasy, we'd have a three-on-three atheist vs Christianity team debate and on the atheist side I'd pick and choose who I'd want representing team atheism. Since cosmology always comes up in god debates, I'd have Sean Carroll on team atheism to handle cosmological questions. He's shown himself to be more than capable in that regard. There are many other cosmologists who could do the job, like Lawrence Krauss, but Krauss' disdain for and ignorance of philosophy is a strike against him. Carroll, though not a philosopher, is at least philosophically inclined. (He minored in philosophy as an undergrad.)

For Christian-specific questions, such as the historicity and resurrection of Jesus, I'd have Richard Carrier on team atheism. Over the years Carrier has demonstrated himself to be one of the world's foremost scholars in the field of Jesus mythicism. He knows Christianity and its historical context really well, and has the ability to debate them better than most. So I think he'd successfully be able to put to rest any claims that the evidence demonstrates Jesus existed and rose from the dead.

Lastly, besides cosmology and the arguments specifically for Christianity, Christians usually bring up either morality or the origin of life as their other preferred arguments. For morality, I'd consider AC Grayling, who is a moral philosopher, or Massimo Pigliucci, or maybe Michael Shermer. Matt Dillahunty is another good atheist debater, who could handle many of the non-scholarly stuff. For the origin of life I have no idea who can debate that sufficiently enough to drive the point that it doesn't need a god. So I'm not sure who I'd employ here. (Maybe Aron Ra?) Ideally, I'd pick someone who can do both morality and abiogenesis or evolution, and that might leave me with Pigliucci since he was a biologist turned philosopher. But this position might have to be decided depending on the Christian debaters. And if this is pure fantasy we're talking about, I'd have Christopher Hitchens between Sean Carroll and Richard Carrier. Though Hitchens was not a philosopher or scientist, he was really good at pointing out the bad things about religion and many of its non-obvious absurdities.

Who would be on team Christianity? Probably William Lane Craig. I'd definitely want him on it. Maybe Alvin Plantinga, JP Moreland, or Edward Feser, or David Wood. Who knows? The thing is Feser and Craig don't agree on a lot of metaphysical views, so I'm not sure they'd both be on team Christianity. I do know that a weakness of the atheist/theist debates is that there is no atheist version of William Lane Craig. There are atheists good at philosophy, but not science; there are atheists good at science but not philosophy, or decent at both but not history. Since to sufficiently debate god, you have to know physics, cosmology, biology, philosophy, history, and of course, religion, that is a lot of stuff to have to know. You by no means must be an expert in all of these subjects, but you have to be exceptionally familiar with each in order to be a good debater on the god topic. And since today there is no single atheist who can do this, only an atheist debate dream team could. If I had 100 million dollars I'd definitely use some of it to orchestrate such a debate.

If only.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Quote Of The Day: William Lane Craig Is Wrong On Cosmic Time

William Lane Craig really doesn't like the B-theory of time, also known as eternalism. He's written whole books and essays trying to debunk it and to promote the A-theory of time, also known as presentism. The reason why is clear. Craig's favorite go-to argument for god's existence is the kalam cosmological argument, and it presupposes the A-theory of time. In fact, on the B-theory, the argument is useless. So Craig has spent many calories trying as hard as he can to make the case for the A-theory. One of them is this notion that "cosmic time" allows us to have an objective reference frame, which is ruled out under special relativity which says that all reference frames are subjective. It's even convinced another atheist blogger at one point that the relativity of simultaneity doesn't imply a block universe and the eternalism that describes it. But this is wrong, as physicist Aron Wall writes on his blog:

Now it is true that on some specially nice spacetimes, there is a naturally nice choice of time coordinate. For example in an FRW expanding universe, there is a "cosmic time" coordinate which tracks the overall size (the "redshift factor") of the universe. Some philosophers, such as St. William Lane Craig, have suggested that God's "time" might simply be this "cosmic time".

But this is a misunderstanding of the physics of our universe. The FRW metric is a just an approximation to reality. It describes a universe which is completely uniform (the same in everywhere) and isotropic (the same in every direction). This is a very good approximation on large distance scales (billions of light years), but on shorter distance scales (e.g. the solar system, or the milky way, or your living room) you may have noticed that matter is not distributed uniformly. It comes in clumps, and each of these clumps has a gravitational field which distorts the spacetime metric, making the FRW metric no longer correct. On a lumpy spacetime, the notion of "cosmic time" is not well-defined.

Aron Wall is a physicist and a devout Christian, so he certainly doesn't have a theological ax to grind here.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Quote Of The Day: The Unlikely Possibility of Possibilism On Time

There are three main theories on time: presentism, possibilism, and eternalism. This is the difference between the three:

Presentism: Only the present moment exists
Possiblism: Only the present moment exists and everything that has happened in the past
Eternalism: Every moment exists

Visually it looks like this:

Presentism entails that the future and past do not exist; possiblism entails that the present and past still exist and is therefore commonly referred to as the "growing block theory;" eternalism entails that all moments in time exist such that the universe can be viewed as an eternal block, and is therefore commonly referred to as the "block universe."

Eternalism is the dominant view in science. In Relativity and the Nature of Spacetime Vesselin Petkov drives the point, arguing about the unlikely possibility of possiblism:

I think the arguments against the growing block universe indicate that it is very unlikely that such a view will be an adequate representation of the world. On the other hand, all arguments against the four-dimentionalist view are based on the sole fact that we are aware of ourselves and the world only at the constantly changing moment 'now'. But this fact, as we saw in Chap. 3, has two logically possible interpretations, one of which is fully consistent with Minkowski's view. That is why the four-dimentionalist view is the most serious candidate for correctly representing the world." (p. 167)

I agree with the consensus. I think eternalism best fits the data and that would mean we are living in a block universe. The future of every single moment from our subjective perspectives in the spacetime block already exists and there's nothing we can do about it. I know this can be mind blowing and very difficult on the ego. We like to think of the future as a wide range of possibilities. Believing our futures to be locked into place may cause a mild to severe existential crisis. It requires a certain degree of philosophical investigation and knowledge to handle. But I do think that understanding this and seeing the universe this way has as much potential as a paradigm changer as did heliocentricism, evolution, and the end of libertarian free will.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

What The Hell Is Going On With CJ Werleman?

Apparently, a rift has opened up and deepened among liberals over the way we view Islam. On the one side, some liberals think that Islam is a religion of peace and that criticizing it offends millions of Muslims and amounts to racism, or anti-Muslim bigotry. On the other side, another group of liberals stands opposed to any ideology or religion that flagrantly violates basic liberal values, and they recognize Islam as doing so. This rift became shockingly apparent on Real Time with Bill Maher last year in a debate over Islam between Sam Harris and Ben Affleck. (I commented on it here.) I've made my views clear that I'm on team Harris. He recognizes, like all informed and rational people, that the Islamic religion contains many immoral prescriptions and that this makes some Muslims agree with and hold those views. And some of them are inspired to commit violence because of these views. Beliefs have consequences. Shocking isn't it. It's quite a modest claim, but many liberals disagree, and one of them is an Aussie-born writer and journalist who's been getting some publicity in the past few years named CJ Werleman.

I first came to know CJ Werleman about a year ago. I first found out about him via YouTube in a speech he gave called What The Corporate Totalitarian State Means for Humanism. At first I liked him. He was a liberal atheist and he espoused the same kind of populist economic views that I hold. I agreed with him that corporate influence in government is too strong and that democracy in the US is fading away into corporatocracy. He seemed like he'd be a great atheist ally for those of us with left-leaning politics.

That is until I found out about his views on Islam. Given his criticism of those on the religious right, I thought he would naturally see Islam for what it really is: an ancient religion that contains many barbaric morals that results in disturbingly large numbers of its followers holding these barbaric morals. But to my surprise, he takes what seems like the standard liberal approach to Islam: that violent Islamists and Jihadists are entirely the result of bad Western foreign policy, and socio-economic factors. According to liberals like Werleman, Islam is never the reason why Jihadists commit acts of terror, or why 90% of Muslims think homosexuality is wrong, or why 23% think stoning to death adulterers should be the law of the land. Although he seems to recognize that Islam contains some barbarism, he doesn't seem to connect the dots that beliefs have consequences.

Werleman is an atheist but not an anti-theist. He just wrote a whole book disparaging anti-theism, which I won't link to here. His views on Islam make him a member of what Maajid Nawaz and Sam Harris call the regressive left. Regressive lefties are basically liberals who blame the regressive beliefs of extremist groups like those of radical Islamists entirely on Western imperialism and socio-economic factors. Here's a recent tweet by Werleman espousing this view:

Saturday, October 3, 2015

How To Do Recreational Drugs Responsibly

I just watched Vice's special on our broken prison system where president Obama sat with several convicted felons in a federal prison, the first time ever for a siting president. It was pretty fuckin' good, I have to say. Vice knows how to do some really good reporting. Several inmates were profiled and their situations highlight just how broken America's prison system is. According to the show, about 97 percent of people arrested and charged with non-violent drug offenses plea guilty to lesser sentences because the mandatory minimum laws passed in the 80s and 90s are so stiff. Once you serve your time you'll often actually be charged fees for your public representative and for your parole, putting you in debt. Combine this with the fact that having a felony conviction makes it very difficult to find a job, especially without an education, and it prevents you from applying for food stamps, public housing, or getting federal aid for college, the recidivism rate is 67.8 percent after 3 years. And so the cycle goes on and on and on, generation after generation, and no community is hit harder than the African American community. 

Watching the show reminded me of my life growing up. I was raised by a single mother. I grew up in the inner city - not in the worst of neighborhoods, but definitely not the best. Many of the friends I knew during high school and immediately after were dropouts who often engaged in petty crimes like vandalism, graffiti, and low level drug dealing. When I went to college I stopped hanging out with them and made new friends and took a new path. I now hang out with people who have a much better mindset and I have a good job that affords me a comfortable middle class life. Watching the show made me realize just how good I have it. I am really, really lucky. I cannot stress that enough. I have it ridiculously good compared to so many people. For one thing, I'm a middle class person living in a first world country. Right there I have it better than about 90 percent of the world's population.

That got me thinking. Given how the inmates profiled in the show were convicted of low level drug offenses, I want to offer some advice to the readers out there. I've done plenty of drugs in my life, and I'm not against responsible drug use. I'm a libertarian in the sense that I don't think the state should be telling people what they can and cannot put in their body for the most part. So given this, here is some advice for responsible recreational drug use.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Quote Of The Day: Does Quantum Indeterminacy Allow Free Will?

Today's QOTD is by Caltech physcist Sean Carroll. Many people, theists and atheist alike, think that quantum indeterminacy allows for libertarian free will to take place. But this is a misunderstanding of quantum mechanics and the way probability works in it. On his blog, Carroll explains:

[I]f you want to use the lack of determinism in quantum mechanics to make room for supra-physical human volition (or, for that matter, occasional interventions by God in the course of biological evolution, as Francis Collins believes), then let’s be clear: you are not making use of the rules of quantum mechanics, you are simply violating them. Quantum mechanics doesn’t say “we don’t know what’s going to happen, but maybe our ineffable spirit energies are secretly making the choices”; it says “the probability of an outcome is the modulus squared of the quantum amplitude,” full stop. Just because there are probabilities doesn’t mean there is room for free will in that sense.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Quote Of The Day: Does Consciousness Collapse The Wave Function?

There are so many purveyors of woo-woo out there that it's enough to drive an atheist mad. One of the most common claims is that the famous double slit experiment shows that consciousness collapses the wave function because it seems that observing the quantum particles changes their behavior from waves to particles. This is often used by spiritualists and theists as evidence that there is a soul, because, it is argued, physical reality seems to exist only when we're looking at it, and so the soul must be fundamental.

But most working physicists will tell you that consciousness has nothing to do with wave function collapse, often described as decoherence. Here's a quote from an actual physicist David Simmons-Duffin on what really collapses the wave function:

Decoherence occurs whenever a quantum mechanical system interacts with another system with a large number of degrees of freedom (like a human, or a house cat, or a chair). It has absolutely nothing to do with consciousness, and can be described rigorously from the Schrodinger equation without any extra axioms.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Concerns Of An Atheist Part I

I might be spending too much time making arguments for atheism and critiquing arguments for theism. I should spread out my topic range to include other considerations. One idea is that of some genuine concerns I have as an atheist about religion. These posts would be about what an atheist like myself really worries about regarding religion. So let me entertain one big concern I have.

One major concern I have about religion is in the way it affects how we see morality. Most religious people it seems were always religious to some extent, or they were always theists who believed in at least one god, even if they weren't religious about it. This means that most of these people have no idea what it is really like to be an atheist and to share the type of concerns an atheist would hold including its emotional impact.

Try to picture yourself as an atheist. There is no god. Every religion is completely man-made. You live in a world where you see billions of people adhering to various religions. Many of them say they have their own "interpretation" of the "truth." You can clearly see the falsity of it all, and the nonsense within it. You can recognize that all religions contain some interesting stories and moral lessons. But you can also recognize that much of its morality is outdated and the product of patriarchal societies who wanted to ground order and authority and the best way to do it was in a god. That way the dignitaries of the divine could solidify their authority and exploit the gullibility and superstition of the masses. This is not the only reason why religion developed but it is an important one for some.

So these religions god created. Some of them grew and thrived and evolved. Fast forward thousands of years to the modern world. We're now grappling with the problems of the twenty-first century and many of us still cling to the religions of centuries past. Now you have to try and reason with people who think a god has made the world a certain way, and for a certain purpose, and issued certain commands that hinder progress on certain critical problems. Take climate change. Can you imagine how hard it is to have a conversation on the reality of climate change with someone who thinks the earth is less than 10,000 years old and created by a god who won't let it be destroyed, again? Or take same sex marriage. Can you imagine how hard it is to have a conversation on marriage equality with someone who thinks their god defined marriage as between one man and one woman? Or take violence in general. Can you imagine how hard it is to have a conversation with religious fundamentalists who think it is an honor to kill for the offensive spread of a religion? Even worse is if they believe they'll be rewarded in the afterlife for doing so.

Take a moment to consider that.

Just about every theist can see the falsity of the other religion. Imagine what it's like for people who see your religion as just as false. We atheists can see the ultimate falsity of all religions. So talking to every devout believer is like your experiences talking to the devout members of those you think have a false religion. Can you see how scary it is for the atheist to live in a world with people still believing in superstition?  Can you see how scary it is for the atheist to live in a world with people still believing that demons can possess people and wreak calamity on humankind? This is something that really concerns me. I don't exactly loose sleep over it, but for a secular progressive like myself who really wants to see humankind reach its full potential, few things are scarier than billions of people who believe in superstitious nonsense and who hold to moral views from thousands of years ago who think they were really commanded by a god.

So I hope there are theists our there who will try to see what it's like from an atheist's perspective a little clearer, because many theists haven't got a clue.

How Will People Know What The Morally Perfect Thing To Do Is In Heaven?

In heaven most theists tell me that people will always do the morally right thing in every given situation. But since we all have to learn morality to a certain degree when we're growing up, we aren't born with all of morality's complexities intuitive to us. And in some situations, we might do the morally wrong thing purely out of ignorance, because we might not have been in that situation before.

So how are people in heaven always going to know how to do the morally right thing in every possible situation, even if they have the best of intentions and the purest of hearts? Is god going to beam knowledge of the right thing to do in every situation into our brains like how Keanu Reeves was able to upload knowledge of jujitsu in the Matrix? How else would millions of people know the moral thing to do in millions of different situations from the moment they get into heaven? Or will people have to learn in heaven as we do on earth? If that's true some people might do immoral things in heaven, and that to me seems hard to square with the traditional view that no immorality exists in heaven.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Why the Big Bang Singularity Does Not Help the Kalām Cosmological Argument for Theism

Came across this interesting paper on the big bang and why it doesn't help the most popular argument touted in favor of god, the Kalām Cosmological Argument.


The cosmic singularity provides negligible evidence for creation in the finite past, and hence theism. A physical theory might have no metric or multiple metrics, so a ‘beginning’ must involve a first moment, not just finite age. Whether one dismisses singularities or takes them seriously, physics licenses no first moment. The analogy between the Big Bang and stellar gravitational collapse indicates that a Creator is required in the first case only if a Destroyer is needed in the second. The need for and progress in quantum gravity and the underdetermination of theories by data make it difficult to take singularities seriously. The singularity exemplifies the sort of gap that is likely to be closed by scientific progress, obviating special divine action. The apparent irrelevance of cardinality to practices of counting infinite sets in classical field theory and Fourier analysis is noted.

See the link here: Why the Big Bang Singularity Does Not Help the Kalām Cosmological Argument for Theism

Monday, September 21, 2015

Free Will, Science, And Religion Podcast

On the weekend I participate in a podcast called Free Will, Science, and Religion that talks about, well, free will, science, and religion, and how they all intermingle. Although we're all on the same page that libertarian free will doesn't exist, we differ on many other things. We're not all atheists; at least one of the participants is a pantheist. We differ on politics, like on the topic of abortion. Most are hard determinists/incompatibilists, but I'm the only one a bit sympathetic to compatibilism.

Here is the first episode introducing the podcast:

We've piled through over a hundred episodes, although I haven't participated in most of them. Here is the hundredth episode, on how understanding that we have no free will be the biggest revolution in human history ever.

I'll be listing all the episodes from now on on my blog, maybe not all of them, but I'll have to see how it goes.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

"Only God can provide an adequate rational foundation for morality and unalienable human rights."

What are rights? Where do they come from?

Claiming rights is very popular. We all claim rights. But on what basis can we do this? A popular view is the idea that "Only God can provide an adequate rational foundation for morality and unalienable human rights." Is this the case? Well, as an atheist, I'm deeply skeptical of these kinds of claims. So let me explore this idea and go over some of the problems I think arise when one tries to ground morality and rights in a deity.

What are rights?

First off, what is a right? Years ago when I studied philosophy I took an introductory course on ethics. I still have my textbook from the class, Human Conduct: Problems of Ethicsby John Hospers. While flipping through it I came across the chapter on human rights. Since human rights are so often talked about with such passion and argument, it's important to know what we mean when we claim a right.

A right, Hospers describes, can be said to be a justified claim to something, in the form of an entitlement. It is to "claim a certain amount of moral space in which others may not trespass." (192) If one has a right, others have an obligation or duty or respect that right. If one has a right to life, and others do not have a duty to refrain from killing you, that right mean little to nothing, and may even be self-contradictory. Rights are not merely privileges. Privileges can be revoked at any time. If I let you borrow my car to run errands, that is a privilege which I can revoke when I want. You don't have a right to use my car when I don't want you to. (This is related to notions of property rights.)

Where do they come from?

This all seems fine and dandy, but it still gives us no notion of where rights come from. Enter the theists who claims that rights are endowed to us by our creator. But what exactly does that explain? Did god implant a "right" within us? If so, what is the ontology of that right? Some theists claim that god gave humans an immortal soul and that it is this that gives us our rights. But how does a soul (whatever that is) give us our rights? If cockroaches have souls would that mean it would be immoral for us to kill them? Would a soul-less person (should one exist) be any less worthy of rights than one with a soul, all other things being equal? The theist might say that it's our soul that gives us sentience—the capacity to suffer, and rationality—the ability to think, deliberate, weigh evidence and alternatives, and decide what actions to take, and that it's these combined traits, unique to human beings, that provides us the rights we have.


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