Showing posts with label secularism. Show all posts
Showing posts with label secularism. Show all posts

Monday, May 21, 2018

How Christianity Was Spread


The history of how religions are spread are usually violent, and Christianity's spread is of no exception. Although Europe is the continent most closely associated with Christianity, much of northern Europe beyond the borders of the Roman Empire of antiquity wasn't Christianized until the Middle Ages, a full thousand years after Christianity began.

Much of that began in the 700s under the reign of Charles the Great, better known by his French name Charlemagne. His army conquered and subjugated the pagan Saxons of modern day Germany, forcing them to jettison their religion, traditions, gods, and idols, and publicly profess their belief in Christianity. Those who resisted faced stiff punishment, including death.

Looking back at history, one can say this helped unite the continent under one religion, and to an extent that is true. Religion can act as a unifying glue that holds distinct peoples together. This is one of the reasons why many bemoan the fall of Christianity in Europe, even secular people like Douglas Murray. Once the religion becomes undone, the glue that binded the continent for a millennia gives way to shifting political tribes without a single common identity that transcends language, country, and ethnicity. That's where something like secular humanism comes into the post-theistic landscape, even though I have my reservations it has the ability to replace the unifying aspects of religion.

The following documentary from a German state funded channel DW reenacts the bloody history of Christianity's spread through central Europe in the early Middle Ages. Very interesting to watch.


Saturday, March 3, 2018

Secular Humanism: What Is It, And Can It Replace Religion?


There are numerous ideas in modern social justice philosophy and tactics used to achieve its goals that are counterproductive and that are fueling a resurgence and interest in the political Right. Many people on the Left are completely unaware of this because they live firmly surrounded by the ideological bubble cocooning them from any views they might disagree with.

And so in the sea of alternatives to traditional religion, a large segment of the Left has turned to social justice in a way that resembles all the hallmarks of a traditional religion, just without the deity. This alarms many, including me, which is why in my last post I argued why we have no better alternative but to double down in our efforts to replace traditional religion with something like secular humanism. But this won't be easy, and secular humanism is fraught with problems if it is to replace religion. And that's what I'm going to explore in this post.

What is secular humanism?


First, what is secular humanism? The name gets used a lot by atheists, but what does it mean? While there are numerous definitions, I'll focus on two. From secularhumanism.org, it's a "comprehensive, nonreligious lifestance incorporating:
  • A naturalistic philosophy
  • A cosmic outlook rooted in science
  • A consequentialist ethical system"
So secular humanism commits one to a basic consequentialist ethics, according to the Council for Secular Humanism. According to Wikipedia, secular humanism is a "philosophy or life stance that embraces human reason, ethics, social justice, and philosophical naturalism while specifically rejecting religious dogma, supernaturalism, pseudoscience, and superstition as the bases of morality and decision making."

The international symbol
of secular humanism
So let's examine the definitions above. First, secular humanism is naturalistic, meaning, it's atheistic. And that means it can't be religious in any traditional way. So far so good. Second, it's rooted in science, meaning, it's a worldview with an epistemological framework "relying on methods demonstrated by science." A critic could argue that this is scientism. Scientism is the view that science alone can render truth about the world and reality. The problem with that is it's wrong. There are other ways to know truth besides science, like for example, philosophy. It's not clear from the secular humanist's site that they are saying science is the only way to truth, but it is implied. Science is certainly the most reliable way to know truth about our world, as I've written about in the past, but it isn't the only way. This is a modified view known as weak scientism. Third, strict consequentialism as a normative ethical theory is too restrictive. The best approach to ethics is the tool box approach: a combination of consequentialism, virtue ethics, and deontology. So demanding that secular humanists must abide by consequentialism is a potential problem. It can alienate people, like me, who think there is no single normative ethical framework that works perfectly in all situations.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

What Should Replace Religion In A Post Religious Society?



I just wrote a few blog posts last week about how traditional religious belief is rapidly declining in the US, particularly among the younger generations, and how in its absence "social justice" increasingly has become the new "religion" of the Left, adopting along with it many of the negative attributes one typically associates with traditional religion: dogma, tribalism, group-think, purity.

I am certainly not alone in noticing this, nor am I the only one concerned by it. I see this as a huge problem. The Right has made somewhat of a comeback in recently years with its fresh faced new internet superstars Ben Shapiro, Steven Crowder, Milo Yiannopoulos, Laura Southern, and Paul Joseph Watson, all gaining notoriety riding the growing wave of criticism of the Left's extreme PC culture and identity politics. It's quickly becoming "cool" to riff on the Left's insanity — as well as a good way to make money. Notorious critic of the Regressive Left, Dave Rubin, for example, makes over $30k a month just on Patreon donations.

I'm mostly on the Left politically (even though I'm increasingly weary of labels), but I do have to say, many of these popular critics of the modern day Left do have a point. Their criticism isn't completely unfounded. In the larger picture, it was never just religion simpliciter that was the problem, it was always the kind of thinking endemic in religion that was the main problem: the dogmatic, tribalistic thinking that puts feelings-before-facts. Religion is just a product of that kind of thinking; it's not the cause.

Here is where I will predictably tell you that we need to replace religion with critical thinking, secular humanism, and skepticism. But I'm not sure anymore that this is even possible. I'm very skeptical skepticism will prevail. That's not to say we shouldn't encourage these three things as paramount, it's just to say that achieving them as a replacement for religion may not be feasible because human nature is antithetical to them. (More on that later.) Secular humanism is also too vague an idea to unite us. What is secular humanism? That's a topic I will tackle properly in a future post, but for now, suffice it to say that it's not going to unite people as easily as traditional religion did. Not even close. And yes, I'm aware that religions divide, even from within via competing sects, but I don't see secular humanism even coming close to the unifier that any major religion ever has.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Democrats Have Doubled Down In Identity Politics


So I was at a State Of The Union address watching party on Tuesday with a bunch of friends to see what Trump would say. Before his speech a disagreement broke out among the mostly Left-leaning audience about what the Democrats need to do in 2020 to win back the White House.

Several people were explaining to me their theory that the Dems have to run a non-white woman in order to secure the presidency. No white male or even (according to some) a white woman should be the Democratic nominee. Why? Because too many white people have gone on to be the nominee!

The entire time I was pushing back: what if we just focused on getting a really good, smart, and principled candidate who is naturally charismatic regardless of their race and gender? Wouldn't that make more sense than focusing entirely on their race and gender? My ideas weren't popular. A giant portion of Left-leaning people have doubled down and gone full speed into identity politics, and I'm afraid it could be the Left's demise and give Trump a 2nd term.

A really smart, qualified, white male candidate will get no respect from many people on the Left because he's white and male, and not because of anything he's for. The furthest away you are from being a white, heterosexual, cis-gendered male the better. So if you're a woman: check. If you're non-white: check. Gay? Check. Trans? Check. Disabled? Check. This means the perfect candidate for the identity extremist Left would be a black trans-female disabled lesbian. She'd get a certain number of votes merely for meeting every requirement in the non-white male oppression checklist.

I am all for non-white male candidates being president but first and foremost they have to have good positions on the issues. I will take a true progressive like Bernie Sanders despite his white-male-hetero-cis-genderedness, over the neo-liberalism of Hillary Clinton or Cory Booker. What matters to me is always competency and principles, not whether or not you pee sitting down or don't need sun screen lotion.

It seems unlikely that large numbers of liberals will discontinue thinking that the most important aspect of a presidential candidate is their race, gender, and sexuality, and not their views. Since the election of Trump it seems to be only getting worse. I have strong reservations that this is a winning formula for presidential success, given the large backlash against identity politics. So Trump might be president until 2024.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

The Big Sick Shows The Seriousness Of Denying Islam In Traditional Culture


I watched The Big Sick recently on Amazon, a romantic comedy about a Pakistani immigrant (Kumail) who dates an American girl (Emily) who gets sick and endures awkward culture clashes between his traditional Pakistani family and his American values.

I'm not much on romantic comedies but I thought, what the heck. It was free with Prime. While watching I noticed that there are a few scenes that feature Kumail's rebellion against his family's Islamic religion. Before eating with the family in one scene he's asked to go pray in the basement and instead of doing so he watches videos and plays games on his phone.

Later on in the movie when his family confronts him over why he doesn't want to date the Pakistani women they've been inviting over he confesses that he's been dating a white woman and that he hasn't been praying. When his father asks him if he doesn't believe in Allah he explains that he doesn't know what he believes, taking basically an agnostic position. He tells them he isn't going to go along with his family's desire for an arranged marriage with a Pakistani girl and will continue persuing his relationship with Emily. They disown him as a result.

This highlights the many problems traditional religious cultures have on immigrants who get a whiff of the freedoms of the West. And leaving the family's religion is a big part of it. Kumail in real life is an atheist, and the movie is based on his real life experience meeting his wife. So we can see there's his inner atheist coming out in the film, playing the agnostic to his family, and perhaps to himself, because it's just so much easier. Or perhaps at this time in his life that the movie represents, he truly was an agnostic, not knowing if he believed in god. Agnosticsm is often the transition before atheism when coming out of religion. Nevertheless, it shows a difficult time in one's personal journey away from religion, while dealing with traditional family and culture that have little room for leniency.

I give the movie 5 stars just for that as it's not easy squeezing non-religious point of views into pop culture. If we're going to win the war of ideas in the Muslim world, it's trenches will largely be in movies, TV, and in pop culture. The front line of battle will be less in the ivy covered towers of academia, and more in the characters you watch in your favorite shows and movies.

If I were rich I'd create a film company that would be entirely dedicated to making well written, well acted, and well produced movies and documentaries on atheism, secular living, and the dramas of leaving religion in a traditional religious culture. I can only dream.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Atheists On Religion, Science, And Morality (The Point)


Way back 5 years ago I remember watching this episode of The Point hosted by science advocate Cara Santa Maria, that featured Michael Shermer and one of my favorite physicists Sean Carroll talking about atheism, secularism and secular living, morality, and culture. It's worth a watch. There's also a follow up Q and A video.




Atheist Q and A


Monday, December 11, 2017

Speaking At Long Island Atheists, Plus Nones Grow to 34%


I've been a bit more busy than usual and haven't been able to blog as frequently. I'm still working on the conference and putting together the finishing touches on a new talk I'm doing for Long Island Atheists this Friday. It'll be a precursor to my panel discussion at the conference, called Make Atheism Great Again, about how atheists can better respond to the most common arguments theists have. If you're in the Long Island New York area and want to hear an awesome PowerPoint presentation, RSVP here. We will likely go for drinks afterwards.

Speaking of making atheism greater, a recent American Family Survey has shown that the number of "nones" or people with no religious preference, which includes atheists and agnostics, has grown to 34%. Previous surveys by PEW in 2014 had shown the nones were up to 22.8% and a PRRI survey from last year showed the number of nones at 25% of the US population. (See here).

If these new numbers are correct, it would mean that the pace of secularization and decreased religiosity has been speeding up rapidly.

Courtesy of Secular Coalition for America

This is something I've been hoping would happen, which is the idea that the US would reach a tipping point where religion would give out and begin a rapid and irreversible decline, just like it has in Western Europe. I'm sure the likes of religious conservatives Roy Moore and Mike Pence have helped push this even further by exposing the insanity that happens when you take religion seriously.

The question of religion in the survey was as follows:


It reports atheists as just 5%, agnostics as 6%, and nothing in particular as 23% to get the combined 34% of no religion. Reporting the number of atheists is notoriously tricky. PEW's own surveys show how this is problematic, as they've had concurrent surveys that show it as low as 3.1% and as high as 9%. Other studies have the number of atheists at 26%.

It seems that how you ask the question matters a lot. It is still well known that many people think an atheist is someone who asserts with 100% certainty that god doesn't exist. But bare minimum atheism is simply lacking a belief in god. That's it. And that of course means many agnostics actually are atheists. This why when you ask people in surveys if they believe in god you get higher numbers of people saying no than you do asking people if they're an atheist.

But aside from semantic quibbles one thing is clear: traditional religious belief in the US is dying and the number of non-religious people might hit 50% in the next 15-20 years if these rates continue. That would truly be spectacular achievement.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Quote Of The Day: Phil Zuckerman On Why Secularism Can't Be A Scapegoat For Society's Ills


Happy Thanksgiving weekend.

The more secular a nation or state is the more peaceful, happy, and less violent it is in general. This is not to say that secularism and less religiosity cause peace, happiness, and violence to decline, I think the causation is the other way around. But the correlations between secularism and peaceful societies show that no one can say that declining religion will cause societies to collapse into violent, lawless states.

Phil Zuckerman, a sociologist at Pitzer College explains in an LA Times article from 2 years ago that the often heard scapegoating of secularism as the culprit of our nation's woes is horribly misled. (But don't expect religious conservatives to change their tune any time soon.)

Take homicide. According to the United Nations' 2011 Global Study on Homicide, of the 10 nations with the highest homicide rates, all are very religious, and many — such as Colombia, Mexico, El Salvador and Brazil — are among the most theistic nations in the world. Of the nations with the lowest homicide rates, nearly all are very secular, with seven ranking among the least theistic nations, such as Sweden, Japan, Norway and the Netherlands.

Now consider the flip side: peacefulness. According to the nonprofit organization Vision of Humanity, which publishes an annual Global Peace Index, each of the 10 safest and most peaceful nations in the world is also among the most secular, least God-believing in the world. Most of the least safe and peaceful nations, conversely, are extremely religious.

As professor Stephen Law of the University of London observed: "If a decline in religiosity were the primary cause [of social ills], then we would expect those countries that have seen the greatest decline to have the most serious problems. But that is not the case."


What about within the United States? According to the latest study from the Pew Research Center, the 10 states that report the highest levels of belief in God are Louisiana, Arkansas, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee and Oklahoma (tied with Utah). The 10 states with the lowest levels of belief in God are Maine, Vermont, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, New York, Alaska, Oregon and California. And as is the case in the rest of the world, when it comes to nearly all standard measures of societal health, including homicide rates, the least theistic states generally fare much better than the most theistic. Consider child-abuse fatality rates: Highly religious Mississippi's is twice that of highly secular New Hampshire's, and highly religious Kentucky's is four times higher than highly secular Oregon's. 

Friday, October 20, 2017

Video: Losing Our Religion


A few years ago over on the PBS News Hour they had a segment on the recent PEW results which showed a dramatic drop in the number of self-identified Christians in the US and a rise in the non-religious. It's worth a watch to hear their analysis. One interesting moment is when they touch up on whether a deeply religious country is a good thing in and of itself and something to be preserved. It'll be interesting to see what further declines will occur in the coming decade. I predict that religion has entered a steep and irreversible decline, but we'll see.



Tuesday, September 5, 2017

England's 1677 Proposed Atheism And Blasphemy Bill


There's a scene in the second episode of the excellent documentary Atheism: A Rough History of Disbelief where Johnathan Miller meets with an archivist of the House of Lords and they search through the original drafts that would eventually become the 1697 Blasphemy Act. Miller discovers a frighteningly worded draft for a proposed Atheism and Blasphemy Bill, that luckily never made it into law. It proposed that

if any person, being the age of 16 years or more not being visibly and apparently distracted and out of his wits by sickness or natural infirmity, or not a mere natural fool, void of common sense, shall, after the day whereon the Royal Assent shall be given to this Act, be word or writing deny that there is a God [or deny either of the two Natures of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, that is, His being both perfect God and perfect Man, or shall declare that he believes not in God,] ..... that person, upon complaint thereof made to any Justice of Peace, are due proof by two witnesses, shall be committed to prison, there to remain without bail or mainprise, in order to his trial, at which trial being by his peers legally convicted, he shall have no benefit of clergy, but judgment of death shall pass upon him [and execution shall follow, without pardon or reprieve, of which he is by this Act made altogether incapable]; (Bold mine)

Imagine living in a society with a law like that? This sounds very much like the blasphemy laws in modern day theocracies like Saudi Arabia. It's a good thing we in the West live in a time where we have a separation of church and state, and where we've mostly come to our senses about the victimless crime of blasphemy. See the full wording below.


To watch the full documentary go here: Atheism: A Rough History of Disbelief 
See also the Report of the Royal Commission on Historical Manuscripts

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Drive By Blogging: Atheism Grows, Church/State Violations, 10 Commandments Destroyed, & A New Public Debate


As I've mentioned in previous posts, lately I've been much busier than usual. To make things worse I'll also be travelling in Europe for the second half of July. I'm going to London, Paris, and Amsterdam. In addition to that I'm still working on several side projects, like our upcoming atheist conference, and so I really haven't been able to blog at the frequency I used to.

That being said let me do a rapid "drive by" blog post on several issues I could have been writing about but haven't had the time to.

First, there was some recent big news that the number of atheists might be much higher than previously reported, which usually was down near the 3-5% range, even though PEW has recorded the number of people who do not believe in god at 9%. A new study claims that the real number of atheists in the US may be as high as 26%. The trick, it seems, is all about the questioning. Asking someone directly on a questionnaire if they're an atheist will lead significant numbers of those who are atheists to say that they aren't out of the stigma surrounding the term. So instead, two groups were shown a bunch of innocuous statements like "I own a dog," "I enjoy modern art," and were instructed to answer if they were true. But the test group had an additional statement: "I don't believe in God." When comparing the test group with the control group that didn't have the atheist question, the researchers conclude that about 26% of Americans do not believe in god.

This number seems closer to me to the real number. I meet so many atheists that the 3-5% range seems awfully low. It's well known that many atheists are in the closet. Atheists continue to be among the most disliked group of people in the US. That's why we have to fight the stigma, so that atheists aren't ashamed to openly express who they are. The study's results, although encouraging, has its critics. Even if the real number is less than 26%, if it's only 20%, I'd still be happy with the results. The trend is headed in the right direction after all.

In other atheist news, the Czech Republic continues to be one of the most atheist countries in Europe, if not the world, with only 29% believing in god according to a recent PEW Research survey. 66% of Czechs do not believe in god. The country is however, an outlier among Eastern Europe, where large majorities profess belief in god.

I plan on updating a rebuttal to the kalam cosmological argument with new refutations....eventually.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Does Government Have A Duty To Educate Its Citizens?


Last week I attended a public debate on the proposition: It is the duty of government to educate its citizens. I was and am for the proposition, but the side arguing against the motion definitely made the better case for their point of view. It was a two-on-two debate, just like my recent debate over open source information, Thankfully, Chuck, one of the two debaters arguing against the motion, whom I know and spar with regularly, put up his opening speech on his site and what I want to do here is offer my critique of it.

Chuck begins his speech arguing that "duty" only applies to individuals:

To begin, I'd like to bring some clarity to the meaning of the proposition that we’re arguing against, which is that it's the duty of the government to educate its citizens. Regarding that proposition generally, it's important to note at the outset that the term “duty” is essentially a moral term that applies to individuals. Only in a metaphorical sense can the term be applied to the government.

With the crux of the debate over "duty" it is indeed important to say what we mean by the term. I'm skeptical of objective moral duties, but as I've written in the past, I think moral obligations and duties stem from one's self in adherence to principles, in addition to our various social contracts. But this means that it's important to identify what is the purpose of government. So what is it?

The purpose of government is to ensure the rights of its citizens are protected and defended by providing a police and military force, and a judicial system to adjudicate the law. Libertarians like Chuck would agree with that. But I think governments exist for more than that. In addition to police, military, and law, the purpose of the government is to protect its citizens against the harmful natural forces of unregulated markets. If a market is like a river, you need dams to regulate against droughts and floods that naturally happen in boom and bust cycles. A completely unregulated free market will inevitably result in increased concentrated wealth in the hands of a relatively few, and will leave millions at the bottom with little ability to climb the economic ladder. Government's purpose is to recognize that and provide the necessary regulations to prevent it. This isn't to go full on socialism. This is to allow the river to flow, but implement some common sense, rational checks and balances to ensure the river flows smoothly for the largest possible number of people. The US Constitution's preamble says one of the purposes of the US government is to "promote the general Welfare". This is to ensure the society runs smoothly.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Who Would Be The Best Cabinet Appointments For The Secular Community?


By now it's apparent that president-elect Trump's cabinet picks are horrendous.

Ben Carson for Housing and Urban Development secretary? He's the guy who just admitted he has no experience for any cabinet position. Rick Perry for Energy Secretary? He's the guy who wants to get rid of the Department of Energy, but famously couldn't remember it in debate that eventually sunk his presidential hopes. CEO Rex Tillerson for Secretary of State? The guy who's worked his entire adult life for Exxon, and who stands to make the company billions by lifting the sanctions imposed on Russia for invading the Ukraine. Betsy Devos for Secretary of Education? She's the billionaire conservative who isn't a fan of public schools. Jeff Sessions for Attorney General? He's the guy who never voted in favor LGBTQ rights, voted against the reauthorization of Violence Against Women's Act, had trouble acknowledging that secular people can make rational decisions, and opposes the Justice Department's involvement with local police shootings, the very department he would head.

Opps.


I can only hope that many of them don't get passed Congress's scrutiny and get voted down.

But that opens up another question. If the ideal president in my view were elected and could appoint anyone, who would the ideal cabinet picks be for the various positions? Who would the best HUD secretary be? The best Energy Secretary? The best Secretary of State? The best Secretary of Education? Or the best Attorney General? And all the other positions?

I'm not sure, but just about anybody would be better than the picks we have now under Trump. This nation could be going to shits if they were all to pass their nominations. I want true progressive policies that will bring the US into the 21st century. I want marijuana legalized in all 50 states. I want to end all incarceration of non-violent drug offenders. I want prison reform*, education reform, and energy reform to pivot away from fossil fuels towards the eventual goal of total renewable energy. We're definitely not getting that under Trump. I want single payer healthcare to fix our current problematic system which is a giveaway to corporations that still leaves millions uninsured. Let's hope Trump really does replace Obamacare with something "terrific," but I highly doubt it.

*I do like some of Greg Caruso's views on justice reform. He'd be on my short list for appointees to the Department of Justice.

Atheism Rises Faster Under Obama


So the conservasphere was ablaze recently on recent data from PEW that atheism grew faster under outgoing president Obama than during previous presidents. Some conservatives are attributing this fact to Obama's "hostility towards religious believers."

But that's nonsense. The rapid rise in atheism over Obama's presidency is part of a larger trend towards secularization in the Western world that, in the US, began rising in the early 1990s and began rapidly increasing during the Bush administration during the mid 2000s, coinciding the the birth of "New Atheism."

In fact, it could be plausibly argued that the rise in atheism, agnosticism, and secularism are in large part backlashes against the Religious Right's encroachment into politics and social issues beginning in the 1980s. So don't blame Obama or his policies for turning our country godless. Blame the backlash against the Religious Right, the reaction to the Catholic Priest pedophile scandal, the events of September 11th, 2001, and perhaps the internet, where the free flow criticism of religion is nearly ubiquitous.

Blame the fact that religious people consistently make utter fools of themselves on TV and on the internet which helps make religions like Christianity look like a den of stupidity.


Saturday, January 7, 2017

We Desperately Need More Secular Representation In Washington


So the newly elected 115th Congress is 90% Christian, according to recent data from PEW. Despite the fact that the US as a whole is only 70% Christian, and the unaffiliated now make up a whopping 25% of the US population. There is only one member of Congress who is openly unaffiliated, Democrat Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, from Arizona.


That means that of the 430 members of the House a whopping 0.2% are religiously unaffiliated. About 7 more we either do not know their religious affiliation or they refused to answer. They could be closeted secularists. But I have no idea. In the Senate there are no openly unaffiliated members. If the Congress was accurately represented by the population, there would be 107 members of the House who are openly unaffiliated and 25 members of the Senate. And about half of them would be openly atheist or agnostic. That would be about 66 members of Congress openly atheist or agnostic to represent the tens of millions of Americans who either question or reject a belief in god.


Wednesday, December 21, 2016

This Season Give In A Way That REALLY Matters


With the Trump cabinet shaping up to be a secular liberal's nightmare, this holiday season it's more important than ever to give the gift that really matters. And what gift is that you ask? That gift is donating money to any of the leading secular or atheist organizations that fight for our rights as atheists so that we're treated equally and free from discrimination, and that maintain the wall of separation Jefferson wrote of.

So just the other day I got out my credit card and I donated to three of the nation's leading secular organizations dedicated to keeping America secular and promoting and advancing the secular worldview. They need your money now more than ever. Secularists might be facing in the next presidential administration the toughest legal and policy battles they've ever had to fight in more than a generation.

These organizations will need money for lawyers, for outreach, for educational campaigns, and for fighting the numerous legal battles that are surely going to happen once Trump takes office on January 20th. I do my small part on my little corner of the web but the real soldiers on the front line maintaining the wall of separation are the activists in organizations like these.

So please consider donating even just a small amount of money, $10 or so, to help them fund the many challenges that the Religious Right, under Donald Trump and Mike Pence, are going to push.

This season please give the gift that really matters.




What's American Atheist's mission? From their site:

American Atheists, Inc. is a nonprofit, nonpolitical, educational organization dedicated to the complete and absolute separation of state and church, accepting the explanation of Thomas Jefferson that the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States was meant to create a "wall of separation" between state and church.



Their mission is to increase the visibility of and respect for nontheistic viewpoints in the United States, and to protect and strengthen the secular character of our government as the best guarantee of freedom for all.



You can even donate in Mike Pence's name by clicking here.


What's the FFRF's purpose? From their site:

The purposes of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc., as stated in its bylaws, are to promote the constitutional principle of separation of state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.

Friday, November 25, 2016

We Are Still A Liberal Country


November 8th was not a referendum on liberal vs conservative values. First, it's important to remember that Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by over 2 million votes and counting. Second, this election was not about the traditional social issues like same sex marriage and abortion. It was about jobs, trade, and immigration. Now yes, while it's true that building the border wall and deporting illegal immigrants is a strong conservative view, immigration is not a typical social issue in the same way that same sex marriage and abortion is.

So as a socially progressive liberal, Trump's election didn't really phase me. The American people are not turning the clock back on decades of social progress and going back to the close minded views of the past. More Americans will be moving towards liberal views on same sex marriage, abortion, marijuana legalization, and more Americans are will be becoming increasingly secular in the coming years. Our attitudes on political correctness, long associated with liberals, will probably have to be reconsidered in light of Trump's win, but that's something I personally support.

It is true that legally speaking, many policies and laws can regress back to past decades. It is possible that a Supreme Court packed with conservative justices can roll back certain progressive decisions that might effect us for decades. And that's scary. We might see creationism back in the schools, the 10 commandments back on public court houses, and Roe v Wade struck down. So there will be no doubt many epic legal challenges over the next 4 years due to Trump's win and my friends and I are already talking strategy about what we may need to do. This is a time for action. Let's hope Trump's win unites atheists, secularists, and liberals like never before. It's time now to set aside minor disagreements and to focus on the big battles up ahead.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Why Trump Won


It was the unthinkable. His candidacy was the butt of many jokes. No one took him seriously at first except for a handful of people. And then his popularity soared to number one, and he began winning primary after primary, but they said he would never win the nomination. And then he won the Republican nomination. And then they said he would never win the presidency.

And now he has just won that.


The critics had been wrong over and over again this election. Including me of course, but I was just going by the projections, and they failed miserably. This is a year when the things that they said couldn't happen, happened. And so early next year we will have President Trump in the White House. It doesn't sound right. It is only now, a full day after he won, just starting to sink in.

So now what? First, how did this happen? In short, the Democratic establishment pushed a corporate friendly centrist who took large amounts of money from banks, who praised free trade like NAFTA and the TPP, and who chose another corporate friendly centrist who loved the TPP as her running mate. Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine were the epitomes of the establishment wing in the Democratic Party who lost touch with working class voters. And so in those critical rust belt states of Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, Donald Trump's promises to renegotiate NAFTA, pull out of the TPP negotiations, close the border and bring manufacturing jobs back into the US appealed to voters in a way that Hillary Clinton couldn't. And so working class white voters — hundreds of thousands of them who voted for Obama in 2008 and 2012, took a gamble and voted for Trump this time. And that was enough for him to carry those states. That defeated Hillary.

That's the main reason why Hillary lost. The Democrats became too detached with working class voters, particularly white ones, while Trump appealed to them with his promises. This is why I think Bernie Sanders should have been the Democratic nominee. He appealed to white working class voters more than Clinton and he would have likely won those four critical battle ground states in the general election.

Second, I don't know what this means for secular liberal atheists like myself. Certainly it means we're going to have challenges that we wouldn't have had under Clinton. Mike Pence is a super religious conservative who seems hell bent to push through his conservative religious ideology into law. And with Republicans controlling the House and the Senate, and with Trump appointing at least one conservative Supreme Court Justice, things will be tough. I also fear the death of intellectualism in politics, where having a detailed understanding of policy gives way to cult of personality and simple minded catch phrases, and that this becomes the winning formula from now on. That scares me deeply.

We will have to see what happens. Get ready for the greatest reality show on earth.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

An Atheist Reviews The Last Superstition: A Refutation Of The New Atheism (Chapter 5 Decent of the Modernists - Part 2: Inventing the mind-body problem)


iconInventing the mind-body problem

In this section of chapter 5 Feser begins by targeting the philosopher who seems to be his public enemy number one: Rene Descartes. It was he who rejected the Aristotelian account in favor of the "mechanistic philosophy" that we still know of today that rejects formal and final causes. But doing this inevitably results in an apparent "disaster": the complete undermining of the possibility both of moral evaluation and of reason itself. (186) Before getting there, Feser here summarizes the mechanistic view of the world for the most part accurately and notes the differences between primary and secondary qualities.

Primary qualities include solidity, extension, figure, motion, number and the like, and in particular any quality that can be mathematically quantified and which does not vary in any way from observer to observer. Secondary qualities include colors, sounds, tastes, odors, and so forth, and an object's having them amounts to nothing more than a tendency to cause us to have certain sensations. (189)

I would add that things like solidity wouldn't technically be a primary quality since solidity is nowhere to be found fundamentally, but is an emergent property of matter at higher levels. But this is not really relevant here. What is relevant is whether the secondary qualities exist in the objective world or they exist only in the mind of observers. On the "mechanistic" view the answer is no, Feser explains, and so a soul must exist that is separate from the physical body that interacts with it like a "ghost in the machine." But without this, the materialist seems to have a problem. How does the materialist explain qualia, the conscious experiences that determines what it's like to have it? A few examples would be in the experience of seeing red versus seeing green, of tasting coffee versus tasting cheese, or of feeling warm versus feeling cold. They're all different sensations, and yet "one cluster of neurons firing seems qualitatively pretty much like any other, and certainly very different from these sensations [such that] it is hard to see how any sensation could be reduced to or explained in terms of nothing but the firing of neurons." (191)

Yes it is hard, but not impossible. Here we still have the genuine mystery of qualia. Since the human brain is the most complex thing in the known universe, it's going to take a bit longer to unravel its mysteries than many other things. One underlying assumption in Feser's above understanding is that the neurons in the brain fire the same way when you see the color red versus seeing the color green. But why should we think that's true? Different neurons fire when we see different wavelengths of light.

Cells in the retina called "opponent neurons" fire when stimulated by incoming red light, and this flurry of activity tells the brain we're looking at something red. Those same opponent neurons are inhibited by green light, and the absence of activity tells the brain we're seeing green. Similarly, yellow light excites another set of opponent neurons, but blue light damps them. While most colors induce a mixture of effects in both sets of neurons, which our brains can decode to identify the component parts, red light exactly cancels the effect of green light (and yellow exactly cancels blue), so we can never perceive those colors coming from the same place.

So different physical processes are at work when we see different colors. The experience of seeing red is just another way of talking about the physical brain undergoing the electrochemical signals travelling through it when the retina received the wavelength of red and certain neurons fire. It's similar to talking about an object as solid even though fundamentally it's just made up of empty space and quantum fields. We still don't know exactly how the physical brain gives rise to qualia but I have no reason to think there is anything non-physical involved that is causal.* I'm open to the mind possibly having a non-physical ontology that is epiphenomenal in nature, meaning, it's an emergent property of physical brains that's causally impotent. But any notion of an immaterial mind having a physical force on matter (like the kind Feser claims, see my review of chapter 4) is unambiguously ruled out by science. Not only do we fully understand all the laws of physics that govern the everyday realm which includes the brain (and therefore anything having to deal with consciousness) and which leaves no room for a mind force to causally effect atoms, but all of neuroscience has repeatedly shown unconscious brain activity precedes conscious awareness, exactly what we'd expect on materialism.**

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Number Of Religiously Unaffiliated "Nones" In US Rises to 25%


I have good news to report from the trenches of the secular front on the ongoing secularization of the US. The number of religiously unaffiliated "nones" has risen to 25% of the US population according to a recent PPRI survey, up from the 22.8% reported in the 2014 Pew Religious Landscape survey.


From the report:

In 1991, only six percent of Americans identified their religious affiliation as “none,” and that number had not moved much since the early 1970s. By the end of the 1990s, 14% of the public claimed no religious affiliation. The rate of religious change accelerated further during the late 2000s and early 2010s, reaching 20% by 2012. Today, one-quarter (25%) of Americans claim no formal religious identity, making this group the single largest “religious group” in the U.S.

More young adults are unaffiliated than in the past too. While it is no surprise that younger people tend to be less religious, the percentage of young adults who are less religious is increasing over time. Thirty years ago in 1986, only 10% of 18-29 year olds were religiously unaffiliated. That doubled to 20% in 1996, and has nearly doubled since then to 39%. Interestingly, there are more seniors 65+ who are religiously unaffiliated today than there were 18-29 year olds back in 1986.

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