Saturday, March 28, 2015

Some Religious Believers Are Scared For Their Religious Freedom


Many religious conservatives in the US are publicly afraid of the loss of their religious liberty. They see the possibility of their religious identity and expression truly becoming illegal and extinct. These concerns are echoed widely among prominent members of the religious right. Conservative pastor Rick Warren said religious liberty is the civil rights issue of our day, 2016 presidential hopeful Ted Cruz thinks the government is waging an "assault" on religious liberty, and Louisiana governor and Christian convert Bobby Jindal says religious liberty is at stake due to increasing secularism.

There is no doubt about it. The US is becoming more secular and less religious. As it has been widely reported, the recent 2014 GSS survey shows that 21% of Americans claim no religious affiliation and are categorized as the "nones". As many as 7.5 million people may have left religion just since 2012. This is an increase of the nones of about 2 percent since 2012. Many religious conservatives are disturbed by these trends and scared that this increasing secularization is fueling a hostile attitude towards religious expression and some actually fear the government is attempting to make religious expression, or being religious, illegal.

Is there any truth to their claims? What would I do if I were in control of the law?

First, for far too long the religious zealots have been violating the separation of church and state, by enacting laws that teach creationism in schools, preaching politics from the pulpit while remaining tax exempt, displaying the 10 commandments on government property, trying to enforce religious morality onto non-believers, and many, many others. When these violations get challenged, religionists often react as if their religious liberty is being infringed. But right-wing paranoia is almost always fueled by ignorance and rarely turns out to have a strong factual basis. There are no attempts by the government to make religious expression illegal. There are attempts to make sure the the Establishment Clause in the First Amendment is respected. Secularists like myself do not want to take anyone's religious freedom away, we want to make sure it stays out of government - where it doesn't belong, and we don't want people to be able to use "religious liberty" as an excuse to discriminate.

To be a true secularists who holds to the basic separation of church and state principle means that you do not suppress the free expression of religious beliefs. But, if those religious beliefs violate basic civil rights of equality, then in my opinion, civil rights trump religious expression. That means you should not be allowed to discriminate against someone's race, religion - or lack thereof, gender, national origin, or sexual orientation on grounds that your religion requires you to do so in all government facilities and institutions, as well as in private businesses that cater to the general public. When the Civil Rights Act was passed in 1964, it outlawed racial discrimination in "public accommodations" like hotels, motels, restaurants, and theaters. Many segregationists strongly objected to the idea of government forcing private business owners to serve black people equally. But if this stipulation was not there, most of the white-owned private businesses in the South would have continued their discrimination against black people, and in effect, we would have still had segregation, perhaps even to this day. I see the discrimination perpetrated in the name of religion the same way.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Learn Philosophy


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Introduction to Philosophy - from Ancient Greece to Today:




Ethics: An Overview:














Philosophy of religion: spirituality despite politics:



Thursday, March 19, 2015

Does The Fine Tuning Argument Make God Responsible For Natural Evil?


I just had a idea. I was thinking about the fine tuning argument which tends to be fairly popular among internet apologists and whether or not that causes problems for the problem of suffering. Natural evil is an evil for which "no non-divine agent can be held morally responsible for its occurrence." Floods, hurricanes, earthquakes, forest fires, droughts, meteor impacts, and diseases that cause sentient beings to suffer or die and for which no human being is responsible are examples of natural evil.

Classical theists have acknowledged that the problem of natural evil is a big one, and have tried to come up with many solutions, or theodocies, in trying to explain why an infinitely good deity would allow them. But the question I want to ask here, is whether god merely "allows" such evils or is the ultimate cause of them. Some theists maintain this claim that god allows these evils, but doesn't cause them. And some theists for example, claim that god has nothing to do with natural evil, and that they are caused by agents other than god, like demons.

I think there is a possible contradiction between theists who take these views on natural evil, and who hold to the fine tuning argument. Basically, if god fine tuned the universe, how is he not also responsible for all the natural evil in it? In other words, how is this:


A1. The fine tuning of the universe is either due to physical necessity, chance or design.
A2. Fine tuning is not due to either physical necessity or chance.
A3. Therefore, it is due to design.

Compatible with this, such that god isn't responsible for natural evil?:

B1. God (an omnipotent, omniscience, omni-benevolent being) exists.
B2. Natural evil exists.
B3. God is the creator and designer of the physical universe, including the laws that govern it.
B4. Natural disasters, and the evil they cause, are a direct byproduct of the laws that govern our universe.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Why Thomas Paine's Common Sense Is Important: Chris Hedges & Cornel West...

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Is·lam·o·pho·bi·a — Some Thoughts


I felt like I'm long over due for a blog post about Islamophobia. It's is nooo secret on this blog that I am deeply critical of Islam. I think that Islam is the most dangerous religion in the world today and the greatest religious threat to liberalism and Western Values. This can be thought of two different ways. The first way is that I think the ideology and morality within Islam is more violent than most religions. As far as I can tell, only the Old Testament rivals the Koran in brutality. The second is that I think Muslims today are committing more violence in the name of their religion than any other religion's adherents. And I think this is due, in large part, because the principles of Islam are more violent than most other religions.

When you compare Islam and Christianity for example, when you put the two of them side by side and compare their moral values, I will be totally honest with you, I think Christianity starts looking pretty damn good compared to Islam. (And anyone who knows me or who's read this blog knows I'm not at all a Christian sympathizer). Just about everything bad that Christianity has, Islam also has, and then Islam just adds more bad shit on top of that. And it is in no way "Islamophobic" or "racist" to say say this, or point it out.

It has become a thing now to label all people critical of Islam Islamophobic, or even racist. The racist accusation is obviously nonsense. Islam is a religion and a religion is not a race. There are Muslims of every color around the world. The Islamophobic accusation though, has a racist implication to it. There is, it seems, an implicit assumption that "Islamophobic" can mean the same thing as anti-Asian, or anti-Middle Eastern, or even anti-Muslim. These are often conflated, but they are not the same.

Let's look at a few definitions of Islamophobia. Wikipedia says, "Anti-Islamic sentiment or Islamophobia is a term for prejudice against, hatred towards, or fear of the religion of Islam, Muslims, or of ethnic groups perceived to be Muslim." According to UC Berkely's Center for Race & Gender, a 1991 Runnymede Trust Report defined Islamophobia as "unfounded hostility towards Muslims, and therefore fear or dislike of all or most Muslims." These are two interesting definitions. Wiki's definition focuses more on the religion of Islam, and CR&G's definition focuses more on the followers of Islam. Therein lies an important distinction. Now, I'm not going to fuss over definitions here — that's not the point. The points I want to focus on regard the problems I see with the term Islamophobia and its usage.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Where Do I Put The Punctuation When Quoting?


One of the trickiest things about writing, at least in the English language, is where to put punctuation when quoting. In American English we are generally supposed to put punctuation inside of quotes, as in "this." In British English, they are generally supposed to put punctuation outside of quotes, as in "this". This makes reading awfully confusing, because you can't always tell what you're reading is British or American English in origin. And it seems as if the rules regarding punctuation can go either which way.

I will admit to having used both ways with no apparent logic behind why I do it one particular way. I generally prefer the British way when quoting and keeping the punctuation outside. But there are times when I think the American way is better. I'm no English major, or expert of any kind on the proper rules of grammar, but here's the logic of when I think the British way is better and when I think the American way is better. (And I have no idea whether this is already a thing.)

Let's take a block of text to use as our example.

For most educated, thinking people, how we go about forming beliefs may seem rather straightforward. We carefully, logically evaluate evidence for and against a particular claim, and if the evidence outweighs counterexplanations, we believe the claim to be true. If only it were that simple. Though philosophers and scientists present logical evaluation of evidence as an ideal for forming beliefs, in practice, most beliefs we hold—even those of philosophers and scientists—arise through less transparent means. (Barrett, 2004)*

With this as our subject matter, suppose I wanted to end this sentence with a quote on Barrett's subject matter and mention it was relevant to "most educated, thinking people". I would put the period on the outside of the quote because the actual quote doesn't have one and I used it to end the sentence. But now suppose in mid sentence I wanted to quote the author's thoughts on the thinking process of "most educated, thinking people," and then end my sentence. I would put the punctuation inside the quote because the original had it and the sentence needed it where it was.

Likewise, if I was ending a sentence with a quote that was from the end of a sentence, I'd put the punctuation on the inside of the quotes, as in:
Barrett thinks forming beliefs "arise through less transparent means." 
Sometimes the period can be replaced with a comma, as in:
"If only it were that simple," Barrett says. 
And also, if I was using a quote to form a sentence where I give it a question mark, as in:
Is it true that Barrett's ideas about how we form beliefs are "rather straightforward"? 
I'd put the punctuation on the outside of the quotes. To me this makes sense. And though it may seem in my writing that I'm switching between British and American grammar rules, this is the methodology that I've recently been applying.

So if a quote has the punctuation that would be the same as the sentence needs, then I keep the punctuation inside the quote. If it doesn't, then I keep the punctuation outside the quote. To me this seems logical. Any thoughts?



*Barrett, Justin L. (2004) Why Would Anyone Believe in God? Lanham: Alta Mira Press

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Hyperactive Agency Detection — A Just-So Story?


The hyperactive agency detection (HAAD), or hyperactive agent-detection device (HADD), is the most widely accepted explanation for religious belief in biology, psychology and sociology. It offers us a naturalistic explanation of the origin of beliefs which form the basis of every religion. Because of this, you can expect that many religious believers are skeptical of its claims. Some of them claim that this is a "just-so" story, part of "atheist mythology." The irony of religionists making this claim, when their religious beliefs are often backed up on the mere testimony of religious texts, which are chalk full of just-so stories, is stupendous. A just-so story is "an unverifiable and unfalsifiable narrative explanation for a cultural practice, a biological trait, or behavior of humans or other animals." Is the HADD hypothesis unverifiable and unfalsifiable? It must be both in order to meet the criterion of a just-so story. Here I want to list some of the evidence supporting the HADD hypothesis and support the view that it is a valid scientific explanation.

In their 2008 paper The evolution of superstitious and superstition-like behaviour, Harvard biologist Kevin R. Foster and Helsinki biologist Hanna Kokko test for the origin of superstitious behavors through an incorrect assignment of cause and effect, where they "conclude that behaviours which are, or appear, superstitious are an inevitable feature of adaptive behaviour in all organisms, including ourselves."

This is experimental evidence for what Michael Shermer termed patternicity, or the tendency to find meaningful patterns in both meaningful and meaningless noise. He writes:

Unfortunately, we did not evolve a baloney-detection network in the brain to distinguish between true and false patterns. We have no error detecting governor to modulate the pattern-recognition engine. The reason has to do with the relative costs of making Type I and Type II errors in cognition, which I describe in the following formula:

P = C(TI) < C(TII) Patternicity (P) will occur whenever the cost (C) of making a Type I error (TI) is less than the cost (C) of making a Type II error (TII). 

The problem is that assessing the difference between a Type I and Type II error is highly problematic—especially in the split-second timing that often determines the difference between life and death in our ancestral environments—so the default position is to assume that all patterns are real; that is, assume that all rustles in the grass are dangerous predators and not the wind.

This is the basis for the evolution of all forms of patternicity, including superstition and magical thinking. There was a natural selection for the cognitive process of assuming that all patterns are real and that all patternicities represent real and important phenomena. We are the descendants of of the primates who most successfully employed patternicity. The Believing Brain (60)

A Type I error is a false positive, and is "believing something is real when it is not." A Type II error is a false negative, and is "believing something is not real when it is." For a short explanation of how this affected our hominid ancestors, see here.

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