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.


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