Sunday, July 31, 2016

Atheist Intersectionality: The Many Hats We Wear


I was just recently thinking about atheist intersectionality: how atheism intersects with my gender, race, place of origins, my politics, ethics, economic philosophy, and views on sexuality. Additionally, the question of whether my atheism should affect my views on these things is an open question. I was inspired by intersectional feminism, which a lot of people, mostly feminists, like talk about. The idea of applying intersectionality itself to other things is a wonderful philosophical venture and one I want to explore here.

We all 'wear many hats' so to speak, and some of these hats are more important to us than others for various reasons. Atheism is very important to me in how I identify myself overall, but depending on the situation, other hats I wear are more important. I want to explore the relationships between these various identities I have with atheism. So let me start by listing some of the many hats I wear as part of my identity. In no particular order:


Atheist: I am an atheist in that I do not believe any gods exist. An atheist is someone who lacks a belief in any gods existing. This is what I like to call bare minimum atheism. It is the minimum requirement for one to properly be called an atheist as I define it. One can go further and declare they know god doesn't exist, but it isn't necessary. I've been an atheist or agnostic all of my life, and I wear the identity proudly, although I'm not always wearing it on my sleeve. You could technically classify me as a moderate atheist on this scale.

Anti-theist: Not only am I an atheist, I go a step further and say I'm an anti-theist. An anti-theist is an atheist who opposes religious belief. Not all atheists are anti-theists. Most atheists are more or less indifferent to religion. I was inspired by the New Atheism movement to oppose religious belief and dedicate myself to decreasing religiosity in the world and increasing secularism and atheism. It is an extremely important motivating factor in my life.

Determinist: I am a determinist in the sense that I reject the notion of libertarian free will and I think that everything in the universe that happens is inevitable given the initial conditions in the big bang. In this view if you were to rewind the universe back to the big bang and play it again, you'd get the same exact results and events every time you did so, ad infinitum. This you can say is part of my metaphysical worldview.

Epiphenominalist: I am an epiphenominalist in that I think whatever the mind is, it is ultimately caused or explained by something going on in the brain. Understanding the brain will most likely unlock the mystery of consciousness, although it is certainly possible a full understanding of the brain will not resolve the hard problem of consciousness. As an epiphenominalist, I reject substance dualism in the sense of dualistic interactionism.

Eternalist: I am an eternalist whose ontology includes all moments of time existing at different areas of spacetime. In this metaphysical worldview the universe is basically a block that is composed of all of spacetime laid out.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Guest Post: Dr. Karen Garst On Women Beyond Belief


Today I have a guest post by Dr. Karen Garst, author of the forthcoming book Women Beyond Belief: Discovering Life without Religion:

“I proceeded with my confirmation, and a few weeks later, my cousin passed away. How could god do this? How could god take a wonderful, fun, free-spirited fifteen-year-old and make her go through a horribly painful journey toward death? How could he have not heard the prayers? Seen the recovery Masses? Received the healing thoughts and the good vibes? Everyone said god had dropped an angel on this earth and was claiming her back—as if it were a blessing. As ridiculous as it sounds now, it was what people spoke about every time her death came up in a conversation. In those few months I went from believer, to doubter, to hater. The summer of 1998 was the last time I believed in the anthropomorphized concept of the Catholic god. The handsome white, blond, bearded man with a heart on fire in a white, red, and green gown could no longer shield me from reality.”                    
—Mathilde Reyes


Mathilde Reyes grew up Catholic in Peru. She is one of 22 authors who wrote an essay about her journey away from religion.

Karen L. Garst has compiled these essays into a book entitled “Women Beyond Belief: Discovering Life without Religion,” which can be pre-ordered on Amazon. Dr. Garst became incensed when the U. S. Supreme Court issued its decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby in 2014. This decision said that because of its religious views, Hobby Lobby, a craft store, would not be obligated to follow the dictates of the Affordable Care Act and provide certain forms of birth control to its employees. “Will we never end the fight for women’s reproductive rights?” Garst stated. Once again, religion has influenced the laws of our land. Politicians cite their religion in supporting restrictions on abortion, banning funding for Planned Parenthood, and a host of other issues that are against women.

The first leaders of the New Atheism movement that arose after 9/11 were men: Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, and Daniel Dennett. They came with backgrounds of science and philosophy. They launched a renewed effort to show people how destructive religion can be and how all Abrahamic religions are based upon an Iron Age mythology, borrowing from other mythologies of the time.

Dr. Garst wants to add a focus on women and the role this mythology has played in the culture of many countries to denigrate and subordinate women. She states that “Religion is the last cultural barrier to gender equality.” And she is right. More and more women atheists are speaking out. And as we all know, if women leave the churches, they will collapse.

She has received support with reviews by Richard Dawkins, Valerie Tarico, Peter Boghossian, Sikivu Hutchinson and other atheist authors.


I encourage you to check out Dr. Garst’s blog at www.faithlessfeminist.com and to pre-order this excellent book.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Quote Of The Day: Mike D On Thomism's Fuzzy Ambiguous God Concept


Today's quote of the day comes from blogger Mike D over at the aunicornist.com replying to blogger Steven Jake on how the god of Thomism is as vague as can be. The god of Thomism to me is incoherent. I can't make sense of its properties. I wrote about this in my critique of Edward Feser's book and Steven Jake responded saying "the doctrine of analogy is precisely predicated on the fact that we don’t know 'how [G]od really is,'" and "an analogous attribution itself necessitates a vague (though not necessarily so mysterious) application—again, that’s what an analogy is." I critiqued that in my response to his criticism of me, but I think Mike D takes the cake is his comment below, which I think mashes Jake's view to a pulp.

It is trivially true that we don't necessarily have to know how the causal entity could work; it doesn't have to be a rigorously established theory, for example. But in the case of the God-concept, you aren't even able to articulate a hypothesis of God's causal mechanisms, precisely because you aren't able to articulate a concept of God in unequivocal terms. It's not simply a matter of God's causal mechanisms being "not clear", but rather a fundamental problem with the confused and ambiguous semantics underpinning the God-concept itself. You have no prayer (excuse the pun) of even theoretically explaining how God can causally interact with the universe or even do anything at all because you can't state in unambiguous, unequivocal terms what God even is in the first place.
What you're stuck with, as a theist, is an unexplainable, unobservable entity whose actions can neither be coherently described nor predicted that nonetheless has causal influence over and/or within the observable universe. That is exactly what magical thinking is: "the attribution of causal or synchronistic relationships between actions and events which seemingly cannot be justified by reason and observation." [Wiki] 
In other words, you've posited an entity whose properties are so ambiguous that no argument or observation could ever be used to falsify a claim that X effect was caused by the entity. You've posited a being that always explains everything, and therefore explains nothing.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Both Mainstream Political Options Totally Suck


And now for some political rants....

So this week we learned who the republican and democratic vice presidents are going to be. Donald Trump has picked Indiana governor Mike Pence as his running mate, and Hillary Clinton picked Virginia senator Tim Kaine as her running mate.

A few thoughts.

First, Mike Pence is a very socially conservative tea party favorite who denies climate change, evolution, and was even against the medical consensus that smoking causes cancer. He's about as bad as Ted Cruz is on religion and socially conservative issues. Earlier this year he signed a bill in Indiana that would have made it mandatory that aborted and miscarried fetuses be given a funeral and are either cremated or buried. Luckily it didn't pass. He supported a law that would have allowed businesses to discriminate against gays and lesbians due to religiously held beliefs, called the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Then when it became controversial he backtracked on it. But still, you can see where his heart is. Pence is a deeply religious social conservative, and as a secular liberal that scares me. Combine this with Trump's arrogant disregard for facts and strong arm bully tactics, this could be a very frightening combination that I do not want to get near the White House. Trump will almost certainly appoint Supreme Court justices that want to restrict abortion rights, violate the establishment clause, and support "religious freedom" bills.

On the democratic side, things are no better. Senator Kaine is everything Bernie supporting progressives like me were fearful of. He's another boring, status-quo establishment politician, with a track record way too favorable to the donor class. He supported giving president Obama the ability to fast track the TPP (trans-pacific partnership trade agreement) which would, among other things, make it easier for corporations to sue the US government for profit losses due to environmental standards. The Clinton campaign has said he would officially come out against the TPP, but he has reportedly praised the TPP as recently as Thursday, making his opposition to it about as sincere as Clinton's is, which is to say he's full of shit. He signed a repeal of the estate tax in Virginia, something conservatives have been vying for. He has also supported bank deregulations. In all, he's a corporate friendly centrist democrat, far from the progressive that many of us had hoped for.

So where does that leave me? I'm in a fix here. I'm not excited about either ticket. They both suck to be honest. I've been thinking that I should vote for the lesser of two evils but I'm being pulled in the direction of voting on principle. There is the Green Party alternative Jill Stein who basically has the same platform as Bernie Sanders. Many Sanders supporters I know will be voting for her. It is hard to see myself voting for Clinton that serves as a vote against Trump. I've even heard a liberal friend of mine say Trump will be better for the country than Clinton. I'm skeptical about that, but it's possible. I'm going to have to wait until November to make my decision.

The interesting thing is that this year, unlike any other election year we've had in recent history, the republican party's platform is to the left of the democratic party's platform on trade and some economic issues. Perhaps what the democrats need is to get their asses handed to them in the general election so that the party realizes establishment candidates like Clinton and Kaine who aren't real populists aren't what the American people want. This will be an interesting general election.


Friday, July 22, 2016

Religiously Unaffiliated More Likely To Support Same Sex Marriage And Legal Abortion


It's no surprise that belief in god has consequences in how you vote and what views you hold. Given how the religiously unaffiliated are now the single largest voting block in the US, as well as the fastest growing, this will steer the country in a more liberal direction on social issues in the future. We're even beginning to see that as some Republicans are starting to soften up to issues like homosexuality for example. As a social liberal, I can only see this as good. Here is some of the poll data courtesy of PEW regarding the views of the unaffiliated.

The religiously unaffiliated vote overwhelmingly democratic:


They are much more likely to think abortion should be legal and favor same sex marriage than the religiously affiliated and general public:

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

America Is A Christian Nation?


I came across this video from a YouTube channel called Counter Arguments. There are some really nice videos on that channel, well produced and edited, and I agree with almost everything I've seen so far. Here is one video on the counter argument to the claim "America is a Christian nation." Please check out his videos and YouTube channel.




EXTRA: Here's another one on the nonsense spewed out by professional Islamic obscurantist Reza Aslan.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

A Nation Ruled By Science Wouldn't Be A Terrible Idea, If Done Right


Recently there were several articles criticizing a tweet by famed astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson about an idea for a virtual country called Rationalia with a single line constitution that all policy should be based on the weight of evidence:


For an evidentialist like me who thinks the justification of a conclusion depends solely on the evidence for it, this seems like a good idea. Who wouldn't want to live in a society where policy is based on evidence? Well, lot's of people apparently. Now mind you, Twitter has a 140 character limitation, and offers little room for nuance. So the details of Tyson's idea aren't able to be hashed out on such a platform. But for someone who just wrong a lengthy blog post about how we should infer ontology and who actively supports applying scientific thinking to society's problems, I can offer some insights and a critique on how such a country could in theory work, and in the process shut down many of the strawmen arguments made about such a view.

Over at New Scientist Jeffrey Guhin makes several mistakes in his critique of Tyson in an article called, A rational nation ruled by science would be a terrible idea. First he immediately calls Tyson's idea "scientism." 

“Scientism” is the belief that all we need to solve the world’s problems is – you guessed it – science. People sometimes use the phrase “rational thinking”, but it amounts to the same thing. If only people would drop religion and all their other prejudices, we could use logic to fix everything.

Now it is true that Tyson has been accused of scientism in the past, so I cannot defend Tyson on this, as I myself reject it in its strong form. But, there are two different kinds of scientism, strong and weak. Here are the differences:

Strong scientism: the view that science alone can render truth about the world and reality
Weak scientism: the view that science is the most reliable method to render truth about the world and reality, but one among many methods that can render truth.

There are various definitions of strong and weak scientism, and no necessary agreement on them among philosophers and scientists, but that's how I define them. Given weak scientism, no one is forced to think science is the sole way to solve the world's problems or the only thing that can count as "evidence." And with that, this critique disappears.

Next Guhin moves onto flaws in science itself. Scientists have irrational biases he says, and this could lead them to mislead us. Sure, we all have cognitive biases, and scientists are not in any way immune to this defect. But the scientific method takes into consideration these inherent cognitive biases and employs methods like double blind peer review to correct for them. In a society like Rationalia which emphasizes scientific thinking, presumably any problems that exist in science, like a lack of funding, or issues with the peer review process, will have special dedications reserved for fixing them. Why would we assume that the problems that exist in science today in societies that do not privilege scientific research and its findings to determine policy would persist in a society that does? In Rationalia scientific funding would take precedent over many other forms of funding, like the insane corporate welfare and military industrial complexes we have in the modern US.

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