Friday, December 22, 2017

Why Ben Shapiro Is Totally Ignorant On Atheism


I've been meaning to refute Ben Shapiro for months now and just haven't gotten around to it. I've only heard of him from within the past year but I've since learned he's been making ignorant utterances publicly for more than a decade.

Ben is an orthodox practicing Jew, and a pretty conservative one at that. He defends religion and belief in god quite often, usually while he's attacking atheism, and when he does so he can always be counted on to make a fool of himself.

Way back in 2008 he wrote a peice for TownHall.com entitled Why Atheism Is Morally Bankrupt where he made several predictable and already refuted absurd arguments that claim god is needed for morality and free will and for society to function:

Theres only one problem: without God, there can be no moral choice. Without God, there is no capacity for free will.*

This is based on the fallacy that souls can give us free will. Whether or not we have a soul is irrelevant to whether we have free will, and that's because the concept of libertarian free will (which is what Ben really means when he says free will) is completely incoherent. This has not trickled down into the masses yet, even though almost 90% of philosophers know this.

Thats because a Godless world is a soulless world. Virtually all faiths hold that God endows human beings with the unique ability to choose their actions -- the ability to transcend biology and environment in order to do good. Transcending biology and our environment requires a higher power -- a spark of the supernatural.

But where does your soul inherit its traits? Don't souls bare some resemblance to your parent's souls? If not, what gives your soul its apparently unique characteristics if they aren't inherited from biology at all? Are people born with a soul that is a particular way? If so, then how do you transcend the tendencies of the soul you had no choice to receive? It's the same problem Ben thinks the body has with biology: if we inherit our biology without a choice and can only transcend it with a soul, then if we inherit our soul without a choice how can we transcend that? The answer can't be free will, because clearly our souls don't have all the same capabilities.

Gilbert Pyle, the atheistic philosopher, derogatorily labeled the idea of soul/body dualism, the ghost in the machine. Nonetheless, our entire legal and moral system is based on the ghost in the machine -- the presupposition that we can choose to do otherwise. We can only condemn or praise individuals if they are responsible for their actions. We dont jail squirrels for garden theft or dogs for assaulting cats -- they arent responsible for their actions. But we routinely lock up kleptomaniacs and violent felons.

The Cartesian style dualism commonly referred to as a ghost in the machine prejortively, makes scientific claims that have absolutely no basis in science. In fact, this is one of those things science has unambiguously refuted. (See here too) And you can't say free will is true or that we have a soul because our legal system is based on it. The legal system assumes free will is true and can easily operate under false assumptions. That's one of the reasons why it's so bad. Legal responsibility on no free will is more complex and nuanced. It's generally based on a quarantine model for those who are dangerous and deterrance against future law breakers with an emphasis on reform instead of punishment in prison. No libertarian free will is required for that.

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 18, 2017

Eternalism Is Not The Steady State Theory


One way I can quickly tell someone isn't educated on cosmology and physics is when they confuse eternalism with the steady state theory. When most people hear "eternalism" they think it means the universe has an infinite number of past events. They mistakingly conflate the "eternal" in eternalism with meaning infinite past. And since we know our universe doesn't have an infinite past because of the big bang theory, they'll say eternalism must therefore be false.

Case closed.

But this of course only exposes one's ignorance, because anyone who knows better knows that eternalism is a completely different model than the steady state theory. I recently had a debate with a theist who made his ignorance on the subject matter abundantly clear, and it left him thinking he was correct on cosmology and that I knew nothing about science.

So let's define a few things to make it clear what eternalism is and isn't to show that it is not the steady state theory.



The steady state theory was a view that dominated physics before the discovery of the big bang and Einstein's general relativity. According to this view the universe is in the same exact (more or less) state that it currently exists in for an infinite amount of time in the past, and will continue the exist the same way into the infinite future. If we rewound the universe back any arbitrary amount of time, say, a billion years, a trillion years, a googol years, it would look more or less the same with galaxies, stars and planets. And if we fast forwarded the same amount of time we'd see a universe that looks more or less like it does now with galaxies, stars, and planets. During that time stars would die and new ones would continue to form, and whole galaxies may go in and out of existence, but overall at the largest scales the universe would look the same as it does now into the infinite past and future. There would be no overall change to the universe at the largest scale and entropy would stay the same at all times.

Einstein famously was a steady state theorist, as were most physicists in the early 20th century, until a Belgian Monk and physicist George Lemaitre took Einstein's theory of general relativity to it's logical conclusion and showed that the universe must be either expanding or contracting. A few years after that Edwin Hubble discovered the red shifting of all the other galaxies indicating the universe was indeed exapanding. Einstein abandoned the steady state view.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

The Rules Of Engagement: Sex And Dating In The 21st Century


OK - let's have a frank discussion on sex and dating in the 21st century. I think the time's about right.

The recent sexual harassment scandals in the media — if anything — should force us to have a discussion on what are the proper rules of engagement in the dating and sexual arenas, as well as in our regular everyday encounters.

As Bernie Sanders tweeted:


So let's go there. I will write this of course from a male perspective because it's the only way I can, and I will voice some of the concerns I have as a male on the current problems we're facing. And one of those problems is the gray area.

The Gray Area



If a man abducts a woman on the street and forces intercourse on her, this no one denies is rape. If a man and a women have consensual sex with one another, this no one denies is not rape. We can all easily pick clear examples of rape and non-rape with little effort. But now let's move closer towards the middle of the scale. Things get a little bit trickier.

Suppose a woman and a man at a party have a few too many drinks, get flirtatious, and end up voluntarily having sex. Is this rape? What if just the woman had a few too many drinks and the man was mostly sober? Is this rape? What if it was the man who had a few too many drinks and not the woman? Does this change anything? What if they were both women, or both men? Does that change anything? What if they were both sober and one was the clear aggressor and the other went along to bed but never gave affirmative verbal consent? Is that rape?



Talk Was Canceled, Free Thought Report


Well, my talk for the Long Island Atheists was canceled last minute apparently due to weather considerations. We had a few inches of snow that turned out to be nothing too bad, but nonetheless the venue was closed. My talk is now going to be rescheduled for January 19th at the same venue. In a way that's a good thing. It will give me more time to spice up my PowerPoint presentation to make it even better.

In other news, I came across the Freedom of Thought Report published by the the International Humanist and Ethical Union, which is to "document discriminatory national laws and state authorities which violate freedom of religion or belief and freedom of expression."

Beginning in 2016 they put the report online where it breaks down every country.

They also have an interactive map version you can click on on the site. Hint: red is bad. And not only is most of the Islamic world the darkest red, China, the world's largest atheist country by population is too.


It's worth checking out. You can also download the "Key countries" report here.

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.

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