Friday, January 31, 2014

Jon Stewart Grills Nancy Pelosi On Political Corruption

The other night on The Daily Show Jon Stewart had House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi on and to my surprise, he grilled her pretty strong on the corruption systemic within Washington. Pelosi, being the typical politician gave circular answers and avoided the one thing Stewart kept pressing her on, and that is the undeniable fact that both parties in Washington have become tools for corporate America. Her reactions to Stewart's accusations are symbolic of what I hate so much about politics: She repeats her talking points over and over again to avoid answering the questions and pretends not to understand when she clearly does.

If we are going to do anything to resolve the problem of there being too much big moneyed interests in Washington, it won't be with politicians like Pelosi, it will be with reformers like Elizabeth Warren who hopefully will not be corrupted by the same things that corrupt all politicians. There must be an intensified effort on behalf of the American people to pressure our politicians to seek and enable real reform to end this system of corruption so that the American government will once again work on behalf of its citizens, and not its corporations.

I'd Be Scared To Be A Republican

The republicans are losing the American public on almost every front. They're clinging desperately to outdated morality from bygone eras in the wide-eyed hopes that they will one day become the cultural and political paradigms again. But here's a news flash: we are never going back to those "puritan" times that republicans fantasize about. Ever. The momentum of the culture is rapidly swinging against their favor and it's hopelessly naive to not recognize this. Younger Americans are even changing their mind on socialism, with almost half of 18-29 year olds viewing it favorably, according to a new Pew survey. So if you're a staunchly conservative republican who supports "traditional marriage," unfettered capitalism, and you're against contraception, abortion and secularism, your demographic is shriveling up like an old man with shrinkage.

If I were a conservative or a republican, I'd be really scared of these trends. The big money spent to brainwash the masses via the likes of Fox News and World Net Daily will only go so far. It seems that the only way the republican agenda will be able to survive this massive cultural paradigm shift away from their values will be through the support of a handful of wealthy donors like the Koch Brothers and Sheldon Adelson. But as the republican base of older, rural, white Americans begins to die off, all that big money spending will increasingly become less and less effective. And republicans know this. So what we've seen in response are increasingly unfair tactics employed by the republicans to try and win elections. Jerrymandering is a prime example, but eventually none of it will be enough. When generation Y and X are in power, liberal values will be the norm, and those who are in support of conservative values will be all but shut out. They will be left to certain rural districts of the country and could disappear from the radar altogether as this century marches onward. What we'd see would be the death of the far right, replaced by a moderate conservative wing, resembling something like today's libertarian party e.g. liberal social values coupled with conservative economic policies.

As a liberal, I of course see this all as something immensely positive, especially after surviving the hellish ordeal of the Bush years. But I cannot imagine what it must be like to be a republican today - that is to say, a republican who isn't insulated in the bubble and who thinks that the party is doing just fine and that any day now we'll just start repealing all the liberal advances society has made thus far. To be a republican who lives in reality must be a scary thing.

That said, the future looks good for liberalism, at least in the West, but we've still got plenty of struggle ahead.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

What Is Most Reliable Way To Truth?

I've made an outline of what I think are the most reliable ways to know something is true in descending order.

Consider what your reaction would be to a presuppositionalist who asked you if you could be wrong about everything you know. I've already written what I would say to this question in a post a while back that it's impossible for me to be wrong about everything I know. Some things I know for sure logically. But, the question now arises, what kind of knowledge am I most certain about? So here's a few considerations.

1. Logical truths about abstract objects and math. It seems to me that logical, or a priori truths about abstract objects would rank highest on the list of things I am most certain about. I know, for instance, that the three angles of a triangle add up to 180 degrees. And even if the external world around me were somehow all an illusion, this would still have to be logically true.

2. Empirical truths about the external world. Scientific empiricism is the most reliable way to discover truth about the external, physical world and as such, when it comes to ontology, this is the preferred epistemology. The successful track record of science and empiricism is further evidence of this.

3. Observational truth about the external world. They say seeing is believing but that is not always so. We use non-scientific observation all the time in our daily lives as the means by which we know things to be true and it is often reliable. However, we do not always see things as they are and sometimes our minds can trick us. Memories can also be influenced and confabulated especially when we're under duress.

4. Logical truths about the external world. We sometimes infer what exists in the external world using the processes of deduction, induction and abduction. Although they are often reliable, pure logical reasoning alone is not always the best epistemology when inferring truths about physical reality. No logician for example, would ever be able to come up with the rules of quantum mechanics sitting in his armchair. Empirical evidence is needed to know many of the truths of the external world.

5. Intuition and faith based truths. Human intuition and faith based epistemologies are the most unreliable because they neither seek logic, reason or empirical evidence to discover anything about the external world. These epistemologies are what religions often rely on: using emotional to guide one towards truth. Arguably, something taken on faith that hasn't been logically or empirically verified cannot be said to be truth, and the failed track record of faith as an epistemology is proof positive of this.

Some might say that logical truths about abstract objects first involve input from empirical truths about the external world. I'm sympathetic to this argument. We learn about math as kids by using physical objects as representations of numbers before we learn that the numbers can operate abstractly. But I'm working here under the scenario in which the validity of our senses comes under question. In that case, it would seem to me that logical truths about abstract objects would offer the most reliable certainty since the negation of their truths would be impossible. But this doesn't allow the introduction of the concept of god as being a logical truth any more than it does ghosts, demons or leprechauns. The ontological argument to prove god's existence using pure logic fails on many levels, and we have good reasons to think the classical concept of god is illogical.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

A Few Questions About Heaven

No one, it seems, has ever been able to come up with a plausible description of what a heaven must be like, and ever since I was a kid I've had tons of questions about it. In conversations, sometimes I will hear people invoke the idea of heaven, but I don't think many of them have really thought about what it is they are talking about.

If a god exists and there is a heaven, you don't necessarily get to decide what heaven is going to be like. The popular notion of heaven is a place where you get to do all the things you want with no consequence. So those who are, say, addicted to sex, think that in heaven they'll be able to get to have sex as much as they want with no worry of STDs or pregnancy. And those who are addicted to eating think that in heaven they'll be able to eat anything they want and never get fat. These are the kinds of wild fantasies you'd expect many people to have. But in the traditional Christian notion of heaven there is no sex. There wouldn't be any reason for it. Sex in Christianity only has one purpose: to reproduce. And since no one is born in heaven, there is no reason anyone should be having sex. The same is true with eating. The only purpose eating has is to keep one alive. But since in heaven no one dies, there is no need to eat. The traditional Christian notion of heaven is a place with out sin. So that means no sex, no gambling, no drinking, no eating, and certainly no money or materialism.

So I came up with a few questions for the traditional Christian theist who thinks they're going to be happy forever in heaven.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

A Short Debate On God's Perfection

When I was bored a few nights ago I came across a Christian blog called "Rocket Philosophy" and a post called "A Defense of Classical Theism #8: God's Attributes" where the author made a case for god's perfect attributes. I couldn't resist the challenge. So below is a partial transcript from a discussion we had. You tell me who made the more rational position.

Me: [I]f god is declared perfect, and without flaw, who is that according to? Who makes that judgement and what standard is this flawlessness being judged by? I see many flaws with the god of the bible and Jesus. If my judgments don't count, then whose does and by what authority do they claim this right?

Theist: This philosophy includes essentialism, which you can read in part 1, #3 in the list here. So "perfection" means "being more like what it's supposed to be. For example, a more elephant-like elephant: both ears, intact trunk, etc.

Me: Saying god is more like what he's suppose to be, and therefore is perfect is still too vague. What is he supposed to be? And by what standard do we known and measure this by?

Theist: God is complete, not lacking in anything, because he has no potentials. This is what is meant by perfect.

Me: If god has no potential then how does god become a creator? In order to be a creator, you must be create, until then you might be a potential creator, but you are not yet a creator. How can god be complete if without the universe, god is not yet a creator, and he gains the attribute of creator only after he creates? Seems that god is gaining, which is impossible for a complete being.

Theist: God does not need to become a creator; he already is. Finished.

I posted another comment after this but the author didn't publish it. I think it's a little dishonest to assert god is a creator before he created anything. This theist apparently likes to make illogical assertions and does not like debating it. I find that this is the tactic that many theists have when they're backed into a corner. They just assert their dogma and abandoned the discussion.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Christian Responses To The Problem Of Suffering

To me, one of the strongest pieces of evidence against theism is the fact that the evolution of life on earth involved millions of years of conscious suffering and numerous mass extinctions for no logically necessary reason, and looks like a haphazard, undirected process driven by chance, and not design. For the educated theist who rejects a literal interpretation of Genesis, reconciling the suffering required by the evolutionary process with the perfect god of Christianity is quite a challenge. Stepping up to the plate to try and make sense of this dilemma, the BioLogos foundation, which serves to encourage Christians to embrace evolution, has offered several answers which I will critique below.

The following is taken from a 4 part series of posts on the BioLogos site called Death and Pain in the Created Order by Keith Miller. In the series, Miller produces 5 common theodicies that Christians have came up with over the years to try and reconcile their faith in a divinely created universe with the millions of years of suffering required by evolution, and then he offers us his personal theodicy.

1. Creation Corrupted by an Angelic Fall

I've actually debated this theodicy once with a theist (see here). What this explanation of suffering tries to do is say that somehow an angel fell "before" god created the universe (which means before god "created" time) and rebelled against god and so god decided then to create a world with millions of years of suffering. It's utterly preposterous and even Miller admits this is an inadequate explanation. It can also lead to ludicrous conclusions. Within this theodicy some believe that the devil and his minions made the evolutionary process give rise to things like disease and predation which lead to much of the suffering. But mind you, it is this very process of death and suffering that lead to human evolution. If it didn't happen, we wouldn't have evolved. To take this position is to say that the devil caused our evolution and that we wouldn't have evolved without the devil's interference! It also flies in the face of standard Christian orthodoxy that god and god alone single handedly resided over creation. Thus this position is untenable to the Christian theist.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Coming To Grips With Determinism

Relatively recently, I accepted determinism as the way the universe works. It took me several years and I fought tooth and nail to hold onto some notion of free will, but in the end I've had to accept that we are all determined beings and that free will is an illusion. If one accepts a purely materialist universe, which is essentially what atheism is, then one pretty much has to accept the notion that there is no free will. This is an implication of atheism that even many atheists do not even consider.

But consider this:

(1) If the universe is fundamentally material and all material obeys the laws of physics, and
(2) If human beings are fundamentally material, then
(3) Human beings obey the laws of physics, and
(4) Therefore there is no free will

There is no way to squeeze free will into this picture if one accepts materialism. But how then can we reconcile this with our experiences and how can we call ourselves "freethinkers" if we really are just determined organic machines? I've recently been thinking about this after getting into an online debate with a dualist over the data we have from neuroscience and its interpretations.

The data from neuroscience is completely compatible with the idea of determinism. In fact, it is from the data of neuroscience that one can reasonably conclude that we are determined by the laws of physics. Patrick Haggard, a neuroscientist at the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience in London says, "As a neuroscientist, you've got to be a determinist. There are physical laws, which the electrical and chemical events in the brain obey. Under identical circumstances, you couldn't have done otherwise; there's no 'I' which can say 'I want to do otherwise'. It's richness of the action that you do make, acting smart rather than acting dumb, which is free will."

The fields of neuroscience and physics are filled with materialists. Given the data we have about how our consciousness is the last thing to show up on a list of brain functionality, I find it hard to see how anyone can still be a dualist, especially since both Cartesian dualism and interactionist dualism do not correspond with the data and have failed to yield any predictive power.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

If You Get The Message, Hang Up

The recent legalization of marijuana in Colorado and Washington as well as in Uruguay are the early results of a shift in public opinion towards a more liberal approach to the drug. Opinion in the US towards marijuana legalization has been on a near-steady incline from 12 percent in 1969, to over 50 percent in 2013. It finally seems as if reasonable drugs laws are making their way into the legislator and are being passed by the voters. And just like opinions towards gay marriage, younger Americans under 40 overwhelmingly support marijuana legalization. It does seem as if full legalization might be possible, and perhaps inevitable in all 50 states (or at least all of the liberal ones).

I first smoked marijuana when I was just 8 years old. I first drunk beer when I was 16. I first took ecstasy when I was about 21. I first did coke when I was about 22. From my late teens until my mid-twenties I did more than just experiment with many illegal drugs; I had a full on civil union with them. But unlike some of my friends, I never got addicted. I recognized when the time came to stop. I had friends that never got that message. They kept going and going and going. They burned out and became addicts, spending most of their money on drugs; lying, cheating and stealing to get money to get high. I'm not sure what separates the recreational drug user like myself from the addict. I suppose it's a certain personality type. And so when it comes to drugs I agree with the philosopher Alan Watts who said, if you get the message, hang up.

I'm not at all anti-drug. I think many drugs like marijuana, coke and the psychedelic drugs can be helpful, but there are right and wrong ways to use them. Back in my early twenties when I was a pothead, I would get high with my best friend everyday. Our dealer stored some of his weight at my friend's apartment and so in return for that favor he gave us free weed. And so we smoked our brains out. Everyday. We'd smoke more and more until we got to that point where we smoked so much that we just couldn't get any higher and we'd smoke ourselves sober. This went on for years. Then I found an ecstasy dealer and I started popping E every week. I did my first line of coke at a party and a few years later later started doing coke several times a week. The coke I couldn't get for free however, and I soon began to notice that my money was disappearing into thin air right up my nose. That was part of the message.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

My Robin Hood Fantasy

What if we took 50 percent of the wealth of the top 1 percent of Americans and spread that money out to the bottom 50 percent of Americans?

Think about it. The top 1 percent of Americans owns about 35 percent of the total wealth in the US, and the bottom 80 percent owns a mere 11.1 percent in comparison. If half of the wealth of the top 1 percent were given to the bottom 50 percent it could rejuvenate the economy from the ground up, and that money would trickle back up to all sectors of the economy. Many in the top 1 percent would barely notice that their money decreased by 50 percent. And since they are already earning about a fifth of all earned income, they'd make back their lost wealth easily, especially if the economy were to be injected with trillions in stimulus.

Some will say this is unethical; that it's socialism. Does anyone remember the banks being bailed out a few years ago? This is no different in principle. The only difference we might see is that our economy would recover for more people and more evenly with a greater chance that new wealth wouldn't be distributed mostly to those already rich.

Just a thought.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Are You Ready For Total Surveillance?

We all got to learn that the NSA was blatantly spying on the American public last year when one of their contractors, Edward Snowden, became a whistle-blower. Few of us were surprised that the NSA was spying on people, I mean, after all, they are a spying agency. But I was not aware of the extent to which their spying capabilities reached.

A new video of an independent journalist who got his hands on some leaked NSA documents has gotten me a little riled up. According to the documents, the NSA has been able to hack into people's home routers to see all of their internet traffic, as well as hack into unsuspecting American's cell phones where they have the ability to remotely turn on your microphone, enabling them to listen to private conversations you have through your own phone. One of the dirtiest things they are doing, is that once they can see your internet traffic, if you happen to order a computer online, they can intercept the computer on its way to your home, install spyware on it or implant devices onto the motherboard that can collect and transmit data. And they're slick. Some of the spyware they use can be installed right onto the BIOS of the computer, so that even if you reformat your hard drive, the spyware will still be there. According to the video, it also seems as if large American tech corporations like Dell, Cisco, HP, Microsoft and Apple apparently are working with the NSA to allow their devices to enable data collection and transmition to the NSA. Scary.

From these leaked documents we can surmise that the NSA's goal is to have a state of total surveillance, in which everything that everyone does online and on their cell phone - anything that is transmitted digitally in any way - is recorded and monitored by the NSA. And if the NSA can do it, why couldn't a corporation do it, or a foreign government? We know that every country is spying on each other, but this is almost too much to bare. We will in the very near future be living in a world in which our entire digital lives are recorded and stored in giant server farms, so that if at anytime in the future, someone wants to know what you were doing on, say, January 9th, 2014, then all they'd have to do is put a few key words and identifiers into a computer system, and it can query enough data to see what emails you sent, what websites you went to, your phone records for that day, and the geo-location of where your phone went, which is pretty much where you went. In other words, they'd pretty much know everything that you did on that day, and if they were able to hack your phone, they might even have been able to record you.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Atheism Can Help You Get Laid

If you've ever spent time browsing your local singles on OKCupid you will most likely notice one thing immediately: there are tons of self-described atheists on the site.

Two years ago at a friend's request, I joined the free online dating site OKCupid. I'm not a huge fan of online dating personally, and I'd much rather meet someone in person, but since it was free I thought I had nothing to lose (except maybe some pride). Initially, I hesitated about whether I should keep my atheism in the closet and perhaps feign agnosticism as I have sometimes done before. But I figured I might as well try being honest and see what happens. So when I filled out my profile I made it very clear that I was serious about my atheism. Long story short, OkCupid got me several dates but none of them went anywhere. A few months after I joined I started dating a girl I met at a bar and eventually disabled my account. Now I'm back in the game but I browse for ladies mostly for fun.

Browsing the many twenty-something singles in the NY metro area, it is amazing how many report "atheism" under religion. (Atheism is of course not a religion but OKCupid makes you report it as such.) Even OKCupid's blog confirms this and one of its rules for a successful first contact is "Consider becoming an atheist." Interestingly, according OK's trends, mentioning "god" in a first contact is one of the quickest ways to deny yourself getting a response back.

I live in New York, which is a city that attracts a lot of heathens, so the numbers of atheists that I'm seeing may be skewed upwards from the average. But nonetheless, the stats on dating sites like OKCupid confirm my personal experiences talking with young people all over New York (many of whom come from other parts of the country and all over the world). Most of them are either totally indifferent to religion, in that religion is the last thing on their mind and they don't give a shit about it, or they have open disdain for it. I almost never run into a young person who speaks positively about traditional religion. And this is all music to my ears and a trend heading in the right direction.

So it now appears that being an atheist can actually help your love life and ability to get laid. Happy New Year!

Friday, January 3, 2014

What's the Difference Between A Cult And A Religion?

There is no agreed upon definition of what a religion is. Look the word up in a dictionary and you will get about 5 or 6 different possibilities. I personally define "religion" as the belief in and worship of at least one deity. Under that definition, Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism would all be religions. However, deism would not, even though deism includes a creator deity. The reason why is because deists do not worship that deity, and they have no dogma or rituals that need to be practiced. A deistic god need not be propitiated in any way. Therefore, I do not consider deism a religion, but rather a worldview. A worldview can be a religion, and all religions are worldviews, but not all worldviews are religions. Naturalism is a worldview for example, but it is not a religion, because it has no deity.

This brings up an interesting question: What's the difference between a religion and a cult? Well to answer such a question, there would need to be a definition of religion given first. If you use my definition of religion (the belief in and worship of at least one deity) then the difference between a cult and a religion would be that in a cult the person, idea or object worshiped is not thought of as a deity but is still highly revered. So for example, if a charismatic person was worshiped but not believed to be a deity by their followers, then that would be a cult. If however, the followers thought of that person as a deity, somehow endowed with supernatural powers, then it is a religion. offers us some definitions of a cult:

1. a particular system of religious worship, especially with reference to its rites and ceremonies.
2. an instance of great veneration of a person, ideal, or thing, especially as manifested by a body of admirers: the physical fitness cult.
3. the object of such devotion.
4. a group or sect bound together by veneration of the same thing, person, ideal, etc.
5. Sociology - a group having a sacred ideology and a set of rites centering around their sacred symbols.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

2013 - Year In Review

During 2013 I grew a lot as an atheist. I am a much better atheist now than I was a year ago. And by that I mean that my knowledge of science, philosophy, history and religion has grown tremendously in the past year. I am a much better debater than I was a year ago. I have familiarized myself with more arguments for god and religion, and I have learned a great deal more about how to counter-argue many of them. I have also been interacting with more Christians on a personal level through my local debate club and this gives me the chance to experience those who are opposed to me without the obstacle of a computer screen between us.

I am a lot more mature as an atheist than I was a year ago. I've found a way to calm my militantism and to express myself more civilly. I look back at some of my early posts from 2009 and 2010 and I think how immature and unsophisticated I was back then, and how I would have failed miserably in a real serious debate. This I feel, all contributes into making me a better atheist.

As far as my atheism is concerned, my goal is to increase the numbers of atheists. There are many ways one can do this. One is to be open about my atheism online and in person, and encourage others to do the same. The other is to organize with other atheists online and in person to positively represent our worldview and to fight against discrimination and oppression. I personally tend to focus a lot on counter-apologetics. I want to help arm other atheists with the tools to defend their atheism when it is under attack, and to aide them in launching offensive attacks on other theistic worldviews. This is one area that is perhaps one of the most important resources that every atheist must have because in a country like the US where 74% of the people still believe in god, the moment your atheism becomes public, it is likely going to be challenged by someone who is a theist.


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