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.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

An Atheist Reviews The Last Superstition: A Refutation Of The New Atheism (Chapter 4 Scholastic Aptitude - Part 2: Natural Law)

Natural law

I really suspect, at some level, that religion for many people today exists primarily as a means to justify their desire to control other people's sex lives and social interactions. It seems as if all the previous chapters and arguments were really just to lay the foundation for natural law ethics, whose proponents are totally obsessed with sex, as is the Catholic Church historically (and many religions in general). But first, Feser scoffs at Richard Dawkins' molestation incident when he was a boy and the "truly creepy vibes" he gets from a possible secular education standard which might be led by Dawkins' totally normal yet "blasphemous" views on sex that say, in part, "Enjoy your own sex life (as long as it damages no one else)". Oh my! How "creepy" of Dawkins to advocate for guilt-free consensual sex! The horror! No. The truly "creepy" views on sex are of course best exemplified by Feser's Catholic Church, given its obsession with chastity, homosexuality, and its massive pedophilia scandal. But anyway, to the heart of it:

The "nature" of a thing, from an Aristotelian point of view, is, as we've seen, the form or essence it instantiates. Hence, once again to hail in my triangle example, it is of the essence, nature, or form or a triangle to have three perfectly straight lines. 
When it comes to biological organs, we have things whose natures or essences more obviously involve certain final causes or purposes. So, for example, the function of final cause of the eyeball is to enable us to see. But suppose someone's eyeballs are defective in some way making his vision blurry. In that case, to wear sunglasses isn't contrary to the natural function of eyeballs; rather, it quite obviously restores to the eyeballs their ability to carry out their natural function. 
...whether homosexuality has a genetic basis the question is largely irrelevant. For it is quite obvious that the existence of a genetic basis for some trait does not by itself prove anything whether it is "natural" in the relevant sense. To take just one of many possible examples, that there is a genetic basis for clubfoot doesn't show that having clubfeet is "natural." Quite obviously it is unnatural, certainly from an Artistotelian sense of failure to perfectly conform to the essence or nature of a thing. And no one who has a clubfoot would...find it convincing that the existence of a genetic basis for his affliction shows that it is something he should "embrace" and "celebrate." Nor would it be plausible to suggest that God "made him that way," any more than God "makes" people to be born blind, deaf, armless, legless, prone to alcoholism, or autistic. God obviously allows these things, for whatever reason; but it doesn't follow that He positively wills them, and it certainly doesn't follow that they are "natural." So, by the same token, the possibility of a genetic basis for homosexual desire doesn't by itself show that such desire is natural...Even if it is established beyond a reasonable doubt that there is such a basis, with respect to the question of naturalness of homosexuality, this would prove exactly zip. (133-134)

Whew. Couple of thoughts. Why wouldn't a genetic basis for something be natural? If failure to perfectly conform to the essence or nature of a thing makes it unnatural, then almost everything we do and have is unnatural. The whole problem once again is trying to argue what you can do for triangles, for humans. Triangles are simple shapes defined a certain way. Humans are much more complicated and irregular to be compared in such a way. What is the perfect form, essence, or nature of a human being? David Hasselhoff? Brad Pitt? Michaelangelo's David? Joseph Smith? The Islamic prophet Mohammad? Or is it Jesus? He was supposedly celibate. Does that mean all sex is unnatural? No Catholic says that, but it would seem to conclude from the concept. Of course, I reject the whole conception of "natural" in this sense and many of us do too. "Natural" means of nature; it means existing in or caused by nature; not made or caused by humankind. There's a simple logical argument to show how god cannot merely allow natural defects, he must cause it, and whatever he causes he must positively will since god cannot cause something he doesn't will:

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Dear Christians: You Do Know That Anti-Muslim Rhetoric Helps Atheists, Right?

Source: The Real News
If you're a Christian and you're vehemently anti-Muslim in the really bad racist-against-Arabs/Asians way, and you actively support shutting down mosques, or banning Muslims from entry into the US, or from holding public office, or you support deporting all Muslims living in the US now, or banning Islam in favor of promoting Christianity, or all of the above, consider that you might actually be helping the atheist's agenda. You see, we atheists love nothing more than to be able to point out inter-religious conflict. It helps us point out how stupid and harmful religion is by how it helps create tribal in-group/out-group ways of thinking and distrust of "others." The rising anti-Muslim rhetoric mostly seen on the political Right will inevitably inspire someone to mass-murder Muslims in a mosque or gathering, and that person will probably be a Christian fundamentalist. And this will only escalate to even more backlash, violence, and inter-religious conflict between Christians and Muslims. In debates that we atheists have with Christians, we'd love to be able to cite polls that show that the more religiously Christian you are, the more you tend to harbor xenophobic, racist, and bigoted views towards certain ethnic groups and religious groups, like Muslims. It helps support the idea that religion poisons everything.

So yeah, you Christians should amp up the anti-Muslim rhetoric as much as possible so that this is more likely to happen, and that way we atheists can use the worsening Christian/Muslim conflict to point out how stupid all religion is, which will help our secular agenda.

Just sayin'.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

I Think I figured Out Trump

I think I figured out Donald Trump's appeal. He's simply saying out loud what a very, very large percentage of republicans have been thinking for years. Decades. I have family members who, sadly, are white separatists. They want all the Latinos, Asians, and Muslims deported. They've been talking about banning Muslims from coming into this country for years. They don't like "minorities." They don't like foreigners. They don't like black people either of course. And this is a big chunk of the conservative base. A recent Bloomberg poll stated that 65% of likely republican voters support temporarily banning Muslims from entering the US who are not citizens. I'm not at all surprised.

Most of us think he's crazy. Trump's political goals are impractical even if he gets elected. He really doesn't seem to know how American politics works. He couldn't ban Muslims from entering the US even if he became president. He couldn't call up the CEO of General Motors and demand they build a plant here in the US or else pay a 35% tariff on their imports. Presidents just can't do that on a whim. He thinks America is his corporation, where he can just issue declarations. It's hard to imagine how someone so stupid has even been able to become so successful in business.

Maybe Trump is just saying this to get his numbers up. Every time he says something racist, his numbers go up. That says more about the republican party more than anything. I mean, I'm as big a critic as anyone about Islam, but banning entry to the US on the basis of religion is one of the most un-American things I can think of.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Atheism Offers No Hope, No Future, Only Despair And Annihilation: A Response

How exactly do I say this...

In my interactions with theists, I'm sometimes confronted by this accusation that atheism offers no hope, no future, only despair and annihilation. Often, the eventual heat death of the universe is brought up to paint the picture of our bleak ultimate demise. There's no heaven, they say, there's no life after death. What's the point of living or doing anything if you're ultimately going to die and be annihilated?

And my response to this is—much to their surprise: so what? Who cares if the universe is going to reach heat death in 10^100 years? That's so far into the future it's irrelevant to anything I do now. Who cares if there is no magical eternal heaven after death? The finitude of life makes it more precious. Rarity increases value. It's the law of supply and demand. That's why we cherish diamonds. If diamonds were as common as dirt, their value would immediately plummet. You see, religions often culturally indoctrinate their members into dependency, and that's exactly what I see happening when I hear these views expressed by various religious adherents.

So I decided to come up with another analogy to express how I feel to give you a chance to hopefully see where I'm coming from. Here it goes.

Imagine you were raised from birth believing that you would inherit 1 million dollars when you turn 21. This promise makes you extremely happy and gives you tremendous motivation. It gives you something to look forward to—so much so, that the idea of not getting 1 million dollars makes you depressed. You fantasize about all the things you're going to do with it. And then, finally the day comes when you turn 21—and guess what—you are sadly informed that it was all a lie. You will not be getting that 1 million dollars you were promised. Unsurprisingly, this makes you extremely depressed. You curse your parents who lied to you. All of your dreams and fantasies that you entertained for years are now shattered. How are you going to live without the million dollars? Well, being raised without religion is kind of like being raised without the promise that you're going to inherit a million dollars when you turn 21. I wasn't raised with the promise of heaven. I wasn't raised with the idea that I will live forever. So the idea that I will one day die and be annihilated is totally normal to me. I didn't grow up with an emotional dependency on heaven and eternal life. But so many theists who believe in an afterlife have become so emotionally dependent on it that they just cannot accept the possibility of there not being an afterlife without thinking it's the most depressing thing in the world.

Or, to look at it from another angle, consider once again being that person who's lied to who thinks that he or she is going to get a million dollars on their 21st birthday. Imagine being confronted by a person who knew the truth that you weren't going to get that million dollars who's trying to convince you that it's all a sham. And imagine how that initially would make you feel. This person would be tearing apart your dreams and fantasies, your hopes for the future, the thing that gives you the most happiness—the most to look forward to. Imagine how you'd argue with this person. Imagine how much the emotional attachment to believing your whole life that you're going to get a million dollars would influence your response. Well, I feel like I'm dealing with this kind of situation when I interact with some theists on the issue of heaven and the afterlife. I'm the party pooper to them. I'm the one splashing them in the face with the bucket of cold water to sober them up. I'm the one ruining that promise that they've been believing their whole life that gives them so much to look forward to. That's what it's like dealing with theists who think that there being no eternal life is the most depressing possible news in the world. Many religions make people emotionally dependent on unsupported metaphysical claims, and that's how many of them keep their adherents under their power.

I hope that any theists reading this can at least appreciate the perspective.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...