Two Charged in Washington Holiday Killings
(From the Associated Press via Yahoo! News)
SEATTLE - After slaughtering their parents, Joseph McEnroe apologized to his girlfriend's young niece and nephew before shooting both in the head to end a massacre, prosecutors alleged Friday.
But even as they filed aggravated first-degree murder charges against McEnroe and Michele Anderson, prosecutors could not say what might have driven the couple in the violent killing spree.
(read the complete article)
Saturday, December 29, 2007
Thursday, December 27, 2007
(From the Associated Press via CNN.COM) -- The message flickered into Cindy Fleenor's living room each night: Be faithful in how you live and how you give, the television preachers said, and God will shower you with material riches.This "53-year-old accountant" is old enough to know better, schooled in the skills of financial accounting, yet somehow gullible enough to buy into this kind of scam? It's difficult to be very sympathetic to her plight. Nobody forced her squander her money on this nonsense.
And so the 53-year-old accountant from the Tampa, Florida, area pledged $500 a year to Joyce Meyer, the evangelist whose frank talk about recovering from childhood sexual abuse was so inspirational. She wrote checks to flamboyant faith healer Benny Hinn and a local preacher-made-good, Paula White.
Only the blessings didn't come. Fleenor ended up borrowing money from friends and payday loan companies just to buy groceries. At first she believed the explanation given on television: Her faith wasn't strong enough.
(read the complete article)
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
"The translation of the Bible into English marked the birth of religious fundamentalism in medieval times, as well as the persecution that often comes with radical adherence in any era, according to a new book."
Thursday, December 6, 2007
(CNN) -- White House hopeful Mitt Romney said religious liberty "is fundamental to America's greatness," in his Thursday address on faith in America.Commentary
Romney, seeking to become the first Mormon president, explained how his faith would affect his presidency in his speech at former President George H. W. Bush's presidential library at Texas A&M University.
"There are some who may feel that religion is not a matter to be seriously considered in the context of the weighty threats that face us. If so, they are at odds with the nation's founders," Romney said.
"Freedom requires religion, just as religion requires freedom. Freedom opens the windows of the soul so that man can discover his most profound beliefs and commune with God. Freedom and religion endure together, or perish alone," he said.
"I believe in my Mormon faith [LDS church-Wikipedia] and I endeavor to live by it. My faith is the faith of my fathers -- I will be true to them and to my beliefs," he said, adding that if his faith hurts his candidacy, "so be it."
Romney said he thought some have taken the idea of separation of church and state beyond its original meaning by trying to remove any acknowledgment of God from the public arena.
"It is as if they are intent on establishing a new religion in America -- the religion of secularism. They are wrong," he said.
The idea that all the candidates profess some level of religious belief, whether sincerely or as a political expedient is troubling enough, but I have grave concerns about the positions and opinions expressed by this candidate (and similar sentiments voiced by others).
It is as though he believes that the underlying assumption of the existence of a god or gods, common to essentially all religions, is somehow separate from religion and that all people, regardless of the particular version of the story to which they subscribe, implicitly accept the god notion. This exposes that in his thinking, Atheists either don't exist or at least don't matter. We are outside his sphere of awareness - outside his universe if you will. How can such a person be the president of all the citizens when he fails to acknowledge many of them from the start?
He states that "freedom requires religion". I suppose in a humorous sense this can be true - what, afterall, would "freedom from religion" mean if there were no religion from which to be free? But seriously, true freedom cannot be realized in a dogma-laden context. Religion poses the greatest challenge to our rights and freedoms, in many cases seeking to specifically and explicitly abridge them.
Romney also conflates the concepts of religion and world-view when he refers to "the religion of secularism". While religion may encompass world-view, the reverse is not necessarily true. What he refers to as 'secularism' is quite simply the greatest strength of our nation as set forth by its founders; yet he dismisses this as some sort of misconception. These kinds of muddled thought are the most insidious threat to the vital separation of church and state that has made possible the very freedom he so quickly twists up with his religious thinking.
Though it is not inconceivable that such a man, should be be elected, could in the final analysis be shown to have had a net-positive effect on the country, his beliefs, not unlike many professed by the current disastrous president, are, to borrow his phrase, "at odds with" the principles on which this nation is founded. As such, I, for one, could not in good conscience even consider casting a vote for him.
Friday, November 30, 2007
VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - , in an encyclical released on Friday, said atheism was responsible for some of the "greatest forms of cruelty and violations of justice" in history.
Friday, November 16, 2007
(AP [via CNN]) -- When some of the world's leading religious scholars gather in San Diego this weekend, pasta will be on the intellectual menu. They'll be talking about a satirical pseudo-deity called the Flying Spaghetti Monster, whose growing pop culture fame gets laughs but also raises serious questions about the essence of religion.(more)
Friday, November 2, 2007
Some years ago I read a book titled The Pleasure of Finding Things Out, a collection of ramblings by Richard Feynman. This man's mind was brilliant and insightful, and this book captures something of that insight and of his inquisitive yet whimsical personality.
I see that it is now available on GoogleBooks. The Pleasure of Finding Things Out is well worth reading. It can also be found on Amazon.com for a reasonable price.
Below is an excerpt:
"I believe that we should demand that people try in their own minds to obtain for themselves a more consistent picture of their own world; that they not permit themselves the luxury of having their brain cut in four pieces or two pieces even, and on one side they believe this and on the other side they believe that, but never try to compare the two points of view.
Because we have learned that, by trying to put the points of view that we have in our head together and comparing one to the other, we make some progress in understanding and appreciating where we are and what we are. And I believe that science has remained irrelevant because we wait until somebody asks us questions or until we are invited to give a speech on Einstein's theory to people who don't understand Newtonian mechanics, but we never are invited to give an attack on faith healing, or on astrology-on what is the scientific view of astrology today.
I think that we must mainly write some articles. Now what would happen? The person who believes in astrology will have to learn some astronomy. The person who believes in faith healing may have to learn some medicine, because of the arguments going back and forth; and some biology. In other words, it will be necessary that science become relevant. The remark which I read somewhere, that science is all right so long as it doesn't attack religion, was the clue that I needed to understand the problem.
As long as it doesn't attack religion it need not be paid attention to and nobody has to learn anything. So it can be cut off from modern society except for its applications, and thus be isolated. And then we have this terrible struggle to try to explain things to people who have no reason to want to know. But if they want to defend their own point of view, they will have to learn what yours is a little bit.
So I suggest, maybe incorrectly and perhaps wrongly, that we are too polite. There was in the past an era of conversation on these matters. It was felt by the church that Galileo's views attacked the Church. It is not felt by the Church today that the scientific views attack the Church. Nobody is worrying about it. Nobody attacks; I mean, nobody writes trying to explain the inconsistencies between theological views and the scientific views held by different people today-or even the inconsistencies sometimes held by the same scientists between his religious and scientific beliefs.
Now the next subject, and the last main subject that I want to talk about, is the one I really consider the most important and the most serious. And that has to do with the question of uncertainty and doubt. A scientist is never certain. We all know that. We know that all our statements are approximate statements with different degrees of certainty; that when a statement is made, the question is not whether it is true or false but rather how likely it is to be true or false.
"Does God exist?" "When put in the questional form, how likely is it?" It makes such a terrifying transformation of the religious point of view, and that is why the religious point of view is unscientific. We must discuss each question within the uncertainties that are allowed. And as evidence grows it increases the probability perhaps that some idea is right, or decreases it. But it never makes absolutely certain one way or the other. Now we have found that this is of paramount importance in order to progress. We absolutely must leave room for doubt or there is no progress and there is no learning. There is no learning without having to pose a question. And the question requires doubt. People search for certainty. But there is no certainty."
Thursday, October 18, 2007
It is now more than 60 years after the Second World War in Europe ended. This e-mail is being sent as a memorial chain, in memory of the six million Jews, 20 million Russians, 10 million Christians and 1,900 Catholic priests who were murdered, massacred, raped, burned, starved and humiliated with the German and Russian Peoples looking the other way!
Now, more than ever, with Iran , among others, claiming the Holocaust to be " a myth" it is imperative to make sure the world never forgets, because there are others who would like to do it again.
Monday, October 8, 2007
From Scientific American: Searching for God in the Brain
Researchers are unearthing the roots of religious feeling in the neural commotion that accompanies the spiritual epiphanies of nuns, Buddhists and other people of faith
Wednesday, October 3, 2007
Science begins with a question and the foundation of the accumulated knowledge of past scientific work, always aware that future work may call any of that past knowledge into question. Answers are sought through contemplation and experiment, examining what can be observed and devising ways to test and clarify our understanding. It is by nature a process of successive approximation, gradually, continually improving and refining what we understand. While it may never lead to a complete understanding of everything, it is the only path we know to revealing reality, tantalizing glimpse by tantalizing glimpse.
Religion, on the other hand, begins with the premise that all answers can be found in an ancient book. This premise stands in contradiction to the whole enterprise of scientific investigation and ultimately of meaningful education. Without the external pressures of modern society, religious “education” consists mainly of rote memorization of the scriptures and some limited exploration of their interpretation according to whichever leaders were involved. This can be seen today in areas dominated by fundamentalists. Religion actively impedes the learning process, even going so far as to declare some ideas as heretical, off limits to even private thought.
Religion is an insult to the individual and collective intelligence not only of our own species but all species. Even as it purports to hallow nature as creations of its god or gods, it denies the magnificence of nature and the processes underlying it, seeking instead to project the notion that it all is the product of the grand design of some mythical, mystical consciousness, the origin of which remains obscure, but, despite its putative ability to create the entire universe, somehow it is unfulfilled without human worship.
Physics Today Online
"Internal causes led to the decline of Islam's scientific greatness long before the era of mercantile imperialism. To contribute once again, Muslims must be introspective and ask what went wrong."
Sunday, September 30, 2007
Severe storms in the Pacific Northwest knocked out power for a time last winter. Having been out of town when this occurred, I returned to the area some days later to find the main roads cleared but the power still down and recovery very much underway and incomplete. I fired up a backup generator, heated the house, and set about the cleanup tasks, discarding spoiled food, cutting up downed trees, filing insurance claims, etc.
During a break in the weather, I took a walk around the neighborhood, inspecting the damage and contemplating the situation. It was then that I began to think about the gathering and giving spirit of this time of year. It probably has its origins far earlier than the various contemporary religious traditions to which it is commonly attributed, and probably played a crucial role in the survival of the human species to the present era.
At this time of year, when the weather often can be harsh, it was almost certainly a cooperative effort just to survive the season. People were together during these trying times much more closely and must have traded supplies as well as physical warmth, huddling together, bundling up in whatever skin blankets, tents, huts, and shelters were available. No doubt this sharing of body heat resulted in significant numbers of pregnancies.
Relief from having survived the harsh season of winter (and no longer having to huddle in such close quarters with others who by that time were no doubt starting to get on each others’ nerves) and the increasing visibility of the resulting pregnancies almost certainly is the foundation for the exuberant fertility festivals of the spring season.
A bountiful harvest, whether by hunter-gatherers, herders, or farmers, was a major factor in whether or not there would be sufficient food to survive the coming winter; hence the harvest celebrations of the autumn season. Plentiful food meant feasts during which, not unlike our kin species in the wild, people indulged, thus packing on fat reserves for the coming harsh season. What wasn’t consumed was preserved as best they knew how, to provide rations through the winter. And so the cycle continued.
Gift giving probably evolved from necessary trade between people pooling their resources during the huddle. Good will in the form of proffered foodstuffs, skin blankets, etc., was reciprocated in kind. Concern also developed on the part of those with more, to assist those who may have been unable to store adequate supplies for their own survival, an early form of a community safety net, helping some in one year and others in the next.
Coming together for survival was also an opportunity for reunion between family and friends who may have traveled separately during the rest of the year. The cheer of the time no doubt stemmed from the joy of these reunions and the comfort and security of being with the group. At night, around the fire, stories would be told, sharing the experiences of the past year, fears, triumphs; no doubt exaggerated with each telling. Many cultures devised proto-religious spiritual embellishments to help explain their experiences.
Tens of thousands of years after those ancient times of continuous survival pressure, many forms of festive seasonal traditions persist in nearly every human culture, having evolved through many twists and turns along with the religious concepts and contexts that came to surround them, to the holidays we know today. Evolution is ceaseless; certainly these traditions continue to change and adjust in light of changing reality and our ever-expanding understanding of the world around us. We are long overdue to shake off the primitive religious baggage we have carried forward to the present. Reality offers more than enough reason to celebrate without the need for a fantastical veneer of spiritual nonsense to dampen our exuberance.
Tuesday, September 11, 2007
Following the events of September 11th, 2001, when it was determined that a radical Islamic group operating under the name Al Qaida was responsible, its leader, Osama bin Laden, once supported by covert US operations in Afghanistan, but since recognized as a terrorist enemy of the west, was identified as the prime target for a response. An Islamic extremist group known as the Taliban was oppressively ruling Afghanistan at the time and, not surprisingly, refused to extradite bin Laden. After token negotiations in the United Nations, a well-intentioned, if largely ineffective international diplomatic organization, the decision was made to declare war on Afghanistan and remove the Taliban from power, paving the way, ostensibly at least, to capturing or killing bin Laden. This initial incursion was carried off relatively smoothly by a “coalition” consisting primarily of US forces but with some token international support. The Taliban was effectively neutralized, and a puppet government installed. Residual Taliban continued to pose a threat, trying to reconstitute their opressive rule. US and multinational forces would remain in theater for years in an effort to combat these extremist forces and maintain some semblance of civil order.
Osama bin Laden was believed to be hiding out in rugged territory straddling the border between Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan, controlled not by either country, but by tribal forces ensconced there. Bush appealed to the then leader of Pakistan, President, General Pervez Musharraf and hastily forged an alliance in which Pakistani forces were enlisted to try and corral bin Laden and possibly capture him. Pakistan, immersed in a territorial dispute with neighboring India that saw both experimenting with nuclear weapons, now found itself in an important negotiating position with the US and was quick to cooperate or at least present the appearance of cooperation in order that it might gain some leverage. It wasn't until years later, under the administration of Barack Obama, the first US president of African descent, who followed George W. Bush in office, when US forces finally caught up with bin Laden in living in relative comfort inside Pakistan; a confrontation that resulted in his death.
Meanwhile, President George W. Bush, after pressuring the intelligence community to produce what later was exposed as pathetic “evidence” that Saddam Hussein in nearby Iraq had been tangentially involved in the terrorist attacks against the US and was producing so-called Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs), ostensibly in preparation for a full-on attack on the United States and/or its interests abroad; the same Saddam Hussein against whom an earlier president, Bush’s father, George H. W. Bush had fought a war and prevailed but failed to “finish the job” and remove him from power, presented that “evidence” to the United Nations through one Colin Powell, who up to that point had been widely viewed as a man of great personal integrity by most of the American public and much of the world for that matter. After deliberations and under great pressure from the Bush administration, the UN eventually issued resolutions making demands of Hussein. Ultimately, this was used as pretext for a war in Iraq, carried off by another “coalition” consisting again predominantly of US forces, with grudging token support from other nations.
Hussein, while certainly no angel, was not the perpetrator of the September 11th attacks and by all accounts, was not in any way involved in them, directly or indirectly. Though he was removed from power and eventually tried in a hastily reconstituted Iraqi court, ostensibly of, by, and on behalf of Iraqis, convicted, and hanged for his crimes against Iraq, Hussein, through his certainly destructive program of cash “reward” payments made to the families of suicide bombers killing innocent civilians in Israel, was only a relatively minor player in the global terrorism threat on which was founded Bush’s new doctrine of preemptive action. The Iraq war, primarily a realization of the personal agendas of Bush and his Vice President Cheney, was a tremendous drain on the US national budget and cost thousands of American lives – more in fact than the September 11th attack, not to mention hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives, most of whom were probably innocent civilians.
Bush invoked and far exceeded constitutional wartime powers to expand the power of the Executive branch, much to the detriment of the strength of the Constitution and of the United States’ form of constitutional democracy itself. During his tenure, he installed members of the Supreme Court, including a Chief Justice, tipping the balance from a progressive and rationally minded court to one with strong Christian “conservative” leanings. The damage to the American way of life resulting from this change alone is still being tallied. Wherever he had the opportunity, Bush used his religious beliefs as an excuse to undo decades of progress in civil rights and freedoms, medical research, and other areas. The Bush administration regularly interfered with the due course of scientific research, and pressured various governmental agencies to alter their reports away from reality in support of his beliefs. He and his administration effectively vandalized the United States of America, its government and its constitution, undermining the very foundations of what had been the greatest national experiment in the history of human society. The republican party suffered as well, allowing its right-wing religious constituency to influence run amok, fielding more than a few rank idiots as vice presidential and presidential candidates, and generally showing itself to be misaligned with the interests of the nation at large. Not that the democrats had it right either, but they were at least not so inflexible and dogmatic.
It is not, however, merely the ignorance of this failed president that makes his uncharacteristically modest if well maintained memorial a monument to ignorance; nor is it just the crimes and misdoings of his administration. It is the ignorance, intolerance, and bigotry of the religious multitudes, Christian and Muslim in particular, so focused on their myths and dogma. It is the ignorance of a huge portion of the American public, religious and otherwise, so complacent in the supposed checks and balances designed to protect against just such a criminal administration as to somehow overlook the fact that with the republican-dominated congress and hand picked Supreme Court, the administration in its first term had nearly completely dismantled those very safeguards and twisted the knife in the wound during the early part of its second. Only midway through his second term did the American public finally dislodge the republican congressional majority, and then only by the narrowest of margins.
American citizens’ direct and continual involvement in the public discourse, not merely in the electoral process, an essential ingredient of the American System, had been abdicated by the citizenry at large, probably beginning with the growth of the broadcast media into the position of dominant source of public information, effectively turning the great democratic conversation into a one-way presentation, excluding the input of the citizenry at large. Direct citizen involvement, the safeguard of first and last resort, was critical to the healthy pursuit of American Democracy. This involvement had already almost completely evaporated by the time of the George W. Bush Administration; yet this alarming situation was hardly even recognized by the public at large, lured into complacency by a media and political status quo that had by then been reduced to little more than a marketing campaign, selling politicians much the way of any other product: clothing, hygiene products, food.
Ignorant Americans stood by and watched their very way of life systematically undermined by a presidential administration reminiscent of nothing so much as the early days of the Third Reich, but in America, where such things were not supposed to happen. This was the administration that the founding fathers feared. This was the administration against which the various safeguards were installed in the first place, all those many years ago. Yet Ignorant Americans stood by and let it happen.
Ignorant Muslims world wide said nothing when extremists from among their ranks perpetrated horrible crimes against humanity, usually aimed deliberately at innocent civilians including children, under the aegis of the dogma of their supposedly peaceful religion.
Ignorant Christians the world over, but in the United States in particular, reveled in the delusion that events were unfolding that looked eerily similar to events they’d been brainwashed to expect leading up to the “second coming” of their imagined messiah.
None of these prophesied events came to pass of course. After years of brutal and bloody war, reasonable minds began to emerge, publishing in traditional media such as books, and new electronic media such as the Internet, the first global electronic information network, an omnidirectional medium in which everyone could participate worldwide. Eventually, the jumpstarted conversation resumed, this time with input not only from within the United States, but worldwide, from all sides of the issues. Eventually, reason reasserted itself, leading in time to a more rational and more peaceful public discourse and society as a whole began to heal.
On this hundredth anniversary of the tragedy that served as the trigger for this sad chain of events, it is for all the citizens of the Planet Earth to remember and study this and other atrocities throughout our history; to recognize in ourselves the tendency toward, and actively and aggressively work to prevent another one; to combat the forces of dogma wherever they may show their faces; to teach our children the time-tested methods of critical thinking, analysis, and introspection, and the imperative to apply them; to work for the strength of our society for the benefit of all the inhabitants of this tiny blue planet we call home.
Thursday, September 6, 2007
"BRUSSELS, Belgium (AP) — A Belgian prosecutor on Tuesday recommended that the U.S.-based Church of Scientology stand trial for fraud and extortion, following a 10-year investigation that concluded the group should be labeled a criminal organization.".The German government considers Scientology a commercial enterprise that takes advantage of vulnerable people.
Perhaps Germany should also take them to court. Why stop with Scientology? Perhaps they should take all the 'commercial enterprises taking advantage of vulnerable people' to court. There are many such enterprises far more well established than Scientology that collectively have done far more harm throughout the millennia.
Monday, July 16, 2007
Sam Harris [wikipedia] speaks at the Aspen Ideas Festival.
Friday, June 29, 2007
Scientists are less religious than the general population, a new study shows, but the reason has little to do with their study of science or academic pressures.I'm not sure how to interpret these results or if they're even credible.
So why are scientists less religious? The data indicate that being raised in a religious home is the best predictor of how religious someone will be—scientist or member of the general population.Perhaps they should have examined whether the data suggest that being raised in a free-thinking non-religious home is a predictor of taking up a scientific career path?
Some interesting items from the article:
- 52 percent of scientists surveyed said they had no religious affiliation, compared with only 14 percent of the general population.
- Of the religious scientists, however, 15 percent identified themselves as Jewish compared to 2 percent of the religious general population.
- 14 percent of the general population described themselves as "evangelical" or "fundamentalist.” Less than 2 percent of scientists, however, identified themselves as either of these.
Perhaps the longer one applies the scientific method to the study of life, the harder it is to accept religious ideas. Indeed it would be interesting to follow this up in perhaps 30 years to see how many of the currently young and religious scientists in the survey remain so later in life, and of those, how many continued their scientific pursuits. Moreover, it would be very interesting to interview them now and in the future to learn how they reconcile their scientific studies with their religious beliefs, and whether and how that may have changed over the years.
Curiously, younger scientists were more likely to believe in God and attend religious services than older scientists.
If these young and religious scientists continue to stay religious, Ecklund said, "it could indicate an overall shift in attitudes toward religion among those in the academy."
One footnote-- the original article title is "Science Not to Blame for Non-Religious Scientists" [emphasis mine]. This is a curiously slanted title for a supposedly scientific journal. Use of the word Blame implies the judgment that lack of religiosity among scientists (or any other group, I suppose) is a bad thing for which it is necessary to assign blame. A supposedly impartial scientific presentation should have chosen a title more similar to mine, making no qualitative judgment about the study results.
Saturday, June 23, 2007
But is it really just propaganda when it also happens to be historical fact? Do your own research, not of opinions on any side, but of the historical facts. Dig down and find the truth. Visit the region. Observe the social structures, group and individual behaviors, attitudes, achievements, and prosperity of people there. Draw your own conclusions.
The sad story of the Middle East exemplifies the legacy of religion in our world. This story -- this madness -- continues today as you read this. The double-standard applied to the sides in this conflict and throughout the history of Israel is real. Where does it come from? Why does the rest of the world stand idly by and let it happen, or worse, accept it in our own thinking? Why are the nations of the middle east so intensely focused on deadly and costly conflict that gains them nothing when all stand to gain so very much from cooperation? What the hell is wrong with these people?!? Religion.
Saturday, June 16, 2007
Watch this video (5:04) by a self-described Atheist, former Christian, discussing his limited understanding of reality as a Christian, and the freedom he now embraces as an Atheist.
Thursday, June 14, 2007
Sexual repression promulgated by religion might have its roots in a plague of sexually transmitted diseases long ago, either as a direct reaction to the conscious realization that sex led to the diseases, or as an institutional effort to bring the problem under control, or perhaps both.
Today we understand sexually transmitted diseases, their transmission mechanisms, and precautions we can take against them. As informed adults, whether or not disease originated it, why should we continue to carry this sexually repressive baggage?
The notion of “protecting our children” from explicit sexual depictions, or even of any knowledge of sex at all until they reach a certain magical age, after which they’re suddenly expected to be ready for this knowledge, also is ludicrous. Children naturally develop sexual feelings at a fairly early age and begin to act on them. Somehow many forget this by the time they reach adulthood and don’t recognize this in their own children. They often react in disbelief and anger when they learn that their children explore and experiment sexually, usually with themselves and/or others in their own age group, often well before puberty. But this is actually normal and healthy human behavior that would be far better served if parents communicated with their children about it, educating and equipping them for responsible conduct in that area; rather than living as so many seem to, in denial of it, or believing that it’s somehow a “sin”. While it might not be appropriate to actively encourage sexual experimentation by their children, neither is it appropriate to saddle them with shame and guilt over it, as they will carry this forward into adulthood.
Similarly, absolute prohibition against restaurants serving wine or beer to anyone under some magical age, even when their parents are present, probably does more harm than good. As a result, when kids do become “of age”, they often end up engaging in drinking orgies to indulge in what has been denied them up to that time, sometimes with dire consequences. If instead they were introduced to wine and beer as a normal part of their upbringing, along with appropriate guidance for responsible consumption and behavior with respect to alcoholic beverages generally, by the time they reached adulthood, it would be no big deal – just part of life, and they’d likely be better equipped to handle it responsibly.
Childhood is the time when our foundational understanding of our world develops. The vast majority of us are born with a burning, passionate intelligence and curiosity about our world and incredible abilities to absorb and categorize information. The conduct of the parents in response to this curiosity and the questions that arise from it is critical at this stage. It can promote the healthy development of an intelligent mind, or it can damage that intelligence irreparably.
Some parents actively discourage their children from “asking too many questions” or “thinking too much”. Frankly, this practice is stupid, and can do tremendous harm to the child’s social and intellectual development. Some parents feel threatened if their child asks a question to which they don’t know the answer, and may lash out in response. This is an abusive parental behavior.
Effective parents, faced with a question to which they don’t know the answer, readily acknowledge their own ignorance on the matter. They’re more likely to respond with something like “I don’t know, let’s find out”, and proceed to research the question together with the child, subject of course to that child’s attention span. The result is that not only has the question been answered, both the parent and child having learned something in the process; but also the child has been shown several important things: that parents don’t know everything and shouldn’t be expected to, that it’s reasonable and proper to admit to not knowing something, and perhaps most importantly, how to find information. In today’s Internet environment, such research can be conducted quickly and conveniently.
Many of the ideas presented in this blog are outside of many people’s accepted world view, but despite this (or perhaps because of it), they merit serious consideration, particularly by those very people. We can better ourselves if we frequently examine our own ideas and behaviors, try to step outside of our usual frame of reference, ask ourselves honestly whether these ideas make objective sense to us or whether they should be discarded or adjusted; whether we are happy with our behaviors or whether we need to alter our habits, and work to make the necessary changes. As an ethical guideline, introspection is primary. Teaching this to our children, by example and explanation, helps them to be better people as well.
Wednesday, June 13, 2007
Reason Senior Editor Radley Balko testified before the House Financial Services Committee on June 8, 2007 on the issue of Internet gambling (transcript of his prepared testimony) (pdf).
Yet another infringement of our rights and freedoms motivated, no doubt by right-wing Christian influences in our federal government. Personally, I don't care much about poker, but the principle of the thing - that this group of people infiltrates our federal government disproportionately to their representation in the population at large and proceeds to try at every opportunity to impose their perverse values on the rest of us with such arrogant impunity, despite their own abysmal moral track record - is an affront to the very liberty on which the United States is founded.
Monday, June 11, 2007
The next time you are plagued with indecision and need a clear way out, it might help to get angry, according to a surprising new study.
Maybe this sheds a different light on the notion of the Angry Atheist.
Could this possibly also be suggesting that deliberately antagonizing religious types might actually have a value beyond the perverse pleasure of watching them squirm and further trumpet their ignorance?
Sunday, June 10, 2007
Why does anyone care about the misbehavior of this spoiled brat? Is this just another manifestation of some kind of inherent fascination people have with nonsense?
I can't imagine a more frightening story than that of the Bible's heaven. Unfortunately most Christians believe heaven as a pleasant eternal vista for which their souls reside as one with their God, forever. Oh, but what they have misconstrued. According to the bible, heaven is a 1500 mile cube city, and its inhabitants have little freedom of expression.
Saturday, June 9, 2007
One criticism that is often applied to intelligent design is that it is fundamentally untestable and hence can never be scientific. But is this really true?.[T]here are so many different implausible things for me to imagine, that there's very little point in treating any of them as true without evidence.
Wednesday, June 6, 2007
The title might suggest overconfidence. This is about just the opposite.
- Without doubt, there is no learning.
- Without doubt, there is no knowledge.
- Without doubt, there is no wisdom.
- Without doubt, there is no future.
- Without doubt, there is no hope.
- Without doubt, there is no peace.
- Without doubt, there is only stagnation.
Absolute certainty is absolute ignorance.
This is the field from which we have to choose. It's hard to imagine a worse president than George W. Bush but the ever-faithful GOP, it seems, is working overtime to provide just such a candidate. If one of these guys gets elected on the heels of the current disastrous administration, the America we have worked so hard to build and advance is in serious jeopardy.
During the first Republican presidential debate, Sam Brownback, Tom Tancredo, and Mike Huckabee all said they did not believe in evolution.
Brownback later displayed further ignorance about evolution when writing a pathetic op-ed for the New York Times.
So perhaps you thought those candidates learned their lesson before last night’s Republican debate? Not so much.
Tuesday, June 5, 2007
At this point, my suspicion is that to pray individually is roughly equivalent to talking to yourself. When you actually hear your voice verbalizing your thoughts, it seems to help focus on those thoughts and it stores them differently, perhaps redundantly. It may be a crude way to enhance the communication between the brain hemispheres or something on that order. In any case, many people find it useful to some degree to talk to themselves.
Praying as a group seems to serve an entirely different function, a social one, that of demonstrating conformance to a group standard in an effort to better fit into that group.
Wednesday, May 30, 2007
When the history of our era is written, there is much that will be said about the failures of traditional, mainstream media organizations. One of the most disappointing is the media's ritualized exaltation of "balance", which in practice means giving equal time and attention to both sides of a debate regardless of whether one side's views are more in agreement with the facts. I wrote about the harmful effects of this ignorant and lazy practice last year, in "The Illusion of Balance".
Sunday, May 27, 2007
A great many of our social institutions and traditions to which we all are to some extent inured, trace their roots directly or indirectly to our religious past. We depend to a significant degree on many of these. If it were somehow possible to suddenly remove religion from our society beginning on a date certain, the result would be an unmitigated disaster, as much or all of our social order would rapidly collapse in the resulting cultural vacuum. This is how deeply entangled we are with religion today - even those of us who consider ourselves atheists, having outgrown the core religious beliefs.
Perhaps fortunately, societies don't change instantly. Change has a way of setting its own pace. Individuals can exercise some influence over that pace by actively promoting their ideas, but it will unavoidably take time for religion to finally dissipate. I would guess that the most optimistic plausible estimate in the face of a well orchestrated effort would be 3-4 generations, but more realistically, given the large and complex human population, it could easily take more than 10 generations.
In some ways this is a depressing thought - none of us will live to see a world free of religion and the strife it brings. We are condemned to live out our lives surrounded by religious institutions and traditions with people blindly following.
What we can do in our time and in each generation that follows is to actively promote the values of critical thinking, of introspection, self examination and self improvement, of acting to improve the world, each in our own small way. We can take some satisfaction when we see that our contribution has made a difference, however subtle it may be. The goal here is not to promulgate yet another dogma - on the contrary, it's to help equip others to think for themselves, draw their own conclusions, and join the discourse.
We can work to apply pressure to educational institutions to include critical thinking in every aspect of their curriculum. We can aggressively work to debunk religious dogma. And we can help nurture the garden of social institutions and traditions that, over time, should evolve to provide better alternatives to religious ones. These will not gain acceptance if they feel contrived. They must evolve naturally if they are to feel natural.
Many existing traditions now associated with religion may survive in some form; the seasonal festivals being a likely example. Instead of "Christmas", some kind of winter festival might survive. Some quickly dismiss these as "pagan" rituals; but why not celebrate the changing of the seasons in and of itself? Season change is a beautiful part of nature without superimposing any mystical or supernatural nonsense.
Internet social activities probably represent several good examples of new social institutions and associated traditions. Activities like Instant Messaging, "Chat rooms", Blogging, participation in various message boards, multiplayer online games - these are evolving rapidly; their own traditions and language are taking shape.
The coffee house is an increasingly popular gathering place where people go to socialize, study, work, or just get out of the office or the house. Other kinds of retail establishments are starting to participate in this phenomenon as well. Book stores led the way, often in conjunction with coffee houses. Increasingly other kinds of businesses are reconfiguring themselves to accommodate social gatherings of various forms on the theory that the more time people spend in their stores, the more likely they'll buy something. The commercial motivation in no way detracts from the social value of these experiences. This parallels the practice of paying membership dues or a tithe, or stuffing a collection plate, in order to fund religious institutions.
Present-day religious institutions and traditions are the product of a long and continuing evolution of human society and culture; a process that should be more than strong enough to eventually lead us beyond religion, beyond divisiveness, to an increasingly widespread philosophy of life that fosters mutual respect among individuals and allows intercultural suspicion and hostility to fade. So too, new social functions and traditions evolve over time and will continue to do so. More will come into existence. Some will fade away; others will grow.
Whatever form these new traditions take, what matters is that they provide a comfortable forum for social interaction in which people will actually participate, not out of some sense of obligation, but because they want to; and in turn will benefit from the participation, gaining knowledge, perspective, and a sense of community. Perhaps these kinds of inclusive interactions and shared discourse can eventually lead us to more effective means of reconciling or at least learning to manage our disagreements without resorting to factionalism and violence as has all too often been our way throughout our history.
Tuesday, May 22, 2007
People who are walking disaster areas-the types who bounce checks monthly, miss flights and vomit on the boss at the company picnic-are the same people who have poor reasoning skills, new research shows.
Monday, May 21, 2007
Sunday, May 20, 2007
At times in the past and in recent years as well, this battle has become rather emotional with both “sides” hastening to “prove” their assertions, engaging in public “debates”.
It would be very amusing to watch this play out but for the dreadful implications.
Reality is whatever it is regardless of whether or not it pleases us; regardless of whether or not we recognize it or are ignorant of it.
In this “debate”, the “creationists” argue vehemently and try to muster public opinion as though consensus could somehow determine what is true. They proceed on the absurd assumption that if the other “side” looses, then their fanciful explanation must be correct. They employ all the cheap tactics ever tried on the high-school debate team but have no meaningful substance to their argument as it is based not on fossilized bones and geologic analysis, but on what amounts to a fossilized opinion in the form of ancient writings, and semantic “analysis” thereof. Consensus is a straw man – a distraction from the real issues. It’s not even remotely relevant to the subject of the discussion.
If genuine evidence were ever to surface that suggested the current theories of evolution are off the mark or even completely wrong, this would force the reevaluation of those ideas in light of that new evidence. If the evidence itself suggested a specific other explanation, that then would become the subject of the ongoing investigative quest to learn what processes are really responsible for making things as we find them. Such evidence, however, would say absolutely nothing about the creation story unless that evidence specifically and verifiably supported that explanation.
In other words, even if current theories of evolution somehow collapsed despite mountains of supporting evidence, there would still be no evidence to support the creation story. We’d be left with a blank slate and basically have to start over looking for a genuine explanation for the process.
Creationism vs. Evolution is a false choice, a false battle, and a tremendous waste of our collective intellect.
Friday, May 18, 2007
Well worth reading.
Christianity's twelve top sins against science:
Details in the full post.
Tuesday, May 15, 2007
A gentle but firm treatment of Christian ways by a former Christian
"Christians try to use god as a way to eliminate uncertainty in their lives. A blessing or a prayer is a way to implore to god to change things in favor of ones wishes."
Sunday, May 13, 2007
Turks rally to support secularism
IZMIR, Turkey (AP) -- Hundreds of thousands of secular Turks demonstrated on the seafront of Turkey's third-largest city on Sunday, fearful that the Islamic-rooted government is conspiring to impose religious values on society.
"These rallies have been useful in forcing the government to take a step back. The danger is still not over. These rallies must continue until there is no longer a threat."
Friday, May 11, 2007
While it contains few if any surprises, Lewis ties together historical events, of which many of us are largely ignorant, leading to a better understanding of the present-day picture. Through this and other of his considerable writings, can be seen more clearly, some of the machinations of the religious mindset.
For further reading, his book From Babel to Dragomans: Interpreting the Middle East delves in depth into the region's religious, cultural, and political history.
Thursday, May 10, 2007
Religion dictates how its followers should think (or not think), how they should behave, what they should feel, and how they should interpret the world around them. It places blinders in critical areas ("pay no attention to the man behind that curtain") and penalties, often to be manifested in some supposed afterlife (so of course they cannot be disproved), for those who would take a critical look. Religion is a primitive way of explaining the world, largely devoid of any truth whatsoever, even as it hijacks the very word "truth" for its own misuse. Religion demands of its followers that they set aside what their own senses tell them in favor of a variety of stories ranging from vaguely plausible at least metaphorically, to preposterous, downright silly ideas that, but for having been told for millennia, would immediately be dismissed as the nonsense that they are.
In our efforts to shake off the bonds of thousands of years of religious dictation, we need to think for ourselves, experience and observe the world for ourselves, and critically examine our own thoughts and beliefs as well as those of others; not blindly accept them. We should actively reach out to others to encourage them to do the same, to examine their own thoughts critically, as well as those of others. Together we should work to contribute to the growing body of human accomplishment and knowledge.
Religious ideas should be subject to no less rigorous standards than any scientific hypothesis or theory, and just as in scientific investigation, when an idea is demonstrated to be wrong, it must be discarded.
The latest target of Christian extremists appears to be pending hate crimes legislation (HR 1592), and this is a huge issue for them. If you have any doubt as to how important this bill is to Christian extremists, Google "hate crimes Christian," and you'll see what I mean. Could it be that these Christians are actually upset because they want the right to hatefully oppose and discriminate against certain groups? I can't help being reminded of Cheney's insistence that he retain the right to torture at will. What is really going on here, and what is at stake?
Sunday, May 6, 2007
Three GOP Presidential Candidates Reject Evolution
I wonder what the evolutionary effect is of this propensity we seem to have of electing people to public office based upon just about anything except their fitness for the duties and responsibilities of that office.
Saturday, May 5, 2007
Friday, May 4, 2007
The burden of proof is clearly on the religious.
When considering atheists, religious people start with a whole bunch of preconceptions – the ideas promulgated by whatever religion they’re aligned with. They don’t even grasp that the burden of proof is on them.
Religious people expect atheists to justify the position that there are no gods.
It’s not hard to understand, given these two very different premises, why intelligent debate between these parties is difficult if not impossible.
Thursday, May 3, 2007
Wednesday, May 2, 2007
Main Entry: her·e·sy
Pronunciation: 'her-&-sE, 'he-r&-
Inflected Form(s): plural -sies
Etymology: Middle English heresie, from Anglo-French, from Late Latin haeresis, from Late Greek hairesis, from Greek, action of taking, choice, sect, from hairein to take
1 a : adherence to a religious opinion contrary to church dogma b : denial of a revealed truth by a baptized member of the Roman Catholic Church c : an opinion or doctrine contrary to church dogma
2 a : dissent or deviation from a dominant theory, opinion, or practice b : an opinion, doctrine, or practice contrary to the truth or to generally accepted beliefs or standards
Main Entry: blas·phe·my
Inflected Form(s): plural -mies
1 a : the act of insulting or showing contempt or lack of reverence for God b : the act of claiming the attributes of deity
2 : irreverence toward something considered sacred or inviolable
Tuesday, May 1, 2007
Monday, April 30, 2007
Commenting on the recommendation of the Vatican International Theological Commission to eliminate the concept of limbo, Michelle Tsai, writing for Slate, offers some interesting thoughts on past efforts by church leaders to resolve the final destination of baby souls in the afterlife. It's nice that today there is a growing theological awareness of God's mercy, because just a few centuries ago St. Augustine was offering this:The fate of unbaptized babies has confounded Catholic scholars for centuries. According to church catechisms, or teachings, babies that haven't been splashed with holy water bear the original sin, which makes them ineligible for joining God in heaven. At the same time, as innocent beings, they surely don't deserve eternal torment. St. Augustine concluded in the fourth century that the babies must be punished in the fire of hell, but only with the “mildest condemnation.”
Saturday, April 28, 2007
Have you ever tried to have a conversation about religion with a devout Christian only to find them completely unable to debate rationally? It seems no matter how many sound arguments you make or how many glaring contradictions you bring up, they still hold hard and fast to their beliefs and give you that "you are SO going to hell" condescending kind of look?
The substance of the article, however, is well written and right on target.
"We must find ways of meeting our emotional needs that do not require the abject embrace of the preposterous"
"The Bush administration has 150 graduates of Pat Robertson's law school. That's right, Pat Robertson, the man who believes that hurricanes are caused by gay people."Maher on Religion