Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The Golden Mean

From Daylight Atheism:

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".


Islam, Muslims & the World - a brief, paradigmatic analysis

An atheist ex-muslim speaks out. Very well written and well worth reading.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Social Institutions

Religion, for all its misguided ideas and misdirected energy, has provided the context in which our entire society has evolved. For better or worse, this is where we are. Each of us is a product of our religious heritage. Even as we open our eyes to the realities of the world around us, we still harbor deep inside, ideas of religious origin, many of which have no relationship to reality. Some of these we can identify and expunge, while others won't be so easy to shake off. They will remain with us in some form and we'll need to reach an accommodation with them.

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

Bad Decision-Makers Lack Reasoning Skills

From LiveScience:
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

Atheist Blogroll

Å has now joined the Atheist Blogroll. Thanks to Mojoey of Deep Thoughts for organizing this service.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Evolution vs. Creation?

A battle rages on between the proponents of what has come to be called Creationism, essentially an attempt at literal interpretation of the fanciful biblical story of how everything came to exist in general, and in particular, where we humans came from; and adherents to scientific explanations of the origins of the universe in general, with particular emphasis on the evolutionary process that Charles Darwin is credited with first observing and describing, explaining the origins of our and other species residing on our little planet.

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

Christianity's Sins Against Science

From Pharyngula:

Well worth reading.

Christianity's twelve top sins against science:
  1. Theft.

  2. Literalism.

  3. Authoritarianism.

  4. Hierarchies.

  5. Dominion.

  6. Predestination.

  7. Miracles.

  8. Credulity.

  9. Inflexibility.

  10. Blasphemy.

  11. Supernaturalism.

  12. Faith.

Details in the full post.

Christians Demand Right to Hate

From Atheist Revolution:
Christians Demand Right to Hate

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Goodbye and Good Riddance


Rev. Jerry Falwell dead at 73

Christianity: A Means to Manage Uncertainty

From Debunking Christianity:

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

Muslims Value Freedom


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

What Hath Religion Wrought

Bernard Lewis is a Brilliant scholar of middle-eastern history, politics, and culture. Recently, on the occasion of his having been granted the Irving Kristol Award by the American Enterprise Institute, Professor Lewis gave a Lecture on historical change, the present conditions concerning the Islamic world and the predominantly Christian west. The World Jewish Digest published an article entitled The Third Islamic Wave, an excerpt from this Lecture.

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

Religion Dictates. I could just stop there. Perhaps this is the main problem with Religion. It dictates. It leaves little or no room for intelligent contemplation and debate of its core propositions. Some religious endlessly debate the minutia – details of whether the interpretation of this passage or that implies that a certain food is or is not fit to eat, for example, or that a particular activity is or is not appropriate during this holiday or that. But the core propositions are pretty much off limits in all of them. To promote debate reaching into the core would inevitably result in the widespread recognition of the fallacy of these foundational ideas, causing the collapse of whatever had been built upon them.

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.

Is "Hate" a Religious Right?

From Atheist Revolution:

The God-Given Right to Hate

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

From Atheist Revolution:

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.

Friday, May 4, 2007

Different Premises

When considering religion, atheists begin with a blank slate – in effect, the ‘default’ position – and consider the question of whether religious ideas make any sense. There are some ancient writings and a couple of thousand years of theological accretion, a lot of present day “authorities” doing a lot of (often smug) insisting, but there is no actual evidence to even suggest these fanciful explanations; much less any concrete support for them. Irrespective of the thousands of years of tradition, the proposition to be tested is the notion of the existence of a god or gods and the presumption that these mythical and mystical characters are somehow responsible for absolutely everything in the universe, and, moreover, at least in some versions of the story, are able and willing to take a personal interest in every living creature at least on our little world and presumably anywhere else life exists.

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.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

The Meaning of Life

Andrew Post, on The Spectrum writes about his answers when asked by non-atheists about the meaning of life.
"The only reason life exists on this planet, simply put, because it can"


From Merriam Webster Online:

Main Entry: her·e·sy
Pronunciation: 'her-&-sE, 'he-r&-
Function: noun
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

See also:


From Merriam Webster Online:

Main Entry: blas·phe·my
Pronunciation: 'blas-f&-mE
Function: noun
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

See also:

Tuesday, May 1, 2007