Friday, January 25, 2008

Sam Harris astounds me again!

I'm reposting this in its entirety from The Edge's annual question: "What have you changed your mind about?" I know I'm a bit late to this party, but I had a great deal of thinking to do before I knew where I stood. At first, when I read Sam's response, I was shocked, disagreeing completely. But then again, I thought that way at first about his characterization of moderate Christians. Essentially, he argues that moderate Christians

"by their lingering attachment to the unique divinity of Jesus, protect the faith of fundamentalists from public scorn. Christian liberals — who aren't sure what they believe but just love the experience of going to church occasionally — deny the moderates a proper collision with scientific rationality. And in this way centuries have come and gone without an honest word being spoken about God in our society."

EDIT: After I posted this, I read an amazing post at Apostate's Chapel that you should all read about why atheists refuse to leave religion alone.

However, the more I think and reflect on Sam's ideas, the more convincing I find them. I was automatically reacting against them because they are so radically different from conventional wisdom, or at least conventional sensibilities. The concept he expresses below, that "Mother Nature is Not Our Friend" is terribly important to understand. I had been disgusted with the attitude of arrogance and entitlement that seems to come with the differing strains of religion, without realizing that my own eye held a similar beam: the assumption that "natural" is the same thing as "the best". Now that we have developed the tools to shape our own genetic and physiological destiny (no thanks to those who attempt to quash science in the name of religion, or more vaguely, "ethics"). The question is no longer, "should we?" but "why shouldn't we?" By challenging the base assumption that nature wants humans to survive, or that we have some special place in the cosmos, Sam forces us to rethink all our assumptions about gene therapy, cloning, stem cell research, climate change, and the ethical issues surround them. Enjoy:

Neuroscience Researcher; Author, Letter to a Christian Nation

Mother Nature is Not Our Friend

Like many people, I once trusted in the wisdom of Nature. I imagined that there were real boundaries between the natural and the artificial, between one species and another, and thought that, with the advent of genetic engineering, we would be tinkering with life at our peril. I now believe that this romantic view of Nature is a stultifying and dangerous mythology.

Every 100 million years or so, an asteroid or comet the size of a mountain smashes into the earth, killing nearly everything that lives. If ever we needed proof of Nature's indifference to the welfare of complex organisms such as ourselves, there it is. The history of life on this planet has been one of merciless destruction and blind, lurching renewal.

The fossil record suggests that individual species survive, on average, between one and ten million years. The concept of a "species" is misleading, however, and it tempts us to think that we, as homo sapiens, have arrived at some well-defined position in the natural order. The term "species" merely designates a population of organisms that can interbreed and produce fertile offspring; it cannot be aptly applied to the boundaries between species (to what are often called "intermediate" or "transitional" forms). There was, for instance, no first member of the human species, and there are no canonical members now. Life is a continuous flux. Our nonhuman ancestors bred, generation after generation, and incrementally begat what we now deem to be the species homo sapiens — ourselves. There is nothing about our ancestral line or about our current biology that dictates how we will evolve in the future. Nothing in the natural order demands that our descendants resemble us in any particular way. Very likely, they will not resemble us. We will almost certainly transform ourselves, likely beyond recognition, in the generations to come.

Will this be a good thing? The question presupposes that we have a viable alternative. But what is the alternative to our taking charge of our biological destiny? Might we be better off just leaving things to the wisdom of Nature? I once believed this. But we know that Nature has no concern for individuals or for species. Those that survive do so despite Her indifference. While the process of natural selection has sculpted our genome to its present state, it has not acted to maximize human happiness; nor has it necessarily conferred any advantage upon us beyond the capacity raise the next generation to child-bearing age. In fact, there may be nothing about human life after the age of forty (the average lifespan until the 20th century) that has been selected by evolution at all. And with a few exceptions (e.g. the gene for lactose tolerance), we probably haven't adapted to our environment much since the Pleistocene.

But our environment and our needs — to say nothing of our desires — have changed radically in the meantime. We are in many respects ill-suited to the task of building a global civilization. This is not a surprise. From the point of view of evolution, much of human culture, along with its cognitive and emotional underpinnings, must be epiphenomenal. Nature cannot "see" most of what we are doing, or hope to do, and has done nothing to prepare us for many of the challenges we now face.

These concerns cannot be waved aside with adages like, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." There are innumerable perspectives from which our current state of functioning can be aptly described as "broke." Speaking personally, it seems to me that everything I do picks out some point on a spectrum of disability: I was always decent at math, for instance, but this is simply to say that I am like a great mathematician who has been gored in the head by a bull; my musical ability resembles that of a Mozart or a Bach, it is true, though after a near fatal incident on skis; if Tiger Woods awoke from surgery to find that he now possessed (or was possessed by) my golf-swing, rest assured that a crushing lawsuit for medical malpractice would be in the offing.

Considering humanity as a whole, there is nothing about natural selection that suggests our optimal design. We are probably not even optimized for the Paleolithic, much less for life in the 21st century. And yet, we are now acquiring the tools that will enable us to attempt our own optimization. Many people think this project is fraught with risk. But is it riskier than doing nothing? There may be current threats to civilization that we cannot even perceive, much less resolve, at our current level of intelligence. Could any rational strategy be more dangerous than following the whims of Nature? This is not to say that our growing capacity to meddle with the human genome couldn't present some moments of Faustian over-reach. But our fears on this front must be tempered by a sober understanding of how we got here. Mother Nature is not now, nor has she ever been, looking out for us.

Mr. Gruff sez. . .

I've seen this a couple of times. Sorry, I don't know who to attribute it to at this point, but it makes me chuckle every time so I'm reposting it here for your pleasure.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The need for atheist spirituality...

Vjack has a great post over at Atheist Revolution about the application of "spirituality" to atheist thought. As I mentioned in the comments section, Sam Harris makes no bones about the spirituality he has experienced, and the fact the he continues to seek those experiences through contemplative processes like meditation. Presumably, a portion of his motivation in the area is his work as a neuroscientist and a desire to understand the neurological or neurochemical basis for these types of transcendent experiences.

To me, I find it interesting that religious folk often tend to use these types of experiences as "proof" that their mode of belief is correct. And, it's an easy misinterpretation to make, especially when caught up in the euphoria that may come along with these experiences. But, the fact that many cultures throughout history have produced these experiences, with or without a religious component ought to serve as proof of the opposite: our brains are wired to accept these types of input and translate them as awe-inspiring, transcendent, and special.

Conversely, many atheists appear to place little value in this type of experience. We can get so caught up in promoting rationality above all else that we may forget the sense of wonder and mysticism that is inherent (at least to me) in nature. It seems to me that these peak experiences are a wonderful part of the human condition. Different people will seek out these experiences to different degrees, but I think we ought to be open to this type of wonder, so long as we don't read too much into them. That is, they are not proof for god's existence, let alone proof that your specific god cares for you personally & individually.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Living the Scientific Life (Scientist, Interrupted): Top Fifty Atheist T-Shirt and Bumper Sticker Aphorisms

Thanks to Dangerous Intersection for the tip-off on this:

Living the Scientific Life (Scientist, Interrupted): Top Fifty Atheist T-Shirt and Bumper Sticker Aphorisms

Top Fifty Atheist T-Shirt and Bumper Sticker Aphorisms

  1. Abstinence Makes the Church Grow Fondlers

  2. Honk If Your Religious Beliefs Make You An Asshole

  3. Intelligent Design Makes My Monkey Cry

  4. Too Stupid to Understand Science? Try Religion.

  5. There's A REASON Why Atheists Don't Fly Planes Into Buildings

  6. "Worship Me or I Will Torture You Forever. Have a Nice Day."­ God.

  7. God Doesn't Kill People. People Who Believe in God Kill People.

  8. If There is No God, Then What Makes the Next Kleenex Pop Up?

  9. He's Dead.
    It's Been 2,000 years.
    He's Not Coming Back.
    Get OVER It Already!

  10. All religion is simply evolved out of fraud, fear, greed, imagination, and poetry. Edgar Allen Poe.

  11. Viva La EvoluciĆ³n!

  12. Actually, If You Look It Up, The Winter Solstice Is The Reason For The Season

  13. I Wouldn't Trust Your God Even If He Did Exist

  14. Cheeses Is Lard. Argue With THAT If You Can.

  15. People Who Don't Want Their Beliefs Laughed at Shouldn't Have Such Funny Beliefs

  16. Jesus is Coming? Don't Swallow That.

  17. Threatening Children With Hell Is FUN!


  19. Jesus Told Me Republicans SUCK

  20. God + Whacky Tobacky = Platypus

  21. God Doesn't Exist. So, I Guess That Means No One Loves You.

  22. When the Rapture Comes, We'll Get Our Country Back!

  23. Q. How Do We Know the Holy Ghost Was Catholic?
    A. He Used the Rhythm Method Instead of a Condom.

  24. You Say "Heretic" Like It Was a BAD Thing

  25. I Love Christians. They Taste Like Chicken.

  26. Science: It Works, Bitches.

  27. "Intelligent Design" Helping Stupid People Feel Smart Since 1987

  28. I Found God Between The Sheets

  29. I Gave Up Superstitious Mumbo Jumbo For Lent

  30. My Flying Monkey Can Beat Up Your Guardian Angel

  31. Every Time You Play With Yourself, God Kills a Kitten

  32. If God Wanted People to Believe in Him, Then Why Did He Invent Logic?

  33. Praying Is Politically Correct Schizophrenia

  34. ALL Americans Are African Americans

  35. I Forget - Which Day Did God Make All The Fossils?

  36. I Was An Atheist Until The Hindus Convinced Me That I Was God

  37. The Spanish Inquisition: The Original Faith-based Initiative

  38. If we were made in his image, when why aren't humans invisible too?

  39. JESUS SAVES....You From Thinking For Yourself

  40. How Can You Disbelieve in Evolution If You Can't Even Define It?

  41. Q. How Can You Tell That Your God is Man-made?
    A. If He Hates All the Same People You Do.

  42. Every Time You See a Rainbow, God is Having Gay Sex

  43. I Went to Public School in Kansas and All I Got Was This Lousy T-shirt and a Poor Understanding of the Scientific Method.

  44. WWJD = We Won. Jesus Died.

  45. The Family That Prays Together is Brainwashing the Children

  46. Oh, Look, Honey Another Pro-lifer For War

  47. Another Godless Atheist for Peace and World Harmony

  48. God is Unavailable Right Now. Can I Help You?

  49. When Lip Service to Some Mysterious Deity Permits Bestiality on
    Wednesday and Absolution on Sundays, Cash Me Out. Frank Sinatra.

  50. No Gods. No Mullets.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The Raw Story | Huckabee: Amend Constitution to be in 'God's standards'

I'm sure you've seen this or heard about this by now, but in case you haven't:

The Raw Story | Huckabee: Amend Constitution to be in 'God's standards'

"I have opponents in this race who do not want to change the Constitution," Huckabee told a Michigan audience on Monday. "But I believe it's a lot easier to change the Constitution than it would be to change the word of the living god. And that's what we need to do -- to amend the Constitution so it's in God's standards rather than try to change God's standards so it lines up with some contemporary view."
Contrast this with the constitution (from

Amendment 1 - Freedom of Religion, Press, Expression. Ratified 12/15/1791. Note

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Hear that, Huckleberry!?!?!?!?! That's my constitution that you are threatening! And what parts of God's law do you want to amend the constitution to include? All excerpts below from Evil Bible.

Can we own slaves? Leviticus 25:45 “Moreover of the children of the strangers that do sojourn among you, of them shall ye buy … and they shall be your possession… they shall be your bondmen forever.” Genesis 9:25 “And he [Noah] said, Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren.” Exodus 21:2 & 7 “If thou buy an Hebrew servant, six years he shall serve: and in the seventh he shall go out free for nothing… And if a man sell his daughter to be a maidservant, she shall not go out as the menservants do.” Joel 3:8 “And I will sell your sons and your daughters into the hand of the children of Judah, and they shall sell them to the Sabeans, to a people far off: for the Lord hath spoken it.” Luke 12:47-48 [Jesus speaking] “And that servant, which knew his lord’s will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes.” Colossians 3:22

“Servants, obey in all things your masters.” So obviously the Biblical God thinks slavery is right, right? Just look at these: Isaiah 58:6 “Undo the heavy burdens... let the oppressed go free, ... break every yoke.” Matthew 23:10 “Neither be ye called Masters: for one is your Master, even Christ.” (Also see Exodus 22:21 & 21:16) Let it be known here that pro-slavery Bible verses were cited by many churches in the South during the Civil War, and were used by some theologians in the Dutch Reformed Church to justify apartheid in South Africa. There are more pro-slavery verses than cited here. I simply do not have the room to post all of them.

Should we pray in public? 1 Kings 2:22, 54 & 9:3 shows the Lord is joyed by public prayer and listens intently. Matthew 6:5-6 condemn public prayer and command people keep it a secret.

Should we circumcise males? Genesis 17:10 “This is my covenant which ye shall keep between me and you and thy seed after thee: Every man and child among you shall be circumcised. Clearly this demands circumcision, yet Galatians 5:2 says “Behold, I Paul, say unto you, that if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing.”

Do women have rights? Genesis 3:16 “And thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.” 1 Timothy 2:12 says a woman must not teach, remain silent and must be subjugated to her man. 1 Corinthians 14:34 & 1 Peter 3:6 both say that women have limited rights and are under control of their men. Judges 4:4, 14-15, 5:7, Acts 2:18 & 21:9 all tell of powerful women who were not subjugated by men and were not punished for their authority of men.

So, Mr. Huckleberry Hound, which of these bat-shit insane, stupid, ass-backwards, neanderthal ideals should we amend our constitution to include?!?! Or is it just going to be the typical Christian Coalition stuff: banning abortion, eliminating stem cell research, stripping homosexual of any rights, getting rid of that pesky "evolution" in biology classes and so on?


Tuesday, January 15, 2008


Hat Tip to Stardust at God is for Suckers for the heads-up.
As if I ever need reminding why I'm an atheist:


Sometimes, on a cold winter day, my thoughts turn to dumbasses, and then I'm happy again. There, but for the grace of *reason* (sanity?) go I.

Let's talk about the age of consent. The law should be universal in every state, you must be 18 years of age to have sex. End of story. Liberals are constantly fighting on the side of pedophiles to lower it down. A lot of states have the age of consent at a disgusting 16 years old. Take a look at gay Canada, children as young as 14 can have sex with 40 year old men legally. What is the world coming to?
Hey, believe me, I hate Canada as much as the next guy, but seriously?

And, as a public service, here's a quick list of shows to avoid to keep your 8 year old from turning gay
There is a number of queer shows on television that not only promote the sinful "Gay Culture", but are probably filled with other subliminal messages to promote the homosexual agenda. Here are a list of shows to avoid:

  • Queer Eye for the Straight Guy
  • Boy Meets Boy
  • Queer Eye
  • Big Brother
  • Survivor
  • Family Guy
  • The Sarah Silverman Program
  • The War at Home
  • The Simpsons
  • Drawn Together
  • Heroes
  • The Ellen Show
  • Dr. Phil
  • Oprah
  • Will & Grace
  • Friends
  • Seinfeld
There are many more, but these are the main ones to avoid. Just keep your head up and possibly buy a digital cable box or satellite dish, so you can control the content. Last thing you need is your 8 year old son asking you if his pants look "fabulous".
Family guy AND The Simpsons?!?! *Gasp* But, but... but... I've been watching those for years, and I'm still happily married. I'm not sure how you've been watching all of those shows without a digital cable box or satellite dish, but good to know!

Please, just read this whole post "Atheists Are Out To Get Your Children"

I can only hope it's satire, but I don't hold out a lot of hope.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Sermon Alive

I'm not really sure if this is true or a VERY clever parody. I guess I have to lean towards true. Apparently, the idea is to post a daily devotional or sermon.

Some choice tidbits from Sermon Alive:

Nevermind, I can't pick a few. I'm thinking about skewering the daily devotion on an ongoing basis, but let's just start with today's, OK?


A faithful man will be richly blessed, but one eager to get rich will not go unpunished. - Proverbs 28:20

In the Promised Land, we learn that obedience is the only thing that matters. We are called to execute, and leave outcome to God. Sometimes that outcome is very positive, yielding a return. In other cases, we may not yield a corresponding return. We may even get a negative outcome. The difference is that we know that we have been faithful to what God has called us to and we yield results to God. God often blesses obedience beyond what we deserve. If God brings wealth to your life, it should come as a by-product of obedience, not an end in itself.

God may call each of us to be obedient to situations that may not yield immediate, positive results. It is in these times that our faith must be obedience-based versus outcome-based. What if Jesus had considered the immediate ramifications of whether he would go to the cross? Based on the immediate outcome, the decision would have been an easy one. Who wants to die on a cross? However, for Him there was a higher purpose in that obedience. We are called to this same kind of obedience. This means putting our own flesh on the line daily, dying to our own self-will.

This is what it means to be a faithful man. Pray that God will make you a faithful man today.

Question yourself:

  • Am I willing to be obedience in any circumstances?
  • Why have faith in God’s promises resulting in total obedience irregardless of any circumstances?
So what I'm learning from this is if we work hard at obeying god's will, then sometimes we get stuff and sometimes we don't. However, if we are very lucky we might actually have to put "our own flesh on the line daily". And I just can't get enough of the questions to ask yourself:
"Am I willing to be obedience in any circumstances?"
"Why have faith in God's promises resulting in total obedience irregardless of any circumstances?"

I don't know how to "be obedience." Can someone please diagram the last sentence for me? I know "irregardless" is not a word, but I'm not sure what the subject of the sentence is? I'm going to take a stab at translating the question into one you might be able to read: "Come up with some reasons why you should have blind faith in god and blindly obey his various edicts, even when they contradict each other, despite any and all evidence to the contrary".

Other things that you can learn if you sign up for the daily devotional:
  • how to sort out which of the many voices in your head is god's
  • "You need more battles that will give you the opportunity to learn the art of spiritual warfare. Do not fear these battles that are before you. God has already given you the victory if you choose complete dependence and obedience to Him. Then you will become one of God’s greatest warriors, skilled in spiritual warfare."
I hear it now.... "ninjas for Christ"

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Evolution and the race for President

Reason Magazine has a wonderful new article up by Ronald Bailey about why we should care what the various presidential candidates believe about evolution. He covers what most of the candidates have said about evolution so you can get an idea of who thinks what. He ends the article with this summation for why you should care what the candidates think:

A larger question is whether a candidate's belief about the validity of evolutionary biology has anything to say about his or her ability to evaluate evidence. A January 4, 2008, editorial by Science editor Donald Kennedy correctly argues, "The candidates should be asked hard questions about science policy, including questions about how those positions reflect belief. What is your view about stem cell research, and does it relate to a view of the time at which human life begins? Have you examined the scientific evidence regarding the age of Earth? Can the process of organic evolution lead to the production of new species, and how? Are you able to look at data on past climates in search of inferences about the future of climate change?" Kennedy concludes, "I don't need them to describe their faith; that's their business and not mine. But I do care about their scientific knowledge and how it will inform their leadership."

Since science and technology policy issues are only going to become more important as the 21st century unfolds, we should all care how scientific knowledge informs a president's leadership.
How do you fit this in with your prioritization of which candidate to support? As I argued here, once I find out you are a religious literalist, I can't take you seriously anymore.
Sadly, we do have a need to know as much as we can about the candidate's particular religious beliefs. If you believe that a 2000 year-old Jewish zombie is someday coming back, I want to know that about a candidate before I vote for them. If you believe that 72 virgins await martyrs in some idyllic paradise (although presumably not so idyllic for the virgins), then I have a right to question your basic sanity. All hyperbole aside, I need to know if your particular supernatural beliefs are going to influence your policies.

I was telling my wife the other night that I'm not so concerned about all the minutiae involved in the debate, but it's getting to the point that if you are religious I think that, in many ways, is mutually exclusive with being a reasonable, logical person. If you believe that the earth is only 6,000 years old, we don't have that much more to talk about. We're obviously not going to agree on environmental policy if you think the whole earth was created in 7 days. I can't listen to your position on taxes, or health care, or education, much less your ideas about more religiously charged topics like abortion, gay rights, stem cells, or even foreign policy. We're pretty much done at that point, and I can't take you seriously anymore. Can you see where I'm coming from? The inmates are out of the asylum and are running for president, unfortunately they all have a god-complex.

How do you determine which candidate to support?

In writing this post I started discussing the process of deciding which candidate to support. I posed the question: "How do you decide which candidate merits your support?" I really don't mean it as a trite question, I've put a great deal of thought into it personally.

It used to be an easy decision for me. I used to be a religious Republican, which meant that I made by decision by listening in church for cues as to who everyone else was supporting. Occasionally, this would come from the pulpit, but more often casual discussions with other church members would lead to a kind of informal consensus as to who the 'best' candidate would be.

Now that I'm neither religious nor Republican, I'm not sure how people decide to support any given candidate, especially when parts of their ideology may conflict. For example: if you love candidate A's positions on domestic policy, but hate their foreign policy, do they still get your vote? Or substitute any set of issues you want, the question remains: in the absence of a perfect candidate for you, how do you go about prioritizing the issues so you come up with an acceptable candidate (or not) to vote for?

To me, I'm really struggling with this issue. I've spent the last 10 or so years throwing out or otherwise evaluating the old heuristics I'd use. Heuristics are especially useful or especially misleading when it comes to elections. For example- Mike Huckabee is touting his Christianity. For many people, this provides a useful way to shortcut all of his position issues and just give them a "yes" or "no" for supporting him. Heuristics are mental shortcuts based on past experience. So, if you are a Christian, this label attached to Huckabee is a shortcut way of expressing that he probably shares your values on issues such as abortion, evolution, science policy, stem cells, gay rights, etc.... You don't (mentally) need to take the time to actually evaluate his positions on each of these issues. It works the same way for me when I go to evaluate Mike Huckabee, except those shortcuts all lead to a "no" answer when I question whether our values are similar. For other Christians, Mitt Romney's Mormonism might be another heuristic for "no", even though they would probably agree on all of the issues. This is why I say they can be especially misleading.

These heuristics are great once the nominating stage of the race is over with and the parties have chosen their candidates. Most people just use their "party" heuristic at this point and vote for the person that the party as selected to represent them. However, at the nominating stage, one has to look a little bit deeper to find one's cues.

So here's where I stand: I'm 29 years old, white, middle-class, atheist, and a libertarian. I don't know much about how our foreign policy ought to look, I just know it's not working now. I'm not sure if non-intervention (a la Ron Paul) would be salvation or disaster. All of this means that there's no obvious candidate that I should support. Fiscally, I probably should side with a Republican candidate. Socially, probably a Democrat. Foreign policy gets a big "?". So how do I prioritize these? I think all of these issues are important-- if not for me personally, then for the country as a whole. Should I vote strictly my interests? Should I vote for the best interest of the country? How do I weigh these if they diverge? I was leaning towards Ron Paul lately, until I read this blog post at Daylight Atheism. So I think where I'm left is looking for Giuliani. We probably agree on economic policy, he's pretty liberal on social issues (gay rights, etc...) and I don't think he's looking to push his religion down anyone's throats. I don't plan on traveling out of the country any time soon, I don't know anyone that lives out of the country, and I don't know anyone in the military, so do I completely ignore foreign policy? That doesn't seem right, but what am I to do?

If you have any input, feel free to leave it in the comments. How are you deciding? What factors are the biggest for you?

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