Saturday, June 30, 2007

Atheism and Civil Rights

There is a discussion in the blogsphere about whether there exists a type of discrimination against atheists that counts as a civil rights issue.

Matt Nisbet in "Atheism Is Not a Civil Rights Issue" says that atheists should not compare themselves to gays, jews, and blacks as victims of discrimination.

He refers to a column in Free Inquiry magazine that says "Atheism Is Not a Civil Rights Issue"

This, in turn, refers to comments by Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens that atheists do face discrimination.

Well, Friendly Atheist ignited a long discussion of the merits of blogging anonymously in "How To Blog About Atheism" that describes atheists fearing the loss of jobs and other opportunities if they should announce that they are atheists.

If there were no discrimination, then saying that one is an atheist should, in itself, be no different than saying that one is a Seventh-day Adventist.

Grothe and Dacey dismiss these concerns by saying, By their nature, minority viewpoints are unpopular and held in suspicion by the general public: just ask a Wiccan or deep ecologist.

Yet, there are countless 'minority viewpoints' that are not viewed with general distrust. Indeed, every one of us holds a minority viewpoint on at least one issue. Yet, there are few issues where we worry about the loss of jobs, friends, and even life or limb as a result.

Personally, one of the effects of letting others know that I did not believe in God when I was young was being attacked by fellow classmates. One particular attack involved holding me under water until I could hold my breath no more. I screamed for help (which, for somebody who is under water at the time, is an extreme act of despiration) - thinking that the lung full of air I screamed out was the last I would breathe.

It is a horrendously frightening experience. I think about it every time the press mentions 'waterboarding'.

Yet, that was only one religiously-motivated attack.

I wanted to spend my adult life in public service - as an elected official. However, most people will not vote for an atheist.

Phrases like, "There are no atheists in foxholes" and "Atheists cannot be moral" are bigoted statements that deprive atheists across the country from opportunities that will give their life meaning because agents in this country carefully cultivate an attitude of hate, fear, and distrust of atheists - a campaign that feeds on itself, and that cannot be broken until one points out the basic injustice of these attitudes.

There is very much in common between the unreasoned hatred of atheists expressed through denigrating stereotypes, and the unreasoned hatred of other groups expressed through denigrating stereotypes.

There is no reason to refrain from pointing out to people the fact of these similarities.

Blogging Anonymously

There is a question going about concerning the merits of blogging anonymously as an atheist.

Austin Cline in "Blogging About Atheism" offers it as a plausible suggestion.

Frienly Atheist in "How to Blog About Atheism" says that he is opposed to anonymous blogging.

Mojoey at Deep Thoughts writes in "Blogging About Atheism" blogs anonymously and casts a "yes" vote in the name of protecting his future employment prospects.

Personally, my attitude is derived from the fact that my father was willing to risk - and actually sacrificed - quite a bit in defense of what he believed in. He left the military after 12 years of service with a medical discharge - 100% disabled.

The risks that I take in using my own name - even if they do include some slightly elevated risk of life, limb, and employment - are insignificant compared to the risks that he took, or the risks of millions of people like him.

I owe it to them to be willing to take on some risk.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Homosexuality and Choice

CNN reports about a doctor who is trying to determine if it is possible to infer a person's gender and sexual orientation by knowing how he or she walks ("Step by step, researcher looks for sexuality clues").

This researcher seems particularly interested in proving (not 'discovering', for the reasearch seems to be starting with the assumption that the conclusion is true, and simply needs evidence to support it) that a person does not choose his or her sexual orientation.

This question may be interesting to some from a scientific point of view.

However, from the moral point of view, nothing follows from it.

Assume that we discover that the disposition to rape has a biological origin - that rape-desire is not chosen. We would still have reason to condemn it and to inhibit it wherever it is found. The morally relevant characteristic is not whether people choose to be rapists, but whether the disposition itself is evil.

Now, as a desire utilitarian, I also hold that the badness of a desire depends on its disposition to thwart the desires of others. A desire to rape would be bad. However, since homosexual desire can be harmonized with the homosexual desires of others (homosexuals can have mutually fulfilling sex), there is no reason to condemn it.

This is the crucial moral question - not the question of choice.

In fact, even if homosexual desire is not chosen, homosexual actions are still intentional acts. A person cannot end up in bed with somebody of the same gender and say, 'Oops, I must have tripped. I did not mean to do that.'. Well, he or she could say this, but it would be odd. No, a person does choose to approach somebody of the same gender, does choose to lead the interaction in the direction of sex, and does choose to engage in sex acts. Homosexual acts are as much a choice as any other act that we can be held morally accountable for.

Another way of expressing the idea that 'choice' has no moral relevance is to ask the question, "Would it be morally permissible for a heterosexual to engage in a homosexual act?"

The heterosexual may not want to - but the question of moral permissibility does not depend on desire. I have no desire to walk non-stop to New York this morning; yet, it would be morally permissible for me to do so.

If a heterosexual may permissibly engage in homosexual acts, then the degree of choice in homosexual desire is morally irrelevant. The acts would be permissible even for those who do not have a desire to engage in them. Indeed, this is what it means for an act to be morally permissible.

The most sinister aspect of this focus on choice is that this 'choice' assumes that homosexuality is wrong. The only reason to question (in a moral context) whether homosexuality is a choice is when one assumes that it would be wrong to choose to be a homosexual. If choosing to be a homosexual is not wrong, then what does it matter that (for some) it is not a choice? It assumes that homosexuality is bad, but seeks to acquit homosexuals on the grounds that this bad thing was forced upon them.

In fact, I hold that homosexuality is truly morally permissible, meaning that there is no 'badness' (moral or otherwise) in choosing to be a homosexual. If some doctor invented a pill tomorrow that 'cured' homosexuality, I would side with those who would refuse to take it. I suspect that there would be a lot of them, because homosexuality - though it starts out as a sexual orientation, becomes (for some) an identity. To 'cure' their homosexuality would be similar to killing the person that exists in a body and putting a different person in that body.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Private Space Station Test

Bigelow Aerospace has launched its second private space station module.

This is one of three exciting avenues of private space development currently going on. I mentioned Space Adventure's private space mission to the moon earlier. This is the same company that sends people to the International Space Station.

Bigelow Aerospace wants to create space stations that are so inexpensive that just about any country can have one - or lease one, as the case may be. They are using technology that NASA discarded.

Private Trip to the Moon

According to, if things go according to plan, in a couple of years, human eyes will once again look directly down on the far side of the moon. They'll pay for it. Two passengers at $100 million each. But, at least something is getting done.

No contracts have been signed, but Space Adventures, Inc. says that they hope to have a mission under contract by the end of the year.

How much would it cost NASA to put 2 people around the moon?

This is a slingshot mission. The customers will swing around the far side of the moon and come straight home again - on a "free return trajectory" (no engine power needed).

Next, they'll be selling an orbital mission.

I'm certain, when these people are gathered in the living room at night, just chatting, they're trying to work out something - anything - to put a person actually on the moon.

I'm not holding my breath.

But it would be cool.

Murdoch's Collateral Damage

Time Magazine has an article on Rupert Murdoch, somebody who I consider one of the most evil people on the planet - ranking with the head of Exxon-Mobile and key members of the Bush Administration.

The reason, in Murdoch's case, is that his love of profit over truth has made him billions of dollars, but at what will eventually be trillions of dollars worth of harm to others, particularly future generations. And will include a significant loss of life.

A person's lack of respect for truth is not found in the conclusions he endorses. It is found in the way he supports those conclusions. A person who loves truth makes sure to employ sound reasoning and an accurate description of the facts to reach his conclusions. Failure to do this shows that he cares nothing about the truth of his conclusions, regardless of what those conclusions actually are.

Fox News (the star jewel in Murdoch's media empire) cares nothing for true premises or sound reasoning. They will report as fact virtually anything they can get away with that supports their desired conclusions.

Those conclusions happen to be those which have cost the lives of tens of thousands of Iraqis, thousands of Americans, and threaten the well-being of future generations through the effects of global warming, just to name the worst attrocities. Murdoch cannot escape responsibility for supporting the virtual distruction of basic moral principles embodied in the Bill of Rights. Those who will suffer harm from these failings will also be able to credibly blame Murdoch for those harms.

Now, he wants to buy the Wall Street Journal and the Dow JOnes company.

No doubt, he will use them to make himself wealthier, with further disregard for the loss of life, health, and well-being that others will suffer as a result.

When he talks about purchasing the Wall Street Journal, he rhetorically asks, "Why would I spend $5 billion for something in order to wreck it?"

He wouldn't.

That is to say, he would not "wreck it" for his own purposes - he will profit from it. It's the rest of us who will suffer.

The problem with his media empire to date is not that he has not profited from it. The problem is with the loss of life, health, and well-being others have and will suffer as collateral damage from the faux news he has provided in his lust for profit.

Presidential Scholars and Torture

MSNBC reported on a group of 50 Presidential Scholars who met with President Bush recently, where they gave him a hand written letter requesting that America not represent torture, end the practice of rendition, and follow the Geneva Convention with respect to captured prisoners.

It gives one some optimism for the future.

A spokesman for the Administration later said that the United States does not torture. However, our Attorney General this is a joke - a pun - a play on words. Bush's Attorney General is somebody who defined torture so narrowly that many of the things that the world sensibly considers torture would not qualify - as the equivalent of organ failure or death.

The mere fact that Bush appoints such a person to his cabinet gives the world a message that he endorses these types of messages for the world. It is effectively a big thumb's-up for torture.

The fact is that America, under President Bush, does not represent a respect for human rights any more. We are now the role model for every sole in the world who wants to be a brutal dictator. They can now point to us to justify their actions.

Another major part of the problem is that the American people seem not to mind. There has been almost no protests. There have been almost no widespread expressions of public anger that would show the world that the American people disagree with their President.

These types of public displays of disapproval are precious (and far too few).

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Working Late

Sorry, folks, but I had to work late last night. That cut four hours of my producive evening, which meant no writing here or either of the two wiki projects. However, I got my Atheist Ethicist post done, so I did not waste the whole day.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Task List: Week of June 25. 2007

Last Monday I gave myself a task list of things I wanted to accomplish during the net week.

That week is over. Another week now begins.

(1) I added a history section to the Scratchpad Wiki for Desire Utilitarian, but did not add all of the relevant historical figures. However, I did explain the types of ethical theories. Furthermore, I did some work that was not on the list. I started a page that addresses the Naturalistic Fallacy, and added a section to the overview that explained the general desire-utilitarian theory of 'good'.

(2) I did start a wiki-type project on intelligent design, and added a fair amount of text to the project.

(3) I got my home site caught up, so that all of my blog enteries are listed on the front page. It's a start.

Tasks for the upcoming week.

(1) I will add to the intelligent design document every day.

(2) I will add to the wiki project every day. By the end of this week, I will finish the Naturalistic Fallacy page, write an Is/Ought page, and try to get the history section in the Overview page completed.

I sincerely like the wiki project, because it allows me to keep building on it.

I would still like to get some cooperation from others. One of the things that I would like to see is the principles of desire utilitarianism applied to issues that I do not have a particularly strong knowledge of, but which others might. I would also like to see such things as tie-ins between the theory and research in brain science.

Supreme Court Opinion in Morse vs. Frederick

The Supreme Court has decided the case of Morse and the Juneau School Board et al. v. Frederick. This is a case that I wrote about last March, where a high school student was punished for a sign that said, "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" at what was billed as a high school event. He was not punished for disrupting a school event. He was punished for expressing an opinion contrary to that which the school wanted expressed concerning the use of drugs.

I saw nothing in the Supreme Court's decision that gives me any reason to change to the argument that I gave in my earlier posting. One of the lessons that schools need to teach students is lessons on the moral inappropriateness of using violence or threats of violence to suppress opinions that one disagrees with. The Juneau School Board failed this test, and now the Supreme Court has done so as well.

Effectively, the majority opinion for the Supreme Court says that it is perfectly legitimate to use violence to prevent people from expressing opinions that one disagrees with.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Let No Good Deed Go Unpunished

I have seen 2 stories in which somebody who should be considered a moral hero was punished for their good deeds.

Joe Darby is the person who turned in the photographs of abuse of Abu Ghraib prisoners. Imagine what our attitudes would be of a person who discovered images of child abuse and turned them into the authorities. Joe Darby fits into this category. He should be considered a national hero for exposing and helping to fight a moral outrage on a grand scale. Hat Tip: Hell's Handmaiden.

General Antonio M. Taguba took the pictures that Joe Darby provided and started the investigation. However, he forgot that his job was not to find out what wrongs were committed and who was responsible. His job was to defend the Bush Administration. He did not do that job particularly well, and it cost him his job.

The problem with this is that by punishing heroes and rewarding villains, we simply make sure that we have far too many villains and far too few heroes.

We make the world a worse place. And, somewhere along the line, some grandchild or friend of a grandchild of ours, will find himself or herself suffering some sort of abuse. And those who could have otherwise come to that person's aid will remember.

In this society, no good deed will go unpunished.

Oh, and to those who contribute to denigrating these individuals.

"I sincerely - really - would like to see you trapped in a prison for years, tortured by your captors, even though you are innocent. And when you plead for somebody to rescue you, that the person who could blow the whistle on your abuse and end it, simply refuses to do so. This is the world that you wish to live in. It would be oh, so nice if you could experience your wish."


Part of the reason for this journal is as a way to talk about certain aspects of value that do not need to be covered in an essay.

For example, I detest sleep. I think that sleep should be considered an illness, something for which the Centers for Disease Control plus whatever other relevant medical organizations should be working to find a cure.

I see each night as a miniature death - four hours where I lose my productivity and my connection to the real world. I don't need to practice death. I am fully confident that there is nothing about death that I wills crew up for which these little deaths will be of any help.

It is a disease that would rob the average person (if the dicotors had their way) of one third of their life. If you live to be 75 years old, then you would have spent 25 of those years asleep.

There are few, if any, non-fatal diseases that take so much away from a person.

I get by with, on average, about 4.5 hours of sleep per night. And I still detest the loss of every one of those minutes.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Atheism and Moral Subjectivism

Goosing the Antithesis has posted a reference to a project by the Colorado Coalition for Reason that they have mailed 16000 CDs to schools defending atheism, and intend to send 2000 more to libraries around the country.

In the video, one of the questions asked is about good and evil. As an atheist ethicist, I have some ideas on that subject.

Ms. Price, in the video, said:

Good and evil? It’s all in your point of view. People can do
things that by any definition are terrible antisocial acts, things that are harmful to others and I would call those evil acts. Ask an antelope what he thinks about being eaten and he’ll tell you the lion is evil. The lion will say he’s simply having dinner. By the way, being philosophical about it doesn't stop the pain or the death of the antelope. Nations go to war against each other. Our side is fighting for god, country, and apple pie. The folks on the other side are evil. The folks on the other side think the same think only reversed. Now that doesn't mean that people don't commit evil acts in war because they certainly do. It means that the definition of good and evil can change with your point of view. When some people talk about evil, the image that comes to mind is Satan or the Devil. Since we atheists don't believe in gods, it follows that we don't believe in devils. We don’t think of evil as a noun or a person. We also don't believe that a person must be religious to be moral. The atheists I know act ethically. To us, that means don’t hurt other people, don’t take their possessions, and don’t lie.

In other words, the Nazi will say that the Jew is evil. The Jew will say that the Nazi is evil. It all depends on your point of view.

I think that moral subjectivism is as irrational as any religion. It is effectivelyg rounded on the logical principle, "I believe that 'P'; therefore, 'P'" Sorry, that inference is as absurd as the claim that God can be three people and one people at the same time.

It is, indeed, one of the principle pieces of evidence I provide for believing that atheists can be as irrational, and have as absurd beliefs about morality, as any theist.

So, now, I am going to have to deal with 20,000 CDs out there telling people that all atheists are moral subjectivists.

Which means they are certainly going to be confused if they should come across my writing.

Here is one of the things that is of particular interest to me. That a group of people who claim to be so dedicated to reason, can so blindly adopt a theory of morality that is so blatantly contrary to reason.

Of course, in all honesty, I suppose that I cause the same sort of concern for others. "Here's this guy who calls himself 'atheist ethicist' with his desire utilitarianism, as if all atheists agree on this one point, when, clearly, we do not."

This, of course, being beside the point that I have repeatedly said in this blog that athiesm, per se, implies no particular moral theory, other than to deny any theory that includes the proposition (one or more gods exist) among its premises.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Burnout? Nah.

I am wondering if this will turn into a test to see how long I can go without burning out.

In addition to a full-time job, I have been attempting to:

(1) Write a daily posting for Atheist Ethicist

(2) Add a block of text to the Scratchpad Wikia on Desire Utilitarianism

(3) Add a new section to my project on the case against intelligent design for young readers

(4) Maintain this blog as an account of how I am progressing on my other projects.

By the way, I have just discovered that my other blog has received a couple of nominations.

My site was nominated for Best Religion Blog!

My site was nominated for Best Political Blog!

These nominations refer, of course, to the Atheist Ethicist blog.

However, for some insanely irrational reason that I cannot fathom, I have an aversion to posting such things on that blog site. I want to use it simply as a depository for moral and political essays. However, that does not mean that I cannot talk about it here.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Liars for Jesus?

Sinbad at the blog Someone Say Grace commented on my post on belief and evidence.

In doing so, the question came up as to whether I would categorize Johnson as a member of the "liars for Jesus" crowd. These are people who have no respect for the truth, who will readily assert propositions that they must know to be false, and think that their religion justifies their actions.

This was not my intention.

I do know that Johnson was intellectually reckless in his writing. He reported conclusions that even a slight bit of effort would have shown to be false.

Desire utilitarianism says that an individual acts to fulfill his desires (given his beliefs). We can tell that Johnson had no desire for truth, because a person who had a desire for truth would have checked to see if the claims he was making were true. He did not do so. Thus, we can conclude no particular love for truth.

We also know that his writing the article itself was an act that aimed at fulfilling Johnson's desires, given his beliefs. If there was no love of truth involved, then what desires motivated him to write the article?

I do not need to know the answer to that question to know that, whatever Johnson's objectives were, he was willing to promulgate fictions to achieve that objective.

The intellectual recklessness of his article shows that.

While I am at it, I also want to agree with another of Sinbad's statements. The problem here is a lack of respect for the truth. That is all we need to know to condemn Johnson's intellectual recklessness.

Starting ID Project

I have started work on the Intelligent Design vs. Science project I threatened to do. This link goes to a place on my site where I will be working on the project. The goal is to create an explanation of science vs. intelligent design that a 12-year-old can understand. Like I said, I am no expert in this area, so any help others provide would be appreciated.

This is simply a convenient place for me to start this project and to get the feedback that would be vital to its success. I liked borofkin's suggestion to use wiki books, but I was concerned with running afoul of their "neutral point of view" ideology.

I don't know why it is the case, but a lot of people think that 'a neutral point of view' requires bolstering one side of a debate or the other, giving it far more credibility than an honest evaluation of the evidence could ever justify. In other words, it requires lying. That's not an option that I wish to pursue in this (or any other) case.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007


I am getting tired of trusting people.

This morning I read an article from Daniel Johnson called, "The Hypothetical Atheist" that questioned the authenticity of a story popular among Atheists.

It is a story where a French astronomer Laplace, when Napoleon commented that he did not mention God in his astronomy text, responded, "I had no need for that hypothesis."

According to the post I read, this exchange probably never took place and was made up by a clumsy historian at around 1935.

After writing a post about how atheists sometimes accept things on faith, I was just about ready to hit the 'publish' button, when I decided that - in the name of intellectual integrity - I would see what I could find out about the story in question.

It took me less than three minutes to attribute the story to Augustus De Morgan's A Budget of Paradoxes. Augustus died in 1871; the book was published after his death from articles he had written earlier.

Johnson, the author of the article in question, could have also found this information in less than 3 minutes if he had looked. I can only conclude that he either did not look (he did not care to find out for himself if his claims were true), or he looked but lied about what he found. Either way, he has shown that he has absolutely no interest in truth or intellectual integrity - that his idea of morally legitimate activity is to promote lies for the sake of realizing desired political or social objectives.

I am getting quite tired of people like that. As angry as I am at Johnson, I am even more angry at the culture that gives people like him sanctuary and praise. Is Johnson going to be condemned by his political allies for his deceptive practices? Somehow, I doubt it. Instead, he is likely to be praised by a culture that thinks that lying for political purposes is a virtue.

Yet, these are also people who claim that their religion gives them the pole position when it comes to morality.


Progress Report

I am making progress on my task list.

(1) I added a section to the Desire Utilitarianism scratchpad wiki on DU's place in the taxonomy of utilitarian theories, and added a "history" section that makes a brief reference to David Hume.

(2) The site that hosts my personal web site, > contains a free service for adding a wiki-type section to my site. I think I will use that for working on papers and books, such as the Intelligent Design project. I have added this additional site, and created a link to it for "Works in Progress" on my front page.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Task List

I suppose that a part of getting back to work means drawing up a task list. In addition to my daily essays on Atheist Ethicist, there are a number of things that I hope to accomplish this week. Hopefully, by writing them down, it will be easier to get them done.

(1) Edits to the Wikipedia Scratchpad version of Desire Utilitarianism.

(a) Explain the history of desire utilitarianism - that its principles can be found in the writings of:

David Hume - morality is concerned with the evaluation of character traits, which are good or bad according to whether they are agreeable or useful to self or others).

J.S. Mill - morality evaluates desires, many of which are learned by associating them with things that are pleasant, or inhibited by associating them with things that are unpleasant. These desires have value according to the degree to which they make the individual noxious to society, or a blessing to society - where 'noxiousness' and 'blessingness' involve contributing to the happiness of others. Happiness, in turn, is defined in terms of fulfilling desires (the parts of happiness) in others.

R.M. Hare - morality is best described as a form of rule utilitarianism with two levels of moral reasoning. Level 1, 'the archangel' picks the rules according to the principle of maximizing utility. Level 2, every-day actions are evaluated according to the rules. Change 'rules' to 'desires' and much of Hare's writing describes desire utilitarianism.

R.M. Adams - in an article on 'motive utilitarianism' Adams expresses many of the principles whereby 'right action' can be described in terms of 'the act that comes from the best motives' where 'motives' are evaluated on utilitarian grounds. However, Adams still ends up with an 'act and motive utilitarianism'.

(b) In the normative ethics section of the entry, explain in greater detail the types of utilitarian theories and how desire utilitarianism fits into that taxonomy.

(c) Remove most of the references to my own blog posts from the article. The article should simply state the facts of the matter in desire utilitarian terms - references to my other writings would be unnecessary.

(2) I also would like to start the project of writing this essay fit for 12 year olds on intelligent design. I would like to make this a collaborative work, much like the wiki page. So, I suppose, my first assignment is to see how I can set something like that up.

(3) By the end of the week, I want to get my home site caught up to date.

That's it for now.

Have a productive day.

Sunday, June 17, 2007


In my Atheist Ethicist blog today I spoke about the moral permissibility, even the moral obligation, of criticizing other cultures.

I still worry that people might be confused about my position on criticism. I write blog entries such as this which defend and encourage criticism. Yet, at the same time, I criticize Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens for some of the claims that they make against religion - defending religion from the charges these three writers level against them.

Is this not inconsistent?

Actually, it is not. Criticism is appropriate, but the criticism has to be valid. There is no inconsistency in holding to an obligation to give valid criticism where it is deserved, but to condemn those who give invalid criticism.

Those who are willing to kill others in order to obtain a political end deserve harsh critciism. Laying the foundations for democracy require promoting an aversion to using violence against those with whom one is having a political disagreement.

However, to say 'religion' is to be blamed for all of our ills, and that religious people commit evils that no atheist would commit, are not fair and just criticisms. My objection is not that these claims amount to criticism and that criticism is inherently wrong. My objection is that the accused are innocent of these particular charges.

It is like taking a person guilty of armed robbery and charging him with murder. Saying that the accused is innocent of murder does not, in any sense of the imagination, imply that he is not guilty of armed robbery.

Anyway, I wanted a chance to make this distinction clear - the distinction between the attitude that some specific condemnation is wrong because the accused is innocent, and the attitude that all condemnation is intrinsically wrong. I hold to the first option; I reject the second.

Intelligent Design Book

Through the blog "Nullifidian", I learned of an article in the Sunday Herald, "Rival to Evolution May Enter Schools,":

The Sunday Herald has learned that the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) is considering provision for the theory as part of a review of the science course curriculum.

I would like to make a request of anybody who has written saying that they would like to contribute to my efforts to make the world a better place.

(1) Create a text, appropriate for a 12-year-old, explaining the philosophical problems with "Intelligent Design" - why it is not science, why it is lazy, and why the way some people want to use it risks doing harm.

(2) Create a video, perhaps 5 minutes long, that goes over the highlights of the text.

I have written in the past, I actually do think that intelligent design should be taught in public schools. It should be taught honestly, so that school-age children realize why intelligent people dismiss the theory as vacant, lazy, and harmful. If our population was properly educated on the facts of intelligent design, we would not have to deal with this nonsense of trying to teach it as a legitimate field of study.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

In-Group Loyalty and Out-Group Hostility

In a comment to yesterday's posting, against the fact that my criticism of leading atheists has always lead to a dramatic reduction in readership, at least for a few weeks, Hume's Ghost made the observation:

I never would have guessed that Hitchens was popular enough that a post critical of him would drive readers off. Those must be some really thin-skinned readers.

Actually, I do not attribute these observations to being "thin skinned".

Instead, I have been writing under the assumption that atheists are fully susceptible to the type of in-group morality and out-group hostility that has been an important part of human psychology throughout its history.

I have often made the point that the wrongs in the world are not properly laid on the doorstep of religion. Rather, the source of evil are aspects of human psychology that causes them to accept forms of behavior that then make their way into scripture. Scripture is not the cause of evil, it is merely a literary description of its symptoms.

The true cause of evil is the human psychological tendency towards in-group morality and out-group hostility. It rests in the tendency to form "tribes", where members of the tribe are seen as people who can do no evil, and those who do not belong to the tribe can do no good. Indeed, members of the tribe are devoted, above all else, to promoting and protecting the in-group, while fighting and suppressing non-members.

On this model, atheists afflicted with this condition of in-group loyalty and out-group hostility are going to see criticism of atheist leaders as disloyal. In the same sense that criticism of President Bush is branded disloyal when the nation is at war, criticism of atheist leaders is disloyal in today's contest for the hearts and minds of the American public.

These psychological states do not need to manifest themselves consciously to have an affect. The person affected by them will simply notice that, when he experiences instances of in-group loyalty, that he has feelings of affection and brotherhood for such a person. At the same time, when he encounters something critical of the in-group, that this is experienced as unpleasant and as something the agent would simply rather avoid. He will not be likely to put his finger on why he has these feelings. He will simply know that he has them.

This ingroup loyalty and out-group hostily does, indeed, explain much evil in human history, including evil attributed to religion. In fact, it explains religion. The dominant cultural message that we get from all of the dominant religions is one of in-group loyalty (we are the chosen people) and out-group hostility (they are the corrupters and those who invite God's wrath upon us) is the dominant moral theme.

However, this theme not only explains religious violence. It also explains race violence, national (patriotic) violence, gang violence, and even the violence that has been known to erupt between rival soccer teams. As an explanatory hypothesis, it is far more powerful than the "religion" hypothesis.

If this is true - if "in-group loyalty and out-group hostility" is the root of so much evil - we have to be on guard against the possibility that atheism might become the next "in group" promoting unjust hostility against the "out group". Currently, while atheists are weak and disorganized, this is not much of a threat. However, it remains not much of a threat only insofar as atheists are weak and disorganized. If atheists wish not to remain weak and disorganized, then atheists must be willing to take seriously the evils that will spring from in-group loyalty and out-group hostility, or become the purpetrators of the next great system of injustice.

The way to do this is to ask, with each outspoken atheist, "Are those propositions objectively and demonstrably true, or are they propositions that tend to generate pleasing psychological sensations because they appeal to a natural desire that one is a member of a superior 'in-group' against an inferior 'out-group'?"

Back to Work

Yes, I have been lazy these past couple of days. I guess I got somewhat discouraged.

A few days ago I posted some criticism of Christopher Hitchens. I said at the time that I expected to be punished for my insolence. Indeed, I have been, with a dramatic reduction in readership that was greater than I had expected.

However, my mood is recovering. I will be getting back to work shortly.

A new blogger named G-Man has created a blog called "The Locker". He began his blog with a formal account of desire utilitarianism, declaring that his moral claims will sit in the context of this theory.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

A Shot in the Dark

A Reuters article says that "Baptists see atheists books as sign of panic."

"If you shoot down an alley and you hear a yelp, you know you've hit something," said Mark Coppenger, a professor at the Kentucky-based Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

"Apparently Bible believers have hit something and so it is a measure of the success of the church that the opponents are so stirred up right now," he told Reuters on the sidelines of the Southern Baptist Convention's annual meeting.

This is not a wholly inaccurate assessment. Part of the reason for these atheists books is precisely because of a growing fear, spurred on by 9/11 and the Iraq war, that religious belief is going to get us all killed or, at best, bring about another "dark age" of superstition and suffering.

The "shoot down an alley" is particularly appropriate, because this describes the source of the worry - theists shooting into the dark on "faith" that they will hit something worth hitting, only to end up doing harm to innocent people.

As long as religion seemed relatively harmless or benign (or the worst of it was "over there" far from our shores), then there was no reason to take it seriously. When it became deadly - not only in terms of terrorist attacks, but laws blocking medical research that could cure disease and save lives - then it makes sense for those who would be harmed to find the nerve to protest.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Alberto Gonzales and the Collaborators

In a recent post in my Atheist Ethicist blog called, "Collaborators", I called for revising the term and applying it to anyboy who aids the Bush Administration in dismantling the Constitution.

We had 38 collaborators yesterday voting against a "no confidence" vote against Attorney General Gonzales. Clearly, this is one of the principle architects of the Bush Administration's attempt at interpreting the Constitution to say, "The President may do whatever he wants to whomever he wants for whatever readon he wants."

A no-confidence vote in this case is far milder than what this person deserves - and anybody who defends him (e.g., President Bush) has shown himself to have no interest in preserving and protecting the Constitution of the United States.

This includes 38 Senators (and at least some of the 9 who did not vote).

These people do not deserve to sit as elected officials in the Senate (or any other political body, for that matter).

Monday, June 11, 2007

Wikipedia Scratchpad: Desire Utilitarianism

I have been debating this issue for a while - whether to edit the entry for Desire Utilitarianism that others have started on Wikipedia Scratchpad.

The two arguments against editing it are:

(1) I want others to feel free to make adjustments, which is easier to do if I am not making changes.

(2) Wikipedia does not allow for self-serving work.

The secon argument, at least, can be mitigated by the fact that this is not a formal or official Wikipedia entry. Instead, I have wanted to create a wikipedia-type site where I could explain desire utilitarianism, and this presents an opportunity to do so.

The first argument remains a concern. However, I outweighed that concern with a stronger desire to have a place where people can go where desire utilitarianism is adequately explained.

So, I opted to make some edits.

If anyboy mins or think that this is inappropriate, please let me know.

The Right to a Trial

A majority opinion from the 4th District Court of Appeals today concluded in Al-Marri vs. Wright that U.S. Citizens could not be named enemy combatants and held indefinitely without charges or a trial. For all practical purposes, they said that American citizens have a right to a fair and open trial by a jury of their peers, to hear the evidence presented against them, and to respond accordingly.

(I wonder where they got those ideas?)

However, one judge, Henry R. Hudson, dissented from this conclusion.

For all practical purposes, Judge Henry argued, that since the accused is guilty, we do not need a trial.

Like Padilla, al-Marri, an identified al Qaeda associate, was dispatched to the United States by the September mastermind as a “sleeper agent” and to explore computer hacking methods to disrupt the United States’ financial system. Moreover, al-Marri volunteered for a martyr mission on behalf of al Qaeda, received funding from a known terrorist financier, and communicated with known terrorists by phone and e-mail . . . . Although al-Marri was not personally engaged in armed conflict with U.S. forces, he is the type of stealth warrior used by al Qaeda to perpetrate terrorist acts against the United States.

Yet, the very purpose of a trial is to determine if there is indeed enough evidence to hold a person. The reason for objecting to these procedures is that the impose a risk of the government rounding people up under false pretenses and holding them indefinitely.

If these are indeed facts, then let these facts be presented in a court of law. Then al-Marri can be held legitimately, while protecting and preserving the principles of a fair trial written into moral law and the Constitution. In other words, if these can be proved, then what is the worry over a trial?

Much like the government might invade another country under false pretenses - or under intelligence so faulty that what the Administration originally said was certain proved to be entirely false.

After this Administration's dismal performance when it comes to getting the facts right, I think we have a particularly strong case for demanding that we see the evidence before we imprison a person for life.

Virtue and Valid Reasoning

Tristero, at Hullabaloo, complained in a Quote of the Day about a statement from Nancy Pelosi where she said:

Science is a gift of God to all of us and science has taken us to a place that is biblical in its power to cure,” said Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Democrat of California, arguing for the bill’s passage. “And that is the embryonic stem cell research


Against this, Tristero says:

One: This is a gratuitous insult to all thinking persons. Science is a process of inquiry that has enabled us to understand something about the nature of physical reality in a detailed fashion. It has taken centuries of hard, meticulous, and often backbreaking work to acquire this knowledge; the history of science is filled with failure, frustration, and fragmentary, provisional understandings. The relatively rare breakthroughs - Newton's laws, Darwin's natural selection, Einstein's theory of relativity - are achieved only through enormous effort, not miracles. This is no gift from God but a quintessentially human endeavor.


This is not an insult to thinking persons, because it says nothing about, and attributes no characteristics to, thinking persons.

Tristero seems to have confused the proposition, "Science is a gift of God" with "Knowledge of science propositions is a gift of God," and, in condemning the latter, falsely beliefs that this is a condemnation of the former.


Secondly, the kind of pandering, meaningless bullshit Pelosi mouthed will convince no one. But it does make clear how little a leading Democrat understands religious tropes in a modern political context. The rightwing retort is obvious: "God nowhere demands the sacrifice of human children for research. That's the ethics of Mengele, not Jesus." And from there, the "conversation" devolves quickly into idiotic arguments about when a fertilized egg becomes a human life. And the importance of the research, its potential benefits that are needed now, are forgotten.

Again, this is poor reasoning.

Tristero asserts the proposition, "There are no persons who will be convinced by this," but offers an argument that only defends the proposition, "There are some persons who will not be convinced by this."

Yes, it is true that some will give the resonse that Tristero provides. Yet, at the same time, there will be others who will accept the position that God gave us stem cell research as a way of curing disease. The proposition that nobody can be convinced to believe such a thing is unfounded.

The Virtue of Logical Reasoning

It is interesting that Tristero later comments, "The following discussion is not about the quality of the actual ideas, but their presentation."

Indeed, the above quotes suggests that Tristero has no interest in making accurate statements, only in making effective statements.

Quite independent of one's agreement or disagreement with Tristero's conclusions, the arguments are invalid. If a fondness for valid arguments and an aversion to invalid rhetoric are a virtue, then that virtue is lacking in this post.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Damage to Atlantis

As somebody who thinks that space development is particularly important to the survival of the human species, I was distressed to learn of some apparently minor damage to the Space Shuttle Atlantis on launch Friday.

The damage is to the tail section - where temperatures do not get very high and where there is little risk to the rest of Atlantis.

I like the idea that NASA may get to test some of its repair procedures. There are advantages to doing this now so that there will be more experience in case of a more serious need.

However, this problem points to the boondoggle that the Space Shuttle Program has been for the last 30 years. NASA, with billions of dollars to spend, clearly did not create a cost-efficient program. There are way too many things that can go wrong, particularly given the amount of money involved. A simpler system would have been been more cost efficient.

The reason for this is because the Shuttle was not built for scientific purposes. It was built for political purposes - for more than 500 politicians to satisfy the interests of special interests groups in a way that they could sell to the public. For what the Shuttle was designed to do (funnel money to campaign contributors), it has been an immensely successful program. The same can be said about the International Space Station.

However, to a person interested in other things (e.g., developing space as a way to protect the human species from extinction), these programs have done more harm than good.

I fear that Bush's plan to return to the moon will be just as much of a drain on the coffers with little to show for it. I continue to argue for an alternative system that will move, to some extent, control of space development out of the hands of politicians and lobbyists and into the hands of entrepreneurs. This is for a system of space prizes where the government hands out cash awards to whomever can accomplish important landmarks.

Either way, in the full knowledge that a safe return requires the use of reason and that prayer is a useless balm in these types of situations, I will give my endorsement to NASA doing what it needs to reason through to a safe conclusion.

Humanist Symposium 3

Today, I have my first opportunity to use this blog the way that I had intended - to briefly comment on things that I have had trouble fitting into my Atheist Ethicist blog.

Humanist Symposium 3

First, Black Sun Journal has published "The Humanist Symposium 3" in which my article, "Bush Admin. Degrading Climate Research" was included.

This is a particular honor since I do not recall submitting the article. As a result, I am particularly proud to find it in the presence of such esteemed company as on this symposium.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Mill's Desire Utilitarianism

I travelled today and ran into very long lines, meaning that I could not do some of the work today that I intended.

Today, I wrote about the utilitarianism of 19th century British philosopher John Stuart Mill to tease out some similarities and differences between that theory and desire utilitarianism.isolationism.

This is actually an offshoot from the Wikipedia event. I was asked to provide something that would give desire utilitarianism more street credit. One answer I came up with is to highlight the desire-utilitarian components in some major theories in philosophy of law. After all, I did not invent the theory out of whole cloth. I borrowed extensively from the ideas of other philosophers, such as J.S. Mills.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Why I Wrote the Hitchens Article

Today, I am preparing for a trip, so it is not a good day to get work done.

Today's posting is on Christopher Hitchens comments regarding the evil of religion.

I choose this topic because I think that there is a very real danger of atheists ignoring the true source of morality. Atheists are human. There is no reason to doubt that they are vulnerable to the types of attitudes that are responsible for historic evils - unless they make an effort to identify those attitudes and guard against them.

We cannot say that religion is the source of this evil, because we must still ask the question, "Since religions are created by humans, from where comes the evil that humans have written into religion?" That is the true source of evil, and that is the evil we must guard against.

Anyway, I am off on a trip tomorrow, which, as I said, prevents me from doing much today. However, tomorrow, I should be able to catch up a bit.

Take care of yourselves.

Thursday, June 7, 2007


I am creating this second blog to help keep track of daily events as I work on my various projects, as well as to make short comments on the news of the day.

I will continue to use my other blog, Atheist Ethicist, to post philosophical essays.

The number one news item of the day is that Wikipedia has execute a decision to delete a wikipedia entry on desire utilitarianism that some kind readers tried to add to the site. It has bothered me that I was not able to meet one of the principle requirements to support their efforts - that I have not sought notoriety for my ideas.

Since then, I have decided to try marketing my ideas better. Rather than just throwing out essays and letting the electronic chips fall where they may, I have decided to take up a number of projects that, hopefully, will result in greater effectiveness in making the world a better place.

One reader, Borofkin, has responded by making a wiki scratchpad on desire utilitarianism. For this, I am grateful.

I invite anybody who is interested to participate. As Borofkin said in creating the site, desire utilitarianism does not belong to me. In fact, I can only follow its implications through a small subset of the realm of human knowledge. I would be more than happy to have others contribute to trace its threads through other aspects of human thought - psychology, law, through belief/desire theory into the realm of artificial intelligence, literature and film, and the like.

Others have volunteered to give me help in other ways.

One of the first projects that I would like any serious volunteer to take up is this:

Identify, and write a review, on any material particularly geared to teaching critical reasoning skills (e.g., informal fallacies, logic, the scientific method, bgs of the mind) so that they will be better armed to approach issues reasonably. If you write a good review, I will present it here.

I thank you all for your support.