Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Guaranteed Loss

I find complaints such as this at Daily Irreverence

The article complains about Democratic presidential leaders who are "soft" on the question of gay marriage.

The posting effectively says, "I demand a Democratic candidate for President who will ensure that a Republican occupies the White House for the next 8 years."

Of course, so do most Republicans.

Religion and Reasons to Kill

An article on the death penalty in Texas, "Religion and Culture Behind Texas Executions", we find his passage.

[T]hey also find justification in scripture. "A lot of evangelical Protestants not only believe that capital punishment is permissible but that it is demanded by God. And they see sanction for that in the Old Testament especially," said Matthew Wilson, a political scientist at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.

So, somebody reads in their holy book that others shall die and, on that basis, takes it to heart to do the killing.

I would like an explanation as to how this is different than using scripture to justify flying airplanes into sky scrapers, or setting off bombs in Madrid trains, London busses, Baghdad shopping centers, Israeli malls.

Fundamentally, these people are all alike in their lust to kill in God's name.

And if the answer is, "Oh, but the people that I kill when I appeal to scripture are only those who deserve death," my response will still be, "Don't you think that those others say the same thing?"

Monday, August 13, 2007

A Special Kind of Militant

There are some who speak in defense of using the phrase 'militant atheist' by claiming that they mean by the term, 'one who passionately defends his beliefs, even if not by military means.'

Darwins Beagle has an informal initial survey of news articles that suggests that this is a special use of the term 'militant' that appears to apply only to atheists. When Islamists, Christians, and fundamentalists in general are described as 'militant', this means that they are eager to blow people up or otherwise kill them. In other words, it implies a willingness to impose one's beliefs by miltiary force. Muslims, Christians, and fundamentalists merely argue passionately for their beliefs, the term 'militant' seems not to apply.

I would be interested in seeing a more formal study done of this trend, and to see it published. If Beagle's claims are verified on a more formal setting, it would be useful evidence to show the descrimination that is used against atheists.

Revealing this special use of 'militant' when talking about atheists would, in Richard Dawkin's sense, count as a genuine case of 'consciousness raising' - a type that does seriously need to be done.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Business as Usual

As I glance through the news each morning, it appears to me that things are getting largely back to normal.

Almost every thing I come across outside of atheist websites consists of a theist claiming how stupid and immoral atheists are. One of the most common assertions that I come across is, "You believe in justice without benefit of science, don't you? So, why not believe in God?"

Even in the face of so much evil done by those who claim to have gotten their instructions from God and scripture, the argument now seems to be, "You can't accuse us of injustice unless you believe in justice, and your belief in justice is not grounded on science."

Of course, I have no tolerance for that argument. The Atheist Ethicist blog is approaching 700 essays dealing with justice independent of God - as relationships between maleable desires and other desires.

But, actually, the deciding factor here is one of noise level. Ninety-five people with money behind them to purchase the microphone repeating a message will out shout five people without a microphone. As the 'atheist fad' comes to an end, those with the microphone are simply starting to say, "You had your turn. Your part of the show is over. It is time to move on. Now, sit down, be quiet, and let somebody else have a turn."

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

$1000 Fine for Manslaughter

CNN reports that the company Powers Fasteners, Inc., will be charged with involuntary manslaughter for the death of Milena Del Valle when the epoxy the company provided to the Big Dig proved incapable of holding up the 26 ton concrete blocks that made up the ceiling of the tunnel.

The company knew that their product was inadequate, and failed to inform anybody.

In Massachusettes, the penalty for a company found guilty of involuntary manslaughter is $1,000.

Some wrongs are just so obviously wrong, nothing more needs to be said.

The Relevance of Deeds

I have long objected to the idea of telling stories of religious leaders caught in moral transgressions as if this said something bad about religion.

Today, a post at Atheist Revolution defends the practice by saying,

We all know that believers are fond of claiming moral superiority over nonbelievers. And yet, their deeds often suggest otherwise. . . . I use it to point out the hypocrisy inherent in claiming that their religion makes them morally superior to the rest of us.

'It' in this context refers directly to the phrase, "Know them by their deeds," in the context of posts that tell the story of the moral trangressions of some religious figure.

Atheist Revolution is one of my regularly visited sites, because vjack does a good and thoughtful job. However, in this case, I think he is out of bounds.

In fact, those posts do not accomplish his stated ends.

If I were to say that American adults are, on average, taller than the Japanese adults, it would not refute my statement to post reports of American adults who were, say, 4ft 8in tall, or 3ft 4in tall under the headline, "Know them by their height." It is simply fallacious reasoning to imply that these examples say anything about the height of American males on average.

These examples will refute the claim that, "Being religious is a sufficient condition for being perfectly virtuous." However, I do not know anybody who is making such a claim that it needs refuting.

More importantly, there will come a day when some well-known atheist will be caught in some scandle. Right now, it does not happen merely because well-known atheists are rare. But it will happen. When it does, many Christians will use this to argue that this shows how atheism leads to immorality. Atheists will almost certainly want to counter with claims about how unfair and unjust it is to take the crimes of this one person and use it in a context that is meant to criticize all atheists.

They would be right to protest those who use a story in this way.

However, in making that protest, we will have to ask where the charge of hypocrisy truly deserves to be applied.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

The Cost of Propaganda

I admit that one of the more shocking facts that I continue to encounter is that companies such as Exxon-Mobile spend only in the range of $10 million per year to confuse the public on the issue of global warming.

It seems to me that confusing people about such clear set of scientific findings should be more expensive than that. It should take more than pocket change to confuse the public about something that has such solid scientific support.

Tobacco companies did the same thing - spending very little money to promote lies about its product - lies that contributed (and still contribute) to tens of millions of early deaths per year and souring medical costs for all of us (who, through our insurance companies, pay the victims of the tobacco companies, rather than having the tobacoo companies themselves compensate their victims).

Why is education so expensive, and mis-education so cheep?

I find this despressing because I want the ability to cause such widespread destruction to be expensive - something far outside of what people can easily afford, so that it would be less common. It is not easy to hope for the future of humanity when widespread destruction can be purchased at such a low price.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Atheist Role Models

I would like to see this woman nominated for any type of atheist role model award that somebody should decide to create.

Claire Hull

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Emergency Wiretap Legislation

According to an article in Newsweek, Behind the Surveillance Debate, the emergency wiretapping legislation that the Bush Administration seeks is permission to tap into calls without a warrant. Allegedly, this is necessary to prevent the government from missing important information about terrorist activities.

But, why is the remedy to this to give authority to tap into phone calls "without a warrant"?

The purpose of a warrant is to require the administration to prove that they actually think they are going to get useful information about terrorists from their activities - and to make sure that they do not seek to obtain information having nothing to do with terrorists but, instead, having to do with, for example, political opponents or members of the press.

Clearly, if the administration has evidence that "this is important information about terrorists", then they should have no trouble getting a warrant. Indeed, the law should be written in such a way that this is the case. It is only when the government is listening in on people who might not be terrorists - people in whom Bush, Cheney, Rove, and Gonzales might have other interests - that warrants might be hard to come by.

Is the objection that there is not always time to get a warrant?

This has been answered. The law is written to allow the Administration to begin its surveillance while the warrant is being sought.

What matters is that some impartial third party look over the Administration's shoulder to determine when 'use' of executive power becomes 'abuse' of executive power. And given the moral character of the Bush, Cheney, Rove, Gonzales crowd to date, who can say with a straight face that they are not abusing the fact that no court is looking over their shoulders when it comes to surveillance?

The 4th Amendment to the Constitution prohibits searches and seizures without a warrant. This is a vital part of our system of checks and balances. This is the only protection we have from an abusive administration that decides to use these powers to target political enemies.

This should not pass.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Democrats Expand Government Wiretaps

In my morning survey of the news, I came across an article saying that Bush Official Acknowledges Multiple Secret Surveillance Programs.

It links to an article that reports on Democrats Scrambling to Expand Evesdropping because the Democrats are worried about being labeled "soft on terrorism."

Whereas there seems to be little or no concern about being "soft on tyranny" or, in other words, being "soft on constitutional limitations on arbitrary use of government power."

Here, the natural next step is to blame the Democrats for being cowardly.

However, it hardly makes sense to defend liberty by handing control of the government back to those who have so effectively dissolved these checks on arbitary government power over the past six years.

These Democrats are, no doubt, listening to polls and marketing experts who tell them that the people actually want government spying - or, at least, the Republicans can package their Constitutional violations in a package that American voters will find appealing.

Ultimately, the failure rests with the American people, who themselves seems to be more than happy to let the Constitution itself fade and crumble into dust.

It is a failure of those who value liberty and who see the danger of arbitrary government authority to get our friends, family, neighbors, and co-workers to understand that, throughout history, foreign criminals have done far less harm to the citizens of a nation than fellow citizens wielding unchecked government power.

It is only one of several contemporary attitudes that threaten the well-being of future generations. Whereby previous generations left us liberty and a government confined by constitutional limits, we give future generations a government of unlimited power and no checks and balances to prevent possible abuses.

Will they thank us?