Thursday, April 24, 2008

Florida's "I Believe"License Plates

Apparently, the Florida state legislature is approving a vanity license plate that has a specifically Christian message. (Source: CNN)

The plate contains a cross, a stained glass window, and the words, "I believe."

I have absolutely zero problem with this. For two reasons. The first is that the purchase is entirely voluntary. The second is that the plate contains the word "I", not the word "We". So, it is a statement about the owner of the car, and a statement that will almost certainly be true whenever it is displayed.

In fact, I think it would be a huge embarrassment to oppose this particular act. An embarrassment - not because people would react with hostility towards such a prohibition, but because they have good reason to do so.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The Failure of "Expelled"

It looks as if the movie "Expelled" has been a complete failure. Rather than the $15 million that the producers were hoping to acquire on opening week, the movie made less than $3 million. I do not know what the expenses were for this movie, but I think that there is a good chance that it will have been a net loss for those involved. In the mean time, the Truth Tickets counter campaign must have been a net benefit for the National Center for Science Education, since the donations came with no expense on their part.

In addition, the movie provided me with a benefit that I certainly value. Spending 8 months as a first-page hit for those doing Google and Yahoo internet searches for the movie meant a lot of visitors to my blog that I would have otherwise had. Some of them became regular subscribers. The movie brought me - and continues to bring me - a level of exposure greater than the combined value of all of my other work.

And I would like to think that this first-page hit for the past 8 months, immediately available for those looking for information on the movie - is at least partially responsible for the movie's failure. If this is true, then I would conclude that I had made an important contribution to making the world a better place than it would have otherwise been.

Even though my efforts here are negative efforts - an effort that does not actually count as 'promoting good', but as 'avoiding harm'.

I would like readers to reflect for a moment, that a significant portion of the failure of Ben Stein's movie can be traced to getting Christians to reject Stein's message. A lot of Christians rejected a group of their own. If they had not done so, then this piece of hate-mongering propaganda would have been a success.

Just a thought.

Monday, April 21, 2008

A Very Good Week

On my other blog, I am still dealing with a surge in readership that has now lasted for two weeks. This is almost entirely due to Ben Stein's movie Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed. By chance, my criticism of that movie ended up on the first page of searches for that movie on Google and Yahoo, and there were a lot of people apparently interested in what an atheist ethicist had to say about the issue.

Readership is up 300%.

It was all I could do to try to keep up with comments. I am grateful . . . very grateful . . . for regular readers who took up that part of the duty themselves. In particular, I would like to thank Eneasz and Martino.

As luck would have it, in the midst of this surge of visitors to my blog, I would get a terrible stomach flu. Four about five days, it was all I could do to get my regular blog postings written and posted. However, with all of these new visitors coming to the site, I wanted to make sure to give them something to read.

In addition, Cocore (the Colorado Coalition on Reason) has named me one of their "Secular Movers and Shakers" for the State of Colorado.

And, I filled out all of the paperwork to get the book A Perspective on the Pledge to appear at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other online book publishes so that people will find it easier to buy.

So, a busy week. Plus a flu.

I'm all better now.

And I thank you for your support.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Where do Atheists Get Their Morality?

I would like to suggest an alterantive answer to the question, "Where do atheists get their morality?" than the standard attempt to defend some moral theory.

The answer that I would like to propose is:

"A lot of theists want to know where atheists get their morality because theists are bigots looking for an excuse to hate their atheist neighbors, and 'You are morally inferior to us' has long been a favorite dehumanization technique of the hateful bigot. Clearly, atheists do quite well when it comes to behaving morally, at least as well as their Christian counterparts. It may be natural to express some curiosity as to why this is the case. But to cast atheists as morally inferior in order to generate a reason to hate them - that's not a course that a truly moral person would ever pursue."

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Fox Review of "Expelled"

Some people have expressed surprise that even Fox News would give the Ben Stein movie "Expelled" a bad review .

It may actually make some sense.

The Republican Party is actually a coalition of several forces. Two of the dominant forces are big business and religious fundamentalism.

In the case of Intelligent Design and the quality of education, the two forces come into conflict.

Neil DeGrasse Tyson suggested a reason not to be surprised by these types of findings in discussing the Dover Pennsylvania trial over intelligent design. He said that he was relieved to hear that a Bush-appointed judge was hearing the case because "Republicans are scared to death that they might die poor."

Big business needs an educated workforce. Pharmaceutical companies need employees who can find cures to disease - drugs and treatments that can be sold for billions of dollars. Energy companies need employees who can understand the hundred-million year history of a rock formation so that they know where the oil might be found.

The ignorance that Ben Stein is promoting with his movie might appeal to the religious fundamentalists, but it is not necessarily a welcome development to the owners of big business.

And Fox News serves the interests of its big business allies.

So, there might not be so much of a mystery to discover that Fox News has also attacked the movie Expelled. It's just that the company knows who has the money to pay their bills. And the people with the money realize that real-world business requires that at least a few people have a grasp of real-world science.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Expelled and the Anti-Expelled

Something happened in the Expelled universe today.

I had mentioned that I was accustomed to 30% of my hits each day coming from people who were searching for "Ben Stein Expelled" or something similar, and landing on my post, "Ben Stein: Expelled".

Well, today I got twice as many hits from searches than I have received on any other day to date.

So, a lot more people were searching for the movie today, or a far higher percentage of those who were searching for the movie were clicking on my posting.

Anyway, today I posted in my regular blog a call for people to purchase Truth Tickets to counter the money that the backers of Exposed will make on the documentary.

If you have a blog, I would like to ask that you make a donation and invite your readers to do the same. If you are a member of a discussion group, I would like to ask that you post something to the discussion group. If you know somebody who has a blog who might listen to your advice, I would like to ask that you recommend that the person participate in this project.

Otherwise, we will be living in a country where the tendency to view any mention of 'evolution' to be comparable to speaking in defense of Hitler will be even stronger than it is today.

Legislator to Atheist: "You have no right to be here."

This is a story that deserves mention.

Representative tries to put the fear of God in atheist

The story itself deserves mention.

Rep. Monique Davis (D-Chicago) interrupted atheist activist Rob Sherman during his testimony Wednesday afternoon before the House State Government Administration Committee in Springfield and told him, "What you have to spew and spread is extremely dangerous . . . it's dangerous for our children to even know that your philosophy exists!

"This is the Land of Lincoln where people believe in God," Davis said. "Get out of that seat . . . You have no right to be here! We believe in something. You believe in destroying! You believe in destroying what this state was built upon."

However, what deserves even more mention is this:

Outside of Change of Subject, where I posted a transcript and the audio, Davis' repellent, un-American outburst received no attention whatsoever.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Responding to Insult

Here is a true proposition.

“Aggressive secularists” must start to live up to their name.

It is the title of an article about the response to the statement from the Bishop of Durham, Tom Wright, who states that there is "a militantly atheist and secularist lobby" that believes that we " have the right to kill unborn children and surplus old people".

(See The Uncomfortable Truth of Easter)

This is the type of statement that deserves an appology - like a statement about a Muslim lobby that wants to exterminate the Jews or a Jewish lobby that wants to conrol all the money.

And, yet, where are the people demanding this apology?

This is just the most recent in a long list of insults cast against 'secularists' that have gone unanswered - which simply produces the effect that they just keep coming, one after another.

Fishing for Compliments

I am looking for people who will say nice things about my book Perspective on the Pledge that I can put on the final cover (and maybe use in some promotional stuff), and/or say something nice about the blog postings from which the book was made (towards the same end).

I can email a copy of the manuscript to any who might be interested in reading it for this purpose.

I found a few complimentary things said about it on the web.

Bay of Fundie
December 13, 2007

I just discovered a great short story over at Atheist Ethicist, entitled “A Perspective on the Pledge”. It puts the Pledge controversy in a different light. I highly recommend you check it out.

The Daily Doubter:
December 07, 2007

Over at Atheist Ethicist, Alonzo Fyfe has juxtaposed white supremacism onto the Pledge of Allegiance in order to [demonstrate] the wrongness of the phrase under God in it. A truly excellent post that should be read by any justice preparing to rule on the Pledge being recited in schools.

Posted by KC, February 7, 2008

Just a quick note to point out this excellent post by Alonzo Fyfe over at Atheist Ethicist about the loyalty oath here in America.

The Two Percent Company
January 22, 2006

One of the posts that we really liked was Alonzo Fyfe's post on Atheist Ethicist entitled A Perspective on the Pledge. It's a great example of using a simple analogy to showcase why the inclusion of "Under God" in the pledge is dead wrong.

Anybody else?

Oh, you're also free to tell me how horrible the story was or how worthless, but I probably won't use them. Please don't be offended. It's standard practice in this type of activity.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Practice and the Pledge

I need to get into some good healthy debates on 'under God' and 'In God We Trust'.

I have decided that I need some practice in confronting the types of arguments that people might actually give in trying to defend these two policies.

Over the last couple of days, I have been debating somebody on this issue on This By Us, which I found when somebody posted a link to my article.

I could very much use more of these, if only to be in practice. Because I want to be well practiced by the time the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals releases its decision.

Recommendations, anyone?

The Torture Memo

An article on MSNBC tells about the Justice Department memo that says that the President has the power to unilaterally alter or ignore international treaties.

I will let the Constitutional scholars debate the legitimacy of such a claim.

My interest concerns the two lines at the end of the article.

Yoo's memo became part of a debate among the Pentagon's civilian and military leaders about what interrogation tactics to allow at overseas facilities and whether U.S. troops might face legal problems domestically or in international courts. Also of concern was whether techniques used by U.S. interrogators might someday be used as justification for harsh treatment of Americans captured by opposing forces.

Neither of these address my concern - the greatest concern of the memo. This is the degree to which the Bush decision will be viewed as justification for the leaders of other countries to engage in torture generally - not just against Americans, but against their own people.

We have lost the moral authority to condemn torture. To criticize other countries that engage in torture, when we condone it, makes us hypocrites.

Furthermore, in claiming the right to ignore international treaties, we have given every other political leader the right to ignore international treaties.

When you make a moral choice, you make that moral choice for everybody. If you are not willing to make that moral choice for everybody, then it is wrong to make that choice for yourself. There is no sense in saying, "There is one moral rule for us where we may do whatever we please, and a different moral rule for everybody else where they must also do whatever pleases us."

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Pledging Allegiance in my Niece' School

My niece, who attents a local school, announced today that her school will start having students say the Pledge of Allegiance tomorrow. She knows my views on the matter, but I am not inclined to pressure her to adopt a position that would put her in stress at school.

In the realm of morality, there is a category called 'supererogatory'. This means going above and beyond the call of duty to do that which is right. As much as I object to the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools, I recognize the difficulty in a student actually taking a stand on the issue - particularly a stand akin to what Shawn takes in A Perspective on the Pledge.

It is not that those who refuse to take such a stand are villains. It is, rather, that those who choose to take such a stand are truly heroes, for going above and beyond the call of duty, and doing things that we can reasonably expect most of us will be afraid to do.

The Costs and Benefits of Religion

On the National Catholic Register website, there is an article in a series of posts allegedly providing answers to atheists. This specific article, Religion Does More Harm Than Good attempts to answer the objection that religion is a net cost to society.

In one sense I agree with the author. The argument that religion is a net cost to society lumps several things called 'religion' together that can easily be separated. The argument that medicine can be considered a net harm if we lump all of the bad medicine (including the ignorant and superstitious practices) in with the good medicine is telling. We can, in fact, separate different aspects of religion as we can separate different aspects of medicine. The question is not whether religion is a net harm or benefit, but whether an identifiable subsection of religion can be a net benefit.

Still, whether we are talking about all of religion, or any subset of religion, the accounting system typically used to argue that religion is a net benefit is one that no business or economist would accept.

I made this point in a posting called, Melvin Konner: Hope, Benefit, and Prohibiting Religion from the 2006 Beyond Belief conference. If somebody comes up to you with a business proposal saying that, if you accept his proposal, he can return a profit of $50 million, this certainly argues that his project would be a net benefit. However, what if you could devote the same resources to a second investment which, in turn, could deliver $200 million in revenue in the same time period? Now it is not enough to argue that the first option provides a net benefit. The question is whether the first option prevents you from making an investment that is potentially even more valuable.

If we had taken all of the money spent on religion, and all of the time spent studying scripture and teaching people to adopt religious beliefs, and spent that time instead on scientific research, teaching science, and getting people to understand how the real world really works, what would the benefit of that have been?

If the value is higher than the value of what religion provided with the same commitment of resources, then this would argue that religion is a net harm. It does not matter that religion did good. The real question is whether we could have done even more good with those same resources committed to another purpose.

If we could have done so, then the 'cost' of religion is the benefits we gave up by investing in religion instead of a more productive alternative to religion.

Yet, still, as I said, it is a mistake to say that all religion is alike. The fair question to ask is whether there is any subsection of religion that provides a better rate of return than anything else we could have done with the money. Insofar as we think it is permissible to spend money on dining out, sports, computer games, and other wastes of time and effort, religion does not need to prove itself to be particularly beneficial to prove itself to be a legitimate way for people to spend time and effort.

Future Posts

I am, as it turns out, way behind on the writing that I want to do.

I want to address the problem with a desire utilitarian calculus expressed in the comments in my posting on Justice.

I want to formalize some comments I made to the posts on a series of posts that The Barefoot Bum wrote on game theory.

I want to write a response to evanescent's The Meaning of Life - It's Right Here!. Some of the statements made are false.

These are all parts of a new project that I am taking on in my blog - a project of engaging other blog writers on ideas of value and ethics.

Focusing, of course, on writers I can respect because they actually seem to have an interest in the quality of arguments.

Oh, and I've got to (1) update my web site with links to my blog postings, (2) update the Introduction page to the Beyond Belief 2 series with the most recent postings in that series, (3) read and give final approval to the "Perpsective on the Pledge" book before making it universally available.

Where will I find the time?