Thursday, January 31, 2008

On Physics and Angels

Through Pharyngula today, I was reading up on the Florida debate about their new science standards. (See: Proposed science standards debated in fla.)

The "science standards" article contained a statement from David Campbell, one of the authors of the new standards, that I found interesting:

Campbell also stated, "Biology without evolution is like physics without movement, like chemistry without the periodic table. It's the glue that holds our subject together."

This immediately called to mind something that I learned in graduate school about the philosophy of 'eliminativism'.

Before Newton presented his laws of motion, one of the dominant theories was that things in motion tended to slow down unless something kept them moving. This is what we see in the real world. You push something across the floor, or even throw it through the air, and it slows down.

What is it that kept the planets moving across the sky?

Well, something had to be pushing them. Specifically, they were being pushed by angels.

Newton eliminated that idea - everything moves at a constant velocity in a straight line unless acted on by some force.

Biology needs an intelligent designer the way astronomy needs angels.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Silencing Atheists

I am interested in seeing a writeup of the full story concerning My Space and their alleged disposition to silence atheist points of view (see My Space: No Place for Atheists).

The standard response from religous leaders to atheism has been to silence it. We have seen this in its censorship of "The Golden Compass" and the books on which it represents. We have seen it in their efforts to resist any depiction of atheists or atheism in a positive light. We see it now in pressure to prevent any representation of atheism in My Space, controlled by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, the same company that runs Fox News.

I am not an investigative reporter and I do not have the resources to investigate this issue in detail. Hopefully, somebody with more resources than I will give it a go.

Would, perhaps, some news organization be willing to investigate the issue and report on their findings?

I suspect we would have a long wait ahead of us if we expect to hear an unbiased account on Fox News.

And, of course, the other media conglomerates whose job it is to put eyeballs on advertisements are simply going to look at the fact that most eyeballs belong to people who have grown up in a culture that denigrates and demeans atheists as a matter of national policy (e.g., the Pledge of Allegiance and the national motto), and are unlikely to want to offend anybody.

So, what's the way out of this vicious circle, where denigrating and discriminating against atheists becomes profitable, and those profits are put to work promoting the denigration and discrimination of atheists?

Monday, January 28, 2008

An 'Academic' Creationist Journal

The New Humanist has an article announcing a creationist "academic peer-reviewed journal" (Creationists start an 'academid' journal)

What took them so long to think of this little trick?

Much of the lives of these people depend on an ontological fallacy - that they can bring something into existence simply by declaring that they have done so (a nice piece of magic normally attributed to witches and warlocks).

Obviously, their use of the term 'academic journal' does not match the common usage. This trick is like calling a one dollar bill 'a million dollars' and then going out and expecting to buy a million dollars worth of merchandise with it.

All of the reasons why these articles would not qualify for any real academic journal still apply - their premises are false or unproved, their inferences are invalid, and they include no falsification criteria (ways of demonstrating that their view is mistaken).

Ultimately, this is another form of sophistry and deception that at least this group of creationist seem to adore and against which they have no moral qualms. Regardless of any moral prohibition on making things up, they are once again making things up, and surrounding them with sophistry in order to market them to a public that they have made worse off.

These are the products of parents who raise their children to be sophists and liars, and not have the respect for truth and reason that any moral person would have.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

The Badness of Religion

Over at An Apostate's Chapel there is a post on What's So Bad About Religion.

The article, in attributing badness to religion, makes some mistakes.

For example:

. . . acting on the basis of false beliefs can lead to ill-conceived, even harmful, behavior and decisions.

This is true, and I have made this claim myself. We seek to fulfill our desires, but act so as to fulfill our desires given our beliefs. False beliefs often thwart our desires (by recommending actions that will not, in fact, fulfill our desires).

However, this is not always the case.

For example, it may well be the case that a person in a stressful situation, who believes that he has a 5% change of survival, actually has a 5% chance of survival. However, if he believes that he has a 50% chance of survival, the extra effort might actually increase his chance of survival to 10%. This is a case in which a false belief can be better than a true belief.

There is also the case that it is better to use a simple (though less accurate) model of a system than a highly complex, though more accurate, model. Our understanding of the universe around us is Newtonian - that is the system we use to explain and predict the events we experience every day. However, it is not accurate. Still, even though Newtonian claims are false, they are close enough to the truth, and the benefits we gain from speed and simplicity far outweigh what we lose in terms of accuracy. Again, an example in which it is better to go with false beliefs than true.

There are other beliefs that are simply neutral. The proposition, "A god exists", by itself, tells us nothing about what we should or should not do. It is a neutral belief. There are other false beliefs (many not having to do with religion) that are far worse than this one, and far more worthy of our attention.

False beliefs about global warming, for example.

In short, this proposition tells us something wrong with some religious beliefs, but not what is wrong with religion.

Consider . . . a man who was suffering from mental illness heard the voide of God telling him to slaughter his family.

We seem to be being told that, in a purely atheist community, in which nobody believes in God, that nobody suffering from a mental illness will slaughter their whole family. Actually, I doubt that this is the case. In an atheist society, mentally ill individuals will not interpret their voices as 'the voice of God'. Instead, they will interpret those voices as an intuition, or even 'see' evidence, of a conspiracy against the common good.

And if the mentally ill person says, "I believed my family was genetically inferior and I needed to kill them before they further corrupted the genetic fitness of others," would the writer see this as evidence of "what is wrong with belief in evolution?"

I doubt not.

The conclusion does not follow from the premises. The author merely sees a connection because the author has adopted the position that there is something wrong with religion, and is seeking evidence - the way that a person who believes that God exists will seek evidence, grasping on to whatever will support the desired conclusion.

I do no write in terms of "what is wrong with religion."

I write in terms of specific arguments and propositions. "This argument is invalid", "That proposition is false".

Many religious propositions are false (and all religious propositions that are strictly religious are false). Of those false claims, some are far worse than others, and a person does not have to be religious to have false beliefs.

Many religious arguments are invalid. Of those invalid arguments, some are worse than others, and a person does not have to be religious to have an invalid argument.

What I am asking for here is simply some focus on specific propositions and arguments and avoid the sweeping generalities. At the same time, I would like to see less of a tendency to accept an argument as valid merely because, if others accept it (and they might), those others will share the reader's animosity towards some target group.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Fighting the Next Pandemic

Even if somebody is not fighting religion, it is still possible for them to be doing some good in the world.

Okay, nobody actually thinks that fighting religion is the only way to do good. Yet, I fear that my focus is sometimes too narrow, and it is time to broaden one's perspective to include other concerns.

I recently watched a video on TED. This one is having to do with stopping the next pandemic - how a private organization investing $100,000 did more to stop the last pandemic than the World Health Organization.

Larry Brilliant Wants to Stop Pandemics

It explains what steps can be taken to help stop the next pandemic.

Early detection, early response.

Brilliant didn't mention anything about prayer, particularly prayer in public schools, as being an effective counter-measure. One thing he said that was not so brilliant, that in wiping out life-threatening small pox, that "God rewarded the physicians for all their hard work," in wiping out the disease.

God had nothing to do with it. The physicians with all their hard work deserve all the credit. But I would not exchange a world without this disease for a world that that lacked a few absurd religious sentiments.

One disease gone. Another (polio) just about gone.

That's good work.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Anti-Atheist Bigotry and the Media

In a posting, Bigotry Should Disqualify a Presidential Candidate, vjack correctly noted that anti-atheist bigotry is not met with the same level of condemnation - that it, in fact, often meets with some level of praise - than other forms of discrimination.

However, he incorrectly assigns the blame to the press for its failure to report that statements against atheists are as bigoted as similar statements against others.

When I speak about anti-atheist bigotry, I am referring to over-generalizations that say that atheists are an inferior group of people - dishonest, untrustworthy, unworthy of holding public office - merely in virtue of the fact that they do not believe in God. Anti-atheist bigotry occurs in the form of falsehoods and sophist arguments meant to denigrate evidence where it is clear the speaker used a desired conclusion (atheists are bad) to filter his evidence.

Expecting the press to correctly recognize and report anti-atheist bigotry in this country today is like expecting the press to correctly recognize and report racism in the 1920s. Reports are not separate and distinct entities from the culture in which they live. They pick up their values from the culture and, more importantly, only those who appeal to the culture win customers, which translates into revenue, which is how they stay in business.

The successful boycott against "The Golden Compass" series delivers an important warning against any member of the media who dares to defend atheists against prejudice. In the free market, only anti-atheist bigotry will get funded.

Media outlets that correctly point out anti-atheist bigotry exist. They are not successful because there is no market for this message.

How do we create a market for that message?

It will take something like the Civil Rights movement for atheists - something where those who are opposed to this bigotry (not 'atheists', but 'those who are opposed to bigotry') are willing to go to the effort to visibly protest these denigrating statements and those who make them.

It means protesting in a way that the fact that the press cannot refuse to report that the speech was anti-atheist bigotry because the press must cover the protest.

As long as people sit back and simply mumble complaints into their blogs, we will continue to be a culture where only the press that refuses to correctly report (or even recognize) anti-atheist bigotry will be successful.

[Standard caveat: the only legitimate response to words are words and private actions, so the protests must take the form of words and private actions. However, private action does include the right to some very loud and protests.]

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Telecom Immunity

According to an article in the Washington Post, Senat Opens Debate on Wiretap Measure:

...Vice President Cheney said in a speech yesterday that Congress "must act now" to renew the expiring surveillance law and provide telecommunications companies with protection from lawsuits alleging they violated personal privacy rights while helping the government after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks."

But the question still remains: What type of help were they providing the government after 9/11?

For example: Did this help involve spying on political adversaries of the administration for the sake of helping them pass legislation beneficial to their campaign contributors?

If not, what is to prevent some future administration from 'selling' their warrantless wiretapping power to the highest bidder - allowing it to be used to help some 'friend of the President' get the edge over some political or economic rival?

The simple act of requiring that the government make its case to a court - an independent third party - will help to ensure that the government is actually using the power to wiretap to protect the country, rather than protect the President (at the expense of the country) - or to profit the vice-President (at the expense of everybody else).

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

FISA votes near

The Senate will soon be voting on legislation to alter the FISA law.

The Bush Administration wants more warrantless wiretapping, and a group of telecom companies want immunity from violating laws that prohibited them from providing material to the government without a warrant.

The importance of requiring a warrant is that, without it, there is no way to make sure that the Administration is actually spying on our nation's enemies, and not their own enemies. Nixon, for example, felt justified on using the government's wiretapping capability on anybody who criticized his administration. That was why the FISA court was created to start with - because of Nixon's decision to spy on political opponents and rivals.

It certainly needs to be defeated.

Fred Phelps and the Duty to Think

So, it appears that the reason Heath Ledger died is because he made Brokeback Mountain, and God killed him as punishment. (ht Possommomma)

The problem is that people like this vote.

The right to vote implies a duty to think.

A duty to think implies a duty to ask, "What if I am wrong?" And if the consequences of being wrong are that others are unjustly harmed, then the morally responsible person then asks, "How do I make sure that I am not wrong?"

Phelps and his kind draw their conclusions, then they select the evidence, pointing to whatever might support their conclusion as 'proof' while ignoring anything against it.

The morally responsible person seeks to remove bias. He thinks in terms of control groups and study groups. He looks for statistical differences between the two, for relationships between independent variable and dependent variables, and then tests the relationships he suggests by seeing if they support other observations.

People who use this method - people who ask, "What if I am wrong?" and then try to make sure that they are not wrong by using this method, are (at least in this regard) so massively morally superior to the likes of Phelps.

Indeed, this is one further piece of evidence that scripture is not the work of any morally perfect divine being. This is not too difficult for a primitive tribesmen of several thousand years ago to understand. Yet, they were not told of these simple moral responsibility.

As such, we have moral degenerates such as Phelps believing that the morally vaccuous rantings of primitive tribesmen gives him moral guidance, refusing to exercise or even to comprehend the moral responsibility to think.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Slavery and Religion

I was hoping that somebody would look into the issue of religion and slavery.

With the release of the movie "Amazing Grace", a lot of religious people have been declaring how it was religion that freed the slaves - as if the South before the Civil War was a bastion of free-thought and atheist thinking (or, at least, was overrun by some anti-Christian philosophy).

In fact, the defenders of slavery used the Bible to defend their institution - which they could easily do, since scripture contained so many references to God not only allowing, but in some cases commanding, the owning of slaves.

It was almost like the Bible was written by a bunch of primitive tribesmen, and not some benevolent being with perfect moral knowledge. Otherwise, how would he have gotten the part about slavery so wrong?

Anyway, Kelly at the Rational Response Squad has provided at least some of the evidence against the theist attempt to rewrite history in Dinesh D'Souza Spreads Dishonest Propaganda…Again.

I would like to see some independent verification of the authenticity of these quotes - somebody in the know who can verity their authenticity. But the first step - the step of collecting some of this information, has at least been done.

Banning Extremist Speekers

I have argued that the right to freedom of speech implies a right to respond to somebody else's speech through words (including words of condemnation) and private action.

The New Humanist reports today on a call to Ban Islamist Speakers to prevent spread of extremism, government urges universities.

Though this smacks of censorship, this is actually an example of private action. Private actions are those actions that one may perform without having to justify them to anybody. Where to shop. What to buy. What to watch on television. Which charities to support. Who to invite to your house for supper. Who to invite over to your university to speek.

I advocate that it is better to allow somebody to speak and then explain why their thinking is wrong, then to prohibit somebody from speaking and, as a result, sacrifice the opportunity to explain their errors. In fact, a good way to refute some of these claims is to actually cite a speaker, and systematically explain their failures, and what these types of failures imply about the moral character of the speaker.

(Note: As I have discussed before, we can learn about the moral character of an individual from the mistakes he makes. We can ask, "Why did he make that error and not some other?" Where the answer tells us something about what the speaker wants to believe it tells us something about his moral character.)

However, allowing somebody to speak does not imply providing him with assistance. It is consistent with doing nothing - not interfering. It is even consistent with responding with words of condemnation. None of these options violate a right to freedom of speech.

Monday, January 21, 2008

The Selfishness Argument against Suicide

A conversation that I had tonight called to mind an old argument on suicide.

Let us keep in mind that most suicides are the irrational product of a preventable mental illness – and the fact that a person thinks that his own death is justified does not imply that it is justified.

However, let us assume a case in which a person is in excruciating pain, and will be for the rest of his life. This person wants to end his life.

One of the arguments that I have often heard against suicide is that, “If you kill yourself, you are just being selfish. You’re not thinking about all of the people who will be upset over your death. Quit thinking about yourself and think about them for a change.”

It seems that this argument has an easy answer. Yet, I have never read or encountered this answer anywhere.

“If these other people truly cared about me, they would not want me to be in this much pain. When they ask me to stay alive, they are the ones who are being selfish. They are asking – even demanding – that I continue to endure this pain so that they need not suffer through the unhappiness that my death would bring. What gives them the right to demand so much from me, while I am denied the right to demand so little from them. And, indeed, it should be little, because a person who truly cares about me will be relieved by the fact that my suffering has ended. The person who wants to prolong my suffering is not somebody who truly cares about me.”

This is not an argument for readers to go out and consider suicide. In fact, if a person is considering suicide, then I would like to advise him or her to seek professional help – determine if it is, in fact, a result of a treatable preventable illness.

You can always kill yourself later if you learn that this assessment is not correct.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Free Speech and the Right to Offend

Through a posting at The Frame Problem, I learn that the Dutch are preparing for protests from an anti-Muslim film.

The actual news article shows up in The Guardian, Violence fear over Islam film..

First and foremost, no civilized person responds to mere words with violence. If any sect of any religion advocates responding to words and images with violence, then that sect of that religion turns its followers away from being civil members of a civil society and leads them towards barbarism.

The Dutch government should be delivering this message in no undercertain terms. There is no contradiction is stating and insisting that one will enforce the principle that, even though we may question the morality of those who would depict such images, anybody who reacts to words and images with violence is far worse and will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

The Dutch government should also announce to its citizens that all good Dutch citizens will not only refuse to respond to words and pictures with violence, but will offer no quarter or safety to neighbors who violate this rule. They should be encouraged and rewarded for aiding in the arrest and capture of anybody who cannot respect the moral principle of no violent response to words and images.

Dutch Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen said, "Freedom of expression does not mean the right to offend."

This is false. Freedom of expression means the right to offend, and the duty of those offended to respond only through words and private (peaceful) actions. The idea that, "You have the freedom to say whatever you want as long as it meets with my approval" is an absurdity. Dutch who understand what freedom of expression truly means should see Verhagen removed from his position.

The right to freedom of speech is a right to say whatever one pleases without fear of a violent response. It does not imply a freedom from criticism. So, it is still open, and perhaps even to be encouraged, that people respond to this blatant provocation with condemnation and private actions that announce their displeasure. This is consistent, and can be done at the same time, those same people insist that critics who resort to violence be given the harshest of criminal penalties.

The Guardian reports one response to what this film displays.

During a visit to the European Parliament in Strasbourg last week, Ahmad Badr al-Din Hassoun, the Grand Mufti of Syria, said that, were Wilders was seen to tear up or burn a Koran in his film, 'this will simply mean he is inciting wars and bloodshed ... It is the responsibility of the Dutch people to stop him.'

Sorry, but . . . no.

Ahmed Badr al-Din Hassoun is showing the same moral character here as a kidnapper, who holds a gun to his victim's head and says, "Unless you meet my demands, I will kill her, and it will all be your fault. You will have to live with the guilt, because her death will be your fault, not mine."

Actually, the moral responsibility rests with the kidnapper. Morally decent people will seek a peaceful resolution to this situation if possible, and want to save the victim. However, if the victim is not saved, then the kidnapper is the agent morally responsible for that harm.

al-Din Hassoun, in making this claim, shows that he has the moral character of a terrorist, and not the character of a civilized human being.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Energy Policy - $100 Per Barrel Oil

Sorry, but I have to consider $100 barrel for oil a good thing, and Bush's attempts to beg Saudi Arabia to reduce the price another example of his incompetence.

Higher prices for oil mean more investiment in alternative energy and in conservation. It is a better incentive to reduce carbon emissions than any law the government could possibly pass.

The way that Saudi Arabia and others lower the price of oil is by producing more - more to be burned. This stifles research and development of alternative energies, which in turn keeps us dependent on the Opec countries because we are promoting the use of oil over the use of alternatives that we can produce at home.

If America is smart enough to put its investment dollars and intelligence capital to work building alternatives to $100 barrel oil, this would in turn provide new jobs, and give America new products to export itself, rather than keep us dependent on oil imports.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Huckabee and the Confederate Flag

Presidential candidate Mike Huckabee made some comments recently about flying the Confederate flag in South Carolina.

The remarks concerned the practice of flying the Confederate flag over the capital building in South Carolina. Though South Carolina recently ended the practice (the flag was moved to a Confederate memorial), the issue still exists. The issue also concerns a general respect for the Confederate flag among South Carolinans.

According to United Press international:

"You don't want people from outside the state coming in and telling you what to do with your flag," Huckabee told an audience in Myrtle Beach. "If somebody came to Arkansas and told us what to do with our flag, we'd tell 'em what to do with the pole."

Later, he said that it is not an appropriate question for the President of the United States to address.

At a news conference Thursday night, Huckabee said the flag issue is not one the president "needs to weigh in on," and did not say whether he considered it offensive to fly the Confederate battle flag, The New York Times reported.

Yet, I strongly suspect that if some state were to fly a Nazi flag, that Huckabee would not be saying, "I find the question of whether to fly this flag to be an inappropriate question for a President to address." Rather, he would say (or he should say) something like, "Any state, and any person, who would fly or show respect to a Nazi flag is worthy of condemnation."

The case against the Confederate Flag is not much different. Whereas the Nazi flag was the flag of the concentration and exterimation camps, the Confederate flag was the flag of the slave plantation and slave ships that were nearly as effective in killing off blacks as the Nazi concentration camps.

Somebody who nitpicks over details might want to argue that the Confederate flag does not deserve quite as much disrepsect as the Nazi flag - since the plantations were not death camps.

However, any degree of difference is morally trivial.

Having a President who is unwilling to condemn those who show respect for the flag of the slave planation is only trivially different from having a president unwilling to condemn those who show respect for the flag of the concentration camp.

It does no good to claim that the Confederate flag also stood for some good things. I'm certain that one can find something that Hitler proposed that was beneficial. However, when held up against the death camps (or the slave planatations), any attempt to say that the set of institutions on the whole were not that bad - were still worthy of respect - is a moral absurdity that no President should be willing to embrace.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Ignorance is Education

I have been handed a question from the studio audience.

[T]his situation which I saw on the Pharyngula blog might pose an interesting practical question for you to address sometime in your blog. Apparently there is a bookstore that is banning books from their shelves based on input from their customers.

This falls into a category where I argue that certain actions can be wrong, but it is only legitimate to respond to the wrong through condemnation and private action – not through violence, including the violence that is inherent in the law.

The patrons of this store and the store are not doing anything that is worthy of a violent response, including legal penalty. However, this does not mean that what they are doing may not be legitimately condemned. There are those who argue, “What I am doing is entirely within my rights; so no person may legitimately criticize my actions.” However, it is also within one’s rights to criticize the actions of another – particularly when one has good reason to do so.

A paradigm example of this would be a case where the KKK or American Nazi Party organizes a march. What they are doing is certainly within their rights in the sense that others should not be permitted to respond with violence (including the violence inherent in the law). However, this does not imply that it would be wrong for others to meet their actions with condemnation and private sanctions. In fact, this is exactly what any good person would do – while those who would show no signs of resistance to this message may also be condemned.

This book store’s policies have much in common with a KKK rally. It is not something that we have any right to respond to with acts of physical violence (including government laws). However, those who participate in this type of venture show a narrow-mindedness that good people would find repulsive and deserving of condemnation.

These are people who think that ‘education’ means promoting ignorance. The best way to teach somebody to understand a concept is to compare and contrast it to other views and explain why the received view is better. A brain that is not exposed to alternative views cannot really be said to understand the view that it holds. However, these people are afraid that their children might actually adopt these alternative views. In order to prevent this from happening, they promote ignorance, raising children who are . . . bluntly . . . stupider than they would otherwise have grown up to be.

And let’s be honest, much of what these people are ‘protecting’ their children from is a more accurate understanding of the world. They want their children to be as ignorant as they are of how the world really works, by denying their children access to information on how the world really works. They are helping to ensure that future generations will continue to suffer the ill effects of ignorance. There is certainly good reason to condemn this type of behavior.

The whole Christian culture in this society is empowered by the doctrine of “ignorance is education”. We saw it in the campaign to boycott The Golden Compass and to remove the books from libraries. We see it in the Texas attempts to censor textbooks. All of this represents the same mentality – that the need to indoctrinate children into fiction requires adults to prevent their children from learning facts. And we are all made worse off when we force people to act out of ignorance and error.

But there is not good reason to respond to violence – even violence through criminal sanctions. We must we willing to invest our time and effort to bring social pressure to bear against those who promote ignorance, accepting the hard work that this requires over the ‘simple’ solution of state-owned violence.

The way to fight ignorance is not through laws and sanctions or any sort of private or public violence, but by being willing to put the time and energy and money that it takes to actually educate people - not only on the facts that the hucksters of ignorance wish to keep hidden, but also the moral fact that the hucksters simply are not good people - the type of people who end up promoting harm and suffering whether they are willing to admit it or not.

Just Judgments

I would like to propose a small exercise that should produce a bit more justice in our society.

When one reads news about a candidate who has been indicted, stop a moment before reading further and ask, "Is my attitude towards this crime going to be different depending on whether I discover that this person is a Democrat or a Republican?"

You cannot tell a person's party affiliation by the crime itself. You have to hunt for it. Yet, as a matter of fact, the party affiliation is not relevant (or should not be relevant) to ones judgment of the crime. It is like reading to discover the race of a criminal, and having one reaction upon discovering that the criminal is of the same race, and another upon discovering that he is of another race.

Among those who are likely to read this blog, the same question can be asked upon discovering that a particular perpetrator is a theist or an atheist. A report that a crime has been committed by a theist brings the response, "See how bad all theists are?" However, any report that a crime was committed by an atheist brings the response, "It's unfair to condemn all atheists for the actions of this individual."

So, I think that a little more justice can be found in the world if, upon discovering a story of this type, one were to say, "I am going to respond as if the accused were a member of my own political party, or shared my religious beliefs."

Of course, this does not apply if the act was a part of party or church doctrine. Where the reason to protest is found in a group's scripture or a party's official platform, then there is sound reason to distinguish between that group and some other that rejects that same view.

But I'm talking about crimes - activities that even members of the same organization would confemn.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Free Speech in Canada

At Daylight Atheism there is a post called In Defense of Free Speech concerning a Canadian journalist who published the Danish cartoons regarding Mohammad.

The journalist videotaped the interview by the government and used the opportunity to speak in defense of the right to free speech - a right to publish whatever he wants for whatever reason he wants.

I have argued that the right to freedom of speech is not a right to freedom from criticism or even condemnation for what one says. Some people scream that their right to free speech is violated whenever somebody even objects to the fact that they spoke. However, the right to freedom of speech includes the right to speak in condemnation of somebody else. It would be a contradiction to say that the right to freedom of speech means that one is prohibited from speaking in condemnation of others. That, too, is free speech.

The right to freedom of speech means that there is an obligation to respond to words only with counter-words and private action. It is not appropriate to respond to speech with violence or threats of violence - to do physical harm to the speaker or his property.

What Canada is doing in this case is responding to words with violent action. Violence - or the threat of violence - is the mechanism by which all government laws are enforced.

Is this law necessary to maintain the peace?

Well, actually, the question here is, if there is a breech in the peace, who is responsible for it? If other people also obey the restriction to respond to words only with words and private actions, then no speech would ever break the peace. If the peace is broken, then it is broken by the person who has decided to respond to words with violence.

One of the reasons for this approach is that when we respond to words with words, we educate people on what is wrong with what was said - that, or we discover that there is nothing wrong with it in fact. However, you cannot educate people with brute force. Punishing a person who says, for example, that pi = 3, even though it is wrong, does not educate him on what pi is or what it means.

Besides, the types of people who tend to be the most eager to defend their ideas through violence (including the violence of law) rather than counter-words are those whose ideas are the least defensible.

And when violence becomes the accepted means of persuasion in any country, then debates will more likely be carried out with weapons than with words - and that benefits nobody.

The accused in this case is in the right - not because the ideas he communicated have any merit. It is because violence is not the appropriate response to any speech, regardless of its merit.

Candidates and Expression of Faith

I am seeing protests against Democratic candidates expressing religious sentiments on the campaign trail. The protest comes from people who declare that there should be a separation between church and state in that a person's religious beliefs are irrelevant to holding public office. Only policy questions are relevant. (And, of course, religious beliefs are relevent to the degree that a candidate may base policy decisions on religious beliefs.)

The problem is that we live in a society where a candidate that follows this recommendation would almost certainly lose the election. Telling a candidate not to advertise his or her faith is like telling an individual not to be a candidate.

No sane candidate is going to say, "I am going to run for office with the idea of winning, and I am not going to express any religious sentiments." The only way a candidate can even become a contender for his or her party's nomination is to play the faith card. So . . . complaining that all candidates that are contenders for their party's nomination have played the faith card is a bit irrational.

What we need to do is to create a culture where candidates do not have to play a faith card to be a contender. This means complaining to our fellow citizens about those who impose this requirement - not the candidates who realize that they must meet it to end.

Instead of complaining, "Canididates should not do X," one should complain, "Good citiens do not choose their candidates based on their doing X."

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Divine Justice and the Impulse to Do Good

Austin Cline at “About Atheism/Agnosticism” has written about J. Federer’s alleged secular arguments as to why civil governments must be founded on a belief in God and that the country as a whole owes this God its gratitude.

He presents three standard clich├ęs for theology. One of those arguments was:

[O]ur government was designed to govern people who could govern themselves. We could get by with few laws if people had an internal law . . . . But if that person did not believe in God and in a future state of rewards and punishments, when presented with the same temptation to do wrong and not get caught, tthey would give in.

Let’s see . . . nobody here has heard this argument before, right? Perfectly original? The fact that Federer was so brilliant to come up with an argument nobody else has ever used explains why we can forgive the fact that he failed to consider answers to this (or his other) arguments. There has not been enough time for atheists to consider the argument and try to come up with a response.

Okay, the paragraph above was sarcastic. The problem has been answered. The argument itself contains the seeds of its own dismissal. Everybody who wants to live in a society where they and those they care about might be murdered, raped, lied to, swindled, or otherwise harmed at any moment raise their hands?

With the exception of a few psychotics in the studio audience, our reason to form a society of people who do not wish to go around harming each other is because we do not want to live our life in this world in fear of being harmed.

An agent acts so as to fulfill his desires, given his beliefs. Certainly, one of our options is to give people false beliefs that his desires will be thwarted in some afterlife if he does evil. This is one way to prevent people from doing evil.

Another is to make the types of things that a person will likely try to do if there is no God looking over his shoulders acts that tend to fulfill other desires, including a the desires of other people. We typically do not have to fear a person putting his hand in a bed of hot coals even when there is no God threatening punishment for doing so. We do not need to fear a person sneaking food that he absolutely hates even when left alone with a large bowl of the stuff – simply because he does not like it.

So, if we give people aversions to murder, rape, theft, sophistry, and lying, then we create people who will not murder, rape, steal, con, or lie even when there is no God looking over his shoulder.

Why do we do this?

It might have something to do with the fact that very few of us have any interest in being, or having somebody close to us be, murdered, raped, robbed, lied to, conned. The same reasons that the theist gives for us to fear a society that does not believe in a God or punishment in an afterlife, are the reasons we have to promote desires that tend to fulfill other desires and inhibit desires that tend to thwart other desires.

How do we do this?

Through judicious applications of the tools of praise, condemnation, reward, and punishment. We praise and reward those who exhibit desires that tend to fulfill other desires, and condemn and punish those who exhibit desires that tend to thwart other desires. This is particularly effective when applied to young children.

Unfortunately, people such as Federer apparently did not have parents who were particularly good at teaching them the difference between right and wrong. If they had, he would know that it is wrong to denigrate others without good reason, and that one has an obligation to see if one’s reasons are good before expressing them. It seems he was taught to denigrate others on a whim, without thought as to whether his claims made sense.

This source of true morality and incentive to do the right thing that Federer claims to have gotten from his religion . . . well, he is not exhibiting those qualities at all in this essay.

As for secular arguments to obey God's law, I would argue that the claim that God will cause natural disasters such as hurricanes and plagues of locust to also be particularly compelling secular arguments. Even those who do not believe in God have reason to avoid hurricanes and plagues. But . . . you know . . . people who want to avoid hurricanes and plagues would be well advised to study the phenomena scientifically and learn how to predict and explain their behavior through natural laws. Because, as it turns out, people who use this system, actually do come up with solutions that save lives.

Atheist Fundamentalism: The Urge to Convert

An article in the Las Vegas Review-Journal, "Human Matters: Fundamentalism in any form usually spells trouble," complained about fundamentalist atheists.

Unfortunately, the author, Steven Kalas, did not define fundamentalism.

By the way, many atheists protest articles like this merely because the author used the word 'fundamentalist'. They assert, 'Fundamentalist means X, and X is not true of atheism."

However, it is quite open for an author to take a common word and to use it in an uncommon way. We do it all the time. In describing desire utilitarianism, I take a common term - fulfillment - and give it a narrow and specific meaning. Anybody who would protest, 'Fulfillment means X' will simply be told, "I need a term that means Y, and I choose to use the term 'fulfillment' in that role."

There is no intrinsic law-of-nature meaning for any term to have. They have the meanings we assign, and we are free to change meanings at a moment's notice.

Anyway, according to Kalas, fundamentalism is characterized by a need to convert people.

Yet, what is Kales trying to do with this article? He is trying to convert people.

He may not be trying to convert people to his religion. However, when it comes to religions that put a great deal of value on conversion, Kavas is certainly trying to convert people away from those religions.

Even though, in his argument, he promotes diversity of a value, the set of religions he is comfortable with is less diverse than the set of religions that exist - because he is not comfortable with religions that put value on converting others.

Besides, let's say that you are in a nuclear power plant, and somebody is about to push a button that will cause a core meltdown. I am wondering about the degree to which Kalas would label as "fundamentalist" the person who urgently tried to 'convert' the person who is about to press the button into somebody with a different point of view?

I am wondering if Kalas' love of diversity includes the diverse opinion that it is perfectly acceptable to press the button.

The problem is not with trying to convert people. The problem is not even with trying despirately to change somebody else's opinion. The problem is with trying to convince people to believe things that are not true, or despirately trying to convince people to believe things that are not important.

On this latter point, I would hold that some atheists are sometimes guilty. I have criticized them in this blog from time to time. However, my objection is always to the truth or importance of a claim. It is never bad in itself to try to guide somebody to true beliefs. Sometimes, it is essential to our survival.
The problem is not with trying to change another person's beliefs, or convert people into one's view, or even trying despirately to convert

Monday, January 14, 2008

Presidential Politics and Science

Through a posting by vjack I learned that Reason has come out with an editorial, Evolutionary Politics, that says the same thing that I wrote in, Ron Paul's "Inappropriate Question".

That science knowledge has a great deal to do with a candidate's ability to make reasoned conclusions based on available evidence, and that candidates who ignore science are more likely to endorse bad policy.

That, insofar as votes have reason to demand that candidates reach good policy, they have reason to demand that the candidates understand at least the basics of science.

The National Center for Science is calling for A Presidential Debate on Science and Technology.

I strongly - very strongly - endorse this proposal, and encourage all readers to do the same. Not only on the Presidential level. I would also like to request that readers go to any local debates they may have an opportunity to go to and ask not only whether their policies will be governed by the best scientific evidence, but questions that indicate whether they understand science well enough for this to be the case.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

D'Souza and the Model of Immorality

Denish D'Souza is a piece of work without, it seems, a fiber of moral conscience in his body.

His recent treatise is on how Christians ended slavery.

Let's see . . . up to the civil war Christians had 1,860 years to end slavery. During much of that time, Christianity was the dominant culture. Rulers declared their nations Christian nations by force of arms and threatened to kill anybody who questioned the Christian faith.

During all of that time, Christianity not only failed to end slavery. Slavery existed without a word of protest from the Church. Indeed, the Church held its own slaves.

What happened to bring about the end of slavery?

It was The Enlightenment - a period of reason where the chains of religious dogma suddenly loosened, and people began to think of morality in rational terms, rather than in terms of scripture. They derived nature from the concept of man in a state of nature in treatises that made no reference to scripture. When they did this . . . when they replaced reason with scripture . . . they discovered that no reason could be found in nature for holding that one person had a right to rule and another had a duty to obey.

D'Souza, of course, lies about the history of slavery. Bearing false witness, to him, is as natural as breathing. So, he 'bears false witness' to his readers every time he sits at his keyboard.

The historic fact of the matter is this:

Christianity had 1860 years to end slavery and did nothing to stop it.

The Enlightenment took 200 years to do what Christianity failed to do in nearly 2000 years.

Think of a co-worker who accepts an award for a program that he took off of somebody else's computer, or a sibling beeming in pride after claiming to have done the work that you had spent all day doing. Think of somebody like that, and you know somebody who merely aspires to the level of immorality of somebody like Danish D'Souza.


One of the issues that has come up from time to time is the issue of atheists fighting each other rather than uniting against a common enemy.

Only, who should we be uniting against, and who is the common enemy?

I do not argue for atheism and against religion - that is not the fight I am interested in. My fight is for true beliefs and good desires. Religion, certainly, represents a body of false beliefs, some of which are extremely destructive. However, it is not the only set of false beliefs that exist, and not necessarily the most destructive.

When it comes to destruction on a global scale, Exxon-Mobile and Altria (formerly known as Phillip-Morris) are two examples of entities that can well compete with Islamic jihadists in the numbers of people they can kill and the amount of property they can destroy. As I watch my teenage nieces and nephews grow up, I can see that the most serious dangers they face do not come from religion. It comes from drugs, disease (esp. sexually transmitted disease such as HIV), tobacco, drunk driving, non-religious violence at school, debt - both personal and national.

Of course, the one thing that the solution to all of these problems have in common is an ability to apply the principles of science and reason - to come up with theories and to compare theories for effectiveness - in order to discover the most effective way to deal with these problems.

It's not really 'religion' (in the form of whether a God exists) that is the most important threat. It is the failure to appreciate the virtues of truth and reason, and to apply those principles to solving real-world problems. Whereas atheists are not immune from illogical arguments in the defense of desired conclusions, or embracing fiction when it is in their interests to do so, I really do not see this as a problem of uniting atheists against a common enemy. I see it more as uniting raionalists against a common enemy, and recognizing that just because a person is an atheist, this does not imply that he defends reason.

Friday, January 11, 2008

The Millenials

According to an article in Newsweek, younger voters are particularly involved in this year's Presidential campaign.

This is a good thing.

Given the degree to which past politicians have sold their future in exchange for votes.

A staggering national debt that we have left them to pay.

Global warming that will do untold damage.

The destruction of the Social Security Trust Fund.

We have not exactly left things better for the next generation.

It is the essence of politics that the politician will take from those who do not have a voice (those too young to vote) and sell what is taken to the highest current bidder. The last eight years has substantially consisted of a huge wealth-transfer scheme. Bush transferred wealth from whole generations not yet born and into the bank accounts of current stock holders.

It would be nice if somebody were to step up that would be willing to protest, at least to some degree, the harm done to the future interests of those not yet old enough to vote.

Illness and Exploitation

There have been several posts on atheist blogs about a man who cut off his hand because he saw "the number of the beast" - as if this somehow discredits religion.

It's a poor argument, and one that malicious in the way it exploits mental illness in order to target a political opponent.

A person suffering from such delusions can just as easily cut off his hand because he senses some sort of rampant disease or alien possession. The fact is, this man had an illness and the illness cost him his hand.

He 'interprets' his illness in religious terms simply because religious terms are the most common.

Really, does it make sense to argue that if nobody believed in God that self-destructive mental illness will cease to exist?

If there were an actual religion that had as one of its commandments the cutting off of one's hand, then that religion could be legitimately criticized. However, this incident does not fit that description.

I would suggest that we not get into the habbit of exploiting the tragedy of a person's illness to score rhetorical political points.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Poor Thinking

Ah, a convert.

I was pleased to read this morning that kelly at the rational response squad has come to the conclusion that:

despite what I had come to believe, religion is not the biggest danger to society. Poor thinking is.

But, then, what is 'poor thinking'?

She tells us that we atheism is not bound to a single code of behavior and that it is compatible with people doing different things.

Then she complains that the problem with atheism is that its members do not march in lock-step behind a single drummer - that we are too busy fighting each other rather than uniting against a common enemy.

She writes, with a certainty that she is right and those who disagree are wrong, that the problem is with atheists who write with a certainty that they are write and those who disagree with them are wrong.

She calls the use of words like 'should' and 'ought' offensive in a post filled with protestations on what others 'should' (and 'should not') do.

I do agree that 'poor thinking' is a problem. I believe that the solution is to find instances of 'poor thinking', identify it by name, and demonstrate that it is poor thinking. It does not matter of the person one is writing about is atheist or theist. It only matters whether their reasoning is sound or unsound.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Blasphemy and Inciting Religious Hatred

A sentence in an article in The Telegraph in England gives me some sense that there may be nothing gained in England by removing the blasphemy laws.

It is understood that Church leaders could be willing to back the abolition of blasphemy offences if new laws banning the incitement of religious hatred can provide significant protection for Anglicanism.

We know from listening to many people on the religious Right talk that anything said or written that suggests less than perfect knowledge and wisdom on the part of Christians is an "attack on Christianity" - a "militant" act designed to promote hatred of all things religious.

In fact, we can interpret as innocent an act as arguing to a person that his belief in a particular God is mistaken to be an act of 'inciting religious hatred'.

Where is this line anyway?

It would not take much effort at all for 'inciting religoius hatred' to be simply a new way to spell 'blasphemy', and for the England to recognize no benefit at all from a change in the law.

Morality's Relationship to Mental States

dbO, in a blog post Comment on Subjective Morality gave a positive review of the following statement.

That’s the essential distinction. People almost always seem to think that if the basis of morality is subjective then its arbitrary and any set of values is as good as another.

However, there are two meanings of 'subjective'.

One states that mental states are an essential part of moral value - something I agree with. However, I still say that moral value is objective because mental states are a part of the real world - as much a part of the world as trees and flowers and chirping birds. Our statements about relationships between states of affairs and mental states are statements that are objectively true or objectively false - like any other scientific statement.

The other is that to change the moral value of X depends on the specific attitude that the agent has towards X. This latter interpretation makes the rightness or wrongness completely independent of X. The torturing of children for pleasure can be made right (permissible, good, even obligatory) merely by changing the agent's attitude towards the torturing of children for pleasure.

It is, on this account, a mere accident that it happens to be bad.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Political Plans Beyond 2012

As part of my effort to become somewhat informed on the positions of various politicians, I visted Barak Obama's campaign web site to search for his position on global warming.

I found a PDF report on the subject.

Now, my complaint as to what I found should not be taken as a criticism specifically about Obama. It's just that the report contained yet another example of something that has bothered me for a while when I had an opportunity to say something about it.

The plans contains goals like:

Dramatically improve energy efficiency to reduce energy intensity of our
economy by 50 percent by 2030.

Reduce our dependence on foreign oil and reduce oil consumption overall by at least 35 percent, or 10 million barrels of oil, by 2030

From what I remember from my high school civics class, a President can serve at most two terms. This means that, even if elected, Obama will only serve until 2017 at most.

The politically useful aspect of setting goals far beyond his own Presidency is that he never has to live up to him - any 'failure' that occurs can be blamed on future administration. It is a way of dodging accountability.

I do not like candidates that dodge accountability.

I will repeat, I am not targeting Obama with this. Every candidate does this. It is business as usual, precisely because the voting public tolerates this as business as usual.

What I want to see when I read a policy statement is what the candidate's goals are for the end of 2012.

Sure, they can write what they want to accomplish by 2030. However, the statement should be, "My goal is to do X by 2012 as a part of a plan to do Y by 2030."

But, then, we all know that the worst thing for a political candidate to do is to actually commit himself or herself to some specific outcome. Doing so makes no friends and some certain enemies. So, I do not expect this practice to change. It would, however, be nice if somebody would give this policy a try.

Britney Spears and Mental Illness

It seems at least reasonable to suspect that Britney Spears is suffering from some sort of mental illness.

Now, if she had a physical illness - cancer, for example, or a spinal-cord injury, the would have likely been shown a great deal of sympathy and concern. News articles and discussion would focus on, "You are in our thoughts; we hope you get better soon."

However, since this is a mental illness, she is treated as a freak show in a glass box to gawk at and laugh. Though some people keep their laughter to a minimum, the news reports suggest that a lot of people can't wait to read about every detail of her breakdown. Not for reasons of concern, but for reasons of entertainment.

I do think that our attitudes towards mental illness could use some favorable modification.

Monday, January 7, 2008

House Resolution 888

There is a constant barrage of evidence suggesting that the Christian culture is a culture of deception and sophistry – a culture dominated by people who bear false witness without the slightest hint of moral qualms. We see another instance of this in House Resolution 888.

Affirming the rich spiritual and religious history of our Nation's founding and subsequent history and expressing support for designation of the first week in May as `American Religious History Week' for the appreciation of and education on America's history of religious faith.

This resolution contains a number of statements, many of which are factually incorrect and can easily be shown to be factually incorrect. However, the co-sponsors of this resolution and those citizens that the representatives are pandering to in their attempt to get it passed do not care that these claims are false. Truth, to them, is not important.

See Talk To Action for an article demonstrating the fiction of some of these claims.

There is a fact that is more important than the fact that these claims are false. The fact is that the use of any of these claims represents ‘bearing false witness’ against those to whom the actions are being attributed. The advocates of this resolution demonstrate through their actions that they see no moral objection to bearing false witness. They show absolutely no shame or guilt over what they are trying to do here.

This is what I mean when I say that the culture of the religious right is a culture of deception and sophistry – a culture that has completely abandoned the idea that there is something morally objectionable to bearing false witness against others.

I am not saying that all Christians are dishonest. I am saying that honest Christians are so rare and so impotent within their own culture that there appears to be absolutely no resistance or objection to acts of dishonesty. That a culture is corrupt is not proof that every person within the culture is corrupt. However, it is proof that the non-corrupt elements of that culture are impotent against the overwhelming weight of corruption.

Yet, these same agents have the gall to say that their religion gives them not only a special knowledge of the difference between good and evil, but a special incentive to do good.

House Resolution 888 substantially proves, beyond all reasonable doubt, that religion provides them either with no knowledge of the difference between good and evil (a recognition of the fact that bearing false witness is evil), or no particular appreciation of the need to respect that value.

Is Science Compatible with Religion

One of the reasons that I started writing a blog is so that I can refer back to earlier writings rather than repeat myself when an issue comes back again.

The National Academies of Science has recently released a report where they claimed that evolution is compatible with religion.

In fact, evolution is only compatible with some religions - it is incompatible with others.

This is a point that I made a couple of years ago in the blog entry:

Science vs. Religion

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Individual Moral Transgressions of Individual Theists

Readers may note that, even though this blog and my other blog both concern 'atheism' and 'ethics', that I do not devote even a single post to a certain set of transgressions of religious individuals that seem to capture the attention of others.

These are the various crimes of religious people - embezzlement, child abuse, prostitution, and the like.

This is because the people who use these crimes are not making an argument worthy of writing about. They are trying to take the crimes of an individual and use it condemn a whole group of people.

Now, a crime that a person commits becaues the religion itself tells them to do it - that is a legitimate object of criticism. It is legitimate not because a religious person committed a crime, but because the religion itself condones it.

However, when a religious person commits a crime that his religion condemns, using that to condemn the whole religion is . . . well . . . an injustice.

It's like posting the crimes of a black person and doing so in a context where the readers are invited to use this as a reason to condemn all black people.

If the purpose is not to overgeneralize the criminal act to promote dislike of others, then why mention those criminal acts and not others? Why only mention the crimes of religious people unless the religous attitudes of the agent are relevant? And if they are relevant, when how are they relevant?

They are relevant in the sense of, "I hate these people and I want you to hate them too. You certainly hate the person who committed this crime. Well, he was religious. Now, join me in extending this hatred to all people who are religious."

It's not a valid form of reasoning.

It's also not morally legitimate.

Which is why you will not read a posting here in which I refer to the crimes of a person who happens to be religious as if it were possible to draw anything but bigoted conclusions from mentioning such a crime.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

The Atheist's Santa Claus Lawsuit

This lawsuit, concerning an atheist who was fired for refusing to wear a Santa outfit (because he does not believe in Christmas) is, as far as I can determine, absurd.

Personally, I would not want to put on a Santa outfit and pretend to be Santa because I am painfully shy and generally a poor actor. But there is nothing . . . nothing . . . about atheism that prohibits this type of participation.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Obama's Space Policy

On the idea of Obama being President of the United States, there is one aspect of his way of thinking that I think is such a bad idea that it, alone, quite nearly disqualifies him as President as far as I am concerned.

Obama proposes significant cutbacks to Nasa’s budget, significantly postponing its manned space flight program, in order to free up money for his other programs.

I believe that there is one area in which there is a massive gap between the thinking of an atheist (such as myself) and anybody who believes in God. Those who believe in God believe that we are under the watchful eye of a benevolent and omnipotent being who is not going to let anything seriously harm the human race. There is, for all practical purposes, zero chance of human extinction. There may be a ‘rapture’ or some similar event, but this is not human extinction so much as humanity (or much of it) moving into a new neighborhood, and absolutely nothing that we should be trying to prevent.

As an atheist, I hold that we live in a universe that is entirely indifferent to our survival – a universe that could wipe humanity out in the blink of an eye without a second of remorse, because it needs no remorse. The universe has a lot of ways to do this too – from a new disease, to gamma-ray bursts, to a collision with a large rock, to massive solar flares, to ecological collapse.

Our survival is not guaranteed. So, I advocate the philosophy that the first priority should be to ensuring human survival. People who do not appreciate this fact do not appreciate the value of programs that will have the most measurable effect on preserving our species. The best way to preserve our species is to put an end to the current situation in which we have all of our human eggs in one basket, and to disburse those eggs somewhat. That is the only way that the destruction of Earth will not take humanity itself with it.

Does this sound melodramatic?

It is simple math – as easily proved as anything in science. We know that there are forces out there that are capable of driving human-like species into extinction. I can state with almost perfect confidence that at least one intelligent civilization will exist whose people will not act to ensure their own survival, and will be known to other races only through the archaeological relics that they leave behind.

Will we be that civilization?

I can understand why Obama would not want to continue Bush’s space exploration initiative. It is a Republican plan and its continuation will keep a Republican name in the paper. A lot of us would like to become the victims of selective amnesia and forget the absurdity and stupidity of the last four years.

However, if there were no way to remove this monument to the man who best exemplifies stupidity, arrogance, and incompetence is to gamble with the future of humanity itself, I would let this monument stand.

There are other alternatives. I have argued before, if I were President, I would scrap Bush’s space station plan and simply use the money to offer prizes for private entities that accomplished certain goals. I think that it is valuable to figure out how to send four people to the moon to do some research and bring them back to Earth. Instead of having the government spend $104 billion on the project, how about simply offering $10 billion to the first team that can pull it off, $5 billion to the next, and so on, and wait for the results.

This is just one suggestion. I could probably think of 898.87 others.

Snubbing Bush’s project should not come at the expense of putting human existence itself in the pot and asking the fates to roll the dice.

Sorry, the future of humanity itself is so important compared to any other issue, that the candidate who sacrifices this, whatever he may be willing to do elsewhere, has got a serious mark against him. I simply do not want humanity to end up as a stack of orbiting museum pieces for some other space-faring species to discover.

Iowa Caucas Results

Honestly, I am not particularly pleased with the Iowa Caucus results.

Huckabee beat Romney. In terms of the type of job they would do as President, both seem equally capable of carrying on the Bush legacy of destroying the nation, and doing significant damage to the world, by ignoring science and basing decisions on superstition and nonsense.

But I am also not a particularly strong fan of having Obama as President either. The main reason is because I am uncomfortable with the idea of amateur hour in the White House. With Obama being elected, I worry about losing another 2 or more years while he learned what the job of President actually entailed.

Even then, will he be able to do a good job? The Presidency is not something that we can fill on a temp-to-perm basis. We do not have a provision in the Constitution that says, "After 90 days, if we are not satisfied, we can release you and try to find somebody else to fill the position."

I find it absolutely bizarre that the job of President is one in which an interviewee can go before the hiring board and say, "My leading qualificiation is that I have absolutely no qualifications for this job," and not be immediately dismissed.

And it is a job where the best answer one can give to a direct question is, "I'm not going to answer that question because saying nothing and offending nobody is better than answering the question and offending somebody."

I fear that Obama's popularity is that of a rock star - a fad - like hoola hoops and bell-bottom jeans, or the hot rock group of the moment - that people decide they must participate in for no other reason than to fit in and be hip.

My question it: What qualifies him to be President?

And don't say, "He had the right answer on Iraq." So did I. (My answer was that Saddam Hussein was a bad person who should be brought down, but that we should wait for a competent President before taking on a job of this type, because Bush was hlmost certainly going to mess things up.) I offer myself as proof that having the right answer in Iraq does not qualify one to be President.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Disgust over Atheist Question

One of the stories being spread tonight involves Presidental candidate Obama being asked if he was an atheist.

He denied it (of course; after all, he does want to get elected).

However, I have yet to read a version of the story outside of atheist blogs that mention the blatant bigotry of this type of statement. Some reporters have called the emails that claim Obama is an atheist as "malicious rumors" - as if being an atheist is something that a person should be ashamed of.

Though, as a matter of fact, a lot of people in this country think that being an atheist is something to be ashamed of.

Yet, this would be an opportunity for one or two people who are opposed to bigotry who have a bigger audience than I do to point out the blatant bigotry behind such a question.

Sides and Uniforms

This is a trend that makes me uneasy.

News from Friendly Atheist is that some Christians have developed a campaign modeled after Dawkins' "Out" Campaign.

So, now we have two sides, each wearing their own flags and wearing their own uniforms, each defining themselves by their opposition to the other.

If people are not careful - if they do not make a conscious effort to see how this develops, it is a type of situation that could get out of hand. Humans have a psychological disposition towards tribalism, with a tendency to be hostile towards opposing tribes. Saying that atheists are immune from this disposition is saying that atheists are not human.

This type of tribalism has come to be extremely destructive in different times in human history. It is something we need to be careful about.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Atheist Bashing - 2008

I believe that one thing we can look forward to in 2008 is a constant barrage of statements to the effect that atheists are despirate, in the throws of panic because we are losing the battle to win over the public. Religion has us on the ropes and because we are cornered we are getting particularly vicious.

It will appear in thing such as This letter to the editor.

They will repeat it loudly enough and often enough to get people to believe it, because that which people hear the most often is that which they will accept as true (for the most part).

The only effective counter to this is to put effort into making sure that this message is not the message that people hear the most often, or at least not at a ratio that its defenders would prefer.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Progress Report on the New Year's Resolutions

Okay, I was able to make some progress on my projects today.

(1) I established a facebook page for myself. I largely did this because Martin Freeman established The Science Network on Facebook. The purpose of this site is to collect comments made on the Beyond Belief 2 series, which I am commenting on in my blog. So is Mr. Freeman. So, I figured it would be a good idea for me to participate in the network.

Though, that meant setting up a profile in Facebook.

(2) I resolved this year to make some additions to the scratchpad wiki site on Desire Utilitarianism every day. So, I made some slight addistions to the FAQ for desire utilitarianism at the site. Hopefully, this will fulfill g-man's request that I set up a primer on desire utilitarianism.

(3) I took some steps to establish a short story contest on the theme of, "There Is No God". This is taken from the fact that a movie based on a story written by an atheist author, The Golden Compass gets boycotted, while a movie that is anti-science that states openly that there is a God faces no such response I Am Legend. I'm going to put up $1000 in prize money for this contest. I'm soliciting help to run it and make it a success.

Technology, Entertainment, Design

Happy new year everybody.

Let's get started building a better future.

It is said that atheism is inconsistent with hope. Yet, one of the web sites I visit in order to get hope is a web site that discusses the actions that people are taking - people who scarcely mention God in their actions - that is a tremendous source of hope.

This is TED.

Technolgoy, Entertainment, Design.

Each year, 1000 intelligent and innovative people get together to discuss ways to make the world a better place than it would otherwise have been.

For example, here you can listen to Amory Lovins talking about winning the oil end game - a group of people who produced a peer-reviewed report on how to significantly and profitably reduce oil consumption.

John Doerr gives a 20 minute presentation on what has been done to reduce the threat of global warming.

William McDonough talks about cradle to cradle design, - designing products that are 100% recycleable - stripping out the harmful molecules and focusing only on the healthy molecules - and using this way of thinking to build whole cities.

I am accustomed to hearing people present grand designs on how to solve great problems - people who have not really thought all of their ideas and what would be involved in putting them into practice.

But . . . what is really exciting about these presentations, is that these people are talking about successes they already have had.

These are people who are doing things.

Projects that are under way.

I'm envious. These are truly amazing projects to be involved in.

It is a buffet of hope - without mention of God.