23 March 2014

Religion stifles curiosity

Ed Brayton wrote a nice short post about the execrable Jim Inhofe, an American Republicant Senator.  There's a key point that I think is worth focusing on in that post: that religion stifles curiosity.

25 December 2013

PZ and me and Pope Frankie

This doesn't happen all the time, but I actually agree with PZ Myers opinion of Pope Frankie's latest and rather limp attempt to reconcile with non-Catholics.  I'd even go one step beyond PZ's assessment.

14 October 2013

A.C. Grayling's wonderful new book on humanism

I recently had the pleasure of reading A.C. Grayling's latest book, The God Argument: The Case Against Religion and for Humanism.  Grayling is a wonderful writer, creating prose that is rich with content while also being very easy to read.

24 September 2013

Faulty reasoning, faith, and belief

I've written a short note about faith, belief, knowledge, and trust on Google+ that describes how I take these four terms.  I think it's important to consider these four terms together to make sure that they are defined consistently with respect to one another.  Focusing exclusively only on any one of them opens one up to, I think, significant opportunity for reasoning errors.

02 September 2013

A great site about the Bible

I've often thought that what's really needed is some kind of collaborative platform specifically targeted at gathering the best possible arguments against theism of all sorts.  Yes, there's rationalwiki, but it deals with theism as a broader form of anti-science.  The point is to gather, in one place, all the best information there is.  I've found one such place that is surprisingly good - albeit still not complete: God Is Imaginary.

It's basically a reference guide to all kinds of arguments against the bible.  Naturally, this limits it to only certain kinds of theism, but it does cover a lot of ground.  It's a great reference source for humanists and atheists, but it's also sufficiently respectful that it might well be something we humanists should point to more often when we argue with theists.

I highly recommend God Is Imaginary.

17 August 2013

Swearing, cultural relativism, and religion

I blogged elsewhere about a book I must read: Melissa Mohr. 2013. Holy Sh*t: A Brief History of Swearing (available both on Google Play and Amazon).  Among other points made there is that culture influences substantially which words are regarded as taboo (and hence swear words) - and that these words change over time - even though we feel very visceral, innate revulsion to them.

Here, I wanted to make a specific comment about religion in light of that book:

According to certain theists, humanity is as their gods commanded.  So our limbic system (where swearing comes from) is their gods' work, and so is our capacity to swear, and also our capacity to be influenced by culture insofar (in this case) as what we learn as taboo.  But their gods also laid down strict laws (during various periods of history, but certainly during the Medieval period in Western history) essentially prohibiting us from being and acting as those very same gods made us.

I think those are some pretty fucked up gods.

16 June 2013

Are atheist immigrants unwelcome in the USA?

Chris Johnson's 64-year old stepmother applied for her US citizenship after 30 years of residency, but refused to "take up arms in defense of the United States" on moral grounds.  It turns out she's an atheist, so she could not object conscientiously on religious grounds.  Yet those are the only grounds that the pencil-pushers in the US government would allow.  (Details here.)  The FFRF has weighed in on the matter, and makes a compelling case for allowing her application.

I think some comments are in order.

First, of all - Bravo! to the woman who stood up for what is right.  The US would clearly be better off with more citizens like her, than with people like Rick Perry, Charles Manson, and Paris Hilton (i.e., useless wastes of life).

Next, there are some perfectly reasonable people about who have argued that she should have just checked the box, no matter what she believed.  I can respect that perspective, but I also worry about it.  I cannot speak to the woman's actual motivation for refusing to "check the box," but personally, I find it troubling.  If one really respects the nation one tries to join and the institutions of that nation - which are in many ways its most direct manifestations - then one really needs to answer truthfully. Getting citizenship is A Big Dealtm and being less than honest can place one on a slippery slope.  If one finds it possible to essentially lie on one's citizenship application, then how much easier will one find it to lie on other matters?  Multiply this effect across all immigrants to a nation, and one could see, over time, how that nation's citizenry could become polluted with liars.

Others have suggested that the real problem is the anachronistic phrasing of the requirements. Must one really "take up arms" in the sense of using weapons, or is it a matter of defending one's nation, adopted or otherwise, to the best of one's abilities?  I would like to think that the former is the more enlightened interpretation.  However, so long as statements require interpretation, there is the chance of misinterpretation, which would likely create more problems than it could possibly solve.  So perhaps it's time that Americans stopped dwelling on the actual words used and focused more on the ideas behind them.  Of course, that would require a kind of reflective intelligence and rationality that seems sorely lacking in some quarters (...cough - GOP - cough...).

Finally, it seems to me that there's a question of context.  What do Americans really aspire to these days?  Surely, the principles remain, but their implementation in practice and in law must adapt to modern times.  It strikes me that one of the reasons that so much manufacturing has moved to Asia that used to be done in the US is partly a function of the expectations of Americans.  Cannot they see that some of the problems they now face are obviously a result of actions that they themselves took, regardless of intention?  Cannot they learn from their mistakes?

In closing, I would suggest to Mr. Johnson's stepmother that, if things don't work out in the US, she should consider Canada.  We're much more flexible here. :-)