This Weeks Reader, December 1, 2007  

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Is it really December? I'm looking forward to the holidays, but I already find myself rushing past the rest of the year because I'm anticipating too much.

Here are some articles I really enjoyed this week. It's really become a party. Join in on the fun!

The Exterminator at No More Hornets challenges his readers:
I’d like to hear from a mere 30 of them who have recently been de-converted by cruising the Atheosphere. The response has to be from the person him- or herself, not via some second-hand anecdote.

At the meme pool, The Lifeguard (AKA A.) discusses whether the debates between atheists and theists have any merit:
Lately, I have come to wonder whether these arguments, debates, proofs, and what have you have less to do with convincing anyone of anything than they do with helping us figure out, as individuals, exactly why we think and believe as we do. Really, when you think about it Dawkins clearly aims to convince people to espouse atheism with The God Delusion, but I would bet a million dollars that an overwhelming majority of those who bought the book already identify themselves as atheists. And how many atheists do you think purchased a copy of Benedict XVI's Deus Caritas Est? I'd bet none!

And also shares his story of de-conversion:
Now imagine you had spent your whole life surrounded and educated by people who believe in god. You have socialized with them, cried with them, prayed with them, discussed your belief with them. Family and friends. Maybe you even met them at church! You bless each other when you sneeze, you pray for each other when sick, you wish each other Merry Christmas and Happy Easter. Yet suddenly, just hearing someone pray out loud sounds strange to you.

Writerdd at Memiors of a Skepchick also explains how an atheist can love Christmas:
I make my husband hang up lights outside even though he doesn’t want to climb up on the roof and hook the lights onto the gutters, I buy a Christmas tree almost every year even though it drops needles all over my living room floor and orgnaments get broken by my cats, I cook lots of fattening foods and gain five pounds even thought I really should be losing weight, I send presents to all of my family members even though they never say “thank you,” and I even read the Christmas story from the Gospel of Luke every now and then, even though I don’t think it’s true.

Philly Chief tackles whether internet atheists are insulated at You Made Me Say It:
I've yet to meet or hear of an atheist who thinks we're really a majority, that we do in fact stand for what most people think, or are completely surprised to see political candidates pandering to christians. No, we all know we're a minority, a much hated and misunderstood minority, and in that respect the sense of community that the internet allows for is much needed. I think it continues to be a valuable support mechanism for atheists on many levels and as discussed on several blogs recently, is very important as a beacon in the storm to those just beginning to examine the god thing, those recently arriving at an atheist answer or even those well entrenched there but who have always thought they were some lone and perhaps crazy individual.

The Chaplain at An Apostate’s Chapel about faith and critical thinking:
As believers young and old grow in their faith, it’s acceptable for them to ask shallow, simple questions for which their leaders have prepared answers. If they start probing too deeply, however, they are discouraged from going further and thereby endangering their souls. The answer to hard questions is generally something along the lines of, “God works mysterious ways we can’t possibly comprehend.” In other words, don’t bother asking such questions because we don’t have (any good religious) answers for them. Throughout the history of the Christian church, independent thinkers usually were branded as heretics. They were the ones who questioned the status quo, the ones upon whom the indoctrination did not completely take or retain its hold. They were also the ones who, more often than not, were later proven to have been right. Believers today are pressured, via various mechanisms, to leave the heavy intellectual lifting to their priests and pastors and to accept their spiritual leaders’ teachings without raising any, or not too many, questions.

Infidel753 discusses internet insularity:
This is comfortable, but it can be dangerous. In the first place, if you rarely hear opposing views expressed and make an effort to consider them seriously, you can drift into a frame of mind where opposing views seem so alien and bizarre to you that anyone who defends them must be stupid, insane, brainwashed, or acting from malevolent ulterior motives. After all, every website you read and everyone who posts comments on your blog agrees with you; who are they, those strange creatures off in the distance who actually take a completely different position?

At Memiors of a Skepchick, writerdd asks whether or not ratings are harmful:
It seems to me that rating movies, games, and now books, does nothing but help closed-minded people protect themselves from reading and viewing things they don’t agree with, things that distrube their cushy little fantasy worldview. What happened to reading widely to learn and expand our minds? It is not a virtue to crawl into a hole (even — no, especially — a religious one) and to pretend that these bad things don’t happen in the real world. These people should stop fighting against literature and start fighting against real violence and sexual abuse.

The Spanish Inquisitor shares heartbreaking stories about Africa, where nobody cares:
Apparently there is no authority willing to try to stop them. There is no order, no law, no police force, nobody who cares about the women who are being savaged, who’s lives are ruined by the indiscriminate assaults on a helpless populace. And not only are the women the only victims.

Lynet at Elliptica discusses how her own morality was formed as a child:
[...] I found the notion that human beings, having faced the terror of meaninglessness, are free to give their own meaning to their existence. I liked it and absorbed it, but it was many a year before I learned that the ideas I was groping towards had a name and a history already in their own right, and came to realise that I was quite simply and precisely a humanist. Indeed, meaning isn't hard to find in this universe; there is meaning as long as somebody means it. Morality is harder. I wanted it to be fundamental to the universe as a whole; I had to accept that it was confined perhaps to a single species on this tiny Earth. Good and evil only exist in our minds. But I care about them anyway.

Stacey discusses the Republican Debate at Memoirs of a Skepchick:
Most of the candidates skirted the question with the typical “symbolism and allegory” apologies, but Huckabee, who has a degree in theology (how scary is that?) says (paraphrasing again), “The Bible cannot be understood by a finite mind because it was created by an infinite God. If you can understand every word in your Bible, your God is too small.” (this was met with applause)

Let’s just think that through. An omniscient, omnipotent, and infinite God created a book via humans and for humans, and this is the only vehicle through which they are able to experience and understand him, and he made it too complicated for them to understand. And the fact that it can’t be understood only proves how great he is.

Bullshit in politics is discussed at The Spanish Inquisitor:
WTF are they thinking? The candidates should be emphasizing science, medicine and technology, not prayer and superstition. The religious fundamentalists should be marginalized, not by us, but by themselves. Their thinking, their contributions to society, their morality represents bronze age mentalities, not 21st century intelligence. They’re on the decline, and they should be allowed to go the way of all flesh, not pandered to because some politician wants a vote. In getting into bed with them, the Democrats are giving credence to backward thinking and superstition, and in the process bestowing power and influence on religious leaders that don’t deserve it, nor should have it, in a secular country and government such as ours.

The perception of human cloning is largely based on your religious leanings:
Dr. Silver explains these patterns by dividing spiritual believers into three broad categories. The first, traditional Christians, predominate in the Western Hemisphere and some European countries. The second, which he calls post-Christians, are concentrated in other European countries and parts of North America, especially along the coasts. The third group are followers of Eastern religions.

The Independent has an interview with Ayaan Hirsi Ali:
"Sometimes, it seemed as if every page I read challenged me as a Muslim. Drinking wine and wearing trousers was nothing compared to reading the history of ideas," she says. "The Enlightenment cut European culture from its roots in old fixed ideas of magic, kingship, social hierarchy and the domination of priests, and regrafted it on to a great strong trunk that supported the equality of each individual and his right to free opinions and self-rule." She found that all this was a profound challenge to the severe Islam she had been pickled in since childhood.

And also she speaks about the woman in Saudi Arabia that has been jailed and sentenced to 200 lashes for rape.

Steven Novella at The Rogues Gallery offers up another exchange with John Martignoni on why atheists have no rights:
I made the point that within such a materialistic model there can be a perfectly workable and reasonable system of ethics, morality, and law. Such a system can be based upon some self-evident and nearly universal first principles, for example that people generally do not want other people to do bad stuff to them. This is “objective” with a small “o”, meaning that it is not arbitrary or based upon someone’s personal choice. Rather it is held to standards of logic, fairness, and universality. But it is not “truly objective” in the way that Martignoni means - descended from God.

And dualism and neuroscience at NeuroLogica Blog:
Returning to consciousness and the brain - all the evidence we have suggests that the mind is a product of the brain. There is no mind without the brain (despite the unsubstantiated claims of paranormalists). If the brain is not biologically active, there is no consciousness. If the brain is damaged, the mind is altered. As brain function changes through drugs, lack of sleep, fever, or some metabolic derangement - so changes the mind. No reliable observation or experiment has been able to separate the mind as a phenomenon from the brain.

The Exterminator once again poses his questions to Christians in Quazy Quistian Questions at No More Hornets:
But why can’t god just take care of his own business without having to resort to cash, checks, and credit cards? What could money conceivably buy for him that he can’t just make for himself? How come he can’t finance his houses on his own, and pay for his ventures without having to ask for handouts? And where does he keep his assets? In a bank? In an offshore trust? In an omnipresent wallet in his omnibenevolent pocket?

Sean Carroll (that's M Carroll) weighs in on the laws of physics and if the universe has a purpose:
We want to believe that the universe has a purpose, just as we want to believe that our next lottery ticket will hit. Ever since ancient philosophers contemplated the cosmos, humans have sought teleological explanations for the apparently random activities all around them. There is a strong temptation to approach the universe with a demand that it make sense of itself and of our lives, rather than simply accepting it for what it is.

Part of the job of being a good scientist is to overcome that temptation. "The idea that the laws exist reasonlessly is deeply anti-rational" is a deeply anti-rational statement. The laws exist however they exist, and it's our job to figure that out, not to insist ahead of time that nature's innermost workings conform to our predilections, or provide us with succor in the face of an unfeeling cosmos.

At Better Explained, Khalid explains how to develop a mindset for math:
Elegant, “a ha!” insights should be our focus, but we leave that for students to randomly stumble upon themselves. I hit an “a ha” moment after a hellish cram session in college; since then, I’ve wanted to find and share those epiphanies to spare others the same pain.

Jason Kuznicki at Positive Liberty discusses science as a religion:
But it’s nonetheless appealing to the religious to be told that science, too, is a kind of faith. That way they can dismiss all that silly talk about people coming from monkeys: Buddhists believe strange things, too, after all, and just as we need not believe in Buddhism, we also need not believe in science. It’s just another religion, and it’s not my religion.

It's been a popular week to discuss science and faith and my favorite post on it is at Vistaluna:
100 years ago, within the lifetime of many people living today, there was no concept of galaxies, no concept of continental drift, no DNA, no general relativity, no protons, no neutrons, no big bang, no understanding of evolutionary mechanisms, and no way to see the "code" that makes up reality. What science has delivered in the past century is nothing less than the physical reality that lies underneath our perceived reality. This is an absolutely brand new challenge to religion and it is the ultimate challenge to the inevitability of faith.

Atheism has teeth now. The Atheistic stance has changed from "Maybe the world could work without supernatural influence" to "Here is actually how the world actually does work without supernatural influence." It is a switch from inductive to deductive arguments based on our new-found ability to observe the physical reality of this world.

Natalie Angier and David Sloan Wilson debate God vs. Science:
I was very interested—and I also cover this in my article—in the different ways that scientists talk about certain things. They're willing to go on the attack when it comes to creationism or spoon-bending. But when it comes to the miracles of conventional religion … no … we don't touch that; we don't deal with it. And I'm considered rude and insulting, just willfully provocative to bring it up.

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7 comments: to “ This Weeks Reader, December 1, 2007

  • John Evo
    Saturday, December 1, 2007 at 10:53:00 PM CST  

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  • John Evo
    Saturday, December 1, 2007 at 10:54:00 PM CST  

    The Sean M. Carroll piece turned out to be even more fascinating than you let on! It was part of the rebuttals of a number of scientists and science writers to a NY Times Op Ed piece written by Paul Davies.

    Davies writes that until scientists can give us a testable law of the universe, then science is acting on "faith", much as religion! Completely absurd notion, but I could never rebutt it as well as these others have. Good stuff, OG. Thanks.

    Incidentally, as I was reading this I was coincidentally listening to the Science Saturday BloggingHeads with John Horgan (one of the above authors) and George Johnson. Of course they spent quite a bit of time on this hot topic. If you want to listen to some of their discussion you can go to the pertinent topic right here

  • ordinary girl
    Sunday, December 2, 2007 at 12:09:00 AM CST  

    I think it comes down to believing that scientists aren't trying to deceive us, which takes just about as much faith as not believing in conspiracy theories. Or in other words, having common sense.

  • The Exterminator
    Sunday, December 2, 2007 at 10:22:00 AM CST  

    Thanks for including me in the links. I really like the way you've got this laid out now, with little quotes from the various posts. Your selections of excerpts are really representative of the content of each piece, which makes this Reader much more useful than just a straight list of recommendations.

    Great job.

  • Sylvene
    Monday, December 3, 2007 at 3:42:00 PM CST  

    Wow... that's all I can say. I'll have to find some time to peruse your writing at leisure.

    I am a theist. I don't believe in religion but in the existence of one or more higher beings and I've really enjoyed your blogs recently. :)

  • ordinary girl
    Tuesday, December 4, 2007 at 7:35:00 PM CST  

    Hey, Syl!

    Thanks for leaving a comment, and I'm glad I haven't turned you off to coming by.

    I don't want to be off-putting, but it's been refreshing just being me. There's hope that it'll work out in my normal life, right?

    I hope everything is going well for you. It sounds like you've been very busy lately!

  • Mamacita Chilena
    Wednesday, December 5, 2007 at 9:21:00 PM CST  

    I can't even click on your links this week...

    last time I got sucked into reading (and subscribing to) like ten new blogs! I was browsing through all your good reads for forever!!!!


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