This Weeks Reader January 12, 2008  

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Atheist Pride
I feel good about how I escaped the clutches of religious delusion. I am living a more authentic life, free to experience the world for what it is and not simply how I want it to be. I take pride in how I manage to function in accordance with reality even while the majority of my neighbors are plagued with self-deception. To be sure, I experience compassion for them because I know that their path takes them away from truth and makes them dangerous. I seek to improve the present world for the benefit of all and do not concern myself with fantasies of afterlife because to do so would only detract from what I need to do now.

INTRODUCTION: Xavier Onassis
There was no single cathartic experience for me. I just gradually came to realize that it all just a lot of bullshit. I came to the conclusion that all of the world's faiths and belief systems were nothing more than an emotional crutch for people who were terrified of the world they lived in and even more terrified of leaving it behind when they die. These are people who feel like life has to have some sort of meaning, that there has to be A Purpose to everything. They have to feel like someone is looking out for them and caring for them and loving them.

Introduction and humor: Keith Sader
For those that haven't been in an evengelical church, the altar call comes at the end of a long sermon in which the attendee is told what a horrible person they are and how all of their sins will condemn them to an eternity in hell. From this pep-talk, you're given the option to give you life to Jesus so that you can avoid all of this time in hell. As an imaginative eight-year-old I went up because I knew that I was bad and I wanted the get-out-of-hell free card.

Atheists & Rights
As Washington put it, discussing the very same Patrick Henry’s VA Bill that aided teachers of the “Christian religion”:

I am not amongst the number of those who are so much alarmed at the thoughts of making people pay towards the support of that which they profess, if of the denomination of Christians; or declare themselves Jews, Mahomitans or otherwise, and thereby obtain proper relief. As the matter now stands, I wish an assessment had never been agitated, and as it has gone so far, that the Bill could die an easy death;… [My emphasis.]

Atheism Does NOT Require Faith
Now consider atheism itself. An atheist is one who does not accept the theistic belief claim (i.e., a god or gods exist). The theist accepts this claim on faith; the atheist in unwilling to do so. The atheist need to argue that no gods do (or could) exist. The atheistic position is simply that the theist has not met an acceptable burden of proof that is his or hers to meet. In other words, an atheist is an atheist precisely because he or she is not willing to accept the theist's claim on faith.

The 100% Solution: On Uncertainty, And Why It Doesn't Matter So Much
And of course our beliefs are influenced by our preconceptions and assumptions, biases we can never completely filter out. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't try. That's the whole point of the scientific method. Everything about it -- control groups, double-blinding, placebo controls, peer review, transparent methodology, the expectation of replicability, all of it -- is an open acknowledgment that scientists are just as prone to seeing what they want and expect to see as everyone else. It's an open acknowledgment that scientists are fallible... and that they therefore need to try to screen out fallacy, as much as they can. These techniques don't eliminate uncertainty -- but they reduce it, and by a fair amount. They give us a significantly better chance that our theories might be right. They can’t give us absolute truth, but they can give us a pretty good approximation of the truth... an approximation that gets better and better over time.

Destineer reveals secrets behind flood of Wii detritus
The Destineer CEO's answers also confirm suspicions that Nintendo's commitment to quality control isn't what it used to be when it comes to the conceptual stage of development, opening the gates for all kinds of content. "They, privately or offline or whatever you want to call it, will have conversations with publishers where there’s no gatekeeper there... they do look at the quality and they do watch quality. There just isn’t an official concept-through-approval system like they used to [have] and that Microsoft and Sony currently have in place," said Rinde.

EGM denied prerelease games, calls out big publishers
Hsu explicitly names Midway's Mortal Kombat development team, Sony's sports game division, and Ubisoft as companies that are allegedly denying EGM early access to their games as a result of previous negative reviews. Print magazines in particular are driven by early access and exclusive content, so this likely came as a serious blow to the publication as a whole.

Microsoft signs agreement of voluntary software and technology consulting collaboration with Chilean Government
It is interestingly enough the first time of seeing this sort of critical discussion, organization, anger, resentment and anti-imperialistic-like attitude from the normally “receptive” (sedated) Chilean public. But, it is not the first time that public policy, or decisions with potential impact on many, has been created and implemented by a few and behind the closed doors of the elitist democracy of Chile in the 1990’s and 2000’s. Transantiago, the country’s highway concessions and the Celulosa Arauco (President’s Lagos and Frei, respectively) express approval come to mind. The surprise is that it comes with populist Socialist president Michelle Bachelet who has shown sensitivity to citizen demands.

The limited representation of movie atheists
The acceptable atheist is the one who has faced so much tragedy, whose life has been damaged by cruel fate to such a degree that his declaration that there is no god is understandable. He is a failed Job; he's portrayed not as an actual contented atheist, but as someone who has broken under the burden a god has placed on him, and is therefore a sympathetic figure, and also is implicitly endorsing the audience's beliefs about god. Job without god, after all, is just a deluded loser.

What is spirituality?

Music is spirituality to me. Have you ever listened to Pachelbel's Canon in D? Raises my spirit every time, makes me feel very powerful and alive. It flows right through me, fills me with so much energy, and never fails to make me feel better than before.

On Forgiveness
And when we do harmful things that contradict our belief in our goodness, we're extremely adept at coming up with reasons why the bad things we did weren't actually bad. "I couldn't help it." "Everyone does it." "The person I hurt was a bad person, so they deserved it." "That resource-rich country will be so much better off if we invade it." Etc. Like the Threadbare Excuse in the Phantom Tollbooth, chanting endlessly to itself, "Well, I've been sick -- but the page was torn out -- I missed the bus -- but no-one else did it..."

Vote Your Conscience. If You Can.
Watts, a sociologist at Columbia University, said his research challenges central beliefs we have about why some musicians become stars and some politicians become presidents. Quality matters, but when voters intensely watch one another, the success of candidates depends at least as much on network dynamics as it does on the quality of the candidates themselves. Because network dynamics are not governed by intuitively simple rules of cause and effect -- depending on where they are in a network, people with strong opinions might end up with little influence, while the weak opinions of others get greatly magnified -- networks regularly produce outcomes that are partly arbitrary.

Evolution Not 'Just a Theory', and Yes, Huckabee It Does Matter
Huckabee took Republican center stage after the Iowa caucuses, but his clever sidesteps of scientific questions are a warning sign. "Do you believe in evolution?" The short answer? No, he doesn't. People are charmed by him, asking why anyone should care since "[I'm] not planning on writing the curriculum for an eighth-grade science book," and "if anybody wants to believe they're the descendants of a primate, they're welcome to do it." But the real problem is, he will be signing scientific research budgets into law, appointing judges that will be deciding evolution vs. creationism education cases at the state level, and setting a moral precedent that it is O.K. to dis science.

Truth is the Ultimate Consumer Choice
Near as I can figure it out, we live in an intellectually spoiled age when even presidential candidates think they can legitimately pick and choose which facts to believe — as if facts were something good consumers shop for the best bargains on.

Don’t like evolution? Simply don’t buy it! As a good consumer, you have an inalienable right to choose which truths you want to believe. After all, reality is just a product.

Bloopers religious host laughs at singing caller

Walking the Walk
She speaks often about the gospel of Jesus. Her Jesus is very real to her. He’s the Jesus that many good people have created. He’s an externalized projection of her best self. He’s the “moral compass” that believers think atheists lack. Because they think that this projection is some external entity, they don’t realize that we have that moral compass as well. People who fear secularisation, and I’m not speaking of Sister Helen here but people like Mitt Romney, believe that we have the ability to take that external projection away. Because they don’t realize that the good part of people comes from within those good people, they think there is a danger of getting separated from that good part.

Can a feminist be religious?
In retrospect, I agree with the premise that you can’t follow Christianity and be a feminist. The only way to reconcile the two is to ignore a lot of what is taught in the Bible as I did, even as a fundamentalist who would have vociferously defended my literal reading of scripture. It is an untenable position.

The Religious Right vs. Young People
I'd like to see good Christians loudly proclaiming that the short-sighted theocrats of the religious right don't represent them. That xenophobia and hating gay people aren't what Christianity is all about. I don't want to be too hard on liberal/progressive Christians for not shouting loudly enough because, frankly, the theocrats are so loud that it's difficult for anyone to be heard over them. But what I'm saying is for the benefit of the faithful as well as the skeptic. We need a candidate who -- when questioned about his/her faith, regardless of his/her beliefs -- will look the camera in the eye and say "I'm running for president, not for first pastor."

Presupposing God
Try to imagine for a moment that you had no previous knowledge of a god, and that you also understand cosmology and evolution fairly well. Try also to imagine that you will honestly assess the physical evidence using careful observation and rational analysis. Why wouldn't you, if you want to arrive at an honest answer?

Mother Nature is Not Our Friend
Will this be a good thing? The question presupposes that we have a viable alternative. But what is the alternative to our taking charge of our biological destiny? Might we be better off just leaving things to the wisdom of Nature? I once believed this. But we know that Nature has no concern for individuals or for species. Those that survive do so despite Her indifference. While the process of natural selection has sculpted our genome to its present state, it has not acted to maximize human happiness; nor has it necessarily conferred any advantage upon us beyond the capacity raise the next generation to child-bearing age. In fact, there may be nothing about human life after the age of forty (the average lifespan until the 20th century) that has been selected by evolution at all. And with a few exceptions (e.g. the gene for lactose tolerance), we probably haven't adapted to our environment much since the Pleistocene.

Telescope spies newborn planet
Planets are believed to develop within swirling discs of dust and gas around nascent stars.

So studying very young examples could tell astronomers much about the birth and evolution of planetary systems - including our own Solar System.

Looking for ESP in the Brain
In other words, there is no scientific model for how ESP can work - no mechanism. Some proponents make hand-waving speculations about quantum entanglement or cosmic consciousness, but these are ultimately meaningless gibberish. There is no proposed mechanism for ESP that amounts to a reductionist model based upon established physics or biology. No one has even established any physical features to ESP - meaning that it displays consistent characteristics, such as decreasing with distance, or being blocked by dense substances, or anything. There has been zero progress in zeroing in on what ESP might be as a physical phenomenon.

Algorithmic Inelegance
Now I'm a full-time developmental biologist, and unsurprisingly, I see similar expectations in myself and in my colleagues. We don't have the power to design embryos, but we do analyze the "code"—the genetic instructions and the operation of the developmental programs that take the egg from embryo to adult. We look for algorithmic elegance and simple procedures that lead to the impressive complexity of form, and sometimes we see it; there is often a kernel of clean, simple molecular interactions that lay down a framework for the organism. However, what we more often see is the action of the invisible hand of evolution: the evidence of random accidents that have been incorporated into the code, of elaborations built of bricolage, a collage of bits and pieces assembled into a larger structure. Life is a collection of kludges taped together by chance and filtered by selection for functionality; it all works magnificently well, but if you look under the hood you are simultaneously appalled by the sheer inelegance of the molecular gemisch and impressed with the accumulation of complexity.

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