Sunday, February 24, 2008
Defending the Atheist Movement
Others acknowledge that there is some sort of movement but reject it for a variety of reasons. The most common reason, one I've seen again and again, is the attempts by some atheists to distinguish between "real atheists" and those posing as atheists for some inexplicable reason. Of course, this almost always ends up being about tactics. Some are criticized for being too "militant" and others for not being "strong" enough. As someone who is regular criticized for being both, I'd have to agree that this sort of thing is not helpful.
British bank blocking automated WoW payments
"We have...blocked the majority of Visa/Mastercard transactions we receive from there in order to combat this. We do not believe the fraud is anything to do with Blizzard themselves, their sites or the integrity of their billing systems, rather it is site users utilising stolen credit card details to pay for subscriptions," a Halifax representative explained. The rep went on to point out that "if a customer does want to subscribe to a game site operated by Blizzard, using a Halifax or Bank of Scotland credit card, we can arrange for the payments to be processed for them if they contact us."
Amazon looking to offer games via digital download
It looks as though Amazon is looking to join the likes of GameTap and Steam by offering digital downloads for games. Via a job posting on Gamasutra, we have learned that the online retailer is looking for someone to join the company's "Software and Video Games Digital Technology Team," which "is responsible for digital distribution of software and video game products from the Amazon web site, including the newly launched Amazon Software Download store.
The Pursuit of Happiness
Why the Danes are considered the happiest people on earth.
Where have the Sparrows gone?
India didn’t have this problem earlier, but now it’s becoming acute because of rapid industrialisation. China has an even more acute problem…I did not see a single bird in all the four cities of China that we visited last year. In India we do see birds in the cities, but they are mostly the sturdy crows and pigeons. Smaller birds like Mynas and sparrows are rarely seen.
It’s a matter of trust
A month or so ago, Mike Huckabee said something to the effect that all signs pointed to Saddam Hussein having weapons of mass destruction (WMD), that it was easy to use the tool of hindsight to point fingers of blame, but that it was unfair to do so. Far better it would be, he suggested, to forget about the past and look to the future. Now that we are in Iraq, what will we do?
I don’t trust anyone who says forget about the past. If not by history, if not by experience, then how, pray tell, can we humans learn from, and avoid errors in judgment in the future?
Bart Ehrman, Questioning Religion on Why We Suffer
In an earlier book, Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why, I have indicated that my strong commitment to the Bible began to wane the more I studied it. I began to realize that rather than being an inerrant revelation from God, inspired in its very words (the view I had at Moody Bible Institute), the Bible was a very human book with all the marks of having come from human hands: discrepancies, contradictions, errors, and different perspectives of different authors living at different times in different countries and writing for different reasons to different audiences with different needs. But the problems of the Bible are not what led me to leave the faith. These problems simply showed me that my evangelical beliefs about the Bible could not hold up, in my opinion, to critical scrutiny. I continued to be a Christian—a completely committed Christian—for many years after I left the evangelical fold.
The Aura of Infallibility
It may be that there are people who became believers after dispassionately examining a variety of world religions, deciding which one was best supported by the evidence, and choosing to join that one. It may be that there are such people; I've never met them. Instead, the vast majority of believers of my acquaintance had their beliefs chosen for them at a very early age, and were taught to follow those beliefs without skepticism or doubt. (My college friend John, whom I wrote about in 2006 in "A Seriously Warped Moral Compass", told me with pride that he became a Christian at the age of five.) A relatively smaller number converted later in life, but again, I find that in the overwhelming majority of cases that decision was made for reasons other than a critical comparison of the options.
Is There a Catholic Doctor in the House?
It seems that both husband and wife, described as “two area Catholic doctors” — uh-oh! — have decided that there’s alarming medical evidence supporting their view that swallowable birth-control is bad, bad, bad for women. The ironclad proof supporting their opinion has, unfortunately, been swept under the carpet. In a sneaky disregard for scientific data, our overly permissive society has insisted for years that everybody should be free to have sex willy-nilly with one another, regardless of gender, age, or species.
Talking animals with more sense
A little further on, they do hit on a more legitimate reason, if it were true: the argument that the illustrations of the book are hateful stereotypes, of the sort that Germany has good reason to be sensitive about: you know, the old anti-semitic caricatures of Jews as hook-nosed and greedy. If they'd taken that ugly shortcut, yeah, I'd agree — it would be just more hate literature. However, they include several images from the book, and they don't look like that: the rabbi looks like any of the ordinary orthodox Jews you'd see walking around New York, so it's a bit of a stretch.
Maybe it's badly written. Maybe other illustrations are more overtly hateful. Just don't try to tell me it's a bad book because it makes ridiculous religions look ridiculous.
BLG-109: A Distant Version of our own Solar System
How common are planetary systems like our own? Perhaps quite common, as the first system of planets like our own Solar System has been discovered using a newly adapted technique that, so far, has probed only six planetary systems. The technique, called gravitational microlensing, looks for telling brightness changes in measured starlight when a foreground star with planets chances almost directly in front of a more distant star. The distant star's light is slightly deflected in predictable ways by the gravity of the closer system. Recently a detailed analysis of microlensing system OGLE-2006-BLG-109 has related brightness variations to two planets that are similar to Jupiter and Saturn of our own Solar System. This discovery carries the tantalizing implication that interior planets, possibly including Earth-like planets, might also be common. Pictured above is an artistic conception of how the BLG-109 planetary system might look.
Female Circumcision aka Genital Mutilation
Here’s a slideshow about “female circumcision“, courtesy of the New York Times.
Please excuse me for posting twice today, but this one is short and not for the faint of heart. To be honest, I skimmed over the pages in Infidel about Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s genital mutilation and I am afraid to watch this slide show.
They're your responsibility now
There are so many things wrong with that mindset I can't tell where to start. It's the belief that women are somehow lesser than children - if those children are male. It's the equation of a forty-something woman to a six-year-old girl. It's the infantilizing of women, which results in their being unable to take responsibility for themselves. It's the attitude satirized in Shrek the Third, when Fiona tells the princesses they need to get themselves out of captivity and they "assume the position" to wait for the princes to show up.
Come on baby, won't you show some class? (more on primate sexuality)
Modern contraceptives have largely divorced sex from reproduction, and as a result the romantic/sexual aspect of our culture has changed in a fascinating way. For the long-term, most people (male and female) naturally want to be in a long-term committed relationship -- this is closely related to the human trait of feeling "in love." Humans are remarkably adaptable, and contraceptive use has caused males' romantic/sexual responses in our modern culture to evolve to some degree, but not as much as one might expect. Here's what I mean: A typical man is viscerally horrified at the thought of his mate being with another man sexually -- even though these days it's less likely to lead to raising another male's offspring. On the other hand, the preference for virginal, inexperienced females (as long-term mates) has proven far more malleable, to the point where many modern men actually prefer to marry a sexually experienced woman (see virginity: once an asset, now a liability).
On Illness, Bodies, and This Weird Free Will Thing
What I am saying is this: Whatever free will is, it seems to not be a simple matter of either/or, a light switch that's either on or off. (See the excellent On the Possibility of Perfect Humanity at Daylight Atheism for more on this.) Things happen in our lives that can limit or expand our freedom, that can broaden or diminish the choices that are available to us. Some of these are things that we can do something about; some of them really, really aren't. And I think those of us who have a lot of choices need to remember to have compassion for people who don't have as many.