"The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt." -- Bertrand Russell

Friday, December 16, 2011

Christopher Hitchens (1949 – 2011): May his legacy be remembered

I was already having an emotional evening. Then I found out that Hitchens had passed away. I noticed that he had passed when I checked my Facebook, realizing that it was covered in messages about the passing of this great man. At the very least, he didn't pass silently. His passing was signaled with a cacophony of Internet chatter, mourning the man whose words had moved all of us so profoundly. He passed as an atheist, moving bravely into that great silent abyss we inhabit before we are born. I will miss his punctual wit, his gruff chain smoking and whiskey drinking, and his ever-articulate charm.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

A Basic Guide To Converting Me

Edit: Here's precisely how to be unsuccessful at converting me (note: the messages at the bottom of the video were not created by me):


 It has been an interesting intellectual exercise for me to try to posit what would convince me that God exists. That is to say, is there a hypothetical situation in which I would be compelled to believe that there is, in fact, a god or gods? Of course, I am not presently a religious person, so, as one would surmise, all attempts to provide reasons why one should believe have failed to convince me (if they had succeeded, I would be religious.)

What I would like to address here is two-fold: first, why do religious conversion attempts (specifically those made by Evangelical Christians) fail to convince me of anything and, second, what would convince me that a god (or gods) exist.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Personal Offense

I recently talked to a friend who told me that my blog offended her. I won't say who she was, and I don't think she'd appreciate it if I made that information publicly known either. However, I wanted to write a brief bit about being offended by this blog.

It irks me that there are certain issues which people are afraid to publicly discuss. Religion and politics are forever off topics for most people. They can't seem to discuss them without getting upset, and most don't seem to be able to set their own beloved ideas aside to engage in rational discussion of the issues. But these are some of the most pressing issues of our time; I want a public dialogue on these things, and I want people to think about them and to engage with the material. If my blog causes people to think about these things, even if they disagree with me, or even if they absolutely despise what I have to say, then I feel that I have contributed to the world.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Blasphemy Rights Day

This is a picture of Muhammad wearing a bear costume, from the cartoon South Park. This episode garnered death threats from radical Islamic groups. Why should someone be threatened with murder for drawing a picture? Any picture?

Monday, September 26, 2011

Discrimination

Polls show that the least trusted group in the United States are atheists. Want statistical evidence? I've got that.

First, there's the study from Minnesota:

http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/story?id=1786422&page=1

http://atheism.about.com/od/atheistbigotryprejudice/a/AtheitsHated.htm

And then there are statistics on public attitudes about atheists in general: http://atheism.about.com/od/atheistbigotryprejudice/a/AtheistSurveys.htm

Christians constitute a full 81% of the country (and are, therefore, a very large majority). The largest group of Christians, according to Pew, are the evangelicals, comprising 26.3% of the American religious public (to be compared with the roughly 2% who are atheists, based on most estimates.)

I found this comical little quote from Pat Robertson:

And, despite being a member of the 2% who are atheists and belonging to one of the most hated groups in the United States, I feel bad for all the Christians that we liberals have whisked off to death camps. I mean, we really shouldn't be exterminating the Christians en masse.

Wait....... what the....???

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

An Atheist Goes to a Cru Meeting

Last Thursday (September 15th, 2011), I attended my first Cru meeting. For those not in the know, Cru is what was formerly known as "Campus Crusade for Christ". They're an interdenominational, conservative Evangelical, youth ministry that operates on many college campuses across the country. To their credit, they're actually one of the largest Christian organizations in the US. Being a Northern bred, scientifically minded, atheistic liberal, I fully expected to witness an entirely different culture -- and therefore was looking forward to the experience with excitement and anticipation.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Obligatory 9/11 Post

On this day, 10 years after the attack on the twin towers, there are a few things that are worth keeping in mind. First and foremost, is that those who suffered personal losses that day have my passionate sympathies. I didn't lose anyone that day, and would not be so arrogant to think that whatever feelings I have about it are even within an inch of the agony of those who did lose someone. Nonetheless, they have my sincere sympathies. If I were religious, I would be praying for them.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Dumb Girls Meme

Cue angry feminist rage: http://skepchick.org/2011/08/too-pretty-to-do-homework/

For the record, one of the most attractive traits a human female can have is her intelligence. If I want to spend more than a single night with her, she better be able to say something to me that challenges me and that I find engaging. Which isn't to say that the only measure of a female's worth is her attractiveness  (whether mental or physical) or how romantically compatible she is with me personally; it's simply to respond to the message on the shirt in the link (i.e. that intelligence is somehow antithetical to attractiveness.)

It's also worth mentioning that, in non-Jerry Springerish families, batting one's eyelashes at one's brother should not inspire them to do homework for you.

Personally, I think this particular meme -- that attractive girls need to be unintelligent, unmotivated skanks -- is one of the most damaging memes in our society. I really hope that this sort of nonsense dies a quick death.

Friday, August 26, 2011

How can we explain the rise of Christianity without positing that Jesus was resurrected?

This is not a question with a simple answer. First, it must be stated that there is no historical evidence whatsoever (and no historical accounts outside of the Bible and the associated non-canonical early Christian literature) to support the notion that Jesus ever performed any miracles, was resurrected, or any of the other events that are claimed by Christianity (at least, not from the first century CE.)

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Respect Family's Right to Their Own Funerals

I cannot imagine a more egregious offence to the right of private citizens to their own beliefs than to force the inclusion of a particular doctrine at a funeral. Yet, this is precisely what certain lawmakers in Texas are trying to do. Everyone, regardless of religious persuasion or attitude, should have the right to be buried in whatever respect that they wish. Instead, certain Texas politicians are pushing for the mandatory inclusion of Christian iconography and ritual at the funerals of soldiers, regardless of the wishes of families or of the deceased.

As if Rick Perry's stance on science, religion, and their role in governance wasn't already morally despicable, lawmakers in his own state are now pushing for this rubbish. Take a look here.

Monday, August 22, 2011

On Purpose and Meaning

A few people have asked me recently what I think the purpose or meaning of life is as an atheist. They would be correct to say that atheism itself cannot inform me about the meaning or purpose of life, since atheism is defined as merely being a lack of belief in any gods (it should be pointed out that mere theism -- that is, the mere belief in a god or gods -- cannot inform someone about the meaning or purpose of life either. Only particular theistic doctrines or philosophies can inform on that level.) Nonetheless, I do have an answer that I believe in with regards to this question, and I would happily share it.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

What does God need with your money?

At the end of Star Trek 5, Captain Kirk and his crew meet an entity who claims to be God. The entity asks Kirk for his starship, to which Kirk replies, "What does God need with a starship?" I just finished watching the 1972 documentary Marjoe, and it has me wondering, "What does God need with your money?"

The answer to both questions? Absolutely nothing.

Click here to take a look.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Doubt & Scientific Certainty

 "Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is absurd." -- Voltaire (Fran├žois-Marie Arouet)

My friend Jackie asked me today to explain why I said that I was 99.999% certain there was no God, but not 100% certain. I told her that, as a good scientist, I don't think that we can ever be 100% certain about anything, to which she replied that this doesn't make sense. I sympathise with the fact that she didn't quite understand what I was saying. I think this is a counter intuitive concept for many people and I often see students confused by this idea. Therefore, I thought that I would provide an explanation here as to why I don't think we can ever be 100% certain about almost anything.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Bafflingly Ignorant Letter in Roanoke Times

On Wednesday, August 10, Ronald Bessette wrote a column (here) for the Roanoke Times claiming that the Doonesbury cartoon from July 10 (available here) erred in its presentation of Creationism as "unscientific and foolish". Bessette claims that, in this process, Gary Trudeau, the Doonesbury cartoonist, "deliberately deceives his audience."

Bessette claims:

"[Trudeau's comic] states that evolution has massive amounts of evidence to support this atheistic idea, yet fails to provide or produce even one statement indicating even a portion of this supposed evidence. This is known as elephant hurling. Where is this massive amount of evidence?"

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Arguing for God?

At one of the Freethinkers meetings last year, we spent the meeting discussing the arguments presented for Christianity on an apologetics website. After having carefully refuted much of the website, a Christian, who happened to be present, agreed with the rest of us that the site did not provide very good arguments for believing in his religion. He went on to say that he felt the best arguments for his religion were contained in the Bible.

Almost immediately, I responded that, independent of whether or not the Bible is true or factual, it does not contain any arguments for Christianity (or for any other position for that matter.) As I pointed out, the Hellenistic tradition of codified argumentation was developed after the appearance of much of the Old Testament and, at any rate, did not make any serious contact with the Christian tradition until the Medieval Period (most notably within Catholic scholastic circles.) It stands to reason that this piece of intellectual technology would not have made an appearance in the Bible because the Biblical authors were not yet aware of such things. If the events in the Bible are true as presented, then the book would simply be a recounting of various historical events alongside some flowery poetic language (as in Proverbs or Psalms). Still, not an argument or a set of arguments.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Are Religious People Delusional?

I think the answer is a resounding no.

I have told this to both religious people and atheists in the past, and both have actually given me quizzical looks. The religious person because they assume that non-believers think believers must be nuts and atheists because, frankly, many of them think believers are nuts (though clearly not all; many atheists used to be devoutly religious and do not think that their losing religious convictions involved becoming more sane.) Therefore, let me explain myself lest I get in trouble with both groups.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Local Ask an Atheist Event

Well, today we had an Ask an Atheist event, this time with 100% less stabbing action. It was inspired by the yearly national day organised by the Secular Student Alliance. It was mildly boring. One girl walked by, read our sign, laughed, and yelled "I love Tech!" There was a stereotypical Fraternity-type guy who walked by, one of my female friends tried to say hi to him, and he just laughed at her. We had a Jewish girl come up and tell us that despite being a Jew, she liked atheists and that her friend (who wasn't present) was an atheist. She asked for literature and for a sticker. We even had a pre-freshman approach us and take a fair bit of literature, much to the chagrin of his mother (who stayed back quite a distance.)

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The End of the World?

In the Book of Revelation, passage 16:3-4 reads: "The second angel poured out his bowl on the sea, and it turned into blood like that of a dead man, and every living thing in the sea died. The third angel poured out his bowl on the rivers and springs of water, and they became blood."

Now, in West Texas, a reservoir has turned red as blood. Preacher Paul Begley, whose youtube video is linked below, claims that this is a sign of the End of the World, as foretold in Revelation:

(Video after the fold)


Monday, August 1, 2011

Complexity: The Human Eye and the Ice Cube

The human eye is a rather marvellous object. Somehow, billions of atoms know how to come together, to attach to each other, folding up into proteins, those proteins somehow know how to form cellular structures, and those cellular structures somehow know how to form this complicated optical apparatus that we call an eye. Now, I am certainly not a creationist, though I understand a little bit about where they are coming from. How is it that something which is so mind numbingly complicated can arise from entirely natural processes? How do the atoms know how to form into proteins and other complicated organic molecules which, in turn, know how to form all of the myriad parts of things like eyes or noses or even hair? It seems almost as if there must have been some kind of supernatural power -- a God if you will -- that intelligently designed it.

On Fox Fans' Vitriolic Hate-Speech

One of the things that makes this country great is that we are free to engage in whatever public discourse that we wish, openly holding even the most unpopular of opinions. That we do so without threat of death is one of the founding virtues of this country.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

On the Cosmological Argument

There is a certain deductive argument for the existence of God that is particularly more popular than others. Unlike other purely deductive arguments for God's existence, the Cosmological Argument is one which is readily used by the laity, albeit not under that name. Since the time of Saint Thomas Aquinas, it has been an established part of Catholic doctrine. In fact, there is a certain Catholic tradition which regards the existence of God as something which is deductively provable without reference to the Bible, church authorities, or faith. Instead, from mere recourse to logic alone, the doctrine states that we should be able to deduce God's existence. Several such  deductive arguments were proposed by Augustine, Aquinas, Anselm, and other scholars from the medieval period, often drawing from earlier work (most notably Aristotle and Plato.) Later, inductive and/or abductive arguments joined the fray, including William Paley's 19th century divine watchmaker argument (which would lead to its modern incarnation as Intelligent Design.)

Introduction

Hello world!

This is my first blog post ever. The blog is named "Liber Cogitans Et Ratio" -- literally "Free Thinking And Reason" in Latin. It's named as a parody of the encyclical "Fides Et Ratio" ("Faith and Reason") by Pope John Paul II. For short, I'll be calling it "Et Ratio".

I'll be discussing random issues related to science, atheism, philosophy, and anything else I can dream up.