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You can't choose what you believe, but you can choose what you learn and that, of course, goes a long way in determining what you know and and end up believing. When you choose to learn about something, you are choosing to learn about some aspect of our world. It's an attempt to engage with that aspect of the world as it really is as opposed to what we might want it to be. In contrast, a refusal to learn about the world is an attempt to live in denial, to pretend that the world conforms to our desires, and to exalt ignorance over knowledge.
Everyone is ignorant about lots of things, but we're only ignorant insofar as we choose to be because we choose not to inform ourselves and thus acquire that knowledge. I'm ignorant of Chinese literature, for example, because I have chosen not to inform myself about the topic. It just doesn't interest me. So long as I don't presume to lecture anyone about it, it won't really matter. The consequences are much more serious, though, when it comes to subjects like climate change, evolution, genetics, economics, etc. Read More...
The most fundamental doctrine of Christianity is probably the idea that people's sins can and will be forgiven by God. Added to this are usually the belief that people are inherently sinful, cannot be forgiven on their own deeds or merits, and so need to rely on God's mercy by believing in Jesus Christ. All of this raises serious questions about personal responsibility.
If simply believing in Jesus is sufficient to be forgiven of sins, no matter how heinous, how can this fit in with the idea of being responsible for one's actions? Can you truly claim to take responsibility for crimes or misdeeds if adopting a single belief automatically "washes away" your sins? How can that serve as a foundation for any coherent system of morality or justice? Read More...
It's common to hear religious theists complain about "militant atheists," but just what is a militant atheist? What separates militant atheists from regular (pacifist?) atheists? It's not always easy to tell and the people most likely to call atheists "militant" seem to be the least likely to try to explain the label. So here is a guide to militant atheism derived from the sorts of situations where religious theists insist that atheists are being too militant and demand that atheists be quiet or otherwise behave more deferentially towards religion, religious beliefs, and religious institutions.
Read Article: You Might Be a Militant Atheist If...
A great many Christians, and conservative evangelical Christians in particular, lament that a secular society cannot be as moral as a religious society because God is needed for morality. Thus atheists supposedly have no foundation for morality because they don't believe in God and no secular system can truly be moral because it doesn't integrate any particular god into it (though these Christians typically assume that their conception of their God is required, not any random god).
It is precisely to promote their conception of their God and their religion generally that these Christians promote the insertion of the Ten Commandments into government - for example Ten Commandments monuments and displays in schools, in courts, on public property, etc. This ignores demonstrable facts: atheists are just as moral as theists and secular societies are just as moral as religious societies.
Perhaps conservative evangelical Christians ignore these facts because they can't explain how they could be true. Accepting them as true would contradict some of their deepest beliefs. Fortunately, there are some reasonable explanations for why they would be true: simplistic religious moral rules, especially those like the Ten Commandments, may do more to undermine or hinder morality in modern societies than they can do to enhance it. Read More...
Book of the Week: Sacred Pain: Hurting the Body for the Sake of the Soul
For most people, pain is something to be avoided: it is a sign that something is wrong and that something needs to be fixed. But for a few people, at least some times, pain is something sought after. There are even religious reasons to seek pain and discomfort. But why would people do this? Are they insane, or do they know something the rest of us don't?
Book of the Week: Sacred Pain: Hurting the Body for the Sake of the Soul
Subject: NO mockery is excusable
Mockery is frankly a sign of an inhuman person, and therefore is unbecoming of any intelligent person (regardless of religious position, political position, whatever). A civilized person should simply express their belief in a non-patronizing manner, not to mention good manners in general.
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If a civilized person should be polite and not be patronizing, why is it OK for this person to be so rude to those who use mockery by calling them inhuman and unintelligent? Either they think they are exempt from their own standards, in which case they are too hypocritical to take seriously, or they don't actually believe in their own standards, in which case why should we?
Regardless, what makes the use of mockery and satire "unintelligent"? Some of the West's greatest literary masterpieces have been works of satire. The genre goes back centuries and has proven useful in politics, religion, and culture. Was Voltaire inhuman or unintelligent? Aldous Huxley? H.L. Mencken? Jonathan Swift? William Burroughs? Stephen Colbert? John Stewart?
Moreover, why must one always be polite? Not every situation calls for it. Some crimes, corruption, and vices call for the most scathing condemnations possible - even more scathing and impolite than can be achieved with mere mockery. Some things don't deserve a completely polite, restrained response.
If the person won't listen, they should simply leave them alone and find some other people likely to listen to them. Mockery is considerably more likely to make the oppponent less inclined to open his or her mind to what you have to say.
Worse yet, it will create a reaction against the mocker's beliefs, thus making the situation worse from the mocker's perspective (Rush Limbaugh and David Duke are great examples of "mocking the mockers").
Yes, it's true that mockery and satire cause some people to close off. At the same time, though, it can reach others more effectively than traditional arguments. Like the visual arts, satire and mockery can bypass people's usual filters. It provokes an emotional reaction and that's usually the point: to get people emotionally involved in a way that might cause them to rethink what they have been doing.
Granted, provoking an emotional response isn't what you're supposed to do in rigorous logical arguments, but so what? Not everything need be approached with cold, calculated logic all of the time. Some matters deserve an emotional response. Sometimes we should be emotionally invested in what we are doing.
Last, but not least, mockery simply adds nothing to the debate that the debate's substance does not already offer. This strikes me as a violation of Occam's Razor
Occam's Razor is about explanations for phenomena: do not multiply entities (in an explanation) beyond what you need. It has nothing to do with what sorts of arguments you offer for or against an idea. It's not a reason to not offer extra arguments or allegedly unnecessary arguments. Clearly the author has no idea what Occam's Razor is or how it should be used, which is interesting given the fact that they are trying to make a case for the use of reason and logic.
Why then, would anyone take their critiques of arguments very seriously? Can we really believe that they have any idea what qualifies as a reasonable, logical, or useful argument?
What does the Christian Right really hope to achieve with abstinence-only education? If their goal is to reduce teen pregnancies, sexually-transmitted diseases, and sexual activity, then they will give up on the programs if they prove ineffective. Right? Of course. And the fact that they have no interest in ever doing so means that reducing pregnancy, disease, and activity aren't really their goals.
Their ideology is religious. Their motivation is religious. Their goal is religious. To be specific, their goals are to save souls and to promote Christianity. When abstinence-only education works, in their minds it works because their religion is embraced because that's ultimately what has power. When abstinence-only education fails, it's because their religion (and religious values) have been rejected - and in those cases people deserve whatever harm they experience. Read More...
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Negative atheism is any sort of atheism or non-theism where a person doesn't believe in the existence of any gods yet does not necessarily make the positive claim that gods definitely do not exist.
Read Article: What is Negative Atheism? What is a Negative Atheist?
The Danish publication of satirical cartoons of Muhammad generated a lot of heated discussion about the moral and political legitimacy of satirizing or mocking religion, but this issue has generated heated debate for a long time. Muslims weren't the first to seek censorship of images or words which offended them, and they won't be the last. Religions may change, but the basic arguments remain fairly constant and this allows us to more quickly respond when the issue arises again (and again).
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It's commonly assumed that who you are as a person - your personal identity - is, well, all about you. You are you. There is, however, some reason to think that the 'you' is actually more about your relationships with people around you. No one grows up isolated from everyone else. Every step of our growth and development occurs in the context of an array of human relationships.
What's more, it's abundantly clear that we are intensely social animals. We evolved in small, close-knit social groups and much of our behavior makes more sense when socialization is taken into account. According to some recent research, the same brain regions involved with your sense of self are also involved with some aspects of socialization with others. Read More...
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Many claim that skepticism and atheism should be separate because 'God' is not something that can be tested in a scientific, skeptical way. For some definitions of 'God' that may be true, but it's a violation of the fundamental and ethical foundations of skepticism to declare it about 'God' as an entire topic or concept.
Propaganda Poster: Submission & Obedience to Husbands
Image © Austin Cline
Library of Congress
Read Article: Submission & Obedience to Husbands
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According to a recent study, thinking in a careful, analytic manner tends to reduce the degree to which a person believes in the supernatural whereas quick, intuitive thinking is more closely associated with belief in the supernatural. I don't think any atheists would be surprised by this, but the existence of scientific evidence for it will prove useful.
Ara Norenzayan and Will Gervais at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, conducted the study which demonstrated that when people are "primed" with analytic thinking tasks, their self-reported degree of belief in the supernatural declined -- even though they reported a higher degree of belief earlier. Read More...
Many devout Christians take the Ten Commandments very seriously and would like to see the government display the Ten Commandments in public buildings like schools. This would appear to be a way for the government to support and endorse the Ten Commandments -- but isn't that unconstitutional? Indeed, courts have consistently ruled that Ten Commandments displays are unconstitutional so Christians try to get around this by including other documents as well.
Most of the time when people argue that the Ten Commandments should be displayed in schools, they defend their position with the idea that the Commandments are a historical document which might, perhaps, serve as a moral inspiration. It isn't often that you find someone actually arguing that they should be displayed for the purpose of getting students to obey them, but most of the time that seems to be the actual motivation. They aren't defending a history lesson, but a set of moral commands.
Conservative Christians repeatedly and across various contexts defend the Ten Commandments as a vital foundation of both morality and law. According to them, failures to obey both morality and law are why America needs to have the Ten Commandments displayed in more places: school rooms, courts, and other public spaces. They insist that unless Americans recognize their duty to the Christian god, matters will only get worse as time goes by.
Read Article: Myth: Agnosticism and Theism are Incompatible
Neanderthal Gibraltar Man
We know that the mental and social lives of Neanderthals had to be different from our own, but we don't know how or why exactly. We've long known that their brains were about the same size as that of a modern human, but that doesn't tell us how exactly it was organized and that is critical -- size isn't everything. We also know, though, that their eyes were bigger because their eye sockets were bigger. That could be an important clue.
Bigger eyes should mean generally better eyesight. It also probably required a bigger portion of the physical brain devoted to eyesight. Since they didn't have brains larger than ours, the extra brain matter devoted to eyesight meant that it couldn't be devoted to anything else -- like perhaps organizing and managing complex social lives. Read More...
Read Article: Originals & Sequels of the Ten Commandments
It's already known that greater height makes men more attractive to women, but contrary to some popular sayings a larger penis size is also something that makes men more attractive to women. It's not the only or most important factor -- the hip-to-shoulder ratio seems to be most important -- but being one of the longer boys down below counts as much as being one of the taller boys.
This new information is based on a study done of 105 young women who looked at computer-generated images of men with varying attributes. What, they couldn't find any actual men willing to pose? Read More...
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Every time some tragedy strikes, you can be sure that people will quickly begin talking about praying -- praying for victims, praying for the community, praying for souls, etc. Occasionally there are even prayers for the perpetrators, if any exist, though they are rare for some reason. But why pray for anyone at all?
Presumably, people were praying for peace and happiness before the tragedy. Clearly those prayers didn't do much good. Presumably, if a god exists then it's going to do whatever if wants -- prayers to act differently won't matter and prayers for it to do what it's going to do will be pointless. So prayer can't have any realistic impact on the future and not even believers have a good reason to think otherwise. Read More...
Read Article: Baal: Phoenician, Canaanite, and Semitic God
DNA Double Helix
Getty Photo: Chad Baker / Digital Vision
DNA is special because it can both encode information and make copies of itself, thus passing that information on. RNA can do this as well, but it's not as stable. Scientists have been trying for a while to construct synthetic DNA and they may have finally figured it out.
Philipp Holliger leads a team at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, UK, have found that at least six molecules not currently used by DNA could be used to store and transmit information. If they are right, and if this line of research works out, it could prove to be very useful. Read More...