Monday, March 31, 2014

Planetary: A Review


I am taking a break from blogging about religion and related philosophical questions for the rest of this month, so instead of just leaving a void of nothingness in place of your regular broadcast, I thought I'd fill it with the white-noise of my other unrelated ramblings; in this case a review of the graphic novel Planetary. 

A decade in the making, Planetary, a comic series written by the brilliant Warren Ellis and drawn by the unlimited talent of John Cassady, began in 1999--the year I graduated high school.

Due to numerous delays the series wasn't completed until 2009. But now the massive 864 page omnibus collecting the complete saga along with some bonus team-up issues and specials is now available. Needless to say, I burned a hole in my pocket faster than you could say "shut up and take my money!"

Over the past several days I read it, slowly. All I can say is the wait was well worth it. This has to be my all time favorite graphic novel. It's less pretentious and wordy than an Alan Moore comic (although I love Watchmen and V for Vendetta), and it doesn't try to be gimmicky like a Jeph Loeb story (even as Superman for All Seasons and Batman the Long Halloween rank up there with the best of them). 

If I were to describe Planetary in one word it would be: scope.

The story has scope. It takes it time, it builds up a great big mystery in layers, where each story is a stand alone piece of a larger whole, but how that piece fits into the great scheme of things one never knows. At least no until the very end. 

Scope.

To tell a story like this you have to have the whole thing in your mind. You have to take your time. Even if it takes a decade.


This is a story which stays with you long after you've read it. In fact, you can't quite view comics and graphic novels the same after reading such a story because this book sets the bar so high that everything else is always just sub-par.

I can only think of a few exceptions that rise to the challenge: Blackest Night by Geoff Johns and Ivan Reis, the aforementioned Superman for All Seasons and Batman the Long Halloween by Tim Sale and Jeph Loeb, Alan Moore's Watchman, Frank Miller's Sin City, and Art Spiegelman's Maus. As subjective as comic book taste is, as most art tends to be, most will tell you the above graphic novels are the creme of the crop, plus or minus a few others.


But none of them, in my opinion, can hold a candle to Planetary.

Planetary is hard sci-fi, but it has a dry humor and a charm to it that dulls the otherwise razor like edge to the weight of the story. The characters are charming, original, and well rendered. 

In fact, the stand alone stories which expertly build into an epic climax is so rewarding that you find yourself going back to re-read everything and see how it all fits together. Precise. A book with scope.

I've rarely felt so rewarded by a book, graphic novel or otherwise, once I've closed the last page. That sense of gratification, of having gone on a journey through splendid worlds that blend the best of 50's science fiction with modern concepts like quantum foam and the multiverse so well that it's hard not to fall into the story, as if you were really there watching things unfold, between the empty spaces of reality--or the bleed, as Elijah Snow would inform us.

But all this is fine and dandy. You're still probably wondering what is Planetary, exactly?

It's a story about a mysterious super-powered man named Elijah Snow, who suffers a bout of amnesia when he suddenly is contacted by a secret archaeological agency named Planetary. Planetary's field archaeologists include Jakita Wagner, a woman with Wonder Woman like strength, and an informational black hole named Drums, who can speak to machines and even see the digital code of genuine magic. 

Recruiting Elijah Snow, the three investigate a series of strange and bizarre artifacts, including a multi-dimensional space craft, ghosts, an ancient society of superhuman guardians, a sleeping quantum computer brain, a radioactive woman, giant ants each the size of a city bus, alien beings, time travel, and many other strange and wondrous things.

Behind all this weirdness is an even more secret and strange group who seem to be pulling all the strings as they shape the course of human history. A group simply known as "The Four."

And, well, that's as much as I feel comfortable telling, since the rest is, as River Song would say, spoilers.

If you get a chance, I highly recommend you read Planetary. Even if you're not a fan of comics, there is something unquestionably special here. 



Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Select Bibliography for The Swedish Fish, Deflating the Scuba Diver and Working the Rabbit's Foot: Answering Christian Apologetics



As the book is being sent off to the editor, I thought I would share the bibliography with you all.

I think it is rather telling that the book I am responding to, Christian apologist Randal Rauser's The Swedish Atheist, the Scuba Diver, and Other Apologetic Rabbit Trails had a grand total of 13 bibliographical notes. That's it. But that didn't stop Randal from lecturing as if he were a professional in all the fields he talked on from theoretical physics, to sociology, to anthropology, to biology, to neurology, to psychology, to ethics, to ancient history and so on and so forth. 

Needless to say, Randal's books was under sourced to be at all authoritative, but that didn't stop him from trying to sound the part. I know I am making Randal sound rather bad here, but come on, he is an academic with a PhD. Only thirteen bibliographical notes that don't even take up half a page for a book which the author professes to be an expertise on a plethora of fields of study? That's just poor form and a little bit lazy if you ask me. After all, who doesn't like making a good ole bibliography?

I'm still no expert, mind you, and I've never pretended to be, which is why I cited so many experts to help verify and validate my position as any researcher would do who wasn't themselves an expert in the fields they were speaking on. So, I made sure that in my book I fully cited everything I referenced. Subsequently, my bibliography goes on for approximately six pages (front and back in print form), shrunk down to 10 point font. 

So without further ado, I give you the tentative select bibliography for The Swedish Fish, Deflating the Scuba Diver and Working the Rabbit's Foot.




Bibliography
 (Draft 1.2A)

Avalos, Hector. The End of Biblical Studies. New York, NY: Prometheus Books, 2007.

Barrett, Jeffrey A. PSA 2000: Proceedings of the 2000 Biennial Meeting of the Philosophy of Science Association. Chicago, IL: Univ. of Chicago Press, 2002.

Bennett, Bo. Logically Fallacious: The Ultimate Collection of over 300 Logical Fallacies. Sudbury: Ebookit.com, 2012.

Benson, Herbert Et Al. "Study of the Therapeutic Effects of Intercessory Prayer (STEP) in Cardiac Bypass Patients: A Multicenter Randomized Trial of Uncertainty and Certainty of Receiving Intercessory Prayer." American Heart Journal 151, no. 4 (May 5, 2005): 934-42. doi:10.1016/j.ahj.2005.05.028.

Bering, Jesse. The Belief Instinct. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company, 2011.

Blake, William. The Marriage of Heaven and Hell: In Full Color. New York: Dover Publications, 1994.

Boghossian, Paul Artin. Fear of Knowledge: Against Relativism and Constructivism. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2006.

Boyer, Pascal. Religion Explained: The Evolutionary Origins of Religious Thought. New York: Basic Books, 2001.

Byrne, Rhonda. The Secret. New York: Atria Books, 2006.

Carrier, Richard. Not the Impossible Faith: Why Christianity Didn't Need a Miracle to Succeed. United States?: Lulu.com, 2009.

Clifford, William Kingdon, William James, and A. J. Burger. The Ethics of Belief: Essays by William Kingdon Clifford, William James, A. J. Burger. Scotts Valley, CA: CreateSpace, 2008.

Cooper-White, Macrina. "People Who Believe In Hell Tend To Be Less Happy, New Survey Shows." The Huffington Post. February 25, 2014. Accessed March 19, 2014. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/02/25/people-believe-hell-less-happy_n_4855724.html.

Cox, Brian, and J. R. Forshaw. The Quantum Universe: (and Why Anything That Can Happen, Does). Boston: Da Capo Press, 2012.

Damasio, Antonio. Self Comes to Mind. Toronto: Random House, 2010.

Dawkins, Richard. The God Delusion. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006.

Demetriou, Andreas, Willem Doise, and C. F. M. Van. Lieshout. Life-span Developmental Psychology. Chichester: J. Wiley & Sons, 1998.

Dennett, D. C. Consciousness Explained. Boston: Little, Brown and, 1991.

Downey, Allen B. “Religious affiliation, education and Internet use.” Cornell University Library, arXiv.1403.5534 [stat.AP]; arXiv.org. Accessed April 7, 2014.

Ehrman, Bart D. Forged: Writing in the Name of God: Why the Bible's Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are. New York: HarperOne, 2011.

Ehrman, Bart D. Lost Christianities: The Battle for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003.

Ehrman, Bart D. Misquoting Jesus: The Story behind Who Changed the Bible and Why. New York: HarperSanFrancisco, 2005.

Foote, George W. Seasons of Freethought: The Collected Works of G.W. Foote. Edited by Tristan Vick. Kumamoto: Hungry Word Publications, 2013.

Fosnot, Catherine Twomey. Constructivism: Theory, Perspectives, and Practice. New York: Teachers College Press, 1996.

Freke, Timothy, and Peter Gandy. The Jesus Mysteries: Was the "original Jesus" a Pagan God? New York: Harmony Books, 2000.

Funk, Cary, and Greg Smith. "'Nones' on the Rise." Pew Research Centers Religion Public Life Project RSS. October 9, 2012. Accessed March 16, 2014. http://www.pewforum.org/2012/10/09/nones-on-the-rise/.

Glasersfeld, Ernst Von. Radical Constructivism: A Way of Knowing and Learning. London: Falmer Press, 1995.

Gockel, Galen L. “Income and Religious Affiliation: A Regression Analysis.” American Journal of Sociology 74, no. 6 (12 1969): 632. doi:10.1086/224714.

Goldstein, Sydney. “Socioeconomic Differential among Religious Groups in the United States.” American Journal of Sociology 74, no. 6 (May, 1969): 612-631. doi:10.1086/224714.

Grayling, A. C. The God Argument: The Case against Religion and for Humanism. New York: Bloomsbury, 2013.

Greene, J. D. "An FMRI Investigation of Emotional Engagement in Moral Judgment." Science 293, no. 5537 (01, 2001): 2105-108. doi:10.1126/science.1062872.

Greene, Joshua David. Moral Tribes. Emotion, Reason, and the Gap between Us and Them. New York: Penguin Press, 2013.

Hackett, Conrad, and Brian J. Grim. "The Global Religious Landscape." Pew Research Centers Religion Public Life Project RSS. December 2012. Accessed March 18, 2014. http://www.pewforum.org/2012/12/18/global-religious-landscape-exec/.

Hansen, James E. Storms of My Grandchildren: The Truth about the Coming Climate Catastrophe and Our Last Chance to save Humanity. New York: Bloomsbury USA, 2009.

Harris, Sam. Free Will. New York: Free Press, 2012.

Helms, Randel. Gospel Fictions. Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books, 1988.

Hitchens, Christopher. God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. New York: Twelve, 2007.

Hoffmann, R. Joseph. Sources of the Jesus Tradition: Separating History from Myth. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2010.

Holbach, Paul Henri Thiry. Good Sense. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2004.

Ifrah, Georges, and David Bellos. The Universal History of Numbers: From Prehistory to the Invention of the Computer. New York: Wiley, 2000.

Kahneman, Daniel. "JUDGMENT AND DECISION MAKING: A Personal View." Psychological Science 2, no. 3 (May/June 1991): 142-45. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9280.1991.tb00121.x.

Kahneman, Daniel. Thinking, Fast and Slow. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011.

Koons, Jeremy Randel. “Plantinga On Properly Basic Belief In God: Lessons From The Epistemology Of Perception." The Philosophical Quarterly 61, no. 245 (May 18, 2011): 839-50. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9213.2011.709.x.

Kripke, Saul A. Naming and Necessity. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1980.

Kuhn, Thomas S., and Ian Hacking. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2012.

Lataster, Raphael Christopher. There Was No Jesus, There Is No God: A Scholarly Examination of the Scientific, Historical, and Philosophical Evidence & Arguments for Monotheism. Sydney: CreateSpace, 2013.

Levine, Amy-Jill, Dale C. Allison, and John Dominic. Crossan. The Historical Jesus in Context. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2006.

Loftus, John W. The Outsider Test for Faith: How to Know Which Religion Is True. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2013.

MacDonald, Dennis Ronald. Does the New Testament Imitate Homer? Four Cases from the Acts of the Apostles. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2003.

MacDonald, Dennis Ronald. The Homeric Epics and the Gospel of Mark. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2000.

Mack, Burton L. Who Wrote the New Testament?: The Making of the Christian Myth. San Francisco, CA: Harper, San Francisco, 1995.

Martin, Michael, and Ricki Monnier. The Improbability of God. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2006.

Mayes, Steve. "Judge Orders State Custody, Medical Care for Oregon Faith Healers' Child." The Oregonian, July 2, 2010. Accessed March 19, 2014. http://www.oregonlive.com/oregon-city/index.ssf/2010/07/judge_orders_state_custody_medical_care_for_faith_healers_child.html.

McCormick, Matthew S. Atheism and the Case against Christ. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2012.

Meier, John P. A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus; Volumes I-IV. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009.

Miller, Alan S. “The Influence of Religious Affiliation on the Clustering of Social Attitudes.” Review of Religious Research37, no. 3 (12 1996): 219. doi:10.2307/3512275.

Miller, Kenneth. Only a Theory: Evolution and the Battle for America’s Soul. New York, NY: Penguin Books, 2009.

Murray, Gilbert. Aristophanes: The Knights. London: Allen & Unwin, 1956.

Nietzsche, Friedrich Wilhelm. The Gay Science. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 2006.

Nietzsche, Friedrich Wilhelm, R. J. Hollingdale, and J. P. Stern. Untimely Meditations. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983.

O'Keefe, Tim. "Epicurus." Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Accessed March 19, 2014. http://www.iep.utm.edu/epicur/#SH3d.

Oppy, Graham Robert. The Best Argument against God. Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013.

Paine, Thomas, and Moncure Daniel Conway. The Age of Reason: Being an Investigation of True and Fabulous Theology. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 2004.

Pigliucci, Massimo. Nonsense on Stilts: How to Tell Science from Bunk. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010.

Plantinga, Alvin. "Is Belief in God Properly Basic?" Noûs 15, no. 1 (March 1981): 41. doi:10.2307/2215239.

Polkinghorne, J. C. Quantum Theory: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002.

Pow, Helen. "It's Not Fair! Hilarious Video Experiment That Shows How Even Monkeys Go Bananas over Unequal Pay." Mail Online. November 22, 2012. Accessed March 18, 2014. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2236702/Fascinating-experiment-shows-monkeys-bananas-unequal-pay.html.

Price, Robert M. The Case against the Case for Christ: A New Testament Scholar Refutes Lee Strobel. Cranford, NJ: American Atheist Press, 2010.

Price, Robert M. Deconstructing Jesus. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2000.

Price, Robert M. "Economics of Salvation" Secular Nation 3rd Quarter." Economics of Salvation by Robert M. Price. December 03, 2007. Accessed March 18, 2014. http://www.robertmprice.mindvendor.com/art_econ_salvation.htm.

Price, Robert M. The Incredible Shrinking Son of Man: How Reliable Is the Gospel Tradition? Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2003.

Price, Robert M. The Reason-driven Life: What Am I Here on Earth For? Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2006.

Price, Robert M. Top Secret: The Truth behind Today's Pop Mysticisms. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2008.

Raine, A., and Y. Yang. "Neural Foundations to Moral Reasoning and Antisocial Behavior," Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience 1, no. 3 (12, 2006): 203-13. doi:10.1093/scan/nsl033.

Rauser, Randal D. The Swedish Atheist, the Scuba Diver, and Other Apologetic Rabbit Trails. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2012.

Ray, Darrel W. The God Virus: How Religion Infects Our Lives and Culture. Bonner Springs, Kansas: IPC Press, 2009.

Ray, Darrel. Sex & God: How Religion Distorts Sexuality. Bonner Springs, Kan.: IPC Press, 2012.

Sagan, Carl. The Demon-haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark. New York: Random House, 1996.

Shariff, Azim F., and Lara B. Aknin. "The Emotional Toll of Hell: Cross-National and Experimental Evidence for the Negative Well-Being Effects of Hell Beliefs." PLoS ONE 9(1): E85251, January 22, 2014. Accessed March 18, 2014. doi:DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0085251.

Shermer, Michael. The Believing Brain: From Ghosts and Gods to Politics and Conspiracies--how We Construct Beliefs and Reinforce Them as Truths. New York: Times Books, 2011.

Sinclair, Upton. Mammonart; an Essay in Economic Interpretation. Pasadena, CA: Author, 1925.

Stark, Thom. The Human Faces of God: What Scripture Reveals When It Gets God Wrong (and Why Inerrancy Tries to Hide It). Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2011.

Stenger, Victor J. God the Failed Hypothesis: How Science Shows that God Does Not Exist. New York, NY: Prometheus Books, 2010.

Stenger, Victor J. God and the Folly of Faith: The Incompatibility of Science and Religion. New York, NY: Prometheus Books, 2012.

Strauss, David Friedrich, The Life of Jesus, Critically Examined. New York, NY: Cosimo Classics, 2010.

Strobel, Lee. The Case for Christ: A Journalist's Personal Investigation of the Evidence for Jesus. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1998.

Sukel, Kayt. Dirty Minds: How Our Brains Influence Love, Sex, and Relationships. New York, NY: First Free Press, 2012.

Schwadel, Philip. "The Effects of Education on Americans’ Religious Practices, Beliefs, and Affiliations.” Review of Religious Research 53, no. 2 (12 2011): 161-82. doi:10.1007/s13644-011-0007-4.

Tabor, James D. Paul and Jesus: How the Apostle Transformed Christianity. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2012

Tabor, James D. The Jesus Dynasty: The Hidden History of Jesus, His Royal Family, and the Birth of Christianity. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2006.

Van Voorst, Robert E. Jesus outside the New Testament: An Introduction to the Ancient Evidence. Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans Pub., 2000.

Vick, Tristan. Ignosticism: A Philosophical Justification for Atheism. 2nd ed. Kumamoto: Hungry Word Publications, 2013.

Vico, Giambattista. New Science: Principles of the New Science concerning the Common Nature of Nations. London: Penguin Books, 1999.

Warren, Rick. The Purpose Driven Life. Michigan: Zondervan, 2002.

Wells, George Albert. Can We Trust the New Testament? Thoughts on the Reliability of Early Christian Testimony. Chicago: Open Court, 2004.

Wells, George Albert. “Earliest Christianity,” The New Humanist Vol. 114: No. 3, Sept 1999.

Wells, George Albert. The Jesus Myth. Chicago, IL: Open Court, 1999.

Wells, Steve. Drunk with Blood: God's Killings in the Bible. United States: SAB Books, 2013.

Wells, Steve. The Skeptic's Annotated Bible The King James Version from a Skeptic's Point of View. United States: Sab Books Llc, 2014.

Wicks, Robert. "Friedrich Nietzsche." Stanford University. May 30, 1997. Accessed March 16, 2014. http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/nietzsche/.

Wilcox, Clinton. "God or Godless? A Book Review." The Christian Apologetics Alliance. November 12, 2013. Accessed March 19, 2014. http://www.christianapologeticsalliance.com/2013/11/12/god-or-godless-a-book-review/.

Zuckerman, Phil. "Atheism, Secularity, and Well-Being: How the Findings of Social Science Counter Negative Stereotypes and Assumptions." Sociology Compass 3, no. 6 (March 6, 2009): 949-71. doi:10.1111/j.1751-9020.2009.00247.x.

Zull, James E. The Art of Changing the Brain: Enriching Teaching by Exploring the Biology of Learning. Sterling, VA: Stylus Pub., 2002. 



Monday, March 17, 2014

I Get Mail: A Response to Mr. Israel Lattimore


A concerned Christian reader who goes by the name Israel Lattimore contacted me with some concerns. Here is the original letter in full:


Mr. Vick:

First of all I understand you, your arguments are not uncommon. Out of curiosity, is your work stimulated by the desire to know the truth, existentially speaking? It seems that to question the validity of the notion of "God's" existence inevitably prerequisites the collapse of any belief of truth at all. If one doesn't believe that true or false exists, then what is existence altogether? I would like for you to get to yourself, slow down and honestly ask yourself, Do I really believe that I am a worthless, bastardized being and that when my body dies I will simply cease to exist? (Pardon me if I have assumed the idea that you do not believe in any afterlife). I want to tell you my dear friend that you are not a worthless, bastardized being and that you have a Creator that loves you and cares enough for His creation as to not leave it wandering with no purpose or definition. Please don't take me wrong, I am not being sarcastic nor do I feel any condemnation for you. I am honestly grieved and saddened by this lie that I myself almost fell prey to believing at one point in life. I appreciate your quest for truth, I myself am alongside you in that desire except I have found it. Audacious statement some may say, but I know that I have a Father that loves me and cares deeply about the condition of His creation. The Kingdom of Heaven is like a treasure which a man stumbles across in the dessert. Once he finds it, he buries it far underneath the earth, returns to his home and sells everything that he has in order to purchase the plot of land where the treasure was found. All of his neighbors and family think that he is crazy because he spends his entire life's earnings on what appears to be a dry wilderness. So it is for everyone that enters into the Kingdom of Heaven. I may never speak with you again or make any other comment on your page but I hope to see you there, you are not forsaken my friend. Excuse the imperfection of speech and semantics, I hope that my heart will communicate with yours.

I will do my best to respond to the above concerns below.

Mr. Lattimore asks:

Out of curiosity, is your work stimulated by the desire to know the truth, existentially speaking? It seems that to question the validity of the notion of "God's" existence inevitably prerequisites the collapse of any belief of truth at all. If one doesn't believe that true or false exists, then what is existence altogether?
My work is mainly the product of me pulling together different theories that I have learned over a wide field of study ranging from religious history to philosophy to science. I suppose if you want to view it as a pragmatic response to existential concerns, that is a fair way to phrase it.

But I do not think I am unique in wanting to find answers to the bigger questions we all have. Perhaps the biggest motivating factor is that philosophical questions, like the existence of God and why are we here, fascinate me on a deeper level, and I've given it a lot of thought, and as such it pains me to see religious people take for granted these questions and ideas because they have convinced themselves there is nothing more to think about.

As I explain in my book Ignosticism, the question of God's existence (of whether or not God actually exists) arises precisely due to the fact that there is no evidence for God's existence. If there was, it wouldn't make sense to ask the question in the first place.

We do not ask whether or not the sky is blue, because the sky being blue is a brute fact of nature. It's something we all can see, and we all have an abundance of evidence for, thus nobody goes around asking whether or not the sky is blue. What people do tend to do, as my four year old daughter recently reminded me, is ask "why is the sky blue?"

Subsequently, we turn to science to aid us in determining the truth of the matter. The sky is blue because of quantum effects involving Rayleigh scattering combined with a lack of violet receptors in our retinae.

Of course, that's the curt technical version. I simplified it for my daughter and explained to her that the light from the sun contains all the colors in the world, and that these colors bounce around the atmosphere and some bounce away and others get through, and the ones that get through are the blue ones, the ones our eyes can see, so the sky appears blue to us.

If God actually existed theology would become another branch of science, and it would go about seeking to explain why God is this property as measured or observed rather than another one. But this we do not find. Instead, after several millennium it appears theologians, and believers in general, are still stuck asking the same old question "Does God exist?"

My book is an attempt to try and explain why after two thousand years of so-called "evidence" for God that theologians and believers are no better off than when they started and are still stuck defending the position of whether or not God truly exists instead of moving on into the realm of science and actually describing God's properties as observed and measured thereby proceeding to make testable theories which may help to explain the nature of this deity. At least, this is where we should be at today if God truly existed as believers affirm.

So, the question is, why aren't we there yet? Well, my book Ignosticism looks at the idea of God from another angle which seeks to explain why the hiddeness of God persists and why theologians, after two thousand years, still haven't made any headway with regard to demonstrating their claims about the existence of God.

Mr. Lattimore continues on with another deeply felt concern, asking:

If one doesn't believe that true or false exists, then what is existence altogether? I would like for you to get to yourself, slow down and honestly ask yourself, Do I really believe that I am a worthless, bastardized being and that when my body dies I will simply cease to exist? (Pardon me if I have assumed the idea that you do not believe in any afterlife).


I do think relativism is true, and this of course confounds realists who hold that an objective truth stands independent of truth relative to the individual. But my experience with social constructivism leads me to think all truth is relative.

This however is a separate issue from finding meaning in my life, and I think you have mistakenly conflated the two notions of truth and meaning.

One's worth is determined by what values one holds, what values they deem important and what values they deem worth dismissing, and this deals strictly with one's own subjective preferences and is different than matters of truth.

After all, we could all be living a lie. We could be living inside a computer program invented by super highly intelligent aliens, but that doesn't mean that the world I know and am a part of is meaningless.

In my experience, we give meaning to the world by assigning importance to things we feel we couldn't do without, such as family, deep philosophical conversations with friends, sex, and anything else we might find that helps make our lives worth living.

We don't need an external source of meaning to assign meaning to these highly personalized things. This is evident by the fact that what I may find meaningful you might not. But if meaning was absolute and independent from my subjective preference, then we'd all find the same things meaningful. Every single one of us. And this simply isn't the case.

So it seems that the idea of absolute meaning existing independently of our human experience is simply false. Meaning, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.

Although you're right in one regard, I do believe I will simply cease to exist after I die. After my brain functions cease, I will cease to be. But even so, I do not believe I am worthless. That thought has never even crossed my mind.

Why should I feel worthless simply because I am insignificant compared to the vastness and grandeur of the entire universe? What I do feel is humbled. I feel extremely lucky that I get to take part in this existence, that I get to enjoy this life here and now knowing that it is likely the only life I am ever going to have--it makes everything that much more precious in my eyes.

The Japanese love cherry-blossoms (called sakura) and every year come spring the entire nation of Japan is covered with millions upon millions of cherry-blossoms. They only last about a week or two, and then the pink petals fall away, and for the Japanese this reflects the beauty of our brief, fleeting existence. It is something to be celebrated, even if in the grande scheme of things we are rather insignificant. However, as I said, I find this humbling, not nihilistic as you seem to imply.

Being small and insignificant is merely what we are when compared to the scale of the universe, but I see no reason why realizing how small I am and how little impact my life will have on that overall scale somehow means that I ought to feel worthless as a consequence. That simply doesn't follow, logically speaking.

Let's scale it down to my life compared to the lives of others. On this scale, all I need ask myself is did I live a good life? Did I help others? Did I provide for my family and my loved ones? Did I contribute in some small way to make the world a better place for the next generation? If so, then I feel contended knowing that I played some small role in it all.

As for being a bastardized being, such a notion is absurd. I knew who my biological father was, and he knew who his father was, and so on and so forth. We are the sons and daughters of our parents, and I don't think it needs to be any more complicated than that.

If you mean to suggest we take it back to the origin of life itself, then in that sense the universe is our father and mother. As the late great Carl Sagan so often reminded us, we are all made of star stuff.

Knowing this I can honestly say that being a part of the universe makes me feel less of a bastardized being and more of a being who has come into the awareness that I, along with all other living things, share great everlasting relationship with nature, for we are the sons and daughters of mother nature and father time.

Realizing this has helped me to shed ancient stories about the death of resurrecting demi-gods, not because they ring false with me, but because the truth is more glorious still.

A star died that I may live! But not just one star, a million, maybe even a billion stars died, and the importance of their existence is not lost on me. So when I look up at the night sky, I do not thank an imaginary God for my existence, I thank the sparkling stars.

At this point Mr. Lattimore stops expressing any further concerns and goes into a bit of prosylatizing.

I want to tell you my dear friend that you are not a worthless, bastardized being and that you have a Creator that loves you and cares enough for His creation as to not leave it wandering with no purpose or definition. Please don't take me wrong, I am not being sarcastic nor do I feel any condemnation for you. I am honestly grieved and saddened by this lie that I myself almost fell prey to believing at one point in life. I appreciate your quest for truth, I myself am alongside you in that desire except I have found it. Audacious statement some may say, but I know that I have a Father that loves me and cares deeply about the condition of His creation. The Kingdom of Heaven is like a treasure which a man stumbles across in the dessert. Once he finds it, he buries it far underneath the earth, returns to his home and sells everything that he has in order to purchase the plot of land where the treasure was found. All of his neighbors and family think that he is crazy because he spends his entire life's earnings on what appears to be a dry wilderness. So it is for everyone that enters into the Kingdom of Heaven. 

Well, I have said it many times, professions of faith and proclamations of certitude mean very little to me when I want to talk about what things are defeasible and indefeasible, true or false.

In fact, I am much more concerned with systems that demonstrate their claims. If every believer I ever met who espoused what you do could simply and clearly demonstrate their claims, then they wouldn't be baseless and irrelevant, as they seemingly are to me. And being a person of reason, I know I would take more time to consider them than I do.

As it is, however, these are not claims any rational person can entertain. I am glad you feel that you have found the truth of what you have been looking for, but that truth simply isn't good enough for me because it relies too much on faith and too little on knowing.

I like to understand my truths inside and out, and if I can't, then I remain patient for the time when I can. It seems to me nearly all truth is provisional. Are there some brute facts out there of things that just are true? Well, I'd say yes. And these brute facts can be demonstrated as being true or false, and it is in this achieved understanding we can gain any degree of certainty.

But your claims cannot be demonstrated. As such all certainty is only a pretense to gain a certain amount of confidence to better fend off the nagging doubts that come with not knowing. Which is why I will forever remain skeptical, until that time when you can do more than simply lay claim to unheard of truths, but actually demonstrate these truths in a way which adds to the bulwark of all understanding.

Bringing his sermon to a close, Mr. Lattimore says:

I may never speak with you again or make any other comment on your page but I hope to see you there, you are not forsaken my friend. Excuse the imperfection of speech and semantics, I hope that my heart will communicate with yours.

Although I appreciate your thoughtful concerns, I must honestly say that I think that they are merely the byproduct of religious insecurities that an uncertain faith such as your so often brings. I have long since put such uncertainties behind me because I have gotten comfortable with the idea of not knowing everything. Why fret over what we do not or even cannot possibly know?  It's true, I cannot prove to you there is no God or there is no place like Heaven, as these things are impossible to disprove. But they are also impossible to prove, and that is why I feel that claims which can be demonstrated are far more valuable than claims which can merely be asserted.

Sincerely,

The Advocatus Atheist


Tuesday, March 11, 2014

The 9/11 Cross and the Confusion of the Privileged Religious Right



People are making much ado about nothing with regard to the American Atheist's lawsuit against the 9/11 cross (see here). That's not even a controversial lawsuit. 

For starters, the cross is on public land where zoning laws restrict the preferential treatment to sponsor religion. The reason zoning laws restrict such things is because if one religion gets to do it then, legally, all religions could put their iconography up. Then you have space issues, safety issues, and a whole slew of other legal issues which come with granting such trivial leeway. Then there's the fact that it's unconstitutional, because the government, city or otherwise, is not to endorse any religion over another if at all. 

The lawsuit will succeed, because if it doesn't, they can appeal and bring up an additional lawsuit of religious discrimination, since part of the lawsuit entails that if they allow the cross to stay up they have to allow the American Atheists to put their own monument up as well--dismissing this claim would then be grounds for a new lawsuit as well as the appeal.

So either way the 9/11 cross thing is a moot point--the government showed preferential treatment, endorsing Christianity and it's simply not allowed to, legally speaking. So regardless of what your feelings are about the cross, or whether it is truly divisive or not, doesn't matter. It's illegal, and that's why it has to come down.

It's strange to me, however, how many atheists have defended it. Pick your battles, they say. It's not big deal. But then such an attitude raises questions of when is pandering to the privilaged class too much? It may not be a big deal, but not being able to hold office in seven U.S. states because you're an atheist is a big deal. 

I for one find that whether it is simply letting an eye-soar of a cross slide, or outmoded laws like not allowing atheists to hold public office go unchallenged, that as long as you pander to the privileged class and let them get away with it--they'll continue taking everything for granted and you'll continue to get marginalized for your beliefs or lack thereof. 

Personally, I see that a general reluctance, or apathy, to protest the privileged class in even the most trivial things leads to worse conditions than if we wasted a few hours of our time and energy giving ourselves a voice and making a little bit of a ruckus. Some may disagree, but I feel I ought to mention that they won't be the one's changing anything any time soon.

Which leads me to an even greater complaint, since the only thing I detest more than apathy is the indulgence of stupidity.

Wyoming Governor Matt Read has approved a budget that would prevent the state from reviewing or funding a new set of science standards that treat climate change as fact (read more here).

Why?

Because the new science standards included scientific facts like evolution and human influenced global warming.

The American astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson went on the Colbert Report to help promote the new COSMOS science show, an updated and much deserved sequel to the popular 1980's COSMOS television series first hosted by Carl Sagan.

Colbert asked Tyson "What do you think would've surprised Carl Sagan most about what has changed in our knowledge of the universe since 1996"?

Tyson replied, "I think what would surprise him the most is that we still have to argue that science is something important in society."

I fear Neil deGrasse Tyson may be right.

The thing that bothered me most about the Wyoming blocking of an improved science curriculum wasn't so much the fact that scientifically ignorant folks felt it important enough to prevent genuine science from entering the classroom, but their reasons for doing so.

The reasons are breathtakingly inane.

According to the article, such opposition is common. A Baptist minister went on to say:

“Outsiders are telling public school families that we must follow the rich man’s elitist religion of evolution, that we no longer have what the Kentucky Constitution says is the right to worship almighty God.”

This is a fine example of the confusion of the privileged religious right.

Evolution is not a religion. It's a scientific fact. Denying it doesn't make it any less true.

Meanwhile, teaching evolution does not in any way shape or form restrict others from worshiping or believing what they want. 

These are completely unrelated things.

The only time they would overlap is if you still believe in a creation myth as contained in many religious texts when evolution has absolutely falsified such a notion. But even so, that doesn't prevent one from believing in God or ignoring the science anyway.

In the article we also learn from science deniers that the new standards “seek to infuse students with a particular political view regarding climate change, sustainability, renewable energy and other environmental matters,” said Judy H., according to the organization COPE Inc., which says it promotes objectivity in education. 

That's not actually promoting objectively, since all of those scientific things mentioned above are demonstrably and objectively true.

If one's political views weren't impacted by the truth of the matter, then we'd have a generation of scientific illiterates trying to make policy changes based on nothing more than their empty headed, self-serving, ignorance. Oh, wait. We already do.

It's sometimes hard to believe that people can be this stupid, so stupid in fact that they want to remain stupid because a proper education is an insult to their stupidity.

Sadly, it looks like there is no immediate fix for this problem either, since the only way to remedy it is to educate people better, but it is this very education that they adamantly dissent from.

The confusion of the privileged religious right can be summed up in one sentence: 

"The religious right is stuck in a self-induced spiral of ignorance which has made them sink ever faster toward the narrow funnel at the bottom--the dizzying part right before they implode due to the massive force of their own crippling stupidity."
  

Advocatus Atheist

Advocatus Atheist