Monday, August 29, 2011

Belief not Indicative of Truth

"The president of the United States has claimed, on more than one occasion, to be in dialogue with God. If he said that he was talking to God through his hairdryer, this would precipitate a national emergency. I fail to see how the addition of a hairdryer makes the claim more ridiculous or offensive."  — Sam Harris (On George W. Bush, Letter to a Christian Nation)

One thing that aggravates me, and which I hear a lot from religious people, is that I shouldn't criticize other people's beliefs. 

What they are really stating is I shouldn't criticize their beliefs. Or more specifically, I should just let them have their beliefs just because, and calling their beliefs delusional or stupid (i.e., challenging their beliefs) won't change the fact that they believe in whatever it is they believe.

Consider a recent comment I received from my dear Christian mother who posted it on my Facebook under public (as such it went out to all my family and friends and anyone who can read my Facebook, not that I mind, but notice the distinct message here):

"Quit being such poop head... Let people have their beliefs. They let you have yours. And yours are no stupider than theirs." 

Needless to say, because you believe something doesn't make that belief true. Nor does it make the thing you profess a belief in necessarily true. In fact, philosophy, psychology, and science have shown us that our beliefs are more often than not mistaken. 

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Cosmology News: Black hole & Diamond Planet

There has been some interesting cosmology news recently.

A Japanese team of the Kiboo experimental module on the ISS and SWIFT captured the first photographs of a massive black hole swallowing a star in the Draco constellation. You can read the full article over at SpaceRef. 

Meanwhile, there is news of a diamond planet bigger than Earth orbiting a pulsar within our own galaxy (via The Daily Galaxy). 

In the words of Mr. Spock, "Fascinating."

Thursday, August 25, 2011

How to Make a Christian Cry

A Christian friend of mine once asked me, and I'm paraphrasing, "As an atheist, what is the most knock down drag out argument against God you can think of?"

I initially answered, "Theological noncognitivism."

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Billboard Wars = Hilarity

This one is just too funny, so I had to blog about it. It appears that McElroy Road Church of Christ, in Ohio, was fed up with all the atheist billboard campaigns being put up, and they decided to combat the "godless" messages with one of their own. Wait... what?

No kidding, this is what the sign actually says.

Now if your religious, you might not find the bald faced irony which is on display here, but apparently a lot of people did, because the Mid Ohio Atheist group had to make a statement that they were not responsible for the advertisement in any way. According to their official comment: 

While we certainly do agree with the sentiment expressed on the billboard- that there is no god, and that people should not believe everything they hear, we want to clarify that this is not our billboard.  It was not paid for by us in part or in the whole.  Nether were we involved in the design of the billboard.

Being the good sports they are, the Mid Ohio Atheists didn't forget to thank the McElroy Road Church of Christ for expressing their sentiments exactly.

Still, I find it hilarious that a Church would spend so much time and money, go through so much planning, to basically shoot themselves in the foot. I guess it just goes to show that many religious groups still don't actually know what it is atheists are arguing for.

Which I find both sad and funny. Sad for them, but funny for us atheists. 

But none-the-less, most atheists agree, if you want to be a good critical thinker, it is wise advice, "Don't believe everything you hear." 

It's the same as saying, question everything, and that's the heart of skepticism. 

At the same time, atheists fully agree that "There is no God." 

Which, when you think about it, it basically the same as stating God does not exist.

Great Christian advertising. I hope it stays up!

Friday, August 19, 2011

Is Atheism a Belief System?

I usually say that Atheism is not belief system. That is, there is no positive claim within atheism which could lend to any particular system of belief. However, atheists need to be careful, especially those who say atheism is not a *belief (singular). In the past I too made the mistake of claiming atheism is not a "belief" in an of itself, but I have come to see that this reasoning is wrong. Atheism is, in fact, the belief that there are no gods.

Before you jump down my throat and try to explain Strong (Positive) atheism and Weak (Negative) atheism to me, let me inform you that I am not arguing about the definition of atheism, but rather, testing whether or not it fits the definition of what a Formal belief is. 

If we find that atheism does fit the definition of a Formal belief, then we must be willing to admit that it has the properties of a belief. As such, it is important to make the distinction based on what analytic philosophers have defined as a Formal belief.

From the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

Most contemporary philosophers characterize belief as a “propositional attitude”. Propositions are generally taken to be whatever it is that sentences express (see the entry on propositions). For example, if two sentences mean the same thing (e.g., “snow is white” in English, “Schneeist weiss” in German), they express the same proposition, and if two sentences differ in meaning, they express different propositions. (Here we are setting aside some complications about that might arise in connection with indexicals; see the entry on indexicals.)

A propositional attitude, then, is the mental state of having some attitude, stance, take, or opinion about a proposition or about the potential state of affairs in which that proposition is true—a mental state of the sort canonically expressible in the form “S A that P”, where S picks out the individual possessing the mental state, A picks out the attitude, and P is a sentence expressing a proposition.

As such, Atheism appears to be a belief in the non-existence of God, the rejection of theism, and the proposition that God does not exist.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Missouri: Newspeak Central!

Usually I avoid talking politics like the plague, but I am afraid I was so outraged by a recent law passed in the State of Missouri, that I have no choice but to voice my disdain and protest.

Last month, Missouri officials signed into law SB54, which makes it illegal for teachers to be "friends" with students on any social networking site that allows for private communication 
(cf. section 162.069).

That means teachers and students (including past students according to the law) can't be friends on Facebook or can't follow each other on Twitter for example. SB54
 is intended to crack down on sexual predators and stalkers--which would be fine if that's all the bill did--but the bill oversteps its boundaries and trespasses on the very rights of the students and teachers it seeks to protect.

I object to SB54 for the following reasons:

1. It suggests (implicitly) all teachers are sexual predators, pedophiles, and child rapists who will manipulate and abuse children (if not then what's the purpose of section 162.069
? Maybe removing that section would be a good way to improve the bill).  

Needless to say, SB54 in Missouri deliberately tears down the reputation of teachers by implying they can't be trusted. As it is, the bill is not only absurd, but also offensive. Wildly offensive. It sends the wrong message to children, namely that teachers should be looked at with suspicion and feared, instead of trusted and respected.

2. It prevents teachers from doing their job. The very definition of being a teacher is to impart knowledge and skill and to give instruction. Communication is built into the very definition of what it means to be a teacher. How can you teach if you can't communicate and impart knowledge and skill or give instruction?

This law is implicitly stating that a teacher's duty to their students only lies inside of the classroom. Outside of the classroom the teacher has zero responsibility, and should view their students as potential lawsuits waiting to happen, because, after all, all teachers are child molesting pedophiles (apparently). Again, to assume that a teacher can only instruct at the public level--in public institutions--and no personal tutoring can be had because of this law against communication, I don't really see how private schools and home schooled children are to follow this law. If your parent is also your teacher, would it be illegal for a mother or father to even talk to their child in a personal setting that is not class related? Unless a clearer distinction is made, this Missouri law says it is.

3. It prevents students from contacting teachers, even when they may be in need of serious help. Many students don't have the phone numbers or personal addresses of teachers, but using the powerful tool of communication called the World Wide Web, they might be able to contact the teacher they trust online to ask for help in an emergency. This law prevents them from getting that help (should such a situation arise).

4. It tramples the First Amendment Law stating freedom of speech shall not be impeded by the government. The moment the Government dictate who you can and cannot communicate with, you have lost your First Amendment rights.

In Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District (1969), the Supreme Court extended broad First Amendment protection to children attending public schools, prohibiting censorship unless there is "substantial interference with school discipline or the rights of others." 

Since SB54 seeks to censor what students can and cannot say with regard to how they communicate with their instructors, good or bad, even as the Supreme Court upheld the right of First Amendment protection to children attending public schools. So there is standing legal precedent to repeal SB54 as Unconstitutional.

Moreover, SB54 is in breach of Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
, which among many things, informs, "Freedom of speech is the freedom to speak freely without censorship."

It seems to me you can't "speak freely" if you're not allowed to communicate at all, regardless of the medium of venue.

5. Other than being absurd, offensive, derogatory, sensationalist, most probably illegal, this law also happens to be stupendously stupid. Not only for the reasons listed above, but also because it is anti-technology, anti-progress, anti-information, and anti-Internet. If there is on lesson history has shown, you don't attack progress by making it illegal to utilize new tools, methods, and forms of communication. Whoever thought this law was a good idea, clearly wasn't thinking.

As one friend of mine on Facebook clearly communicated to  


This stuff [social networking/communication] should be done more publicly and more transparently, anyway, where it can be verified by third parties that inappropriate things aren't going on - and not forced back into the old, secretive, much easier to hide phones, letters, and face-to-face messages. 

I agree. The objection is this, if there is a real sexual threat, then forcing the sexual predator to utilize more secretive methods of coercion is the opposite thing we would want to happen. Instead, this bill practically ensures it! 

Another reader commented:

I'd be more worried [that] a teacher would corner a kid at school (which is harder to prove) than harass a kid on FB (which is easy to prove by the paper trail).

Not only does this law have a good chance of being repealed, it is my strong opinion that it ought to be, or at the very least, amended to take out section 162.069.

Remember that fairness, justice, and freedom are more than words, they are perspectives.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Atheist Heroes Part 2

Colonel Robert G. Ingersoll, a Civil War veteran, and Free Thought advocate, was often refereed to as the Great Agnostic, and is one of my favorite thinkers. Like Thomas Paine and Thomas Jefferson (two other men I admire greatly), Ingersoll made it a point to sponsor the enlightenment values of critical thinking, rationality, and the freedom of speech and free inquiry.

Ingersoll was an orator, a speaker, a political leader, and a man of words. Many of his speeches involved a devastatingly eloquent attack on religion, and most of what he said still rings true today. If you ever read Ingersoll, be sure to review his "Lecture on gods" as it is one of the best criticisms of the god concept you'll find past or present. 

In fact, my favorite Ingersoll quote comes from this lecture, in which he states:

"Give me the storm and tempest of thought and action, rather than the dead calm of ignorance and faith. Banish me from Eden when you will; but first let me eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge!"

Among Ingersoll's keen observations are the often insightful anthropological and cultural observations he makes, such as:

"Man has not only created all these gods, but he had created them out of the materials by which he has been surrounded. Generally he has modeled them after himself, and have given them hands, heads, feet, eyes, ears, and organs of speech. Each nation made its gods and devils speak its language not only, but put in their mouths the same mistakes in history, geography, astronomy, and in all matters of fact, generally made by the people.... No god was ever in advance of the nation that created him."

Unbelievers, who in Ingersoll's day often faced the threat of being ostracized from their communities, most all of which were religious, also defended rationalism and gave sound advice to his fellow secular nonbelievers, informing:

"We are asked to stifle every noble sentiment of the soul, and to trample under foot all the sweet charities of the heart. Because we refuse to stulify ourselves--refuse to become liars--we are denounced, hated, traduced and ostracized here, and this same god threatens to torment us in eternal fire the moment death allows him to fiercely clutch our naked helpless souls. Let the people hate, let the god threaten--we will educate them, and we will despise and defy him."

Indeed, it is my opinion that Robert G. Ingersol is one of the few truly inspirational atheist speakers. In fact, Ingersoll's contribution to modern secularists and nonbelievers cannot be overlooked. Ingersoll is cited as having discredited blasphemy laws in the United States, making it difficult for such charges to ever be brought up against those who would criticize god or religion.

Ingersoll was close friends to the great American poet Walt Whitman. Whitman said of Ingersoll, "It should not be surprising that I am drawn to Ingersoll, for he is Leaves of Grass... He lives, embodies, the individuality, I preach. I see in Bob [Ingersoll] the noblest specimen—American-flavored—pure out of the soil, spreading, giving, demanding light."

Upon Whitman's death, Ingersoll gave the eulogy at the poet's funeral. 

I have selected Robert G. Ingersoll as my second atheist hero because he embodies all the things I wish I could be--a better writer, a more eloquent speaker, a good critical thinker, a defender of strong family values, a fighter of human rights and liberties, and a man who sticks to his ideals but isn't afraid of changing his mind when the evidence is convincing. 

If you want to read the works of Robert G. Ingersoll for free, follow the links below. 

The gods and other lectures (1876)

The Great Speeches of Colonel Ingersoll

The works of Robert G. Ingersoll

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Sam Harris Answers Questions

The Blog : Ask Sam Harris Anything #2 : Sam Harris

To jump to an individual question, click on the links below:

1. Eternity and the meaning of life 0:42
2. Do we have free will? 4:43
3. How can we convince religious people to abandon their beliefs? 14:52
4. How can atheists live among the faithful? 19:09
5. How should we talk to children about death? 21:52
6. Does human life have intrinsic value? 26:01
7. Why should we be confident in the authority of science? 30:36
8. How can one criticize Islam after the terrorism in Norway? 35:43
9. Should atheists join with Christians against Islam? 41:50
10. What does it mean to speak about the human mind objectively? 45:17
11. How can spiritual claims be scientifically justified? 50:14
12. Why can't religion remain a private matter? 54:52
13. What do you like to speak about at public events? 58:09

Sam Harris, author of the New York Times bestsellers, The End of Faith, Letter to a Christian Nation, and The Moral Landscape, answers questions submitted by readers. 

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Secular Words of Wisdom

Secular Words of Wisdom:

"Fill your mind with compassion." --The Buddha

"A man's ethical behavior should be based effectually on sympathy, education, and social ties; no religious basis is necessary." --Albert Einstein

"The snake which cannot cast its skin has to die. As well the minds which are prevented from changing their opinions; they cease to be mind." --Friedrich Nietzsche

"Atheists are often charged with blasphemy, but it is a crime they cannot commit... When the Atheist examines, denounces, or satirises the gods, he is not dealing with persons but with ideas. He is incapable of insulting God, for he does not admit the existence of any such being.... We attack not a person but a belief, not a binge but an idea, not a fact but a fancy." --G.W. Foote

"Live a good life. If there are gods and they are just, then they will not care how devout you have been, but will welcome you based on the virtues you have lived by. If there are gods, but unjust, then you should not want to worship them. If there are no gods, then you will be gone, but will have lived a noble life that will live on in the memories of your loved ones." --Marcus Aurelius (attributed)

"Give me the storm and tempest of thought and action, rather than the dead calm of ignorance and faith. Banish me from Eden when you will; but first let me eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge." --Robert G. Ingersoll

"Religion can never reform mankind because religion is slavery." --Robert G. Ingersoll

"The glory of science is, that it is freeing the soul, breaking the mental manacles, getting the brain out of bondage, giving courage to thought, filling the world with mercy, justice, and joy." --Robert G. Ingersoll

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Atheist Heroes Part 1

As some of you know, some atheists find the idea of esteeming other atheists something detestable, because for them it is equal to veneration--and idol worship. Perhaps these sorts of atheists are either insecure, or else, still fearful of making the same mistakes as religion, I don't know. But personally, I think there is nothing wrong with atheists esteeming other atheists--and even having atheist heroes.

Richard Dawkins has described atheists as stray cats, we all tend to go our own way, and agreement among atheists is usually because of shared interests, not shared dogmas. Yet atheists are by and large still human, and thus social animals, and one of the things we as a species cannot avoid doing is interact with each other. 

Needless to say, there will always be people we run into who move us and have influence over us, who inspire us, and who we admire, and at the same time, there will be those we will detest. 

Even so, I don't believe that having role models, or admiring certain figures (living or dead), is a danger to atheism. In fact, I think having personal heroes is even necessary for our sanity--it is where we can hang hope on aspirations of something (or someone) better than ourselves.

As such, I figures I would start a series of posts on my favorite atheist heroes, both real and fictional.

My first pick is Hugh Laurie and his character Dr. Gregory House, and the writers and producers of the hit Fox medical drama House, M.D.

Some might find it odd that I select a fictional character from a television series as my first Atheist Hero, but there is a good reason for this. Television usually shies away from serious atheist characters because the major networks don't want to offend any religious viewers, since the majority of the television viewers are devoutly religious. It's just a statistical issue--there are more religious people in American than nonbelievers, and networks don't want to risk disenfranchising the majority of their viewership over controversial issues, such as characters or stories attacking religion, because that would be bad for their ratings/shows. 

None-the-less, there are a handful of extremely likable atheist figures in television worth mentioning.

House is a character which deeply fascinates me. He may be low on human empathy, but high on human moral values, rationality, and humor. I can't think of any other television or literary character that has been as bold in his atheism yet remained so virtuous. 

Of course, House isn't the only kid on the block, as there are other such atheistic characters in television that I admire, including: Bender from Futurama, James T. Kirk from Star Trek, Perry Cox from Scrubs, Sheldon Cooper from the The Big Bang Theory, and not to forget Brian from The Family Guy. The list goes on. 

I pick Gregory House as my first Atheist Hero because he is one of the only atheist role models on television that also happens to be a heroic figure. Sure the character has his flaws, such as being a drug addict, but it's his passion to save people, no matter the cost, which lingers in ones mind. Even when he denies wanting to heal the patients and just solve the medical puzzle, he ends up bonding and getting emotionally attached with many of his patients--and he beats himself up horribly when he fails. If he only cared about solving puzzles, he wouldn't agonize over every loss.

In this visual information age, where everyone has a smart phone, Internet access twenty-four seven, it's sometimes refreshing to know that the good old boob-tube still can offer stories and characters which can move us, motivate us to be better, and give us something worth believing in--that isn't God. 

I hadn't seen an episode of House until just this past month, in which I became addicted, and burned through all seven seasons in just over a month. I was staying up until 2 AM and going to work sleep deprived, but it was worth it. 

I could talk about the show House, M.D. endlessly, but it would be better if you just watch it for your self. It's Sherlock Holmes meets 21st century medicine, with an engaging cast, and even more engaging characters and plots. In my opinion, there are few shows which ever reach the level of quality writing and performances you'll find in House. Be sure to check it out if you haven't already.

So who, or what, is your favorite television atheist?

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

What Atheism is Not

Atheism is not a thing. It is not a religion, a theory, a belief, a doctrine, a political colour, a science or anything other than a rejection of claims made by people about the existence of SPECIFIC supernatural beings, IE theistic gods as described by holy texts. It has no rituals or dogmas, no authorities, no traditions, no edicts from elders, no heros, no gurus, no handbooks or texts. It makes no claims to ethics or morality, it encourages no kinds of behaviour (it is often a consequence of lucid thinking and skepticism but makes no demands on either).

Being an atheist does not encumber one with any obligations regarding sexual preference, voting patterns, eating habits, work and rest periods, clothing requirements, obedience, worship, fasting, shaving, beard-growing, reading, or ANYTHING ELSE. Atheists don't have to wear silly hats. It is not the claim that any god doesn't exist, or any other claim; it is a rejection of the claim that that god DOES exist.

Atheism accepts no burden of proof as it makes no claims or assertions about anything. It simply is the blank, unimpressed expression in the face of delusional, psychotic, religious fervor.

Being an atheist is simply saying, "I have no reason to believe your claim as it is not backed up by evidence." To be an atheist is to require an adult-like standard of evidence before accepting extraordinary claims.

Theistic gods are those gods about whom specific certain claims to knowledge are made; typically through ancient holy texts. Theism is belief in such theistic god/s. Atheism is the absence of such belief.

That's it. Nothing more to it. God mocking, anti-theism, rationalism, secularism, acceptance of the theory of evolution by natural selection etc are completely separate entities.

I'm so tired of seeing people and modern dictionaries (sometimes ignorantly, often dishonestly) misrepresent what atheism is; it enables the setting up of all manner or straw-men arguments to discredit a simple but healthy skepticism of the ridiculous.Please point this out whenever atheism is straw-manned as anything other than what it is.

[Used with Permission]
If you agree with what I have written please share it, tag yourself, like it etc. We need to get this out there. The charlatans are having a field day confusing people about the evils of atheism. --Gary Clemans-Gibbon

Monday, August 1, 2011

Barlin’s Atheism Part 2

Many Christians have, over the course of their ministry, made it a point to bring up the fact that they were once atheists—but have now since found Jesus. Yet if you look into their life as a so-called atheist, you will often find that it was, more or less, liberal Christianity. Granted, even liberal Christianity seems pretty atheistic in dense pockets of Evangelical and Fundamentalist belief, but even the famed C.S. Lewis wasn’t a true blood atheist. He grew up in the Church of England, had a brief stint in college where he questioned his beliefs, and in this period of his life, for his own reasons, he didn’t feel he believed perhaps as much as a devoted parishioner should, and on this ground declared himself an atheist.

This is what I consider to be a type of pseudo-atheism. It is when the believer is critical minded enough to recognize their own doubts, but it isn’t skeptical enough to actually renounce their spiritual beliefs altogether. Even C.S. Lewis held on to his Christianity through his brief flirtation with “atheism,” although I hesitate to use that term for him. For Lewis, and many like him, it wasn’t really nonbelief so much as unbelief they grappled with—and there is an important distinction. Nonbelief is to atheism as unbelief is to agnosticism. Having studied C.S. Lewis thoroughly, I would not call his form of atheism the type of atheist I view myself as. Rather, Lewis was, by my account, a strong agnostic who questioned his beliefs—a healthy thing for anyone to do.

After a short time questioning the existence of God, C.S. Lewis found logical ways to justify the lingering Christian beliefs which he clung to, and filled with the righteousness of a deeply spiritual man, C.S. Lewis had a revival as one of Christianities greatest apologists. 

Indeed, C.S. Lewis often had a way of simplifying complex theological and philosophical questions in such a way, as was his fashion, to make the layman positively delight in the simplicity of the choices (but I would caution Lewis, a trained reductionist (as are all men of literature), was often guilty of oversimplifying). C.S. Lewis once affirmed that “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”

I would be remiss, however, if I did not correct Lewis’s assumption, for it is mistaken. When he claims that the most probable explanation is that of another world, I call fallacy. Can we honestly assume Lewis experienced all the desires, and all the corresponding experiences therein, that this world has to offer? Because this is what Lewis is tacitly admitting, that he has experienced everything there is worth experiencing in order to quench the thirst for some unexplainable thing. Although, it is a little dishonest of Lewis, as learned as he was, to suggest he experienced all the desires and experiences worth experiencing. But before he could begin on a proper journey searching for the answers, he quickly settled back into the Christianity of his youth. Lewis was of the same mind as the Christian poet and theologian Thomas Traherne, who affirmed, “There are invisible ways of conveyance by which some great thing doth touch our souls, and by which we tend to it. Do you not feel yourself drawn by the expectation and desire of some Great Thing?”

Christians all ultimately profess they feel being drawn by the expectation and desire of some Great Thing. For them, they call this thing God, or a “personal” relationship with God. For as Trahern also informs, “Being made alone, O my soul, thou wouldst be in thy body like God in the World, an invisible mystery, too great to be comprehended by all creatures.”

There you have it—God is both to great to be comprehended and invisible. The difference of opinion here should be obvious—Christians believe this means God is Transcendent—whereas atheist interpret this as nonexistent. The question is, what would it take to convince a skeptic that something which is both impossible to comprehend and invisible to our senses actually exists? And the answer is: evidence—real tested and proved—and tested again—evidence. Without any empirical evidence, all theists have is an incomprehensible invisible nothing which they call God. Can you blame atheists for not believing in such a thing?

Advocatus Atheist

Advocatus Atheist