Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Be rational and fear not

Earlier today, John Loftus put up a post titled Do Christians Have Blinders On?, linking to a discussion on theology web of the same name. When I first glanced at the post I assumed a non-Christian had started the thread. Then I took a closer look. It was posted by a Christian--who had been recently pushed away from Young Earth Creationism and, based on that experience, concluded not having blinders can be dangerous. I read the past couple of pages in the thread and then posted my reply:
If so, I'll spend some time over the next month or so trying to read your arguments. I want to understand them. I just don't want to believe them :)[This was written in reply to something John said]
Why are you so afraid to change your mind?

I suppose this is just one possibility of many, but probably the most memorable part of John Loftus' (aka Doubting John's) book is the part where he mentions that he was unable to persue his doubts until he became convinced that Hell is anihilation, and not as terrifying as eternal torment. If fear of punishment is what's keeping you back, consider this:

If Christianity were true, would Christians have to use a system of threats and bribes in order to get people to agree that it's true? Do historians threaten eternal damnation on those who doubt that the Civl War happened? Do chemists promise eternal bliss for those who will only accept the existence of atoms? No.

You have nothing to fear.

Monday, October 30, 2006

I'm not the only one...

In this thread I got some questions from some philosophy 101 students at a Christian College. Now I see Atheist Exposed go the same questions. Interesting. I wonder if they'll let us see the results of this project.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Pure poetry

The Ebon Muse and the Tempter.

Sam Harris in the news

This time, it's just him and Newsweek, not sharing the spotlight with Dawkins. Curious bit: agnostic about what happens after death, but plans on writing a debunking of free will.

CotG 52

The 52nd edition of the Carnival of the Godless is up at Skeptic Rant.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

A letter to Skeptical Inquirer

Sent by me today:
I was surprised to see Massimo Pigliucci (in the July/August issue if SI) claiming science must exclude the supernatural in principle and calling Dawkins naive for thinking the scientific failure of supernaturalism provides some reason to doubt the supernatural. I've come to expect such sentiments out of popular harmonizers of religion and science, but not from a writer in a publication dedicated to scientifically examining the supernatural. It is easy to imagine a world in which investigators of demonic-possession cases discovered many of the victims do indeed have superhuman strength and the ability to levitate. Science has kicked out the supernatural not for any a priori reason but because supernatural explanations have repeatedly failed to stand up to scrutiny.

Of course, many religious people are careful to frame their beliefs so as to make them immune to empirical refutation. So what? Many believers in extraterrestrial visitation, a clearly naturalistic claim, do the same. When believers do this, they do not show that religion and science occupy different realms. They class themselves with the UFOlogists. There is nothing naive in realizing this.

Skeptic's heaven

Orac wrote a better intro to this one than I could have. Or you could just read the thing for yourself.

Why is this man in the White House?

Read the following quote:
Ask yourself this: why is this man in the White House? The majority of Americans did not vote for him. Why is he there?
This sounds like standard left-wing boiler plate. However, it comes from a U.S. general and Bush supporter in a standard talk made at churches:
I tell you this morning he's in the White House because God put him there for such a time as this. God put him there to lead not only this nation but to lead the world, in such a time as this.
This is the sort of mentality that could be used to justify a faction seizing power without popular mandate. The source is a Gary Wills article on the Christian right. Read the whole thing.

Hat tip: Andrew Sullivan

Friday, October 27, 2006

Dawkins defends himself

When I posted on Tuesday slamming Richard Dawkins, one commenter suggested I listen to Dawkins' explanation of his remarks in an interview with Point of Inquiry.

He explains how it was an off the cuff remark made during a speech in Dublin and, to his surprise, got thunderous applause. I suppose the citizens of a predominantly Catholic country are in some position to make a judgement. He also cites a letter from a woman who, when she was about seven years old, had to go through two things: being molested by a priest and being made to think a friend of hers who had died was in Hell, and in this woman's opinion the latter was far worse. On the other hand, he also seemed to scale back his claim a little, saying that Catholic doctrine would be more harmful in at least some casees.

The scaling back makes a considerable difference. I assume a large portion of Catholics are raised in a far less doctrinaire brand of the faith than the woman cited above was. Dawkins has a point, but he could have made it in a way that doesn't sound insensitive even to people who aren't out to get him.

Literary criticism of a Chick parody

I stumbled across a blog post analyzing a Cthulhu parody of a Jack Chick comic. Who knew satire could be so profound?

Thursday, October 26, 2006

No Virginia...

Sorry to burst your bubble, but no, there isn't a God.

Subjective religious experience has been used in support all kinds of different belief systems, from Moromonism to Wicca to Taoism to New Age beliefs. It isn't reliable. And what about people who pray and pray and pray and never receive a response?

Important point about your last post. You said: "I read this article and don't know anymore. That makes me so very sad." Why? Have you ever thought about why its so important for God to exist, or is this just something the society has hammered into you? It's something I used to believe back when I was a theist, but now I literally don't know what I was thinking. I could not have given you a rationale if I tried.
That's a comment I posted in response to this post and this post, which I stumbled across quite at random, looking for information on Richard Dawkins.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Monday, October 23, 2006

The terms of the debate

PZ Myers bashes a Wired magazine piece on Dawkins et al. I agree with much of the criticism that has been launched of religious moderation, but one thing struck me as rather off:
Dawkins is openly agreeing with the most stubborn fundamentalists that evolution must lead to atheism. I tell Dawkins what he already knows: He is making life harder for his friends.

He barely shrugs. "Well, it's a cogent point, and I have to face that. My answer is that the big war is not between evolution and creationism, but between naturalism and supernaturalism. The sensible" -- and here he pauses to indicate that sensible should be in quotes -- "the 'sensible' religious people are really on the side of the fundamentalists, because they believe in supernaturalism. That puts me on the other side."
I think Dawkins' is rather mistakenly taking emphasis off the more important issue of whether these issues are to be approached rationally or not. Given the choice of making atheism a majority position and changing the terms of the debate, I would chose the latter option. Rather than focusing on the answer to a single question, I would want people to accept that not all religions can possibly be true, that there is no reason to assume that they are all good, that "great" religions must be held to the same standards as ones with only a few adherents, and that there is nothing admirable about having beliefs out of proportion to the evidence.

The worst problem with religious moderates is not that they embrace some supernatural belief, but that the majority have encouraged people to reject the ideas listed above. Theism is not the problem; it is with good reason that atheistic foes of irrationality have seen allies in men like Voltaire, Thomas Paine, Martin Gardner and Ed Brayton. I may disagree with them on one issue, but I disagree with many atheists on other philosophical issues. Let's not get tangled up in petty squabbles and get out the basics.

Shermer v. Wells

John Loftus has alerted me to a debate between Michael Shermer and Jonathan Wells. I'm putting this on my MP3 player.

UPDATE: This isn't the sort of debate that has rebuttal rounds, so there's little interaction and you don't get to hear Shermer really critiquing the main claims Well's makes in his books.

Bobcasting, episode 19

(Cross posted at The Neural Gourmet)

This is the second half of Ingersoll's lecture on Thomas Paine. I'm nearing the end of Ingersoll's Greatest Lectures, getting to the point where a lot of it is very short stuff, so I'd happily take requests for other things.

Download "Thomas Paine," section 2
Ourmedia page

Sunday, October 22, 2006

30 Days behind the scenes

The Angry Astronomer has a write up of a talk given by Brenda Frei, the atheist who did the 30 days episode. Gives a very different angle than the one I got from just watching the show.

Mental tyranny

The Atheist Mama has taken on some guest bloggers. In a friday piece, Mom Squared provides more evidence of the harm evangelicalism does:
I used to be a christian. I was born-again, evangelical, and on fire for jesus. I liked being a christian. I felt happy and loved and I felt love for other people around me. It wasn’t a bad gig.

But you know what was hard? The doubts. The doubts were hard because they always came bundled with fear. For a time, I was afraid to open my mind to outside ideas for fear of what they might do to my faith. I was afraid that The Great Deceiver, who I had learned was intent on seeing me burn in Hell for eternity, was trying to blind me to the truth of god’s love.

Friday, October 20, 2006

On Carrier's metaphysics

This is a continuation of my series on Richard Carrier's book Sense and Goodness Without God. I want to briefly explain a problem with Carrier's definition of naturalism.

When I first read his statements on naturalism as a worldview, I had a little trouble understanding him, so when he did a show for the Rational Response Squad, I sent in a question on this subject:
Me: In your debate with Tom Wanchick, you make matter-enery a key part of your definition of naturalism. If scientists discovered some new sort of substance in the universe, how different could it be from known particles while still counting as matter energy?

Carrier: (laughts) Yeah, that's a good one. I actually discuss this a little in my book where I talk about discovering new materials would just be adding to the repertoire of materials we already have, discovering new dimensions would just add to the dimensions we already have, so those kinds of things wouldn't change naturalism, they would just change the particular form of naturalism. With regard to how weird it would have to be, it's... I personally cannot even imagine something that would not fit the definition of a substance...

[Brief discussion of gravity.]

If you found something that existed, it would have to have a location. If it didn't have volume, it would be a point particle. so how would that not count as another yet particle. If it had volume, that would be another particle too. So it would be very difficult to think of any actual material or substance that would't qualify as another type of matter or energy What I consider to be a supernatural entity is something that's purely mental, so it wouldn't be substance in actual fact. It wouldn't count as energy in the quantifiable sense that the sciences define. So something that is primarily mental, a mind that exists without a material to support it, or a mental force in the universe like the power of love, which just exists in the universe and exerts its abilities and interests throughout the universe, the Tao, sort of mentally influenes everything that happens in the universe. These things have no material or spacial or temporal substrate, in a sense. These things, if they existed, naturalism would be false.
From this and other things Carrier has said, it seems that he understands naturalism to be the view that the basic building blocks of the universe are mindless. In Sense and Goodness itself, for example, Carrier says, "by 'nature' we mean a non-sentient universe, with all its properties in behaviors."

This correlates poorly with common-sense conceptions of naturalism. For example, in Carrier's contributions to the book The Empty Tomb (pp. 196-197 and 370) he says the inference to naturalism supports the conclusion that Jesus did not rise from the dead. I agree that we have good reasons to doubt that such things as resurrections happen and good reasons to think false claims of such things are made fairly frequently. However, this has little to do with the definition of naturalism that Carrier has given in his philosophical writings, because it is possible to conceive of a being that has the power to raise a person from the dead yet is composed of mindless building blocks. This points to the view I have leaned towards for some time, that naturalism doesn't work as a tightly-defined worldview.

More should be said on this, though I will save it for when I look at Carrier's statements on philosophy of mind.

A secret White House conversation

Via Jim Lippard:
BUSH: So, what's the plan again?

CHENEY: Well, we need to invade Iraq and Afghanistan. So what we've decided to do is crash a whole bunch of remote-controlled planes into Wall Street and the Pentagon, say they're real hijacked commercial planes, and blame it on the towelheads; then we'll just blow up the buildings ourselves to make sure they actually fall down.

RUMSFELD: Right! And we'll make sure that some of the hijackers are agents of Saddam Hussein! That way we'll have no problem getting the public to buy the invasion.

CHENEY: No, Dick, we won't.

RUMSFELD: We won't?

CHENEY: No, that's too obvious. We'll make the hijackers Al Qaeda and then just imply a connection to Iraq.

RUMSFELD: But if we're just making up the whole thing, why not just put Saddam's fingerprints on the attack?

CHENEY: (sighing) It just has to be this way, Dick. Ups the ante, as it were. This way, we're not insulated if things go wrong in Iraq. Gives us incentive to get the invasion right the first time around.

BUSH: I'm a total idiot who can barely read, so I'll buy that. But I've got a question. Why do we need to crash planes into the Towers at all? Since everyone knows terrorists already tried to blow up that building complex from the ground up once, why don't we just blow it up like we plan to anyway, and blame the bombs on the terrorists?

RUMSFELD: Mr. President, you don't understand. It's much better to sneak into the buildings ourselves in the days before the attacks, plant the bombs and then make it look like it was exploding planes that brought the buildings down. That way, we involve more people in the plot, stand a much greater chance of being exposed and needlessly complicate everything!

CHENEY: Of course, just toppling the Twin Towers will never be enough. No one would give us the war mandate we need if we just blow up the Towers. Clearly, we also need to shoot a missile at a small corner of the Pentagon to create a mightily underpublicized additional symbol of international terrorism -- and then, obviously, we need to fake a plane crash in the middle of fucking nowhere in rural Pennsylvania.

RUMSFELD: Yeah, it goes without saying that the level of public outrage will not be sufficient without that crash in the middle of fucking nowhere.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Conversation on Sam Harris

There's an interesting conversation on Sam Harris and Islam going on at the secular outpost. Check it out.

Reply to BK

I've gotten a chance to read the Christian CADRE response to the challenge I threw down on Monday. I must say, it's even less impressive than Steven made it out to be when he brought it to my attention. The author, BK, makes a big to-do about no Christians today wanting to apply the Biblical laws today. This isn't quite factually accurate; there's a minority Dominionist/Theonomist theology that believes much of the Biblical law should be applied today. That, however, is beside the point. The fact that most Christians would be horrified by the thought of enacting Biblical laws today only helps my case. They know it would be morally odious to do so, so why do they think the situation was different in Old Testament times?

On two counts, killing homosexuals and killing people of other religions, the main post contains no attempt at an explanation as far as I can see. There's complaints about context and how Jesus' message was love, but no explanation of how the moral standard mysteriously changed at some point in history. It seems sufficient to note that my challenge was ignored here, but there is also a quote from Dan Barker that is appropriate to the situation: "You can cite a hundred references to show that the biblical God is a bloodthirsty tyrant, but if they can dig up two or three verses that say 'God is love,' they will claim that you are taking things out of context!"

In the case of the extermination of the Amalekites, the main justification seems to be that they did lots of evil things. How this justifies killing their children is unclear; most people recognize that it would have been wrong for the Allies to exterminate Axis civilians after WWII. I also wonder what the definition of an evil society is. This argument could just as easily be inverted to say that because the Israelites were going to try to exterminate everyone in their "promised land" (Deuteronomy 20:16-18).

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Monday, October 16, 2006

Challenge to Christian CADRE et al.

Last month I did a post on Hitler's religious beliefs. It attracted some attention of the folks at Christian CADRE. I issued a bit of a challenge to them, but they apparently left before seeing it. I expected this debate to die out for awhile, but now I see Christian CADRE has post up tying Hitler's actions to the fact that he "rejected every form of Judeo-Christian morality."

So now I repeat what I said last month: Anyone who thinks the Bible is inerrant and then uses the Holocaust to attack those who don't should be ready to explain why the Holocaust was a bad thing but the cited passages in the Bible aren't bad things. I had cited three passages: Deuteronomy 13, where the Israelites are told to kill worshipers of other gods; Leviticus 20:13, where they are told to kill homosexuals; and I Samuel 15:2-3, where they are told to exterminate the Amalekites to the last child.

I am not interested in complaints that I have taken these verses out of context. I am not interested in Clintonesque discourses over the exact definition of words like "genocide." I want to know by what moral principles evangelicals condemn Hitler but hold up the Bible as the gold standard of morality. Can a coherent rationale be given that is in any way better than simple Divine Command Theory?

Sunday, October 15, 2006

CotG 51

The 51st edition of the Carnival of the Godless is up at The Greenbelt.

Two realities

Via Deep Thoughts, two notable stories.

The personal testimony of someone who was raised in the Dominionist movement. Choice quotes:
To this day I have serious issues trusting people and have had to undergo therapy for complex PTSD (yes, kids who grow up in this stuff go through literal shellshock, in some ways worse than Gulf War or Vietnam veterans--because they never had anything "before the war" to go back to), and have socialisation issues to the point people have wondered if I didn't have Asperger's Syndrome.

You have to almost literally relearn everything about being human all over again almost from the cradle--that's something I'm still doing and probably will be playing catchup with the rest of my life, to be honest.

Dominionist groups, especially those into "spiritual warfare" (crossreference Marguerite Perrin on "Trading Spouses" for an example of this in action--I honestly wish I could say it's an extreme example, but in some dominionist groups her behaviour is sadly typical), have an entire system designed to isolate their members from "mainstream reality" and to essentially create a dominionist "group-think".
The second was about a Texas politician under attack for atheism, as well as saying that the Bible is a "collection of myths."

Observations about the second story that no one has made: first, the guy denies professing atheism, but he never denies actually being an atheist. It sounds like an actual atheist afraid to let his beliefs be known, rather sad. Also, I'm amazed that part of the charge is that he said the Bible is a "collection of myths." In spite of everything I know about fundamentalism in America, I'm unable to wrap my head around the idea that this would be more damaging than saying the Odyssey contains myths.

This all links up with things I've gotten offline. In debating Christians face to face, I have run into the problem that some don't seem to realize you can't merely assume that the Bible is historically reliable. Similarly, I've heard that some places in Texas, evangelical Christianity has such a strong hold that public school teachers can get away with teaching creationism.

All this comes together to one point: many of my fellow citizens seem to be living in an alternate reality. I now see the true problem with evangelical-secular polarization. The problem is not that both sides are extreme and extremism is bad. The problem, on our end, is that we do not know what it is like to live largely isolated from a secular viewpoint. This is a recipe for an ugly situation.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Letter to Sam Harris

[I just sent the following to Sam Harris, prompted in part by this thread at Internet Infidels.]

I write this as a fan of your work, but one who, like many readers, is troubled by your endorsement of parapsychology. The evidence simply doesn't support the claim, however.

The parapsychologists have gotten one thing right: when dealing with extraordinary claims, the ideal evidence is something repeatable, examinable by any scientist. The problem is that experiments have done extremely poor on repeatability, especially by independent investigators. Some investigators get results, others never do, the most prominent example of the latter type being Susan Blackmore.

Parapsychologists have tried to account for this discrepency by postulating that some people mysteriously inhibit the operation of psi, but there's no need for such a hypothesis. The discrepency can be accounted for by supposing that those researchers who do get results are either less honest or less skilled at weeding out experimental error.

Unfortunately, there is little question that fraud has been at work in some cases, as in the Soal scandal. On the other hand, probably a lot of false positives are the result of relatively innocent mistakes. As a college chemistry student, I know how easy it is to do something wrong, get an anomolous result, but have no idea what exactly went wrong. When this happens, I realize I made a mistake rather than postulating some mysterious alchemical forces are at work. I also realize that some of my classmates are much less prone to error than I--mirroring the pattern seen in psi research.

So drop the talk of psi--it just detracts from the credibility of your other work.

This administration isn't so dumb

Austin Cline reports that behind closed walls, members of the White House have called national Christian leaders 'ridiculous,' 'out of control,' and just plain 'goofy.'

Friday, October 13, 2006

Reading the Bible

If I ever give a speech with a large evangelical attendance, I'll cap the same way many evangelists do: tell people to read the Bible for themselves and come to their own conclusion. I've had this idea ever since I saw how big a role reading the Bible has had in many deconversions, but today I got a new reason: The Ridger has found a Bible-deconversion in the making.

Review: The Lost Gospel of Judas Iscariot

Bart Ehrman's The Lost Gospel of Judas Iscariot is a one-stop survey of every facet of the headline-making find: It's discovery, authentication, content, and significance. I wondered a little whether Ehrman would be able to keep it interesting: once you get past the initial glitter, there's a fact which Ehrman has commented on in his other works, that ancient gnosticism was pretty weird and hard for the average person to maintain a deep interest in. However, Ehrman handles it all as skillfully as I've come to expect from his previous works, such as Misquoting Jesus and Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millenium.

One thing I didn't expect was seeing Ehrman's skill at narrative. The opening chapter gives a first-person account of Ehrman's intial encounter with the Gospel of Judas when he was called in to help authenticate it. It reads like The Da Vinci Code. Particularly memorable was a passage where one of the experts was asked who could have forged a document like the one thay had. Response: four, "And two of them are in this room." If I were Ehrman's editor, after reading this, I would be pressuring him to try his hand at writing a historical novel on the early years of Christianity.

After explaining how it eventually was authenticated, Ehrman goes into a discussion of how Judas is portrayed in various documents through the middle ages, showing that a Gospel of Judas would be necessarily unique by putting Judas in a positive light. Then come an explanation of how known literature had hinted at the book's existence, and after that is a summary of how the book came, from the sands of Egypt, through the hands of scheming antiques dealers who caused heavy damage to the manuscript, up to its final destination in a place where it could be sudied by scholars. Following this is a discussion of the gospels context that places it in the context of the countless strange varieties of Christianity that existed in the ancient world--these varities of Christianity being one of Ehrman's specialties.

Perhaps the best part of the book, however, are the final three chapters (before the conclusion). These deal with the question that is the real source of interest in the Gospel of Judas: who was Judas, and why did he betray Jesus? This involves a delve into the apocalyptic nature of Jesus' ministry, a conclusion defended in part by the observation that it is necessary to make sense of Jesus' death. It also includes a skillful reading between the lines regarding how Judas betrayed Jesus, though I won't spoil that bit here.

Once again, Bart Ehrman has shown himself to be a first-rate popularizer of Biblical scholarship. If there's anything to complain about, is that some things were not covered in as much depth as they could have been, in part a result of the wide range of topics covered in the book. It's hard to argue for cutting anything, though, and other resources are available for those who want to read about this issues in greater depth. It's a good buy for anyone interested in Biblical scholarship.

Sullivan gets it

I've been waiting for something like this from Sullivan for awhile. It's comes in the form of a video clip from a CATO debate:

Question: "If you've really studied the Bible, it does not say that same sex marriage is there. At least I've never founded."
Answer: "It sure doesn't."
Q: "It does not."
A: "It says I should be executed."

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Bobcasting, Episode 17

(Cross posted at The Neural Gourmet)

This episode of Bobcasting wraps up my reading of Ingersoll's lecture Liberty of Man, Woman, and Child. Day late due to inexplicable technical difficulties that inexplicably diappeared today.

Download "Man, Woman, and Child," Liberty of Child and Conclusion
Ourmedia page

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

CotL 23

The 23rd edition of the Carnival of the Liberals is up at World Wide Webbers. It includes a worthwhile post on the Bush administration's position on habeus corups and the ever dryly satiral Jon Swift's take on the Foley scandal. On the later, I must say that since I'm considering joinging debate team, I really need to learn to BS like that.

How to handle presuppositionalists

Daniel Morgan has made available the text of a talk on presuppositionalism by his faculty advisor. I particularely like this suggested riposte:
Well, you may think I'm stupid for not understanding what you're saying. I suspect that you may not understand what you're saying either, however.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

"Justice" in Iran

I think this is a must see, unless you can't stomach violence... or mabye expecially if you can't.

Hat tip: Choose Doubt

Monday, October 09, 2006

Andrew Sullivan on Fundamentalism

Over at Andrew Sullivan's blog, there's an extended discussion going on about his TIME Magazine piece When Not Seeing is Believing. The first couple of pages provide an insightful critique of fundamentalism that would run nicely in the pages of Free Inquiry: "In today's unnerving, globalizing, sometimes terrifying world, such religious certainty is a balm more in demand than ever..." The observation of the importance of certainty to fundamentalism gels with my own observations, and Sullivan sees some problems clearly.

FI's editors would be less enthsiastic about running Sullivan's pitch of his brand of religiosity, which he actually tries to ground in considerable uncertainty. One, Sullivan argues that God must be inherently mysterious. Granted, an omniscient God would know a lot of things we don't, but he would also be capable of revealing some of what he know to us, and that revelation, by virtue of coming from a perfect God, would be infallible. It is difficult to see a clear reason for God not to do this. On this point, the fundamentalist logic is impeccable.

A somewhat more interesting argument is that true religious faith requires uncertainty. This is interesting because he is arguing against fundamentalism using an assumption which I have argued is indespensible:
the idea that belief beyond evidence is admirable. Fundamentalists couple it to staunch certainty, Sullivan says it requires uncertainty.

One problem is that Sullivan doesn't see how this principle fuels an insane certainty: any defects in the evidence can be explained by saying that God is testing us, that he wants to give us the chance to chose to believe. This allows fundamentalists to turn every doubt into evidence for their worldview, which ends up beyond criticism.

Second, Sullivan really only differs from the fundamentalists in matter of degree. Enlightenment thinkers said the wise man proportions his belief to the evidence, fundamentalists have the righteous man with beliefs frequently way out of proportion to evidence, Sullivan advocates beliefs only a little out of touch with the evidence. In doing so, he encourages the mental climate in which fundamentalism prospers.

There is a related post which merits coment. In the TIME piece, Sullivan throws in a remark about the secular-fundamentalist death spiral, which a reader asked him to explain:
I'm talking about the polarization in America between religious fundamentalists who proclaim their inerrancy and certainty as the only legitimate form of religion and the secular atheists who agree with them. There's no question in my mind that America is suffering from a dialogue in which excessive fundamentalism spawns an understandable but misguided anti-religious sensibility that borders on contempt for all people of faith.
Perhaps some secularists have gone overboard attacking religious liberals, but we have to get out of the mistake opposite to what Sullivan condemns: the idea that fundamentalists have "hijacked" religions. The truth, as Sullivan seems to aknowledge, is the holy books themselves. If they were flawless, inerrancy would be wonderful. It is one thing to admit a person can count as religious without accepting a given text as inerrant. However, the complacency of religious moderates needs to be corrected. Sullivan has been better than many here, but still at times seems slow on the uptake.

UPDATE: Check this

Moore v. Phelps

Vile Blasphemer has the goods.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Irony is dead! And we have killed it!

Ban on "Farenheit 451 sought."

Girls of Riyadh drive my sitemeter crazy

When I first saw this, I thought Instapundit had linked to me or something. But when I checked my referal log, I realized it was mainly a matter of Google searches for the novel "Girls of Riyadh." A Technorati search fails to reveal why this would suddenly be a big search item. Thoughts?

Wednesday, October 04, 2006


I've got midterms coming up the next few days, so I'll be taking a short blog break until Monday or Tuesday. I've got a number of pieces coming down the pipe, however, including a response to this piece by Andrew Sullivan.

Bobcasting, episode 16

Welcome to another episode of Bobcasting, where I read from the works of Robert G. Ingersoll. This edition continues my reading of Liberty of Man, Woman, and Child. This is a bit of an unusual passage, as you get to hear Ingersoll's thoughts on love.

Download "Liberty of Man, Woman, and Child" (Liberty of Woman)
Ourmedia oage

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

The logic of tyranny

Laying in bed last night, I finally realized the worst case scenario with the Military Commissions Act: criticism of the government will be seen as as aiding the enemy, and thus qualifying for combatant status. I saw such logic used in print in the first couple of years after September 11th. For such logic to gain currency again, we'd probably need either another terrorist attack or the Iranians doing something stupid, but if either of those two things happen, I will seriously consider moving to Canada.

Monday, October 02, 2006

I'll need time to digest this

Today, I stumbled upon a post at Thoughts from Kansas with two important links:

First, a post at Balkinization on what the military detainee bill does to U.S. citizens. I was aware that it involved an unfortunate compromise on torture; I was not aware that it increased the government's ability to detain U.S. citizens. This is disturbing.

Second, Coturnix has a roundup under the title we are now officially living in a dictatorship. I have not had the time to read through every post he links, but one paragraph sears into my mind:
Many of my friends and neighbors have not experienced, like I did in Yugoslavia of the late 1980s and early 1990s, the gradual transformation from a nice, sweet, proseprous, freedom-loving country into a bunch of thugs duking it out over land and religion. Tito was dead for ten years. Prime Minister was Ante Markovic. Thousands of small businesses were starting up every week. Small people were getting rich. There was ebullience in the air.

Then, in a manner eerily reminiscent of BuchCo, thugs like Milosevic, Tudjman and Izetbegovic hijacked the government and started a civil war, ending with a break up of one big strong country into six small, economically weak and dependent units.
Awhile ago I remember seeing something about a historian who witnessed the rise of the Nazis seeing parallels between America today. I'm truly frightened.

UPDATE: I'll be voting solidly democratic for some time to come. I know, McCain has writeen a WSJ piece arguing arguing it isn't so bad, but he should no better than to trust Bush--hell, to trust a politician, to not abuse vague language.

NIE: Iraq a fiasco

Well, so they weren't quite that blunt, but a recent National Intelligence Estimate concludes Iraq has made terrorism worse. Economist headline: "Stating the obvious."

Here's Bush's response:
"Here we are, coming down the stretch in an election campaign, and it's on the front page of your newspapers," fumed George Bush at a press conference. "Isn't that interesting?"
A damning bit of data comes out, and rather than refute it, Bush attacks the motives of those who made it publically available. Isn't that interesting?

Still being explored

Jason Rosenhouse lays does a smackdown on a recent Discovery Institute blog post. He misses one thing:
I keep getting asked about the scientific research projects underway that relate to Darwinism and intelligent design. So why aren't we talking more about them publicly? For several good reasons:

The most important is that the Darwinist establishment would like nothing better than to out research programs before they are finished. The idea is to shut down damaging evidence as early as possible. Strangle the infant in the crib. Demand answers now to questions still being explored.
Hello? You guys tried to force your ideas into public schools over a year ago, and now you admit that they're still in development? What?

... *stares in disbelief* ...

Guys, all we're doing is "demanding answers" for things you insist are well-established.

Campus gay marriage debate

Yesterday, I saw fliers up indicating that a debate on gay marriage would be happening on campus tomorrow. How I can't find the fliers. However, on the assumption that I can figure out the when and where, I will be going to it tomorrow and writing a report.

CotG 50

The 50th edition of the Carnival of the Godless is up at Salto Sobrius. Among the highlights are posts from Advice Godess, The Atheist Ethicist and Good Math, Bad Math.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Bobcasting, episode 15

(Cross posted at The Neural Gourmet)

Here's bringing you the latest episode of Bobcasting, the podcast where I read from the works of Robert G. Ingersoll. Today's selection is the first part of "The Liberty of Man, Woman, and Child." It includes, among other things, speculations about what would have happened if humans had resisted technologial advance as staunchly as we resisted changes in religious thought.

Download "Man, Woman and Child"
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Freethought day at Disney

Via the IIDB, I learn that Disney is having a freethought day. I comment:
Ah... yet another reason for the Southern Baptists to boycot Disney.