Recent Articles

What is Atheism?

| July 30, 2014 | 6 Replies

New video on Atheist TV feature video statements of prominent atheists, including an address given by Madalyn Murray O’Hair, the founder of American Atheists at the group’s 1990 convention. The clips start at about 5:30 min. These were radical statements in the United States in 1990. They are much more commonplace today, though they still aggravate many believers.

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Senator Sheldon Whitehouse sets the record straight on climate change

| July 30, 2014 | Reply

I couldn’t agree more with what Senator Sheldon Whitehouse had to say on climate change. Here’s an excerpt:

Let me tell you some of the government agencies who are so-called colluding together. How about NASA? We trust them to send our astronauts into space. We trust them to deliver a rover the size of an S.U.V. to the surface of Mars safely and drive it around, sending data and pictures back from Mars to us. You think these people know what they’re talking about? … How about the United States Navy? The commander in chief of our Pacific Command? Is he colluding when he says that? …

If you want to ignore the federal government, if you live in a world in which you think the federal government colludes with itself to make up things that aren’t true, okay. But look at the property casualty insurance and reinsurance industry. They’re the people with the biggest bet on this. They have billions of dollars riding on getting it right, and they say climate change is real, carbon pollution is causing it, we’ve got to do something about it. So does the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, because they care about the poor and the effect this will have on the people who have the least. So does every major U.S. scientific society. Every single one.

Now the extraordinary part. Here is the proposed resolution:

Resolved, That it is the sense of the Senate that global climate change is occurring and will continue to pose ongoing risks and challenges to the people and the Government of the United States.

Here is the full resolution. 

Despite Whitehouse’s argument, however, the resolution — which required unanimous consent — failed with Inhofe’s objection. So as demonstrated by that non-action, the Senate has no official position on whether climate change is real or not, much less whether it poses a threat to American citizens.

Here is the entire proposed resolution, which failed:

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Chris Hedges v. Sam Harris on Israel

| July 30, 2014 | 1 Reply

Everyone agrees on one thing. The situation in Israel is horrific. Something should be done. We disagree on the proper frame for understanding the situation and what needs to be done. The debate is an endless shifting of frames, much like the debate on abortion. The logic of the debates comes after it is too late for logic, because it is the underlying assumptions that determine one’s position. I offer two contrasting positions.

Chris Hedges has recently written of the need to implode the myth of Israel:

Reality shatters the fiction of a peace process. Reality lays bare the fact that Israel routinely has used deadly force against unarmed civilians, including children, to steal half the land on the West Bank and crowd forcibly displaced Palestinians into squalid, militarized ghettos while turning their land and homes over to Jewish settlers. Reality exposes the new racial laws adopted by Israel as those once advocated by the fanatic racist Meir Kahane. Reality unveils the Saharonim detention camp in the Negev Desert, the largest detention center in the world. Reality mocks the lie of open, democratic debate, including in the country’s parliament, the Knesset, where racist diatribes and physical threats, often enshrined into law, are used to silence and criminalize the few who attempt to promote a civil society. Liberal Jewish critics inside and outside Israel, however, desperately need the myth, not only to fetishize Israel but also to fetishize themselves. Strike at the myth and you unleash a savage vitriol, which in its fury exposes the self-adulation and latent racism that lie at the core of modern Zionism.

In contrast, Sam Harris has recently discussed the need and right of Israel to defend itself:

Needless to say, in defending its territory as a Jewish state, the Israeli government and Israelis themselves have had to do terrible things. They have, as they are now, fought wars against the Palestinians that have caused massive losses of innocent life. More civilians have been killed in Gaza in the last few weeks than militants. That’s not a surprise because Gaza is one of the most densely populated places on Earth. Occupying it, fighting wars in it, is guaranteed to get woman and children and other noncombatants killed. And there’s probably little question over the course of fighting multiple wars that the Israelis have done things that amount to war crimes. They have been brutalized by this process—that is, made brutal by it. But that is largely the due to the character of their enemies. [Note: I was not giving Israel a pass to commit war crimes. I was making a point about the realities of living under the continuous threat of terrorism and of fighting multiple wars in a confined space.]

Whatever terrible things the Israelis have done, it is also true to say that they have used more restraint in their fighting against the Palestinians than we—the Americans, or Western Europeans—have used in any of our wars. They have endured more worldwide public scrutiny than any other society has ever had to while defending itself against aggressors. The Israelis simply are held to a different standard. And the condemnation leveled at them by the rest of the world is completely out of proportion to what they have actually done. [Note: I was not saying that because they are more careful than we have been at our most careless, the Israelis are above criticism. War crimes are war crimes.]

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Time to discard the Myers-Briggs test

Time to discard the Myers-Briggs test

| July 27, 2014 | Reply

This article at VOX points out numerous problems with the test. Erika Price, a friend of mine who has a Ph.D in psychology (and who has written articles for this website), summed up the criticisms as follows:

-Myers-Briggs is based on an old, fringe, untested hypothesis
-The categories do not naturally occur in any sample data
-The test itself was formulated by people with no psychometric training or experience
– It divides people into categories when really every trait is a spectrum
– People are divided into binary categories even though most people are near the middle of the spectrum.
-Individuals do not consistently get the same type. (i.e. it is unreliable)
– It does not predict behavior
-It is not used in mainstream psychological research

The article itself concludes:

It’s 2014. Thousands of professional psychologists have evaluated the century-old Myers-Briggs, found it to be inaccurate and arbitrary, and devised better systems for evaluating personality. Let’s stop using this outdated measure — which has about as much scientific validity as your astrological sign — and move on to something else.

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Bill Maher on Religion – Collection

| July 26, 2014 | 14 Replies

I just ran across this collection of Bill Maher stand-up routines on religion. I agree with most of his observations–cleverly presented. I found myself wondering what would go through the mind of a committed conservative Christian viewing this–I assume he or she would have an response to every particular jab, but I’m wondering whether any of this would get through and cause some need to rethink things, especially after a full hour of this. I know a least a couple Christians who write off Maher by simply stating he is “snarky” or “arrogant.” That cheap ad hominem serves to kick the can down the road, and avoids the need to consider his arguments which, though they are dressed up in comedy, are serious challenges for Christians to rethink their religion from the ground up.

Then again, people don’t adopt a religion through intellectual evaluation. They don’t shop for religions like they shop for cars, critically and skeptically examining the claims. It’s not surprising, then, that they don’t re-examine religion based on intellectual grounds. Further, blunt attacks on religion of the type the Maher is delivering will cause believers to circle the wagons and dig in. It is not Maher’s sole purpose to de-convert–he’s working primarily as a comedian. But he is clearly provoking people to reexamine their supernatural (and often oxymoronic) claims. As I viewed these clips, I wondered how Maher would adapt his presentation if his sole purpose were not to work as a comedian at all, but to cause Christians to reconsider the believes they have been repeating ever since they were taught these things as babies by their parents.

I should add that I don’t consider religion to always be a bad thing. As I see it, religion serves as a tool for social collaboration, tapping into subconscious tribal instincts. Good-hearted people use religion to collaborate to do impressive social good. Cold-hearted people use religion to collaborate with people like themselves to spread their social dysfunction. I see religion as a tool for social coordination, good or bad, and it’s never actually about the core beliefs–public declarations regarding these core beliefs (e.g., dead people waking up) simply mark social territory–they serve as radar to tell members of congregation who is loyal to the group. I’ve written extensively about this elsewhere.

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Researchers: The U.S. used to value science

| July 21, 2014 | 2 Replies

Headline from The New Yorker: “Nation Apparently Believed in Science at Some Point”

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Ubiquitous Crime is the New Normal

| July 21, 2014 | 1 Reply

I was called to jury duty this week in the Circuit Court of the City of St. Louis. This happens every 2 years for me; this was my fifth or sixth time. Although I’ve sat through voir dire several times, I’ve never been chosen. This probably has to do with the fact that I’m a lawyer. Today’s case was a criminal case, and I come with special baggage, since I was a prosecutor for the state of Missouri for four years, after working for the state juvenile court two years before that. This is the kind of background a defense attorney would rather not deal with, so I was not chosen to hear the case.

In today’s proceeding, the defendant was charged with the sexual assault of several teenage girls, while using a gun. These were very serious charges, indeed.

The reason I’m writing this post is that I was overwhelmed with the amount of serious crime that has touched the lives of the 75 people on the jury panel. Ubiquitous crime appears to be the new normal.

We were only asked about two types of crimes, gun violence and sexual offenses, but it seemed as though most of the prospective jurors were victims or at least their close friends and families were victims of these types of crimes. About 20 jurors discussed their encounters with sexual predators. About half of the 20 approached the judge to discuss their experiences in private—you could tell from their faces that these were, and still are, emotionally wrenching experiences. Many of the jurors openly discussed their experiences in front of the full courtroom. The victims includes young and old, men and women. Two men on the panel stated that when they were children they had been sexually violated by babysitters. Several of the jurors had difficulty speaking of the incidents, because they were overcome by emotion. More than a few prospective jurors stated that they would be unable to sit in judgment of today’s defendant because of the continuing emotional impact based on their own history.

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Chomsky on Libertarianism

| July 20, 2014 | Reply

Noam Chomsky was recently asked to describe libertarianism:

What’s called libertarian in the United States, which is a special U. S. phenomenon, it doesn’t really exist anywhere else — a little bit in England — permits a very high level of authority and domination but in the hands of private power: so private power should be unleashed to do whatever it likes. The assumption is that by some kind of magic, concentrated private power will lead to a more free and just society. Actually that has been believed in the past. Adam Smith for example, one of his main arguments for markets was the claim that under conditions of perfect liberty, markets would lead to perfect equality. Well, we don’t have to talk about that! That kind of … libertarianism, in my view, in the current world, is just a call for some of the worst kinds of tyranny, namely unaccountable private tyranny. Anarchism is quite different from that. It calls for an elimination to tyranny, all kinds of tyranny. Including the kind of tyranny that’s internal to private power concentrations. So why should we prefer it? Well I think because freedom is better than subordination. It’s better to be free than to be a slave. It’s better to be able to make your own decisions than to have someone else make decisions and force you to observe them. I mean, I don’t think you really need an argument for that.

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Project Censored: Top 25 Underreported Stories

| July 20, 2014 | Reply

A worthy list by Project Censored. We need to get the garbage off the “news” and start promoting these stories. It would give democracy a change.

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