Archive for the 'Free Thought' Category

21
Sep
12

My Reaction to “Jesus Having a Wife”

When the news broke this week that a papyrus script surfaced which indicated Jesus was married, I was asked for my reaction by several acquaintances. As an outspoken atheist and philosophy buff, this isn’t unusual for me. Unfortunately for all those excited, neither is this new discovery.

Several of the unearthed Gnostic gospels make mention of Jesus being married. This is merely another mention of it. While people of faith may find it compelling, it is only due to their ignorance of other scriptures or the mistaken idea that the gospel stories of Jesus are history. They are not. In fact, the canonized gospels alone can’t agree on historical facts and contain many claims that have been demonstrated by historians and archaeologists to be false. Add the gnostic gospels into the mix and the one thing that is clear is that early Christianity was an un-codified assortment of vastly different accounts and beliefs. From the standpoint of history, there is almost no evidence that Jesus even existed, and given the obvious parallels in his stories to earlier gods and prophets of antiquity, he is likely a comprised patchwork that was eventually organized by Paul the Apostle and later by the early church and Vatican 1. While there may have well been a preacher named Jesus in early first century Palestine, there is no first or second-hand evidence of him or the claims of the gospels. (One would think that contemporary historians would have seen fit to make note of him at the time if the gospel claims had any merit.) Given that the gospels were written decades after Jesus’ supposed death and resurrection (this new papyrus finding dates back to four centuries after Jesus,) they are simply not reliable at the historical level. Thus, the recent discovery is the equivalent of finding a papyrus scroll saying that Hercules had a sixteen inch penis; a new detail to an old fable.

04
Apr
12

Moral Dilemmas

In my early 20s while studying philosophy in college, I like many freethinkers, believed morality to be subjective.  I now believe this is not the case.  Morals can vary drastically between cultures, but I do believe there is a baseline morality that can be measured objectively through reason.  If we as humans can agree to a simple objective standard for morality, we will find two things.  First, that all cultures are not equal when it comes to questions of morality, and two, many moral codes are actually immoral practices hiding behind the guise of cultural freedom.

As author and neuroscientist, Sam Harris has suggested in his provocative books, morality answers questions regarding human and animal suffering and happiness.  That which brings about happiness or decreases suffering can be said to be moral, while that which causes suffering and misery can be said to be immoral. Freethinkers use this reasoning as a backbone for a sense of wrong and right. People of reason are for the most part, moral consequentialists; meaning we assess moral questions by weighing the consequences of the particular activity or inactivity.  Most religious people are not usually included in this lot.  Religious people are typically moral absolutists.  They believe that morality has been mandated by their supreme being(s) and therefore is cut and dry.  Simply apply what has been decreed in the holy books to the moral dilemma, and you have your answer.  Needless to say, this is illogical and is not appealing to anyone who prefers to think for oneself.  Moral absolutists are often times forced into consequential reasoning when their scriptures conflict or fail to even address a question (it is not uncommon for so-called divine holy books written 2000 years ago to lack the needed insight on modern issues such as contraception or stem cell research.)

If you have ever taken a class in ethics, philosophy or critical thinking, you may have been presented with exercises in moral dilemmas.  These usually start with some imagined quandary where you are given the power to make an either/ or choice and must decide which one has the more morally desirable outcome.  For example, you are positioned at a switch on train track.  A train is approaching and there is a person tied to the tracks who will be killed if you do not throw the switch and divert the train.  What do you do?  Almost anyone who isn’t a sociopath will choose to divert the train.  But then more details are added and one must re-answer the question with new information.  What if the switch sends the train off a cliff and will kill all those aboard? What if the person tied to the tracks is a convicted murderer?  What if all of the people on the train are Nobel Prize winners? What if the person tied to the tracks is a new-born baby? What if all of the people on the train are convicted murderers?  And so forth and so on.  This exercise in moral consequences is often used more to gauge the sensibilities of the participants more than anything else.  However, they are great critical thought training for the likely circumstance that you may one day find yourself in a real world practical application.  These same type of exercises are often debated in political science classes using real dilemmas from history (one of the more common, should we drop the atomic bombs on Japan to end the second world war?)

Moral absolutists run into trouble in these exercises just as they run into trouble in real life.  Their immediate instinct when faced with the dilemma is to seek guidance from the religious doctrine to which they ascribe. But as the variables shift and become ever more complicated, the absolutist often finds himself taking the less popular position and is often confronted with the consequences of his decision by those who have given the circumstances a bit more consideration.  Ask a devout Catholic whether or not giving condoms to kids is wrong and you may get an affirmative.  Now place the kids in Africa where AIDS is rampant.  The Catholic with the consequentialist streak now has a question.  The absolutist still follows the doctrine of his church believing it has divine authority.  When faced with the ACTUAL millions of Africans who have died of AIDS, and the actual teachings of the church in Africa prohibiting condom use, a consequentialist is appalled.  Clearly, using our objective definition of morality regarding happiness and suffering from the opening paragraph, we must conclude that this action by the Catholic church is objectively immoral.  It provides no increase of happiness and contributes to the suffering of many.   If you ever get the chance to run through these exercises with a group of varying people, do so.  It is a revealing lesson in human psychology.  One can learn so much about one’s peers from these exercises.  They often reveal the prejudices, biases and fears of the participants with stunning clarity.

 

02
Jan
12

Basking in the Majesty of the Cosmos with Neil Degrasse Tyson & Stephen Colbert

26
Dec
11

In Memory of Christopher Hitchens

Just two weeks ago, we lost one of the greatest minds of our time.  If you are or are not familiar with Hitchens’ passionate arguments against tyranny, fascism, dogmatism and religious zealotry, enjoy this montage. Thankfully, science and technology have granted us an extension of our mortality, in that our words, actions and works may be captured and saved for generations to come.

25
Dec
11

The Reason for the Season

On December 25th, the god Mithras was born to a virgin. He would later be killed & then resurrected 3 days later; all of this happening several hundred years before Jesus. Enjoy your holiday.

09
Dec
09

The Burden of Proof & the Bat in the Attic

In the case for and against the existence of god, any theist making the argument that the burden of proof is on the atheist is guilty of fallacious reasoning. The burden of proof belongs to the individual making an assertion. The assertion is that a supernatural being created and governs the universe and involves itself with human activity.  This is the theistic position.  Atheists do not argue that that there is no god. Atheists argue that there is no evidence to support the assertion of any gods and it is therefore intellectually irresponsible to believe in the proposition.  Even outspoken atheists like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris are often quoted as saying, “there probably is no god.” (There are probably no fairies or amputees who have re-grown their lost limbs either.)  Atheism is simply the negation of the assertion of a god or gods.  Anyone who tells you there is any more to it than that is either ignorant or deceptive.

Theists who make the circular argument that the burden of proof is on the atheist do so because they believe the existence of god is intrinsically obvious and self-evident.  If that were the case, no argument against the supernatural deity would be sound.  Yet any one with a background in philosophy or logic will tell you that sound arguments refuting the existence of gods have been around for centuries.  These sound arguments would not exist if god were self-evident.  While the existence of sound arguments against god may not prove that he doesn’t exist, they prove that god is not intrinsically obvious.  Furthermore, we must then ask, which god?  Over 20,000 gods have been worshipped throughout the course of human history. Which of them is the theist claiming to be intrinsically obvious? The very fact that there are people who worship other gods and do not believe in the god in question shows that the existence of that god is not obvious.  Otherwise, Hindus would have abandoned their false gods long ago.

If a prosecutor charges me with murder, the burden of proof is not on me to prove I did not do it.  While I may offer evidence to counter the claim, thankfully, at least in US courts, the burden of proof is not on me to prove I’m innocent.  The claim was made by the prosecutor; therefore the burden lies with him to prove my guilt.  If he cannot, I would be found not guilty even without offering a single word in my defense.

If you were to propose to me that a bat was living in your attic, the burden of proof would not be on me to prove otherwise.  I might ask you, “How do you know that there is a bat in your attic?” You may reply that you know based on a subjective experience; “I heard noises coming from the attic.” Given that I know from past experience that things have a way of finding their way into attics, I accept your claim as supporting the idea that something may be in your attic, but I have no evidence that it is a bat and given the ambiguity of the claim of noises from the attic, I know that it is also possible that you could have heard any number of things or simply be mistaken.  I may then ask you, “Have you seen the bat?” if the answer is no we have made no progress.  But let us say that you instead respond by telling me that the day before last, you peeked your head into the attic and saw what you made out to be a dark shadowy figure that resembled a bat moving through the air, but when you turned on the attic light, it was gone.  Without any other witnesses to corroborate this story this is still a subjective experience that cannot be verified.  While you could have very well seen a bat, without photos or video footage that we could analyze I must conclude that it is just as, if not more likely, that you saw a bird; or perhaps the shadows coming through the attic window; or perhaps your eyes played tricks on you given that they had to quickly adjust to the darkness of the attic.  Finally I say “let’s go up in the attic and look for the bat.”  Upon doing so we find plenty of places where a bat might love to hang. We even find some insects that a bat might love to eat.  But this does not prove there is a bat and after an extensive search, no bat is found. We then search the attic for the presence of bat guano, which would be significant evidence that a bat was dwelling in the attic.  We find none.  To top it off, we find that a ventilation panel is a bit loose and periodically makes noise from the passing air current. You are not certain that this is the noise you heard coming from the attic, but given that we have found no evidence of a bat, it is very plausible that the vent panel was the source of the noise.

Given the lack of evidence and the existence of plausible explanations for the noise you heard and shadow you saw, I conclude that it is very unlikely that a bat is in your attic.  In fact, it is so unlikely that the only rational position would be to dismiss the idea unless new evidence comes to light at which point I would reanalyze and reconsider.

You on the other hand, see it differently.  You are absolutely sure it was a bat you saw when you peeked in the attic and have convinced yourself that the sound you heard could not have been a rattling vent panel.  Furthermore, you’ve grown accustomed to the idea of a bat living in your attic and can’t bear the idea of your house without it. It brings you comfort to know that there is a bat in the attic to which you can assign responsibility any time you hear or see anything you cannot initially explain.

In and of its self, this belief appears harmless until you then claim that my disbelief of the bat in your attic is a threat to you and that you cannot have anyone in your house who does not believe that there is a bat in the attic. You indoctrinate your children into believing that there is a bat in the attic by telling them the stories of your hearing of the noise and seeing of the shadow, yet you never mention your failure to find any evidence in the attic or the noisy vent panel.  Worse yet, you teach your children that those who do not believe there is a bat in the attic are fools and can’t be trusted.

By now I’m sure you see my imperfect analogy and some of you (including Ray Comfort) claim you have discovered some bat guano in the attic.  But upon examination all you have is some old paint chips, a shadow and a rattling vent.

02
Apr
09

Why Richard Dawkins is the Shit

“If you live in America, chances are good that your next door neighbors believe the following: the inventor of the laws of physics and programmer of the DNA code decided to enter the uterus of a Jewish virgin, got himself born, then deliberately had himself tortured and executed because he couldn’t think of a better way to forgive the theft of an apple, committed at the instigation of a talking snake. As creator of the majestically expanding universe, he not only understands relativistic gravity and quantum mechanics but actually DESIGNED them. Yet what he really cares about is “sin,” abortion, how often you go to church, and whether gay people should marry. Statistically, the chances are that your neighbors believe all that – and they can vote.” – Richard Dawkins




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Post season graphics. 7 games in 5 days, Epic no hitter on the final day of the season, Death in the family, studio session. It is safe to say that I am mentally, emotionally and physically spent. Sleeping in tomorrow.

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