Up@dawn 2.0

Monday, November 21, 2016

We're in trouble

Maria Popova (@brainpicker)
#MiamiBookFair2016 hotel drawer. Until this country starts placing "On the Origin of Species"alongside it in hotel drawers, we're in trouble pic.twitter.com/jodPLhiYaV

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Carroll's Considerations

Sean Carroll is one wise theoretical physicist and "poetic naturalist." His Ten Commandments Considerations, resisting the unfortunate human impulse to tell one another what to do, deferring instead to one another's mental freedom:
  • Life Isn’t Forever.
  • Desire Is Built Into Life.
  • What Matters Is What Matters To People.
  • We Can Always Do Better.
  • It Pays to Listen.
  • There Is No Natural Way to Be.
  • It Takes All Kinds.
  • The Universe Is in Our Hands.
  • We Can Do Better Than Happiness.
  • Reality Guides Us.
Naturalists accept that life is going to come to an end — this life is not a dress rehearsal for something greater, it’s the only performance we get to give. The average person can expect a lifespan of about three billion heartbeats. That’s a goodly number, but far from limitless. We should make the most of each of our heartbeats.
The finitude of life doesn’t imply that it’s meaningless, any more than obeying the laws of physics implies that we can’t find purpose and joy within the natural world. The absence of a God to tell us why we’re here and hand down rules about what is and is not okay doesn’t leave us adrift — it puts the responsibility for constructing meaningful lives back where it always was, in our own hands.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Noah's Ark in Kentucky

Road trip?
In the beginning, Ken Ham made the Creation Museum in northern Kentucky. And he saw that it was good at spreading his belief that the Bible is a book of history, the universe is only 6,000 years old, and evolution is wrong and is leading to our moral downfall.
And Mr. Ham said, let us build a gargantuan Noah’s ark only 45 minutes away to draw millions more visitors. And let it be constructed by Amish woodworkers, and financed with donations, junk bonds and tax rebates from the state of Kentucky. And let it hold an animatronic Noah and lifelike models of some of the creatures that came on board two-by-two, such as bears, short-necked giraffes — and juvenile Tyrannosaurus rexes...
“We’re going to raise a generation of kids who are scientifically illiterate,” said Mr. Nye, who debated Mr. Ham at the Creation Museum in 2014, a matchup watched online by millions...
“He calls on Christians to participate in a culture war,” Mr. Trollinger said, of Mr. Ham. “He says, if you’re really going to be a Christian, you’re in this war against the atheistic, humanistic enemy.” nyt

Monday, May 30, 2016

Atheist Architecture

I came across this article and found it quite interesting. It's neat to see de Botton's ideas illustrated. Personally I quite enjoy the style, and would love to see this idea made a reality!
Also relevant is de Botton's plans to build his own atheist temple.
I've pasted the article below:

Bartlett School of Architecture student Kacper Chmielewski has developed a new style of architecture specifically for atheists, including a shrine to the oak tree (+ slideshow).
Atheistic Typology by Kacper Chmielewski from the Bartlett School of Architecture
Oak landscape
Building on the philosophies of Alain de Botton, who in 2012 advocated Atheist temples for London, Chmielewski proposes a series of structures intended to inspire awe without any references to religion. He calls the project Atheistic Architecture.
Atheistic Typology by Kacper Chmielewski from the Bartlett School of Architecture
Oak landscape
The designer claims that by 2040, less than one per cent of Britain's population will be a member of the Anglican Church. But there are still 55 churches in the City of London, which he believes have become wasted spaces – so he wants to replace them.
Atheistic Typology by Kacper Chmielewski from the Bartlett School of Architecture
Oak landscape
"The institution of church has become a monument to the past, both in terms of the community and its architecture," Chmielewski explained.
"These beautiful temples are decreasingly used for spiritual reasons and are more often being converted into commercial coffee shops – a saddening waste of their potential."
Atheistic Typology by Kacper Chmielewski from the Bartlett School of Architecture
Oak landscape
"In Religion for Atheists, Alain de Botton writes about the need for a new typology for atheistic temples," the designer told Dezeen. "He perfectly describes a sense of nostalgia that I feel for religious architecture."
"This project is a response accommodating both the discourse between nostalgia for ecclesiastical beauty and the rejection of fallen religious doctrine."
Atheistic Typology by Kacper Chmielewski from the Bartlett School of Architecture
St Mary-Le-Bow transformation
Chmielewski's proposal centres around St Mary-Le-Bow, the historic church on Cheapside designed by Christopher Wren to replace a predecessor destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666.
He proposes converting the building into what he describes as "an ever-evolving open cathedral" celebrating the life cycle of the oak tree. The aim is to create a building that incites awe through an awareness of the scale of nature and the universe.
Atheistic Typology by Kacper Chmielewski from the Bartlett School of Architecture
St Mary-Le-Bow transformation
"In today's world, society deprives atheists of places where they can submerse themselves in a moment of solitude, feel a part of something greater, or perhaps connect with nature and the universe," explained Chmielewski.
Atheistic Typology by Kacper Chmielewski from the Bartlett School of Architecture
Celebration Hall
The structure would feature a facade made up of 39,999 sheets of marble with gold trims – referencing the many generations of humanity – as well as a roof terrace for quiet contemplation, and a celebration hall for events.
It would also house the headquarters and library for the British Humanist Association, a non-profit organisation that works on behalf of non-religious people.
Atheistic Typology by Kacper Chmielewski from the Bartlett School of Architecture
St Mary-Le-Bow window detail
Chmielewski's designs, laid out in a series of intricate drawings, intentionally draw on elements of Cubist architecture. Imagined on a city scale, he describes the new typology as "waging war with the previous system of values".
Atheistic Typology by Kacper Chmielewski from the Bartlett School of Architecture
St Mary-Le-Bow gate transformation
"Atheistic architecture opposes religious hierarchy between a deity and its creations. It replaces it with scientific detailing, mimicking nature's incredible spread in infinite detail," he added.
Atheistic Typology by Kacper Chmielewski from the Bartlett School of Architecture
British Humanist Association Library
Atheistic Architecture was completed as part of the master programme at the Bartlett School of Architecture in London. Chmielewski was part of Unit 12, which is led by tutors Jonathan Hill, Elizabeth Dow, Matthew Butcher, and which this year focussed on monuments and ruins within the city.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Miami Establishes Chair for Study of Atheism

With an increasing number of Americans leaving religion behind, theUniversity of Miami received a donation in late April from a wealthy atheist to endow what it says is the nation’s first academic chair “for the study of atheism, humanism and secular ethics.”

The chair has been established after years of discussion with a $2.2 million donation from Louis J. Appignani, a retired businessman and former president and chairman of the modeling school Barbizon International, who has given grants to many humanist and secular causes — though this is his largest so far. The university, which has not yet publicly announced the new chair, will appoint a committee of faculty members to conduct a search for a scholar to fill the position.

“I’m trying to eliminate discrimination against atheists,” said Mr. Appignani, who is 83 and lives in Florida. “So this is a step in that direction, to make atheism legitimate.”

Religion departments and professors of religious studies are a standard feature at most colleges and universities, many originally founded by ministers and churches. The study of atheism and secularism is only now starting to emerge as an accepted academic field, scholars say, with its own journal, conferences, course offerings and, now, an endowed chair.

“I think it’s a very bold step of the University of Miami, and I hope there will be others,” said Richard Dawkins, an evolutionary biologist and atheist luminary who is the author of “The God Delusion.”

“It’s enormously important to shake off the shackles of religion from the study of morality,” Mr. Dawkins said in a telephone interview from his home in Britain.

The percentage of Americans who claim no religious affiliation has risen rapidly in a short time, to 23 percent of the population in 2014, up from 16 percent in 2007, according to a report by the Pew Research Center. Younger people are even less religious, with 35 percent of millennials saying they identify as atheist, agnostic or with no religion in particular.

Secular Americans are beginning to organize themselves politically. Next month, nonbelievers are headed to Washington to lobby Congress and hold a “Reason Rally” at the Lincoln Memorial to showcase their numbers and promote the separation of church and state.

With atheists still often stigmatized and disparaged in this country, it took some persuading for the University of Miami to agree to create a chair with the word “atheism” in the title, according to Harvey Siegel, a professor of philosophy who has helped to broker the arrangement. He said that more than 15 years ago, when he was chairman of the philosophy department, he and Mr. Appignani first began discussing the idea for a chair to study atheism and secularism.

“There was great reluctance on the part of the university to have an endowed chair with the word ‘atheism’ in the name, and that was a deal-breaker for Lou,” Mr. Siegel said. “He wasn’t going to do it unless it had the word atheism in it.”

The university had reason to be cautious, Thomas J. LeBlanc, executive vice president and provost, said in an interview.

“We didn’t want anyone to misunderstand and think that this was to be an advocacy position for someone who is an atheist,” he said. “Our religion department isn’t taking an advocacy position when it teaches about Catholicism or Islam. Similarly, we’re not taking an advocacy position when we teach about atheism or secular ethics.”

Asked whether he anticipated any backlash, Mr. LeBlanc said: “This is an area where people can get overly excited if they don’t actually look carefully at what’s happening. The idea that there are nondeity approaches to explaining our surroundings is not controversial in the academy.”

Mr. Appignani said he rejected a last-minute proposal from a dean to call it a chair in “philosophical naturalism.” Instead, he and the university leaders worked out the title, broadening the scope by including humanism and secular ethics.

Mr. Appignani was raised a Roman Catholic in the Bronx by Italian immigrant parents. His father was a clothing presser in the garment district. He attended Catholic schools and said he became a nonbeliever at the City College of New York when he discovered the work of Bertrand Russell, the British philosopher and Nobel Prize winner.

With the money he made from the Barbizon school, he said, he created the foundation that has given grants to groups like the American Humanist Association and the Secular Coalition for America, and the Appignani Humanist Legal Center.

Over the years, Mr. Appignani has sponsored two public lectures by Mr. Dawkins at the University of Miami. The discussions about a chair gained momentum last year with the arrival of a new university president, Julio Frenk, Mr. Siegel said.

Dr. Frenk announced that he intended to recruit new talent by creating 100 new chairs in time for the university’s centennial anniversary, in 2025, said Margot S. Winick, an assistant vice president at the university. The chair in atheism is the fifth he has added so far, she said.

Pitzer College, a liberal arts school in Southern California with about 1,000 students, became the first to begin a program and major in secular studies five years ago. Phil Zuckerman, a sociologist of religion who founded the program, said it now offered four courses on secularism of its own and many others by the six professors associated with the department. Only two students have chosen to major in secular studies, he said, but the courses are popular. For its “Secularism and Skepticism” class last year, he turned away 25 students, more than the 22 he was able to admit.

Scholars have formed a “Nonreligion and Secularity Research Network,” which is holding its fourth conference this summer in Zurich. A peer-reviewed journal, “Secularism and Nonreligion,” is now up and running.

“There is a real need for secular studies,” Mr. Zuckerman said. “As rates of irreligion continue to rise, not only here in the U.S.A. but all over the world, we need to understand secular people, secular culture, and secularism as a political and ideological force.”

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Hitch's Faith

In case you were worried about this (I wasn't):
To the Editor:
Re “Famous Atheist’s Non-Faith Is Questioned in Friend’s Book,” by Mark Oppenheimer (Beliefs column, May 14):
I knew Christopher Hitchens. For more than 20 years he was my close friend. There is simply no truth to the rumor that he was “shaky in his atheism” toward the end of his tragically short life.
That on one occasion he enjoyed reading St. John’s Gospel aloud to entertain himself and a Christian travel companion on a long drive, as reported in the column, is scarcely a surprise. Christopher had a muscular mind and a beautiful, sonorous voice, and the final Gospel resonates wonderfully in English.
In no way was he “contemplating conversion.”
Christopher was an omnivore, interested in everything, including — why not? — the most poetic of the Gospels. After all, it is included in one of the great books of the Western world.
The evangelical author Larry Alex Taunton’s allegation is at best a well-meant misunderstanding, a result of wishful thinking, and at worst an effort to cast doubt on Hitch’s core convictions.
Mr. Hitchens faced death bravely, his atheism intact. Unlike Voltaire, he never buckled.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

"Perspectives from the Theist in the Atheist Class"

Posted for Austin Gober (but you're not the only one)...

I thought long and hard as to what I should discuss in my final report to our class. I considered a wide breadth of topics. However, where I ended up was deciding to share some of my thoughts on this unique experience both the things that I learned, the things that challenged me, and my closing thoughts. As I embarked on this journey at the beginning of the semester, I thought I had a reasonable expectation of the thoughts and challenges that I would face being the Christian in the atheism philosophy class. I thought I would hear the classic problem of evil argument and that I could easily handle that with the free will response. I imagined a simple first-cause argument to sway those entrenched in an atheist position. But what I actually encountered was something quite different. I heard many stories of the pain that had been inflicted by the church either personally to you or to your friends. I heard descriptions of strange "Christian" teachings that would cause any logical person to have doubts. I felt the confusion surrounding the big questions of why does our world look like this and why do Christians act like that. I suddenly found myself not just having to deal with the typical big questions in the religious debate but also I was having to answer for all of those hurts and all of those absurd positions. I felt as though I was being looked at not for what I was saying but as a epresentative of all the awful things associated with religion. I felt isolated and attacked for much of the semester. However, I don’t hold ill regard towards anyone for that. I don’t believe that it was anyone's intention to cause their distaste for the very things that cause them skepticism towards the faith. I found myself in this isolation and defense wondering "Is this the feeling that they have in their homes, schools, and communities?" After all, it is no secret that in this culture many of the ideas expressed in our books and discussions would be vehemently disregarded and those that espoused them would be treated roughly. It was an eye opening thought. I had caught a glimpse of what it was like to be surrounded by people that you entirely disagreed with on life's most important topics and feeling like the conversation was going nowhere but everything was deeply personal. I thought I had a decent idea of that as my older sister is agnostic and I had seen her encounter some of these things. However, suddenly finding myself in that role was entirely different. So I would like to say that I admire you all for standing up for your ideas and dealing with the pains of our culture.

I would like to apologize for anything that has been said or done to you in the name of faith that has been explicitly harmful especially if I have done any of that. I would like to thank you all for the opportunity to talk openly about life's deepest questions and even though at times things may have gotten heated on both sides I am glad to have experienced these discussions with you all. I would like to thank you for challenging me to refine and consider ideas as we all try to figure out this thing called life. At the end of the day, yes, I do definitely disagree with the atheist position on many subjects. I may not like the things that are said. But I do not hate the person saying them. We are all brothers and sisters of the same race. The human race. Regardless of whether or not you believe in the same deity or even a deity at all, we still have that unifying factor of humanity. I am grateful for the opportunity to have spent the semester learning different ideas but most importantly I am grateful for spending the semester seeing how these ideas impact and shape our bond and I hope that in the future these discussions can continue and these bonds can grow amongst each other.
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My last post remaining there are some things I'd like to address in my final words to you all. I would like to respond to some of the main arguments that I've heard this semester and then pose some thoughts or questions about the atheist positions we have heard.

Almost as many times as I have had a first-cause discussion, the reply I have heard is that ne popularized by Bertrand Russell: "Who made God?". To be completely honest, that reply has always frustrated me. Not because I have found it to poke holes in my position but quite the opposite. The reply seems to me like gotchya phrasing lacking depth that induces unwarranted reactions. For me, the argument from the first cause has always been just that – discussing an uncaused cause that precedes the system of cause and effect that we currently understand the world to operate under. When one uses the rebuttal of who created God, they have misrepresented the argument. To question what created God recasts His position as uncaused or first cause. Therefore one is completely shifting the argument outside of the argument from the first cause. The real debate within the argument from the first cause should be understood as comparison of the merits of God vs the universe to fulfill that role. Therefore, the rebuttal of what created God has never given me intellectual pause. A better rebuttal would be, "well, why can't the universe fulfill that role?". That is an entirely different argument for which I certainly have a response but I have other concerns to address in this limited space.

The Euthyphro dilemma
You all know this dilemma. You all know the classical Christian responses that invoke God's goodness as the solution. However, for me, I go one step further in my response. I would agree that the dilemma seems to put the theist in a difficult position to say the least. Arbitrary morality or a law that is higher than God. Not a great choice to make. The solution is there must be some eternal guiding force at play that directs morality. That guiding force to me is not just simply God's goodness but specifically the eternal love relationship that exists in the Trinitarian God.

This love is the guiding force of God; thus it is the simplest explanation for the basis of morality. Jesus himself summarizes the entire law into love the Lord Your God with all your heart and mind and strength and love your neighbor as yourself. When I ponder everything: why did God create us and so much more the guiding principle for me has to be understood as love. Thus the solution to the dilemma is that moral laws of God have developed out of this guiding principle of love that has been eternally existent within the Trinitarian God.

Abraham's sacrifice
I must admit. Out of everything in this class that has caused me to struggle it is this subject that has caused me the most struggle. I definitely wrestled with this question/argument for a while. I talked to many people and read a lot of things until I reached a satisfactory answer. The complaint is that God demands that Abraham sacrifice his beloved son Isaac and in doing so forces Abraham to lose all semblance of moral agency. He either obeys God who hands down the rules and does something we would reason to be wrong or he can disobey God to avoid the act of killing his son. I agree. At first it seems like an impossible situation not just for Abraham but also for the believer that realizes the implications of the situation. I think the answer lies in a fuller, more comprehensive understanding of the situation. In Genesis 17 & 21, God has promised to Abraham that he will have many descendants through Isaac. Abraham also knows the Lord to be a trustworthy, good God. So when the Lord tells Abraham to sacrifice Isaac,

Abraham must know that the situation is not as simple as just killing Isaac. Abraham is walking in faith that the God he knows and trusts has promised good through Isaac. So when he sets out on his task it is not just a situation of two choices, it is trusting the Lord in it knowing that He has it taken care of. Hebrews 11 discusses Abraham's faith and in verse 19 states that Abraham even trusted God to raise Isaac from the dead. Simply Abraham was trusting God that it would work out according to the goodness of God's nature and he followed God through the whole path.

My Questions and Thoughts on Atheist Positions
In the case of morality, it seems to me that the atheist is put in a very difficult position. If they choose to believe in an objective morality, they must explain how their naturalist position can contain an objective morality. If they choose the subjective morality they must say that nothing is inherently wrong thus they lose the ability to criticize and compare other moralities with their own. Of course the atheist position does not necessitate the ability to compare moralities but realistically it does pose problems for life.

On the subject of choosing naturalism, a strict naturalist view abhorrently refusing belief in anything supernatural to me seems illogical. For instance, if all the world's knowledge wer a napkin and the atheist were to put the amount of knowledge they have on that napkin surely their knowledge would not encapsulate the entirety of the napkin. That metaphor shows the folly of supposing that the naturalist point of view holds all potential knowledge thus eliminating the possibility of any supernatural occurrence. I see no rational or logical reason to believe that nonbelief of supernatural occurrences is a superior position.

Most importantly I rest my stance on the person of Jesus. The atheist is given two options are the front of the discussion with each leading to more paths later. The first of the dilemmas is on the existence of the historical Jesus. In spite of Russell's statement that "it is very doubtful whether the historical Jesus existed at all," the historical records point powerfully to not only his life but also his death by crucifixion. The atheist is left having to come up with a response for many things: the evidence for the empty tomb, why did the disciples profess and die for the statement of the risen Jesus, Paul's conversion, James conversion, the change of the day of worship from Saturday to Sunday, etc. Those issues for the atheist remain whether or not they agree that Jesus made claims of divinity.

All in all I have thoroughly enjoyed this class. I would love to have further discussions and I thank you all for putting up with me and furthering my thoughts on many subjects.