Up@dawn 2.0

Monday, April 30, 2012

My Son Went to Heaven, and All I Got Was a No. 1 Best Seller - NYTimes.com

Telling a 3-yr old to repent or burn is abusive, obviously... My Son Went to Heaven, and All I Got Was a No. 1 Best Seller - NYTimes.com:

He wouldn't get it, of course, but it's too bad Rev. Burpo and his ilk haven't read  Stephen Law on "the war for children's minds."

Or the new volume from the author of Parenting Beyond Belief:
Voices of Unbelief: Documents from Atheists and Agnostics is in production, wending its way toward an October release. Remember that this is a reference book — hard cover, big format — so mostly not intended (or priced) for individual purchase. But ask your library or school to get a copy. (I think you’ll like it.) -Dale McGowan

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Saturday, April 28, 2012

God and Man in Tennessee - NYTimes.com

God and Man in Tennessee - NYTimes.com: "EARLIER this month state senators in Tennessee approved an update to our sex-education law that would ban teachers from discussing hand-holding, which it categorizes as “gateway sexual activity.” The bill came fast on the heels of a new state law that effectively allows creationism to be taught in our classrooms." A native tries to explain Tennessee to the world...

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Thursday, April 26, 2012

Kat's Final Paypuh!

My Atheist Story
My name is Katlin Kolby, Kat for short. I’ve been a skeptic for as long as I can remember. I’ve read this same statement, or some variation, in most every atheist confession, and I’m sure that I’ll read it a few thousand times more. I’ve always had “…but why?” in the back of my head. My attempts to answer that little voice have proven to be very taxing indeed. I should start from the beginning, as there is no other place to do so. My parents didn’t raise me in accordance of any religion. They raised me to question. In fact, I remember my father telling me something similar to “question everything” when I was young. My childhood was somewhat fragmented due to constant moving. I was moved to Tennessee from Michigan in third grade, moved a few places around the state for a couple of years, back to Michigan for half of sixth grade, back to Tennessee for the remaining half and the majority of middle school, then finally to Fairview, TN for the rest of my eight grade year and all of high school. This shuffling and constant upheaval of my life caused a social disconnect within me. My avid playing of MMORPGs only widened the gap between myself and peers. I never really had a “home town,” and because of this, I like to say that I grew up on the internet.
When I was eight, my dad and I started playing EverQuest. This game introduced me to so many people outside of my day to day life. There were people from different cities, states, countries, and continents. After the introduction of other people in the world, I became a part of many social networking sites. Many of my best friends didn’t go to my school, or even live in the same state. My entire social life was online, and what few friends I had in reality did not really equate to the shared experiences I had with people elsewhere. The people in Tennessee frightened me. The majority seemed less than human with their barely understandable accents and generally ignorant behavior. After some time, however, I quickly found that spending most of my nights on a computer left me feeling distant from society. I yearned to have closer friends. I had been hearing about church a lot from my classmates, and it always sounded exciting. They talked about sitting around, hanging out with their friends, playing games, and generally having a good time together. This sounded wonderful to me as a preteen feeling out of place.
My best friend, then, became a girl named Jordan. She and I hung out every Wednesday and Saturday night at choir practice, youth group meetings, and general slumber parties. We spent time together in church on Sundays. We also went on a mission trip together for a whopping three days, which is an eternity to any pre-teen. We watched Veggie Tales, participated in choir, and both became puppeteers in a program designed to teach even younger children about Christ. Her mother was very impressed by my vast vocabulary and quick learning skills. I knew how many teaspoons were in a tablespoon, I could cook, I read books, and I generally knew more about the workings of everyday life than the average kid she had met. I talked about things like genocide and atrocities, using words like “horrendous” and “appalling.” This was all very impressive to Jordan’s family until I started asking about all of the religious stuff we participated in.
My doubts were immediate with the church; I just had not voiced them much. I was having fun with my friends. I was connected to the community. Everything they talked about sounded good; give unto others, love thy neighbor, help those that are in need. It started when I decided to research the origins of Easter and Christmas, being thoroughly confused about what Santa Claus, eggs, pine trees, bunnies, and presents had to do with Jesus Christ. What I found was puzzling. See, no one normally talks about these things openly with an adolescent. Even though I had had contact with MANY people from many different areas, I never really talked to any of them about religion, thus never developed an understanding of anything outside of Christianity. The only option ever presented to me was Jesus, and the taboo nature of talking about religion kept away anything beyond that. What I found about those sacred holidays, however, changed my outlook entirely. I had no idea what Paganism was, no knowledge of atheism or agnosticism, and I certainly hadn’t been talked to about problems of evil or suffering. I did not want to get much further into it, as the fear of losing my friends was more intense than my desire for knowledge at that age.
I approached Jordan’s mother about these things, and she said she couldn’t give me any answers, that I should address our pastor about my concerns. Surely, he would be able to set me straight and quiet my wandering mind. Our pastor was, ironically, always too busy to talk to any of us children about our questions. I addressed my youth group instead, which was run by some enthusiastic high school Christians. Obviously, they didn’t have any answers either. No one could tell me what the Pagan holidays were and why we stole their traditions! They all just knew that these days were about Jesus, not growth, prosperity, or moon phases, and certainly none of them could define “yule” for me. I went back to researching. After reading more, I found out that Christians just covered up Pagan holidays to try and get rid of other ideologies, that Jesus probably wasn’t born on Christmas at all, and that all of the symbols involved in both days are very obvious and meaningful when looking at from a Pagan’s perspective. I learned that Christianity has a long history of tyranny, attempting to stamp out everyone that doesn’t believe what they do. I then began to think that it’s very likely that Christianity has it all wrong.
I told my fellow church goers about my findings. To my surprise, none of them listened to me. Not a one of them took the time to consider the implications of what I was saying. None of them could refute it, nor could they agree with it. They had no evidence otherwise and could not give me a straight answer as to why my accusations were just blatantly false. “The Bible says…” I cannot tell you how many statements started with this claim. I had not read the book in entirety yet, but I started then and there. Over the next few years, I separated from Jordan. I hung out with the “Goth” kids. I continued to socialize online. I looked into Paganism and I loved what I found. I loved spirituality. I was very much immersed with a sense of mystery and wonder with the world around me. Even though the dogmatic religions didn’t make sense to me, I still wanted there to be something that explains everything. I wanted answers. I looked into fairies, witchcraft, voodoo, and was normally interested in anything paranormal. I wanted conspiracy theories to be true. I hated the “man.” I saw myself as a rebel. What teenage girl doesn’t spend some portion of time with a general “you don’t understand” attitude? Well, I went through that phase.
I read about the problem of evil and the problem of suffering. I started believing in a personal God. I deemed myself “agnostic.” Even though I knew that organized religions were nonsensical, I still wanted there to be a loving, spiritual afterlife for me. I saw God as the explanation of the Big Bang. I subscribed to Zen-like attitudes about humanity. There will always be equal good and bad. Everything is balanced. This balance and the flow of life and energy are what I call God. Life is God. We are God. I hoped and clung to some abstract vision of what an almighty thing would be. Throughout all of these existential thoughts, however, I was still a teenager. I was emotional, naïve, and rebellious. I married the first man to truly mean it when he told me that he loved me. I did not realize that he was obsessive and controlling. We were together for my junior and senior years of high school, and our marriage lasted two years, one after high school and another while we lived in Murfreesboro so I could go to college.
His mother was a devout, born-again Southern Baptist. Her family ran a tight schedule, they owned their own towing business, and they were the type of people that truly believed President Obama is a Muslim terrorist. She dragged us to church once or twice. This was the unpleasant, hell-fire kind of place. It was the “look at my money” congregation. I felt like we were in Texas. His family was entirely religious. His step-father’s grandmother lived next door to them. We went there for Sunday dinner often. He had a gay Uncle Keith that married us. This uncle was of particular interest to me. He had come out of the closet and been banished from the family, then he crawled back into the closet in order to be accepted. He “found Christ” again, became a preacher, and had children. He was still very obviously gay. My husband’s sister married a man that beat her, and didn’t divorce him because her religion told her not to. His family contained the exact kind of people that I had despised. They helped me see the awful effects of dogma on individuals. Once he and I separated, I moved back home for a summer to get my life back together. I found myself during those few months, and I have been continuing to expand myself as an individual since.
I took the Introduction to Philosophy class with Professor Oliver. I loved every minute of it. I would talk to my, at the time new, boyfriend about every class. I got excited about school again, and I wanted to learn more about free thinkers. I changed my major from English to Philosophy, and I took Readings in Atheism the following semester. This class has changed me immensely. It has opened my eyes to so much more in the world, so many profound opinions, and helped me notice the wonders of humanitarianism and naturalism. I have become at peace with the grand mysteries of the universe. It is what it is. Over the course of the semester, I have accepted atheism. I have shed God entirely. God is an illusion. Life is so precious and beautiful that it seems offensive to waste it hoping that there’s someone out there making sure everything will be okay in the end. Who cares about the end? What about now? Why do people spend so much time worrying about what happens after life is over? I want to live my life without worrying about the meaning of everything. It means what I make it mean. What we do with our time alive is that much more important when one considers that they only have one shot. I’m going to focus all of my efforts on educating people about the current crimes against humanity. I want to tell people that they don’t have to believe if they don’t want to. I’m going to help those that I can. I doubt that it will happen, but if there’s something after death, awesome—isn’t that what we all wanted anyway? If there’s nothing, fine—I wouldn’t be aware of it, as I would cease to exist entirely.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Two Things

Firstly, I wanted to share Qualiasoup's newest video, entitled "The Burden of Proof."  It's just as awesome as the rest of his series and I highly recommend it.

Secondly, I wanted to offer a suggestion for another A&P style class.  Something like an anti-apologetics class, or a biblical criticism class would be awesome.  Something so openly critical to Christianity might not fly, and it's really not Dr. Oliver's style anyway, but what a wild ride it would be.  You know, something like where you trot out every silly argument made by apologists and then shoot it down with all the standard rebuttals.  It would be heavy on the New Atheists writings, of course.  Just a thought.

Anyway, here's the video:

Environmental Ethics

FYI, for those considering taking Environmental Ethics in the Fall:

We'll not be using D2L, but there is a supporting website for our course:

It's up and running now. If you enroll in the course you'll be added as a contributing author when the semester begins. If you don't want to wait that long, you can begin now. Contact me at poliver@mtsu.edu OR poliver.mtsu@gmail.com.

Dr. Oliver

"Empedocles on Etna"

Michael Shermer's account of debating creationists on the afterlife is funny, but concludes with profundity borrowed from the poet Matthew Arnold:
Is it so small a thing,
To have enjoyed the sun,
To have lived light in the Spring,
To have loved, to have thought, to have done;
To have advanced true friends, and beat down baffling foes;
That we must feign a bliss
Of doubtful future date,
And while we dream on this,
Lose all our present state,
And relegate to worlds yet distant our repose?
Skepticblog » Shermer in Seminary School:

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Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Binary Code Found in Physics - final part 3

Up until now I have given some rather intriguing circumstantial evidence that our universe could be a computer simulation.  However all of this just makes it seem like it could be. Well now I have a somewhat more concrete bit of evidence to show you.

Within the last two years physicist James Gates Jr. has found binary computer code hidden deep within the equations of string-theory. He found a string of 1s and 0s that make up a simple piece of software. It's not just some random, never-before-seen set of code, it's a very specific type of code invented in the 40s by an engineer named Claude Shannon. It's called Doubly-even self-dual linear binary error-correcting block code. It is a small set of code used in internet protocol to check for and correct errors as data is transmitted across the net.

You can listen to an interview with Gates about it on youtube here:

Final Project: Pharyngula Post

Here is the effort that I am going to submit to PZ's ongoing series of "Why I am an atheist" posts.  This is the shorter version, since I find the exceedingly long posts of this nature on Pharyngula to be tedious.  I will submit the longer required length version to this site as soon as I'm finished tweaking it.

On a personal note, let me again express my gratitude to you, Dr. Oliver, for making this class available.  I had to skip taking one of my core classes in order to participate, and I have been very pleased with my decision to do so.  This class has been an absolute delight, and I have you to thank for it.

To my classmates, let me also say "thank you" for making this experience one that I will always remember.  This class was a big question mark, but the pleasantly diverse mix of worldviews guaranteed plenty of interesting conversation and introspection.  I simply couldn't be more pleased with the wide-ranging variety of topics that we managed to touch on over the course of this semester.  Good luck to you all.

Why I am an atheist

The reasons that I am an atheist are really quite simple. Long ago, some very smart people wrote a book that revealed the unquestionable truth of atheism that would endure for all time. Literally billions of people -including most of my ancestors, family, and friends- have been convinced of the truth of this book and have lived their lives according to its dictates. My parents were atheists, as were their parents and their parents before them, and I am proud to carry on the tradition of atheism by passing it along to my children. Many atheists have suffered and died simply because they were atheists, and I would be dishonoring their memory if I failed to live up to the courage and intellectual honesty that they exemplified during their lives. Who am I to question the sincerity and conviction that the great atheists of the past showed in the face of such persecution?

Sounds pretty silly, doesn't it? That’s precisely because it is. Statements like those above are the product of lazy thinking, poor reasoning, and an almost total lack of critical thinking. Making such statements in the defense of any worldview, either secular or religious, is simply ridiculous.

While our exponentially growing knowledge and finite lifespans place limitations on the amount of subjects that any one person can personally learn, thus forcing us to take the word of experts in any given field, we certainly aren’t obligated to treat all “experts” equally. A preacher extolling the beauties of heaven and a doctor administering antibiotics could hardly be further apart on the scale of credibility. One has evidence, and the other has only wishful thinking.

The tired argument from populism likewise gets us nowhere. The fact that a majority of people believe certain things or act in certain ways says absolutely nothing about the rightness of the belief or action in question. Certainly there have been countless times that the majority of people were exactly wrong on questions as easy as slavery or women's rights. If the views of the majority always constituted what was “right”, we would be incapable of making any progress whatsoever. Unless, of course, you happen to think that our civilization doesn’t need to progress beyond our past missteps, which brings us back to the lack of critical thinking.

Appeals to heritage are equally unconvincing. Why do we never (or very seldom) hear: “My parents and their parents before them owned slaves, so it should be good enough for me too.” Our ancestors did the best that they could with the tools that they had available. We can and should strive to do better, as our awareness of how our actions affect the lives of our fellow beings increases.

Who are we to question the actions of those that have gone before us? We are their successors, that’s who. We are the product of a continually accumulating pool of shared knowledge, both factual and moral, so we had damn well better have an improved awareness of how our actions affect this planet and its inhabitants. We all stand on the shoulders of our ancestors, giants and otherwise, but those shoulders are only a foundation. It is up to us to build on what has come before, and hopefully improve on it.

Why am I an atheist? Because it’s the only intellectually responsible position to hold. Because I am not a slave to tradition, revealed knowledge, or credulous authority. Because that is where the evidence leads me. Because I do not believe in any God or gods.

Brian Greene: Why is our universe fine-tuned for life? | Video on TED.com

Title seems to beg the question, but if the multiverse is real then "fine-tuning" must be universal.

Brian Greene: Why is our universe fine-tuned for life? | Video on TED.com:

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Video Takedown of the Kalam Cosmological Argument

Monday, April 23, 2012

Final Blog Pt 2 - Upon which my Atheism Rests

Last post, I spoke about the disjuncture between "everything" and "every thing". Principally, when we use universal quantifiers, like (x)(y)(x>y), we're saying "for any AND all xs and any AND all ys." I am placing emphasis on the and, because it is an important factor here. Any Y is different from all Ys, especially when we are applying it to the idea of a god. We used the concept "greater" to say that any and all ys are not greater than the x that is a god, and vice versa. That means that God is no greater than the sum of all parts of the universe, and is also no lesser, and vice versa. It also means that God is no greater or lesser than any individual part of the universe, like my pillow. We previously established that we must satisfy both criteria before we can proceed with the statement. So in what respect are we saying "greater"? Do we mean size, power, knowledge? Clearly there are cases where if you are to have the maximum amount that is logically possible of a certain property, so that the property of one thing is equal to that of everything combined, then you must have more than you would of an individual thing - such as intellect, size, or vastness.

This is where Cartesian doubt enters the picture to play chaos with the process of reasoning before we have killed the idea of god before its time. Since we cannot completely trust the ability of our senses to measure the universe in an objective manner, it is only sufficient that we use only the properties we can discern. We don't know the size of god (if existing), or the universe, or the intellect thereof, etc. But we can say that if we assume the premise that a god exists, it has the maximum amount of one quality that is also equal to the rest of the universe, without entering the quagmire of Cartesian doubt on the basis of the contingency of empirical understanding, we can say that the attribute or quality we are looking for is "Godliness" or "G".

If there exists an x that scores a 1 on the binary scale of Godliness from 0-1, that x would be Gx.

Godliness is an attribute which we cannot empirically measure, but can only apply to that which is a god. (I told you it might frustrate some people.)

Now that we have specified here that we are using a measure of godliness, it really throws a wrench at the notion that my pillow cannot be as godly as everything else combined. It now holds the same validity as the notion that a human blood cell is as human as a human heart. We're moving the scale by which we measure from empirical to rational - by which the meat and potatoes of our understanding comes more from the definitive "set" we use more than any tangible or visibly measurable attribute.

So to catch everything up to speed in summary, we have established in this theoretical vacuum that there is everything, and there is nothing that can be more godly than any and all things, and any and all things cannot be more godly than this one thing that we postulate to exist, which we will call "God," and if we are to further expound upon this postulate, we will discover that within the confines of what we denote as "godliness," "God" and "Everything" are identical when it comes to recognizing things based upon their godliness.

Because I am confident in my ability to not accidentally prove the existence of God, I am going to assume that there is one thing in the universe that has the property of "godliness," and if one thing has godliness, then the idea of everything must have godliness, because that one individual thing would contribute to the sum of all things in their godliness.


If we grant one thing in the universe godliness, then we acknowledge that godliness is a real attribute we can apply to things. If everything has some measure of godliness, then it can't have more than whatever this "god" thing is, and it can't have any less either, because that breaks the definition of what we're calling god.

For all intents and purposes, this god would exist within this theoretical realm. If godliness is a real concept, then god can exist in reality by this definition. HOWEVER, we have not given it consciousness.

Some of you might be saying "but would not one thing having consciousness as part of everything generate a holistic consciousness by which the universe operates on a grander scale?"

Frankly, I'd say no. God does not have necessarily any more awareness than a free market economy does. It can really only exist as a measure of holistic godliness through all of the events and things that happen and exist in the universe the same way the economy is just a cloud of the supplies, demands, and transactions that happen within its market. The events that happen within are not created from an outside purpose, the way a neuron might fire in a brain to create a thought - the events that happen within everything happen because of other events from within everything. This is the only possible alternative, because there is nothing outside everything to influence it.

If we accept this postulate to allow God to exist, it is not the Abrahamic God, nor is it a creator with divine intent. It simply exists as a measure of total godliness permeating all things. Godliness is a standalone field of measurement that is purely autological (self describing)

In short, if we use this postulate to accept that God exists, we accept it as a metalogical "Grand Canyon," vast, natural, and completely unresponsive and dead.

Check out this cool blog: "Evangelical Realism"

Just discovered this awesome blog, where the anonymous author seems to have a fetish for demolishing the ridiculous assertions of William Lane Craig.  He's going thru Craig's book "On Guard" chapter by chapter, and just ripping the arguments apart.  Quite an enjoyable read.


Final Pt 1 - Upon which my atheism rests : Dynamic and Static being(s)

First and foremost, I'd like to apologize for my previous two absences from discussion. Tuesday was election day and Thursday I had to attend a funeral. I publish the apology to you all not because it was necessarily appropriate, but because it helps lead into how I came across this topic. After I finished my (unsuccessful) campaign for Connor Moss last Tuesday, I went to the local Masonic Lodge for an inquisitorial, a process in which they talk about the Masons, answer any questions to the applicants, and then we (the applicants) tell why we wanted to join.

The Freemasons, like many fraternities, mandate a belief in some deity, creator, or divine - preferably an Abrahamic one, from what I gathered. I decided it was worth putting some thought into- after all, I'm the first Atheist in my family (that I know of), a family which every male has previously been a Freemason.

I figured "eh what the hell? I can come up with a decent argument to make them believe me, and then not have to talk about it again." So I immediately jumped to the only argument in favor of a divine being that really made me raise an eyebrow, and that was the Spinozan argument, which I was originally introduced to from Goldstein's 36 Arguments. I gathered it was as follows :

A monotheistic God would be the most powerful thing in the universe - based on my blogs about "power" for the midterm presentations.

Nothing can be more powerful than everything, by definition.

If God is everything, and everything exists, then God exists.

Sounds workable, right? I'm sure if the members of the lodge haven't taken formal logic, they'll eat this up.
Unless they're fans of formal logic.

Everything must also be God for the statement to be biconditional.
IE (Ex) : "There exists some x"
(y) : All ys (every thing that can be a y)
(x > y) xs are ys
Bxy : "x is greater than y"

We'll use y to denote "EVERYTHING"

We need to start with the assertion that "God would be the greatest thing there is"
and "Nothing is greater than everything"

(Ex)(y)((~Bxy . ~Byx) . Gx)
Literally : "god" is not greater than everything, and everything is not greater than god, and x is god."

// I won't fully flesh out the other statements that are implied here, like "god is not less than everything, and vice versa." That could go on infinitely.

"God is everything" would be a conditional statement that would read formally : (Ex)(y)(Gx > y)
Literally if there exists a God, then there is "EVERYTHING"

"Everything is God" would read : (Ex)(y)(y > Gx)
Literally : If there is everything that can be a y "EVERYTHING" then there is an x that is a God.

If it were the case that God is everything and everything is God, it would read like this : (Ex)(y)(Gx <-> y)

The debate therefore lies in PROVING that everything is as much god as god is everything. Could it be as valid as saying "all attorneys are lawyers," or will it be as nonsensical as saying "all clothes are pants."

Furthermore, if everything is God as much as God is everything, we must then consider if this being is a conscious and dynamic being, and how that would even work, or if it is just an obligatory title placed on a vast, universal cloud of events taking place and things existing. More on that later, if we get there.

Before we determine the level of consciousness a god may or may not have, we must first determine what we mean when we say "everything". Is it the idea of "everything" in its totality, or is it "every thing" individually compiled? When I say everything exists, I do mean both that everything exists in its totality as I do mean to state that every individual thing exists. It is only fair that if I am to assert that god might exist through rite of "everything," I must consider both meanings of everything before even considering tying a deity to its understanding.

In short, this would mean that both everything in its totality, and everything in its plurality ; To hold it true that everything is god, I would consider as much god in the sum of all parts of the universe as I would in the cigarette lighter on my desk, or the slim jim I'm gnawing on. I for one do not find this to be the case, because the part of "everything" that has something that "every thing" does not, is that measure of omnipresence and other "omni" nesses. For example. Everything is in fact everywhere, but the same cannot be said about every thing, because some things aren't in some places.

If it does not satisfy that everything is god as much as god is every thing, then the whole circus tent falls apart.

(Ex)(y)(Gx > Gy)

See how that formula looks very different? You can't just give the property of "god" to everything because something exists that might be considered god, can you?

In part two, I'll throw some Descartes into the mix to really upset some people

Young Atheist's Handbook

Alom Shaha challenges young Muslims to be honest if they don’t believe, and calls on organised atheism to broaden its appeal beyond an intellectual elite. Here he explains why he wrote it...

Alom Shaha - No more lies | New Humanist:

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Thursday, April 19, 2012

Similarities of Universe and Computers - final part 2

Last time I mentioned the shear statistical probability that we are a computer simulation. Now I'd like to present some circumstantial evidence that our universe could be a computer.

1. Pixels and Quantization
In a computer, everything is made of discrete pixels. In "reality", everything is made of discrete atoms. In a computer, space is made of grid nodes. In "reality", space is quantized on the Plank length scale. In a computer, time exists as processing cycles. In "reality", time is quantized on the Plank time scale.

2. Null Processing and Empty Space
Null processing gives no result. Empty space looks like nothing. Null processing does require processing. Empty space has vacuum energy. Null processing can host other processing. Empty space is the medium of light.

3. Virtual Time and Physical Time
Virtual time is measured by processing events. Physical time is measured by atomic events. Virtual time varies with processing load. Physical time varies with speed and mass. Virtual time is a sequence of changing pixels. Physical time is a sequence of changes in position.

4. Virtual Load and Quantum Collapse
In a virtual space such as a computer game, only what you are looking at and can be seen onscreen at any given moment is actually loaded, everything off screen is not loaded. In physical space, atoms collapse into a definite state when you look at them. As far as we know, whatever is behind you isn't actually there until you turn around to look at it.

There's a great deal more similarities than this but a lot of it is a bit beyond my understanding. However it is plain to see that just about everything about how our reality works is based on the same principles as how a computer works. If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck...well you get it. All that being said I think it's equally as likely to say that computers simply follow the same method as reality because they exist in reality. But it's still in intriguing thought.

The future of happiness

After listening to the final chapter of Harris's book i am a little confused. He basically sums up his thesis by saying that while a science of morality may not be possible in practice it still holds in principle. That's the major objection that I have had throughout my re-listening experience.
Over all, I think that he makes a strong argument for the further study of states of the brain and human experience. My favorite part of the final chapter is his analogy of moral relativism and a world financial crisis. It is perplexing to think that we don't think that every economic plan that could be developed to deal with a world wide financial meltdown, but we do that exact thing when it comes to cultural practices. It hurts my brain to think about how someone could use neuroscience to map the moral landscape, but I hope in the future that science can at least give us another point of reference to right our collective moral cumpas.
Sent from my iPhone

We Have Only Scratched The Surface

I was just reading Russell Blackford's review of Harris's "The Moral Landscape" as well as a Charles Pigden piece in Philosophy Now on Hume's is-ought gap (analytically valid vs. logically valid arguments) and realized we have only just begun to delve into the depths of moral philosophy. I can't decide at the moment if that's exciting or depressing.

Here's a quote from Blackford which gets to the crux of the my deductive problem:

"However, Harris reaches these conclusions only by offering what strikes me as a highly implausible and ultimately unsustainable account of the phenomenon of morality. That account does not seem necessary to reach his practical conclusions, or at least something very like them, but I fear that he’ll convince some readers otherwise. We can live with a more sophisticated view of morality than the one Harris offers while getting to a similar place in the end.

The problem lies in his insistence that moral judgments, such as “Lying in circumstances C is morally wrong,” are straightforwardly and determinately true or false in the same way as factual statements, such as “My breakfast mug contains coffee,” appear to be. We may tend to think of both kinds of statements in the same way, and it may be unsettling to realize that morality isn’t quite like that. If, however, as I’m convinced, it’s not, then we’d better try to get understand how and why it’s not, and whether there are any important practical implications. Unfortunately, Harris is impatient with all this, and often resorts to outright scorn in rejecting considerations that don’t fit with his position."

What worries me about religion is it offers easy, ready-made answers to complex problems. What keeps me awake at night is I don't have any answers. 

MTSU Professor’s Film Causes Controversy

Here's a case where Tennessee state lawmakers who are still stuck in 1st century Bronze-age thinking on human equality have "expressed concern" over how state funds are being used in relation to Pondillo's film, a film that illuminates hatred, bigotry, and bullying instituted by nothing other than that morally bankrupt, fascist ideology most often referred to as religion. 
"MURFREESBORO, Tenn.- A film directed by an MTSU professor, using a cast of child actors from Middle Tennessee has gotten the attention of one state lawmaker.
Although it may look like a children's movie "The Miracles on Honeybee Hill" is a movie designed to get adults talking.
10-year-old Lucy Turner plays a girl who falls in love with another girl and then is rejected by her church. MTSU Professor Bob Pondillo directed the film and said it is about more than just gay marriage.
"Ultimately it's about caring, friendship and kindness, how can you be against that? That's what puzzles me," said Pondillo.
The film has not yet been released but has already created a stir. At least one MTSU student complained to a state senator's office because she was worried kids were being exploited in a movie about gay marriage.
State Senator Bill Ketron has asked to screen the film, saying ""My office received a communication from an MTSU student who was concerned and upset about this movie .... Especially as it pertains to what the student said were the exploitation of young children."
Professor Pondillo said that he chose to use child actors in the story because of their innocence.
"I wanted to drain the notion of sex, cause of the problem; everybody gets hung up on the sex thing," he said.
Pondillo also said that children's parents all approved the script and were on-set for the filming.
"It was a good message of love, sweetness and Lucy has been exposed to many lifestyles," said Lori Turner, mother to the leading actress, Lucy Turner.
Senator Ketron has expressed concern about the university's role in providing resources for the film (emphasis mine).  News Channel 5 sent a copy of the film to Senator Ketron's office and has not yet received a response."

Wait until they find out about Dr. Oliver's class. Sheesh...


Couple things --

1. Sorry I don't post that often. I'm lazy and viciously honest about it.

2. http://http://www.danoah.com/2011/11/im-christian-unless-youre-gay.html Really great article about caring for everybody, no matter how you see yourself stacked up to them. This is the one I mentioned in class; about gays and the hatred for them...then it evolves into an "Everybody Love Everybody" mantra. Very inspiring (at least to me).

3. Nietzsche always brings me back down to Earth when I start swimming in metaphysical thought. We're all just ignorant, proud creatures that assume we "know" truths that we cannot even begin to fathom simply because of the infinite quality of the universe. Any time I remember this, it makes it so much easier to just sit down and write, paint, relax, etc without having to ask myself "What does it all MEAN?!?!" Figured I would remind you guys, just in case anyone has been going through the "sad" or "mad" atheism. There is so much that we cannot know presently. All that we truly have is our own, personal consciousness. Relish in it. :)

[Note: This is not to stifle ambitions to pursue knowledge. It's more of a vacation for the mind if it gets too intense. I know that others can handle these taxing questions better than I can, but if you're having trouble dealing with the weight and reality of the universe, it's comforting to remember that we're just egotistical animals lol.]

4. Anyone else hear about the short film that Bob Pondillo made here on campus? The Miracles on Honeybee Hill is his 23 minute story of a girl that, gasp, loves another girl. The controversy is that these are children portraying a gay relationship. Personally, I see no problem in it, especially considering that Pondillo made it clear that he wanted no sexual aspects involved. There are none. On top of all of this, the message remains important; tolerance, love, acceptance, etc.
The Facebook Page-

Behind the Scenes-

It's an awesome short film and it has an amazing message. Your thoughts?

5. Has ANYONE else kept up with GCB (Good Christian Bitches -- changed to Belles because acronyms with swear words are terrible...apparently)? It's fantastic in television format, truly capturing the heartless, generally terrible culture of southern Christianity in the public sphere. The characters are really interesting, representing MANY facets of Christian living (example: "beard" marriages). I suggest watching some of it. I get a kick out of it every episode.

Looking toward the future

  Suppose that over the next couple decades, the study of the brain provides solid evidence that certain kinds of behavior promote/hinder human flourishing. How might we use such information or enforce a "new" morality? Can we keep all our freedoms?
(By the way, I think the findings will be more or less a confirmation of things we already seem to "know," however, when dealing with matters of fact, policies might be more justifiable. For instance, wearing a seat belt has proven to be safer than not, so now its a law.)

I want to keep the questions above open for discussion, but...
   One of the biggest issues I foresee is that we will continue to discover the importance of early childhood in shaping who we are (our moral selves especially). In this hypothetical future, "good" parenting might require more than some are willing to give. How sacred is our right to parenthood?

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Alain de Botton update

Here are a few excerpts from an interview with Alain de Botton, in which he says some weird things. Maybe he really is just pushing this atheist religion thing in some attempt to make money or sell books, because this doesn't make sense.


Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Here is a link to the what type of Atheist are you Article.

Call and Response: The Moral Landscape

I found this critique of criticism offered up for "The Moral Landscape" in the Huffington Post where Sam is a frequent contributor.

The History of God

I stumbled across this well produced video on the history of God.  I've got Karen Armstrong's book on my desk to read but this is a good primer.

Are We Living in the Matrix? - final part 1

It has recently come to my attention that there is a theory that our universe is actually just a virtual simulation being run on the computers of people in the distant future. More specifically we are a historical simulation of what happened in human history (they're history, our present), kind of like a future version of a history book.

The theory follows the trend of computer technology advancement. Following Moore's Law, within the next few decades we should have computers that could run a simulation of the entire universe, and with that possibility comes the probability that we will make such a simulation. Further on into the future and such computers will become cheaper, smaller, and more abundant. The prediction is that, following this and other trends such as population growth and civil advancement, by the year 2100 almost every person in our civilization will be running such a simulation on there own computer devices.

So, at this point, there will be billions of simulations being run of our universe...and only one actual universe. What are the odds that our universe is the real one? This is just the first part of the theory. In my following posts I will discuss various evidence we have found that suggests our universe could very well be a simulation.

The Destruction of Francis Collins

I'll admit that I get a certain guilty pleasure seeing believers knocked down into the dirt (rhetorically speaking, of course.) And while the internet is filled with an almost endless supply of these moments on display, the practically chapter length take-down of Collins by Harris is one of the best. Of course, it should come as no surprise that Collins will be taking a nosedive when he "freely admits that if all his scientific arguments for the plausibility of God were proven to be in error, his faith would be undiminished."

What is left, but to point and laugh? Not much, and I did a fair amount of chuckling at Collins's expense while reading Sam's description of the laughable things that Collins (and millions of Christians) profess to actually believe. Does that win me any points in the diplomacy department? No, it does not. Do I particularly care? No, not in this context. Tiptoeing around sacred cows is guaranteed to be the slowest way to affect change, and the sacred cow of religious faith is long overdue to be put out to pasture. As Frank Zappa said, "Without deviations from the norm, progress is not possible." The norm of automatic respect for faith has to change, and speaking out unapologetically against its most ridiculous manifestations is a perfectly valid way to change it.

Dinesh D'souza

Spotted this morning on Vanderbilt campus. Dinesh D'souza is speaking there Thursday night

Shar'iah and England


An interesting interview the other day on Fresh Air, with an English human rights lawyer who identifies himself as a liberal Muslim. Like with any interview or thing we've read this semester, I found parts of it difficult to stomach or agree with, and parts of it that I thought were really well-stated. I was particularly interested in (which I don't think is included in the written summary of the interview) the connection he drew between fundamentalist Islam and "Tea Party" right-wing conservative hardliners in America who seem to sacralize the founding fathers. A lot of the arguments, at least in terms of the proper way to interpret texts and the proper attitude to be taken towards long-dead founders, are terribly similar. He also expresses, as Dean and some others have pointed out, that it's entirely reasonable for people like him to worry because there are "a lot of crazy people out there", but I think he speaks to the divisions that are hotly contested within Islam, and the difficulties in interpreting the Shari'ah.

One anecdote that's not listed, is when he was at a conference in Iran and one of the clerics stepped out to speak against the hardline in a very surprising way. Even in the most repressive "Islamic" regimes on Earth, it seems there's no solidarity.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Kopimism: A New "Religion" in Sweden


I need to research the founder of this church more to see if this is more to mock the legal side-steppings of conventional churches or to validate the free share of information and emphasize personal privacy in the cyber world.  I imagine it's both, but I do like the idea.

If the mythology and folklore of ancient peoples justifies tax breaks and special treatment under the law, why shouldn't the sincere belief in the potentials of modern technology and science be eligible for the same considerations?

Is it religion?  No.  But, maybe it's the only way to get such considerations; by fighting fire (burning bushes and eternal hellfire) with firewalls.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Is-Ought Stretch

“Science has long been in the values business. Despite a widespread belief to the contrary, scientific validity is not the result of scientists abstaining from making value judgments; rather, scientific validity is the result of scientists making their best effort to value principles of reasoning that link their beliefs to reality, through reliable chains of evidence and
argument. This is how norms of rational thought are made effective.”

As much as I like Sam Harris and respect his brilliance, I think this statement is a bit overreaching regarding the sense of value and science.

We don’t have to value science to make use of it. Science works whether we despise it or love it. Science—the method and content (verb and noun respectively)—is built on probability and not truth (nor Truth). When Harris maintains we value science and “has long been in the value business” seem to smack of an equivocation fallacy. It seems as if he’s attempting to close the is-ought gap by pointing to facts that are about value and beliefs, but this only seems to muddy the water.

Further, how the brain perceives facts vs. values has no bearing on validity nor does it produce any concrete evidence that one could pass for knowledge of the external world.

 From a personal anecdote:  as a teenager, watching William Friedkin’s 1973 film “The Exorcist” at the theater was just as scary as a midnight walk in a real cemetery—if not more. I’m sure my brain would have tweaked a fMRI in either case and produced real “facts and evidence” but the threat of demonic possession is right there along with zero in both cases and has no bearing on the validity of spirits (angelic or demonic) the real world. 

So, there are some facts without values because value is a human construct and facts (like rocks) are...well...just facts: "there" whether we like it or not. 


Harris tries to convey that belief resides in and is a result of the various linguistic properties of the brain. He defines it as the acceptance of a statement based on already known evidence or trust in the origin of the statement. I agree with this, but I also think there is another level of belief beyond this.

For as long as I can remember I have had this unshakeable feeling that there is more to this world than what science has so far described, not that what it says is wrong, but rather it's only looking at one small part of the picture. I don't know where this feeling comes from; it does not seem to have arisen from any experience or perception I have had. It's just there.

I believe that consciousness is an existence in and of itself, not just an effect of the physical machinations of the brain. I believe that the brain serves merely as a conduit for this consciousness into the physical realm and as a feedback system to help it think in terms of physical reality. I believe that within its own realm, consciousness is pure knowledge and will, and it is from this knowledge that the feeling I have described comes from. And so this is, I think, another source of belief.

Hedging your bets

Hedging your bet. The tides of bias. This is my second time listening to "The Moral Landscape" and i definitely missed some things the first time around. When Harris talks about the supposed arrogance of scientist by the religious he says that arrogance is as common as nudity at a scientific conference. No wonder most people are not interested in science. There should be a science based reality show hosted by Tila Tequila, where scientist must out smart their peers to keep from being Ms. Tequila's next love interest. He also states that while scientist will hedge their bets on scientific understanding that falls on either side of the knife edge of their expertise when debating religious fundamentalist, their opponent will insert god at each of the blank spaces that are left open by the formers admission of not being omnipotent. I agree that this is how most of the debates that I have watched go down. I think it's rediculous if the apologist uses scientific theories that they don't understand to support their argument, but not all of them do. I don't agree with Denesh D'souza, but in a few debates he states that his beliefs are faith based and not fact based. He then talks of the universe, the "miracles" in nature, the fact that we are conscious creatures, etc, justify why he has faith in a intelligence that we cannot perceive. He shies away from specific Christian themes like the divinity of Jesus and resurrection, because this complicates his case exponentially. Anyways. I really like Sam Harris and his point about scientific VS religious arrogance is valid, I thought pointing out the exception to the rule was the most I could offer to the discussion.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Chapter 3: Favorite Passage

In this chapter, Sam continues to hammer on the idea that there is no distinction between facts and values (or at least that you can't separate the two.) There is so much good stuff in here, but I wanted to draw attention to one of my very favorite parts.

"As someone who has received many thousands of letters and emails from people who have ceased to believe in the God of Abraham, I know that pessimism about the power of reason is unwarranted. People can be led to notice the incongruities in their faith, the self-deception and wishful thinking of their coreligionists, and the growing conflict between the claims of scripture and the findings of modern science. Such reasoning can inspire them to question their attachment to doctrines that, in the vast majority of cases, were simply drummed into them on mother's knee. The truth is that people can transcend mere sentiment and clarify their thinking on almost any subject. Allowing competing views to collide-through open debate, a willingness to receive criticism, etc.-performs just such a function, often by exposing inconsistencies in a belief system that makes its adherents profoundly uncomfortable. There are standards to guide us, even when opinions differ, and the violation of such standards generally seems consequential to everyone involved. Self-contradiction, for instance, is viewed as a problem no matter what one is talking about. And anyone who considers it a virtue is very unlikely to be taken seriously. Again, reason is not starkly opposed to feeling on this front; it entails a feeling for the truth."

Put that in your pipe and smoke it.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012


It's odd how often io9.com will have articles that address the exact topic that I was thinking about or discussing on any given day. Freakish.

At any rate, check out this cool article on the brain and how we might someday be able to physically manipulate it to bring about desired behavior.

Knights of Dei - Tues 10th

First off, I'd like to apologize for not being in class. Have you ever had one of those days where you feel horrible upon waking up, but write it off as a temporary malady attributed to sleeping with your mouth open, and then later discover that you're actually sick? That's one of those days. Anyway, Ch2 of the Moral Landscape really got me thinking, "how wonderful would it be if we had institutions dedicated to the scientific pursuit and understanding of ethical morality in the same manner as churches?"

Of course, now we have schools and universities for more secular indoctrination to society's moral standards, but they lack the same functional effect that churches would have - if they had simply removed god from the picture. I wonder, is it possible? 

Do all people seek the good?

I was flipping back through the first few chapters of Moral Landscape to prepare for today's class, and found this quote. It's everything I was trying to say in our last class (re: all people wanting good but being deluded as to what it is) only more articulate.

"I am arguing that everyone also has an intuitive “morality,” but much of our intuitive morality is clearly wrong (with respect to the goal of maximizing personal and collective well-being). And only genuine moral experts would have a deep understanding of the causes and conditions of human and animal well-being.17 Yes, we must have a goal to define what counts as “right” or “wrong” when speaking about physics or morality, but this criterion visits us equally in both domains. And yes, I think it is quite clear that members of the Taliban are seeking well-being in this world (as well as hoping for it in the next). But their religious beliefs have led them to create a culture that is almost perfectly hostile to human flourishing. Whatever they think they want out of life—like keeping all women and girls subjugated and illiterate—they simply do not understand how much better life would be for them if they had different priorities."

ETA: Actually, now that I'm looking at it, that whole section that follows articulates a lot of what I have clumsily been trying to point out this semester. That's the bad thing about reading super smart people, you always get jealous you couldn't have said it that way. But I think Sam does an excellent job of addressing the fact that science really can't give itself any grounding or justify itself scientifically, while also making the excellent and to some very obvious argument that it's enormously useful regardless of that deficiency. 

Monday, April 9, 2012

When God Talks Back

There was an absolutely great segment on Fresh Air this morning that you guys can read about and listen to HERE.

It is by an anthropologist who spent a significant amount of time in the Evangelical community, and it ranges over a lot of the same discussions we've been having in class. Everything from the motivations of believers, the extremes faith can be can be taken to in the Christian community, to the very real benefits of a focused prayer life (benefits which, unfortunately for the believers, can easily be replicated by secular meditation techniques). I thought the most interesting point she made though, was at one point she talks about how Christianity as we know it today could only come out of modernity. The Evangelical movement is very much one focused on right practice, repeatable results, a very organized and methodical mindset, all sorts of traits that would not be associated with medieval Christianity, for better and worse.

I just thought I'd share, I was fascinated by the whole hour.

Good and Evil -vs- Human Well Being

Harris asks a great question in his chapter on good and evil. He asks if we could replace words like good, bad, moral, and immoral, with actions that enhance, or are detrimental to the well being of all conscious creatures. would it take away anything from the argument? In some cases it certainly would. The religious are concerned with the end game of their conscious experience. Just because something will benefit someone on earth would not necessarily get them to heaven. In some cases it seems that the trend runs that way in the mind of the religious. Keeping Africans scared of condom use because of the metaphysical consequences seems abhorrent to me, but to the Vatican it is necessary to keep from stoking the coals of hell. Human suffering is also considered to be a virtue by very prominent christian figures from Paul to Mother Teresa. Would we have to leave the unproven assumptions of the religious out of the well being argument? Could we make a cost/bennefit analysis between aids prevention that could have possitive effects for an entire continent, and the potential of that there will be millions less aids victims in Africa that are going to hell for using a Trajan?

Beanballs and the Psychology of Revenge

In the spirit of Easter, here's a study that Dr. Oliver might enjoy about vicarious punishment.


Friday, April 6, 2012

Harris and Dennett on Free Will

Sam's latest blog post on free will addresses some of the differences between the way he and Dan Dennett conceive of the subject. While they are in substantive agreement on the big picture, Sam apparently thinks there is still plenty to be said about the particulars. Very interesting read, although it is painfully obvious that this concept is unlikely to be convincing to the vast majority of hairless apes on this planet.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Moral Truth

In Harris's 1st chapter he talks about morality being a matter of fact. That there is circumstantial truth to what we should and should not do. This falls in line a great deal with what I have said before. Which is that, while we do decide what morality is for ourselves, we do so based on circumstantial evidence. Death is bad so killing is immoral, pain is bad so hurting is immoral, and so on. I think that this is true regardless of whether or not God made it so, and therefore using this principle in any way in the argument of whether or not there is a god is futile.

Sam Harris vs. Andrew Sullivan

I see that Professor Oliver has a link on the Next thread about the email "debate" between Harris and Sullivan. It is phenomenal.

Sullivan is an oftentimes excellent writer, but the stunning amount of compartmentalization that he musters in defense of Catholicism is simply amazing. It's like a weird Stockholm Syndrome. He has also gotten into a few rhetorical dust-ups with Jerry Coyne, in which he shows some epic capacity for cognitive dissonance.

But seriously, the email debate with Sullivan is one of my favorite exchanges ever. Love it.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Is God a racist?

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If I did this right, this should be a link to an episode of the fantastic show "The Boondocks" created by writer Aaron McGruder.  In this episode, "The Passion of Uncle Ruckus", the character Uncle Ruckus, who is an enthusiastic Uncle Tom tries to spread the word of "White God".  At the same time, the show's protagonist desperately struggles with the unjust incarceration of his friend.  The episode deals with the problem of evil from a novel perspective; a racial one.  If God is real, Aaron McGruder seems to imply, he sure does like white people.  "He doesn't even remember slavery," Reagan says to Ruckus "except in February."