Up@dawn 2.0

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Pat Condell: Insulting Religion

Pat often cuts to the chase. Nothing less is expected. It seems atheists have become too familiar with being insulted that it has become the norm.

Insulting Religion

Blog Discovery: Good Atheist Arguments

I stumbled across this site a few days ago and thought I should share it here. The author is anonymous and posts as the Masked Offender. From the writing, one could safely assume the Masked Offender is trained in logic, critical thinking, as well a a good dose of clarity. Here's the site description: A Blog dedicated to accelerating the eradication of superstition from the human mind by the presentation of effective arguments for atheism.

Let me know what you think. Here's the link:  Good Atheist Arguments

Further, here's an excellent post on secular morality.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Dangerous mistakes

"Whereas the mistakes in philosophy are merely ridiculous, those in religion are dangerous." -David Hume

Atheist Quotes (atheistq) on Twitter

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Just Because

ok so I know this isn't really the happiness class and all but idk if that blog is even still up or not and I just thought this was pretty funny so here it is

Why atheists gather

...in person or in cyberspace:
"Because we believe in ideas that transcend religion such as love, respect, science, reason, the separation of church and state and good will towards others." It’s Good to Have a Response When Someone Asks Why Atheists Gather
Nontheism can be lonely in places like middle Tennessee, but we're not alone. "Shall we gather at the river?" Or the pub, or a Sounds game, or...?

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Tennessee Atheist, Godless Goods

"Welcome to Godless Goods, a unique source of messages that support the perspective of secular Americans. Atheists, agnostics, humanists, and true freethinkers of all kinds will find messages here that match their ideals and defend their right to live as equals in a progressive society."
Tennessee Atheist Bumper Sticker > Godless State By State > Godless Goods: Atheist and Heretical Stickers:
'via Blog this'

Monday, May 7, 2012

It’s Good to Have a Response When Someone Asks Why Atheists Gather

"...because we believe in ideas that transcend religion such as love, respect, science, reason, the separation of church and state and good will towards others. Come to our next meeting to see for yourself!”"
It’s Good to Have a Response When Someone Asks Why Atheists Gather
'via Blog this'

Thursday, May 3, 2012

I Posted This on Rabbi Rami's Site

Hi, Rabbi Rami,

I was enrolled in your class this semester but had to drop it at the last minute due to a scheduling conflict. After reading your four-part series, I am kicking myself. I hope to see you next semester.

As an atheist, I feel your pain. Interfaith dialogue seems to be dialing down the inter-hate long enough to hate on non-believers.

I just concluded a class at MTSU with Dr. Oliver entitled Atheism and Philosophy. It was a rigorous study of the arguments for God as well as a wealth of essays from free-thinkers, skeptics, humanists, philosophers and scientists. We finished off the semester with Sam Harris's "The Moral Landscape" for a diverse discussion of morality without a god.

The class was comprised of believers and nonbelievers from all stripes. We had wonderful, engaging, open and polite discussions about all-things religious. What was most interesting to me was even after weeks of vigorous study, logically dismantling the arguments for God, I don't think anyone changed their beliefs. One thing I will say, when hard questions are put to believers about their beliefs, the Bible becomes very metaphorical and God moves way out there beyond space, time, and understanding. That being said, I don't think it's possible to "fail" at trying to reason with unreasonable people.

This is just a thought, but maybe your talents and passion to fight hate, bigotry, Anti-Semitism, homophobia, misogyny, subjugation of women, and xenophobia would be better spent with us here on the outside. What joy could come from sitting around and having a discussion with a bunch of people who "know" we're going to burn in hell for eternity.

I'll leave you with a quote from that shining diamond of wisdom, Thomas Jefferson:

“Ridicule is the only weapon which can be used against unintelligible propositions. Ideas must be distinct before reason can act upon them; and no man ever had a distinct idea of the trinity. It is the mere Abracadabra of the mountebanks calling themselves the priests of Jesus.”


Dean Hall

Beyond Religion with Rabbi Rami: I Have Failed, Part One

Beyond Religion with Rabbi Rami: I Have Failed, Part One: "It seems that there is no horror God can command or commit that will shake the faith of true believers. This may not be shocking, but it should be sobering: as long as we excuse and commend God’s evil we will most likely collude in the commission of that evil...

After months of analyzing the Bible, placing it in its historical context, and wrestling with its often-contradictory teachings, to have the vast majority of students blithely excuse the shadow side of God and defend the evil that comes from it, I cannot escape the notion that I have failed my students, and failed them miserably. And I despair of the world they will create, a world filled with evil done in the name of the God they call Love."

'via Blog this'

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

New Christian Argument: The Argument from Hunger

This is obviously the product of many intense years of theological study and academic rigor. With this line of argument, Christianity makes perfect sense now. Let's see if we can follow the logic:

1. I'm hungry for a BLT therefore BLTs exist.
2. I'm thirsty for a cold beer therefore cold beer exists.
3. I yearn for God therefore God exists.

So far so good, right?

4. I really want a pink unicorn therefore unicorns exits.
5. I want the spaghetti monster to forgive my sins therefore FSM exists.
6. I really want Christians to apply logic to their beliefs therefore Christians who apply logic to there beliefs exist.

I guess Rebecca Goldstein will have to add one more to her list. Sheesh...

The rise of atheism in America - The Week

The rise of atheism in America - The Week: "If growth continues at the current rate, one in four Americans will profess no religious faith within 20 years."

'via Blog this'

Walking on water

"I don't get why so many believed you were actually the son of God." Jesus and Mo:

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Mr. Deity and the Latter-Days - YouTube

Mr. Deity and the Latter-Days - YouTube: "Mr. Deity, Lucy, and John the Baptist meet with Joseph Smith to hear about his exciting new ideas for the latter-days."

'via Blog this'

When an Atheist Parent Introduces Her Child to Jesus for the First Time…

When an Atheist Parent Introduces Her Child to Jesus for the First Time…: "Atheist comedian Julia Sweeney (Letting Go of God) recently watched the movie Jesus Christ Superstar with her daughter Mulan. Mulan and I watched it. I thought maybe it was a good way for her to learn about Jesus. HA. She was so bewildered. I realized that since she hasn’t been inculcated with religious behaviors, everything just seems weird to her. Things I would have never had the naive open-mindedness to even ask. For example, at one point she asked me, “Why do those sick people want to touch Jesus?” I said, “Because they think he’s magic and can heal them.” Mulan said, “Why would anyone think that?”

'via Blog this'

Harris Review -- Kat Kolby

Sam Harris’ “The Moral Landscape”
            Sam Harris is a rather strange author. Out of all of the texts I’ve had to read this semester, I will have to say that his “The Moral Landscape” was one of particular lack of interest. It did not begin that way, however. When I began reading Sam’s book, I felt as though he was really going to change the minds of any reader. He spoke of objective morality, and how we can conceivably map it out with science. We aren’t there yet, but Harris stays hopeful. This is my initial issue with this book. The premise is one that is indeed intriguing, but the fact that there is no real gravity to this statement of mere possibility makes the rest of the book pretty null and void.
            Harris consistently refers to a “science” of the mind, but any current science mentioned is later discussed as if it just doesn’t cover the perfect scope and perspective that Harris is trying to get at. The problem here is that he constantly references these precise sciences to make claims about what we already know about mankind and how that leads us to these objective morality conclusions. How can he use examples of these sciences and then dismiss them as the possible ways to figure out his scientific inquiry? What science is he talking about? These questions were common among many readers, I imagine. I still do not what the hell he is talking about. Well, let me rephrase that: I do understand what he is implying by his “science,” I just don’t see why that would be a good way to accomplish his goals.
            When Harris writes about objective morality, he is speaking about his concept of a moral landscape, with peaks and valleys representing all of the highs and lows of morality among humans. He talks about science being able to map this out, over time, by observing what is and is not beneficial for peoples’ well-being. The science he is wanting here is one of severe tedious data retrieval. Sam Harris dismisses other sciences, making obscure grasps at why they aren’t doing EXACTLY what he intends, but what he is asking is for a massive examination of all situations and scenarios, then making conclusions, somehow, about whether or not they were good or bad for well-being of humans. Sam Harris also likes to dismiss subjectivity in social and cultural norms. What he is asking for us to do is to analyze each subjective situation to determine its own subjective morality. I smell a contradiction. Aren’t these dismissed sciences already working on figuring out the connection between morality, behavior, the body, and a myriad of everything in the known universe? To me, this proves his points useless.
            His science returns to a tedious job that is impossible, literally. He refuses to admit that he is suggesting looking at every portion of human existence and figuring out its valleys and peaks; exactly how each person can have a good well-being, whatever that means, according to each of their individual definitions of well-being. He often talks about health and how that term is relative. Can’t well-being be a generally relative term? Not if you want your readers to agree with you, Sam. He seems so wishy-washy in his claims, flitting back and forth between subjective and objective claims. The worst parts aren’t even this indecisive nature of his book.
            Sam Harris starts to generally fall apart over time in this one. He starts off with strident claims about how awesome science is and how it totally can map the human morality through the study of the brain, then I feel like Sam gets concerned that he will scare people away from his “we have to figure out what’s right and wrong” banner if he makes these same strident claims. He starts to pull back from his statements, only using this vague “science” as his practically metaphorical tool for the discovery of objective morality. He talks about how some people just will not agree with him, and how astounded he is when they just will not budge on the issue, so much so that he walked away from a woman he was speaking to once. He frequently references these “intelligent, completely lucid” people that suddenly change when morality comes into play.
            My issue here is with his approach to these people, these opponents of his—convincing them by writing a book that talks about how he walks away from them when they disagree with him. He mocks them. Who the hell is this book for then? You aren’t telling me anything important here, Harris. I know that there is an objective morality. All “good” people understand this. They are “good” because they just know what to do. I consider myself one of these people. I am as honest as I can be, trying not to assume things about anyone, understanding that we are all the same animal on the same tiny speck, respecting others regardless of our differences (or at least trying really hard to), and a number of other “no shit” moral duties that we all KNOW naturally. We understand the objective morality, the issue here is with everyone who doesn’t understand this, and Harris treats those people like the plague because they’re just “too stupid to truly see the horrors of the world.”
Killing is wrong. The problem is that humans have, somehow, convinced each other and their selves that they have a right to do this. This can be said of every crime committed, yet people still commit crime. They have completely blocked off the idea that they are wrong because to admit to the crime would upset psyches culture wide. This is just “how things are done.” Sam does not offer a way to change this view, he only seeks to eliminate it: but how, Harris? How? He has demonstrated a lack of care for people like this, and has gone so far as to call them names and snidely talk about their opinions in his book. How is this strategy supposed to work? Why am I reading this?
The conclusions he reached were vague and unsatisfying. He started with bashing the very people he should be trying to convince with this text, then he slowly backed away from any specific claims in order to avoid more speculation on his theory, and finally he had been alluding to the possibility that he could be completely wrong for the entirety of the book. He had zero confidence. My absolute least favorite part about this book is that he doesn’t ever give any specific example of what we should do, nor does he really talk about any examples of science figuring out morality the exact way he wants it to be done, and he concludes with something along the lines of “and people probably won’t be convinced of any of this anyway, so bye, I guess.”
What was the point? I guess I gathered a bunch of great, horrifying examples of what not to do. This is because Harris spends a good portion of this book describing many scenarios of “bad” behavior in order to show us that we understand what “bad” is, and that cultural and societal norms only allow us to ignore these “bad” behaviors. Of course we understand what bad is. These people have decided that maybe there are reasons behind it, because they don’t want to deal with the implications of such tragedies. They also don’t want to be placed out of their own societal norms, as with “American Constitutional” opinions having a “respect everybody’s rights” chant going on all of the time. People are not comfortable admitting that they are wrong, and Sam Harris has not provided an easier way to do this. He was preaching to the choir, so to speak, and I walked away with nothing but examples of terrible things happening in the world and a vague idea of a possible objective morality that I already know and understand within me.
He began with an already losing battle, and the only people that could agree with him were those that already did or were on the fence about it. He could never, by his own logic and personal reactions to situations of disagreement, convince the opponents of his view. I love the concept of an objective morality, understood through scientific discovery—I just feel like it’s already happening with known sciences that Harris doesn’t even fully understand. I feel like he stepped out of his comfort zone to make controversial claims, then receded after worrying about how he was going to be understood. He never made any really compelling arguments that weren’t already blatant to anyone reading it. We all have that tiny voice in our heads that immediately assesses a situation and determines the right and wrong reactions, we just react differently when it has to be a rapid decision, and then we try to justify our mistakes with things like “societal norms” and “cultural relativity” (save those with severe brain troubles, which neuroscience, biology, genetics, and so forth have tried to fully explain as well).
For me, Harris ultimately fails to fully understand who he’s trying to convince, and does a terrible job appealing to anyone that wouldn’t already agree because they understand morality naturally. Sure, science can explain morality, but it hasn’t done this yet. We’re all waiting, that’s part of being human. Why is it that all philosophers think that the best is going to happen in their lifetime? You can only be morally good, which Harris isn’t by being a general prick to his nay-sayers, and hope that those around you pick up on why morality is a good thing through observation of someone actually sticking to their guns. You can never tell someone how to behave until the science catches up. This “until” is the most important term here in reference to this book—it was written too soon.

Sorry for the ranting, guys, I just really disliked the execution here...and that is heinously obvious at this point.

For future contact: I'm on facebook as Katlin Joelle Kolby -- Look me up if that's your poison.
If you're some kind of hipster who likes some other social networking thing that few people use (meant as a joke), my email is kjk2w@mtmail.mtsu.edu. I'm willing to hang out with anybody if any of you ever wants to philosophize, so use one of those ways of contact if you feel up to it. This has been one of the best classes of all time for me, and I thank you all for helping that be the case :)

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Why I'm a Dreamer

Why I’m a Dreamer
By: Radiance
I have never really seen myself as a single entity, more of a rough collection of a great many things.  A son, a brother, a friend, a lover, a knight, a hero, a warm hug after a bad day, a stupid joke when you’re feeling down, sometimes just a random smile from a stranger. I could go on and on, however I will focus upon the things that define my (seemingly) crazy and mixed up beliefs.  The first of which being, technically I am an atheist.
                Like most “why I am ­­­____" explanations, mine starts with stories as it my historical reasons for rejecting my family’s faith which was the first step on the journey to where I stand now.  As a child born into a family of heavy, heavy, Christian beliefs religion was the explanation of/for many things including how we should act and why nature was the way it is.  I was a child with insatiable curiosity and never ending questions.  Either just to shut me up or out of real belief it was offered to as many explanations, they were answers that were unfulfilling  and usually led to more questions.  Like most children who question Christianity I came upon that one truly damning question “If God created the everything, who created him?” and while whatever answer I was given appeased me for the moment that question stuck with me and was the base of my disbelief even as a child. As I grew older this beginning grew into what seems to me as a huge lack of evidence, the base of my disbelief as an adult.
                Next was the love of logic that grew as I did, I was especially fond of logic puzzles or games that involved a lot of problem solving.  This led me to question the contradictions in the bible, facing my old doubt with a new sense of logic.  For example  Genesis 1:31 and Genesis 6:5-6, the first says god was pleased with his creation of the garden, the second said it displeased him, which also brings up the question of why he would create anything that displeases him. Since he is supposedly omnipotent why not create everything in a pleasing manner, it seems pretty silly to stop a creation while you are displeased with it but being omnipotent and omniscient should make you able to create anything just the way you want it. Spotting contradictions in the words, led me to look towards the people.  Why do people who show up on a certain day of the week in a certain building and teach love and tolerance, go out into the world and spread fear and hatred. Even if they do not mean to, when they ostracize others for their beliefs that they cause animosity even hatred towards themselves and their religion. 
The final step in this process was a recent one, one I had not been willing to see.
                I had always been taught that Christians were kind and loving, it caused me to commit the fallacy that we discussed in class under the name “respect creep” and that while I had been very good at respecting other regardless of their beliefs, they did not do the same for me.  My eyes were opened to the idea that even when most christians claim to accept a person,  they usually follow with something to the effect of “its not my place to judge” or “God will be judging them, not me” portraying that they will still be judged.  An idea I have discovered that I am not ok with. 
                This concept was slammed in my face with the recent fiasco of my wedding plans.
I  told the class of what was happening, how my family freaked out about a boy wearing a dress, well the story has had time to play out and its time to catch up to its current resting place for the good of understanding the most current evolution of my beliefs.
The interrogating of my family that I could actually speak to, and with the aid of some reconnaissance and honestly quite a bit of damage control by my brother (Daniel Murphy) I discovered a horrifying truth.
It was not that he would be wearing a dress, it was that he is homosexual.
My wedding was upturned because my family has a religious problem with homosexuals.
                The family member who had offered a place to have the wedding backed out and asked that we not have it there, I heard that people might approach him about his faith and ending up in hell, and I was even told that both my grandmothers and my father would not be able to attend because of their beliefs. I realized that I have no reason to respect these people’s beliefs if they would not even show me the courtesy I showed them for close to 23 years, they wont see me even bow my head in respect when they pray any longer… they’ll be lucky if I stay quiet…
At this point a need to pause, both to calm myself and to thank every member of this class.  If not for this class I likely would have made quite a few rash and rage fueled decisions that include not speaking to any of my family for the foresee-able  future and becoming a Dawkins-esk atheist who is extremely open and blunt about my own beliefs and disbelief in the common local religions. 
So thank you for being supportive and reminding me that there are logical theologians out there still.
However that does conclude my story as to why I reject the Christian faith.
I began some years ago researching other religions.  Quickly ruling out all of three of the Christian, jewish, islam triad and all their assorted flavors, I turned to less locally common  views.   I found some things I liked about many, particularly Buddhism. But nothing felt quite right, I figured out somewhere along the line  that I reject the whole idea of a single deity completely and naturally. Whatever whole I have in me is not god shaped.
Therefore I am an atheist, but taking this class has shown me something else.
I don’t fit the typical mold of the word ‘atheist,’ more specifically that of a naturalist which seems to be what most people assume when they hear the word atheist.
I don’t know why, maybe its from a child who’s always had his head in the clouds or is nose in some sort of fantasy world (be it a book or otherwise) but I cannot reject the mystic or super natural.
I stand before an entire unfathomly huge universe that is itself a testimate and evidence of the laws of the natural world, while I do look in awe at its beauty, and deep down I long for something more.  Be it karma, non-scientific energy (emotional, will based), magic, or even a world of dreams I feel that there is more to this world than meets the eye.  But before you rule my thoughts out as completely illogical I have a few instances that I can cling to as examples that there may be more to this world.
The first is the simple almost artistic beauty of nature, from the modern interpretation of what the universe looks like, to the fact that the molecules in our bodies were produced in stars out in the cosmos, or even the interesting connection to a good song that you can relate to. This is mostly an appreciation of natural beauty that appeals to my sense of wonder.
The next I shall use the example of my fiancé, Panda.  She possesses two abilities that I have tested repeatedly and she has never failed, one science can mimic and the other it can only guess at.  Mind you that these are not unique abilities, many other people possess them she is merely a good example.
The first is her ability to somehow sense the ‘feelings’ of others, while some level of this is common among many people she possesses a high level of this ability commonly referred to as empathy.  Upon first meeting someone new she almost flawlessly can tell what kind of person they are,  and can identify people through solid objects without auditory cue.  I commonly tested this by having her announce who was about to come in the door when I lived at an apartment with two other people. She was never wrong, and could usually even tell if they had guests.  There are many psychologists who can do who she does when meeting new people, by actively observing the person’s movements, speech patterns, and other bodily signs. I have never met one, however, that could mimic the door test.  Her explanation was simply that she could feel the person at the door and could identify from memory what my roommates and their typical guests felt like.
The second ability she has, that is also not unique just uncommon, is actually an unexplainable condition of the brain called Synesthesia. Sometime common in description of certain hallucinogenic drugs, synesthesia is the involuntary union of two senses. Current science has no clue as to how, when, or why synesthesia happens, but they have concluded after some testing that it is a real condition.  For Panda those senses are sound (specifically music) and color, when she hears music she sees something to the effect of fireworks or a laser light show.  The two senses are permanently bound together, to her music without color has no meaning and is not enjoyable (taking very special circumstances to produce normally) or occurring in spoken word based song with little accompaniment, prompting her claims that such things are not music. 
My last example is something much more common, everyone has heard of it and almost everyone has some sort of faith in it, science has no hope of ever explaining it, and religion often disagrees with it.
It can make the most logical people do stupid things, it can turn misery to happiness, it can cause bliss and elation and even holds a twisted flipside that can destroy a person from the inside out and can strip all color and pleasure from the world.
Amor Omnia Vincit
Love conquers all
This is one of the few things I truly believe and have faith in.
I don’t know what else to say about Love, it is a mote of magic that gives me hope in the cold and unforgiving presence of science. 
I know it is sort of a weird place to stop, but this is kind of where I stand at the end of this class.  I have renewed my search into who I am, at least this part of me that had been repressed by religion up until now. But I still have my inability to reject mysticism and the super natural even though I reject the idea of a deity. 

I have had a wonderful time and found support in a time of need in this class and want to thank all of you for making it such an experience. Thank You.

Good Luck in all you do, may your worlds always have more Light than Dark, and never stop Smiling
~The Shining Radiance


Why I’m an Atheist

The late-summer sun peaked through a flush maple tree and poured a spectrum of variegated beams through the stained-glass windows and onto the United Methodist Church’s aging congregation. As the pastor began the benediction and directed his flock to bow their heads, I sat on the hard oak pew with my grandmother in the second row—head bowed just enough to still watch illuminated dust particles dance in the air—waiting anxiously for the moment to make my exit. I was nine. Mrs. Williams punctuated the last volume swell on the old Hammond organ that signaled the end of the service. The only formality between me and freedom was a hand wave to the pastor during my fast-walk out the door. But that didn’t happen. My escape into reality was immediately interrupted by the youth minister Ms. Jackson.

I don’t even know why they had a youth minister. Even for a small town church, there couldn’t have been more than eight youths there on a good Sunday. My one-way conversation with Ms. Jackson consisted of a manipulative mixture of god-speak entangled with overnight camping that had been conveniently condensed into an 8½ x 11 flyer.

“Would you like to go camping with all the other kids next Friday?”


“It will really be fun...it’s called Camping for Jesus.”


“You do love Jesus don’t you? Everyone is going to get saved and accept Jesus into their heart…you do want to be saved from burning in hell don’t you?”

She had me. At nine years old, my contempt for authority and dogmatism was blossoming but my debate skills, critical thinking, and psychological defenses were underdeveloped to say the least. I looked down at the flyer to try and think of something to say because Ms. Jackson hadn’t moved an inch and showed no signs of relenting. At the moment, my two options seemed to be either burn in hell for eternity or go camping with Jesus. I was at a crossroads. Then, all of a sudden there it was in black and white printed right on the flyer: $20 donation covers food and gas. It was my out and I didn’t even have to tell a lie about having some incurable disease…or something.  I mustered my best I’m-really-sorry look, shrugged my shoulders and blurted it out.

“Sorry, I don’t have twenty bucks.”

“Sure you do.”

“What? No, I don’t have—“

The next thing I knew my ever-loving grandmother had already handed Ms. Jackson a crisp 20-dollar bill from her purse. She must have witnessed the whole thing or was in on the conspiracy.  

“Dean would love to go camping—he camps out all the time at home,” my grandmother said with more than a hint of compulsive fervor.

“Great! We’ll take good care of him.”

My plan to escape rural-route proselytization collapsed right before my very eyes like a puff of holy smoke. I held my breath because, somehow, I felt compelled to scream “Goddamnit!” at the top of my lungs but this didn’t seem like an appropriate time or place. Once again, as always, I bit my tongue and succumbed to passive-agressive coercion.

I had been going to that same church for four years, which is enough time to earn a college degree or even memorize the binominal nomenclature of all earth’s species but, even after all that time, I was failing miserably at hearing the voice of God. I had been praying, pleading, begging, reading the Bible, meditating, etc., doing anything I could short of handling snakes or drinking arsenic, and yet I hadn’t heard the first peep out of God or Jesus. I thought that I was either defective, not worthy, or the entire town was deluded and simply in need of psychiatric help. That’s when I knew the whole God bit was total bullshit—a mind-control scam to control people. I was immediately onto the Tooth Fairy facade and the Santa Clause hustle before the age of six, but this was way bigger and was going to take quite a bit more convincing to point out the obvious to the deluded. I was beginning to see why they had to meet each week to keep up the charade.

I was born a natural skeptic and saw no evidence of the supernatural. I did learn very quickly that adults get mad when you ask hard questions about Jesus or God or question their beliefs. Some questions I asked that were met with disapproval were: Why do we eat Jesus and drink his blood?; Where is God?; Why doesn’t He answer prayers?; Why do bad things happen to good people? How do you know this is true? It seemed odd to me that people always became sick and always died—eventually—no matter how much praying was involved. None of the answers I was given were remotely satisfying, even at nine years old. I instinctively knew there had to be someone somewhere who had an answer. I just had to fake it ‘til I made it.

Next Friday came quicker than I anticipated. As the church van pulled into my driveway, Ms. Jackson and her boyfriend Bill had these creepy counselor smiles on their faces—like they knew something on me. My overly religious mother was thrilled that I was going off to camp with Jesus because she knew I didn’t like going to church. She was what I would describe as a televangelist fundamentalist. She watched “church” every Sunday morning from 9 ‘til noon. She was hoping I would get “saved” and give my heart to the Lord—whatever that meant. All eight of us kids must have been individually coerced into going because everyone was present and accounted for. I was the last pickup before we set off towards the backwoods of Kentucky.

The 60-mile trip was actually fun. One of the kids named Cameron had an older brother who was graduating college. Cameron said his brother would tell stories he heard about these weird philosophy classes in college. Some of the stories went something like this:

A distinguished philosophy professor sat in the front of his class for two weeks without saying a word—just looking at them— then, at the beginning of the third week, asked the students to write down exactly what they were thinking. There was a rumor that the professor didn’t believe in God. The other story was that a philosophy professor had the class read all these hard-to-understand books about the meaning of life. Then, on the day of the final, the only question on the test was: why? All the students wrote feverishly for the entire hour but the only person who passed the class answered: because.

To me, this was fascinating; maybe these were the guys with some answers. That little anecdote was my first introduction to big questions that didn’t have ready-made answers that involved burning bushes, magic messiahs, and roman torture devices. I fantasized about taking a philosophy class and already having the answer to the “why” question just to impress my professor. That seemed so much more interesting than worshiping some invisible super-friend in the sky who was never around when you needed someone who specialized in omniscience.

We finally arrived at our destination, which consisted of a few log cabins along a creek and a somewhat flat plot of land to pitch our tents. This was not like the “Jesus Camp” documentary in any form or fashion. This was real camping in real tents and sleeping bags—we just had to imagine the Jesus part. Bill started a fire near the creek to cook hotdogs while Ms. Jackson helped us erect our tents and lay out our sleeping bags while pointing out how God make all the trees, rocks, and hills. I always wondered how these people made it through science class.

After some fire-cooked hotdogs smothered in yellow mustard, I could tell it was time for the Jesus part of the camping trip. I’m sure a youth minister has some quota to meet in the saving souls department to move up the ecclesiastical ladder. Parents want to get their $20 worth.

I’m sure what happened next will someday legally qualify as child abuse.

 Bill and Ms. Jackson handed out several boxes of crayons and some construction paper. We were instructed to draw our vision of heaven and hell (heaven at the top of the page, hell at the bottom), and guess where our friends and we were likely to end up. Bill had us use bright red crayons for hell and yellow for the tips of the flames. Heaven was light-blue clouds and pastels—the Holy Ghost was optional. The rule was that if someone hadn’t been saved, we had to draw him or her in hell indicating they would burn in hell for eternity. If they had been saved, straight to the clouds to hang out with Jesus while we watched the others suffer. Of course, in the process of picking and choosing, we had to ask around and find out who had or had not been saved. Several of the kids started crying as we started drawing them in hell. Cameron seemed to enjoy drawing the damned a little too much. Bill and Ms. Jackson began to describe to us what it would be like to burn for eternity—the skin and hair melting off very slowly, feeling your organs cook, bones frying, etc. All this was done against the backdrop of a raging campfire as Bill punctuated the agony of damnation by waving around a hotdog skewer and laughing wildly. Then came the pitch: “who wants to be saved?” Seven arms enthusiastically went up in the air. I sat there for a moment and watched the embers from the fire dance slowly through the clear Kentucky air—hating myself—as I slowly raised my hand, knowing I was being pressured into something I didn’t believe in but didn’t know what to do. It’s hard to be the odd kid out.

The next day’s van ride home was much quieter than the trip out. All I could think about was sitting in a philosophy class with a grey-bearded professor and asking hard to answer questions about life. I guess I did the right thing though. My mother was waiting for me in the driveway as Bill and Ms. Jackson dropped me off, which happened to be the first stop. She cried when they told her I had been saved. The van pulled away as she was hugging me and I saw several other kids crying too.

She talked to me constantly about the Bible and Jesus all through high school but I didn’t have the heart to tell her that I didn’t believe a word of it. I would just nod my head in agreement until I left for college. She passed away when I turned twenty-three not truly knowing her son.

After years of philosophy classes (shaved and unshaven college professors), hard-to-understand books, world travel, and many, many late nights of libations and reflection, I still think back on that camping trip and wonder if I did the right thing.  I guess there will always be some open questions. But one thing is for certain: these days, when someone asks me why I’m an atheist, I reflect back to my childhood and that van ride into the hills of Kentucky with Cameron the other kids. I just reply: because...there is no God. 

Review of Sam Harris's Moral Landscape

In a nutshell, I like where Harris is going, but whether or not he simply talked himself in a complete circle is something worth considering.

He does some fantastic work laying out how our brains operate when we "believe" something, and what beliefs are made of, from the point of Neuroscience. He further uses this to undermine the belief that morality comes from a higher power, and suggests that moral traits are biologically evolved tendencies which help man evolve as an inherently social animal.

He then goes on to show that people who believe in God (the same way you and I might believe in the text you're reading right now), are probably lying to themselves, and really don't believe that the Eucharist is the physical transmission of the body of Christ into your digestive tract. He later suggests (albeit very implicitly) that those who have a belief in the wild and supernatural, or otherwise "pathologically certain," are what we call Schizophrenics.

He first begins to do this in his section titled "Mistaking our limits" where he tackles the problem of people having emotions that lead them to draw conclusions with a serious degree of certainty. It's quite common for people to use claims of religious experiences as their rationale for believing in a higher power, and in a situation where William James would most certainly agree with me, I attest that you are never going to convince someone that had a specific experience that you did not have that it was "all in their head," even if you are right and they are wrong, because it was their experience and not yours, and they will defer to themselves as the ultimate authority on the matter. Harris takes it a step further, though, and says in his section titled "Do We Have Freedom of Belief," in an address to one of his critics who ruminates on whether or not Harris is denouncing one's freedom to believe what he or she chooses, that you technically COULD believe something that is incorrect because you feel like it, but you're wrong and he's going to tell you.

He finds it an imperative to do so, as well, for if religious superstitions run amok, they will result in the practice of starving children for not saying "Amen," or expecting divine power to resurrect dead toddlers stuffed into suitcases, and brings forth more statistical data showing how religious people have a higher likelihood of being racist, criminal, uneducated, or all of the above.

The counter-productiveness of Harris's tone throughout his book made me seriously question if he intended to actually enlighten any would-be atheists/humanists, or if he simply wanted a medium through which he could vent his frustration with religious apologists to other atheists. As an atheist, I was pleased to read more about the inner-machinations of the human mind, but were I a Christian, I seriously doubt I would be at all receptive to it. Harris does have a right to debate, and tell someone why he thinks they are wrong, and for that reason I feel privileged to offer my critique of his approach. He's trying to catch flies with vinegar, and not honey. He defends his position, as well as the overall position of his fellow "New Atheists," in his section on "The Clash between Faith and Reason," with the straw-man's argument that he, Dawkins, Dennet ,and Hitch are maligned for simply defending logical reasoning and refusing to kowtow to the irrational religious majority. Complaining about the state of he and his three other colleagues, Harris says,

"It is often said that we caricature religion, taking its most extreme forms to represent the whole. We do no such thing. We simply do what a paragon of sophisticated faith like Francis Collins does: we take the specific claims of religion seriously. "

The reality isn't that he's being criticized for arguing his beliefs, or even caricaturing religion, but because his audience, typically Atheists, would like to see more Atheists, and would likely expect a Neuroscientist to understand that an irritated audience is less likely to accept a message, and so we are disappointed in that we seriously doubt any theist will be swayed by his work.

Furthermore, very little about Harris's assertions are absolute. Neuroscience is limited in that it is the study of a single human's brain, and how that brain reacts to certain stimuli, and that data can be combined with tests of other brain responses, and expounded to get an idea of how a society's mores might develop based on that chemistry, especially in his section on "The Tides of Bias," which shows how simply thinking about death can lead judges to impose harsher penalties on defendants. Unfortunately, this reasoning is totally inductive, which is entirely contingent. Hilariously enough, Harris stops to point out that inductive reasoning can lead to seriously false conclusions when not paired with some deductive structure to guide it, and yet he fails to glance back at the mountain of facts that he presents about "how the human brain tends to work in certain situations," not realizing that this will never necessitate that a brain WILL behave in certain ways.
This is why Sociology, Psychology, Neuroscience, and their cousins will never be considered true sciences of the mind, but rather, empirical sciences of the body. Morality and ethics, however, are a abstract constructs which exist within the same realm as philosophy and law. I read the title "The Moral Landscape," and naively expected to read something about how things ought to be, and instead, got a combination of how things ought not to be, and how things tend to be.

I suppose I am grateful to Harris's intent to in a sense say "I'm not entirely sure what the true answer is, but it certainly isn't that God nonsense." He also concludes in a nice, neat chapter about happiness, and points out how "it's all really subjective anyway," which are all things that at some point, we need to accept until we find a better way around these roadblocks, but I'm certain I'm not the only person who wasn't frustrated by, what I would consider a cop-out, and it honestly leads me to believe that this (The Moral Landscape) was nothing more than a highly sophisticated angry rant, to which I am compelled to respond with a less sophisticated one.

My Final Paper

Dr. Oliver invited me to post a copy of my final paper here on the blog so all of you could read it, so that's precisely what I'm doing. Here's the link


Lastly, I would simply like to say how much I genuinely enjoyed our class! I will miss our discussions and the grand presentations that were made, as well as having the opportunity to get to know each of you. I hope you each have excellent summers!

From Minister To Atheist: A Story Of Losing Faith : NPR

From Minister To Atheist: A Story Of Losing Faith : NPR: ""My name is Teresa," she begins. "I'm a pastor currently serving a Methodist church — at least up to this point" — the audience laughs — "and I am an atheist."

Hundreds of people jump to their feet. They hoot and clap for more than a minute. MacBain then apologizes to them for being, as she put it, "a hater."

"I was the one on the right track, and you were the ones that were going to burn in hell," she says. "And I'm happy to say as I stand before you right now, I'm going to burn with you.""

'via Blog this'

Final Paper: Why I am an Atheist

Why I am an atheist.

By Steven Wolfe

            After much contemplation, I'm ready to get the messy stuff out of the way: I am an atheist, or a humanist, or a naturalist.  Some mornings I’m a nihilist.  Sometimes right before coitus, I am convinced that there is a God, and I am He.  I guess what I mean is I’m not sure, and I'm pretty sure no one else is, either.  Does that make me an agnostic?  I don’t like that very much because I like to think I’m pretty smart, and that word literally means “without knowledge”.  I don’t care for that at all, because I may be a lot of things, but I don’t think I am without knowledge.  I like to think that I am an atheist as far as I know now.  So far no one has given me adequate proof that any of the gods suggest better than a tiny probability of existing.  Therefore, it makes no sense for me to proclaim any faith and give up the satisfying sense (possibly an illusion) that I have power over my own life.           
The audience for which this is intended is certainly familiar with all sorts of epistemological arguments that exist and the wealth of debate surrounding them.  There are great points on all sides, but, like I said, to me it comes down to proof.  That’s because I am incredibly selfish.  That’s it.  That’s the thesis.  The reason I am an atheist is because I put myself first in almost every situation possible, and it just doesn’t feel natural to me not to.  Some might contend that this is unethical, but I disagree.  I think it is natural, and I do not think that a solid personal philosophy of self-centeredness necessitates immorality.  When religion is so irrational and prohibitive, and you’ve exercised your methodological doubt to its conclusion, this is a perspective that makes a lot of sense.  The problems that selfishness seems to encounter is when it violates the harm principle, but I think that, historically speaking, organized religion has scarcely made the problem any better.
            I am not a strident atheist.  That being said, I am a sensitive and intense person who often finds himself thinking he’s funnier than he is and overstepping a line.  But, I don’t have a problem with people having their own versions of spirituality.  I think that it is very likely that some variety of transcendental mental exercise is vital to our ability as humans to thrive.  Prayer may accomplish this for a portion of the population.  For some, it’s yoga; for others it’s the New York Times crossword.  And you can and probably should have as many as you like.  Mine?  Well, I have had “spiritual” experiences of all manners.  I grew up Southern Baptist in Mississippi, so I’ve felt the Lord’s presence in the form of mass hypnotism and loud, bad music.  I was convinced a couple of times that I was a part of something I could never quite describe, but I later realized it was just mild brainwashing – nothing that just a little bit of critical thinking couldn’t shampoo out. 
As a poet and songwriter, I have felt a connection with something beyond my mind and my understanding of the physical world when inspired creatively.  I meditate, but I’m not that good at it.  A few times when meditating, I have felt an ineffable calm and peace come over me.  I have felt the mystical powers of lysergic acid diethylamide as it deceived my senses, and I have had the illusory confidence of deity momentarily via the mescaline of the poisonous peyote cactus.  The ritual of putting a black, vinyl disc on a turntable gives me a strong sense of harmony between mind and matter; man and machine.  Sometimes, when I am afforded the opportunity watch a whole baseball game without interruption, I feel a bliss that must be similar to the ancient poet’s ideation of heaven.  Back then it was probably a different pleasure, but a “spiritual” one, of no different nature than my own.
            Religion prohibits so many behaviors that I find immensely fulfilling and others that I’ve never gotten to try.  I have been a vegetarian for about a year now, and I’m about as good at it as I am at meditating.  I didn’t become a vegetarian for moral or ethical reasons.  There are plenty of those sort to be found, and it is a comfort to know that there is less ammonia and steroids in my diet as a result, but my motivations were strictly selfish.  My girlfriend, who is gorgeous and fit and 10 years younger than me is a vegetarian, so that was my primary motivation; to make our dates more enjoyable for both of us.  I’ve also lost close to ten pounds since meeting Ashley, I’ve stopped smoking as much, and I don’t drink nearly the amount of high fructose corn syrup-based sodas.  The point is: I love bacon.  I don’t eat it as much anymore (though I sneak a burger on the sly occasionally), but I sure as hell wouldn’t give it up for anything less than a real thing.  Bacon is a real thing.  Why would you give up bacon for an imaginary thing?  I am not and have never flirted with being Jewish or Muslim, so I’ve never actually been prohibited from eating pork.  The initial doubt that was planted in my mind as a young Christian was put there because of the irrational prohibition of sex and, even more immediately devastating to my pubescent self, masturbation.  All popular religions seem to be diametrically opposed to sex.  I won’t go into my own personal tastes.  But, let’s just say, I like sex more than bacon, and Southern Baptists were NOT prohibited from eating bacon, if you know what I mean.
            I am a libertarian.  I don’t think that people need government or religious authority to decide what is best for their lives.  I think plenty of people rely on religion and government to do that for them, but I imagine most of that is laziness and the rest are well-intentioned and intelligent people who have just been wronged so harshly that they never recovered their trust in their fellow man.  There have certainly been injustices that do not warrant the forgiveness of those against whom those actions were taken, but, people often neglect, these injustices are perpetrated by theopolitical powers more often than not.  I believe that there are moral and immoral things, and basically, for me it comes down to if you do something that harms somebody else, and you mean to harm them, you have committed an unethical act. 
If you know you’re going to harm others by your action, and you regret it but don’t avoid it, then you are guilty of a violation as well.  However, if you don’t mean any harm, but harm accidentally comes to others as a result of your actions, you are not guilty of more than ignorance which is worth being ashamed of, but ignorance is slightly less shameful than evil.  Furthermore, I think, that since that is allowed, so, in my system of ethics, should it be allowed that if you intend someone harm, and no harm comes to them by complete accident, you, as well, are not guilty and can go on about your life considering that it never happened.  I doubt, for some people that intend to harm other people, that this exemption will be appreciated as the opportunity to walk away from a bad situation, and for others, for whom some act was an impulsive and regrettable isolated event, it will give their guilty consciences little comfort.  Also, most of the time when people want to hurt one another, they are regularly successful.  Aggression is a well-refined human talent.  Nevertheless, these are my godless ethics, and they make sense to me.
            I’m not perfect by any means, but my selfishness does not lead me down a path of sloth or deceit or violence.  I have come to conclusions based on an ever-expanding collection of references from experience and introspection, and my metaphysics have lead me to certain decisions regarding how I should live my life.  This ethical foundation is perpetually under construction, but, to me, the two main principles I try to live by and find most important in maintaining my happiness are 1)moderation and  2)balance.  These are almost certainly subjective projections of my own perspective.  That’s why there’s not a principle of certainty or universality in there.  I am not certain that my way to live is the right way to live.  I do not think there is a universal technique for being a human that would work to maximize everyone’s happiness and minimize suffering.  I feel like there is a limit anything we can experience; even happiness.  A balanced and moderate life implies that it is a life with a little of everything spread across a palate that I can always have the freedom to combine.  Different experiences resulting in greater knowledge and understanding and applied to life.  Be a little generous – be a little greedy, a little open-minded – a little stubborn, a little brave – a little chickenshit, and so on. 
            My selfishness also serves moral purpose by inspiring me to put forth my best effort at making the people around me happy.  I try to be generous with my friends; evolutionarily, my "clan" as it were.  This obviously serves a selfish purpose for me, but it requires me to concern myself with the affections of my close friends and family.  Their happiness, perhaps effected by my actions, can have a positive impact on a complete stranger who I would have never been concerned with.  The Golden Rule can be and should be applied without any authority.  I think it is the most natural and evolutionary moral truth, evidenced by the "mirror neurons" in our brain if you're an empiricist, and by clear and distinct ideas if you're a rationalist.  Either way, you don't need a god.
            I guess it comes down to proportion a lot with ethical concerns for me, as well.  It is true, like we’re told growing up, that a single person can make a huge difference.  There are so many examples of revolutionaries throughout our long history of societies.  But, actually most people; most individuals in the world, don’t make a huge difference in the course of reality.  There are not dozens of Martin Luther Kings and Ghandhis and Jesuses (Jesi?) born everyday, but there ARE thousands and thousands and millions and millions of babies born all the time.  So, no one individual is probably going to change the world.  That doesn’t mean it’s hopeless.  On the contrary, it means there is more responsibility on each individual to do a little bit.  If I can do a just little bit of good, being a just a little part of this world, I can sleep easy.  Religion relies on complacence while waiting on either a hero or the afterlife to justify indifference towards bullshit in this life.  Not only do I find that logically flawed based on the probability of a heaven or a Hercules, I think it is dangerous.  That’s why, a little bit of generosity, thoughtfulness, compassion, or other act of selflessness (whenever I can find the time) combined with not being a jackass most of the remaining time makes more sense to me than faith in a deity or an afterlife. 
            Again, I’m not saying that this is the right way for everyone to live, but, it works for my life.  If religion works for others, that’s fine.  I might think the metaphysical conclusions are ill-reasoned, but that doesn’t make religious people inherently wrong about matters of ethics.  I have a problem justifying my pluralism about religion, though, because it is hard to find morality genuine when it is based on bad metaphysics and cheap bribery.  At best, it seems, religion is unnecessary.  But, I think that, what I have resigned myself to for now, is religion and its various followers can be observed on a spectrum.  Like lawyers and cops and beers – some are better than others.  I wouldn’t use the word “true” when describing any single one of them, though.  That’s why I call myself an atheist when asked such an awkward question, but I’ll usually respond to Steven as well.

I have enjoyed the class, and I will try to keep in touch on the blog after the semester.  Good luck, everyone.