Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Of Oaks and Snow

After an unorthodox storm hits the Inland Empire, on New Year's Eve, Dec 31st, 2014; snow blankets the hills from Elsinore to Temecula, and my wife and I take a frosty hike up Horsethief Canyon.

Percy Bysshe Shelley - A Refutation of Deism

"The bigot of the woods can form no conception of beings possessed of properties differing from his own: it requires, indeed, a mind considerably tinctured with science, and enlarged by cultivation to contemplate itself, not as the center and model of the Universe, but as one of the infinitely various multitude of beings of which it is actually composed."

Percy Bysshe Shelley,
"A Refutation of Deism"
(1814)

Monday, December 29, 2014

TTA Podcast 198: The Question of Christ

Is there any evidence for a real Jesus? Was Jesus' story borrowed from earlier religions and cultures? Is Jesus really the reason for the Christmas season, which is being celebrated globally this week?

In this podcast, Seth Andrews speaks to three historians who have dedicated much of their lives and writings to the subject of Christ and Christianity: Dr. Richard Carrier, David Fitzgerald and Dr. Robert M. Price.
RICHARD CARRIER: http://www.richardcarrier.info

DAVID FITZGERALD: http://www.amazon.com/David-Fitzgerald/e/B004ASD9M4

ROBERT M. PRICE: http://www.robertmprice.mindvendor.com

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Carl Sagan - The Baloney Detection Kit

"...if you don’t want to buy baloney even when it’s reassuring to do so, there are precautions that can be taken; there’s a tried-and-true, consumer-tested method."

1. Wherever possible there must be independent confirmation of the “facts.”

2. Encourage substantive debate on the evidence by knowledgeable proponents of all points of view.

3. Arguments from authority carry little weight — “authorities” have made mistakes in the past. They will do so again in the future. Perhaps a better way to say it is that in science there are no authorities; at most, there are experts.

4. Spin more than one hypothesis. If there’s something to be explained, think of all the different ways in which it could be explained. Then think of tests by which you might systematically disprove each of the alternatives. What survives, the hypothesis that resists disproof in this Darwinian selection among “multiple working hypotheses,” has a much better chance of being the right answer than if you had simply run with the first idea that caught your fancy.

5. Try not to get overly attached to a hypothesis just because it’s yours. It’s only a way station in the pursuit of knowledge. Ask yourself why you like the idea. Compare it fairly with the alternatives. See if you can find reasons for rejecting it. If you don’t, others will.

6. Quantify. If whatever it is you’re explaining has some measure, some numerical quantity attached to it, you’ll be much better able to discriminate among competing hypotheses. What is vague and qualitative is open to many explanations. Of course there are truths to be sought in the many qualitative issues we are obliged to confront, but finding them is more challenging.

7. If there’s a chain of argument, every link in the chain must work (including the premise) — not just most of them.

8. Occam’s Razor. This convenient rule-of-thumb urges us when faced with two hypotheses that explain the data equally well to choose the simpler.

9. Always ask whether the hypothesis can be, at least in principle, falsified. Propositions that are untestable, unfalsifiable are not worth much. Consider the grand idea that our Universe and everything in it is just an elementary particle — an electron, say — in a much bigger Cosmos. But if we can never acquire information from outside our Universe, is not the idea incapable of disproof? You must be able to check assertions out. Inveterate skeptics must be given the chance to follow your reasoning, to duplicate your experiments and see if they get the same result.

"In addition to teaching us what to do when evaluating a claim to knowledge, any good baloney detection kit must also teach us what not to do."

  1. ad hominem — Latin for “to the man,” attacking the arguer and not the argument (e.g., The Reverend Dr. Smith is a known Biblical fundamentalist, so her objections to evolution need not be taken seriously)
  2. argument from authority (e.g., President Richard Nixon should be re-elected because he has a secret plan to end the war in Southeast Asia — but because it was secret, there was no way for the electorate to evaluate it on its merits; the argument amounted to trusting him because he was President: a mistake, as it turned out)
  3. argument from adverse consequences (e.g., A God meting out punishment and reward must exist, because if He didn’t, society would be much more lawless and dangerous — perhaps even ungovernable. Or: The defendant in a widely publicized murder trial must be found guilty; otherwise, it will be an encouragement for other men to murder their wives)
  4. appeal to ignorance — the claim that whatever has not been proved false must be true, and vice versa (e.g., There is no compelling evidence that UFOs are not visiting the Earth; therefore UFOs exist — and there is intelligent life elsewhere in the Universe. Or: There may be seventy kazillion other worlds, but not one is known to have the moral advancement of the Earth, so we’re still central to the Universe.) This impatience with ambiguity can be criticized in the phrase: absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.
  5. special pleading, often to rescue a proposition in deep rhetorical trouble (e.g., How can a merciful God condemn future generations to torment because, against orders, one woman induced one man to eat an apple? Special plead: you don’t understand the subtle Doctrine of Free Will. Or: How can there be an equally godlike Father, Son, and Holy Ghost in the same Person? Special plead: You don’t understand the Divine Mystery of the Trinity. Or: How could God permit the followers of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam — each in their own way enjoined to heroic measures of loving kindness and compassion — to have perpetrated so much cruelty for so long? Special plead: You don’t understand Free Will again. And anyway, God moves in mysterious ways.)
  6. begging the question, also called assuming the answer (e.g., We must institute the death penalty to discourage violent crime. But does the violent crime rate in fact fall when the death penalty is imposed? Or: The stock market fell yesterday because of a technical adjustment and profit-taking by investors — but is there any independent evidence for the causal role of “adjustment” and profit-taking; have we learned anything at all from this purported explanation?)
  7. observational selection, also called the enumeration of favorable circumstances, or as the philosopher Francis Bacon described it, counting the hits and forgetting the misses (e.g., A state boasts of the Presidents it has produced, but is silent on its serial killers)
  8. statistics of small numbers — a close relative of observational selection (e.g., “They say 1 out of every 5 people is Chinese. How is this possible? I know hundreds of people, and none of them is Chinese. Yours truly.” Or: “I’ve thrown three sevens in a row. Tonight I can’t lose.”)
  9. misunderstanding of the nature of statistics (e.g., President Dwight Eisenhower expressing astonishment and alarm on discovering that fully half of all Americans have below average intelligence);
  10. inconsistency (e.g., Prudently plan for the worst of which a potential military adversary is capable, but thriftily ignore scientific projections on environmental dangers because they’re not “proved.” Or: Attribute the declining life expectancy in the former Soviet Union to the failures of communism many years ago, but never attribute the high infant mortality rate in the United States (now highest of the major industrial nations) to the failures of capitalism. Or: Consider it reasonable for the Universe to continue to exist forever into the future, but judge absurd the possibility that it has infinite duration into the past);
  11. non sequitur — Latin for “It doesn’t follow” (e.g., Our nation will prevail because God is great. But nearly every nation pretends this to be true; the German formulation was “Gott mit uns”). Often those falling into the non sequitur fallacy have simply failed to recognize alternative possibilities;
  12. post hoc, ergo propter hoc — Latin for “It happened after, so it was caused by” (e.g., Jaime Cardinal Sin, Archbishop of Manila: “I know of … a 26-year-old who looks 60 because she takes [contraceptive] pills.” Or: Before women got the vote, there were no nuclear weapons)
  13. meaningless question (e.g., What happens when an irresistible force meets an immovable object? But if there is such a thing as an irresistible force there can be no immovable objects, and vice versa)
  14. excluded middle, or false dichotomy — considering only the two extremes in a continuum of intermediate possibilities (e.g., “Sure, take his side; my husband’s perfect; I’m always wrong.” Or: “Either you love your country or you hate it.” Or: “If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem”)
  15. short-term vs. long-term — a subset of the excluded middle, but so important I’ve pulled it out for special attention (e.g., We can’t afford programs to feed malnourished children and educate pre-school kids. We need to urgently deal with crime on the streets. Or: Why explore space or pursue fundamental science when we have so huge a budget deficit?);
  16. slippery slope, related to excluded middle (e.g., If we allow abortion in the first weeks of pregnancy, it will be impossible to prevent the killing of a full-term infant. Or, conversely: If the state prohibits abortion even in the ninth month, it will soon be telling us what to do with our bodies around the time of conception);
  17. confusion of correlation and causation (e.g., A survey shows that more college graduates are homosexual than those with lesser education; therefore education makes people gay. Or: Andean earthquakes are correlated with closest approaches of the planet Uranus; therefore — despite the absence of any such correlation for the nearer, more massive planet Jupiter — the latter causes the former)
  18. straw man — caricaturing a position to make it easier to attack (e.g., Scientists suppose that living things simply fell together by chance — a formulation that willfully ignores the central Darwinian insight, that Nature ratchets up by saving what works and discarding what doesn’t. Or — this is also a short-term/long-term fallacy — environmentalists care more for snail darters and spotted owls than they do for people)
  19. suppressed evidence, or half-truths (e.g., An amazingly accurate and widely quoted “prophecy” of the assassination attempt on President Reagan is shown on television; but — an important detail — was it recorded before or after the event? Or: These government abuses demand revolution, even if you can’t make an omelette without breaking some eggs. Yes, but is this likely to be a revolution in which far more people are killed than under the previous regime? What does the experience of other revolutions suggest? Are all revolutions against oppressive regimes desirable and in the interests of the people?)
  20. weasel words (e.g., The separation of powers of the U.S. Constitution specifies that the United States may not conduct a war without a declaration by Congress. On the other hand, Presidents are given control of foreign policy and the conduct of wars, which are potentially powerful tools for getting themselves re-elected. Presidents of either political party may therefore be tempted to arrange wars while waving the flag and calling the wars something else — “police actions,” “armed incursions,” “protective reaction strikes,” “pacification,” “safeguarding American interests,” and a wide variety of “operations,” such as “Operation Just Cause.” Euphemisms for war are one of a broad class of reinventions of language for political purposes. Talleyrand said, “An important art of politicians is to find new names for institutions which under old names have become odious to the public”)
From "The Demon-Haunted World" by Carl Sagan


 



Saturday, November 29, 2014

JFK: A President Betrayed (2013)

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2782604/
"Narrated by Academy Award winner Morgan Freeman, "JFK: A President Betrayed" uncovers new evidence that reveals how JFK embarked on secret back channel peace efforts with Nikita Khrushchev and Fidel Castro and was determined to get out of Vietnam despite intense opposition inside his own government."
- Written by Agora Productions (IMDb)

This got me thinking, "what would life had been like had he not been assassinated?" No Vietnam war... negotiations with Russia... negotiations with Cuba... 

Saturday, November 22, 2014

James Randi - Secrets of the Psychics Documentary…: http://youtu.be/2MFAvH8m8aI

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Patchwork Show - Nov 30th in Santa Ana

My band is playing @ Patchwork Show...
Where it all started… Patchwork Show Santa Ana is our first location and our biggest event drawing thousands of customers for over seven years. In 2012, we moved our event to downtown in the heart of the Artists Village next to our friends The Gypsy Den, Lola’s, Little Sparrow, Grand Central Arts Center and El Centro Cultural de Mexico. This urban and historical setting encompasses three different streets and incorporates local galleries, museums and a handful of restaurants and bars.

Patchwork Show features 160+ local vendors selling diverse handmade goods (see our gallery for a closer look), curated food trucks, DIY stations to get your craft on,food artisan area, live music and rotating services like photo booths, bike valet and gift-wrapping depending on the location and season.

11am-5pm
All Patchwork Show events are FREE to the public.

All Ages


My band, The Autumn Band will be performing @2pm, along with several other fantastic groups including our friends, Royal Albatross, and Black Lab and the Banjo.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Point of Inquiry - Surviving Saddam and Confronting Islam

Surviving Saddam and Confronting Islam, with Faisal Saeed Al Mutar

November 19, 2014

Host: Josh Zepps

As the threat posed by radical Islamists like those of ISIS grows in popular awareness, Islam itself becomes more of a target for criticism; some of it fair, and some of it based in ignorance or bigotry. Can efforts to defend Islam and Muslims from discrimination and racism go too far, and keep us from having an honest discussion about something of such critical importance?

This week, Point of Inquiry welcomes Faisal Saeed Al Mutar, an Iraqi refugee turned activist, and founder of the Global Secular Humanist Movement. Al Mutar talks about growing up in Iraq under the tyranny of Saddam Hussein, and his belief that Islam needs to be more vigorously criticized, and that its adherents must be held to a higher moral standard.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Reminiscing in an Old Room

With my old house cleaned up, and on the market; I decide to visit my old quarters and photograph some old show flyers from Corona's Showcase Theater (circa 2005-06), and a painting from Big Bird (really from my aunt, Sue), as well as an old painting of the sea that once hung at my grandparents' house.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Friday, October 31, 2014

On Spirits...



Spirits, whether alcoholic, or ethereal; are highly illogical. However, a mind that is free of influence, and free of ignorance; that mind is liberated indeed.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

"Sugar" - John Oliver

Watch: John Oliver -
Watch "26/Oct/2014-Sugar"

Perhaps the darkest, most evil, most ghoulish  thing about Halloween; SUGAR!

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: Former Daily Show Correspondent Jon Oliver brings his persona to this new weekly news satire program. 

Watch John Oliver - "Sugar"
(26 Oct. 2014)

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Portrait by Adam Rasheed

http://adamrasheed.com/

Oregon Trail - August 2014



Photographs from an epic trip my wife and I took this past summer.

Why Won't God Heal Amputees?

http://whywontgodhealamputees.com/ 
Is God real, or is he imaginary?
Is God real, or is he imaginary? It is one of the most important questions you can ask yourself. 

If God is real and if God inspired the Bible, then we should worship God as the Bible demands. We should certainly post the Ten Commandments in our courthouses and shopping centers, put "In God We Trust" on the money and pray in our schools. We should focus our society on God and his infallible Word because our everlasting souls hang in the balance. . .

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

"Scottish Independence" - John Oliver

Watch: John Oliver - Civil Forfeiture
Watch "Scottish Independence"

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: Former Daily Show Correspondent Jon Oliver brings his persona to this new weekly news satire program. 

Watch John Oliver - "Scottish Independence"
(14 Sept. 2014)

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Examined Life (2008)

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1279083/
Examined Life pulls philosophy out of academic journals and classrooms, and puts it back on the streets. In Examined Life, filmmaker Astra Taylor accompanies some of today's most influential thinkers on a series of unique excursions through places and spaces that hold particular resonance for them and their ideas. Peter Singer's thoughts on the ethics of consumption are amplified against the backdrop of Fifth Avenue's posh boutiques. Michael Hardt ponders the nature of revolution while surrounded by symbols of wealth and leisure. Judith Butler and a friend stroll through San Francisco's Mission District questioning our culture's fixation on individualism. And while driving through Manhattan, Cornel West - perhaps America's best-known public intellectual - compares philosophy to jazz and blues, reminding us how intense and invigorating a life of the mind can be. Offering privileged moments with great thinkers from fields ranging from moral philosophy to cultural theory, Examined Life reveals philosophy's power to transform the way we see the world around us and imagine our place in it.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

John Oliver - Civil Forfeiture

Watch: John Oliver - Civil Forfeiture
Watch Civil Forfeiture

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: Former Daily Show Correspondent Jon Oliver brings his persona to this new weekly news satire program. 

Watch John Oliver - Civil Forfeiture
(5 Oct. 2014)

Monday, September 29, 2014

Fed Up (2014)

http://www.primewire.ag/watch-2750148-Fed-Up/
Fed Up: An examination of America's obesity epidemic and the food industry's role in aggravating it.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

John Oliver - Drone Strikes

Watch: John Oliver - Civil Forfeiture
Watch "Drone Strikes"

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: Former Daily Show Correspondent Jon Oliver brings his persona to this new weekly news satire program. 

Watch John Oliver - Drone Strikes
(28 Sept. 2014)

Friday, September 26, 2014

Welcome to this World - TheThinkingAtheist







This a version of the video originally released in 2011, with slightly updated content. It's a unique perspective on what Christianity teaches to our youngest and most impressionable.


-TheThinkingAtheist

Sunday, September 21, 2014

"Trade Embargo with Cuba" - John Oliver

Watch: John Oliver - Civil Forfeiture
Watch "Trade Embargo with Cuba"

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: Former Daily Show Correspondent Jon Oliver brings his persona to this new weekly news satire program. 

Watch John Oliver - "Trade Embargo with Cuba"
(21 Sept. 2014)

Sunday, September 7, 2014

"Student Loan Debt" - John Oliver

Watch: John Oliver - Civil Forfeiture
Watch "Student Loan Debt"

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: Former Daily Show Correspondent Jon Oliver brings his persona to this new weekly news satire program. 

Watch John Oliver - "Scottish Independence"
(07 Sept. 2014)

Sunday, August 17, 2014

"Police Militarization in Ferguson" - John Oliver

Watch: John Oliver - Civil Forfeiture
Watch "Police Militarization in Ferguson"

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: Former Daily Show Correspondent Jon Oliver brings his persona to this new weekly news satire program. 

Watch John Oliver - "Police Militarization in Ferguson"
(17 Aug. 2014)

Monday, June 16, 2014

The Pale Blue Dot - Cosmos: A Space Time Odyssey



Journey into the unknown forces of the universe in the series finale of Cosmos: A Space Time Odyssey,"Unafraid of the Dark"

Saturday, June 14, 2014

PHANTASMAGORIA - "Futility"

Full-length album coming January 2015
I’ve tasted the salt of gore upon my lips.
I’ve harbored bitterness within my breast.
I’ve wished the sting of death upon a man.
I’ve toiled endless nights without rest.

Oh futility,
Oh what a waste.
Oh humility,
This is my fate.

What war can change that which words cannot?
What sword can stop the swell of ignorance?
What blood can quench where wisdom lacks?
What death could craft any happiness?

Oh futility,
Oh what a waste.
Oh humility,
This is my fate.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

PHANTASMAGORIA - "ENTROPY"

Full-length album coming January 2015
The only thing I know is entropy,
And all that I hold dear falls away from me.
From a well-ordered state to catastrophe;
Bright birth to dim decay, is my destiny.

Oh, Entropy...
Oh, Entropy...

I find it so tempting to dwell in the past
Rather than to cling to that which will not last.
Every fleeting flash is flying by so fast.
An infinitesimal soul into the dark is cast.

Oh, Entropy...
Oh, Entropy...

Friday, June 6, 2014

The Ten Key Values of the Green Party

http://www.gp.org/what-we-believe/10-key-values

1. GRASSROOTS DEMOCRACY
Every human being deserves a say in the decisions that affect their lives and not be subject to the will of another. Therefore, we will work to increase public participation at every level of government and to ensure that our public representatives are fully accountable to the people who elect them. We will also work to create new types of political organizations which expand the process of participatory democracy by directly including citizens in the decision-making process.
2. SOCIAL JUSTICE AND EQUAL OPPORTUNITY
All persons should have the rights and opportunity to benefit equally from the resources afforded us by society and the environment. We must consciously confront in ourselves, our organizations, and society at large, barriers such as racism and class oppression, sexism and homophobia, ageism and disability, which act to deny fair treatment and equal justice under the law.
3. ECOLOGICAL WISDOM
Human societies must operate with the understanding that we are part of nature, not separate from nature.  We must maintain an ecological balance and live within the ecological and resource limits of our communities and our planet. We support a sustainable society which utilizes resources in such a way that future generations will benefit and not suffer from the practices of our generation. To this end we must practice agriculture which replenishes the soil; move to an energy efficient economy; and live in ways that respect the integrity of natural systems.
4. NON-VIOLENCE
It is essential that we develop effective alternatives to society's current patterns of violence. We will work to demilitarize, and eliminate weapons of mass destruction, without being naive about the intentions of other governments.  We recognize the need for self-defense and the defense of others who are in helpless situations. We promote non-violent methods to oppose practices and policies with which we disagree, and will guide our actions toward lasting personal, community and global peace.
5. DECENTRALIZATION
Centralization of wealth and power contributes to social and economic injustice, environmental destruction, and militarization. Therefore, we support a restructuring of social, political and economic institutions away from a system which is controlled by and mostly benefits the powerful few, to a democratic, less bureaucratic system. Decision-making should, as much as possible, remain at the individual and local level, while assuring that civil rights are protected for all citizens.
6. COMMUNITY-BASED ECONOMICS AND ECONOMIC JUSTICE
We recognize it is essential to create a vibrant and sustainable economic system, one that can create jobs and provide a decent standard of living for all people while maintaining a healthy ecological balance. A successful economic system will offer meaningful work with dignity, while paying a "living wage" which reflects the real value of a person's work.
Local communities must look to economic development that assures protection of the environment and workers' rights; broad citizen participation in planning; and enhancement of our "quality of life." We support independently owned and operated companies which are socially responsible, as well as co-operatives and public enterprises that distribute resources and control to more people through democratic participation.
7. FEMINISM AND GENDER EQUITY
We have inherited a social system based on male domination of politics and economics. We call for the replacement of the cultural ethics of domination and control with more cooperative ways of interacting that respect differences of opinion and gender. Human values such as equity between the sexes, interpersonal responsibility, and honesty must be developed with moral conscience. We should remember that the process that determines our decisions and actions is just as important as achieving the outcome we want.
8. RESPECT FOR DIVERSITY
We believe it is important to value cultural, ethnic, racial, sexual, religious and spiritual diversity, and to promote the development of respectful relationships across these lines.
We believe that the many diverse elements of society should be reflected in our organizations and decision-making bodies, and we support the leadership of people who have been traditionally closed out of leadership roles. We acknowledge and encourage respect for other life forms than our own and the preservation of biodiversity.
9. PERSONAL AND GLOBAL RESPONSIBILITY
We encourage individuals to act to improve their personal well-being and, at the same time, to enhance ecological balance and social harmony. We seek to join with people and organizations around the world to foster peace, economic justice, and the health of the planet.
10. FUTURE FOCUS AND SUSTAINABILITY
Our actions and policies should be motivated by long-term goals. We seek to protect valuable natural resources, safely disposing of or "unmaking" all waste we create, while developing a sustainable economics that does not depend on continual expansion for survival. We must counterbalance the drive for short-term profits by assuring that economic development, new technologies, and fiscal policies are responsible to future generations who will inherit the results of our actions.

http://www.gp.org/what-we-believe/10-key-values

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

SAM HARRIS: The Myth of Secular Moral Chaos

http://www.samharris.org/site/full_text/the-myth-of-secular-moral-chaos
One cannot criticize religious dogmatism for long without encountering the following claim, advanced as though it were a self-evident fact of nature: there is no secular basis for morality. Raping and killing children can only really be wrong, the thinking goes, if there is a God who says it is. Otherwise, right and wrong would be mere matters of social construction, and any society would be at liberty to decide that raping and killing children is actually a wholesome form of family fun. In the absence of God, John Wayne Gacy could be a better person than Albert Schweitzer, if only more people agreed with him.It is simply amazing how widespread this fear of secular moral chaos is, given how many misconceptions about morality and human nature are required to set it whirling in a person’s brain. There is undoubtedly much to be said against the spurious linkage between faith and morality, but the following three points should suffice.
  1. If a book like the Bible were the only reliable blueprint for human decency that we had, it would be impossible (both practically and logically) to criticize it in moral terms. But it is extraordinarily easy to criticize the morality one finds in the Bible, as most of it is simply odious and incompatible with a civil society.

    The notion that the Bible is a perfect guide to morality is really quite amazing, given the contents of the book. Human sacrifice, genocide, slaveholding, and misogyny are consistently celebrated. Of course, God’s counsel to parents is refreshingly straightforward: whenever children get out of line, we should beat them with a rod (Proverbs 13:24, 20:30, and 23:13–14). If they are shameless enough to talk back to us, we should kill them (Exodus 21:15, Leviticus 20:9, Deuteronomy 21:18–21, Mark 7:9–13, and Matthew 15:4–7). We must also stone people to death for heresy, adultery, homosexuality, working on the Sabbath, worshiping graven images, practicing sorcery, and a wide variety of other imaginary crimes.

    Most Christians imagine that Jesus did away with all this barbarism and delivered a doctrine of pure love and toleration. He didn’t. (See Matthew 5:18–19, Luke 16:17, 2 Timothy 3:16, 2 Peter 20–21, John 7:19.) Anyone who believes that Jesus only taught the Golden Rule and love of one’s neighbor should go back and read the New Testament. And he or she should pay particular attention to the morality that will be on display if Jesus ever returns to earth trailing clouds of glory (e.g., 2 Thessalonians 1:7–9, 2:8; Hebrews 10:28–29; 2 Peter 3:7; and all of Revelation).

    It is not an accident that St. Thomas Aquinas thought heretics should be killed and that St. Augustine thought they should be tortured. (Ask yourself, what are the chances that these good doctors of the Church hadn’t read the New Testament closely enough to discover the error of their ways?) As a source of objective morality, the Bible is one of the worst books we have. It might be the very worst, in fact—if we didn’t also happen to have the Qur’an.

    It is important to point out that we decide what is good in the Good Book. We read the Golden Rule and judge it to be a brilliant distillation of many of our ethical impulses; we read that a woman found not to be a virgin on her wedding night should be stoned to death, and we (if we are civilized) decide that this is the most vile lunacy imaginable. Our own ethical intuitions are, therefore, primary. So the choice before us is simple: we can either have a twenty-first-century conversation about ethics—availing ourselves of all the arguments and scientific insights that have accumulated in the last two thousand years of human discourse—or we can confine ourselves to a first-century conversation as it is preserved in the Bible.


  2. If religion were necessary for morality, there should be some evidence that atheists are less moral than believers.

    People of faith regularly allege that atheism is responsible for some of the most appalling crimes of the twentieth century. Are atheists really less moral than believers? While it is true that the regimes of Hitler, Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot were irreligious to varying degrees, they were not especially rational. In fact, their public pronouncements were little more than litanies of delusion—delusions about race, economics, national identity, the march of history, or the moral dangers of intellectualism. In many respects, religion was directly culpable even here. Consider the Holocaust: the anti-Semitism that built the Nazi crematoria brick by brick was a direct inheritance from medieval Christianity. For centuries, Christian Europeans had viewed the Jews as the worst species of heretics and attributed every societal ill to their continued presence among the faithful.

    While the hatred of Jews in Germany expressed itself in a predominantly secular way, its roots were undoubtedly religious—and the explicitly religious demonization of the Jews of Europe continued throughout the period. (The Vatican itself perpetuated the blood libel in its newspapers as late as 1914.) Auschwitz, the Gulag, and the killing fields are not examples of what happens when people become too critical of unjustified beliefs; on the contrary, these horrors testify to the dangers of not thinking critically enough about specific secular ideologies. Needless to say, a rational argument against religious faith is not an argument for the blind embrace of atheism as a dogma. The problem that the atheist exposes is none other than the problem of dogma itself—of which every religion has more than its fair share. I know of no society in recorded history that ever suffered because its people became too reasonable.

    According to the United Nations’ Human Development Report (2005), the most atheistic societies—countries like Norway, Iceland, Australia, Canada, Sweden, Switzerland, Belgium, Japan, the Netherlands, Denmark, and the United Kingdom—are actually the healthiest, as indicated by measures of life expectancy, adult literacy, per-capita income, educational attainment, gender equality, homicide rate, and infant mortality. Conversely, the fifty nations now ranked lowest by the UN in terms of human development are unwaveringly religious. Of course, correlational data of this sort do not resolve questions of causality—belief in God may lead to societal dysfunction, societal dysfunction may foster a belief in God, each factor may enable the other, or both may spring from some deeper source of mischief. Leaving aside the issue of cause and effect, these facts prove that atheism is perfectly compatible with the basic aspirations of a civil society; they also prove, conclusively, that religious faith does nothing to ensure a society’s health.


  3. If religion really provided the only conceivable objective basis for morality, it should be impossible to posit a nontheistic objective basis for morality. But it is not impossible; it is rather easy.

    Clearly, we can think of objective sources of moral order that do not require the existence of a law-giving God. In The End of Faith, I argued that questions of morality are really questions about happiness and suffering. If there are objectively better and worse ways to live so as to maximize happiness in this world, these would be objective moral truths worth knowing. Whether we will ever be in a position to discover these truths and agree about them cannot be known in advance (and this is the case for all questions of scientific fact). But if there are psychophysical laws that underwrite human well-being—and why wouldn’t there be?—then these laws are potentially discoverable. Knowledge of these laws would provide an enduring basis for an objective morality. In the meantime, everything about human experience suggests that love is better than hate for the purposes of living happily in this world. This is an objective claim about the human mind, the dynamics of social relations, and the moral order of our world. While we do not have anything like a final, scientific approach to maximizing human happiness, it seems safe to say that raping and killing children will not be one of its primary constituents.

    One of the greatest challenges facing civilization in the twenty-first century is for human beings to learn to speak about their deepest personal concerns—about ethics, spiritual experience, and the inevitability of human suffering—in ways that are not flagrantly irrational. Nothing stands in the way of this project more than the respect we accord religious faith. Incompatible religious doctrines have balkanized our world into separate moral communities, and these divisions have become a continuous source of human conflict. The idea that there is a necessary link between religious faith and morality is one of the principal myths keeping religion in good standing among otherwise reasonable men and women. And yet, it is a myth that is easily dispelled.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

FRONTLINE: United States of Secrets (Part Two)

http://video.pbs.org/video/2365251169/
http://video.pbs.org/video/2365245528/
FRONTLINE: United States of Secrets

How did the government come to spy on millions of Americans? In United States of Secrets, FRONTLINE goes behind the headlines to reveal the dramatic inside story of the U.S. government's massive and controversial secret surveillance program -- and the lengths it went to try to keep it hidden from the public.

FRONTLINE continues the dramatic inside story of mass surveillance in America with Part Two of United States of Secrets, an investigation into the hidden relationship between Silicon Valley and the National Security Agency.

Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey - "World Set Free"

http://www.cosmosontv.com/full-episodes

Watch The Latest Episode: "World Set Free"


Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey is an American science documentary television series. It is presented by Neil deGrasse Tyson and is a follow-up to the 1980 television series Cosmos: A Personal Voyage, which was presented by Carl Sagan