FreeThought Fort Wayne

        Be Reasonable

Archive for the ‘Philosophy’ Category

Hate the Supernatural (Belief), Love the Superstitious

Posted by Andy D. on July 30, 2008

I first heard that line from Joe Nickell on this Point of Inquiry interview. I was listening in the car and almost lost control because it is such a funny play on the religious outcry “hate the sin, love the sinner” line about homosexuals.

The thrust of the interview is how skeptical folks should be polite to the superstitious and he is an investigator not a debunker. James Randi has said the same thing many times. Sure we can be skeptical until their is evidence, but we have to look at the evidence and really listen to witnesses. Joe said he was known as being nice and listening. In an example, he suggested rational explanations to a supposed supernatural events that were not correct at first. However, because Joe was polite and engaged the superstitious person’s concern completely that superstitious person found the actual non-supernatural cause for the phenomenons on his own later. It was due to Joe’s prior attempt to rationally explain the event. Joe was later thanked.

In the last FreeThought Fort Wayne meeting, we talked briefly about how we engage in teaching skepticism to a lay person. I know we think there are many overly superstitious people out there. That may be true but it is not like they all have the same superstition. (The religions sects have different levels of unreason.) Most folks have one or two sacred cows and when stepped on the emotion center of the brain kicks in and overrides the reason center in the frontal cortex. (You can see that in the death threats in PZ Meyers it’s just a cracker drama. For the record that is a free speech lesson and I support it).

I think the safest way to try to engage the superstitious person is to ask them what they don’t believe in. Big Foot and Flying Saucers are usually pretty safe. You can go to other gods and worship such as cargo cults, Scientology, Joseph Smith, Heaven’s gate, etc (whatever they are not)

**Joe Nickell did make the distinction that he will attack charlatans when they abuse the superstitious.

Advertisements

Posted in FreeThought, Philosophy, Skepticism | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Do it for the kids

Posted by Skeptigator on July 29, 2008

Last week I gave my response to theo’s post on Atheist Evangelism. In it I made specific recommendations for what we as freethinkers can do today to bring about our Utopia now. My recommendations centered around starting, participating in and promoting a local freethought group however that is not the single most important thing I can do.

“I find the great thing in this world is, not so much where we stand, as in what direction we are moving” – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

In fact, I deliberately didn’t state the single most important thing I think you can do because I myself have yet to do it. I think it would be hypocritical for me to tell you what you should do when I haven’t. So at the time I felt pretty good about my post and I still stand by it. But the post bothers me immensely because of what I did not say.

So without being coy anymore, the single biggest thing you can do is Come Out. Stop hiding the fact that you are a non-theist (atheist, agnostic, rationalist, secular humanist, whatever). I suppose I should take a moment to state why doing this is perhaps the best thing you can do,

  • It certainly removes many restrictions you may have for joining, participating or promoting a local freethought group (remember it’s the second biggest thing).
  • It adds one more member to a growing and largely silent population of non-believers (particularly in the States).
  • I believe it creates a self-regulating atmosphere that doesn’t allow the religious fanatics as much leeway in the public realm if they believe there are more non-theists who will be willing to stand up to them.
  • Personally I think you will feel better. You won’t feel so self-censored and all the anxiety that that can bring with

Now having said that, the Internet and it’s relative anonymity has helped many non-theists connect with other like-minded individuals. This has certainly created an outlet for many people including myself. Maybe someone could argue that it’s created a pressure-release that would have otherwise resulted in more outspoken non-theists (I don’t think it would be very good one).

“So… um… yea..  that’s.. obviously that’s the downside” – Mr. Deity (Episode 2)

But enough about the pros, what about the downsides. I list them because I believe each of us works through them eventually. Some of these don’t apply to everyone nor is exhaustive but it’s a decent sampling.

  • Probably the number one issue would family pressure. I’m a born and bred Fort Wayner and so is my family. To understate it, they are religious. Like Benny-Hinn-Join-a-Y2K-compound religious. Like Jesus Camp religious, you get the point*.
  • Some of us have job or career fears. Not an issue for me. Sure the company picnics/potlucks start with a prayer but half of my co-workers are staring at their shoes or smirking at the 145-year-old blue-hair who feels compelled to say grace ( When will she retire already!? ).
  • For others it may be their children. Or more importantly an obligation to protect their children from harassment. If you become a vocal proponent of athiesm, non-theism or secular humanism in this community I would have serious fear for my children.

Clearly my job doesn’t present a problem. I don’t work for religious fanatics (although I have) so this isn’t an issue. Although to be honest my personal life in this regards has no reason to bleed into work, it’s not like I’m handing out atheist chick tracts. My point is that if were to become widely known it cause me any problems.

I have recently realized that hiding the fact that I’m an atheist (or more accurately a Secular Humanist) from my family is tiresome and so I’ve stopped overtly hiding from them. Such as ignoring their friend requests on Facebook (maybe they won’t know it’s me, ha).

“Do it for the kids!” – Anonymous

So bottom line, it comes down to my kids. I fear for my kids. I’m certainly not conspiratorial or think someone will outright hurt my children (although maybe I think that a little) but at a minimum I wouldn’t like my kids to get messed with. Maybe if they were older like in their teens they would be able to handle things better but my two boys being on either side of 10 I’m not sure how they would handle it.

I’ve already had a 6-year-old friend of my 6-year-old son tell him that if they don’t believe in God then they will go to Hell where “they shoot you in the stomach forever and ever”. This is the one thing that a 6-year-old felt compelled to convey to my kids about their religion. Not Jesus love, fear of Hell. Fast-forward this kid 15 years and now we have a problem. I know that’s an oversimplification and anecdotal at best but it goes to my state of mind, your honor.

“What’s wrong, McFly. Chicken?” – Biff Tannen

I haven’t overcome this last obstacle yet. I’m just not sure. I’m at the point where it depends on the day. Today I feel compelled to just be Out! but that’s not to say tomorrow I won’t regret even posting on the topic. But then again only a year ago I wouldn’t have dreamt of Friending my family on Facebook where they will see all the heathenistic blogs, pages, groups and evil atheist friends that I congregate with.

So the greatest thing you could do is to come out. Let me know how that works out for you, I’ll just… umm… you know… sit here and watch.

* I’m not joking

Add to FacebookAdd to NewsvineAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to Ma.gnoliaAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Furl

Posted in FreeThought, Philosophy | Tagged: , , | 14 Comments »

We want our Utopia now

Posted by Skeptigator on July 21, 2008

theodorsing recently posted Evangelist = Evil’s Agent?, in which he asks a number of compelling questions. So my post this week has been discarded in favor of my thoughts on the same topic.

The main theme from the post was that atheism, by definition, and often in practice is a negative assertion. It provides no foundation for a positive* belief system, it offers no method, process or framework with which to create a positive* worldview. Perhaps the most you could say is that it provides a framework within which I don’t believe in your (or all) god(s). There is simply nothing there to grab a hold of.

“Suppose we’ve chosen the wrong god. Every time we go to church we’re just making him madder and madder.” – Homer Simpson

theo and I spoke at a local church about a month ago that was exploring other worldviews by actually inviting people who espouse those worldviews to explain for themselves what they believe. This is an excellent idea that should be explored by other organizations as well.

What we were specifically asked to address was Atheism. However in the course of working up materials and notes on the topic I realized that Atheism as a basis of a talk would be pretty bare. The person at the church offered a standard list of topics to address and after going through the list it looked a little like this: Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Philosophy | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

This is only a test

Posted by dystressed on July 20, 2008

I found this video online from one of the many blogs I read. This reminds me of the kind of object lesson that I used to be transfixed by when I was younger. Specifically, the one I remember most was an abstinence lesson where someone would take a bite of an apple and pass it around the room. Then no one wanted the apple because it had been bitten.

These types of parables are the types of non-scientific emotional blackmail that people sometimes use to illustrate their points. Although the abstinence one is a little more ridiculous, this one aggravates me because in both cases, these basically boil down to emotional blackmail.

Although these cases are less extreme, this is the same kind of lizard-brain pandering that gets people riled up about war and makes people operate their lives based on fear.

Fear of the unknown is the reason that religion is possible. “What happens after we die?” is probably the most difficult question for humanity, and every religion answers in its own way.

I think that even very rational people are still swayed by these types of morality propaganda, siding with religion because they are hedging their bets. It’s better to believe and be wrong (nothing happens after death) than to not believe and be wrong (after death you go to hell). This is why I think I stuck around religion for so long, I’m sure I’m not the only one.

Posted in FreeThought, Humor, Philosophy, Skepticism, Video | 6 Comments »

Inheriting the Wind

Posted by dystressed on June 29, 2008

As I child, I never saw the movie “Inherit the Wind.”

I finally watched it several days ago and it was fascinating. I decided to find out more about it. Here are some things I found out using the wonders of the Internet:

  1. The real Scopes “Monkey” trial was actually a well-orchestrated farce, designed by the teachers to expose the religious influence in the Tennessee state law banning evolution. It was also one of the most ingenious publicity stunts ever concocted. The final resolution of this case and others like it was the 1962 supreme court ruling banning religious instruction in public schools. (Source)
  2. The movie itself was based upon a play. The play was actually written as a fable about McCarthy-era politics. (Source)
  3. There’s a connection to Fort Wayne. Dick York, one of the principle cast members, was born in Fort Wayne.

The film itself is very moving. I would say it’s even divisive. It was mean to the creationists and religious people, and presents the Evolutionists as snotty and condescending.

Now as we examine both sides of the debate today, there is even more of a divergence of views. If anything, the fundamentalists are even more adamant about their position. Evolutionists, at least I’d like to think, are much more enlightened than those in the movie. Advances in science, such as the discovery of DNA, the Hubble telescope, Mars Rovers, et cetera, have given science new insights in the arguments against creation.

In short, science has progressed and evolved since the middle of the twentieth century by leaps and bounds. Religion has stagnated with no new arguments or evidence to back up their position.

Of all arguments in support of science, this simple illustration is the most telling.

Posted in Events, FreeThought, Philosophy, Politics, Religion, Science, Skepticism | Leave a Comment »

Affirmations of Secular Humanism – #1

Posted by mikebftw on June 28, 2008

(This post is the first in a series discussing the affirmations of secular humanism. The introduction to the series can be found here.)

We are committed to the application of reason and science to the understanding of the universe and to the solving of human problems.

This first, important statement affirms the basis of what we freethinkers believe. As one of the core values embraced by FreeThought Fort Wayne, we act upon it so naturally that we can sometimes take for granted its implications. I’d like to discuss in this post a couple of potential criticisms that theists may direct at this affirmation.

I think the most obvious criticism is, “Aren’t you just worshiping reason and science?” For example, replace the words “reason and science” in the affirmation with “our faith in God and His Church.” We hear this criticism often, as believers try to project their belief structure onto ours, replacing “priest” with “scientist” in the vernacular. However, it is important to note how differently we operate. The most renowned scientists in the world still have the burden of evidence when presenting a claim – no one gets a free pass. Even when we don’t have the time or resources to replicate an experiment that supports the findings of science, we have methods of bolstering and cross-referencing what limited resources we do have to independently verify a claim.

However, we do not just hold our scientists to this burden of proof and practicality. Also key to this affirmation is the notion that, if necessary, reason and science themselves could be further scrutinized, examined, or otherwise put on trial to verify their effectiveness. This brings me to my next potential criticism, “Why reason and science?” Simply put, they work. In all of the years of human self-awareness, reason is the only way we’ve ever known to communicate entire ideas regardless of personal contingency. As Thomas Paine demonstrated in “The Age of Reason,” there is no way to rely on personal revelation when more than one person is involved. All religious systems ultimately reduce to a reliance on the unverifiable personal revelations of one person. To this point, we only have these two methods of gaining knowledge – reason and revelation. We freethinkers chose the one that carries with it the weight of evidence. Even if an altogether new method of “knowing” became available, it would first have to stand the test of reason to have any practical use.

Regardless of one’s religious background or lack thereof, we all share as an ultimate goal a better understanding of the universe and the solving of human problems. While we don’t hold them beyond reproach, we are indeed committed to the use of reason and science as the most effective method to achieving this goal.

Posted in FreeThought, Philosophy | 1 Comment »

The Affirmations of Secular Humanism – A Series

Posted by mikebftw on June 27, 2008

During the question and answer period following John Loftus’ presentation last month, an astute believer in attendance noted that it’s much easier to critique or tear down than to create or build up. His particular point was that if you eliminate the Bible, what are you offering in its place as a literary work or a moral guide?

Regardless of this gentleman’s ulterior motive to catch John in a “gotcha” moment on grounds that he never sought to occupy, he does make a valid point that we freethinkers should consider, if only as a matter of public image. That is, we’re generally pretty skilled at finding fault in the various religious systems, but shouldn’t we at least try to articulate what we do believe? What guides our objective morality? This is not to say that we need to write a “new” bible. We don’t need a rulebook. However, I believe that the better we’re able to communicate our shared positive beliefs, the more effectively we can engage believers in meaningful discussions on morality.

Luckily, we don’t have to start from scratch when it comes to putting our beliefs into words. While they’re not perfect, and they’re subject to the same scrutiny and skepticism we apply to any and all ideas, the 21 affirmations put forth by Paul Kurtz and the Council for Secular Humanism are a great place to start when considering the values we freethinkers tend to share. These affirmations can be found on the inside cover of every issue of Free Inquiry magazine, or on the Council for Secular Humanism website here.

Today I’m starting a series of posts, one each Friday, considering each of the 21 affirmations of secular humanism. As you read, please bear in mind the following:

  1. The affirmations are not meant as rules, imposed from the top down. Rather, they are articulations of the beliefs upon which most freethinkers tend to agree.
  2. The affirmations are meant to withstand the same skepticism and scrutiny we apply to all ideas.
  3. Ultimately, I speak only for myself in my analysis of the affirmations. The conversation only stands to gain from new perspectives, personal experiences, and other input that may differ from what I have to offer.

Posted in FreeThought, Philosophy | Tagged: , , , , | 2 Comments »

Oil Prices, Climate Change, Objective Morality, and Evangelicals.

Posted by Andy D. on June 24, 2008

It certainly feels like fate when all of above have woven themselves together in my mind recently. That is how our pattern seeking minds work. I will talk more on personal relationships next week. I want to get these ideas into our zeitgeist while they are fresh.

Let’s start with crazy stuff. I shit you not. This appeared in the Journal Gazette:

Evangelicals question global warming
A coalition of conservative evangelical leaders wants to enlist 1 million Christians to sign a statement questioning whether human-caused global warming is a real threat and arguing that restrictive environmental policies harm poor people.
The “We Get It!” campaign is the latest development in an ongoing disagreement among evangelicals about climate change.The campaign’s materials argue that “recent, slight warming” is an unproven threat that could lead to restrictions in energy use and drive up the cost of energy and food for the world’s poor.

Can someone tell me what evangelicalism has to do with science? If some of those evangelical leaders are scientists or are economists, then they might have something helpful to contribute; clearly, they do not get it! If they have scientists then speak the science and not under the label evangelical and be open for criticism. Reality and evangelicals do not mix considering their hatred of biology, cosmology, geology and other sciences. Ironically, they will even enjoy the benefits of these sciences such as medical care and then credit God afterwards. These people may destroy the planet and it would be a big joke if it were not so common. The driving forces of this movement are the conservative think tanks. 90% of all books against the science of climate change have roots in conservative think tanks. (This reminds me of a bizarro world in which gay scientists isolate the Christian gene).

The topic of this weeks Enlightenment show is about ethics and morality. Ethics are derived from biological anthropology such as reciprocal altruism in animals. The Golden Rule and empathy are selected for and not against in evolution. Plus, we can overcome our urge to reproduce (selfish genes) and seek other pursuits such as learning and love. Stay tuned for more on that subject and watch the website for the show.

Apologists say non-theists have no objective moral code. Where do they pick and choose to follow the good bits of the Bible but ignore the nasty bits? (Is that still objective absolutism? There are Christians that are on both sides of abortion, capital punishment, homosexual marriage, embryonic stem cell research, etc).

Religion completely destroys any sense of objective morality. It gets the whole thing upside down. Look at the climate change mentality above. A naturalistic cosmic worldview sees the planet as an entire complicated ecosystem (Biosphere) and how vulnerable it is for us. (The planet will be fine without us). Religion says the entire universe was built for us. Can they be any more arrogant? Plus, all humans are wicked and sex is ugly. Yet, we are made like God. Come on, who designs a sewage system in the reproductive playground? Religions scapegoat their sins. Is that moral? Don’t get me started on the horrors of lying to kids about dinosaurs being on Noah’s Ark and calling that science and building a museum to ignorance tax-free.

This is exactly what Bill Cooke described about the lack of morality in religion in this very good debate with Wiliam Lane Craig. (Thanks to Debunking Christianity for the link and you will have to go to u-tube for the whole thing).

Back to global burning, I was listening to WOWO because I like to listen to them say silly things around lunchtime. Rush Limbaugh was going on and on about letting us drill on our coastline. I thought for once, we were going to let the market fix our problems like they preach so well. (I am a fan of Adam Smith) Yet, here is the right wing thinking short term by saying let’s just drill here in our coastlines. That is one way to handle it, but only short term. With oil being expensive we will have to change our ways, infrastructure and increase demand from alternative energy sources. That is good for the planet and good for energy independence. Isn’t that the market forces with that supply and demand stuff? This happened before in 1979 and 1983 with our power plants getting away from oil. However, OPEC now has demand from China and India so they do not have to respond to the US. I thought higher energy independence and climate changed were linked. Here is a very good article from The Economist saying that the two are now being separated politically. The right wing wants to reduce foreign dependence but doesn’t pay any attention to climate change. This explains Rush and the we get it campaign from above. Morality and good stewardship is thrown away by not paying attention to the total economic cost including the environment and only the nominal gain.

Let’s embrace this market change for both energy prices and environment. The right wing seems to count out American ingenuity and innovation. Even McCain said we should be thinking nuclear. I agree. (Richard Carrier just wrote a cool blog on McCain’s u-tube problem). Science and Technology are more important than ever and businesses are already thinking green and the trend will continue.

Here is an interesting take on oil prices and it really isn’t so bad. Green that isn’t economical such as biofuels is not the way to go until the scientists figure out a way to make it viable. It is driving up costs for no environmental or economical reasons currently. By the market keeping oil prices up compared to “normal”, we will see more R&D work done on alternatives, and decrease demand. Both are good for the environment and energy independence but apparently we have to fight for this.

Posted in Philosophy, Politics, Religion, Science | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Choice vs. Nature (and something about homo-dolphins)

Posted by Skeptigator on June 23, 2008

I’ve had this post half-start/half-finished for some time but a recent post over on, FriendlyChristian.com, prompted me to finish this thought all the way through. My problem lies specifically in an argument used, implicitly or explicitly, by many pro-gay activists and bloggers. That argument is the following:

Homosexuality should be accepted because no one chooses to be gay. We shouldn’t victimize gays for the same reason we shouldn’t victimize someone because of the color of their skin.

On it’s face this seems like a perfectly correct statement, one I’ve used many times. Unfortunately, I’ve come the realization that this argument is fundamentally flawed. Yes, it’s an easy shortcut when arguing with someone who states that homosexuality is a choice and then you say, “Nuh uhh, they can’t help that they were born that way” and then they say “Yea huh, it’s a choice” and then you say, “Yer stupid”. Ok maybe my debating skills have something to be desired.

I’ve seen a subtle shift, particularly within Christian circles, in the arguments against homosexuality away from whether or not it’s a choice or not and many are beginning to concede that homosexual desires may actually be natural. The argument I see more and more often is that, “Regardless if homosexuality is natural or not. It is not a sin to be gay, but practicing homosexuality is a sin.” (The reasons we shouldn’t practice homosexuality are to my knowledge only religious. I think the only time that I’ve seen any secular arguments against homosexuality comes from the “It ain’t natural” argument. )

There are 2 points regarding the Natural vs. Unnatural/Choice argument that I’d like to make. The first is that there is a growing body of evidence that suggests that within (at least) mammalians species homosexuality is practiced and almost always warrants some kind of off-hand-by-the-way, dolphins might be gay.  I think this body of evidence has helped to shift the objection against homosexuality away from the more secular “It ain’t natural” arguments. Unfortunately this very shift has highlighted the very weakness of the argument from a natural cause and thus to my second point.

If we root the argument for the “rightness” of homosexuality in natural origins of the behavior (whether that’s neurological, evolutionarily-selected-for, whatever argument you want to pick) then we also open up much deeper issues that erode the entire foundation for rational thought. Is pedophilia good because it comes naturally to some. What about sociopaths and psychopaths? They are born with the “wrong” wiring but it is natural. We can circumvent these arguments and say that psychopathic and pedophiliac behaviors are not right because they deviate from social/cultural norms. But unless you have information I don’t have homosexual behavior is not a societal norm and is only at best practiced by 10% of the population. You can see the big mess this whole “natural” thing gets into. I won’t even mention all of the good and unnatural things we as humans do, like build shelters, reengineer our environment, practice medicine and care for the elderly and weak. We simply cannot point at homo-dolphins, wash our hands and expect fundamentalist Christians to revise their theology.

Let’s come at it from a different perspective by using a thought experiment. Let’s say that by some scientific method we can prove with near absolute certainty that homosexual behavior is a choice. Not just a subconscious choice influenced by whatever environmental factor but an actual conscious choice. Never mind that this makes most homosexuals liars or at best self-deluded. We realize that homosexual behavior in bonobos, dolphins and other mammals is shown to be mankind trying to imprint a sexual explanation for non-sexual behaviors, for example, what looks like homosexual behavior in dolphins are really attempts by male dolphins attempting to assert dominance over the other members of the pod. You get the idea. Would that change your opinion of the rightness or wrongness of homosexual behavior?

You’ll have to answer that question for yourself but answer is No. I don’t care if homosexuality is found to be a choice. I don’t personally believe that it is a choice but it really doesn’t matter. Consenting adults who are able to make this choice of their own free will have every right to express their love for one another in a loving, unharmful (well, you know, unless you are in to that) way. 

I’ll leave you with an appropriate excerpt from the Humanist Manifesto II published in 1973, they can sum it up more eloquently than I,

In the area of sexuality, we believe that intolerant attitudes, often cultivated by orthodox religions and puritanical cultures, unduly repress sexual conduct. The right to birth control, abortion, and divorce should be recognized. While we do not approve of exploitive, denigrating forms of sexual expression, neither do we wish to prohibit, by law or social sanction, sexual behavior between consenting adults. The many varieties of sexual exploration should not in themselves be considered “evil.” Without countenancing mindless permissiveness or unbridled promiscuity, a civilized society should be a tolerant one. Short of harming others or compelling them to do likewise, individuals should be permitted to express their sexual proclivities and pursue their lifestyles as they desire. We wish to cultivate the development of a responsible attitude toward sexuality, in which humans are not exploited as sexual objects and in which intimacy, sensitivity, respect and honesty in interpersonal relations are encouraged. Moral education for children and adults is an important way of developing awareness and sexual maturity (1973, section 6).

Posted in FreeThought, Philosophy, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Death and Loss

Posted by dystressed on June 23, 2008

One of the many arguments people have against atheists is that of death. If there is no afterlife, how can we heal from the pain of a loved one’s death?

My personal answer is I don’t know. But then again, I don’t think anyone, religious or not knows the answer. The biggest support religion gets is by those fearing death, and it offers a slapdash, vague notion of the afterlife to give us some false sense of eternal security. This perpetuates faith and keeps the victims of tragedy beholden to belief.

I’d like to think some more about how we as freethinkers, skeptics, secular humanists, atheists, et al. should handle our right to grieve “godlessly,” for lack of a better term. The following is the most prime example I can think of, but feel free to offer input with your comments.

On godlessgrief.com’s message board forum, I read the story of a woman who lost her young daughter in a car accident. They made the decision to donate the girl’s organs and three kids lived because of the unselfish parents. From my experiences with religious people, I would guess that most religious families in a similar situation would not choose to donate the organs.

I likely will not father any children, so I know that when I die, there will be no one left in the world to inherit my DNA. My life will not be eternal in that sense. The one thing that I am is an organ donor. If I die, they may take my organs. That is the only kind of immortality in which I believe.

Posted in Philosophy, Religion | 2 Comments »