Sunday, August 31, 2008

Today's Show - Moral Judgment

Today's show discusses moral judgment, particularly with respect to the work of Jean Piaget and Lawrence Kohlberg. Though by no means the final word on the subject, both made significant contributions to our understanding of moral development.

Piaget's model for moral development included only two stages. He observed that children younger than 10 or 11 consider moral dilemmas in a more rigid way than older children. Older children have a much more nuanced view of rules and moral judgments.

Kohlberg used Piaget's model in developing his more detailed six stage model of moral development. His model consists of:

  • Stage 1 - Obedience & Punishment - rules exist, are fixed, and are handed down by some authority figure (parents or "God"). Something is wrong if you get punished for it; if you don't get punished, it's not wrong.
  • Stage 2 - Individualism & Exchange - rules are no longer seen as fixed. There is still a preoccupation with punishment, but it's now seen as a risk to be avoided and not the determinant of whether something is right or wrong. There is also an emphasis on fairness, and a belief that it's okay to break a rule if someone is being "unfair."
  • Stage 3 - Good Interpersonal Relationships - children at this stage are usually entering their teens. The focus at this stage is on motives - a consideration of someone's motives, good or bad, informs moral judgments about their behaviors.
  • Stage 4 - Maintaining Social Order - this is the law & order stage. The concern in this stage broadens to encompass considerations of society as a whole instead of just interpersonal relationships. The focus is on how laws help create a smoothly functioning society. Most adults stop at this stage of development.
  • Stage 5 - Social Contract & Individual Rights - this is the beginning of thinking about society in a theoretical way. There is a recognition that different groups within a society may have different values, but that certain basic rights must be protected. Furthermore, there must be a democratic process for changing laws for the betterment of society.
  • Stage 6 - Universal Principles - this is a theoretical stage in which there is an attempt to define the principles by which a just society operates. In this society, decisions are based on equal respect for all. For example, a majority would not get to vote on restricting the rights of a minority.

This is a very high-level summary of the Piaget and Kohlberg models, but it does provide some background for the work they did on moral development in children and adults. Their work, plus some interesting facts about neurobiology, make it clear that human moral judgments are not arbitrary as some theists claim and are not dependent on religion. Religion, in fact, adds about as much to moral development as it does to evolution.

So what does contribute to moral development? Our evolutionary legacy as social animals is one thing. Our capacity to reason is another. On an individual basis, moral development has its genesis in good parenting, brain development, and practice. Kohlberg was very clear about this last requirement - moral development is not a matter of simply growing up. And handing someone a set of rules and convincing them to follow them will not improve their ability to make moral judgments. This is a higher cognitive skill that is built up step-by-step over a lifetime.

Fortunately, humans have been doing this for our entire evolutionary history. We don't need fictional characters from Bronze Age myths dictating to us what is right or wrong. We are fully capable of making sound moral decisions all on our own.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

We have great fans

Since many people that read this blog are also fans of the show, I thought I'd make people aware of our new Fan Appreciation page on the Atheist Experience web site.

The page will gather together web-based works done by Atheist Experience fans that have promoted our show. Of course, it' will grow over time with new content as we become aware of it.

I wanted to give a special thanks to people who take clips of our show and re-post them in other venues, usually YouTube. Those little nuggets have gotten the show a lot of free advertising and we really appreciate being able to reach new audiences. On the page above, we've gathered those clips and indexed them by episode number. There are about 90 of them now. Who knew? They're all in one place if you need just a little bite of atheism to help you make it through your day!

As always, send us feedback to the tv show e-mail if you see something that can be improved in some way.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Today on the show: Objecting to Objectivism

So last month, while preparing for a show on "Foolish Atheists," I suggested three groups associated with atheism that might fit the bill: Communists, Raelians, and Objectivists. Nobody was interested in sticking up for Communists or Raelians, but we did get some email about criticizing Objectivism, both pro and con. So what good is having an atheist show if you can't step on a few toes?

I'm personally critical of the libertarian thought that comes from Ayn Rand, but since my political beliefs aren't the issue here, I'm going to try to stay away from that topic as much as I can manage. Instead, I want to focus on the weird cult-like status that Rand attained, and some oddities about her philosophy that make "Objectivism" seem not so objective.

Here come some links (check this post right before the show because I may add more):

  • Wikipedia article on Objectivism
  • Ayn Rand Contra Human Nature, a blog critical of Ayn Rand
    • A post from the above about "Second-Handers". The comments section is especially amusing due to the fact that one of the Objectivist commenters attacks the author by saying "From the content of this blog alone I judge that you are a second-hander, a parasite on Ayn Rand, and to buy your book would be to enable that" - thereby providing an unwitting demonstration of the term "second-hander" as a well poisoning technique.
  • Alice in Wonderland: A critique of Ayn Rand from a Libertarian perspective
  • The Unlikeliest Cult In History by weird beliefs investigator Michael Shermer
  • Just for fun, here's explaining just which cliches are scattered throughout Atlas Shrugged. I'll discuss a few of my favorites: "Mary Sue" (both Dagny Taggart and John Galt filling the role as idealized stand-ins for the author); "Author Filibuster" (56 pages worth of uninterrupted prosyletizing!) and "Anvilicious."
  • Today's musical selection is from "2112" by Rush. Neil Peart has stated that the concept album was inspired Ayn Rand's book, Anthem.

Friday, August 22, 2008

The fame, we bask in it

This was nice. Of course, it's funny that it's all about the recent hilarious punking of Matt by that little scamp Microbiologychick. But that's part of the humor. "Eve"'s silliness was actually not beyond the pale. It was a pitch-perfect performance of the stupid too many real people out there suffer from.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Oh well, so much for cranky Islamic Ph.D bloggers

As an update on this situation, I just went back to check for Sona's blog, and the new upgraded version, "Atheism the incoherence of the Illogic." Results:

Sorry, the blog at has been removed. This address is not available for new blogs.
The authors have deleted this blog. The content is no longer available.

The internet can be a very ephemeral place. I do, however, find it interesting that the four "Ph.D's" who were supposedly unconnected to Sona reacted to adversity in exactly the same fashion as Sona did: by pulling the whole thing down in a huff.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Chuck Colson responds (response #3)

Welcome back, Chuck.

I’m writing because, in church this morning (August 15), I started thinking about your comment about my being so certain in my convictions that I came across as somewhat arrogant. I think you’re probably right. And the reason, I realized as I was thinking about it, is that I have spent much time over the years pondering this question rationally. If you would have read my book Born Again you would know that my resistance to the gospel was exactly what yours is. I didn’t want to do something out of emotion; I wanted to be able to reason it through. I wanted evidence. That’s why reading C. S. Lewis’s book Mere Christianity was such a help to me. I encountered in that book an intellect the match of anyone I’d known, and I found really solid reasons for believing.

(Previous messages: Kazim's review of The Faith; Chuck Colson's post #1; Chuck Colson's post #2.)

I have to admit I wasn't expecting another one; I figured part 2 was the final response. I realize I've been conspicuously silent in following up on the Chuck Colson posts, and as a result the previous responses have become something of a free-for-all where the commenters are concerned. I do want to take this opportunity to state that I've haltingly started my own comprehensive longer reply to both (and now all three) posts from Mr. Colson. At the moment, I'm feeling like I wish to start with the third post and work my way backward. It may take some time to finish, obviously, but then I'm sure this won't be a problem since it has now been two and a half months from the time I first discussed Chuck's book to the most recent post.

To you folks at Zondervan, thanks for keeping me notified on the new posts, and you'll be hearing back from me sometime in the future.

Honesty? From creationists?

Here's a photo from Jason Rosenhouse's Evolutionblog, where he's been covering his visit to the Sixth International Conference on Creationism. Yes, they have those.

And if Jason's photos from the closing presentation here are any indication, the upshot of the conference this year was, "We got jack!" A rather bold admission, you might say, but since these are people whose principal goal is the validation of religious beliefs and not the pursuit of knowledge, I don't suspect they'll do anything with these conclusions other than continue to bring the fail, year after year. I see some bullet points missing from these slides, such as, "We're promoting an idea with an unfalsifiable and therefore unscientific premise," and, "We've never had a peer reviewed paper," and, "We've never given any examples of how creationism constitutes a theory with predictive power." You know, little details like that. For all the problems they admit to, they're still clueless as to the biggies.

Go have a read through Jason's reports. Pretty interesting stuff.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Ow, the stupid, it burns!

Courtesy of WorldNutDaily comes a typical asinine piece from Dennis Prager, entitled "If there is no God." Count the fallacies.

"What one almost never hears described are the deleterious consequences of secularism – the terrible developments that have accompanied the breakdown of traditional religion and belief in God. For every thousand students who learn about the Spanish Inquisition and the Salem Witch Trials, maybe two learn to associate Gulag, Auschwitz, the Cultural Revolution and the Cambodian genocide with secular regimes and ideologies."

Gee, Dennis, I think you're right! And those two students are probably extremely sheltered homeschoolers with ignorant, confused, fundamentalist parents. Because only an idiot would say that Auschwitz had anything to do with a secular regime.

Wait, I... I... I can't go on. Just leave me here and do the rest among yourselves.

Monday, August 18, 2008

A thumb to suck, a skirt to hold

That was Isaac Asimov's blunt dismissal of religion. And its appropriateness is never more evident than in this pitifully sad article currently on, in which the point is made that "when it comes to saving lives, God trumps doctors for many Americans."

More than half of randomly surveyed adults — 57 percent — said God's intervention could save a family member even if physicians declared treatment would be futile. And nearly three-quarters said patients have a right to demand that treatment continue.

When asked to imagine their own relatives being gravely ill or injured, nearly 20 percent of doctors and other medical workers said God could reverse a hopeless outcome.

Here's the utility of religion spelled out: it continues to persist, more than anything, as an anodyne against the fear of death. Say what you will about its role in building a sense of community for its followers, or the repeated testimonials from believers about God giving them a sense of direction and purpose in life. What it boils down to is that religion is mostly used by people to manage their most profound insecurities and fears. And nothing is more devastating than the loss of a loved one, except perhaps, for some people, the prospect of their own eventual death.

In a sense I can understand the desperation here. There are harsh truths few people have the courage to face. But where I think believers would tell you that their faith gives them the courage to face those truths, I see the opposite in play: they're clinging to their faith like a drowning man clutching at a reed, to justify their ongoing denial of truth, simply because facing it involves taking an emotional body blow that the thin shield their faith provides really would buckle under the force of it. And they know it, deep down.

What, apart from people's innate fears, keeps this practice of clinging to hope of miraculous divine intervention in the face of very real tragedy alive? Well, the fact that, on occasion, people do bounce back for any number of reasons from death's door. And these rare occasions are justification enough for the religious mind. All it takes is one cancer patient branded terminal to go into remission instead, and the instant that person's family starts braying about God's miraculous cure, a million other people going through the same pain are cruelly given false hopes, only to see them dashed more often than not. It's exactly the mentality of people who habitually play the lottery: "Sure, the odds are pretty long, but you never know."

I remember a caller to the show back when I was host, a nice young woman who asked what we felt about such a hypothetical cancer patient, and if such events were or were not a good reason to consider the likelihood of God. I replied that I would have even more moral qualms about a God like that existing, as I would be troubled by the thought of why God would choose to save one dying mother, but not all the other dying mothers and fathers and children who were doubtless languishing in that hospital's very same oncology wing, with family members keeping vigil by their sides with just as much pain in their hearts. Why not grant miracle cures to everyone all at once? It would hurt no one, relieve many of their emotional suffering, and give believers much stronger evidence of miracles to point to when talking to the unconverted. The caller admitted she hadn't thought of it that way.

I think it's good to see doctors (and frankly, if I'm ever hospitalized, I sincerely hope not to get any of the ones in that 20 percentile) dealing realistically with patients' families in their stubbornness about godly intervention that isn't coming. While it's important to be respectful — no, not of the irrational beliefs, but of the very real pain and confusion that's feeding them — it's doubly important to guide these people towards an acceptance of the reality we will all have to face in our lives, that our loved ones die, that we too will die. As one woman interviewed in the story, who tragically lost her children in an accident, begrudgingly admits, "I have become more of a realist. I know that none of us are immune from anything." It's terrible she had to go through such an awful experience to learn such a lesson. I guess that's why they're called lessons.

Take each day as it comes and appreciate it to the fullest. If it's a particularly shitty day, make an effort to do something to make it slightly less shitty. Take a walk in the park, jam out to your favorite album, hug a dog, excuse yourself from the presence of people who are being assholes to you. You don't get to do this one again, and no miracle will be coming to let you hit the reset button. If nothing else, at the very end, you can say to yourself and to those who don't want to see you go, "Don't be unhappy. I lived."

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Bridging the Gap

This week, when I stopped at the library, I checked out Psychology and Religion by C. G. Jung. It is a short volume based on 1937 Terry Lectures presented at Yale.

I am nearly at the end of the book, and I am compelled to write about my impressions. It has provided me one of the most profound religious epiphanies, since the day I recognized god was a metaphor.

Jung has offered me a new perspective on an old mystery. While I can see in my past observations on religion that I have touched on similar ideas, I believe that my own observations only rippled across the surface, while Jung has gone down to fathoms I never imagined.

If I had to sum up Psychology and Religion, I would say that it is a message of bridging the gap between the conscious and the unconscious mind. Jung’s observations and speculations in this text, to a large degree, have since been fleshed out in neuroscientific research in a way that left me feeling that Jung’s intuitions were nearly prophetic.

At a time when Jung had to honestly write, “the unconscious mind [was] a mere assumption for the sake of convenience,” he was still comfortable assuming its existence.

Jung was unable to understand “who” was producing dreams, if not an unconscious aspect of human psyche. Dreams flow from our heads in unconscious states, with stories and images that are sometimes incredibly foreign to our conscious life. Physics is defied. We are surprised by plot changes. Dreams appear to be consciously observed content from something in our heads that is not consciously controlled or initiated. Something that is “me”—but that cannot be “me,” if “I” am conscious ego.

Jung found it beneficial to differentiate the conscious “me” (ego) from the subconscious entity for the purposes not only of examination, but also in working with his patients on a practical level. He used the term “self” to described the bundled package of all mind—conscious or otherwise. He used “I,” and variants of “I,” to represent ego. The subconscious aspects, then, are not what I consider to be “me,” but are still part of my “self,” according to Jung.

He admitted openly he had no idea what the subconscious was, exactly why it existed, or how it worked. “In reality I am totally unconscious of—in other words, I do not know at all—where [a voice in a dream] originates. I am not only incapable of producing the phenomena at will but I am also unable to anticipate the mental contents of [the voice]. Under such conditions it would be presumptuous to call the factor which produces the voice my mind…the fact that you perceive the voice in your dream proves nothing at all, for you can also hear the noises in the street, which you would not explain as your own.

“There is only one condition under which you might legitimately call the voice your own, namely, when you assume your conscious personality to be a part of a whole or to be a smaller circle contained in a bigger one.”

Jung’s assumption then was “human personality consists of two things: first, of consciousness and whatever this covers, and second, of an indefinitely large hinterland of unconscious psyche.” The problem for Jung was that he had no method to define the second aspect—or even to support its existence beyond his interpretations of his indirect observations. In Jung’s mind, there were only two choices: Dreams come from some unconscious aspect of our own minds, or they are put into our heads from an external source (such as the car noise). Since the human brain is a known mechanism for producing conscious thoughts and images in our heads, Jung saw no reason to look further for a source of the unconscious messages. To Jung, it was a safe assumption that whether we were aware of it or not, part of our self seemed capable of generating mental function that was, in an abstract way, detectible to our conscious minds.

Jung also expresses a keen awareness of what was known and what was conjecture. “If asked I shall surely stand by my convictions which do not go further than what I consider to be my actual knowledge. I am convinced of what I know. Everything else is hypothesis and beyond that I can leave a lot of things to the Unknown. They do not bother me. But they would begin to bother me, I am sure, if I felt that I ought to know something about them.” The context of this quote is in a discussion about religion, and specifically this passage follows directly a note dealing with religiously minded patients.

How familiar is this? How often do online apologists express, “If god didn’t make the world—then how did it get here? You don’t know!” To grasp tightly to a myth, no matter how true or untrue, how verified or unverified—is better than not knowing to these individuals. Religion presses us, then, to be uncomfortable with not knowing—uncomfortable to the point of embracing any explanation, no matter how fantastic.

If a patient had deep religious beliefs, Jung indicated he would not challenge them. He would work as a professional psychologist within the world constructed by the patient’s mind. In fact, he expresses that it is futile to attempt to do otherwise. “As long as such a defense works I shall not break it down, since I know that there must be powerful reasons why the patient has to think in such a narrow circle.”

I have admired the work inspired by Jung for some time. But I have also heard on many occasions that he was involved in a lot of woo. In reading this book, I find myself pleasantly surprised, then, by passages like this, “It would be a regrettable mistake if anybody should understand my observations to be a kind of proof of the existence of God. They prove only the existence of an archetypal image of the Deity, which to my mind is the most we can assert psychologically about God.” In other words, as far as Jung can tell, god exists as an idea.

Jung spends a considerable amount of real estate in the book to cover symbolic aspects of the number four in religious contexts. This ties into a particular case study he uses to illustrate many of his points. At first, I was completely dubious of this discussion. His client dreams of religious imagery that ties into the number four quite often. Jung provides examples of how the number four is used in the religion of the patient, who was raised Catholic, but who would have no more knowledge of ancient church writings than any layperson. Why would some Christian script from a millennia ago, talking about four, be significant? But, after reading further, I began to recognize that Jung is only looking to see if symbols, similar to those his patient is producing, subconsciously in a religious context, have been recorded by others with a similar religious context.

This ties into Jung’s idea of a Collective Unconscious, also known as the Objective Psyche. Jung differentiated between a personal unconscious and a collective unconscious. There are some experiences that impact us that are directly connected to the greater human experience. There are other experiences that impact us that are unique to us as individuals. When it comes to people, part of us is uniquely individual, and part of us is common to all humans. This is as true of human beings physically as it is mentally. Collective unconscious is that part of the unconscious mind that results from simply being a human animal, and not from individual, subjective experience or interpretation. There have been misguided attempts to promote this idea as some sort of “woo.” But it does not, for example, embody the idea that I can “remember” experiences of my great-great-grandmother. It means only that certain psychological aspects of my being are the result of my inescapable human aspects. And I necessarily share those aspects with other humans.

This is why Jung felt a need to examine antiquity to see if other Catholics shared the religious symbolism his patient’s subconscious mind was repeatedly thrusting into his dreams. Because Catholics share the same symbolic history in the context of similar religious upbringing, perhaps deciphering these symbols in the context of the patient’s familiar religion would help to flesh out whatever the subconscious was trying to relate to the conscious mind in the patient’s dreams.

Like Freud, Jung agreed that repression results in neurotic manifestations in the patient’s conscious existence. But he also felt that the unconscious/conscious divide exists for a reason. He held to a very evolutionary standpoint that because the divide exists, it must serve a purpose. And if there is benefit to evolving with an unconscious mind, then it would be “normal for a man to resist…the unconscious with all those tendencies and contents hitherto excluded from conscious life. They were excluded for a number of real and apparent reasons. Some are suppressed and some are repressed.” In other words, if the unconscious mind serves us, it makes sense that we would have an intuitive aversion to bringing it to our conscious awareness.

To Jung, our unconscious impulses, if left unchecked by the conscious ego, yield unhappy results. He uses mob mentality as an example of unsuppressed impulsive action and why it can be dangerous. All of us, he points out, to some degree suppress unconscious impulses that arise. This ties in with neuroscience (especially Crick and Koch), which has since illustrated that at least one function of conscious mind is to evaluate an act upon (or refuse to act upon) unconscious impulses that arise in a very mysterious fashion.

Suppression, Jung defines as a healthy, conscious inhibitor—a choice to not express an impulse. Repression, on the other hand is an unconscious or semi-conscious inhibition of an impulse. Jung expressed that from what he could tell, the conscious mind was a smaller and subordinate part of the greater mind, which again aligns with modern neuroscience. The unconscious mind initiates action, the conscious mind evaluates action. It is the gateway, the checkpoint, where impulses are either allowed to manifest or are suppressed. To Jung, a repressed impulse cannot be understood on a conscious level, because it is not impeded on any fully conscious level.

Phobia was one example that came to my own mind immediately. I have seen people both paralyzed with fear and white knuckled with fear of the most mundane situations and objects. When I’ve asked what exactly they are afraid of, the responses I get are not rational. I’m sure they honestly express their immediate feelings; but they do not adequately explain the reaction I am witnessing. The person, himself or herself, does not consciously understand why they have been overtaken with ridiculous levels of fear due only to their proximity to an extremely mundane situation or object. And yet, their unconscious mind is generating in their conscious mind overwhelming fear. Because it is not understood, it becomes difficult for the individual to rationalize the situation. So, there is no means to control the reaction. Their sense, literally, breaks down, and they become a mere vessel of full-bore fear in the face of what most of us consider to be nothing at all.

So, it does make sense that the less we understand our subjugation of our unconscious impulses, the worse their impact—the rebellion of the subconscious impulse, if I can personify it—will be to our conscious experience.

In Jung’s opinion, the Catholic religion, despite it’s reputation with Hell, was good at alleviating unconscious tension. The church was a supreme authority between man and god—which symbolizes the unconscious mind. As a Catholic, I could alleviate my plagued conscience at any time, merely by going to my local church and engaging in the ritual of confession. The church, as the ultimate authority on all things spiritual, reliably assured me that whatever I had done, I was now forgiven and all was absolved. With the rise of Protestantism, Jung was concerned that removing that authority would leave people with a doubt regarding their absolution—and a subsequent rise in neurotic manifestations. As a Protestant, there is no symbol (no priest) to tell me that I have been cured of my sin. Jung points out that with the fall of the church authority, we should expect that Protestants would be left foundering on their own—accounting for the myriad Protestant denominations. Since god is a symbol, a metaphor, of the human mind, spawned from the collective unconscious, filtered through the personal unconscious and then submitted to the conscious mind for interpretation, how could humans produce an unfractured model, without a strong central authority, such as the Catholic Church had provided from potentially as far back as the birth of the Christian religion?

Christianity, itself, Jung asserted, had broken out of a traditional religious symbolism that relied heavily on the number four. Whether there is any merit to his evaluation of the trinity as an incomplete symbol for what should be a four-part god, I cannot say. But his conclusions, whether his methods were valid in this regard or not, were astonishingly on target.

After leaving the church, I recall reading Eastern religious philosophy where the concept of god as being representative of a complete whole contrasted sharply with my Christian upbringing. In the East, there is a concept of a unity, a one complete symbol that encompasses everything. “All things are one thing” would be perhaps a good way to put it. In some Asian languages, there is the idea of “the Universe of 10,000 things,” but also the universe as a single, whole, complete unit. In Christianity, we see a divide of opposing natures. Heaven and Earth, Good and Evil, Spirit and Flesh, Male and Female. According to the Eastern views, this is unnecessarily divisive and not generally a healthy perspective. For a thing to be complete, it must encompass Heaven AND Earth, Good AND Evil, Spirit AND Flesh, Male AND Female.

In Christianity, god is the god of good. And evil is the domain outside of god’s context. Likewise, god appears to lack a feminine presence. Christianity is replete with concepts of an incomplete, and according to Jung, therefore inadequate, god symbol. Jung believed this was significant because god is a symbol meant to represent the human being’s concept of self. And clearly there are some key elements of self expunged from the Christian god symbol. If my conscious model violates my unconscious model, then I am, in effect, denying aspects of my self in a repressive, rather than suppressive way. And, Jung observed, this will create consciously manifesting problems for individuals.

The church, according to Jung’s model, has made open attempts to plug the holes in the incompleteness of their god symbol. “The Devil” has been incorporated as the embodiment of that which is not accounted for by the Christian god—those aspects of the self that are negatively interpreted by the religion. And Mary was at once held up to produce a symbol to embody the feminine aspect. Likewise, the Holy Spirit has been related to a feminine presence in the Gnostic texts. What is missing in the model should be assumed to be accounted for somewhere in the context of the greater set of symbols, according to Jung. And, whether via accuracy or accident, the model works.

According to Jung, it is dangerous for a person to reject a natural part of his or her own being. It is one thing to apply appropriate suppression of inappropriate impulses. But to foster self-loathing of those impulses is to encourage unhealthy repression and denial. Where religion encourages this, it necessarily causes harm to the self, or even the “soul” as Jung also referred to it (due to the religious context of this work).

The unconscious impulses that arise consciously in all of us contain some unflattering data about ourselves on occasion. The more comfortable with and aware of this we are, the better for our mental health. The more we torture ourselves for being what and who were are, the worse off we become. “Freud has discovered repression as one of the main mechanisms in the making of neurosis…Suppression may cause worry, conflict and suffering, but never causes a neurosis of one of the usual patterns.” Jung explains why. “If an inferiority is conscious, one always has a chance to correct it. Furthermore, it is constantly in contact with other interests, so that it is steadily subjected to modifications. But if it is repressed and isolated from consciousness, it never gets corrected. It is, moreover, liable to burst forth in a moment of unawareness. At all events, it forms an unconscious snag, blocking the most well-meaning attempts.” Further in talking about the unconscious negatively held personality aspects (“the shadow”), Jung says, “…if such a case wants to be cured it is necessary to find a way in which man’s conscious personality and his shadow can live together.”

In other words, only by understanding and accepting the things I dislike about myself, can I hope to incorporate them into my life in an adequately controlled fashion.

Because the subconscious mind relates to the conscious mind in a highly symbolic and indirect fashion (mysteriously generated impulses we may or may not understand and surreal dreams that speak to us in our sleep), it is natural for people to be mystified, fearful and in awe. God as a symbol for the mental self, then, makes perfect sense. Ideas come to us, as if from some external source. “We,” the ego, did not generate them—and yet, there they are—as if from some other personage. In fact, Jung actually suggests that at times it might be useful to model the subconscious as a separate personality, in order to examine it as separate from the ego. Is it any wonder so many people would become confused and project it into their conscious reality as a separate personality?

Perhaps the most interesting assessment Jung offers is the idea of religion as a purified form of the unconscious symbols of the self, where myriad people over great spans of time have added to the menagerie of symbols to produce a set of current symbols that relate to the individual’s unconscious model of self in a far more powerful way than any one human’s subconscious imagery ever could. In other words, it makes sense that religion will “speak to us” and ring true, the more it accurately models the self. Think about humanity on the whole, and consider the impact this system of symbols will have on the psyche of the average Joe on the street. It has become so convincing an expression of “truth” to such a great number of average citizens, purely because it has grown into such a perfect set of symbols that model the self. It confuses many into accepting that it represents a reality that can be, or even should be, consciously understood using the rules of conscious logic. (And anyone who has dialogued with a fundamentalist Christian apologist will understand how badly that endeavor must fail.)

Bridging the gap, attempting to allow the conscious and unconscious mind to meet halfway and come to some amicable understanding, is an understandable endeavor. Meditation, employed in many cultures, is an attempt to bring the conscious mind “down” to subconscious levels. Lucid Dreaming attempts the same, as, historically, has mystic and religious hallucinogenic drug use. Fasting, going without sleep, stressing the body in order to bring the unconscious impulses to light during a conscious context, is familiar to many cultures—the religious experience or the mystic vision. Modern religion, like art, is an attempt to bring the subconscious to the realm of the conscious.

The problem is that the conscious mind has not completely cracked the code of subconscious language. We recognize many of the symbols, but we can’t seem to agree on exactly what they mean or represent. They appear to be, to some degree, open to subjective interpretation. Certainly that is the nature of symbols in general. But where we have an utterly amorphous symbol, like “god”—totally without a referent in reality—that represents a practically unknown mechanism, like the subconscious mind—how can we hope to apply any objective interpretation? All interpretations would spawn from the individual’s understanding of his or her own subconscious impulses—some of which would be collective, others of which must be personal. Endowed with broad appeal and left to subjective interpretation—it has what it takes to endure for as long as the subconscious mind remains shrouded in mystery. If Jung’s interpretations and predictions apply, I would wager that if the human unconscious is ever fully understood and explained, the Christian god will go the way of the Greek, Roman, and Egyptian gods.

As Jung declares, “Why have the antique gods lost their prestige and their effect upon human souls? It was because the Olympic gods had served their time and a new mystery began: God became man.”

But, what can we do if we are in the middle of a larger culture that subscribes to a religious model that fails to adequately and fully represent the “self” and that is accepted as literal truth rather than understood as symbol? Speaking of addressing any social dilemma, Jung points out “collectives are mere accumulations of individuals, their problems are also accumulations of individual problems…they are only solved by a general change of attitude. And the change does not begin with propaganda and mass meetings, or with violence. It begins with a change in individuals. It will continue as a transformation of their personal likes and dislikes, of their outlook on life and of their values, and only the accumulation of such individual changes will produce a collective solution.” The best way I know to accomplish this is to let people know you are an atheist. It’s hard to be prejudiced against atheists when your friend, son, wife, mother, coworker, is an atheist, and someone you know and like. As far as I know this is the best way to affect individual assessments.

I still have a few more pages yet to read. But I’ll wrap up for now with the quote that spawned this article. The context is in relating the experience of a patient finding resolution to a neurotic situation. Jung describes this as a “religious experience” or “conversion”—but means only positively life-altering, not “religious” in the sense of supernatural beliefs:

“If you sum up what people tell you about their experience, you can formulate it about in this way: They came to themselves, they could accept themselves, they were able to become reconciled to themselves and by this they were also reconciled to adverse circumstances and events. This is much like what was formerly expressed by saying: He has made his peace with God, he has sacrificed his own will, he has submitted himself to the will of God.”

If god is the modern symbol of the whole of man—the self, in the language of the subconscious—making peace with god and subjecting oneself to god’s will translates directly into making peace with oneself and coming to regard oneself as whole by accepting all aspects of one’s personality without self-loathing, repression, or denial.

At this point, I’m seriously considering rereading the New Testament replacing “god” with “self” to see what sorts of new meanings the text takes on. Just in Jung’s small example of the use of “god’s will,” I see entirely new, and even useful insight.

Addendum: Of course, as I wrapped the final pages, I found a provocative quote: “The philosophy of the Upanishads corresponds to a psychology that long ago recognized the relativity of the gods. This is not to be confounded with such a stupid error as atheism.” I reminded myself this was written in the 1930s, and that I have to consider the political climate and the meaning of “atheist” at the time Jung was presenting. In reading further, I was somewhat confounded because it is obvious to me that, judging solely from the context of this book, Jung is as much an atheist as any atheist I’ve ever met. He no more puts forward a literal god being than I would. And his statement appears to be aimed at a despiritualization that he fears will have negative effects on society. That while some individuals can do well without religious imagery, many will not stand as well on their own merits. I have no idea whether or not that prediction would bear up.

I must recognize, however, that in Jung’s view, when a patient is faced with a choice of the “devil and the deep sea,” (his religion or his neurosis), “the devil is at least somewhat heroic, but the sea is spiritual death. The well-meaning rationalist will point out that…I replace an honest neurosis by the cheat of a religious belief…I must point out that there is no question of belief, but of experience…Is there, as a matter of fact, any better truth about ultimate things than the one that helps you to live?...The thing that cures the neurosis must be as convincing as the neurosis…It must be a very real illusion…But what is the difference between a real illusion and a healing religious experience? It is merely a difference in words.”

Whatever brand of atheism Jung considered as “stupid error,” he is clearly espousing what today, to any literalist or fundamentalist Christian, would be clear, inarguably atheistic views.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Human Race to Islam: Please F.O. and die

Much as I find right-wing jargon to be mindlessly jingoistic and childishly reactionary, they were onto something when they coined the term "Islamofascism." Here are two reports of the oppressive, totalitarian practices of this depraved religion in action.

  1. Dog walking banned in Riyadh on the grounds it leads to flirting and, possibly, cooties. Here's something boggling to contemplate about Islamist states. Most totalitarian regimes are run by angry, lonely little pricks who spend their working days in offices thinking up ways to keep people from being happy, ever. But bring Islam into the picture, and your list of "harmless fun activities magically morphed into arrestable offenses" suddenly includes having a pet and meeting girls. And I suppose I would find the concept of an actual division of law enforcement named The Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice more laughable — let alone the idea that walking your dog could possibly be something anyone would be demented enough to consider a vice of any kind — if it weren't for the very eerie likelihood that there are Dominionist Christians in this country who are smacking their foreheads and saying, "D'oh! Why didn't we think of that?"
  2. White Europeans continue to prove themselves complete pussies when confronted with the spectre of pissed-off guys with beards. (And allow me to forestall enraged replies from white Europeans who aren't afraid to stand up to Islamist incursions upon your rights, and are embarrassed by those in your cultures, official or unofficial, who let fear conquer them: by all means, feel welcome to sound off in the comments.)

    The thing that radical, Great-Satan-hating Islamofascists have learned all too effectively is that nothing scares citizens of (what said citizens like to think are) free Western democracies than the idea that a Muslim is primed to go batshit bombthrowing crazy at the drop of a hat. Confession time: when I was a younger and callow chap, I was in a psychologically abusive relationship with a woman whose tool of control was her temper. I never knew what I might say to cause her to go off like a fragmentation grenade, and so I said very little, even on days which seemed perfectly normal and on which no argument had yet ensued. Everything could be perfectly pleasant, then I could make some innocuous statement about nothing in particular, and within seconds I'd find myself being screamed at, at window rattling volumes. It was, shall we say, an unpleasant period of my life.

    Islamists like to use a similar tool of control to stifle freedom — free speech, criticism of their beliefs or their politics, artistic expression — in countries that, remarkably, aren't Islamist theocracies and in which they're even minorities in the population. Ever since 9/11, the new normal has been that anything could drive a Muslim into a homicidal rage at any moment, and you don't have any clue what it is, so it's better not to take chances. Okay, so that may be a stereotype that the vast majority of non-batshit-bombthrowing-crazy Muslims resent, but it's certainly proven useful to the real agitators among them.

    The latest victim is a novel, The Jewel of the Medina, by debut writer Sherry Jones, which was slated for publication in the UK weeks from now, only to be pulled at the eleventh hour due to fears that the subject matter — the protagonist is one of Mohammed's child brides — would lead to a Satanic Verses fatwa redux. Isn't it convenient for Islamists that they no longer even have to fight the "War on Terror" any more? The West just hands it to them.

    Remarkably, the person who sounded the klaxon of fear regarding Jones's book was not only a Westerner, but a college professor from UT-Austin, Denise Spellberg. Professor, you're a disgrace to our town. Just like that, all that was needed was the teeniest, tiniest fear that the book might "incite acts of violence by a small radical segment," and presto, bye bye freedom of expression and speech!

    Okay, so Jones's novel does sound like lurid crap, in the few excerpts that have appeared online. But if it's going to be denied publication, at least do so for the right reasons.

I'm with Pat Condell on this one. I see no reason to be respectful or tolerant towards a religion that condones "honor killings" and thinks walking your fuckmothering dog is some kind of threat to civilization itself. This kind of barbarism earns no respect, none, not even a smidgen. And I also stand with old Ben Franklin, whose famous line about how folks who are willing to surrender a little freedom in exchange for a little security don't deserve either resonates today more than it ever has in history. So, in the spirit of fair play, and as a sop to all those whiny Christians who like to throw the "you only attack us because you're too scared to go after Muslims" line at us, allow me proudly to strike this blow for freedom!

Now if you'll pardon me, my dogs want their walkies.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Okay, so I'm giving this Atheist Nexus thingy a try

The last time an atheist-centric social network was attempted — that would be Dawkins Social — it was so ineptly put together and unattractive I just gave up on it. A shame, because Dawkins is the world's most visible atheist celebrity (if you don't count people even more famous for things other than their nonbelief, like Jodie Foster and Angelina Jolie), and having his name as a kind of godless gravity well around which the online atheist community could orbit made sound marketing sense, I suppose. But the whole thing was just badly designed, and I can't be bothered to log on (which I haven't done in over a year) to see if they've fixed it. (And in any case,'s forum is succeeding where the social network failed, I think.)

Along comes Atheist Nexus, another social networking time waster. But hey, these things are free, and if this one is better put together than Dawkins Social, I'm happy to give it a shot. And if it proves silly and useless, I can just forget it, like I very quickly learned to forget Twitter. So there's a buttony thingummy to my profile, where those of you also attending the party can friend me if you choose.

View my page on Atheist Nexus

Addendum: Well, the friend requests have been steadily coming in over the last few hours, including lots from fans of the blog/show I haven't met yet, which is nice to see. And there appear to be a lot of active groups, too. So this one might work out.

Hilariously, I also see that desperate little attention-seeking twit Dan Marvin has joined (remember him?), apparently so he can flaunt his ridiculous non-arguments and scientific illiteracy to his intellectual betters, who will then proceed to flog him mercilessly for it. Masochistic much, Dan? Go ahead and accept his friend requests if you like, that's your business. Me, I decided long ago it goes against my rational secular morality to abuse the handicapped. ;-)

Addendum 2: Okay, I just added a whopping 90 photos to a TAM6 album, which is pretty much the same as my Flickr set, except longer, with more of my road trip shots. Later on I'll create an album for TAM5 and Dawkins' Austin visit back in March. I figure if I'm going to be part of this thing, I can't complain I'm getting nothing out of it if I don't put in.

Critical Mass

Once again I have to wave at my good friends Lloyd, Alan, and Rachel, who live way way way down on that big island. (Actually, I think Lloyd is still freezing his ass off up in Scotland. I'd say he's due home.) At TAM they were all excited to get their own blog and podcast started up, and now they have. At least, the blog is up — I don't know if they've gotten the podcast launched yet. All the same, pay a visit to the fledgling Critical Mass and give them some of that AE-fan love.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Happy 80th!

Don't know how I missed this, but James Randi turned 80 yesterday. And here I was thinking he was already well into his octogenerianosity! Well, good, this means we'll have him around for many more TAMs to come. Happy slightly belated birthday to the man to whom almost every skeptic alive today owes a debt of gratitude, for helping us learn how to throw off the shackles of superstition and appreciate the real world as reason and the scientific method reveal it to us. See you next year in Vegas!

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Sprouting Seeds

It warms my heart to see young people embrace reason and critical thinking and declare themselves atheists. I have always valued learning and it is wonderful to see young people independently reach the same conclusion I have. It makes me wish I was able to do so earlier in my life. Alas, I’m from a different generation than those in college and high school today. Some things are easier for them and some things are harder, I’m sure. I will always be an avid supporter of college campus groups like the local Atheist Longhorns. Watching these sprouting seeds gives me so much hope for the future.

It’s doubly wonderful to hear from an outspoken young atheist who is a freshman in high school. Lucia Guatney recently finished her freshman year in high school and she has written a nice article on what it’s like to be an atheist high schooler, about her conversation with Richard Dawkins, and about how exciting that was for her. She even has her own blog. Wow. Go Lucia!

It was triply wonderful for me to notice that Lucia is going to the same high school that I did. It made me think about how the school has changed and how I’ve changed along the way. I think it was there that some seeds of atheism were planted in me. My best friend was an atheist, but I didn’t form an opinion on religion until much later. Perhaps I was fortunate to not be too immersed in religion in my youth.

I remember three high school teachers who helped to plant some seeds. One had us read about the Holocaust and think critically about convention and authority. Another helped me appreciate the Spanish conquest of the Americas and the fraud behind Guadalupe. A third (math) teacher pointed out that according to the Bible, pi is 3. Hats off to these fabulous teachers, wherever they may be.

I have to give a nod to the Secular Students of Rice University, my alma mater. While college freethought groups are now common, they were rare when I was in college and Rice didn't have one. I’d like to think that I helped to pave the way for them in some small way. When I was in college, I did some sparring with the Campus Crusade for Christ and Maranatha student groups. An acquaintance of mine from college looked me up on Facebook recently and gave me an unsolicited compliment about how brave I was to sand up to their viewpoints those many years ago. I don't think of myself as particularly brave.

It’s nice to look back on some of those early experiences and feel a connection to the next generation of young people who are poised to make their impact on the world. I have high hopes for them.

Headscratcher of the Day

Since he couldn't reach us by email (that would be tv [at] atheist-community [dot] org), an Australian blogger named Skelliot left a message in comments informing us that his university blocks the AE blog, as well as some other atheistical and scientifical sites, by categorizing us as "Occult." Yes, I'll be baffled by that one for a long time. Meanwhile, Christian drivel is given a pass, of course. Irony much? Anyway, it's not a policy that speaks well for his college (whatever it is) presuming to be an institution of higher learning. I'd suggest a transfer.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Chuck Colson's insecure little God

If you haven't clicked over to the Zondervan blog to read Chuck Colson's extended reply to Kazim, by all means do so. It's really quite something, a rhetorical mishmash chock full of logical fallacies, false premises, and poor argument structure. One of Christianity's bestselling apologists mounts some of the most amateurish defenses of the faith I've ever seen. Quite often — no doubt used to writing almost exclusively for a Christian readership who unquestioningly accepts all he says — he just asserts things without backing them up, or, if he does, with feeble sound bites that may seem like obvious conclusions to him, but won't to anyone who thinks about them for longer than a picosecond.

I've been replying to a lot of points in the comments over there, but for this one specific passage, I'm posting my reply here, with only slight copy editing so it reads like a blog post and not a comment. I hope Zondervan has the integrity to leave my comments and those of other atheists up, and doesn't do the Uncommon Descent insta-delete thing. Whatever they choose, I'm posting this one bit here, as I think it's an important one. Because in this passage, Colson makes an embarrassing mistake in arguing for his God that, unfortunately, doesn't paint God in a very flattering light. Indeed, he unwittingly makes his God into a rather pathetic and weak figure.

Colson starts:

You’re making the assumption that for God to be God, or for you to believe in Him, He must reveal Himself by giving us evidence which by reason would establish His existence. But why should the God who created everything that is explain Himself? What would compel such a God to do that?

Gosh, what about that crazy little thing called love? Over and over Christians try to tell us that God is love, that he loves us and wants a personal relationship with us, etc. etc. And yet when God is asked, entirely reasonably, to reveal his existence to us unambiguously, suddenly we're the jerks! This is kind of hard to swallow in light of the fact this God purportedly sentences anyone who doesn't believe in or worship him to his satisfaction to eternal torture in Hell!

Ironically, just a few paragraphs earlier, Mr. Colson asks rhetorically...

Is not the capacity for love, though you cannot see it, something which can be objectively (though not scientifically) measured?

Yes, it is (though Colson's confused on his terms — the ways in which the emotions of love manifest in observable behavior are something science can study). And I would suggest that one measure of the capacity for love is that one does not deceive the object of one's love, that one does not hide that which should not and does not need to be hidden, that one treats the object of one's love with generosity, kindness and above all, respect.

It is not an act of respect — let alone love — to condemn someone to a horrible punishment simply for doubting your existence when you have categorically refused to reveal your existence. That you are a universe-creating deity is irrelevant to the issue. If your argument is that God, being God, doesn't owe anybody anything, because HE'S GOD, SO SHUT UP, then why should human beings with reasoning capacity respond to that kind of arrogant disrespect with love and respect ourselves? To do so would only be a dishonest love borne out of fear. Mr. Colson is arguing for God as nothing more than a tyrant, an authoritarian thug and despot. Is this really the message he hopes will persuade atheists?

So in reply to Mr. Colson's question, "But why should the God who created everything that is explain Himself?" my response is simple: If God really loved us, he would.

Yet Mr. Colson goes on with more arguments in favor of God's authoritarianism and privilege, as if these were praiseworthy qualities.

A God great enough to create the heavens and earth, and all of life in it, is a God who has no obligation to explain why He created us. In fact, He has a good reason not to. I believe it was Aquinas who argued that if God could be known to us by reason, we would take Him for granted; He would be no different than the tree that one could see from one’s office.

Well, I would argue that God does have such an obligation, especially if the penalty for not being a member of his fan club is eternity in the lake of fire. If God did not want to have any obligations to us, then he should have left us as mindless as amoebas, and not given us the capacity to think and reason, which naturally tends to instill in us feelings of self-worth.

But I cannot imagine who would consider this silly point of Aquinas's to be a "good reason" for God's not revealing himself. It is hardly the case that any person alive holds all of the things they know to exist on some sort of even plateau of worth. Any parent knows that their own children exist; unless they are really horrible parents, that fact certainly does not mean they are as indifferent to their children as they are to a tree.

And doesn't it seem curiously insecure of God to worry about being "taken for granted," when, just a moment ago, Colson was arguing for God's being so magnificent and so glorious and so divinely important and powerful and magisterial in his universe-creating awesomeness that the very idea of revealing himself to us puny humans was simply too far beneath his notice to be anything but absurd? Haven't I seen this before? Oz the Great and Terrible, was it? Bluster, bluster, bluster...but pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!

I'd suggest in future, Colson should consider amending his apologetics so that he doesn't make the rather devastating mistake of following up a bout of "God's too big and awesome and important to reveal himself to mere mortals," with, "But really...he's scared you'll ignore him!"

PS: If you're inclined to leave comments of your own at the Zondervan blog, do remember these basics, please, about which I shouldn't have to ask. Be civil and polite. Keep your language clean. And restrict yourself simply to refuting the points you think need refuting, in detail, without telling Colson you think he must be "some kind of fucking idiot for believing all that crap!" (Civility! From me! Russell must be beaming with pride!)

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Chuck Colson responds (response #2)

Chuck Colson's The Faith: Atheist Bloggers Dialogue, post #2

(See also: Kazim's review of The Faith; Chuck Colson's post #1.)

I'm at work right now, so I'll have to read it later when I can devote more attention to it.

Ray Comfort on WDAY AM 970

I'm listening to Ray Comfort spew nonsense on WDAY this morning and losing an IQ point a minute. You may recall that he was supposed to debate PZ Myers on today's show, but there was a change of format. PZ will be on tomorrow at 10:00am, so I can regain my lost IQ points.

Some gems from the show include Ray's agreement that the Catholic Church tortured people during the Inquisition, but "don't blame that on Christians." This was after a caller pointed out that the church imprisoned Gallileo for suggesting that the earth revolves around the sun. Just a few minutes before that, Ray had commented that "In a hundred years time we will laugh at what science believes." The man truly has no sense of irony.

He also thinks there's "absolute, 100% proof" that intelligent design is true. Well, we already knew that Ray, but where's the proof? He had the temerity to use the old "no building without a builder" canard and to further demonstrate his misunderstanding of evolution by asking the host, "Can you make me a cow from nothing?"

No Ray, but you're doing a pretty good job of making an ass of yourself from nothing. Aside from your gross misunderstanding of evolution, you have a habit of pretending you can't hear the callers who disagree with you. Of course, your hearing miraculously returns for the YECs recommending Answers in Genesis as a source of science information.

In short, nothing new here. Same old creationist nonsense, same old intellectual dishonesty.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Oh hell, another one

Is the Greene Litigiousness Virus making the rounds lately? Here's another dimwit only too eager to don Patrick's crazy hat and leap into the fray.

A Canton man is suing Zondervan Publishing and a Tennessee-based publisher, claiming their versions of the Bible that refer to homosexuality as a sin violate his constitutional rights and have caused him emotional pain and mental instability.

Well, I'll certainly buy the mental instability bit, but I hardly think the courts are likely to agree that Zondervan's Bibles have caused it. Bradley LaShawn Fowler has apparently failed to notice that every translation of the Bible in existence vilifies gays, even the many millions of editions not published by Zondervan. There are sound condemnations to be made of the Bible regarding the suffering its teachings have caused many groups of people down the centuries — gays, Jews, atheists, women. But frivolous litigation addresses these issues not at all, and only invites more derision. I suspect Mr. Fowler (who's representing himself, which I'm sure will come as a knockout surprise) is destined to endure yet more "demoralization, chaos and bewilderment," especially when he finds out just how quickly this one gets thrown out.

oh noez teh muslims r in r base critsizin teh athiesm

I always have misgivings about giving attention to blog stalkers, but this is just too amusing to pass up.

As you've read before, I've become a fan of Kafir Girl, a new ex-Muslim atheist blogger who is guiding us heathen Westerners through the Quran, chapter by chapter. A couple of weeks ago, a Muslim student in Pakistan, named Sona, started posting on his own blog about the mean, stupid Kafir Girl and her ridiculous accusations about the Quran.

(The first post I saw about her said: "I have noticed many, blogs by ex Muslim women. What is up with these chicks?" My observation was: "It’s like a bad Jari al-Seinfeld routine.")

After what seemed to me like a very, very slight amount of good natured ridicule, suddenly Sona threw a big temper tantrum, wrote a post saying that he wished humanity would be wiped out by a comet, and deleted his blog forever.

Well, "forever" in a fairly subjective sense, since he was back a short time later with a new blog, same address, this time called "Kafir Girl Sucks." I got a chance to read it yesterday. There were about ten posts, nearly all of which were whining about Kafir Girl.

In the meantime, on Wednesday we at the Non-Prophets received the following sneering, mustache-twirling letter from one Zain ibn Bakari, who wrote:

I am a Muslim. I listened to some of you podcasts - I think they should be offed as alternative to unconscious inducing medication to operating theaters around the world. You openly admit you've not read the Koran and allow this riddiclious women named Kafirgirl spoon-feed you. The term "idiot savant" comes to mind when thinking of her. Admittedly, that term applies only halfway to her, which is why I allege that whenever there's an argument about her devotion to principles and to freedom, all one has to do is point out that there is much more of this to come. That should settle the argument pretty quickly.

Turns out that Zain is Sona's little brother, and now he's listening to our podcast. Yay, expanding international audience!

Matt replied:

Thanks for writing.

Do you have any evidence to support your position — or is it just opinion and faith?

Apparently there have been a few more emails from that exchange which I haven't seen yet. However, Zain's first reply is up on Sona's blog now:

As for your dopey retort of: "do you have evidence" the evidence is in the public domain. Try seeing the 3rd link on google after typing "kafirgirl" am sure with your "lofty" intellect you will eventually find it. Don't confuse us Muslims for the ridiculous little carnival freaks the Christians we openly admit our god is malevolent. Perfection has to be both good and evil.

So I did. I looked up "kafirgirl" on Google, and received the following information at the third link:

"Sorry, the page you were looking for in the blog Sona: Kafir Girl Sucks. does not exist."

Wow! Now that's what I call "evidence"! Surely Allah does exist, for in his infinite wisdom he has struck down the foolish blog "Sona: Kafir Girl Sucks" and... well... replaced it with another blog.

Atheism for the Illogic
We reduce atheism to absurdism. With simple LOGIC!

I must advise you that if you would like to see the posts on this blog, you should look fast, because Sona's record now mandates that he delete his blog and start fresh at the rate of once per week. The introductory post claims that he took down all the old posts about Kafir Girl because:

To leave kafirgirl alone as we feel she is beneath us and we also feel sorry for her, unlike atheists, we don't go after weak targets, we believe its against our principles and morality to attack someone who is not equally intelligent as us or more so. It is our opinion, intellectually kafirgirl is a weak target for us. Therefore, we have rather decided to directly challenge atheism.

This is your typical "Wah, we got humiliated by a GIRL, now we're going somewhere for new sport against somebody who has barely even noticed that we exist yet" post.

My main misgivings about this post regard explicitly acknowledging that they do exist. As we've seen lately, in cases such as Patrick and Yomin, paying attention to somebody who is about to become obsessive about you can backfire. Nevertheless... as often as we are criticized for focusing on Christianity rather than Islam, this could be enjoyable for a while.

I confess that I have not read the Quran. But as PZ Myers pointed out when he came up with The Courtier's Reply, it's fairly ridiculous to assert that you cannot refute obvious nonsense unless you have written all the abstruse scholarship that tries to make excuses for the nonsense.

And by the way, a few tips on blogging for the clueless. First: You don't HAVE TO delete your blog every time somebody criticizes it. Not that I don't appreciate having the power to destroy your blogs with a word, but I'd prefer to see people stand up for what they wrote and not back off from it. If you are saying something silly that you don't want people to read, here's some better advice: don't post it in the first place. Think harder about it and decide what kind of words you will be proud of for the rest of your life.

Second: You don't HAVE TO replace your old blog to start a new blog. You can have multiple blogs. It's okay. They don't run out of space at Google. Next time, instead of deleting and reregistering "", try keeping it around, and go ahead and register "" and "" instead. It's okay. Nobody will stop you. You can even post links from the old blog to the new blog, and you'll still get the same amount of traffic. It's just annoying for me when I want to link to something that was said, and then it's going to be gone next week.

Third: IT'S OKAY to have a blog that is about more than one topic. Really. If you want a blog that's all about building up Islam, and only occasionally (or frequently) focuses on your manufactured enemies, knock yourself out. Frankly, if you have a blog that's all about somebody else's blog, it strikes me as a little pathetic... but I'm not going to tell you your business.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Please stop CCing us your Patrick emails

It's not likely most of the people who are, a week after the fact, only just now seeing last week's show involving Patrick Greene will read this first. But in any event, as we mentioned on the show today, emails from our viewers criticizing Patrick are still pouring in, and they're still being sent to the AE TV show email address as well as to him. We'd just like to say, while we're amazed at the overwhelming reaction, we're pretty much past the whole Patrick debacle now. So if you still want to write him, fine. Just don't copy it to us, okay? Matt and I are a little weary now, and probably the rest of the team are as well, to the point where if we see any email with "bumper sticker" or "lawsuit" in the subject line, we simply delete it. The message has been loud and clear, Patrick apparently has already decided all of you are fools and cowards anyway, so it's time to move on.

Friday, August 01, 2008

This Sunday's ACA lecture - Belief

The ACA hosts a monthly lecture series at the Austin History Center. I'll be delivering the August lecture, this Sunday and I thought it might be worthwhile to post a brief synopsis.

It's a topic that I've been fleshing-out for quite a while and despite the fact that we're less than 48 hours from lecture time, it's not completely finished (I've still got to finish some slides and run through it once more to make sure it's complete and of the appropriate length). The major themes, though, are complete...and despite the fact that 'epistemology' might be a more accurate title, I'm sticking with 'belief'.

Why? I once had someone write in to the TV show to try to convince me that it was pointless to discuss beliefs and that only knowledge mattered. I couldn't disagree more. Belief is something that I think is much easier to come to terms with than the various (and potentially useless) definitions of 'knowledge'. Belief is simply the acceptance of a proposition as true. Beliefs inform our actions - they matter. What we believe, and why, may be the single most important issues we face.

On a previous show, I pointed out that the old adage "knowledge is power" is actually wrong - in my opinion the real power is in understanding, not knowledge. I'm pretty sure that's what the saying implies, but I've been continually striving to be more precise in language. We tend to communicate in shorthand, trusting that our meaning is understood, because shorthand is usually good enough. However, when it matters, our reliance on these linguistic shortcuts isn't just a hindrance, it's potentially crippling.

So, we'll be starting with a few definitions; 'belief', 'knowledge' and 'real'...and then moving on to some Venn diagrams demonstrating truth values vs. belief values, what it all means, which positions or 'sets' are actually useful and which don't provide nearly the clarity that they imply in the vernacular.

And, unlike my last two lectures that sort of just faded out, this one may actually have a real ending - though I won't promise that.

If you're in the Austin area, you're welcome to attend (see the ACA website for more information). The lecture may eventually be posted, in some format, on our lecture page.

The absurdity of G-d

This is just a quick something-to-think-about that began as a bit of a pet peeve.

If you've been interacting with religious folk on the interwebs, you've probably run across comments from Jews that include "G-d" in place of "God". A bit of investigating will reveal that this is a way of showing respect and avoiding the 'sin' of erasing or defacing the name of God.

When I first heard of this, I largely disregarded it as one of the various pretentious activities of the religious. Eventually, I gave it a bit more thought and the absurdity really started to sink in. Consider the following...

The Jewish deity has a name and it's a sin to erase or deface this name. There are a number of names for this god (YHVH, El Shaddai, Elohim), some of which are supposedly unutterable, others are reportedly unknown (what happens if you accidentally deface one of the unknown names?) - but all are sacred.

So, observant Jews avoid typing or writing "God", for fear that it 'might count' as a name of their god. The generic "god" is a word in the English language, made up of characters that evolved from other languages. The symbols that make up this word (remember, it's the written name, not the spoken name - that one must be cautious about), are unlikely to be the correct symbols for any of the names of their god, as these characters didn't exist at the time.

If modern English characters could be constructed to actually be the written name of a god, it seems that those characters might just as likely be "banana", "porn" or "ghoti" - yet observant Jews don't worry about morphing these words to avoid incidental defacement of the name of their god.

But, if we assume, for a moment, that "God" is a valid written representation of the name of the Jewish god, isn't "G-d" a defacement of that name? Granted, we're in the realm of word-magic, so it doesn't have to make sense, but it certainly seems ironic to me.

Further, we're really just talking about characters here that are used as labels for a concept. The label "god" is a non-specific reference to a type of being, "God" tends to refer to a specific being.

The value of a label is in its ability to communicate information.

By modifying the "God" label to "G-d", the Jews have added information. The "God" label could apply to a variety of specific deities qualifying for proper-noun-status. The "G-d" label, because of Jewish usage, now has the added information that renders it a label that specifically applies to the Jewish god.

It has, by their alteration, become a more specific label that is far more likely to qualify as the "name" of their god than the less specific versions that started this mess.

Ironic, huh?