Friday, February 27, 2009

And god was the word

My skeptical friend Ed wrote me overnight:
I don't know if you have noticed, but you seem to be talking more about God now that you don't believe than before.
Well, I pointed out to Ed, I had noticed something like that. In the footnote to my preceding post ("The GWB proof of the non-existence of god"), I had written:
And maybe I did "decide" to become an atheist, after all, because I considered the question carefully, qualitatively sifting and weighing the evidence. Obviously, I'm still trying to sort out the best way to think and talk about it. If I'm concerned about appearing to be obsessed about this, maybe I shouldn't be. It's just a natural process of thinking. [emphasis added]
But I also pointed out that I have definitely not been "talking more about God." I have not been talking "about god" at all, for there is no god to talk about—or to pray to or be aided, hindered, inspired, judged, forgiven, saved, or condemned by.
    What I have been talking a lot about is not believing in god and believing in no-god, which of course is quite different. I wouldn't trouble to comment on Ed's use of language (which was likely intentional, for the sake of irony), except for the fact that serious philosophical problems arise from misapprehending language.
    For example, the Gospel According to John opens thus:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
What this can only, truly mean is that god is only a word1. Theologians have for centuries tied themselves into knots trying to interpret it otherwise. Maybe if they'd noticed that John could have been dyslexic....

There are many reasons, psychological and social, for my dwelling on what I believe. My own dear mother was a devout believer, "rest her soul." But for her I would likely never have become as involved in religion as I did. All four of my sisters have been believers and many if not most of my aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, and nephews. (Only two of my sisters survive, and one of my previously many aunts and uncles; "rest the souls," too of those departed.) I come from a religious background. Thus, "becoming" an atheist is very much to go my own way. I have had to endure many tsk-tsks and "I'm praying for you's." I've had to choose between keeping quiet or exposing myself. Obviously I haven't kept quiet, so I've had to deal with the reality that I've amazed and even offended people.
    More than half of the members of my commute van pool talk of going to church. At least the two drivers know that religious radio programs offend me. When I objected to their tuning them in, I told them that I'd signed up to commute, not to attend church. Some of them know that I read books by Ian McEwan and Richard Dawkins. But maybe not everyone had picked up on this: "What's that you're reading?" The Blind Watchmaker. "Is it a novel?"2
    Some of my neighbors are evangelical Christians. One of them has the email address, everyoneneedsjesus@...Now, that's evangelical!
    Etc.
    So, in addition to the "joyful sense of liberation that I feel as a result of [seeing religion for a sham]," I also have a sense of sadness at having made myself peculiar3 to a number of my relatives, possibly some of my friends, and perhaps one or two of my neighbors. But being somewhat estranged from them is a price I'm willing to pay for refusing to join them in their superstition. Centuries of clever Jewish, Christian, and Muslim apologetical book-keeping have not rendered the superstitious beliefs of the fearful ancient Israelites—that groveling, guilt-ridden, image-worshiping, animal-sacrificing, women-subjugating people—any less superstitious today.
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  1. As Christopher Hitchens writes in his 2007 book, God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything (dedicated to Ian McEwan):
    [Kant] undid the ontological argument by challenging the simpleminded notion that if god can be conceived as an idea, or stated as a predicate, he must therefore possess the quality of existence. This traditional tripe is accidentally overthrown by Penelope Lively in her much-garlanded novel Moon Tiger. Describing her daughter Lisa as a "dull child," she nonetheless delights in the infant's dim but imaginative questions:
    "Are there dragons?" she asked. I said that there were not. "Have there ever been?" I said all the evidence was to the contrary. "But if there is a word dragon," she said, "then once there must have been dragons." [p. 265]
  2. The Blind Watchmaker, by Richard Dawkins, explains how natural selection, acting over millions and millions of years, fashioned the human eye, bat echolocation, and other marvels of nature.
  3. I recall a Pentecostal sermon that was preached at me over fifty years ago. The preacher told us that as Christians we were "peculiar," which he explained at length (in the way that such preachers loved to go on glossing words) to mean that we were "circled about" by people who were not like us. To be really circled about in our society today, be an atheist.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

The GWB proof of the non-existence of god

George W. Bush's becoming and "serving" as the President of the United States was a catalyst for my coming out of the closet for atheism1. I may even have discovered yet another proof of god's non-existence in this:
George W. Bush, a self-styled born-again Christian, became President of the United States.   Therefore, there is no god.
The "proof" occurred to me this morning, as I was recalling an interchange with my friend Roger a week ago. He had written:
In the past [your sister] has briefly discussed your lack of faith in God. So out of curiosity, I have always wondered how you came to believe what you do.
And I told him:
How I came to believe what I believe about god (that there isn't one) is actually fairly well documented publicly, insofar as my blog is public. I "declared" for atheism on September 9, 2007, and the post for that day ("All in or All out") gives the proximate reason.
    The main considerations leading up to the declaration are covered over the preceding year or a little longer. Interestingly perhaps, the Bush administration had a little bit to do with it, as I saw what fundamentalist Christians were doing. I guess that made me mad for one thing, sort of set my teeth on edge, motivated me to figure out whether I really did or didn't believe some essential theological things in common with these people.
    The agony of the food chain was perhaps the single most contributing factor: my utter disbelief that a "personal god" could have engineered the mayhem and murder of creatures up the chain devouring creatures down the chain. This is obviously related to the problem of life's injustice. I believe that men are motivated to believe in god and heaven not only because they fear death and want to live forever, but also because they abhor the injustices they see about them and long for a judgment followed by reward for the good and punishment for the wicked. But because that belief is so obviously designed to satisfy men's wishes, it seems obvious to me that it (and god too) were concocted for solace and consolation—created lock, stock, and barrel by the fearful mammal man.
    I was also struck by the fact that the children of Christian parents tend to become Christians, and the children of Muslim parents tend to become Muslims. In other words, the "revelations of god" that they accept (those of the Bible on the one hand, those of the Koran on the other) are simply a matter of where and of whom they were born. So, if a child who is taught to believe the Bible could by accident of birth just as easily have been taught to believe the Koran, then that seemed to undercut any inherent authority of the books themselves. Since there is utterly no evidence whatsoever for the Bible's claim to authenticity, nor for the Koran's, and no evidence for heaven or miracles, etc., and all of the arguments for them can be explained in terms of wishful thinking, the desire of the priestly class to control the rest of mankind, etc., I can only conclude, as a thinking person willing to accept that I will die and not be resuscitated or resurrected, that religion is bunk.
    And the joyful sense of liberation that I feel as a result of concluding so is also a kind of evidence.
    Quod erat demonstrandum.
    In a nutshell, that's how I "came to believe." As you have time or interest, you can, of course, nose around in Moristotle.
Roger replied:
I want to thank you for sharing your thoughts concerning Christianity and GWB. We indeed think very much alike, when it comes to GWB. I too have been very angered by the behavior not only of this self-proclaimed "Born again Christian," but of so many of his supporting fellow Christians. As far as I am concerned, over the last 8 years, Christian hypocrisy has been at an all-time high. I mean, how stupid and ignorant can so many of these people be? To me at almost every turn, Bush and his gang were guilty of behavior that totally contradicts biblical principles, and yet so many of his Christian followers had no apparent problem with this. I despise these people to no end. And one of the unfortunate things about all of this, at least where I am concerned, is that practically all of my friends, and most of my family, fall into this group. You talk about feeling isolated. Some days it can be a bit too much. These days, many of them are so quick to forget about Bush's obvious screw ups. Now they only have time to criticize Obama.
And he sent me a link to a web page describing a documentary by Brian Flemming about "The God Who Wasn't There." I've asked my local librarian to acquire it.
    Hmm, I wonder whether there are librarians, as there are doctors and other health professionals, who will refuse to cooperate in such a request on the ground that their religion forbids it? "I couldn't possibly order—or even utter the name of—that DVD!"
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  1. If "coming out of the closet" is what I did. I originally worded this, "catalyst for my becoming an atheist"—in the sense of deciding to be one—but it isn't clear that one can decide to become an atheist (or decide to believe in god); one either is or isn't (or believes or doesn't). In my case, I realized that I didn't really "believe in god," so the question I asked myself was: Do I believe in no-god?
        Not-believing in god is quite different from believing in no-god. One can not-believe in god, but also not-believe in no-god. That's what an agnostic does, because he or she doesn't accept that there's adequate evidence for either.
        I had to think about the question a bit to see what my answer was. My own choice of no-god is based on what I consider an extremely high probability rather than a certainty. It was useful to consult Thomas Paine, Bertrand Russell, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, and Richard Dawkins for assistance. I am grateful to these authors.
        And maybe I did "decide" to become an atheist, after all, because I considered the question carefully, qualitatively sifting and weighing the evidence. Obviously, I'm still trying to sort out the best way to think and talk about it. If I'm concerned about appearing to be obsessed about this, maybe I shouldn't be. It's just a natural process of thinking.

Friday, February 20, 2009

A house built on sand

When I wanted to include in yesterday's post on Autosuggestion an ironic allusion, I googled on jesus house built on the sand for the precise gospel source, and the very first item on Google's list (of 341,000 items) was "A house built on sand - Testimonies of Ex-Christians," a coincidentally corroborating post from M in Helsinki (December 11, 2003):
Jesus teaches in the Sermon on the Mount to build the houses of our faith on the solid rock of his teachings (Mt 7:24-27). Too bad that the religion based on his teachings is a house built on sand. [emphasis mine] However strong you make the internal structure of your faith, there is no external rock that it is anchored to. So when the flood of rational thinking hits it, it will fail.
    My parents became born again Christians when I was 5. They started in Pentecostal and Lutheran circles, but soon ended in charismatic and Word of Faith (you know, the name-it-and-claim-it bunch, e.g. Hagin, Copeland, Oral Roberts) connections, though there were no such churches in the area we lived. As the only child I grew up with the faith, starting to speak in tongues at 7 and getting baptized at 14.
    ...[skipping to M's concluding sentence:] It just happens that the rock is reason and the sand Christianity.
That final sentence of course expresses my own affiliation with reason rather than blind faith in primitive doctrines. However, the "internal structure" of these doctrines is decidedly not strong, however much apologists over the years have tried to shore up the doctrines. I take exception with M on that. But he may well have revised this opinion, expressed as it was before the appearance of the books of Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, and Richard Dawkins that I occasionally cite here to elaborate various problems of religion.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Wintry Sofia (Bulgaria)

Four of several dozen photos my son sent his mother and me this morning. Taken this very day in Sofia.

Autosuggestion

"Dear Heavenly Father, please help me accept the things that I'm too lazy to do anything about1."
    But there is no god; your "heavenly father" neither hears nor answers your prayers.
    However, the fact that you are praying indicates a desire to change your ability to accept things. Therein lies the seed of personal growth. I recommend that you give up magical thinking and try autosuggestion—a realistic, proven psychological technique for changing things that are within your scope of influence.
    Before you go to sleep at night, focus on the desired outcome and generate an expectation that you will have it. You might even try focusing on dissolving your laziness and doing something about those things you allude to.2
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  1. Thanks to P.C. Vey's cartoon in the current issue of New Yorker Magazine for suggesting the prayer.
  2. I drafted this item in communication with my old friend Fred, whom I had asked to look at the "syllogisms" I had published so far and tell me what he thought.
        He replied: "I don't have any training in logic, so can't comment along those lines.
        "Didn't know that Muslim means slave of god. Since Mohammed created his own religion/god, I suppose one could say he was a slave of himself. Not that I know what that would mean.
        "It strikes me in general that using logic to attack religion (the supreme non-logical activity) is like playing very good football, but with your opponent actually in a different stadium and playing, say, badminton or lacrosse. You won't beat him, no matter how well you play your game. Maybe another analogy would be trying to use a mousetrap to catch a smoke ring. The trap snaps, but the smoke remains."
        Fred's note prompts me to try to be generous toward people who have built their house on the sand of religion [an ironic allusion to Matthew 7:24-27]. Forgive them their sins for they know not what they do? Thus, I included in this post some constructive practical advice for them.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

When a premise is false...

Reader Jim commented so cogently on a recent post that it behooves Moristotle to display his comment prominently:
In mathematical logic, the truth table value of the expression "If A then B" is True when "A" is False. That's why it's difficult to refute a "B" in which the subject is god. It's not conclusions (B's) that should be challenged, but premises (A's); e.g., "God exists."
"A" and "B" are of course sentences (or propositions).

A corroborating view

After receiving Jim's comment, I happily encountered the following passage, from Christopher Hitchens's brave 2007 book, God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything:
[Professions of faith] are—however wicked they may be—almost beyond criticism. They consist...in merely assuming what has to be proved. Thus, a bald assertion is then followed with the words "for this reason," as if all the logical work had been done by making the assertion...Scientists have an expression for hypotheses that are utterly useless even for learning from mistakes. They refer to them as being "not even wrong." Most so-called spiritual discourse us if this type.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Herd delusion

"When one person suffers from a delusion, it is called insanity. When many people suffer from a delusion, it is called religion."
                –Robert M. Pirsig,
                in his novel Lila:
                An Inquiry into Morals
(1991)

Dominion

"The Lord gave Man dominion over Nature."
    But there is no god.
    You, slave of religion, are a part of nature and you don't even have "dominion" over your own self.

Monday, February 16, 2009

A false basis for morality

"I am good because I follow God's commandments."
    But there is no god (and, if you mean the Bible or the Qur'an, many of "god's commandments" are immoral).
    Therefore, if you are moral (or immoral), god has nothing to do with it.

The immorality of religion

In Chapter Fifteen of God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, the author (Christopher Hitchens) writes:
There are, indeed, several ways in which religion is not just amoral, but positively immoral. And these faults and crimes are not to be found in the behavior of its adherents (which can sometimes be exemplary) but in its original precepts. These include:
• Presenting a false picture
  of the world to the innocent
  and the credulous
• The doctrine of blood sacrifice
• The doctrine of atonement
• The doctrine of eternal reward and/or punishment
• The imposition of impossible tasks and rules
...

Blood Sacrifice
    Before monotheism arose, the altars of primitive society reeked of blood, much of it human and some of it infant. The thirst for this, at least in animal form, is still with us....

Atonement
    Previous sacrifices of humans, such as the Aztec and other ceremonies from which we recoil, were common in the ancient world and took the form of propitiatory murder. An offering of a virgin or an infant or a prisoner was assumed to appease the gods: once again, not a very good advertisement for the moral properties of religion....
    However, the idea of a vicarious atonement, of the sort that so much troubled C. S. Lewis, is a further refinement of the ancient superstition. Once again we have a father demonstrating love by subjecting a son to death by torture, but this time the father is not trying to impress god. He is god, and he is trying to impress humans. Ask yourself the question: how moral is the following? I am told of a human sacrifice that took place two thousand years ago, without my wishing it and in circumstances so ghastly that, had I been present and in possession of any influence, I would have been duty-bound to try and stop it. In consequence of this murder, my own manifold sins are forgiven me, and I may hope to enjoy everlasting life.
    Let us just for now overlook all the contradictions between the tellers of the original story and assume that it is basically true....
                [pp. 205,206,208,209]

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Prophetic syllogism

The Prophet Muhammed called himself Muslim [= slave of god].
    But there is no god.
    Therefore, Muhammed was merely slave of religion.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

All screwed up?

From Gary Hart's review of Presidential Command: Power, Leadership, and the Making of Foreign Policy From Richard Nixon to George W. Bush, by Peter W. Rodman, in the January 18, 2009 New York Times Book Review:
...[S]even presidents’ struggles to manage foreign and national security policy brings to mind an incident when the Brooklyn Dodgers manager Leo Durocher started a rookie in center field. After the rookie misjudged several high flies and screaming liners, Durocher jerked him out and took the position himself, but then misplayed several easy chances. Durocher charged into the dugout, grabbed the rookie by the shirt and yelled, “Kid, you’ve got center field so screwed up, now no one can play it.”

Friday, February 13, 2009

Surviving the winter

My niece Karen recently sent me a short account written by her father (Elbert O. Condley, January 31, 1918-June 7, 2008) about a hard time in Arkansas during the Depression:
In 1930 we got very little rain, so we had no corn or hay to feed the cattle. We always depended on corn for bread as well, and to feed the hogs. We usually killed three or more hogs each winter for meat and lard. Hog lard went into almost everything we ate. So what were we going to do this winter?
    My dad learned that we could pick cotton down along the Arkansas River, so we went to Russellville and rented an old house, and a farmer sent a flatbed truck to get us each morning and bring us back at day's end. There were eleven of us, including my brother Arvel and his wife Ruth. We would return each night a tired bunch. The young ones would be asleep before my sisters and Ruth could even get supper cooked. We did this for about six weeks and saved a few dollars, then we went back home.
    Then Dad got a job at the coal mine, and about Christmas time he came home with two 100-lb sacks of beans, twelve buckets of hog lard, twelve sacks of flour, twelve sacks of cornmeal, salt, baking soda, etc. And that's what we survived on that winter, plus a little milk from the cows. All we had to feed the cows was turnips. It had rained late in the summer so we had lots of turnips. We ate them too.
    Arvel and Ruth went to Parkdale after the cotton picking. My dad had given them a cow, and they had a little furniture. They had saved twelve dollars, which they paid someone to drive them to Parkdale. So they arrived with no money. But the landlord advanced them enough to get them by until they made the first cotton crop.
    They probably lived on rabbit and possum. My brother was a great possum hunter.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Emancipated but still not free

Two great emancipators of the Nineteenth Century were born on this day in 1809: Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin. Which of the two has so far proved the greater emancipator?
    Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation (1863) bore the fruit this year of Barack Obama's inauguration as the 44th President of the United States. Darwin's Origin of Species1 gifted us with evolution2 as a much superior (because true) alternative to the god hypothesis in order to explain the existence of complex life on Earth.
    Both liberations continue to be resisted by significant numbers of mankind, particularly evolution, which is combatively opposed by many Christians, especially in the United States. Lincoln's emancipation may have fared better, as Mr. Obama's election seems to attest. But Obama most certainly would not have been elected if he had come out as an atheist. Ironically, it is the slaves (of religion) who fight for their (and our) continued enslavement—and that of their children, of course.
    But the slaves of religion could be their own masters and unlock their prison cell and walk out tall. But they don't; do they fear death that much?3 Or are they prevented by a powerful taboo against cutting the cultural umbilical cord and severing their mooring—as though to do so would lose them the comfort of their parents' turning on a light when they wimper in the dark?4
    Of course, the slaves were actively indoctrinated as children, so the question arises, why did their parents indoctrinate them? The parents may tell you it was for the sake of their children's souls, but actually they feared that if their children fell away, their religious beliefs would be called into question. Keeping their children "faithful" seemed to confirm their own faith and prove they were right. Most people judge what's right by whether the other members of the herd believe it.
    The texts of all three Abrahamic religions prescribe death for believers who throw up the faith. This practice may be morally abhorrent but it does keep the herd intact by eliminating members who won't toe the line, either by literally killing them or by scaring them off or into submission. (I acknowledge my debt to the prophet of the youngest Abrahamic religion for introducing the term "slave of religion"; Muhammed called himself Muslim—literally slave of god5.)

And, at home

Happy birthday to my wife, who is considerably younger, as well as better looking, than Lincoln and Darwin. For more than thirty years I have admired her credo that she expressed in a needlepoint by altering the concluding word of the pattern's familiar pietistic homily:
Who plants a seed
Beneath the sod
And waits to see
Believes in DNA.
Of course, the effect of having a spouse is not universally acknowledged to be liberating, and many years ago, when I was trying to put my mind and my emotions around the reality of being married, someone pointed out that marriage is "a velvet cage." I've enjoyed the velvet and resigned my spirit to the steel wire.
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  1. Full title, On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life, published in 1859
  2. A number of articles on the occasion of Darwin's 200th birthday (and the 150th anniversary year of the publication of his book) can be found in The New York Times:
  3. See reader Jim's comment on Lincoln's sober attitude toward death.

  4. See the same reader's answer to this question.

  5. The Prophet Muhammed said he was the slave of god. But there is no god. Therefore, Muhammed was merely the slave of religion.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Which is the best god book?

A recent interchange with my friend Ed started me thinking about divergent ways in which people regard truth. He and I were discussing the opposition between scientific knowing and religious faith, and he said:
You know, it's not that I disagree with you, or agree with you...it's that I don't believe anyone, you, me, or the Pope knows the truth of truths. Facts are used to make people believe in a point of view. However, if someone does not believe those facts; then your truth is not theirs. That doesn't mean it's not true, it only means it's true to the ones who believe those facts.
This seemed to me to express an extreme form of relativism, and the following classification occurred to me:
Religious Absolutism ("Only I have the truth")
Extreme Relativism ("Everyone has his own truth")
Scientific Knowing ("He who has objective evidence is more likely to be near the truth")
Note that Extreme Relativism seems to deny that anyone can actually know objective truth. Ed states that "facts are used to make people believe in a point of view," as though "facts" can just be made up to win an argument. (Of course, more than a few have!) Ed seems to deny that there's any objective basis for deciding what is or isn't a fact.
    Happily, I've been musing on something that provides a ready-made illustration of the classifications. The concept of the best god book occurred to me after my friend Kelley asked me what my ideal job would be, and I jokingly answered that it might be replacing copies of the Bible and the Qur'an with copies of Richard Dawkins's The God Delusion. (Kelley quipped—equally facetiously, she assured me—that her ideal job might be replacing The God Delusion with the Bible or the Qur'an! "Or the Qur'an"; no religious absolutist is Kelley.)

Three books, three picks

The Religious Absolutist believes as a matter of faith that his religion alone is the repository of the truth. For the Christian, of course, it's the Bible; for the Muslim it's the Qur'an. And never the twain shall meet. As my Evangelical Christian friend Ina warned me a couple of years ago, when I told her I was trying to read the Qur'an, "The Qur'an is not the Word of God!"
    And many obedient Muslims (and what is a Muslim if not obedient?) no doubt lump the authors of The End of Faith, God Is Not Great, and The God Delusion in with Salman Rushdie, a call for whose execution was officially decreed by fatwā by the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in 1988.
    Of course, Christians and Muslims adopted their religious affiliations from their parents. If they had been born to each others' parents, the Christians would be swearing by the Qur'an, and the Muslims by the Bible. That their religious faith appears to be a matter of faith more in whatever their parents believed than in god does not pass unnoticed.
    For many years, by the way, I felt that no particular religious view could be trusted (not even my own) because, as God said unto Moses, "I am that I am"; He didn't specify (to Moses on that occasion) what "that" was. Of course, the [rather horrifying] nature of the Old Testament god is abundantly clear from other Biblical passages, as Thomas Paine, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, and Richard Dawkins, to name a few, have pointed out. It seems obvious to me now that my focusing on the "I am that I am" passage and ignoring all the rest was an unconscious effort on my part to try to preserve a version of my mother's belief in god.

The Extreme Relativist says that the three books are equally true. The Bible is true for Christians, the Qur'an is true for Muslims, and The God Delusion (and the other atheist books mentioned above) are true for people who don't believe in god. "True" here seems to be even more subjective than it is for the absolutists, who at least believe that there's a standard for their truth, namely "God" or "Allah." (Nevermind that they're supposed to be the same god. Muslims at least have the grace to allow that Jesus, too, was a prophet of god.)
    In "picking all," the Extreme Relativist essentially picks none. Earlier in our exchange, Ed had said:
I was referring to your belief in science as the truth [rather, as the way to get at the truth], while church-goers believe just as strongly that the Bible is [reveals] the truth. It was people of science who first said the earth was flat, and it was people of science who said it was round. What science proves today can be disproved by science tomorrow.
There doesn't seem to be much to distinguish Extreme Relativism from Radical Skepticism.

The Scientific Knower (at least not one who holds that Science and Religion have their own, non-overlapping "magisterial domains," but who believes that they coexist in the same domain) much prefers a book like The God Delusion, which by means of objective evidence and cogent argument establishes the extreme improbability of god's existence.
    While the Religious Absolutist's opinion is based on blind faith that his own, parochial book reveals the truth, the Scientific opinion is based on objective fact. If the Scientific Knower's parents influenced him, they most likely encouraged him to think for himself.
    Dawkins is my man.

Don't tell us to laugh, please

My friend (to the left) asked someone to take our picture yesterday in the Daily Grind. Predictably the photographer, seeing that I wasn't smiling, told me to smile. I said, "No, no, please don't tell us to smile!" It didn't work.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Off California's Channel Islands

On Friday my wife and I went out on a boat in the channel between the California coast and the Channel Islands, ostensibly to watch whales. We did see a couple of whales, from a distance, but they did nothing photographically spectacular (that I had the wits or speed to capture, at any rate).

I did, however, delight in photographing a few airborne pelicans and seagulls as they trailed along behind the boat. I sent one to Ken, whose immediate comment was, "Great picture of a pelican—a perfect candidate for Photoshop fun." Subsequently he "messed around with it a bit," as he said; his "idea of recreation":


Here's the original:


Sunday, February 1, 2009

A new (?) argument for the non-existence of god

Persons who believe in god seem to be no morally better, happier, or luckier than persons who believe there is no god.1 If god (as conceived by Christians and Muslims, at any rate) did exist, that would seem to be impossible. Therefore, god does not exist.
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  1. First sentence revised on February 3. Original version: There seems to be no difference in goodness, happiness, or luck between persons who believe god exists and persons who believe there is no god. I found it necessary to revise the sentence to avoid implying that people free of religion might be no better (or better off) than those enslaved to it.