What We're Up Against

This past week, the Times ran a story about the extent of the gains made by the reconstituted Taliban, not just in Afghanistan or in the semi-autonomous tribal regions on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, but well within Pakistan itself:Using a portable radio transmitter, a local Taliban leader, Shah Doran, on most nights outlines newly proscribed "un-Islamic" activities in Swat, like selling DVDs, watching cable television, singing and dancing, criticizing the Taliban, shaving beards and … [Read more...]

The Catholic Church Welcomes a Holocaust Denier

I knew the Catholics were having trouble finding enough people to be clergy, but I didn't think things had gotten this bad (HT: Pam's House Blend):I believe that the historical evidence — the historical evidence — is hugely against six million Jews having been deliberately gassed in gas chambers as a deliberate policy of Adolph Hitler... I believe there were no gas chambers.Those are some choice words from Richard Williamson, one of four bishops excommunicated 20 years ago after being app … [Read more...]

Ambassadors for Atheism

In the world of Philip Pullman's fantasy series His Dark Materials, each human being is accompanied everywhere by their daemon, an intelligent animal-shaped spirit that is the outward manifestation of their soul. When Pullman's heroine, Lyra, meets a boy who's been severed from his daemon by a cruel experiment, her reaction is one of disgust and horror:Her first impulse was to turn and run, or to be sick. A human being with no daemon was like someone without a face, or with their ribs laid … [Read more...]

The Miracle of Fatima

On May 13, 1917, three Portuguese children in the town of Fátima, a small village seventy miles north of Lisbon, claimed to have witnessed a vision of the Virgin Mary. According to the account given by Lúcia Santos and her cousins Francisco and Jacinta Marto, Mary had appeared to them, clad in luminous white, above a holmoak tree in a pasture known as Cova da Iria. She urged the children to say the Rosary every day to bring peace to the world, and promised she would return on the 13th day of e … [Read more...]

Book Reviews: The Audacity of Hope and Dreams From My Father

On November 4, I decided that it'd be worthwhile to read the two books written by our new president Barack Obama, to get a better sense of where he intends to take the country in the next four (hopefully eight!) years. I finished the second one just before the inauguration, and here follows a brief review of both of them.The Audacity of HopeSummary: A cautious, middle-of-the-road book, more enlightening about the political process itself than about Obama's views on it.One of the major … [Read more...]

Administrative Notes

• I've posted a new revision of the comment policy. The first version of this policy was too short; the second one, I think, was too long, and misguidedly tried to enumerate every forbidden behavior while eliminating every possible loophole. I think that was a mistake, and this newest revision is intended to be more concise and readable. As always, use common sense. The earlier revisions will remain for historical purposes.• This will be the last I have to say on this subject, but I … [Read more...]

Popular Delusions XII: Qi

A popular notion in traditional Asian cultures, as well as the garbled versions of Asian culture imported into the West by the New Age movement, is the idea of qi (or chi), the vital energy that permeates the universe and flows through living things. A wide variety of pseudoscientific beliefs are based on qi, and today's post will examine some of them, through the lens of an article in a local alternative newspaper I picked up touting qi's uses in interpersonal relations and healing.The … [Read more...]

On Agent Causation

Among the band of philosophers who hold that free will is supernatural, one of the reigning ideas is called agent causation. This hypothesis states that volitional acts are a special category of event, one that is caused not by any other event but - in some deeply mysterious way - by the agent itself. Philosopher Roderick Chisholm describes this as follows:If we are responsible... then we have a prerogative which some would attribute only to God: each of us, when we act, is a prime mover … [Read more...]

On Fear and Seeking

Slacktivist, a progressive Christian blogger whom I read regularly, has some words of advice for the new atheists on how best to win converts. You'd wonder why a Christian would want to give advice to atheists about how to do this - indeed, such "advice" is usually just concern trolling when it comes from the religious right - but Slacktivist is a different kind of Christian, emphatically not a member of that political group, and his advice is doubtless in good faith and worth considering. In … [Read more...]

The Contributions of Freethinkers: Frances Wright

Although the success of the feminist movement has secured equal legal rights for women virtually everywhere in the West - a guarantee de jure, if not always de facto - there are still pockets of institutionalized sexism that survive. The Catholic church is the most obvious example, but other Christian denominations also deny the equality of women, such as when over 100 Southern Baptist bookstores refused to display a magazine about female pastors.By contrast, the freethought movement has … [Read more...]