Hello World

I've had some big announcements brewing, and here's the biggest. This is my son:If you think you missed something, you didn't - we deliberately didn't post on blogs or social media about the pregnancy. He was born on September 7 at 6:21 PM. Mother and baby are both healthy and well.Posting may be sporadic for the next few weeks, obviously. I have some reposts ready to go, and I'll check in and answer comments as I have the time.And now that this little secret is out of the bag, … [Read more...]

The Rush to Canonize Mother Teresa

Surprising no one, the Vatican has declared Mother Teresa to be a saint.Under the church's rules, canonization requires two verified miracles. But the evidence that the church has put forward as proof of her miraculous powers is less than completely convincing:The [first] approved miracle involved Monica Besra, a 30-year-old Kolkata woman who said praying to the nun cured a stomach tumor. The Vatican committee said in October 2002 that it could find no "scientific explanation" for the … [Read more...]

The Democritean Dance

I've always said that the argument from mind-brain unity is one of the most potent arguments for atheism, yet also one of the most overlooked. Virtually without anyone noticing, science has dissolved the ancient belief that the seat of consciousness is an immaterial soul inhabiting the body. Even though the inner workings of the brain are still a terra incognita that we're just beginning to explore, we've collected ample evidence that the mind is a thoroughly material phenomenon.We know that … [Read more...]

Weekend Coffee: September 3

• Michele Bachmann says Christian conservatives will never win another election if Hillary Clinton wins this one. From her mouth to God's ears!• On Radiolab this week, "The Girl Who Doesn't Exist": Alecia Faith Pennington escaped a conservative-Christian/sovereign-citizen homeschool cult, but her parents deliberately never got her a birth certificate, a Social Security number, or any other ID. How do you prove to the world that you exist?• Humanity is solving … [Read more...]

A World on Our Doorstep

The search for extraterrestrial intelligence remains a high-risk, low-payoff-probability endeavor, with many exciting initial reports that mostly turn out to be false alarms.The search for other planets, however, continues to pay off in spades. And a team of European astronomers just hit the biggest jackpot yet: a habitable planet orbiting the Sun's nearest neighbor.Astronomers using ESO telescopes and other facilities have found clear evidence of a planet orbiting the closest star to … [Read more...]

Does Religious Diversity Undermine Religion?

There's bound to be more than one reason why religion is on the decline. I've written about the spread of the internet and about churches obstinately clinging to bigotry that turns off younger generations. Now, from FiveThirtyEight, there's another answer: it's because of increasing religious diversity.The practical effect of rising religious diversity is to expose Americans to ideas and views that could challenge their religious beliefs. A recent survey found that 77 percent of Americans … [Read more...]

Christian Apologists React to the Rise of Atheism

The collapse of the white Christian voting bloc hasn't gone unnoticed by the religious right. It's the latest sign that they don't dominate American politics the way they once did. From same-sex marriage nationwide to Antonin Scalia's death to theocrat candidates flaming out and crashing, they've had one reminder after another that their era is passing.And it's immensely entertaing to see the fundamentalists and religious conservatives realize it. From denying the problem, to promising … [Read more...]

SF/F Saturday: Uprooted/The Speed of Dark

In my last installment of this series, I said that I wanted to read more sci-fi and fantasy written by women. That plan is already paying dividends, as I've checked off two books by authors on the list I hadn't read before and thoroughly enjoyed both of them: Uprooted, by Naomi Novik, and The Speed of Dark, by Elizabeth Moon. Here are some short reviews and thoughts.Uprooted, by Naomi NovikA fantasy rooted in Russo-Polish mythology, Uprooted starts out like a fairy tale. It's set in a … [Read more...]

France’s Burkini Ban Isn’t About Secularism

There was an ugly spectacle this week on a beach in France:Photographs have emerged of armed French police confronting a woman on a beach and making her remove some of her clothing as part of a controversial ban on the burkini....Her ticket, seen by French news agency AFP, read that she was not wearing "an outfit respecting good morals and secularism".As a response to recent Islamist terror attacks, cities like Nice have banned clothing that "ostentatiously displays religious … [Read more...]

The Intellectual Prison of Ultra-Orthodox Judaism

I've often written about Ultra-Orthodox Judaism, which is, in my opinion, one of the worst religious cults in existence. Whether in the U.S., in Israel, or any of the other countries where they put down roots, the Ultra-Orthodox live in closed-off enclaves, trying to keep their members isolated and ignorant of the world all around them. Daily life in these communities is a maze of rules and prohibitions, the result of centuries of elaboration by rabbis who only ever grow stricter, never more … [Read more...]