Replies to the Abraham Test

My post from last week, "The Abraham Test", provoked a vigorous discussion (225 comments and counting as of this writing) about the morality of committing violence in God's name. Since I did, after all, pose a question to believers, it's only fair to write a follow-up post summarizing the answers and discussing what they mean for religious morality as a whole. For this post, I'm only going to discuss comments that directly answered the question I asked (which, I have to say, were a minority). I … [Read more...]

Book Review: An Unquenchable Thirst

Summary: The Roman Catholic equivalent of Ayaan Hirsi Ali's "Infidel". A luminous, extraordinary account of one woman who devoted her life to Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity, saw the organization from the inside out, and decided to walk away after twenty years of service as a faithful and obedient nun.The "deconversion memoir" is seemingly fast becoming the most common genre of atheist book. In just the last few years, I've read Ayaan Hirsi Ali's Infidel, William Lobdell's Losing … [Read more...]

The Abraham Test

The story of Abraham's near-sacrifice of his son on Mount Moriah is one of the formative myths of Western monotheism. And most theists of the Jewish, Christian and Islamic traditions look up to Abraham as a model of faith, believing that his willingness to kill his own child in obedience to God's command is a praiseworthy character trait. But as I wrote in "A Book of Blood":That the sacrifice was not actually carried out does not change the moral revulsion we should feel at this episode. … [Read more...]

Some Tardy Book Reviews

I've had a busy last few months, and I confess I've fallen behind on my book reviews. (If you're not familiar with these posts from the old site, I sometimes get free advance copies of books from authors and publicists to read and review. I don't accept any payment or other compensation for this, other than the book itself. See my review policy for more detailed explanation.) I've got three books that have been awaiting review, and since I'm behind, I'm going to combine them into one post. Up … [Read more...]

Atheists Don’t Just Want Sex and Drugs

My latest article has been posted on AlterNet, Once Again, Believers Have it Wrong: Atheists Don't Just Want Sex, Drugs, and Lack of Morality. As you might have guessed, it's the culminating entry in my recent exchange with Peter Hitchens. In it, I discuss the absence of evidence for non-human moral authority, the fact that accusations of unbridled hedonism have always been used in an attempt to silence social reform movements, and the evidence which shows that the rise of atheism has no … [Read more...]

The Temporal Democracy of Self-Slices

Via Dangerous Intersection, I saw this TED lecture by Daniel Kahnemann, based on his book Thinking Fast and Slow, about the conflict between the "experiencing self" and the "remembering self". His thesis is that we have countless moment-to-moment experiences, most of which quickly fade from memory and leave no trace, while a few significant ones are retained and used to construct an overarching story or narrative of one's life. According to Kahnemann, many experiences which were unpleasant or … [Read more...]

Morality Is Relative But Not Subjective

Guest post by Samantha Eliza Benten The Law of Non-Contradiction, as stated by Aristotle: "One cannot say of something that it is and that it is not in the same respect and at the same time." Often, this is expressed in the formula: A ? ¬A, where "¬A" signifies "not A" or "not having quality A". (To prevent a common error, understand that it does NOT mean "the subset of everything except A." For example, to say that "an animal that is a cat cannot be, at the same time, a dog" is NOT an … [Read more...]

A Response to Peter Hitchens, Part III

Peter Hitchens has written two further comments on my previous post, in one of which he states that he'll be bowing out of the debate from this point on. So be it; there are, of course, many respects in which we disagree, but I appreciate the time and effort he's put into this conversation. That being said, I still intend to have the last word. The fact that men professing to be Christian believers try to rewrite or reinterpret the laws of God does not get rid of the idea that, to be true moral … [Read more...]

The Apologist’s Turnstile

As I've often mentioned, religion has a set of cognitive tricks - unconscious ideas, prejudices and habits of thought it tries to instill in believers - which shield their minds against contrary argument and make it less likely that they'll leave the faith. One example is the selective wall I've written about in the past, also dubbed "Morton's demon", that lets supportive evidence pass through while blocking contradictory evidence. Today, I want to discuss a different but equally common one: the … [Read more...]

A Response to Peter Hitchens, Part II

After our last go-round, Peter Hitchens has posted a further reply. I encourage you to read it in full before reading my response, which follows below: Once again, Peter Hitchens has utterly failed to address the point that even religious moral codes, allegedly based on the will of a perfect and changeless deity, have changed dramatically over time - in virtually all cases for the better. We no longer own slaves, as the Bible permits us to do; we no longer stone disobedient children or require … [Read more...]