February 2008 Science Updates

There's been so much important news pouring in this month that it's hard to keep up with it. But despite the flood of information, there've been a few especially significant discoveries that I think shouldn't be overlooked. There are three that I thought deserve special notice:• On February 13, astronomers announced the discovery of a new solar system that resembles our own more closely than any exoplanetary system that was previously known. The new system, given the unlovely designation … [Read more...]

The Aura of Infallibility

Religious beliefs, as a general rule, aren't based on evidence.I have little doubt that my fellow nonbelievers will agree without reservation, and equally little doubt that religious believers will call me arrogant and uninformed for so sweepingly dismissing the basis of their beliefs. But that's not what I'm trying to say. By this statement, I'm not referring to the question of whether solid evidence underlies the tenets of religion (although I trust I've made my views on that issue known). … [Read more...]

Conflicting Miracles

"Saint Jnanadeva is revered for his Bhagavad Gita translation and commentary in the Maharastrian language. Among several miracles that established this 13th-century saint's reputation, the most famous involved a water buffalo. Challenged by the arrogant brahmins of Paithan that he was not qualified to recite the Vedas, Jnanadeva replied, 'Anyone can recite the Vedas.' He placed his hand upon a nearby water buffalo, which proceeded to correctly chant Vedic verses for more than an … [Read more...]

Poetry Sunday: Lot’s Wife

Today's Poetry Sunday features Anna Akhmatova, one of the most famous and critically praised Russian poets of the twentieth century. Anna Ahkmatova was born Anna Andreyevna Gorenko in 1889; she started writing early in life, and took the surname of her grandmother after her father forbade her to sully his respectable name by publishing "decadent" poetry under it.Akhmatova was a prominent poet of the Russian Acmeist movement, which rejected symbolism in favor of clarity and immediate, vivid … [Read more...]

Living the Humanist Life

In the past, I've written much about the philosophy of humanism and how it offers a transcendent, spiritual view of life's purpose that is at least as appealing as anything offered by religion (and in fact, is superior - at least in my opinion).Well and good, but I've been thinking lately that what we need is a set of practical guidelines for living life as a humanist. Holding this lofty view in moments of deep reflection or contemplation is one thing, but how does the humanist philosophy … [Read more...]

The Stained-Glass Ceiling

Back in November, U.S. senator John Kerry made some probably accurate, if rather unfortunate, remarks about the probability of an atheist being elected to national office:"The vast majority of Americans say they believe in God," Kerry said, responding to a question about the likelihood of an atheist or agnostic winning the presidency. "The vast majority of America, at some time, goes to church, and I think it matters to people. When you are choosing the president of the United States, people … [Read more...]

Strange and Curious Sects: John Frum

Today I'm inaugurating a new series on Daylight Atheism, Strange and Curious Sects. The follies and fallacies of larger, mainstream religions are well known; this series will examine some of the smaller and lesser-known splinter groups, cults, and sects, both past and present, that are part of the vast diversity of religions imagined by human beings. By examining these frequently unique and bizarre belief systems, I find, we stand to gain a clearer perspective on various aspects of the larger … [Read more...]

The Religion of Humanity

He was a worshiper of liberty, a friend of the oppressed. A thousand times I have heard him quote these words: "For Justice all place a temple, and all season, summer." He believed that happiness is the only good, reason the only torch, justice the only worship, humanity the only religion, and love the only priest.The above passage is an excerpt from a eulogy given by the famous American freethinker Robert Ingersoll for his brother, Ebon. It's one of my favorite passages from Ingersoll, … [Read more...]

The Catholic Church: An Immoral Organization

The Roman Catholic church is the oldest and largest Christian denomination on the planet. Although its influence in the Western world is declining, it still exercises great power over the lives of millions of people every day. All too often, that power is used in the service of superstition, of perpetuating irrational and dogmatic beliefs about how human liberty should be restricted in order to please God. Whatever charitable and humanitarian work the Catholic church performs must be balanced … [Read more...]

Light and Dark

Greta Christina recently wrote a wonderful review of the book Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me), an analysis of the unconscious defense mechanisms people use to rationalize their bad decisions. She's absolutely right that this is a book everyone ought to read (I need to find a copy myself), and her review makes some points that I think are important enough to justify shining a spotlight on.I'm no anthropologist or psychologist, but I like to think of myself as at least an amateur observer of … [Read more...]