Who Are the Moral Ones?

Much mention has been made lately of a recent Pew Research Center study showing that two-thirds of American Christians condone the use of torture. When asked whether the use of torture against terrorism suspects was justified to gain important information, about 15% of white Christians in general, and about 20% of white Catholics, said that it was "often" justified. (Other ethnic groups were not polled.) About an additional 50% said that it was "sometimes" or "rarely" justified. By contrast, 41% … [Read more...]

On Free Will I: Executive Summary

Over the ages, the question of whether we have free will has engaged, confronted, and puzzled philosophers probably more than any other issue, and untold numbers of papers, conferences, books and debates have been expended on tackling it. It is no surprise that so much philosophical ink has been spilled on this question, because it is in a sense the question upon which all other questions depend. If there is no free will, and thus no moral responsibility, it seems we might as well shut down the … [Read more...]

Kicking the Crutches Away

In a previous post, I defended the conclusion that atheists should, under certain circumstances, evangelize on behalf of atheism. I recently read a story that bears on this conclusion, thanks to a recent edition of the Grand Rounds medical blog carnival - a beautiful and moving post titled "The rites of passage", about a badly injured old man admitted to the emergency room who kept himself alive, seemingly by an act of pure will, until a priest could be found to administer him his last rites. … [Read more...]

An Oft-Asked Question

Turn on the TV, turn to the back pages of a newspaper, or peruse the best-seller lists, and you're almost certain to come across one of those angels in human form, the psychics. Every day they display their powers to the wonder of believers and the astonishment of skeptics, presciently predicting startling information such as, "The body will be found near water", or "I see the letter 'R' in connection with you."Though these incredible insights revolutionize the lives of many, it is undeniable … [Read more...]

We’ve Got Work to Do

My post yesterday, "The Quiet Revolution", discussed some of the positive ways in which atheists are organizing and making inroads into society. But as much as I hate to follow up good news with bad, I feel I would be doing my readers a disservice if I played down the magnitude of what we atheists must confront and overcome if we are ever to become a fully accepted part of society.With that in mind, I call to your attention a recent study by the University of Minnesota, which identifies … [Read more...]

The Quiet Revolution

In a previous post in the Garden, "An Inspiring Story", I discussed two ways in which atheism might make inroads into society:It is not inconceivable that atheists are nearing a critical mass, one which when reached will inspire us to organize en masse. If such a thing were to happen, I have no doubt that we could become a tremendous force for societal change for the better. But even if not, there is another possibility: we may gain acceptance and influence one piece at a time, without there … [Read more...]

Should Atheists Evangelize?

It is a perennial question, among atheists, of whether we should evangelize in favor of atheism the way the religious do. It is not hard to see why this question has been so hotly debated, since there are good arguments on both sides.Since atheism is a positive worldview, there would seem to be a reason we should bring it to others. Deconversion is almost always described, by those who have gone through it, as an ultimately joyous experience. There is true happiness in throwing off the burden … [Read more...]

A Visit to St. Patrick's Cathedral

It was in late December of last year that I visited St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City for the first time. It was a cold, wet evening, alternating between rain and flurries of snow, and a friend and I had gone downtown to see the Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center. But the cathedral was on the way, and we could not pass up the chance to see another Manhattan landmark.The change in the atmosphere was noticeable as soon as we passed through the massive bronze doors. Outside on Fifth … [Read more...]

The Devil Cannot Abide Mockery

The recent fiasco over the cartoons of Mohammed published in a Danish newspaper shows that free speech is still very much under threat. Though this basic human right has long been guaranteed in the Western world, this controversy should remind us that there is still a large section of humanity among whom free speech is not just nonexistent, it is held in outright disdain. Sadly, the right to speak one's mind without fear of repercussion is still the exception, not the norm.And there are … [Read more...]

How Big is the Library of Babel?

One of my favorite short-story authors is the Argentinean writer Jorge Luis Borges. Many of his stories deal with mind-expanding themes, including "Blue Tigers", about a handful of stones that do not obey the rules of mathematics, "The Book of Sand", about a book with an infinite number of pages, and "The Aleph", a point in space that allows one to observe all other points simultaneously.However, Borges' most iconic short story is the one called "The Library of Babel", less a narrative with a … [Read more...]