That Monstrous Regiment

(Note: This post was written for Blog Against Sexism Day.)One of the greatest enemies of the feminist movement is and has always been religion. Regardless of when or how this tendency originated, the monotheistic tradition that gave rise to Judaism, Christianity and Islam has historically stood in vehement opposition to the simple and obvious truth that women are human beings with the same rights, abilities and privileges as men.Consider, for example, the flagrant and revolting sexism in one … [Read more...]

Pulling Back the Curtain

The previous post in the Observatory, "On Presuppositions", discussed a few of the many ways in which bias has been shown to affect our decisions. When we expect or believe something to be true, we very often act as if it is true, and disregard contradictory evidence.Given these undeniable facts, what hope is left for us to know the truth? A cynical interpretation would be that science, the organized quest for truth, has ironically proven that science is hopeless, that every conclusion is too … [Read more...]

Walled Gardens

Ed Brayton at Dispatches from the Culture Wars has drawn my attention to a story I've been meaning to post about for some time: Tom Monaghan, the founder of Domino's Pizza and a wealthy far-right Catholic, is financing the construction of a new town in Florida to be named Ave Maria.Controversy has ensued because of reports that Monaghan intends the town to be a mini-theocracy, where pornography will be banned from cable TV, bookstores and newsstands, pharmacies will be banned from selling … [Read more...]

Theocracy Watch

There has been considerable buzz in the blogosphere lately about a bill pending in Missouri that would supposedly make Christianity the "state's official religion".When I first heard this news, suitably apocalyptic thoughts occurred to me, as I'm sure they did to many of you. Declaring an official state religion is the essence of theocracy, and from there it is only a very short step to banning other religions and outlawing dissent; and in the current climate of religious extremism, it was … [Read more...]

Book Review: Darwin's Dangerous Idea

Daniel Dennett is one of my favorite philosophers. Few write with his clarity or liveliness, and the topics to which he turns his attention - evolution, religion, free will, the human mind - fall squarely within my area of interest. His explanations are often brilliantly clever, and his conclusions are ones I can usually agree with. In Darwin's Dangerous Idea, his provocative thesis is that Charles Darwin's idea of modification by natural selection, which he calls "the single best idea anyone … [Read more...]

The Cathedral and the Garden

One of the most fundamental differences between atheism and religion is that a religion is, by definition, a group of followers, while atheism is a collection of individuals. Each religion is built on some body of myths and rules that was compiled long ago and is now set in stone, inviolate. Membership in that religion is defined by obedience to these dogmas, which can be reinterpreted but not changed, neither to add nor to remove. No matter what new knowledge or moral advances emerge, religious … [Read more...]

On Presuppositions

Malcolm Gladwell. Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking. Little, Brown and Company: New York, 2005.D.L. Rosenhan. "On Being Sane in Insane Places." Science, vol.179, no.4070, p.250-258 (19 January 1973).In 1973, the peer-reviewed journal Science published a now-classic study in psychology. In its introduction, the study's author, D.L. Rosenhan, pointed out that the criteria for determining whether someone is mentally ill are highly subjective. The provocative question Rosenhan asked … [Read more...]

A Personal Journey to Atheism

One of the questions I am frequently asked is how I came to be an atheist. Personally, I don't place a high emphasis on the details of deconversion - whether it happens gradually or in a Damascus Road-like flash is not relevant to me - and since I did not have an intense religious upbringing to break away from as many deconverts do, I thought my personal testimony would not contribute greatly to those already out there. Nevertheless, I thought it good to write it down once and for all, so as to … [Read more...]

Greetings from the Losers' Club

John Loftus of the blog Debunking Christianity has very kindly linked to my recent post, "An Inspiring Story", with a post of his own, "Ex-minister Walks Atheist Path".However, it seems that his much-appreciated courtesy has attracted attention from a different direction. Specifically, the Christian site Triablogue responded with a post titled "The 'Inspiring Story' of Induction into the Loser's Club" - the losers in question being atheists, in case there was any doubt.From the very … [Read more...]

Cracking the Fortune Cookie

A Response to John Searle's Chinese Room AnalogyJohn Searle. "Minds, Brains, and Programs." Behavioral and Brain Sciences, vol. 3, p. 417-424 (1980).In a famous 1980 paper titled "Minds, Brains and Programs", the philosopher John Searle proposed a notorious thought experiment, now known as the Chinese Room, relating to the possibility of artificial intelligence. Searle has no objection to "weak AI", the claim that a properly programmed computer can help teach us about the mind; but he … [Read more...]