Using Purchasing Power for Good

Since 'tis the season for commercialism, shopping sprees and big-ticket purchases, I thought I'd write a post that I've had in mind for a long time. It's less about atheism per se, more about rationalism and being aware of the ways our choices shape the world around us.We may scoff, and rightfully so, when the Supreme Court uses free speech as an excuse to lift campaign-finance restrictions on huge multinational corporations. But it's true, nevertheless: Money is a form of speech - and not … [Read more...]

Climbing the Mountain of Atlas Shrugged

As sharp-eyed readers may have noticed from my sidebar, I've decided to take up the challenge of reading Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged - all 1,074 pages of it, in my softcover edition. Say what you will about the woman, but no one will ever accuse her of failing to deliver a low price-to-word ratio.I've expressed my differences with Ms. Rand in the past, but I can't see any harm in giving her one last shot at changing my mind - and this book may be the subject of another chapter-by-chapter review, … [Read more...]

How to Think Critically: Anchoring

I'm pleased to announce the first-ever holiday edition of How to Think Critically. If you're planning to do your Christmas shopping soon, this post might just save you some money!The mental phenomenon called "anchoring and adjustment" was first described in the 1970s by the psychologists Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman. When we're trying to estimate an unknown quantity, such as judging whether a price tag is reasonable or guessing what percentage of the population belongs to a certain age … [Read more...]

As Tithing Declines, Atheists’ Knowledge Grows

As you've probably heard, the Pew Forum has released a study on American religious knowledge. And their top finding deserves to be heard far and wide: atheists and agnostics outscored every other religious group - even evangelicals!On average, Americans correctly answer 16 of the 32 religious knowledge questions on the survey by the Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion & Public Life. Atheists and agnostics average 20.9 correct answers. Jews and Mormons do about as well, averaging 20.5 … [Read more...]

The Language of God: Rusty Containers

The Language of God, Chapter 2By B.J. MarshallChapter 2 reminds me of a Tim Minchin song, Storm, where one line goes "Keeps firing off clichés with startling precision / Like a sniper using bollocks for ammunition." The next theme Collins discusses in this chapter involves addressing all the harm done in the name of religion and wondering how anyone could subscribe to the tenets of any religion that perpetrates such wrongs in the world. He gives two answers, but one is really a … [Read more...]

Weekly Link Roundup

For the holiday season, some goodies this weekend:• First up, some music for the season: the blogger Lirone, of Words That Sing, in collaboration with William Morris, composer in residence at the British Humanist Association (did you know the British Humanist Association had a composer in residence? me neither!), has written a humanist carol, Gathering Round the Fire. It's 99 cents on iTunes, and all profits will go to the BHA. I downloaded and listened to it, and I enjoyed it greatly. … [Read more...]

Important Update on Kiva

Since I've endorsed Kiva in the past (and I stand by that endorsement), for transparency's sake it's worth linking to this post from David Roodman (see also the related article from the Times).The quick summary is that the connection between Kiva lenders and loan recipients isn't as direct as you might have thought. Although the individuals listed on the site are real and their business proposals are genuine, their loan requests don't necessarily sit in limbo until they're funded by Kiva … [Read more...]

Weekly Link Roundup

There are couple of news items this week that I thought merited a brief mention.First, in the New Yorker, James Wood provides another piece of evidence for my theory that the only kind of atheists considered "respectable" are the ones who wish they were religious:What is needed is neither the overweening rationalism of a Dawkins nor the rarefied religious belief of an Eagleton but a theologically engaged atheism that resembles disappointed belief.And while we're on the topic of concern … [Read more...]

The Opportunity Cost of Pseudoscience

Last month, the U.S. government-funded National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine released a study which found that Americans spent $34 billion annually on alternative medicine. Although this is just 1.5% of total health care spending in the country, it represents over 11% of all out-of-pocket expenditures. The report estimates that about 38 million adults visited alternative practitioners in 2007.Unusually for a mainstream media outlet, the Boston Globe offers a much-welcomed … [Read more...]

On the Morality of: Military Spending

I've been following, with some incredulity, a battle brewing in Congress over a military-spending bill and whether it will include money to buy more F-22 Raptors, a jet fighter used by the Air Force during the Cold War. Even though Defense Secretary Robert Gates insists that these planes are not needed, a contingent of Congresspeople are bent on putting that spending back into the budget - forcing the military to take these planes against their will!Bizarre as this sounds, it's a classic … [Read more...]


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