Miracle on 34th Street: The Value of Empiricism

Yes, you get a Christmas post! Atheists don't take the day off just because people think a mythological savior-god was born on this date thousands of years ago.So my wife and I were watching Miracle on 34th Street last night (the original, not the remake). In spite of everything I'm about to say, it's still one of the better holiday movies.* As Greg Olear points out on Salon, it's remarkably egalitarian, secular and anti-consumerist even by modern standards, much less by the standards of the … [Read more...]

The Republican Stupid-Party Spiral Dilemma

In an interview late last month, Republican senator Marco Rubio, who's widely viewed to be laying the groundwork for a 2016 presidential run, announced that he doesn't know how old the Earth is:I'm not a scientist, man. I can tell you what recorded history says, I can tell you what the Bible says, but I think that's a dispute amongst theologians and I think it has nothing to do with the gross domestic product or economic growth of the United States.I can't help suggesting that perhaps … [Read more...]

Piercing the Republican Epistemic Bubble

I've written some overarching thoughts about last week's presidential election, but I wanted to dwell on one of its more fascinating aspects: the extent to which the Republican party was blindsided by the outcome. Going into Tuesday, countless Republicans had predicted a solid victory for Mitt Romney, and it's clear that this wasn't just a political ploy to sway media coverage. On the contrary, Republicans at every level sincerely believed this - ordinary voters, professional pundits, and … [Read more...]

Because I’m An Atheist…

This post was originally written for the "Because I Am An Atheist" series at The Crommunist Manifesto. Thanks to Crommunist for the inspiration! Because I am an atheist, I don't have to spend my energy justifying the unjustifiable. As I've written before, I can imagine how I could have been a religious person. A different roll of the dice, a few chance encounters that happened differently - there are possible worlds where I became a believer rather than an atheist. I could have become … [Read more...]

Free-Floating Certainties

Most of us, especially if we follow the principles of critical thinking, go through life slowly building up a patina of evidence supporting the beliefs that matter to us. Under normal circumstances, the more that our experiences confirm the truth of a proposition, the more confidence we place in it. For a simple, everyday proposition such as "my wife loves me", or "I live in New York City", which is reinforced by countless facts in one's experience, one eventually builds up a certainty so firm … [Read more...]

Why I Identify as a Skeptic

My friend Sarah Moglia has written an essay, titled Why I Don't Call Myself a Skeptic, that's been making waves in the atheist blogosphere. She's got a thought-provoking argument with which I agree in part and disagree in part, and I thought I'd share my reaction to it. But first, let me echo her disclaimer: I'm not promoting what follows as a normative view that everyone should hold. I'm talking about why I choose to identify in a specific way. Actually, I tend to use "atheist" as my … [Read more...]

Is There Progress in Religion?

I wanted to pull this exchange out of the comments, because I thought it was worth highlighting:"Science is constantly evolving and improving on itself". I AGREE. The same as our understanding of God is constantly evolving and improving.In response, I came back with what I thought was a perfectly reasonable request:If that's really the case, then please list some of the new things we've learned about God in the past few hundred years.Unsurprisingly, this occasioned much … [Read more...]

The Purview of Skepticism

I may have mentioned that, at Skepticon IV, JT Eberhard gave a fantastic talk on why the skeptical community must concern itself with mental illness. For the most part, the response from the community has been enthusiastically supportive - but there were a few sharp notes of dissent, like this post by Gina Colaianni. Most of Colaianni's criticisms are so off-base, I can't help wondering if she saw the same talk as the rest of us. (She thinks that JT, of all people, is calling for us to stop … [Read more...]

Worshipping the Holy Hair Dryer

My previous post, "The Blinding Fog of Religious Moderation", drew some criticism from people who felt that I was unjustly lumping moderate believers together with fundamentalists. So, in this post, I'm going to try (again) to illustrate why I find even moderate religious beliefs to be wrong-headed, by means of an analogy. I'd like to take credit for this analogy, but it isn't mine: the concept originally came from Sam Harris in his book Letter to a Christian Nation, though the proximate source … [Read more...]

How to Think Critically XI: The Null Hypothesis

So, you may have heard that Rhonda Byrne, author of The Secret, has a new book on the same subject, called The Power. Personally, I'm bewildered. Her first book promised to tell you how to get everything you've ever wanted. What possible room could there be for a sequel?You might also have heard of the famous athletes who are wearing this bracelet, which, according to its makers, uses "processed titanium and holograms" which are "designed to interact with your body’s natural energy", improving … [Read more...]