Book Review: Nature’s God

(Editor's Note: This review was solicited and is written in accordance with this site's policy for such reviews.)Summary: A dense philosophical-historical synthesis that rewards the diligent reader by opening up a new window on the beliefs of America's founders.Matthew Stewart's book Nature's God: The Heretical Origins of the American Republic, like Susan Jacoby's Freethinkers or Jennifer Michael Hecht's Doubt: A History, plumbs the freethinking ideals that played an outsize role in the … [Read more...]

Tiptoeing Around the Civil Rights Act

The Civil Rights Act is an abiding dilemma for members of the right-wing Church of Not Gay. As marriage equality continues to progress, their latest cause celebre is arguing that believers should have the right to refuse service to gay couples - whether they be photographers, bakers, owners of wedding venues, even county clerks - all in the name, supposedly, of "religious liberty", which they believe should be a trump card allowing holders to opt out of any generally applicable law.The … [Read more...]

Atlas Shrugged: Indian Givers

Atlas Shrugged, part II, chapter IVAfter unleashing a tirade at his family during Thanksgiving dinner, Hank Rearden decides he's had enough of them. He stands up and announces that he's going to New York, knowing that Lillian understands exactly what this means:"Why do you wish to go to New York tonight?""I think, Lillian, for the same reason that makes you wish to stop me.""Tomorrow is your trial.""That is what I mean."He made a movement to turn, and she raised her … [Read more...]

You, Sir, Are No Robert Ingersoll

Before I went on vacation last month, you may recall how I tangled with a mob of nasty sexists who misleadingly call themselves "men's rights activists". Most of their comments were pure ad hominem filth, not worth the trouble of responding to, but there was one I wanted to address: from an atheist MRA who fears that feminism is ruining both science and atheism, and who thinks that some famous historical freethinkers would have taken his side.Surprisingly, my largely religious family was … [Read more...]

Atlas Shrugged: The Three-Fifths Compromise

Atlas Shrugged, part II, chapter IILet me make one thing clear, to begin with: I don't think Ayn Rand was an unintelligent person. She was fiercely dogmatic in her opinions, quick to anger, possessed an enormous ego, and rarely if ever forgave. She also had more than a few intellectual blind spots, which I've been pointing out throughout this series. But I believe she put real thought into her moral system, flawed as it is, and had a genuine desire to be taken seriously as a … [Read more...]

TV Review: Cosmos, Episode 1

Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, Episode 1, "Standing Up In the Milky Way"When I first heard that Carl Sagan's Cosmos was being rebooted, I was thrilled. As much as I loved the original, even the best science series inevitably becomes dated sooner rather than later, as our knowledge advances. And this was a great opportunity to see how modern special effects, which are light-years ahead of where they were in the original, could be used for scientific storytelling. But when I heard the new series … [Read more...]

TV Review: Cosmos, Episode 5

Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, Episode 5, "Hiding in the Light"With computer graphics getting cheaper and better every year, every new TV show and movie has to grapple with the question of how much is too much. That's no less true for a hard-science series like Cosmos than it is for a sci-fi drama. There's always the temptation to put more flashy visuals on screen just because you can, and the technology we have now makes it possible to show razzle-dazzle that would have been inconceivable in … [Read more...]

Cosmos Upsets the Courtiers

I'm greatly enjoying the new Cosmos, but there are those who are none too pleased by it. Some of the critics are too laughable to take seriously, like the creationists who're whining about not getting equal time. Then there are the ones who represent an allegedly more sophisticated theology, like this post by Andrew Sullivan, in which he straightfacedly asserts that Carl Sagan and Neil deGrasse Tyson's popularization efforts are giving science a bad name. Why? His complaint stems largely from … [Read more...]

TV Review: Cosmos, Episode 3

Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, Episode 3, "When Knowledge Conquered Fear"I wrote that last week's episode felt overstuffed, trying to cover a vast amount of territory in just 45 minutes of TV. This one did much better in that regard. The writing was tightly focused, telling a central story that wove throughout the episode, and using that story to provide branching-off points. This was a nearly flawless example of how science writing should be done.The central story, told mostly through … [Read more...]

New on AlterNet: Cosmos and the Creationists

My latest column is now up on AlterNet, Neil deGrasse Tyson Shows Why Small-Minded Religious Fundamentalists Are Threatened by Wonders of Universe. It's about the new Cosmos TV series, and its reminder that those who advocate new ideas have always met fierce violent resistance from the credulous masses and the elite guardians of popular orthodoxy, from the persecutors of Galileo and Giordano Bruno in the medieval era to creationists, climate-change deniers and anti-vaxers today. Read the excerpt … [Read more...]


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