Ingersoll Sunday: Eight Hours Must Come

RobertIngersoll

I've been reading The Great Agnostic, Susan Jacoby's biography of Robert Ingersoll, which has only increased my admiration for the great 19th-century freethinker. I knew that, in addition to his tireless opposition to religion, he was a staunch defender of women's equality, of racial justice and of free speech unconstrained by blasphemy laws, despite living in a time when all of these were radical positions. But Jacoby's book showed that Ingersoll was an even greater man than I'd thought: he was … [Read more...]

The Bible as Engine of Extremism, Continued

In my previous post on "Southern Slavery As It Was", I cited two modern-day Christian pastors who claim that black slavery was a positive and beneficial institution. To throw some cold water on their rosy claims, in this post we'll hear from a person with firsthand experience of it: Frederick Douglass, the great American abolitionist and orator who himself escaped from bondage and later chronicled his experiences. I'll cite passages from Wilson and Wilkins' book asserting the gentle and … [Read more...]

Southern Slavery As It Was: The Bible as Engine of Extremism

This weekend I saw Lincoln, which was a tremendous movie. Daniel Day-Lewis gives a compelling performance as President Abraham Lincoln during the closing days of the Civil War, when he battled with a fractious Congress to ratify the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, which outlawed slavery permanently in the United States. Among the movie's many strong points is that it unambiguously presents the Civil War as first and foremost a battle over slavery (which, according to the people who started … [Read more...]

Book Review: The Swerve

Summary: The compelling true story of the Renaissance humanists who rescued Greek and Roman philosophy from oblivion and wrenched the Western world out of the Dark Ages. After the collapse of the Roman empire, Europe descended into a centuries-long era of cultural and intellectual stagnation, a dark age of theocracy and feudalism. But how did the Western world pull itself out of this pit? What brought about the rekindling of light and reason in the Renaissance? That question is the subject of … [Read more...]

9 Great Freethinkers and Religious Dissenters in History

This article was originally published on AlterNet. What kind of world would we have if a majority of the human race was atheist? To hear religious apologists tell it, the triumph of atheism would mean a swift descent into selfishness and chaos. The defenders of the faith argue that atheism inevitably leads to selfishness and nihilism, and that only religion can justify charity or compassion, bind people together in community, or inspire a lively and flourishing culture. But this assertion can … [Read more...]

Blogging Better Angels: The Escalator of Reason

In my last post, I talked about some of the cultural factors Steven Pinker identifies that have led to a reduction in violence. There are two other major forces he discusses which are worthy of note. The Flynn Effect The first of these is a truly strange phenomenon. If you go by the results of IQ tests, average intelligence has been steadily rising for decades. This is called the Flynn effect, and it's been found consistently in countries all around the world since IQ tests first started being … [Read more...]

Blogging Better Angels: Changing of the Norms

In my previous post, I discussed how the invention of government led to a major reduction in the level of violence in human civilization, as compared to the constant battles of tribal societies. But while democracy, laws and police forces can account for most of the decline, they can't account for all of it. To get to the extraordinarily low levels of violence seen in most developed nations today, we need to invoke other cultural forces that tilt the balance toward peace. In Better Angels, … [Read more...]

Blogging Better Angels: Hobbes Was Right

The most famous human being of prehistoric times is probably Otzi the Iceman, a Neolithic human whose mummified body was discovered frozen in a glacier in the Alps in 1991. What's less well known about Otzi is that he met his death violently: an arrowhead was lodged in his back, and he was carrying an arrow and a flint knife which had traces of three people's blood, none of them his own. Anthropologists speculate that he was part of a raiding party that attacked a rival tribe and was killed … [Read more...]

The Godless Constitution and the Ratification Battle

Over the weekend, JT linked to this post on Patheos by Ben Witherington, an evangelical Bible scholar, opining about the legal basis for separation of church and state in America.But what about those founding documents— the Declaration, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights. Didn't they set up a secular society for America? Didn't they set up 'a separation of church and state'? Look hard— can you find any clause that uses that phrase in our founding documents? Basically this … [Read more...]

Blogging Better Angels: The Bad Old Days

Back in May, I reviewed Steven Pinker's hugely ambitious new book The Better Angels of Our Nature, about the decline of violence through history. I couldn't do justice to all the ideas in this book with a single post, so I promised to return to it and write about Pinker's argument in more detail. It's taken me a while, but I'm getting back to that promise now. I plan to write several posts exploring some of the major ideas put forth in the book, which I intend to eventually collect into an essay … [Read more...]


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