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...]

People of Light and Darkness

The big news this week is that the Large Hadron Collider, the massive particle accelerator at the European physics lab CERN, has apparently discovered the elusive and long-sought subatomic particle called the Higgs boson, which explains why other particles have mass. The hunt for the Higgs has consumed decades of effort by physicists all over the world, and its discovery fills in one of the last missing pieces of the wildly successful theoretical framework called the Standard Model. Naturally, … [Read more...]

Weekly Link Roundup

• Greta Christina posts her completed list of atheists of color.• In early 1981, Carl Sagan sent this letter to the Explorers' Club - an international society dedicated to scientific exploration - regarding their men-only admission policy. Several months later, the first female members were admitted. (HT: Geek Feminism Blog)• Johann Hari writes about "the myth of the panicking disaster victim" and what it implies for humanity's inherent moral sense.• Catholic … [Read more...]

Curiosity as a Purpose of Life

One of the most common questions religious believers ask atheists is where we find purpose in life, what makes our existence meaningful and worthwhile. I've written about this subject on Ebon Musings, but I want to add to my answer. Both atheists and theists can give the usual answer of wanting to do good in the world, helping our fellow human beings and so on, but I've realized that atheists can offer another answer, something that believers genuinely can't say: atheists are inspired to go on … [Read more...]

Evolution Isn’t a Moral Theory (Except When It Is)

A Review of When Atheism Becomes Religion, Part IAt the beginning of chapter 2, Chris Hedges says that science is a "morally neutral discipline" (p.45) which offers potential for both good and evil. He goes on to assert:Evolution is a biological theory that helps us grasp descent, with modification, within living species. It is not a theory about economic systems, government, morality, ethics or the behavior of nations. [p.46]So far, so good - there's nothing in that paragraph that I … [Read more...]

Reengineering Human Nature: Dogmatism

The Problem: Human beings are stubborn creatures, set in our ways, resistant to changing our minds once we've made a decision. Religious groups publish creeds which they believe must be taken on faith and should be maintained against all contrary evidence - and they consider the ability to do that a virtue, rather than a character flaw. Even when dramatic disconfirmation comes, such as the apocalypse failing to occur on a predicted date, a common response is for believers to become even more … [Read more...]

The God of the Reptile Brain

Evolution is a blind tinkerer, lacking the foresight of human engineers. Rarely, if ever, does it discard established designs and start over fresh, even when that would be more efficient. Instead, it builds on and around past adaptations, using the old as a foundation for the new. This is true throughout the biosphere, and it's especially true of one of the most complex structures ever evolved, the human brain. The physical architecture of the mind shows, through and through, the evolutionary … [Read more...]

Reengineering Human Nature: Pride

The Problem: According to Christianity and other monotheistic religions, pride is the deadliest sin. Taking excessive pleasure in yourself and your own talents and accomplishments is the surest way to end up condemned. I personally don't agree with the extreme view that pride is the worst possible character flaw - when properly harnessed, it's an important driver of individual effort and achievement - but I do agree that excessive pride is a problem common to human nature.Most dictators and … [Read more...]

Reengineering Human Nature: Selfishness

The Problem: Nearly all the world's religions teach that we should be generous to the poor and needy, and warn that greed and selfishness are destructive sins. "For the love of money is the root of all evil" (1 Timothy 6:10).But this principle is rarely honored, even by the religious leaders who supposedly believe it. Catholic popes and bishops, as well as many Protestant preachers and televangelists, live in opulence and luxury and possess vast amounts of wealth: ornate mansions, private … [Read more...]

Reengineering Human Nature: Violence

The Problem: Many religions, including Christianity, teach that unjustified anger and violence are sins that risk the offender's eternal soul. The Ten Commandments order people not to murder - usually a crime committed in the throes of anger - while Jesus says that even a momentary outburst of anger can lead to damnation: "But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca [an Aramaic … [Read more...]