The Milgram Obedience Experiment

Stanley Milgram. "Behavioral study of obedience." Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, vol. 67, no.4 (1963), p.371-378. In the 1960s, Stanley Milgram conducted one of the most important experiments ever done in the field of human psychology and social conformity. For ethical reasons, this study probably could not be repeated today, but that only makes it even more important to raise awareness of its findings. Milgram, a psychology professor at Yale University, recruited 40 male subjects … [Read more...]

Book Review: The God Part of the Brain

(Author's Note: The following review was solicited and is written in accordance with this site's policy for such reviews.) Summary: Contains many interesting ideas, but the informed reader will find much to take issue with. Atheist Matthew Alper's The God Part of the Brain seeks to explain the religiosity of humankind in terms of human evolution and the biology of conscious experience. Alper's hypothesis is that the increased intelligence that gave human beings an evolutionary advantage also … [Read more...]

Priming the Mind

In a previous post from Daylight Atheism titled "On Presuppositions" (all the way back in February 2006!), I wrote about how subconscious biases and prejudices, instilled in us by culture and surroundings, can exert a disturbingly measurable effect on our behavior. However, there is more to this story that deserves to be told. In the previous post, I wrote about persistent biases, those that are apparently supported and reinforced frequently enough over long enough periods of time to become … [Read more...]

No Messiahs

To judge by the narratives of our culture, an observer might well come to the conclusion that Homo sapiens was a race of fearless, free-spirited revolutionaries. History and mythology both religious and secular is filled with stories of the mavericks, the dissenters, the nonconformists who rebelled against an unjust and senseless system and "did it their way". However, this seeming admiration for dissent conceals the unsettling truth: Humanity is, and has always been, a race of followers. Ever … [Read more...]

Movie Review: The Da Vinci Code

I recently had an opportunity to see The Da Vinci Code, the movie based on Dan Brown's novel that alleges a sensational plot by the Catholic church to cover up the truth about the origins of Christianity. First things first: Yes, I did enjoy the movie, and I do recommend it. Without a doubt, its plot mixes historical fact, speculation and pure fantasy in a slipshod way, and anyone who believes events literally happened that way is taking it far too seriously and giving it credibility that it … [Read more...]

Book Review: Breaking the Spell

Daniel Dennett has written about free will, consciousness, the mind, evolution, and natural selection. In his latest book, Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon, he turns his attention to a new topic, the origin and role of religion in the human species. Although Dennett is avowedly an atheist, this book is not about whether God exists per se. Instead, it is more an exploration of how it came about, what purpose it served in the past and what purpose it serves today, and whether … [Read more...]

On Free Will V: Moral Responsibility

The last and arguably most important question of free will, one that is closely intertwined with the nature of choice, is the issue of moral responsibility. What is it that makes us responsible for what we do? Most traditional views, especially dualist views, hold that for a person to be morally responsible for an action they commit, they must have been able to choose a different course of action at the time. This belief is commonly held, but has rarely been examined. In this, the final part … [Read more...]

On Free Will IV: The Nature of Choice

What does it mean to make a choice? This question is at the heart of many of the debates over free will, and justifiably so. It may seem simple initially, but the more deeply one considers it, the knottier it becomes. The basic dilemma seems to be this: Every event that occurs either had sufficient cause to occur or it did not. If it did, then it seems choice has no part to play: the event happened because of that cause, and could not have failed to happen. But if it did not, then choice … [Read more...]

On Free Will III: Outsmarting the Prediction Machine

Clearly, what is immaterial in the human mind can influence the physical world, or our acts of will and understanding would be without effect. If our will is free these physical effects are not wholly predictable. —http://www.leaderu.com/ftissues/ft9511/revessay.html A merchant in Baghdad sent his servant to the market. The servant returned, trembling and frightened. The servant told the merchant, "I was jostled in the market, turned around, and saw Death." "Death made a threatening … [Read more...]

On Free Will II: Overthrowing Dualism

For most of human history, philosophers have believed that only the possession of an immaterial soul could confer free will on human beings. (There have been exceptions: the ancient Greek Stoics, for example.) This idea has fallen somewhat out of favor, but there are many theists who still hold to it. They are willing to concede that the universe we live in is an interwoven tapestry of cause and effect, but insist that we are special somehow, that we are an exemption. If free will truly … [Read more...]


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