TV Review: Cosmos, Episode 11


(I've decided to review the new Cosmos series hosted by Neil deGrasse Tyson that's airing on Fox. If you missed it, you can stream full episodes online.)Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, Episode 11, "The Immortals"As the new Cosmos approaches its final episode, it's about time that the series started looking back on the ground it's covered and drawing some larger lessons. This episode accomplished that, and while it treads into more speculative territory than earlier outings, I think that's … [Read more...]

The Rising of the Sun


In most of the Western world, today is Christmas Day. We rationalists know that, despite the meandering of the calendar and all the religious mythology that's become encrusted on it, this date was first chosen for its astronomical significance. The winter solstice is an inflection point, after which ancient people knew dark days would brighten and long nights would dwindle as the sun returned. That's what we're really celebrating, and all the "Keep Christ in Christmas" signs in the world won't … [Read more...]

Dispatches from Future America: World Reaches Zero-Fossil-Fuel Milestone

[Editor's Note: It's happening again. I hadn't gotten any of these messages since last year, and I was starting to hope that the wormhole, or whatever strange conduit it was, had closed for good. But once again, in my inbox this morning, there it was: the same anonymous remailer, the same untraceable IP address, and yet another message presenting itself as a news dispatch from a possible future version of our world. Is it truly what it claims to be, and if so, how did it end up in this era? … [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...]

The Coming Atheist Demographic Tide

The WIN-Gallup International network of polling firms has released a new poll titled Global Index of Religion and Atheism 2012, and there's a lot of good news in it for us. Some of these results are so encouraging, I hesitate to believe them without additional confirmation - but if they bear out, they show that atheism is rising all around the world like the tide coming in! The highlight of the survey was Ireland. One of the questions was, "Irrespective of whether you attend a place of worship … [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...]

We Have an Unfair Advantage

When it comes to debating the merits of religion, we atheists have an unfair advantage. Lately, almost every day when I go to work, there are Jehovah's Witnesses in the subway station. I see them in the morning and the evening, two or three of them sitting on folding chairs in the sweltering, grimy heat, holding up Watchtower magazines and pamphlets to the rush of disinterested commuters. I think I've seen someone engage them maybe once or twice, either to talk or to debate, but 95% of the time … [Read more...]

On Getting Through the Dry Spells

If you ask anyone who knows me, I like to think they'd tell you that I'm a generally optimistic and cheerful person. But these past few weeks, I've felt like I've been going through a dry spell. I've been restless, gloomy, and much more irritable and pessimistic than usual. No matter where I physically go, mentally I feel like I'm somewhere in the middle of the desert. And I don't think I'm alone in this: it seems to me that a similar dark cloud is hanging over the secular community. There are … [Read more...]

The Millennials: America’s Secular Future

I had a run-in with an old adversary lately, and after I've sent him on his way, I always feel compelled to point out some of the hopeful things he never mentions. This post is about one of those things. In recent posts, I've expressed my disillusionment with the Democrats. But whatever the current state of politics in America - and I'm not denying that it's depressing and infuriating by turns - the long-term trends look very good for us. One of the brightest of these trends is the rise in … [Read more...]