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...]

World News Roundup


I can't write about every story that crosses my radar, as much as I'd like to. But so much that's noteworthy has been happening in the world lately, I'm overdue for a catch-up post.First, there's a glimmer of good news: the Dáil, the lower house of Ireland's Parliament, easily passed a bill that (slightly) relaxes the draconian, no-exceptions abortion ban that killed Savita Halappanavar. The upper house, the Seanad, still has to approve it, but since the government controls both houses by a … [Read more...]

Opposing Imperialism and Islamism


There was a searing editorial in the Times the other week, dictated by one of the men still being held prisoner at Guantanamo Bay. A hunger strike is spreading among the detainees there, which strikes me as an understandable response of men driven to despair by endless and indefinite imprisonment in a legal black hole. (The military authorities are retaliating with the barbaric and intensely painful measure of forced feeding.)When the accused Boston bomber Dzokhar Tsarnaev was captured, … [Read more...]

The Arc Is Bending, Continued


Last week, New Zealand legalized same-sex marriage, becoming the first country in the Asia-Pacific region to do so. In a video that should wring tears from the hardest heart, the spectators and Parliament burst into applause and cheers when the bill passed, then broke into song ("Pokarekare Ana", a famous love song in the language of the indigenous Maori).With this victory, New Zealand became the thirteenth country to pass marriage equality, just after Uruguay (!). In spite of the eighteen … [Read more...]

Why the New Atheism Isn’t Islamophobic


In the past few weeks, there's been a barrage of attacks on the so-called New Atheists, accusing them of inciting bigotry against Muslims or of fostering irrational hatred for Islam. This charge has been laid by Murtaza Hussein on Al Jazeera, Nathan Lean on Salon, and Glenn Greenwald on The Guardian, among others.Now, it's true that some high-profile New Atheists have made serious missteps when speaking about Islam. But it's equally true that New Atheism is a freewheeling, disputatious, … [Read more...]

The Shadow and the Flame


I've said it before, but it bears repeating: I'm an atheist because I consider myself a deeply moral person.If religion were just a collection of benign cultural practices, of special clothes and distinct cuisine and silly rituals on the weekends, I wouldn't spend so much time writing about it. I'd still consider beliefs about gods and the afterlife to be false, but I'd probably let it pass and find something more worthwhile to do with my life.But religion isn't benign. It's a cause … [Read more...]

Fighting War the Biblical Way

After several days, the fragile ceasefire in the latest iteration of Israel and Gaza's endless war is still holding. But while the bombs were falling, there was no shortage of voices calling for the battle to be escalated even further, like Gilad Sharon, son of the former Israeli Prime Minister, who wrote in an op-ed:"We need to flatten entire neighborhoods in Gaza. Flatten all of Gaza. The Americans didn't stop with Hiroshima - the Japanese weren't surrendering fast enough, so they hit … [Read more...]

Thoughts on the Embassy Attacks

As you've no doubt already heard, American embassies throughout the Middle East have been attacked by violent mobs in the last few days, ostensibly due to outrage over a YouTube video called "Innocence of Muslims" that lampoons the Prophet Mohammed as a blundering, deceitful fraud. At least one of the attacks, on the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya, was apparently an organized assault by Islamic militants who wanted it to seem like a spontaneous mob action. But the violence has been too … [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...]

Weekend Coffee: April 7

Here's what's in the news this week: • In these troubled economic terms, the Russian Orthodox church seems to be sensitive about their patriarch wearing a watch that costs 30,000 euros, which is why they tried to doctor a photo of him to hide the evidence. Unfortunately for them, they forgot to also edit out a reflection of the watch on his wrist. As I've said before, it's fortunate that most censors are unintelligent, unimaginative people. • In a story I definitely want to return to … [Read more...]