The Contributions of Freethinkers: Gene Roddenberry

As a wedding present to ourselves, my wife and I bought the DVDs of the original Star Trek, and these past few months, we've been working our way through them. For myself, it was a test: I hadn't seen most of these episodes since my childhood, and I was curious to see if they held up. I'm pleased to say that, for the most part, they more than hold their own. There's plenty to criticize, but after all this time, it hasn't lost its charm.Despite everything that makes me roll my eyes about Star … [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...]

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...]

Reengineering Human Nature: Lust

The Problem: According to the commandments of the major religions, God expects humans to have only a single lifelong romantic partner and to remain sexually faithful to them: "Thou shalt not commit adultery" (Exodus 20:14).Yet, as any given week of tabloid headlines will tell you, humans aren't naturally wired for monogamy. Even after we're married or in a monogamous relationship, the sex drive continues functioning, often producing strong feelings of attraction and lust for people other than … [Read more...]

Reengineering Human Nature

"For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would."—Galatians 5:17"In order to cure most of the ills of human life, I require not that man should have the wings of the eagle, the swiftness of the stag, the force of the ox, the arms of the lion, the scales of the crocodile or rhinoceros; much less do I demand the sagacity of an angel or cherubim. I am contented … [Read more...]

Apotheosis

Last month, in "Dreams of a Better World", I considered some of the immediate problems humanity could solve if we had the collective will to do so. I want to continue that theme in this post, but from a longer perspective.Historically, humanity's knowledge has exceeded its wisdom. As soon as we invent a new technology, we begin adopting it on a wide scale, without asking whether we should or what the consequences might be. Many of our most pressing problems - multidrug-resistant diseases, … [Read more...]

Dreams of a Better World

As I've written in the past, I'm an optimist when it comes to human progress: I'm confident that we can overcome the problems that beset us. This isn't to say that I think our triumph is inevitable, or even that optimism is the only possible position for a rational person to take. There are plenty of reasons to despair, for those who seek them out. Nevertheless, I think there's one major, counterbalancing reason for hope, and that reason is this.Simply stated, our greatest dangers are not … [Read more...]

What I Want For Christmas

In 1897, Robert Ingersoll wrote "What I Want for Christmas". This short essay was a holiday wish list for humankind in the coming year, one that showcased both the great freethinker's wit and his compassion.All well and good, but we can now look back at this piece from a century later and see how it's fared. Happily, some of Ingersoll's wishes have been fulfilled, but others are still awaiting fruition. This being so, I think it would be worthwhile to update Ingersoll's wish list, to highlight … [Read more...]