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Reading Jonathan Haidt as a “New Atheist” December 5, 2012

Posted by shaunphilly in Culture and Society, Religion.
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A week ago I wrote a quick post about how I was reading Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind, and quoted a bit from early on in the book.  I am nearly done the book (I have one chapter left), and although I liked much of the early book and think that some of what he thinks about the relationship between our moral instincts and subsequent rationalizations of them are worth reading, I must conclude that i am not on-board with Haidt’s approach to religion, especially his criticisms of the “New Atheists.”

In chapter 11, Religion is a Team Sport, Haidt tries to deconstruct the new atheist approach, following on his anti-worshiping of reason from earlier in the book, and says we need to address religion for what is is (a group selected set of community-building institutions) rather than what it is not (a set of beliefs, ideas, etc).  He thinks that our attention to beliefs as motivators for action is too simplistic, and points out that “belonging” has to be placed along with belief and action, in the matrix of religious behavior.

Well, yes of course it does!

I don’t need to get into the details of what is wrong with the book, at least in terms of the criticism of the new atheists, because that has already been done:

Sam Harris has some thoughts about Haidt’s treatment of morality, as well as how beliefs inform our actions.

PZ Myers has thoughts about Haidt’s relationship to the Templeton Foundation, and thus to accommodationism in general.

Als0, Helian has a good critique which points to another good critique from the New York Times by William Saletan.

I agree that there are parts of the book which are quite worth-while.  I did just get it from my local library, after all, and didn’t spend a cent to read it.  If you are interested in moral psychology, evolutionary psychology, and group selection (whether or not you agree with any of those research areas specifically), then I suggest reading at least the first several chapters.

But what was most telling was that Haidt kept on talking about the difference between what makes a group work well and what does not.  His conclusion is that religion makes groups work well, at least for members of the group.  Atheists who ask us to leave religion, as individuals or as a species, risk losing what Haidt sees as the glue that can hold us together.

Haidt is seemingly unfamiliar (due to lack of mention) with any new atheist thoughts past 2007 or so (the book was published in 2012).  Perhaps the problem is that he is unaware that many atheists have been working, especially in the last 2-3 years, on building up an atheist community.  No, we may not have anything sacred (not even science), but we are working on creating a sense of what it means to be skeptical, non-religious, and living in a world with potential for beauty and terrible atrocity.

Religion is not the only force for group-cohesion, even if it has the advantage of having sacred spaces, authority, and thus loyalty (what Haidt identifies as primarily conservative values).  I believe that care, a concern for fairness/ justice, and a sense of liberty (what Haidt identifies as what liberals tend to prioritize) are means to creating community as well.  We do not need to give up a concern for what is true (a value Haidt does not list, interestingly, especially because it is a high value for many new atheists, including myself) in order to create shared group identities.

Haidt, an atheist himself, is not connected to the atheist community.  Perhaps if he was, then his arguments would not be so poor.  Perhaps we should invite him to the party?


Pwning Bill O’Reilly’s Christian Philosophy November 29, 2012

Posted by shaunphilly in Religion, Skepticism and atheism.
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This hit the interwebs today

Now, this is not the first time Bill O’Reilly and Dave Silverman have met up to create fireworks.  Remember the tides thing?  I do not know how much of Bill O’Reilly’s on-air personality is an act, or if he really believes what he says in segments such as these, but the things he says are believed by many people, perhaps (in some cases) because Bill O’Reilly says them.

So, O’Reilly claims that Christianity is not a religion, but is a philosophy instead.  This is no different than the dozens of times I have heard Christians claim that their relationship with Jesus/God is not a religion, because religion is man-man and this is the truth.

Let’s start by granting that mere philosophical symbols and ideas are fair to display in government space.  Much of what the Framers of the Constitution were doing, after all, is political and moral philosophy.  Go to the Jefferson memorial and read the walls; that’s  philosophy.  Seeing images and carvings of Plato, Aristotle, or even religious and historically significant characters (such as Moses or Hammurabi) on government buildings is commonplace, because these figures play a part in our culture’s history—but so does religion, right? So what’s the difference?

A Buddhist Christmas?

OK, so let’s consider a non-Christian ideology such as Buddhism, which is fundamentally philosophical in many respects but also has many of the characteristics of a religion, especially where it is mythologized and supernatural components are included.  Would an image of the Buddha, with some quotes from his attributed sayings, be fair game on government property? More relevant here, would Bill O’Reilly have an issue with such displays?

I do not knows what O’Reilly would think here, but my guess is he would be OK with it so long as it does not get in the way of his traditions.  So long as Buddhists were not trying to usurp his holiday traditions, I don’t think he’d care.  But should secular-minded people care? Should I care?

This is tricky, because the distinction between philosophy and religion is thin in many traditions, Buddhism included.  I would say that insofar as any message on government property is not giving privileged or unequal support for any of the mythological, ritualistic, and supernatural aspects of any philosophy or religion, then there is no problem from a secularist’s point of view.  That is, so long as Buddhisms presence in such spaces leans towards its philosophical roots, and not its specifically religious traditions, then I don’t think there is an issue.

But we’ll worry about that when Buddhists start becoming anything near a majority.  So, probably never.

Unlike Buddhism, however, Christianity is clearly a religion.  Yes, it contains elements of philosophy, but I am not sure any religious traditions do not include philosophical ideas.  But the essential component to the overwhelming majority of Christian theologies is the relationship between humankind and “God.”  Christianity is not a mere collection of rational concepts or methods about finding what is true, beautiful, or wise, it is a set of metaphysical claims about the nature of the universe which has many traditional rituals, stories, and moral teachings.

The major distinction here is the presence of theology.  Theology is a type of philosophy–the religious kind–and so if a tradition has a theology it is clearly a religion.

To claim that Christianity is a philosophy is to amputate a significant portion of what it does for believers.  Where a thinker such as Plato used logic and dialogue to make propositions and criticisms about ideas, Christianity does this but it does so much more.  To imply that Jesus was just a philosopher is to say he was just a man with mere ideas about the world.  This view removes the divine messages including the metaphysical significance of the (supposed) sacrifice and makes concepts such as eternal life, eternal punishment, or even ultimate meaning impotent.

Wait…does that mean that this segment of his show reveals that Bill O’Reilly does not believe all of the mythological and metaphysical components of Christianity? Does that make O’Reilly some sort of humanist?  Because if he does not think that Christianity is not religious (thus has nothing to do with supernatural claims) then why all the god-talk?

Again, I think this claim that Christianity is a philosophy is part of a set of cultural/apologetic moves to distinguish Christianity from mere religion.  It usually takes the form of “I have a relationship with Jesus/God, and religion is a man-made lie!” In this case, O’Reilly seems to be doing something similar.  “Christianity,” he might say, “is not a man-made mere religion, it is the true philosophy given to us by god.”  Well, if so, Papa Bear, then that makes it a religion.

I don’t think Bill O’Reilly has thought this through, so let’s consider him appropriately pwned.

Abolishing Resolution 58-10 (Winter displays in West Chester, PA) November 28, 2012

Posted by shaunphilly in Religion, Skepticism and atheism.
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Commissioner Terence Farrell


There is a public meeting in West Chester tomorrow morning at 10:00 AM where people will be able to speak on behalf of abolishing Resolution 58-10.  Here’s the information:

313 W. Market St.
West Chester, 19380

6th floor

Margaret Downey has just sent out a request for help concerning the issue of displays, including the Tree of Knowledge, at the West Chester courthouse.  Here is her request:

We have one and a half days to flood the office of Commissioner Terence Farrell with messages asking him to abolish Resolution 58-10. He is voting on Thursday afternoon so we need people to immediately request that he allow other displays on the grounds of the Chester County Courthouse. We want the Commissioners to give us back our Free Speech Zone.

Here is the contact information for Commissioner Farrell who is the swing vote. Please contact Farrell’s office — no matter where you live. Say that if a Tree of Knowledge display was allowed back on the grounds, you would travel to West Chester to see it. This will bring money into the community and proves that the Commissioners understand the diversity of the community! Get passionate about your rights and freedom of expression. Please act now.

Commissioner Terence Farrell
313 West Market Street
Suite 6202
West Chester, PA  19380
610.344.5995 (fax)

Carol Everhart Roper has an article up about this as well, which also links to  the petition (which is now closed).  Still, we have an opportunity to change some minds, if we act now.

Jonathon Haidt on preferences and morality November 28, 2012

Posted by shaunphilly in Culture and Society, Religion.
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Saying ” because I don’t want to” is a perfectly acceptable justification for one’s subjective preferences.  Yet moral judgments are not subjective statements; they are claims that somebody did something wrong.  I can’t call for the community to punish you simply because I don’t like what you’re doing.  I have to point to something outside of my own preferences, and that pointing is our moral reasoning.  We do moral reasoning not to reconstruct the actual reasons why we ourselves came to a judgment; we reason to find the best possible reasons why somebody else ought to join us in our judgment.

This is from page 44 of Jonathon Haidt’s book, The Righteous Mind which I am currently reading.

This idea is central to how I have been thinking about morality in recent years, at least in conjunction to ideas very much like those in Sam Harris’ The Moral Landscape.  I take it as axiomatic that preferences exist as the basis for much of our opinions, whether they be about politics, sex, religion, etc.  I realize that our values are not chosen, but are the result of fundamental emotional/pre-conscious processes which we don’t have immediate or easy access to.

But when it comes to things like public policy, especially when it comes to things like sexual orientation, I recognize that there is a significant burden on those who seek to limit personal freedoms which derive from our fundamental preferences and desires.  Religion is a devastating vehicle for such preferences—preserving and sanctifying them—but it is but one example of the great-grandparent of all vehicles for such things; culture.  Culture is not good or bad, per se, but it carries traditions and concepts which we put there, often without knowing why.  Culture is the storage space for all of our un-chosen fears, hopes, and everything in between.

It may be one of the great ironies of the human condition that we have to be willing to reject the specific preferences that we have for the sake of personal rights of others.  I say it’s ironic, because those same sets of preferences are the bases by which we rationalize morality at all; our personal preferences are the bases for enlightened self-interest, the golden rule, etc.  If we didn’t share the universal sets of personal preferences, then morality would not be relevant because we would feel no compulsion towards any particular action, let alone compassion.  It is because we care about our own preferences that we can, and feel compelled to, care about the preferences of others.

I cannot change, and did not choose, that I am sexually attracted to women rather than men (overwhelmingly, anyway), any more than another person cannot change that they are attracted to men, all genders, etc.  Thus, the same desires I  have to create various levels of intimacy and commitment with women are analogous to the desires that gay, bisexual, pansexual, asexual, and even sapiosexual people have for the subjects of their desires.  My preferences are mine, and their preferences are theirs.  When put next to each other and looked at inter-subjectively,  no subjective preferences have a privileged status and all must be given equal initial weight (my like of John Rawls will be apparent here).  Thus, gay marriage is as much a right as any other form of marriage between consenting adults, because my preference for women is no more inter-subjectively valid than a preference for men and so forth.

Cultural tradition (specifically religion), the storage space for those bigoted fears, disgusts, and shames concerning homosexuality, are not sufficient reasons to create discriminatory policies against some forms of those desires for intimacy and commitment.

We have our preferences, but those preferences cannot inform, on their own, how we create policies that affect other people, at least in cases where no non-consenting victim exists.  And we have to keep in mind that as we dig into our minds (in the sense of Nietzsche’s concept of being archaeologists of the soul), we may find that preferences can change, and that we may grow new ones as we grow and learn.  Because while we may not choose our preferences, we can at least expose our mind to new ways of seeing issues which may alter the way our unconscious mind prefers to react.

Pay attention to your immediate and unconscious reactions.  Be mindful of feelings of disgust, shame, and fear in the site of things which we cannot find reasons to feel disgusted, shameful, or fearful of.  Sometimes interesting facts emerge while probing our preferences.  And sometimes our preferences, and thus our values, are actually just wrong and will need to be replaced, if that’s possible.

For the sake of our species I hope that values can be replaced.  But if not, I hope that we can at least convince people who have those damaging preferences that they should accept that their preferences will not become laws to govern all.



Charlie Jane Anders Should Read More Atheists November 27, 2012

Posted by Within Reason in Culture and Society, Religion, Skepticism and atheism.
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Editorial Note: This post was written by Wes Fenza, long before the falling out of our previous quint household and the subsequent illumination of his abusive behavior, sexual assault of several women, and removal from the Polyamory Leadership Network and banning from at least one conference. I have left Wes’ posts  here because I don’t believe it’s meaningful to simply remove them. You cannot remove the truth by hiding it; Wes and I used to collaborate, and his thoughts will remain here, with this notice attached.



Charlie Jane Anders, a writer for one of my favorite nerd blogs, io9, wrote a post today called Why Smug Atheists Should Read More Science Fiction. The post, to be as charitable as I can, is total crap. Anders starts out by saying

You can’t be on Twitter these days without being bombarded with atheistic smugness. You know what I mean. People who can’t just profess that they don’t believe in God — they have to taunt religious people for believing in “fairy tales.” Or the Tooth Fairy. Most of the time, these are geeks who have immense respect for science… and yet, they won’t recognize a situation where they simply have no data, one way or the other.


The first problem here is that Anders is attacking an attitude without citing any examples, just saying “you know what I mean.” This is an almost guaranteed straw man, as it relies on the detractor’s characterization of the offending behavior with no room for interpretation.

The next problem, just with this paragraph alone, is that Anders characterizes equating religious belief with belief in fairy tales and/or the Tooth Fairy is “smug.” The problem is that religious belief is no more reasonable or supported by evidence as is belief in those other “ridiculous” things. In some ways, it makes more sense to believe in the Tooth Fairy, as parents often specifically set out to provide evidence for its existence. Anders just throws this out there like it’s obvious, instead of providing an argument or any reasons why religious believers shouldn’t be mocked for their ridiculous beliefs.

Third is the classic agnostic fallacy – we “simply have no data, one way or the other.” Wrong. We have a ton of data disproving a ton of religious beliefs. The only way you get to “we have no data” is by reference to a vague, squishy idea of “a higher power” which doesn’t necessarily do much of anything. Any time you get more specific than that, chances are there is some evidence against your belief. But that also ignores a central idea behind all reasonable thought – belief without evidence is unjustified. If we have no data for or against a proposition, the reasonable thing to do is to disbelieve it. The strength of a belief should be proportional to the strength of the evidence. If there is no evidence, there should be no belief, and anyone who has a belief is being unreasonable. Anders continues

A lot of the best science fiction includes a sense of wonder at the hugeness of the cosmos — and the flipside of that is a sense of our own smallness. And the humility that goes along with that. If you want to feel a real sense of quasi-religious awe, don’t think of the world as being 6,000 years old — think of its actual age, measured in billions of years, and the huge timescales of the universe before and after our world. And think of the vastness of the cosmos, whose mysteries we’ve only just begun to glimpse in the past century.

What now? Anders sounds like most of the often-called “smug” atheists I know of in this paragraph. Is Anders trying to suggest that atheists lack a sense of wonder at the universe? I’d say that Anders ought to take a look at The Magic of Reality before making unsourced assertions like that. Anders’ next point:

There’s a common plot in science fiction — particularly media SF — where someone is “seeing things” or having experiences that can’t be easily verified or quantified using technology. Like a sense of “deja vu,” or hearing voices, or seeing the missing-presumed-dead Captain Kirk floating around. And a huge problem in these stories is that nobody can really know what another person is experiencing, or whether it has any validity or is just a hallucination. Thus it is with religious experiences — other people can speak about their profound experiences of the divine, which seem immensely real to them, but may sound like a crazy delusion to the rest of us.

Is Anders seriously suggesting here that “smug” atheists aren’t aware of stories in which people seem crazy, but are later vindicated? Of course we’re aware of those stories. The reason we don’t immediately draw parallels to the people we know who seems crazy is that THESE ARE WORKS OF FICTION! Seriously, how dense do you have to be not to understand that? One of the common criticisms that “smug” atheists level at believers is that they can’t tell the difference between fiction and nonfiction. Anders seems to be proving that point. Anders closes with this:

Still, it’s great to be atheist — and I strongly support arguing publicly and loudly in favor of atheism as a point of view. Just, you know, don’t be smug about it. You don’t actually know any more than the rest of us, and the universe is a much stranger, more bewildering place than any of us can really begin to grasp, and the only thing that would be surprising is if we stop being constantly surprised. If you don’t believe me, just read some science fiction.

This is the paragraph that inspired the title of this post, in that it seems to me that Anders just doesn’t know any atheists. Almost all of the atheists that I know agree wholeheartedly that the universe is a strange, bewildering, and ultimately unknowable place. Our frustration is with religious believers who claim to know things that they cannot possibly know, based on holy books or intuition. It’s the atheists who are insisting that the universe is a giant mystery, and the believers who claim that they have it all figured out. Atheism is nothing more that the belief that the idea of “god” is unsupported by the available evidence. Anders should actually speak to a few atheists before painting them with such a broad brush.

Tree of Knowledge Event December 1st in West Chester, PA, with some historical context. November 15, 2012

Posted by shaunphilly in Culture and Society, Religion, Skepticism and atheism.
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It’s beginning to look a lot like…Discrimination?

Margaret Downey helping to decorate the Tree of Knowledge in 2008

Over the least few years, the Freethought Society, led by Margaret Downey, has been involved in an effort to include atheists, humanists, and other secular people in the public holiday display area of the West Chester courthouse.  It is this very courthouse that, in early 2002, I first met Margaret Downey during the court case of whether the 10 Commandment plaque  would remain displayed there.  It still remains in place, due to it being historical since it was on the wall for 80 years.  In other words, nobody complained for many years and so it became a part of the building’s history.  What I learned from this was to complain more about violations of the church/state separation, so that this squirmy legal reasoning cannot become valid.

Starting in 2007, The Freethought Society has tried to maintain seasonal inclusion by participating in the placing of holiday displays on the court grounds, and for some years we were allowed to participate in the mostly conservative county.   The tree’s lights were vandalized a few times that first year, but it ultimately remained and the new tradition was continued the next couple of years.  In 2009, some interviews sprung up about the event, which include some video about how the tree was decorated and a little more about the history of the idea.

2010 Human Tree of Knowledge

But then in 2010, the Commissioners rejected the request to be included in the displays, and so Margaret got to work on an alternative plan; a human Tree of Knowledge, which doubled as a protest and momentary display.  The same thing happened in 2011, and now in 2012 we are left in the same situation.  The Commissioners still refuse to allow a Tree of Knowledge on the courthouse grounds, while still including the traditional Christmas and Hanukkah displays.

So, because of this continuing discrimination in West Chester, PA, Margaret Downey and many members and friends of the Freethought Society will be gathering on Saturday, December 1st 2012 in order to create a human Tree of Knowledge.  The courthouse is in the middle of West Chester, at 2 High Street, and the event will start at 3:00 PM.  

I plan on being there, and we would love to see as many people as possible come out to show your support for a great organization and to protest a discriminatory decision by the West Chester Commissioners.

Conservative Butthurt November 7, 2012

Posted by shaunphilly in Culture and Society, Religion, Skepticism and atheism.
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I just made the mistake of perusing a few wordpress blogs which were tagged with politics.  There were more than a few who were lamenting the death of America, the loss of freedom, and the inevitable decline of our civilization in general.  We liberal, godless, perverts are going to ruin everything! Oh wait, I mean we are going to help and make it better, just not for them.

I know I am partisan here, but I cannot comprehend how stupid conservatives can be.  Not all conservatives are stupid, obviously, but I cannot comprehend how people who lived through the last several years have these absurd views (you know, the kind I parodied 2 days ago) about how socialist and terrible Obama is.  The fact is that he’s a moderate, a conservative Democrat, who takes pragmatic approaches to problems.  Yes, he does support some idealistic things which I agree with, like gay marriage, but he’s really pretty moderate and takes evidence-based approaches to lots of issues.  You know, the opposite of how the Republican Party has operated in recent decades.

I am hopeful that the conservatives whose butts are hurting right now, lamenting their slow but sure loss of socio-political control (often mixed with racism, misogyny, and many other effects of privilege), will become less and less prevalent in our culture in the next couple of decades.  I’m hoping that the efforts of skeptics and other forces for progress will have a positive affect on our social, cultural, and political world.  I am a bit skeptical, cynical even, that it will happen without lots of death-throws from the right, but it must happen if we are to survive and create a culture worthy of wanting to defend.

So, you Tea Partying, neo-con, far right theocracy/patriarchy toting morons out there, get over it and grow up.  Your privilege has been showing )except for to yourself), and you need to get out of your mental cave.  Your god is an illusion, your patriarchy is divisive and harmful, your misogyny hateful, and your traditions are often absurd and destructive.

I’ll be as clear as I can; you are on the losing side of history, and are hurting the world around you, including yourself.

Obamapocalypse Now (Long live the Communist State!) November 6, 2012

Posted by shaunphilly in Culture and Society, Religion, Skepticism and atheism.
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So, here at the PolySkeptic Compound, we have been Obama supporters.  Personally, I had a few issues with Obama over the last few years, but that was a necessary evil because we needed to wait for the right time.  But now things are really going to change, and I would like to be the first to present to you what we, here at PolySkeptic.com, have been planning.

Now that Obama does not have to worry about getting re-elected, he will be able to pull out all the stops and stop pandering to the middle, and even to the mere ‘left’.  It’s been quite hard for our secret godless cabal to plan the future without being caught, but let me be the one to tell you what is coming (I won the lottery at the last meeting, so I get to break the story, and details will follow over the next few weeks).

You see, for years the atheist movement has been working hard, behind the scenes, to build up a new political endeavor which will finally destroy god, freedom, and personal responsibility.  We have been meeting with the Obama campaign, the Socialist party, Communist party, and some others who will come to light son enough, and just last night we received official confirmation from those close to Obama that we are finally ready to strike tonight, after Obama wins the election.

Over the next few months, Congress and the Judiciary will be weakened before Obama will be named the GREAT CZAR for life, and the great Marxist plot to take over the world will finally truly begin (after a few failed attempts, mind you).  Within 6 months, we will officially be the Communist States of America (CSA), and the reckoning will follow.

We will finally unleash the goons on the churches of the land (but not the mosques, for they are actually secret atheist organizations, as Mohammad planned all along, unknown to the uninitiated) and destroy all things godly, and begin the new era of Muslim, atheist, communist dictatorship…I mean utopia.

All of those who have been fearing the loss of a free America, free markets, the 2nd Amendment, etc were right, and if they are smart they will take to the forests now where their stockpiles of weapons are stashed.  Not that it will matter, because when we unleash the robot army, their weapons will be useless.  With our mastery of Science, and all of the power and control that we can unleash with our mind-controlling chemicals in airplane chemtrails (all we need to do now is release the catalyst chemicals) and our re-education centers (some call it ‘brainwashing,’ but I find that crass), we will be unstoppable.

And the Tea Party and all the other right wing nut jobs who survive? They will be rounded up and forced to live in a new city (which we have built in secret) called Galt’s Gulch, where they will receive no help from the State, and will be left alone to be independent, responsible for themselves, and free to do whatever they want without regulation.  They will not be allowed to leave the city, of course (because they wouldn’t like what is outside anyway, so why would they want to), but they should be happy in their free market, non-nanny state that they want so badly.  They can be free to pursue wealth with shitty roads and infrastructure (with no taxes, how could they pay for them, right?), no regulation to protect them from sociopathic industry leaders, and all the stupid gods they can pray to for help.

A view from the nearly completed “Douchebag Tower” in Galt’s Gulch, location TBA soon!

Oh, it will be glorious here in the Communist States of America! No churches, praying finally outlawed, and freedom curtailed to keep everyone safe from things like guns, the 1%, and freedom.  And best of all, we will force the few extremely wealthy people we allow to remain around to finance our easy lives of sitting around watching gay porn and having debaucherous parties, at least until they run out of money.  And once they run out of money, we’ll send them into Galt’s Gulch to try and become wealthy again, and then raid the banks ofthat very city to re-finance our lifestyles without doing more than the minimal amount of work.  Great Czar Barack Hussein Obama truly is a genius!

The future utopia will be just like Rome!

In the new CSA, gay marriage will not only be legal but you will have to, by law, marry someone of the same gender as you.  And you must consummate that marriage at least once a month!  And we will be watching, so you better do it because we’ll know if you don’t.  But don’t worry, you will also be able to marry someone else, or like 15 other people if you like, and have your kinky three-ways and four-ways if that’s what you are into…which you better be!  Monogamy will obviously be illegal, punishable by threat of being thrown into the orgy pit; the kinky, leather, bondage orgy pit where the safe words must be guessed, and change daily.  Good luck!

We will all praise Darwin, PZ Myers (Freethought Blogs in general, actually, as their word is Truth, and always will be), and one other ‘saint’ (we will re-appropriate this word) of atheism of your choosing (from our approved list, of course), and you will have to give 6.66% of your social efforts (since money will be replaced by hugs, kisses, and hot, hot sex) to the great Science Altar where we will force children to be indoctrinated, I mean taught, about Evolution.

Concerning the Truth of Darwinism, we will all now capitalize Evolution and speak reverently, always, of Darwin.  For these are the Great Words of reverence which will never be questioned.  Creationists will be left in cages in public squares to be laughed at and there will be tomatoes present, if you feel the need to throw something at them.  And you WILL feel compelled to throw things at them, if you love the Great Czar.

All churches will become this, or an orgy center.

Any praying, worshiping of gods, or even saying the word “Jesus” will be punishable by reprogramming at the Science Altar’s sister organization, the Ministry of Truth (AKA Pharyngula).  There, we will decide what is true, so that you can know, and any other attempts at truth will become illegal.  All Bibles will be burned, all crosses taken down, and all other religious symbols confiscated and destroyed along with all evidence that such a person as Jesus ever existed.  Over time, Christianity will be forgotten, and Islam will be revealed as the atheist cult that it has been all this time.  All the other religions? Well, they never seemed to matter much in American politics anyway, so who cares, right?  They just better keep it that way.

So, tonight we celebrate the dawning of a new era, and the future belongs to the Great Czar Obama and his Communist State.  This New Progress (as it may be called by herstory) has been brought to you by the Gay Agenda (thanks guys, you really gave 100%), Feminism (who taught me, personally, that being a real man is not really important), the Liberal Elite Media (ah, the LEMings! we really could not have done it without you!), and, of course, the Atheists for a New Socialist America (because we are the ‘ANSA’, amirite?), who have been working along side many atheist bloggers, groups, and even us here at PolySkeptic (this is why posting has been infrequent, recently; we were planning for the Obamapocalypse).

Thanks you all. And Obama bless America.


[edit: This was all satire, based on stupid ideas that people have that Obama is a Communist/Socialist/Muslim, as well as ideas about atheists.  For some people, a few people were not sure how serious I was.  There’s your answer.]

Tim Muldoon is an Asshole October 14, 2012

Posted by Within Reason in Religion, Skepticism and atheism.
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Editorial Note: This post was written by Wes Fenza, long before the falling out of our previous quint household and the subsequent illumination of his abusive behavior, sexual assault of several women, and removal from the Polyamory Leadership Network and banning from at least one conference. I have left Wes’ posts  here because I don’t believe it’s meaningful to simply remove them. You cannot remove the truth by hiding it; Wes and I used to collaborate, and his thoughts will remain here, with this notice attached.





I recently read a post on the Patheos Catholic channel called I Believe In One God by Tim Muldoon. In it, Muldoon makes a good point that atheists make all the time:

thinking about God is limiting in the way that Nietzsche intuited: inevitably the god that emerges from our thinking is little more than a creation of our imagination. We create gods in our own image.

Does Muldoon take this to mean that there probably is no God? Of course not. Does he make the conclusion that, even if there is a God, it would be impossible to know anything about such a being, so attempts to follow God’s Will are misguided and foolish? No. Instead, he points to the real villain – thinking:

For as wonderful as thinking can be, it is still a rather small tool…. Jesus reminds us that ultimately thinking is not the aim of faith; rather, living in love is, which he described with the metaphor of “the Kingdom of God.” At the end of the day, when I put down books with ponderous titles, having wrestled with great thinkers who try anew to stretch our imagination and our knowledge of the world, I get up from my desk and am immersed in a world that is in desperate need of rigorously thought-through love. If love is real, and if anything we do in this vale of tears carries with it the possibility of meaning or beauty, then it is because God is present throughout it.

Muldoon, having rightly pointed out that God cannot be intellectually understood, pivots to say that the way to square that circle is just to stop thinking and have faith.

Presumably, Muldoon means having faith in the same things that he (Muldoon) has faith in. Things like if a woman enjoys sex outside of a relationship, she’s not being the person God created her to be. Things like gay marriage is bad for society. He even picks a fight with in vitro fertilization, of all things.

While Muldoon himself points out that even if he exists, knowing the mind of God is impossible, he still manages to hold orthodox Christian views on pretty much every social issue. And when it’s pointed out to him that this doesn’t make sense, he finds a great solution: just stop thinking.

God Who? October 12, 2012

Posted by shaunphilly in Culture and Society, Religion, Skepticism and atheism.
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So, there’s this:

OK, so first of all the doorway to the polyskeptic compound is totally not in the shape of the TARDIS.

If you drive around New Jersey long enough, you will see this door. If you do, don’t stalk me.

OK, it is, but that does not mean that the house is bigger on the inside.  But the house can travel through time and space! …although only forward in time at the usual rate and in space only relative to things like cars, people, and so forth which move around and through it.

There are a couple of issues with the video above, such as the definition of religion used is not universally accepted, but I think it would be somewhat silly to seriously criticize such a video made with at least one tongue implanted in some cheek somewhere.

OK, so that sounds like it might be sexual, but I guarantee I’m only slightly turned on right now (and that has more to do with the TARDIS; it’s bigger on the inside.  That’s what she said).

OK, terrible jokes aside, I am sure that under some definitions of religion, some people I’ve met might classify as Whovian-cultists or someshit.  After all, a cult is really just a religion that is not Christianity, right? (It pains me to reference Matt Slick, so I feel like I need to balance that out with this video of a discussion between Matt Slick and Matt Dillahunty about the transcendental argument for god, or TAG).

Two sexy Doctors, a Dalek, and even Jack Harkness participating in the traditional Whovian ritual of being drunk.

OK, so Doctor Who, in conjunction with its fan-base, might be thought of as a religion.  I have never thought of it that way, but I also think that one part of what makes something a religion is the acceptance, or belief, that the object of reverence is real.

And then I wonder how “real” the people who created texts in ancient times about gods, creation, etc thought the stories were.  I think part of what makes mythology interesting is realizing that for many people, throughout many eras, didn’t have the same distinction between reality and myth, nor did they have a solid meaning of reality which we would recognize.  In other words, it may be the case that many people who have religious beliefs are not thinking about “truth” or “reality” using empirical or skeptical concepts of either of those terms.

Certainly, people can take those mythological ideas and subsequently think of them as real in our modern sense, but the fact that they end up there does not necessarily mean they started there.  There is the question, for example, of whether many of the New Testament books were closer to literature than history (I would recommend Tom Verenna’s blog for more about that), and whether many scriptures from around the world are even comparable to any sort of skeptical inquiry.  It may be that Jesus was a character of inspiration for first century Palestine in a similar way as the Doctor is an inspiration for many people now, all over the world.

And this is the point where some people will point at me and be like ‘See! You admit that religion is not to be taken literally, so your criticisms of them as if they are literal beliefs is shown to be wrong-headed,’ or something similar.  The problem here is two-fold.

First, in many cases people do take mythology as real in the sense I mean it; as in it describes the actual world and they simply are wrong about the facts.  Second, the fact that some people do not think of things this way shows where they are going awry in not understanding that we have a reliable methodology for knowing things about the world, and that mythologizing the world is not a means to understanding, but obfuscation, parochialism, and ultimately a worldview based not on what’s real but rather what is comfortable or even non-confrontational.

Unfortunately, many postmodernist approaches to the world are much closer to those who mythologize the world, which is why, I think, many (secular) progressive intellectuals tend towards liberal theology or at least show deference to such liberal theologies.  Karen Armstrong, for example, has talked about ‘God’ without concern for whether such a thing exists, as if that was not even relevant.  While I appreciate some of the contributions of postmodernism in philosophy, the tendency towards anti-realism, as opposed to realism, in the philosophy of science and in metaphysics has always been a bane for me.

Art and religion

So, The Doctor is not real.  But the show can be a source for thinking about the nature of the world, our choices and their consequences, and so forth.  It’s a living mythology, of sorts, which many draw inspiration from.  But is that inspiration, entertainment, and possible edification spiritual? Is it a religious experience?

As a person who has never believed in supernatural realities, but who has had experiences that seem similar to the descriptions of spiritual/religious experiences, I would say that there is some gray area here.  Where I think I am likely to say no is that I think that these experiences are the result of art, and not religion per se.  Religion, the great usurper of all things human, has once again stepped in and claimed something as its own when it belongs to all of us, religious or not.

So, insofar as Doctor Who, or Star Wars, or Star Trek, or Shakespeare, or…you get the point.  So long as artistic expression invokes existential inspiration in us, it is art that has done it.  We need to stop associating these things with gods or spirits, because they are natural occurrences with no supernatural explanations necessary.

Where does this leave ‘religion’? Well, as we become more secular and educated as a species, I envision religion becoming conflated with artistic and ritual social ties which will probably never go away, even as their supernatural associations dissolve into the nothingness from which they came.  But we should not forget that those supernatural and irrational additions to the art we have created over time have been semantically tied to so many things, and that people will continue to associate nonsensical ontological concepts to everyday experiences, hopes, dreams, fears, etc.

Supernaturalism, theism, and even deism are irrational and even silly concepts which are clutching onto our art, even as they slowly die.  But the art, the inspiration, and the creativity of the human mind will continue long after the gods have all been forgotten.  So Doctor Who might be called a religion, but only in the loose and artistic sense that all that we do and love as humans is considered religious.  That is, in the watered down way that only seeks to distract us from what is truly irrational and dangerous about religion; faith.

When art turns into certainty, when creativity and inspiration is not checked by skepticism, is when it goes wrong for our art.  Because we can create illusory worlds to play in, but the imaginations of humanity are only for pretend and should not be guidelines from policy or morality without a skeptical check on their influence.  We need to leave faith behind because we don’t need to believe that our imaginings are real for them to be interesting.   Further, if we do believe they are real then we may be too unwilling, whether through reverence or fear, to make sure that they are rational.

So science and skepticism are not the source of all understanding, but they should be the arbiter of what we accept as true.  Art can inspire, entertain, and even teach us about the world, but we must make sure the lessons are actually true and not merely revere them unskeptically.

In other words, enjoy Doctor Who, and remember that he’s probably a better source of inspiration than Jesus.