Well, ok, maybe just a LITTLE warming

The problem with trying to deny a worsening problem is that it becomes increasingly difficult to deny. And then what do you do? At Exxon, they’re trying the “admit it, but downplay it” approach.

ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson says fears about climate change, drilling, and energy dependence are overblown. In a speech Wednesday, Tillerson acknowledged that burning of fossil fuels is warming the planet, but said society will be able to adapt…

Tillerson blamed a public that is “illiterate” in science and math, a “lazy” press, and advocacy groups that “manufacture fear” for energy misconceptions in a speech at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Ok, so maybe anthropogenic global warming is real, but it’s nothing we can’t handle, right? And those climate scientists who are turning out to have been right all along? They were just doing it to manufacture fear. But at least the public is basically illiterate in science and math, so they’re easy to bamboozle.

Considering how things are turning out, though, you have to ask: bamboozled by whom?

Perfect atheism

Now here‘s an interesting perspective:

A perfect atheist is one for whom god never comes up. They never talk about it, they don’t go to meetings or read books about it, they never use the word “atheist” to describe themselves, and they aren’t rebelling against anything.

They just live their lives guided by internal and external morals and desires, directing themselves towards tangible, terrestrial goals. They find community in friends in their daily lives and online. The big spiritual questions are simply not relevant – they aren’t interested in being a soldier in the war between Dawkins and god. These are the millennial Nones.

I think the writer is guilty of just a bit of band-wagon jumping when he slams Dawkins and Hitchens as old-school traditional atheists. But, that said, there’s something intriguing about the idea of a new generation that finds religion neither right nor wrong but simply irrelevant.

Sexual panhandling

I haven’t actually been to any major atheist/skeptical/freethought conventions, but I’ve been to a few technical conferences, and I’ve always enjoyed the opportunity to travel to new parts of the country and do a little sightseeing on the side. One thing I’ve found, though, is that sometimes when you step outside of the hotel or convention center, the panhandlers are waiting for you on the sidewalk, trying to bum some cash off of you. And then again, sometimes they aren’t. It depends on the venue.

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A modest baseline

I’ve been staying out of the current debate over sexism/feminism because frankly it’s a bigger issue than I have time to address. It’s a big deal, though, so here’s at least a couple cents worth: I’d like to propose a modest baseline for inter-gender interactions, and I’d like to aim it particularly at guys.

The baseline is this: before interacting with a casual female acquaintance, I want you to imagine someone you find sexually unattractive. I think, for example, a lot of you might not be attracted to, say, the comic book guy from the Simpsons. Whatever attention you wish to pay to your casual female acquaintance, imagine yourself receiving the same kind of attention from the comic book guy, with exactly the same feelings and motivations. Would it bug you? Would it be unwelcome? If so, assume that you do not have a right to behave that way towards your female acquaintance. You may eventually earn the right, but don’t just assume you have it, or that you can quickly earn it with the right “techniques,” any more than the comic book guy could with you.

That’s a modest and inadequate baseline, but I hope it might have some use as an exercise in promoting a bit of understanding and sympathy. And above all restraint.


The third option

As a few people have pointed out, there’s something missing from my discussion of religion as the leading source of atheism. I said that when you find a mistake in your religion, you have two options: either leave the church, or become a hypocrite. The possibility of correcting the church’s error is not really an option, because the church’s whole authority system is predicated on the assumption that it cannot make any mistakes in the first place. Acknowledging the existence of an error means admitting that the church’s authority is based on a false premise.

Some people suggested that the third option is to start a new religion, or at least create a schism, but I would include that as a sub-category under the heading of leaving your old religion. When you start a new religion, or a new branch of the old one, you’re saying in effect that the old one is wrong and therefore you’re leaving it. I got to see this a lot in the Church of Christ: each half of the church split would promptly declare that the other half was on its way to hell, because they were rejecting the Bible’s plain declaration that _______ (fill in the blank: “communion is/isn’t one cup”,”missionary societies are/aren’t a permissible means of spreading the gospel”, etc). You may be staying within the broad outlines of religion, but you’re leaving your original faith.

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The leading cause of atheism

The other day I watched an Orthodox Jew engage in a little ritual that struck me as being strikingly pointless. No doubt it had some point in the ancient past, or was at least thought to have a point. But it was pointless—a trivial, superstitious obsession institutionalized into the whole Orthodox lifestyle. And that got me thinking. Here’s somebody’s silly little superstition, that somehow got attached to the religion, and now the religion can’t get rid of it. For thousands of years, they’ve been stuck with it, even when it ceased to make any sense. And there’s nothing they can do about it, because the core of the religious worldview is the supreme authority of tradition. Whatever was believed and practiced in the past is, by definition, the truth. Any attempt to amend it or remove part of it must be apostasy. Hence, religion is not only lacking a way to correct its errors and deficiencies, the very nature of religion is antithetical to the possibility of improvement. To be improvable, religion must first admit that it does not possess the infallibility upon which its authority and existence depend.

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NSA: It would violate your privacy to report how many privacy violations we’re committing.

The surveillance experts at the National Security Agency won’t tell two powerful United States Senators how many Americans have had their communications picked up by the agency as part of its sweeping new counterterrorism powers. The reason: it would violate your privacy to say so.

via NSA: It Would Violate Your Privacy to Say if We Spied on You | Danger Room | Wired.com.

3rd degree gullibility

There are three degrees of gullibility. First degree gullibility is when you believe something because you don’t know any better, like a very young child believing in Santa. Second degree gullibility is when you become aware of conflicts and inconsistencies in what you believe, but you do not admit that they are genuine conflicts and inconsistencies, like when a creationist suggests that the speed of light was higher in the past and therefore the existence of visible stars more than 6K to 10K light years away does not contradict Genesis. And third degree gullibility is when you admit that there are conflicts and inconsistencies in what you believe, and yet you sincerely argue that people ought to believe it anyway. I haven’t got a one-line example of that last one, but “bobby” at news24.com has a longer one. And he even got an Editor’s Choice award for it.

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PA Christians continue to flout the law

A lot of people have a fundamental misconception about the First Amendment, stemming from the phrase “church and state”—they think that as long as you don’t favor any particular individual church, you can establish religion as much as you want. Even if you’re a state legislator.

At least two recent Pennsylvania House of Representatives sessions have opened with sectarian Christian prayers — those exclusive to Christianity as opposed to general prayers — despite many surrounding legal issues and scrutiny from at least one prominent national organization concerned with the mixing of religion and government

The First Amendment states that Congress (and by extension the states as well) shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. As individual citizens, of course, state lawmakers are perfectly free to pray as much or as little as they like to whoever or whatever they like. In their capacity as lawmakers, however, they are prohibited from exploiting their position of power for the purpose of establishing religion. It’s not a hard point to grasp, and in fact I don’t think it’s any lack of understanding that prevents them from keeping their behavior within the bounds of law. It’s simply that they do not respect the law itself.

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A quick thought

I was driving home from work last night, and was thinking about that slogan, “We report, you decide.” It was bugging me because I had the nagging feeling I’d heard a very similar quote, years ago, but couldn’t remember what it was. Then it came to me.

“Garbage in, garbage out.”