Good without God

I like the phrase “good without god(s),” because it reminds us that morality does not come from supernatural sources. But there’s a flip side to that: if we can be good without God, then we can also be evil without the devil, as has been horrifically demonstrated in the Chapel Hill shooting.

The thing is, atheism is just a fact, like the speed of light or the law of gravity. We don’t get any moral impetus from the fact that we obediently accelerate towards the center of the earth at about 32 feet per second squared. Knowing the correct value for the acceleration of gravity may give us a scientific advantage over people who don’t know, or who choose to believe in erroneous values. But that give us no moral advantage.

And it’s the same with atheism. Seeing the absence of the gods, understanding the superstitions and rationalizations that lead people to believe in beings that aren’t there, knowing the history of religion with its triumphs and tragedies—these are all simply observations. They’re not a source of moral guidance or motivation.

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Postmodern vaccination

Much to the surprise of no one who was paying attention in science class, diseases that were once mostly under control are now experiencing a dramatic upswing, thanks to the efforts of the anti-vaccine movement in sowing hysteria and misinformation about products that have already been through a lengthy and vigorous examination of their safety and efficacy. How could such a thing happen in “enlightened” Western civilization? The answer is complex, but part of the problem stems from our cultural post-modernism. Rejection of science goes hand-in-hand with rejection of the idea that any kind of objective truth really exists.

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Obama calls for separation of church and state at National Prayer Breakfast

In a move that is sure to make right-wingers decide (again) that Obama is Muslim extremist out to destroy America, the president spoke at the National Prayer Breakfast and called on religion to oppose violence and support decency and freedom.

“We see faith driving us to do right,” he said to more than 3,500 people attending the annual National Prayer Breakfast. “But we also see faith being twisted and distorted, used as a wedge — or worse, sometimes used as a weapon.”

He urged believers of all faiths to practice humility, support church-state separation and adhere to the golden rule as ways to keep religion in its proper context.

Nothing like a National Prayer Breakfast, hosted by members of Congress and addressed by the President, to promote separation of church and state, eh?

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Ban the Ten Commandments

Judge Roy Moore has been in the news recently, agitatin’ and rabble-rousin’ and insisting that judges in Alabama resist any federal policy on gay marriage, and uphold only the Alabama state constitution. And you know, that’s not entirely a bad idea, now that the state has amended its constitution to explicitly forbid relying on any foreign law to decide court cases. As astute political observers may have noticed, the ancient theocracy of Israel, which produced the Commandments known as the Law of Moses, is not part of the United States. Alabama, technically, has banned the Ten Commandments.

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Almost correct

According to usnews.com, presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee is trying out some new(-ish) ways to spin gay marriage into something Republicans can exploit without shooting themselves in what remains of their bullet-riddled feet.

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee on Sunday said being gay is akin to choosing to drink alcohol or use profanity — lifestyle choices he says are appealing to others but not to him.

The former Baptist pastor, who is weighing a second run for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, also claimed that forcing people of faith to accept gay marriage as policy is on par with telling Jews that they must serve “bacon-wrapped shrimp in their deli.” That dish would run afoul of kosher rules in the same way Huckabee sees asking Christians to accept same-sex marriages.

Ooo, so close, but he fumbles on the one yard line.

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Cowboys and rodeos and Muslims, oh my!

I’ve got to hand it to the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo: it takes a lot of courage to invite an imam to offer an opening prayer anywhere in Deepinnaharta Texas, especially if you have a Facebook page, as the Star-Telegram reports:

A sampling of the sentiments expressed:

“I just will choose NOT to go somewhere that embraces a religion that wants me, my family and my people DEAD.”

“Muslim/Islam has no place in this country let alone fwssr. Not one Muslim has come out against the radical actions that is the Muslim belief. PERIOD. COWBOYS DON’T WANT IT.”

“This really disappoints me in the FWSSR! Sad to see such a Texas & American institution fall in the gutter of political correctness.”

“Islam is against all other religions and I for one won’t attend an event that allows a darkness to be spoke over me!”

That second comment is just so classy, isn’t it? Not one Muslim has ever come out against radical Islam—assuming, of course, we don’t count the leading Islamic organizations in the United States and the overwhelming majority of non-radicalized Muslims world-wide. Apart from that, no, not one Muslim.

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Understanding the strategy

A lot of people were surprised when Republicans, including Sen. Jim Inhofe, voted in favor of an amendment explicitly stating that climate change is real and is not a hoax. They needn’t have been. Conservatives have been saying for years that climate change is real, even while insisting that it is a hoax, depending on who they’re talking to and how much they think they can get away with. And to those who think the Senate vote is a good sign: sorry, but that’s only partly true. It does show that people are (reluctantly) conceding the facts. But does this mean the Republicans are now willing to support measures designed to try and address the issue before it turns into a global catastrophe? Unfortunately no. It only means a slight shift in tactics.

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A bad argument for surveillance

The Economist is worried that technology may put limits on how effective the government is at spying on people.

Western spooks say they are losing the technological edge that has enabled them to monitor the communications of potential terrorists. Tech companies are competing in their efforts to provide their customers with unbreachable privacy through sophisticated and sometimes “default” encryption. The heads of both America’s FBI and Britain’s MI5 have complained about their inability to prevent suspects from “going dark”—dropping off the radar screen of surveillance.

Their solution? Make encryption easier to break.

The tech firms must come to terms with the fact that every previous form of communication—from the conversation to the letter to the phone—has been open to some form of eavesdropping: they cannot claim their realm is so distinct and inviolate that it can imperil others’ lives, especially as the number of people who need to be monitored is in the thousands. And it is far better to agree to some form of standard now, rather that wait for an atrocity plotted behind impenetrable walls to be unleashed: if that happens the Dick Cheneys and Donald Rumsfelds of the future will be setting the rules.

Apparently, Economist writers have failed to notice that the Dicks and Donalds are already making these rules. And there are other problems with their argument.

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Still not clear on the concept

France24.com is reporting a somewhat surprising and unfortunate trend in the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo murders: a lot of French people are on the terrorists’ side when it comes to whether or not it should be legal to draw Mohammed.

The recent attack by Islamic extremists at the offices of Charlie Hebdo that killed 12 people in apparent revenge for publishing cartoons of Mohammed has led to a fierce defence of France’s freedom of speech laws by politicians, media and millions of French citizens – including at a huge unity march in Paris on January 11.

But an Ifop poll published in France’s Journal du Dimanche (Sunday Journal) paints a much more divided picture of French attitudes towards what is considered a key facet of the country’s republican values…

Half of those questioned also said they believed there should be “limitations on free speech online and on social networks”.

This is not just unclear on the concept, it is dangerously unclear on the concept.

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