New Fishnet Story: “When Lacy LeTush Went Blue, Blue, Blue!”

Fishnet logo

Fishnet has a new story up! The online erotic fiction magazine I’m editing, Fishnet, has a new story up for you to enjoy. It’s titled When Lacy LeTush Went Blue, Blue, Blue, by Thomas S. Roche, and here’s the teaser:

“Gorgeous!” came the voice. “Absolutely gorgeous! I especially liked the chair-schtupping, dollface. Sometimes they say we’re goin’ too blue, but I got one thing to say to that, people — ain’t no such thing as too blue. Va-va-va-voom, miss, you’re a tsatskeh if I ever saw one, if you don’t mind my saying. A maidel mit a klaidel.”

To read more, read the rest of the story. (Not for anyone under 18.) Enjoy!

Atheist Memes on Facebook: Atheists Have Meaning and Hope

Scarlet letter

I’m doing a project on my Facebook page: The Atheist Meme of the Day. Every weekday, I’m going post a short, pithy, Facebook-ready atheist meme… in the hopes that people will spread them, and that eventually, the ideas will get through.

If you want to play, please feel free to pass these on through your own Facebook page, or whatever forum or social networking site you like. Or if you don’t like mine, make some of your own.

Today’s Atheist Meme of the Day:

Atheists have meaning, hope, and joy in our lives. We simply focus that meaning, joy, and hope in this life, not in a hypothetical afterlife we think is implausible and have no reason to think exists. Pass it on: if we say it enough times to enough people, it may get through.

Dream diary, 9/23/09: The Paul Newman progressive ice show

Ice_Skate

I dreamed that I was doing an ice show about progressive political issues with Paul Newman. As the big finale of that day’s show, to represent the fight against global warming, I was supposed to skate across the length of the ice rink as fast as I could, ending with a flying leap, and catching myself by two fingers in a small yellow tube that Paul was holding up. I hadn’t practiced this maneuver and was worried that it would be dangerous and I might break my fingers; but then I realized that if I pretended I was the lead in a flying wedge instead of the only skater on the rink, it would be safe.

I woke up very baffled.

Adam, Eve, and the Problem of Evil: Or, Free Will Was Whose Idea Exactly?

Crumb Genesis

I’m reading Robert Crumb’s Genesis. (Great book, btw. Review coming soon.) Which means I’m re-reading all of Genesis, for the first time in a little while. And all these things are jumping out at me that I either hadn’t noticed before, or that hadn’t quite sunk in in a visceral way. (There’s nothing to make you go, “Holy shit! That’s right! Two completely different creation stories!” quite like having the things illustrated in vivid black and white. Sometimes, pictures really are worth a thousand words.)

And there’s one observation in particular that I really have to blog about now.

When it comes to the problem of evil — you know, why does an all-knowing, all-powerful, all-good God allow evil in the world — standard Christian apologetics go something like this: “The capacity for human evil is a necessary side effect of free will. God wants humans to have souls and free will… and for that to happen, we have to be free to choose evil. Bummer, but whaddya gonna do.” (I think that’s how Aquinas put it…)

Now, there are all sorts of responses to this. Including, “Why, exactly, is that a necessary side effect?” And, “Clearly some people are born into more gentle circumstances that make them less likely to do evil — why can’t everyone be born that way?” And, “Fine, that’s a half-assed explanation, but let’s pretend for the moment that it passes muster — then what about suffering caused not by humans but by God, like tsunamis and pediatric cancer?”

But here’s a response that somehow never struck me before. A response that I’m now feeling like a dummy for not having thought of before.

According to Genesis, free will was not part of God’s plan.

According to Genesis, free will was an accident. An unhappy accident. A terrible accident that we’re all still being punished for, hundreds of generations later.

Durer Adam and Eve

Remember the story of Adam and Eve. Adam and Eve weren’t supposed to eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. God specifically told them not to. God was royally pissed when they did it anyway: so pissed that he not only banished them from the Garden of Eden and made their lives a living hell, but passed on that punishment to all their human descendants. I.e., us.

According to Genesis, God wanted Adam and Eve to obey his commands without question. Especially the command to not eat from that freaking tree. According to Genesis, God wanted Adam and Eve in a state of Edenic innocence.

According to Genesis, God did not want people knowing good and evil.

So how is it that evil is necessary because God dearly wants us to know the difference and to be able to freely and knowingly choose good?

How is it that evil is necessary because being able to choose evil is an essential part of free will, and free will is an essential part of having a soul, and the human soul is the most magnificent pinnacle of God’s creation?

Crumb Genesis adam eve

How is it that learning the difference between good and evil was the worst sin committed by humanity, an act of disobedience so heinous the punishment had to resonate down through the generations until the end of days… and at the same time, it’s central to the finest thing about us, the thing that makes us uniquely precious to God?

How is it that we’re being punished for the very free will that God went to such pains to create in us?

How does that work, exactly?

“I Don’t Want to Want What I Want”

Warped desire

I have a new piece up on the Blowfish Blog. In it, I talk about one of the most common themes that shows up in the sex advice columns: people with sexual desires that they desperately wish they didn’t have. I ask why it is that people with sexual desires that are ethical and consensual and don’t hurt anybody still wish those desires would go away. And I talk about some of the things you can do if you’re one of those people.

The piece is called “I Don’t Want to Want What I Want,” and here’s the teaser:

I don’t pretend to have an answer to this. Not one that could be written in a short blog post, anyway. But I think part of the answer lies in doing a careful, thorough, honest inventory of your thoughts and feelings… and figuring out, not why you want the sexual thing you want, but why exactly you feel so bad about it.

I think there are three main reasons why people wish they didn’t want the kind of sex they want. 1) They’ve internalized the social stricture against sex in general: they think sex is trivial and silly, and in general not worth wanting or pursuing. 2) The kind of sex they want is one that society frowns upon, and they’ve internalized the social stricture against it: they believe it’s immoral and bad, even if it’s consensual and honest and doesn’t hurt anybody. Or 3) The kind of sex they want is one that society frowns upon… and pursuing it will be inconvenient at best and dangerous at worst.

All three of which intertwine, of course.

(If I’m leaving any out, speak up in the comments.)

And I think figuring out which of these is making you feel so bad about your desires will be key in helping you figure out what to do about them.

To find out more about my thoughts on dealing with unwanted sexual desires, read the rest of the piece. Enjoy!

Atheist Memes on Facebook: Religion is a Hypothesis

Scarlet letter

I’m doing a project on my Facebook page: The Atheist Meme of the Day. Every weekday, I’m going post a short, pithy, Facebook-ready atheist meme… in the hopes that people will spread them, and that eventually, the ideas will get through.

If you want to play, please feel free to pass these on through your own Facebook page, or whatever forum or social networking site you like. Or if you don’t like mine, make some of your own.

Today’s Atheist Meme of the Day:

Religion is a hypothesis about the world: how the world works, why it is the way it is. And it’s just as valid to criticize it, question it, expect it to support itself with evidence, and make fun of it when it doesn’t make sense, as any other hypothesis. Pass it on: if we say it enough times to enough people, it may get through.

Atheist Memes on Facebook: The “100% Certain” Mistake

Scarlet letter

I’m starting a project on my Facebook page: The Atheist Meme of the Day. (BTW, if you’re on Facebook, friend me!) I’m getting a little tired of making the same arguments for atheism over and over again… and I’m hoping to get the general public more familiar with the basic concepts of Atheism 101, so we don’t always have to start at Ground Zero with every single argument.

So every weekday, I’m going post a short, pithy, Facebook-ready atheist meme… in the hopes that people will spread them, and that eventually, the ideas will get through. (I may make the same point in different ways on different days: partly because different people find different angles on an idea easier to understand, and partly because repetition is itself useful in getting ideas across.)

I’ll keep doing this until I get bored or run out of ideas.

If you want to play, please feel free to pass these on through your own Facebook page, or whatever forum or social networking site you like. Or if you don’t like mine, make some of your own.

Today’s Atheist Meme of the Day:

Atheism doesn’t mean being 100% certain that God doesn’t exist. It means being certain enough. It means thinking God is hypothetically possible, but unless we see some better evidence for him, we’re going to assume he doesn’t exist. Pass it on: if we say it enough times to enough people, it may get through.

“There Has To Be Something More”: Atheism and Yearning

Hands reachingDoes there have to be something more than our everyday existence?

And if so, does that something have to be God?

Or indeed, anything supernatural?

There’s a curious argument that gets made a lot by theists. It’s often called the “God-shaped hole in our hearts” argument, and it goes something like this: “Human beings have a strong emotional yearning for something more: something outside our ordinary experience. The fact that we yearn for it shows that it must be there. God has put a God-shaped hole in our hearts: a restless yearning that we long to fill with spiritual experience.”

Or, boiled down more succinctly, “Human beings want there to be a God. Therefore, there is a God.”

(Karen Armstrong refers to this argument in her “In search of an ultimate concern” piece that I recently fisked, and Ebonmuse recently wrote about it on his Daylight Atheism blog, citing a study showing that believers are no more happy or content than atheists. Which is why I’m thinking about it.)

So today, I want to look at some of the more obvious, practical problems with this argument. And then, I want to look at a different flaw: one that’s more subtle, but one I think is far more fundamental.

Snape

The most obvious problem with the “yearning” argument is this: Yearning for something doesn’t prove that it exists. I can rattle off a long list of things I yearn for that don’t actually exist. (Severus Snape leaps to mind…) The fact that I want something to be true doesn’t make it true… no matter how deeply or powerfully I want it.

Mistakes were made

In fact, I would argue the exact opposite. I’ve said this before, and I’m sure I’ll say it again: When we really, really want something to be true? That shouldn’t be seen as evidence for why it is true. Quite the contrary. When we really, really want something to be true, that’s when we have to be extra careful, extra suspicious of our motivations, extra cautious about our thought processes. That’s when rationalization, and confirmation bias, and all those other mental processes that support us in believing what we already believe, seriously kick into high gear.

That’s exactly why the scientific method has so many rigorous cross-checks. Science is full of stubborn bastards who crave recognition and would love nothing more than to prove their theory correct. Hence, double-blinding, and placebo controls, and peer review, and publishing not just results but methodology, and replicating experiments, and all that good stuff. A rigorous application of the scientific method doesn’t guarantee that personal bias won’t affect results… but it’s the best method we have for minimizing bias and filtering it out in the long run. That’s the whole point.

But back to religion, and the yearning for God. Someone (I can’t remember who now) recently pointed out that the “no atheists in foxholes” argument, even if it were true (which it’s not), isn’t an argument for God’s existence. It’s actually a strong argument against it. It’s an argument for God as wishful thinking; for God as a sign of desperation in desperate times. If what it takes for atheists to convert is being faced with imminent death and the profound wish for that death to not be real… how is that an argument for God being anything other than a figment of our imagination?

Ingrid morris wedding

What’s more, the “God-shaped hole” argument completely overlooks the people who don’t yearn for God: people who don’t have God-shaped holes in their hearts. Ingrid is a good example: she has never had the sense that there had to be Something Out There, something she yearned for outside the vast and freaky physical universe. She never thought that it had to be there. And she never wanted it to be there. Of course she yearns for transcendent, transformative experiences; but she finds them in Morris dancing and rock concerts and the fight for social justice and whatnot. And she’s hardly the only one. If God made us with the desire to seek him out, why didn’t he do that for everybody?

And now, we come to my main point: the profound, fundamental flaw in the “we yearn for something more, therefore God exists” argument.

It’s this: There is a far better, far more obvious answer to the question, “Why do people yearn for something more, something larger, something outside our everyday experience”?

That answer: People are restless.

We’re wired that way by evolution.

Galileo-telescope

Human beings are curious and restless. We’re not barnacles, content to find one place and cling to it for the rest of our lives. Our evolutionary strategy is based on seeking, exploring, discovering, inventing. Our brains are wired by evolution to wonder if there’s better food behind that tree, better land over that mountain, a better way to gather roots and hunt gazelles.

And those impulses aren’t limited to survival. Like so many of our evolutionary strategies, they’re deeply rooted in our psychology, and they spill out into every area of our experience: into art, science, friendship and love, philosophy.

Pottery wheel

I can’t remember now where I read this, but I’ve seen studies showing that, despite our tendency to think otherwise, what makes us most happy is not relaxing on a beach with a cocktail in our hand and nothing to do. What makes people most happy is working at a task that engages us: a task that’s challenging, but within our reach. Our brains are not wired to sit still and be content. Moments of perfect, ecstatic bliss happen: but they’re fleeting, quickly replaced by the chatter of the mind and its constant urge to chew over what just happened and what’s happening next. And unlike many advocates of Zen and such, I don’t see this as a big problem. It’s what makes us special. We are wired to seek, to explore, to discover, to invent.

Yearning is our evolutionary niche.

Breaking the spell

Then add to that all the other psychological wiring that leads us to believe in God: such as our tendency to see intention even when no intention exists, our tendency to see patterns even when no pattern exists, our tendency to believe what parents and authority figures tell us. And then add to that the massive array of armor and weaponry that the religion meme has built up to perpetuate itself. When, for all these reasons, we’re already predisposed to believe in God or the supernatural or whatnot… then of course the part of us that yearns for something more, something larger, something different, something outside our ordinary experience, etc., is going to fixate those yearnings on God or the supernatural or whatnot. What could be larger, more different, more outside, more more, than purported beings and worlds whose entire existence is separate from our own, and that we never see and never will?

But that still doesn’t make it real.

Augustine was mistaken. Our hearts are not restless until we find our rest in God. Our hearts are restless, period. We don’t have a God-shaped hole in our hearts. We have a hole-shaped hole in our hearts. And if the study cited on Daylight Atheism is correct, the hearts of atheists are no more restless or empty than the hearts of believers. We have simply chosen to focus our yearnings on this world, the one we can see and hear and touch… the one we know exists.

There’s plenty to yearn for right here.

How Dare You Atheists Make Your Case! Or, The Fisking of Armstrong, 123

Why are so many believers so strongly opposed to the mere act of atheists making our case? Why is so much anti-atheist rhetoric focused, not on flaws in atheists’ arguments, but on our temerity for making those arguments in the first place?

Case_for_godI was recently directed to this screed against the so-called “new atheism” by Karen Armstrong: In search of an “ultimate concern”: How the new atheists fail to understand what religion really means, an edited excerpt from her book The Case for God. I was directed to it by an old friend on Facebook (btw, if you’re on Facebook, friend me!), who posted the link with the comment, “I hope some of my atheist friends will read this. (Granted I’ve given up on reading a lot of theirs…)”

Now, given that he himself acknowledged that he wasn’t paying attention to our ideas anymore, I certainly was under no obligation to follow his link. But I was curious. This is not a stupid guy, and I wanted to see what he considered a nice knock-down argument against the “new atheists.”

And I was struck, not just by how bad and tired Armstrong’s arguments were, but by the degree to which they were entirely focused on trying to get atheists to shut up. I was struck — as I am often struck lately — by how much anti-atheist rhetoric has been focusing, not on why the case for atheism is incorrect or inconsistent or unsupported by the evidence, but on why atheists are bad people for making our case at all.

So let’s take this a step at a time. Let’s proceed with the fisking of Armstrong.

Scarlet letter1: It is simply not the case that the so-called “new atheists” believe that “religion is the cause of all the problems of our world.” Many of us believe religion does harm, even great harm; but I’ve never yet encountered an atheist who thought religion caused all our problems, and that a world without religion would be a blissful utopia. Of all the straw men I’ve seen in critiques of atheism, this is one of the most absurd. That’s just a way of making our case look ridiculous… so you don’t have to deal with the actual case that we’re actually making.

Make your argument2: I’ve said before, and I will say again: Thinking that you’re right about something, and making a case for it, does not make you “hard line,” “intemperate,” “ideological,” “fundamentalist,” or someone who believes “they alone are in possession of truth.” It makes you… well, someone who’s making their case.

It’s called the marketplace of ideas.

Why are so many believers so resistant to it?

Why do so many believers critique atheism, not by saying “Here’s why we think we’re correct and atheists are mistaken,” but by saying, “It’s bad for atheists to even make their case at all. How dare they that they think they’re right? How intolerant and dogmatic!”

3: It is simply not the case that atheists only critique fundamentalist religions. I, and many other atheists, have read and critiqued both progressive religion and modern theology. And we have found both to be very much wanting. They either make the same bad arguments apologists have been making for centuries… or they define God out of existence, reducing God to a metaphor (or a “symbol,” as Armstrong puts it), and reducing religion to a philosophy.

Not that there’s anything wrong with metaphors and symbols and philosophies. I just see no need to call them religion.

I can’t help but notice that Armstrong doesn’t actually make a case here for her “modern God.” (As if there were only one, which all theologians agreed on.) I can’t help but notice that she subtitled her piece, “How the new atheists fail to understand what religion really means”… and yet somehow neglected to explain what religion really means. All she says is, “There’s a better version of religion out there, and you mean old atheists aren’t paying attention to it.” All she does is carp at atheists for making our case… without actually making hers.

4: It is not the case that atheists see reason as an “idol,” and we do not see reason as our “ultimate concern.” We’re not Vulcans. We see the deep value in powerful subjective emotional experiences of art, love, etc., as Armstrong describes. We simply see reason, and the careful investigation of evidence, as the best way to evaluate what is and is not likely to be true in the external, objective world.

And that includes the question of whether God does or does not exist. The God hypothesis is not a subjective experience like art or love. It is a question about what is or is not true in the real world. Why shouldn’t be apply rational thinking to that question? Why shouldn’t we make our case for why our conclusion is more likely to be correct?

And atheists do not “deny the possibility of transcendence.” I, for one, have written about atheist transcendence at great length, many, many times. We simply don’t see that transcendence as having anything to do with a supernatural world. I find it fascinating that Armstrong speaks so rapturously of curiosity and seeking outside one’s self… and yet wants to shut off an entire avenue of inquiry and possibility: the possibility that the physical world is all there is.

Again: Why is she arguing that people shouldn’t apply rational thinking to this question? Why is she arguing that it’s “hard line,” “intemperate,” “ideological,” “fundamentalist,” and believing that we alone “are in possession of truth,” to come to a conclusion based on a rational evaluation of the evidence… and to then make a case in the public forum for our conclusion?

5 (and finally, for now):

Armstrong shows a gross misunderstanding of the process of science. She seems to think that, because scientific hypotheses rely on some assumptions and can’t be proven with 100% certainty, that therefore it is “faith” in the same way that religion is faith. This is flatly untrue. Science doesn’t say, “This is absolutely true, no matter what.” Science says, “This is probably true, based on the evidence we currently have.” Science is always provisional. But saying, “This hypothesis is consistent and supported by all the available evidence, and until we see different evidence contradicting it we’re going to proceed on the assumption that it’s true”… that isn’t faith. Not by any useful definition of the word.

And that’s exactly what the so-called “new atheists” are saying about atheism. We’re not the ones saying, “We have faith in atheism that cannot be shaken; no possible argument or evidence could make us change our mind.” We’re saying, “The atheism hypothesis seems to be the one that’s best supported by the available evidence. The God hypothesis doesn’t make sense, and there isn’t any good evidence for it… so we’re going to proceed on the assumption that it isn’t true. If we see better evidence or better arguments for God’s existence, we’ll change our minds.”

And again, I ask: Why are so many believers so strongly opposed to the mere act of atheists doing that? Why is so much anti-atheist rhetoric focused, not on flaws in atheists’ arguments, but on our temerity for making those arguments in the first place?

I can only assume that it’s because, on some level, they know they don’t have a case.

If they had a case, they’d be making one.

They don’t have one.

And so they’re reduced to trying to get us to shut up about ours.

“People Are Fascinated By Sex Lives”: Greta’s Interview With “Outrage”‘s Mike Rogers

OutrageI have a new piece up on the Blowfish Blog — and I’m extra- excited about this one. It’s an interview with Mike Rogers: best known as “the most feared man on Capitol Hill,” a dogged investigative reporter and blogger known for outing closeted gay politicians who campaign against LGBT rights… and the star of the recent documentary film, “Outrage.”

Mike and I spoke about the hows and whys of outing; his standards of evidence; the psychology of homophobic gay people; the difference between news and gossip; why people are so intrigued by the sex lives of famous people; and why he’s best known for outing when his career extends far beyond it. The piece is titled “People Are Fascinated By Sex Lives”: The Blowfish Blog Interview With “Outrage”‘s Mike Rogers, and here’s the teaser:

I have no problem if these people want to be private — but then they shouldn’t be running for office. I wrote a post called No more “outing,” where I pledged to replace the word “outing” with “reporting.” To me, “outing” is the indiscriminate revealing of an individual’s sexual orientation. I don’t do that. I report on hypocrisy.

Do people feel that if a member of Congress is arguing against choice, and it’s found out that they had an abortion — is that something that should not be reported? If you find out that a member of Congress is supposedly a Christian, and is having an affair — should that be reported? For me, the answer is yes. It’s a very simple thing… because they are beating gay people up.

To find out more about Mike’s take on politics, sex, secrecy, and the weird places they interact, read the rest of the piece. (And if you feel inspired to comment here, please consider cross-posting your comment on the Blowfish Blog. They like comments there, too.) Enjoy!