Cookies, College, and Conservatism?

As a native Texan, I’m both hopeful for the future of my currently thoroughly red state and, alas, consistently reminded of its deep, ornery redness.  Hopeful that, as NPR reports, if Texas isn’t on the path toward blue statehood, then a bit of purpling could, possibly, happen here.  And then, some folks hold a bake sale to try to make a point.  From the Texas Tribune:

The campus branch of the Young Conservatives of Texas hosted the bake sale — in which prices varied depending on the buyer’s race and gender — to draw attention to affirmative action, which the event’s organizers said “demeans minorities on our campus by placing labels of race and gender on their accomplishments.”

The group’s actions were called out by both protests by their fellow students and a statement from UT Austin administration.

What’s particularly troubling to me is the equivalency the YCT (perhaps inadvertently) makes by comparing college admission to buying a cookie.   And the comparison between them fails, regardless.  The application for UT Austin involves considerable effort on top of years of academic and extra-curricular preparation in high school.  And then, there are no guarantees for admission.  Want to buy a cookie instead?  Walk right up, no preparation needed.

That said, if you can draw a parallel, in the scope of your own life, between the potentially far-reaching effects of attending a flagship state university with a one-off decision between chocolate chip and oatmeal raisin, the you’ve probably got a lot more privilege going for you than you realize….

One can hope that spending time in the blue enclave that is Austin will give these students some perspective.

Are We Living in a Simulated Universe or Are We Reaching for a Simulated Religion?

A recent article in The Guardian reported some scientists’ beliefs that we may, like the folks in The Matrix, be living in a simulated universe. A couple ideas put forth by one of those scientists as reported in the article were, for me as a freethinker, particularly troubling.

One idea tendered in the article appears to support a sort of creationism: “That we might be in a simulation is, [NASA JPL scientist Rich] Terrile argues, a simpler explanation for our existence than the idea that we are the first generation to rise up from primordial ooze and evolve into molecules, biology and eventually intelligence and self-awareness.” While I won’t assume that Terrile himself subscribes to creationism per se (and a previous quote of his in the article refutes the need for supernatural involvement for this simulation to be possible) , I do think that the lay reader could easily walk away from the article with the idea that creationism can be easily supported by current science.

Further, the possibility that we’re living in a simulation “provides a scientific basis for some kind of afterlife or larger domain of reality above our world. ‘You don’t need a miracle, faith or anything special to believe it. It comes naturally out of the laws of physics,’ [Terrile] said.” Again, the same problem as before: the lay reader may presume that “heaven” as conceived by various religions is an idea supported by mainstream science.

To its credit, the article does provide quotes from other scientists refuting these claims. But will the reader seeking justification for believing in an afterlife and a creator take these as seriously as the quotes above? And if we do accept that we may be living in a simulation, should we view the “advanced humans” who may have created it any differently from gods? Human-generated technology will, one hopes, continue to move forward. If we (even inadvertently) deify those who create and have access to it, don’t we strip away some of the humanity that we have in common with those who live in that future?

Reading Group: November Selection

As I mentioned in my intro post, I’d like to get a monthly reading group started at Freethinking Ahead.  Please post your recommendations in the comments below.

A few things to note:

  1. Given the focus of this blog, we’ll stick primarily to science fiction, though I’m open to works of non-fiction as well as poetry collections.
  2. I’d like to balance contemporary and classic works.
  3.  Anything that is blatantly grounded in negative -isms (sexism, racism, etc.) is out.
  4. If you’d like to recommend something that is out of print, go ahead.  Just post something to let us know that’s the case.
  5.  Recommendations for novella and novelette length works are welcome.  If you’d like to recommend something longer, I may run with it for a few months out.

I’ll have November’s selection posted by the first of the month.

Freethinking Ahead: A Quick Intro

Greetings, y’all. I’m T.D. Walker, and I’m delighted to be a part of the Freethought Blogs network. I’ve been blogging at my website, Freethinking Ahead, for a few years now, and my intention as I transition the blog is to implement and continue some of the projects I planned for that site here.

About Freethinking Ahead

My primary aim for this blog is summarized in its tagline: science fiction, feminism, and freethought. Many of us freethinkers are science fiction (hereafter SF) fans, and many of us have been influenced by SF. But I also think there’s much to be explored in the way our secularism influences our reading of the genre in turn. Such explorations should also examine the way we view issues of gender, class, race, and so on as well.

To that end, I’m planning on a few projects for Freethinking Ahead:

  • Q&As with Secular SF Authors, Editors, and Fans: How has reading and watching SF been influential to atheists? And how does their atheism affect their consumption (and creation as the case may be) of SF?
  • Reflections on SF: Reading SF can act as a sort of thought experiment, giving us ground as readers to explore social issues. What can we, as secular readers (or viewers, depending on the media), get out of classic and contemporary SF, aside from appreciating the story as a story?
  • Recommended Readings: Essays, articles, and SF from around the web.
  • Reading Group: Good blogs should foster dialog on their subjects. I’d like to start a monthly “reading group” series to discuss some of the above questions with regard to SF novels, non-fiction books, and if folks are interested short story and poetry collections. I’m happy to take recommendations for books, and I’ll create another post for that.

I’ll post more about each in the coming days.

About Me

And a few words about myself. I’ve been an atheist for over two decades now, and more recently, I’ve become more concerned about how I can be a better secular humanist and freethinker. For the past few years, I’ve been active in local and national secular groups as an organizer, writer, and volunteer.

Reading science fiction played an integral part in shaping my worldview–I credit SF classics such as Childhood’s End, Clarke’s novel featuring peaceful aliens with a demonic appearance, for helping me work through the questions I’d had about religion as a young teenager. And I find that coming back to SF is useful in exploring questions I have about society as it has been, as it is, and as it could be.

After finishing a PhD in English several years ago, I worked as a software developer (as one does), which has given me both a good grounding in the humanities and technology.

A few years ago, I began writing SF as well, and I have poems, stories, and essays published in various venues. And I’m delighted to be able to continue the sort of writing I’ve done elsewhere that has focused on SF here in the Freethought Blogs network.