Travel day!

I’m flying away today, on my way to New York to attend a little event honoring the winners of the second annual Seed science writing contest. This is really good stuff: the contestants tried to explain what it means to be scientifically literate in the 21st century, and make suggestions for improving scientific literacy for the future. The winners are Scientific Literacy and the Habit of Discourse by Thomas W. Martin and Camelot is Only a Model: Scientific Literacy in the 21st Century by Steven Saus — if you haven’t read them yet, do so!

Why do we need a secular America?

The Atheist Alliance convention is coming up this weekend in Washington DC, and one of the things that they’re planning to discuss is a generic atheist symbol. Among others, they want to consider the Affinity symbol that was proposed in this thread, oh so long ago (by the way: Godfrey Temple, email me so I can put you in touch with someone). Here’s an unfortunate twist, though:

Ironic note on the poster of Atheist Symbols for the Atheist Alliance International convention: I went to have it made today, at a local shop which specializes in posters, worked happily with the designer — and then several hours later got a call to come back and pick my stuff up, no poster. They are Christians and cannot do it. Went to another place, same thing. It was simply a poster with symbols to vote on — but it was for atheists. And they are Christians. One person helpfully explained that they turned down the KKK too. So sorry. But they’re Christians.

Well, I’m an atheist, and I’ve done work for churches. I can understand not making a donation. But throwing someone out of the print shop? Comparing them with the Ku Klux Klan? Oh. Wait. They’re Christians.

Let’s hear it for Office Max. They were the only ones who would print it. And deal with an atheist.

If Sastra would like to name the businesses and their addresses, I’ll happily add them here and urge everyone to boycott the bigoted pissants.

We “passionate” atheists

Can we stomach another label? How about “passionate atheists”? An Arkansas minister objects to the very idea.

Not long ago the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette published an interesting article entitled “Passionate Atheists.” This caught my attention immediately.

My first thought was, “How do you get passionate about nothing?” If no God exists, what is there to get passionate about? Why do professed atheists find it necessary to convert other people to their unbelief, since there is nothing of substance there to convince them of?

My second thought was, “Isn’t this statement, passionate atheists, close to being an oxymoron ?”

He then rambles on with the usual mindless godbottery — amorality, spiritual decline of the nation, sexual deviancy, fools in their heart, bible quotes, yadda yadda yadda — which Revere has ably pulverized. So I’ll just address the opening gambit.

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We “amoral” atheists

You would think Yale would attract a smarter class of stude…oh, wait. I forgot what famous Yalies have risen to power in this country. OK, maybe it’s not surprising that a Yale freshman would raise the tired canard of the “amoral atheist”.

Recent years have seen an influx of anti-religious publications in the Western world, as well as a growing audience for such publications. From Richard Dawkins’ “The God Delusion” to Christopher Hitchens’ “God Is Not Great,” anti-theistic works have poured into bookstores as atheists in the United States and elsewhere have taken on a more strident tone in public discourse. Unfortunately, their approach has been one characterized more by noisy rhetoric than reasoned arguments, and they have particularly failed in their attempt to present a coherent system of morality that in no way rests on a belief in the supernatural.

Of course, Christians and other theists have raised the objection that naturalistic materialism — the notion that only the physical world exists — can provide no foundation for morality. That’s not to say that naturalists cannot behave morally, but merely that they can have no real and consistent reason for behaving morally. As this has been a long-standing and widespread objection to naturalism, it would seem only reasonable to expect atheists to devote careful attention to the question of morality.

This notion that morality is a reason to believe is a common thread to many religious apologetics, as is its complement, that atheism doesn’t provide a moral rationale. In part, I agree: the simple statement that the world exists does not state how we should act within it, and the fact that the universe is godless does not dictate standards of human behavior. But then, neither would the existence of an omnipotent, omniscient god.

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Student Report: Neurogenesis, where have you been?

Hello again! It’s amazing the things that are going on right under our noses (undergraduate noses that is). I was wondering why we can continue to form so many memories in a life time with no new cell growth after a specific age. If every memory is a new reconstruction of interacting neurons firing off with each other, wouldn’t we need new cells eventually so that the others can maintain function? I suppose this isn’t too unrealistic with billions of neurons and trillions of connections, but the idea of neurogenesis sure explains a lot.

According to a recent article from BioED, neurogenesis suggests that we can create new neurons while learning new material or having new experiences throughout life (throughout life meaning, past the age of 60). These new neurons apparently are only observed in the olfactory bulb and hippocampus of the brain, which makes sense since you are constantly creating new memories and experiencing new smells. But how neurogenesis does this is still a mystery although there are some ideas floating around out there. Check out some of these links if any of this piques your interest.

We “naive” atheists

It’s bad enough everyone is using this “New Atheists” label: various critics keep inventing new ones. Some letter writer to the Independent has decided to call us “Naive Atheists” because we are unaware of the implications of atheism.

However, let’s forget about the unfortunate history of atheism for a moment and concentrate instead on its philosophical implications.

Two of the big consequences are that once you ditch belief in God you must also, logically, ditch belief in free will and in objective morality.

What a silly, silly man. If anyone is naive here, it’s someone who thinks atheists must all be amoral robots, and that unpleasant consequences mean you should reject the truth value of a claim. But now he’s going to tell us he’s got evidence for his argument, straight from the mouth of an atheist.

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