Saturday, January 27, 2007

Blasphemy "Debate"

You never really know what to make of this man, love him, hate him, or like me- love some of him and scratch my head at other parts of him. Christopher Hitchens is just as verbally ascerbic as the scowl he portrays in this picture. One thing is clear, he has a razor sharp intellect and broad scope of knowledge.
I found this audio to be absolutely fascinating. To listen to audience members trade turns telling Hitchens to "fuck off" reminds me of the Daily show episode where Hitchens told the audience to fuck off. The difference between the UK and America shines in this audio. Richard Dawkins is gentle and sweet compared to what these folks have to say about religion and the force with which they weild their ideas. You would never hear anything like this in the states. Anyone talking religion or politics with such language would be denied all political clout.
Europe and America are like two lovers who have been married for a time and one matures and grows out of the other but doesn't want to get a divorce because the immature other is the primary bread winner.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Beautiful Music

This is a beautiful instrumental, despite being done by evangelicals.

Globe Trotters Vs. Washington Generals

Well, I think Andrew Sullivan made a mistake even entering this debate. I don't know what he was thinking but he has been manhandled already. After reading his second post twice it became clear to me that he indeed put words straight into Sam Harris' mouth and made false assumptions. As others have done to defend themselves from reason, they have no direct reply, so they insist that Harris is dogmatic or intolerant. Harris goes after these errors first thing in his stunning and gloriously written third post. He keeps coming up with more beautiful crystal clear demonstrations of common unreasonableness. I don't feel like I am exaggerating when I say that he has made Andrew Sullivan look like a clumsy hack. I was truly surprised at how weak Sullivan's first response was. I think Sullivan would have done best just to say "I believe because I want to, now leave me alone".

Sam's 3rd post

Monday, January 22, 2007

Pinker the Stinker

Unafortunadamente, creo todos que dice aqui.

Yes, I believe everything Pinker says here. I think NDEs are no more evidence for LAD than schizophrenic episodes. I think consciousness is extinguished with death. I think that the radio analogy does not work, because the core signal can be altered by tampering with the brain, whereas the core signal cannot be altered by tampering with a radio. Therefore, it seems logical that the brain creates conscious experience. Every single thing we learn about the brain points to this conclusion. No number of amazing spiritual experiences adds up to an iota of a reason to believe otherwise, without tangible evidence. There is none, never has been any, and I think it's safe to say there never will be any. Long after our deaths, the materialist position will be the only viable position left as new information accumulates. Only the ignorant or the uneducated will still believe that spiritual experiences argue for a transcendent soul. By the turn of the century I predict that it will be effectively proven (in the same way that the non-existence of Zeus has been effectively proven to all reasonable people) that there is no human soul.

Sullivan Proves Harris' Points

In the Blogalog Andrew Sullivan has replied to Sam Harris' excellent post with something that I am completely unimpressed by. His response weilds no explanatory power or even a sharp defense. In fact, I think Andrew Sullivan has done more to display everything Harris is complaining about than Harris could have demonstrated by argument alone. I am *completely* unimpressed, in fact I am surprised that Sullivan could do no better after a weekend to think on this.
I am curious too see how Sam proceeds from here.

Saturday, January 20, 2007


Only a Zen master could write the following:

The Courage to Question
"Spiritual seekers are some of the most superstitious people on the planet. Most people come to spiritual teachers and teachings with a host of hidden beliefs, ideas, and assumptions that they unconsciously seek to be confirmed. And if they are willing to question these beliefs they almost always replace the old concepts with new more spiritual ones thinking that these new concepts are far more real than the old ones."

Hahaha, a complete debunking of every popular spiritual teacher. Now, if only zen masters learned something about neuroscience and biology they could be great atheist scientists.

Adyashanti (above) wrote that. Funny thing is, if you take all of the bullshit out of spirituality and religion, there's literally nothing left-


Adyashanti debunking humanity

"There's no solution in your born nature, only adaptation"

"Your body and mind is nothing but conditioning. If conditioning drops out of your body and mind we call it death"

Shit, he's just Dawkins without the education.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Harris vs. Sullivan Debate

VermontBard, you must have designed this thing yourself! Andrew Sullivan is having an open email debate with Sam Harris on beliefnet. The debate is concerning religious modernism with Sullivan seemingly in defense of it. This is not as hostile as the Dennis Prager fiasco (so far) as both agree on the problem with religious fundamentalism. The opening salvos were not salvos, just clarifications. Sam's second post is clearly argued and beautifully written and I am forced as always to just wholeheartedly agree with him- why not just utterly dispense with Christianity entirely?

If Sullivan is going to try using Christianity as his moral template or his template for universal "mystery", he has to cherry pick to the extreme. After so much cherry picking, at what point does a reasonable person just admit that the entire thing is unnecessary? As Harris points out, they could develop a better spiritual system in the course of an email exchange than the entire bible offers. I just can't see any reason to be a moderate within the "great" religions, and I think it is indefensible. And I think that Sullivan is probably rare amongst the moderates he is defending. His reply post should deliver his best argument to change Harris' mind (and mine).

Saturday, January 13, 2007

If I Had to Do it Again

Not sure if this image is large enough to read clearly. (Click for larger image)
I have a fair job. Ultimately it is not really fulfilling, but one good thing about it is, when the day is done I don't have to bring it home with me. I reserve the fulfilling stuff for later.
I often wonder what I would have done career-wise knowing what I know now about things. I think I would have went into sociology/neuroscience to study human behavior and the irrationality of human belief systems. The chart here is a case in point. Why these trends exist is endlessly fascinating to me. If you want an analysis go to Pharyngula.
I think that the primary desire of people who study sociology/neuroscience like I would want to do it is to somehow reach the ability to quantify the fact that certain belief systems are false in a manner so simple that anyone can plainly see it.
2A= 3X+ 4, therefore You're wrong BITCH!
Of course, the chart clearly shows that no amount of information can ward off psychological trends/memes which are firmly rooted. They slowly erode away, and only in an environment of relative surplus and affluence (people tend to be more honest when there is food on their table). But the part showing that the "American conservative mindset" (a pathology based largely on "the belief in belief" and science illiteracy) is deeply against the well established fact of evolution. Even the spokesperson for faith Francis Collins says in an interview- you won't find a more solidly established theory anywhere than evolution and the fact that certain believers need to use deception to attack it is disgraceful blah blah blah (not a perfect quote, but almost).
What drives someone like Tony Snow for instance to dismiss evolution with a wave of the hand when "you won't find a more solidly established theory anywhere"? To me it is endlessly fascinating. If I were a social scientist I would want a huge grant to study talk radio. I would quantify the lies. I would publish something in lay terms which anyone could understand, but which had hard irrefutable science behind it to show these bitch monkeys that they are false, should be ashamed, and if any reasonable person were suddenly trapped in their body they should immediately jump off a high building, swimming towards the ground to end the humiliation as quickly as possible. Let me take a deep breath. I must admit, I live a life where nearly every waking second I am aware of the deep preposterousness of it all. People wonder why I care so much about these things. Why did I go from a believer in life after death to someone who finds it very unlikely? Why do I care?
I've asked myself that and have distilled an answer for everyone. I care because I want there to be meaning in life. I DESPERATELY desire there to be some ultimate congruency. What privately irks me is that by using irrationality, asinine stories, evidenceless dogmas, and wishful thinking to "create" meaning, it shouts loud and clear to me that there is no meaning. You are shooting a squirt-gun and pretending that I should wear ear-plugs. There's no sound. Changing the semantics of squirt guns and water, triggers and bullets and shell casings and velocities doesn't do anything to make a sound, as much as you insist.
Maybe I feel like Francis Collins in a way, seeing his fellow believers try to attack evolution with outright lies in order to defend what Collins sees as the very creative mechanism god used to create. The blessed mind of creation, as he may see it. What absurdity! I suspect Francis Collins has asked himself on occasion something like, "what kind of God would exist which would not inform his most adamant heartfelt supporters that they are lying egregiously about evolution"?
When I see people try to create explanations and meanings and correlations and ideas which go strictly counter to the blatantly obvious, all with perfectly good humanistic intentions mind you, my mind says "what kind of universal force of consciousness inundating the universe would make it so that the only sense of meaning people could squeeze out of the dirty washcloth of human existence is based on pure unabashed falsehoods?"
And what of that slanderous crap written about Sam Harris recently on Alternet? How does any honest and reasonable person look in the mirror and take themselves seriously after writing something like that? But they do, and that's why it is so fascinating. Every one of us, in some way, maybe many ways, are just as irrational, every single day (although hopefully not on many big issues).
This is why a dogma-free spiritual practice can be so helpful. As Ken Wilber says, the only real injunction of Buddhism(minus the dogma)- is to "SHUT THE FUCK UP AND LOOK". There's no substitute.
It saddens me that so many people who reject religion don't understand why Harris takes such an injunction seriously as a tool for truth discernment. More words and debates create more memes. Nothing wrong with that at all. But nothing replaces the tool of "shut the fuck up and look". Call bullshit on yourself. The honest skeptic continuously asks "am I missing something here? Am I deceiving myself? Maybe I should shut the fuck up and look again". In that way skeptics can be more Buddha-like that many people.
The art of shut the fuck up and look has saved me from the cults of Christianity, New-ageism, and biotheism. Many of my friends are still in various states of delusion because they have decided that it isn't good to think any thought or read any book or consider any idea which- makes them feel uncomfortable. The basic tenant of the cults is that truth=serenity. Therefore, anything which "lowers your energy" is bad and false. It's a meme almost as powerful as religion's heaven and hell algorithm for thought control. A good dose of shut the fuck up and look is just what the doctor ordered. I think shut the fuck up and look should be considered as important as regular exercise.
Studying the human mind and human behavior leads to a greater understanding that the human mind is not only susceptible to error, it is designed to be in error when it is convenient. It promotes error, and groups of people echoing their delusions in unison are like a catalyst to this reaction of error promotion, thus the above chart. But humans have an amazing out. A handful of us, through some combination of genetic fluke and/or environmental circumstance, are able to shut the fuck up and look, and for some reason, we don't mind seeing clearly.
If there really is a soul or separate consciousness, this is where it would be.

Hometown Embarrassment

A school in Federal Way, a city less than 5 miles from me, has decided not to show Al Gores "Inconvenient Truth" movie thanks to this bastion of sharp logic:
"Condoms don't belong in school, and neither does Al Gore. He's not a schoolteacher," said Frosty Hardison, a parent of seven who also said that he believes the Earth is 14,000 years old. "The information that's being presented is a very cockeyed view of what the truth is. ... The Bible says that in the end times everything will burn up, but that perspective isn't in the DVD."
I guess, I'm just speechless.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007


Last night I had an epiphany while listenig to Brian Sapient talk to Laura Ingraham. The epiphany I had came after this faked heartfelt snare-trap of a statement by Laura- the science illiterate spin meister - Ingraham-
(I erased the stuttering and repetitions of the actual statement)-

When I look at an infant, when I see a mother holding a child, when I witness the humanity and compassion of people, a loving family like the one that supports you...I cant help but think that that enduring love comes from something, it doesn't come from reason, I think it comes from God, but you think that love comes from evolution?
I realized when I heard this statement, and the rest of the interview, that somehow educating these theists like Ingraham about evolution by natural selection and how obvious and well accepted the evolution of morality is amongst social scientists and anthropologists is beyond impossible. It will never happen. It is not because Ingraham is unintelligent, it is because of one simple fact- This fact is that the above statement by Ingraham is so simple, so easily and reflexively received without any question by 90+% of the popoulation, so obvious, so intuitively graspable and seemingly perfect and irrefutable, that there isn't room for even the acknowledgement of a counterargument. Believers think anyone who refutes this must be insane.
The situation is that the most powerful argument by theists like Ingrahams, has no power at all and is easily eschued by the educated and knowledgeable, and yet, and yet... people like Laura Ingraham are probably not even aware of the weakness of their most confident argument. They've never heard of prarie voles and oxytocin, or group behavior, kin selection, reciprocal altruism, selfish genes, etc. This simple little argument is said so point blank and pat as if irrefutably obvious. And if Sapient were given a word-in-edgewise without having his volume turned down to explain what is obvious to mainstream scientists who work on these subjects, he would bore the 30 second attention span of red state America to the depths of hell. Establishing a thought train for more than 10 seconds is a radio no-no. Slogans only please. And the slightest hint of post-graduate education is also a no-no here.
There is absolutely no hope of explaining to these people how futile their ideas are, how powerless their points are in the face of what is known scientifically. Anyone who can say what Ingraham said, feeling such confidence that this is such a powerful argument for god on high, (lets say 90+% of America), without the slightest knowledge or acknowledgement of a counterargument, is outside of constructive conversation.
It's hopeless.
P.S. My favorite part of the talk- Ingraham is talking about how religion is behind every good social movement-
Ingraham- Ghandi, ya, he was a real threat to the world too... or maybe he *was* according to your website I dunno
Sapient- no, actually Ghandi wasn't that bad of a person, but what's funny is that Ghandi is in hell if the Bible is true.
Ingraham- Well first of all you need to learn more about the Catholic faith because..
Sapient- I grew up a Catholic.
Ingraham- oh no! Don't tell me that my head hurts
(cut straight to commercial break)

Monday, January 08, 2007

Demerol & Xanax

This NDE, in its original, can be read here. The individual who had this NDE was a registered Nurse who suffered a heart attack in 1994. This has to be one of the most succinct NDEs I have ever read. It is blunt to the point of humor. The doctor's reaction is classic. So... where does this leave us? Xanax. In a word... Xanax.

I was losing my consciousness and I was completely aware of it. But I was not afraid. I thought, "So this is what it is like to die. This isn't that bad!"

Then I felt a great, loving warmth, an intensely bright light, and a presence. Telepathically, I heard the presence say, "Well Cheryl, what do you think now?"

I knew exactly what the question meant. It was a reference to neglect of my spirituality.

My years of practice in ED and med/surg had made me cynical, made me lose faith in God. I just could not understand why good people had to die such untimely or horrible deaths, or suffer needless trauma at someone else's hands. My inability to reconcile my faith with the horrors I saw made me leave hands on nursing for utilization review. But when that presence spoke, I immediately came to a realization. It wasn't that God deserts us in our time of need. Rather, he is there for us when we die; we are not alone.

With this new understanding I begged to go back to my life on earth. And the presence agreed.

I remember waking up so joyful. I couldn't wait to tell others what I had learned. But I couldn't share my experience with anyone right away - not even the nurse who had remained by my side throughout the ordeal. When I finally did tell her, two days later, she was so positive and supportive I felt relieved. But when I told my doctor he dismissed me and my story. He said the whole experience was caused by Demerol, and wrote me a new order for Xanax.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

My Mother Has a Classic OBE

Last night I went to my parent's house to watch the Seattle Seahawks. I brought beer, because I expected it to be the last game of the year for this battered and beat up pale shadow of a team from what they were last year. They won one of the strangest, most dramatic games I've ever seen. And something else happened that was strange.

My mother was reading a book and she looked up and said "Oh, I had an out of body experience the other night". I knew she wasn't kidding, the way she said it. My mother knows nothing at all about OBE's. She only knows that I have had a big interest in OBE's and NDE's.

She had a classic OBE. Laying in bed, she heard the cat whining at the door. Most people who have cats know how they whine at your bedroom door in the morning. She wanted to get up and open the door and felt an intentional desire to do so. Suddenly her entire body started to tingle. Next moment she found herself "hovering" by the bed, fully aware of the cat whining and my dad snoring next to her (he snores like a banshee). She was sort of surprised that she was so aware of the cat and the snoring even in this state.

My mother currently has dyed short blonde hair.

The first thing she did "out of body" was panic and start screaming. She could mentally feel herself screaming out of sheer panic, but there was no sound of her screaming. Then she felt her long brown hair wisp over her face as she was screaming. She felt her body was younger as well. Interestingly, when she was younger she did have long brown hair. A believer in the reality of astral projection would point out that most OBErs have an astral body like they had in their youth. I would suggest that after a certain age, people still see themselves as how they were when they were younger. My mother was suddenly in her body again. Nothing else happened.

I find 3 things fascinating. She felt the classic tingling vibrations that immedately preceed most OBE's people describe. Second, she found herself hovering. Why not standing? Maybe because there is no sensation of pressure on the feet people immediately assume they are floating. Third, she was in a youthful body again, althought she admits that she did not think to observe her body.

Important fact- my mother does not give a shit about religion, OBE's or NDEs and she generally leaves the room and goes somewhere else when my dad and I start talking about something like this.

The Grasping Nature of Faith

Since the works of Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins have disseminated throughout the mental sphere and have had their days in the sun, the backlash has begun. Due to community pressure, people are diluting their positions, distancing themselves, and in some cases, just taking the tact of misreprenting arguments.
What I have yet to see in all this, is any valid counterargument. I have not seen one. I'm not sure I have even seen an attempt at a counter-argument.
The term "militant atheist" is horrible. It implies violence, hysteria, and wrath. Many of us are "exasperated non-theists". You can describe it any way you want, but "militant atheist" is the proper way to paint the person whose ideas you despise as being uncaring, immoral, and hateful without actually saying so. When arguments fail, slogans are effective.
Because no challenging counterarguments have been raised, the issue turns to three main things:
1.) Faith- Harris and Dawkins don't understand theology the way I interpret it, so I am safe. The courtiers reply addresses this. One need not be an expert on clothing to argue that someone is naked.
2.) Defending the common man/woman- This happens when Dawkins or Harris is on a radio show like NPR, or being written about in a newspaper. Since the show or paper is so paranoid about being balanced and under so much pressure not to seem too secular or too leftist, they go out of their way to insist that Harris and Dawkins are just as dogmatic about their "beliefs" as the people they are complaining about. The problem here is that Dawkins and Harris are using facts and precisely reasoned arguments that are so strong, and dare I say, so incredibly obvious and readily intuitive, that it is very very hard for the shows and papers to be balanced using any counter argument of any substance whatsoever. There simply *are* no counter arguments that dispute the substance of what they say. The only solution to fill column space or airtime is to insist that Dawkins and Harris are being dogmatic for insisting so relentlessly that 2+2=4.
3.) Miscellaneous ways to avoid acknowledging the obvious- Misrepresentation, dishonesty, logical fallacies etc. One thing I have noticed, and I think someone on the Rational Response Squad has described it, is this phenomenon- It is impossible for anyone to argue on behalf of religious faith without resulting to dishonesty and logical fallacies. What is truly amazing is that these people must know they are grasping and twisting truth to stay in the ring, but they don't feel guilty for their dishonesty. Maybe they ask forgiveness afterword.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Lies of Lying Liars and the Liars Who Tell Them

This time I am picking on a left wing free-will-less political twat fold for a change. Sam Harris had a conversation on the phone with this guy named John Gorenfeld at The conversation was taken out of context in such a way as to prompt Harris to send out the following message to his email news subscribers:

Dear Readers – Some of you may have noticed an article about me that is now running on The writer, John Gorenfeld, has taken a ninety minute telephone interview, along with selective passages from my books, and made of them a poisonous of mash of misquotation and paraphrasis for the purpose of portraying me as an evil lunatic. While some level of innocent distortion can be expected in print interviews, this case appears genuinely malicious. You can find Gorenfeld’s account of me here. Please feel free to post comments of you own to the site. If you want to alert the management at Alternet of your displeasure, the contact page can be found here. As you will see, Gorenfeld distorts my views on torture, spiritual experience, and the paranormal. For the record, I have summarized my views on these subjects on my website.

All the best, Sam

I read the article and it truly is a horribly irresponsible distortion. I signed into and wrote a response. Please follow suit if you are of like mind.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

The Courtier's Reply

"...The God Delusion, a book that never squarely faces its opponents. You will find no serious examination of Christian or Jewish theology in Dawkins's book (does he know Augustine rejected biblical literalism in the early fifth century?), no attempt to follow philosophical debates about the nature of religious propositions (are they like ordinary claims about everyday matters?), no effort to appreciate the complex history of interaction between the Church and science (does he know the Church had an important part in the rise of non-Aristotelian science?), and no attempt to understand even the simplest of religious attitudes (does Dawkins really believe, as he says, that Christians should be thrilled to learn they're terminally ill?)."

From Dawkins' website:

"I'm afraid that when I read H. Allen Orr's criticism of The God Delusion in the NY Review of Books, all that popped into my head was a two-word rebuttal: Courtier's Reply. You would be amazed at how many of the anti-Dawkins arguments can be filed away under that category.That's all you'll get from me on Orr's complaint—it's another Courtier's Reply. If you want a more detailed dissection, Jason Rosenhouse provides it.

The Courtiers Reply

Monday, January 01, 2007

Response to William Tully

William Tully

The Reverend William McD. Tully has been rector of St. Bartholomew's Episcopal Church in New York City since September 1994. The first professional calling of the "On Faith" panelist was to journalism, and he worked as a copy boy and local reporter at the Los Angeles Times.

"OnFaith" carried another response by notable professionals to a particular question of whether we can have a dialogue. Richard Dawkin's piece was particularly hillarious. He spends have his essay questioning whether we can have a dialogue between Athorists and Vallhallans, and that we need to consider and be respectful to the believers in thinking that lightning is from the mighty hammer as opposed to electrical charges in the clouds, which is afterall, just a theory. I responded to this William Tully essay with a forceful statement. I don't dislike Mr. Tully at all, but I think it's time we treated the question exactly as Dawkin's has in reference to Thor. It's time for people to stand up en masse and say that we are no longer going to stand silent in the face of this horrible self-abuse of literalism. It's time to call a spade a spade. I've made a New Years resolution to do this in my private life to friends and family. Not forcefully, but just point of fact- making it known that I do not believe in these things and that I do not have, nor should I feel obliged to have, respect for these beliefs.


All religious people struggle with their faith. Otherwise they would not need such strong reinforcement from their church communities. It certainly takes faith to believe in a deistic god or pantheism. But to believe in a theistic God takes ignorance and self-deception.

I often wonder how an educated grown adult could not move from theism to at least some form of deism or pantheism like I did as I grew up and learned more about the world. Fear is certainly a component. The social glue of a religious belief is another component- strength in numbers, follow the flock wherever they go. As Sam Harris has said, religion allows people to believe by the millions what only a lunatic would believe alone. This idea can be transferred onto many sorts of organizations who ignore obvious reality in order to cohere.

Why do people uphold religious faith in the face of nature's crystal clear refutations? Faith is a unique meme in that it rewards itself for existing without merit. The religious are expected to fight a battle against their own unbelief, and they consider it courageous to continue finding reasons to believe in the face of the obvious.

You will never go to a bookstore and find a book titled "How to lose all your hopes, dreams, aspirations and desire to live in just 15 minutes a day for 30 days". Why? Surely a book like this could be created. It could be well argued, maybe even with more compelling arguments than a book of it's opposite.

But instead, we find books that encourage hope at bookstores. What point is publishing books on hopelessness, even if a case for it could be easily made? Even if it were perfectly clear that nihilism was the most coherent world-view, the bookstores would still be jammed full of books that inspired and gave hope. Exchange the word hope for "faith" and you can see that even if it were perfectly clear that faith in a theistic religion is false (which it is to any unbrainwashed observer), the bookstores would still be packed with books cavalierly refuting honesty.

My point is that there is no intellectual honesty in theistic faith, and this seems to me to be sinful, even in religious terms. Honesty would be to enter a bookstore with the attitude of "I need to learn more about my world so I can decide whether to continue believing in my faith". But for the dishonest believer in religious faith (they are all either dishonest or ignorant by definition), the attitude is "I am struggling with my faith due to the obvious contrary evidence bombarding me from every direction every time I open my eyes, therefore I need to go to the bookstore and fuel my faith, inundating my consciousness with heaps of rationalisations and fact excluding cherry picked balms of forced self-deception that make me feel safe and comfortable, then persuade as many people as I can that this circular loophole of unreason is good because humanity couldn't possibly live without it."

When I read essays like this I can't agree more with Sam Harris in saying that "God's enemies are more honest than his friends".

Dishonesty is a sin.

The religious are caught in a logical bind because it is sinfully dishonest to continue having faith in these things unless one is grossly ignorant.

Posted January 1, 2007 3:01 PM

What Are You Optimistic About?

3 years or so ago I started a personal tradition of reading every entry in "the edge" question center that comes out right at the start of the new year. Even 2 months ago I found myself anticipating this. Notable scientists from a wide variety of fields write a small essay to answer a theme question. One year it was, "what is your dangerous idea?"

This year it is- "What are you optimistic about?".

The Edge