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Saturday, June 28, 2008

The Rational Sabbath, Vol. I

I have decided to start a weekly post called The Rational Sabbath. Instead of taking the Sabbath to rest, I will do something useful and make a post comprising of about 5-10 of my favorite blog posts or news releases of the week. They are not necessarily about Ray Comfort; however, if I do find any post about Ray Comfort, I will include it here. I will also make no more than one recommendation of each which I find to be exceptional or interesting which you should visit/subscribe to:

* A Blog
* A Video (or series)
* An Audio File (or series/podcast)
* A Website
* A Book

So, let's kick this off! If you like this segment, please comment and let me know, and I will be sure to continue it.

First, a listing of a top ten articles, countdown to my favorite.

10. Mourning Glory by Christopher Hitchens from Slate.com's Fighting Words

This week we have lost Tim Russert. He was a straight-shooting, first-rate journalist. Following his death, the media was filled with flowery tributes, descriptions of miracles surrounding his death, and venerating idolatry. Hitchens attacks the superstition of the myth-making media and the cult of celebrity: "I think this media mythmaking, however tongue-in-cheek some of it may be, helps our understanding of why people are theists."


9. Guess Who’s Picketing George Carlin’s Funeral? by Hemant Mehta from The Friendly Atheist

This week we of course lost the great George Carlin. He brought a great deal of rationality to this world through comedy, and inspiring other great atheist comedians such as Bill Maher.

This blog post is appropriately terse, as it is announcing that the homophobic Christian organization Westboro Baptist Church will be picketing his funeral. They have a one-page news release titled "God Killed Potty-Mouth Comedian George Carlin, and Cast Him Forthwith Into Hell." Mehta accurately notes that "Carlin would have loved it."


8. Dinesh D'Souza On Genesis Chapter One by John W. Loftus from Debunking Christianity

Yet another top spot for this excellent blog. In this short article, he discusses how miserably Dinesh D'Souza has failed at reconciling the Creation myth with the scientific theory of evolution and the big bang model in his latest book What's So Great About Dinesh D'Souza. If you like the premise of this article, I would also recommend buying the most recent issue of Skeptic Magazine as it has an article review of his book entitled What's So Great About Dinesh D'Souza.


7. What's Wrong with Pledging Allegiance, Under God? by Austin Cline from About.com's Agnosticism/Atheism

The Pledge of Allegiance is before the courts again and in question is the phrase "Under God." Austin addresses the question: What's wrong with having "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance? In this post he actually makes some interesting arguments against it I have never thought about, specifically that "patriotism must be linked to particular religious or theistic beliefs." His main points:

* Pledge of Allegiance is Intended as a Religious Statement
* "Under God" Promotes Belief in a Particular God, Not Theism Generally
* Pledge of Allegiance Teaches that Atheists Cannot be Patriotic
* Pledge of Allegiance Teaches that Atheists are not Trustworthy
* Pledge of Allegiance Attacks Veterans who were Atheists
* Pledge of Allegiance Teaches Children that Atheists are Inferior
* Under God vs. Under No God


6. Ray Comfort Answers a Question by PZ Myers from Pharyngula

I, of course, cannot pass up a mention of Ray Comfort by PZ Myers! PZ comments on the "answer" Ray gave a questioner regarding the weather in California. The question was basically wondering why there's flooding in the non-gay-marrying Midwest whereas there's no rain in California, which is no gay-marrying. Ray's response? There are fires ripping through gay-marrying California which were started by lightning -- and then he notes that God is in charge of lightning and the lack of rain. PZ appropriately ridicules Ray Comfort on this notion of God smiting the Californians through meteorological processes.

Ray has obivously read it, as he attempts to poke fun at people like me who have been criticizing him lately for his quote mining by posting "mined quotes" from the comments to that blog post.


5. A Brief Essay on the God of the Gaps Fallacy by Robert_B from Debunking Christianity

Robert_B gives a concise, but thorough, analysis of the god-of-the-gaps argument. He explains why this is a fallacy and how it fails on both premises and the non sequitir conclusion.


4. Do You Really Believe That: Abrogation by Ebonmuse from Daylight Atheism

Ebonmuse earns a second spot on my top list this week. This short article introduces the concept of Abrogation of Islam and how ridiculous it is. In the Do You Really Believe That series, he addresses such topics that lead a rational person to inevitably ask: do you really believe that? Abrogation is a somewhat controversial topic in Islam that God dictated a set of practices and rules to Muhammad only to issue new practices and rules later which cancel it out. It relates it to the idea Muslims hold that the Qur'an abrogates the Bible because it was corrupted. But, if God didn't protect the Bible from corruption, why do they believe he has protect the Qur'an from corruption?


3. Giles Frasier on Morality and Non-Belief by Alonzo Fyfe from Atheist Ethicist

Fyfe does an interesting job on the question of morals, desires, the Bible, and decision-making. I think this is a must-read for both theists and atheists. He takes a route of explaining why the "morals" in the Old Testament are so bizarre from a utilitarian stance. He also points out the hypocrisy of moral requirements and prohibitions. He concludes the post by addressing the fact that atheism does not provide any morals or moral checks (as it is inherently amoral, since it is simply a position on a single question).


2. A Cold and Sterile Heaven by Ebonmuse from Daylight Atheism

I really enjoyed this article. It is a perspective I have never considered: what company would you be keeping in Heaven if these Christians like Ray Comfort, Pat Robertson, and Jerry Falwell are correct?

"This cold and sterile heaven doesn't seem like any kind of paradise I'd want to live in. Why would I want to share eternity with these boring, repetitive, dogmatic preachers, those whose greatest achievement in life was the unvarying repetition of words written by others? It's as if people were selected specifically for their lack of independent thought or creativity. What a tiresome, monotonous place that heaven would be!"
After discussing the company kept in Heaven, he then addresses in the second half: Just think of who'd be missing from the rapture-fanatics' heaven. Imagine people who disbelieved in their version of God and had no allegiance to dogma. You would not be able to share paradise with Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and Thomas Paine and discuss politics with them. You would not be able to share paradise with Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawking and discuss science with them. (You would, however, be able to discuss science with Isaac Newton, but by all accounts he was a very unpleasant man.)


1. Synchronicity by tracieh from The Atheist Experience

In this lengthy article, Tracieh discusses Morton’s Demon -- a thought experiment regarding confirmation bias. This article is not (explicitly) about religion. In this she addresses a friend's argument about drilling in Alaska. She does not discuss the pros and cons about it and in fact states that she is agnostic about it. Instead, she simply picks apart her friend's "logic" and the effects of confirmation bias. This article may be long, but it is a fun, easy, light read.

She concludes with a discussion of compartmentalization and the hanging questions:

"Can I hold to an unreasonable belief that informs all of my most basic human values and interpretations, and not also require protection from information in nearly every other area of my life? Is that realistic? Is it even possible?"

BLOG RECOMMENDATION OF THE WEEK

About.com Agnosticism / Atheism -- Main Contributor: Austin Cline

I had many ones to pick from for this one and it was hard to choose one for this inaugural post in the series. It was difficult to choose one as I subscribe to many good ones.

This one has top-notch articles. Austin Cline discusses issues related to logic/debate, religion, agnosticism, and atheism. He has an excellent post rate of at least once a day. His posts cover a range of issues, from general questions, to response to comments, to book reviews, to current events. He also keeps resources up-to-date for atheists, such as sites, books, blogs, etc. This week he has posted on the following subjects:

* Pedantry in discussions/debates and its flaws.
* A current event of a doctor berating lesbian patients.
* The "Under God" phrase in the Pledge of Allegiance.
* Existentialism and its role in psychology.
* Why theists dismiss skeptics' and atheists' demands for evidence.
* The fate of Christianity in the United States.
* Universal salvation & Christianity (and also salvation through alternate routes).
* Christian claims that atheism is the worst sin possible.
* Rearing a child as an atheist.
* Civility versus decency, and the role it plays in religious discussions.
* Atheists should seek greater understanding and knowledge, and perhaps organize and take on mentors.
* Nihilism and its relation to atheism.
* The arrogance of atheism?
* Book review: regarding the American Eugenics Movement.
* Humanist metaphysics.
* The illusion and inane fetish of virginity in Islam.
* Atheists are fools?

My personal favorite from that list is a toss-up between the Pledge of Allegiance one and the one concerning atheism and a greater pursuit of knowledge. The latter article emphasizes that as atheists and in line with our advocacy of rationality and education, we should seek to always better educate ourself in science, literature, and philosophy. He discusses the obstacle of atheism being inherently disorganized and scattered. To better educate ourselves, he proposes we seek to organize educational groups with fellow atheists and perhaps take on mentors.


VIDEO RECOMMENDATION OF THE WEEK

I had a tough decision here as well. I have gone with The Atheist Experience. It is the weekly television show of the Atheist Community of Austin. It has been on the air for over ten years. The shows is aimed at non-atheists and addresses prepared topics each week, interspersing it with live calls from the viewers. I think it's a must-view for all atheists and theists. I would recommend to first watch any episode that has both Matt Dillahunty and Russell Glasser, as they are my favorite personalities. Matt was a former fundamentalist evangelical Christian (like Ray!) and was aspiring to become a preacher. After some thirty years of this, when he was studying arguments for and against God so as to be able to address them when witnessing, he realized the flaws of his religious convictions and adopted a rational view of the world.

AUDIO RECOMMENDATION OF THE WEEK

Hands-down, there was no tough decision here. It goes to the Skeptics' Guide to the Universe. This is an unbelievable podcast. It focuses on skepticism, science, and logic. It's main aim is not against religion, as that is treated like any other irrational claim, such as chemtrails, alien abducations, and Bigfoot. They approach every topic with a skeptical mind and discuss it. They discuss currents events in science. They have a regular segment called Name That Logical Fallacy where they pick apart an argument (regarding anything). It concludes with a challenge to the panelists of three articles of recent discoveries, two of which are true and one of which is fictitious. The goal is to identify the ficitious one with reasoning and skepticism. It earns my highest recommendation.

WEBSITE RECOMMENDATION OF THE WEEK

I had many choices here. I had to decide between a humorous type site or a serious site. I decided on the latter for the inaugural edition. Iron Chariots gets my highest recommendation. It's still a pretty young site, but still good (and nice to contribute to). It is a counter-apologetics wiki run by The Atheist Experience TV show recommended above. It responds to Christian apologetics as well as arguments for God. They devote a few pages to Ray Comfort and The Way of the Master. They have pages on his banana argument, a dissection of their episode on atheism, and his usual questioning of whether you are a good person. It covers common logical fallacies, such as Ray's favorites: appeal to authority, argument from personal incredulity, begging the question, false dichotomy, and straw man. They even debunk the 50 reasons to believe in God which has been circulating around the Internet recently.

BOOK RECOMMENDATION OF THE WEEK

Of course, I have many many many here. I decided to recommend Stephen Hawking's bestselling (over 10 million) A Brief History of Time. It was written in 1988. He revised this with A Briefer History of Time in 2005 which aims to clarify some things, make it more accessible to a wider audience, update the graphics, and introduce some of the latest developments of the past two decades since the first book. I am only halfway through the 2005 edition, so I am giving the recommendation of the 1988 version. I can tell you, though, that both of them are fantastic and I highly recommend reading both of them.

This recommendation stems from the recent attack Ray Comfort has made by mining a quote from this book. He mines a quote from it to make it seem Hawking believes in God when, in fact, he has a tendency in the book to show that there's really no need for a Creator. It's not an atheist book, though, it's a popular science book. He brilliantly explains such things as the uncertainty principles, black holes, the big bang theory (the model and evidence for it), history of physics/astronomy, the theory of relativity, the origin and fate of the universe, and much more. It was a thoroughly enjoyable read and I learned much from it. Hawking has a delightful sense of humor throughout the book and writes it in a very accessible manner with much lay language. At the end of the book he devotes some biographical pages to Einstein, Newton and Galilei. The chapters from the 1988 version are:

1. Our Picture of the Universe
2. Space and Time
3. The Expanding Universe
4. The Uncertainty Principle
5. Elementary Particles and the Forces of Nature
6. Black Holes
7. Black Holes Ain't So Black
8. The Origin and Fate of the Universe (where Ray quote mines from)
9. The Arrow of Time
10. The Unification of Physics
11. Conclusion

The chapters from the 2005 version are:

1. Thinking About the Universe
2. Our Evolving Picture of the Universe
3. The Nature of a Scientific Theory
4. Newton's Universe
5. Relativity
6. Curved Space
7. The Expanding Universe
8. The Big Bang, Black Holes, and the Evolution of the Universe
9. Quantum Gravity
10. Wormholes and Time Travel
11. The Forces of Nature and the Unification of Physics
12. Conclusion

I guarantee you will find a love for science and physics after reading this book. I also recommend this for Ray Comfort, so that he will quit denigrating Hawking and also learn a little science while he's at it. You learn things about the nature of the universe which are must-knows, such as the nature of time and space.


CONCLUSION

This concludes the first weekly Rational Sabbath. Please let me know your thoughts. I know there won't be many for this first one, as the blog just launched this week. The next post, the focus will return to Ray Comfort and DisComforting Ignorance.

I hope you have enjoyed your day of rest from Ray Comfort's inanity on this day, the Rational Sabbath.

6 comments:

flinging dust said...

Oh hell YES!! This is a fantastic idea !!

weemaryanne said...

I love this idea. I regularly sample most of these blogs and I don't exactly envy you the job of choosing the best posts every week -- I'd find it damn' near impossible to choose.

Anonymous said...

     I will have to disagree on the blog recommendation. I have found Mr. Cline to be dishonest. I challenged some of his ideas (I don't with anyone on everything) in way that actually brought a different perspective to some of the regular commenters (as noted by their replies.) He promptly started deleting all my comments. He will keep dissent if he thinks he can ridicule it, but not if people start thinking the dissenter has a point.

DisComforting Ignorance said...

Thanks all for the comments; I will do another Rational Sabbath next weekend then, as well. If you have any recommendations of your own, especially some of your favorite blogs and other media, please let me know and I will check them out. I'm always on the look out for new perspectives and personalities.

To the anonymous poster: I went with Austin's blog this week as he posts on a variety of topics, posts frequently, and usually brings interesting discussions and perspectives to the table. He blogs on many things others do not. It is for these reasons I decided on his, not necessarily because I agree with him on everything either.

I would be interested, though, if there is some censoring of dissent on his comments. I have never left any comments on his blog or participated in his forums, so I would be ignorant on any such occurrences. I detest the censorship of dissent, so I would be interested indeed in the details.

Additionally, if there are articles you have felt he has been dishonest in, please provide a few of them as well, so that I can review them. I do not read all of his entries (largely due to the volume), so I usually skim over or skip those which I feel have been covered elsewhere before.

Anonymous said...

     I am reasonably sure that he says what he believes. And he certainly subtler that stifling all dissent. He didn't start deleting my comments until some of the other people started saying I had a point.
     It has been a while but I recall pointing out that the terms "pro-choice" and "anti-choice" were deceptive inflammatory rhetoric, much like "pro-life" and "anti-life" are. An honest discussion endeavors to use neutral terms. I suggested "abortion-rights advocate" and "abortion-rights opponent" as more appropriate. He insisted that "anti-choice" was neutral and more accurate. And some of the other commenters agreed that what I was saying made sense. That was started deleting my comments.
     It is my assessment that he allows dissent, so long as it does not persuade. It would be far too obvious if he tried to make it look like no one disagreed. But what he did is still a manipulation of what people see. It is that which I find dishonest. Barring that, I would have had no disagreement with the recommendation.
     So that my only objection. I don't believe he quote mines or uses fabricated evidence like the "banana man" we know so well. But I think that the subtler deceptions are worse because they are harder to spot. The one I mention is incredibly difficult to spot because he will allow all comments as long as they don't persuade anyone to disagree with him.

DisComforting Ignorance said...

Ah, a discussion on abortion leads invariably to a discussion of the sloganized terms of Pro-Choice and Pro-Life. I hadn't read any of his posts or articles regarding abortion, but upon reviewing them now it appears he does stick to the anti-choice label, which is sad. Abortion seems to be a major area where I commonly see atheists lose their rational perspective and pedantry for terminology.

I've always found this odd, because atheists usually have an affinity for pedantry, especially when it comes to using proper words and words properly (see my post on Ray's distortion of words). For example, would we allow it to go uncontested when someone says "atheism means you know there's no god or gods"? Or what of the use of Atheism instead of atheism?

I think we do ourselves a great disservice when we do not commit to such detail as well when discussing abortion.

I may eventually make a post on the matter of Pro-Choice versus Pro-Life and some other things in abortion discussions which irritate me. When it comes to a discussion on the legality of abortion, I use pro-abortion rights and anti-abortion rights. When it comes to a discussion on the morality of abortion, I use pro-abortion and anti-abortion.

The issue of abortion is too complex to use sloganized terms such as Pro-Choice and Pro-Life in an attempt to malign those of the opposing view.