Podcast #254 – Pence and Insensibility

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Podcast #253 – Baby Fingers, Baby Christian

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Podcast #252 – Frank Lambert (Separation of Church and State)

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Thoughts on the Orlando Massacre

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  1. Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer said (among many other things) that this incident was “something that we never imagined and is unimaginable.”

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I’m going to go out on a limb right now and say that this attack had EVERYTHING TO DO WITH RELIGION. In America, 99% of objection to gay rights (not to speak of objection to gay existence) is fueled by religion, mostly Christianity but also by Islam. Sure, it’s possible Omar Mateen was grossed out by the sight of two men kissing one another, but is it possible that he engineered the worst mass shooting in US history simply because he got the heebie jeebies? No, it’s another safe bet to assume that will we discover that Mateen had somehow been radicalized and plotted his attack in solidarity with ISIS or some other Muslim extremist group. (ISIS has reportedly called on the pious to commit terrorist acts during the “holy” month of Ramadan.) I will be surprised and shocked (if I may use those terms) if we discover his motivation was garden variety mental illness, mere revulsion or even jealousy. [Update: Mateen called 911 during his attack and stated his allegiance to ISIS. Further information reveals that he had a history of making disturbing statements relating to Islam, and was twice investigated by authorities, who for some reason decided he posed no threat. It also appears Mateen had–at the very least–anger management issues, so mental illness cannot be ruled out as a major contributing factor to his crime.] The only thing that suprises me more about this whole situation, frankly, is that a similar atrocity hasn’t already been perpetrated by some overzealous Christian.

To sum up, nothing about this incident should come as a surprise to any of us. We should also not be surprised when (especially during this contentious election year) nothing is done to try to prevent, or even attenuate, such things from happening in the future. Americans will continue to embrace guns for the forseeable future, and as a result will have to continue to deal with the consequences.

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Answering Dennis Prager’s “Two Questions for Atheists”

Someone pointed me toward conservative commentator and radio host Dennis Prager’s recent essay “Two Questions for Atheists.” I thought it might be interested to actually answer them. I’ll wait for you to go read his article.

Back so soon?

Mr. Prager has posed a couple of interesting questions, albeit ones that are overly broad and clearly designed to give the interrogator all kinds of maneuvering room regardless of the response. It’s a silly debate tactic rather than a serious attempt to arrive at the truth. Frankly, it offers more of a window into Mr. Prager’s mindset than any real challenge to atheist belief.

Nonetheless, let’s take a stab at his questions.

***

  1. Do you hope you are right or wrong?

Well, I hope I misread those last Powerball numbers, so maybe I should take another look. Also, I’m hoping I’m right to shift my support to Hillary now that Bernie’s chances at the nomination are essentially zero, but… Oh. That’s not what you meant? Perhaps you should be a bit clearer. Right or wrong about God? (If so, which God?) About my atheism? About what, exactly?

If you’re asking do I hope I’m right or wrong about disbelieving in the God of the Old Testament, the New Testament and/or the Quran, well, I hope I’m right. Such a vengeful, petty, cruel, capricious and nonsensical God would have tragic consequences indeed: the vast majority of humanity condemned to eternal torture while a tiny minority of fanatics live in bliss for eternity. And for what purpose? An omnipotent God could easily grant all his creatures Paradise–and without the need to die, while He’s at it. Maybe you should wish for a better God.

It would also be a shame if such manifestly self-contradictory holy books as the Bible and the Quran actually described reality. It would make a mockery of the knowledge and progress humanity has made over the last 6,000 two million years. Anyway, as far as the God of the Abrahamic religions is concerned, I think I’m on pretty solid ground in saying that His existence can be easily dismissed on lack of evidence for and on preponderance of evidence against.

As for any of the other infinitely possible gods that have not yet been described, I can’t say if I hope I’m right or wrong, since I don’t know whether they are cruel or kind gods, logical or illogical gods, gods who offer a pleasant afterlife, or gods who make the nightmares of Lovecraft look like the Teletubbies. I hope I’m wrong about any potential bad gods and right about any potential good gods, but either way I withhold judgment until I have had an opportunity to weigh all the evidence. Right now the simplest explanation for the available facts is that there is no God (of any sort), there is no afterlife, and you make your own meaning for your life where you can. As far as the implication that a universe without your God is not worth living… the consequences of the truth offer no support for the truth. If it turns out that a godless universe is just a nihilistic hellscape, then that’s the way it is. (I don’t agree, but let’s just say.) It doesn’t make the God of the Bible real, and it doesn’t make it right to believe in Him.

2. Do you ever doubt your atheism? 

Again, if you mean my atheism toward any described version of the Abrahamic God, no. Not in a very long time. (And I don’t count as “doubt” the occasional emotional twinge in wishing I could live forever, or longing to see a deceased loved one, etc. Emotional states do not dictate reality.)

As far as a “universal atheism”–that is, a disbelief in any potential god or gods for whom evidence might be found in the future–show me the evidence. Then we’ll talk about doubt.

***

Okay, maybe those questions aren’t as interesting as I’d hoped they’d be. I’m sure Mr. Prager has gotten plenty of feedback on this, and if he reads the responses maybe he’ll learn that life is worth living, and living well, even without the promise of eternal bliss or the threat of eternal damnation. He’ll also learn that being an atheist is just one tiny aspect of a rational, science-minded, humanistic existence.

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I’m with Hillary

hillaryclintonCongratulations to Hillary Clinton, who last night all but sealed the deal on becoming the first woman to be nominated by a major party for President. (There have been other women at the top of the ticket for minor parties, beginning with Victorial Woodhull, who was chosen to lead the Equal Rights Party back in 1872, before women could even vote!)

Is Secretary Clinton a perfect candidate? No. She comes with a lot of baggage, including the ongoing shadow of her husband’s sexual misadventures, and questions surrounding her use of a private email server during her time at the State Department. She’s also more hawkish than I’d like, and has shown a level of hubris that I find unbecoming and potentially hazardous for someone who soon may be the most powerful person on the planet. But she’s spent decades as “senior advisor” to one of the most successful presidents in recent history; served eight years as a Senator and four as Secretary of State. If you don’t think she’s qualified, please stop reading now and don’t bother emailing me.

I suppose this is as good a time as any to confess that I ceased being a Libertarian several years ago, and have embraced the Democratic agenda as by far the best option in creating a free and prosperous United States. While the libertarian ideal of minimal government and maximum personal freedom still resonates with me, I have come to believe that the kind of laissez faire, every-man-for-himself, I’ve-got-mine-now-you-go-get-yours, devil-take-the-hindmost “society” envisioned by American libertarianism is unproductive, unrealistic and destructive to American progress. Plus, the Libertarian Party (like the Republican Party, but for different reasons) has become hopelessly infected with crazy people: gun nuts, racists, gold-standard fetishists, etc. The details of my “Big-L” Libertarian estrangement are a conversation for another time.

Bottom line: I’ve come to believe that it is acceptable (if not entirely ideal) to force people to do things and pay taxes for things they may not agree with, in order to achieve a far greater good for society at large. And I’ve come to believe that the Democratic Party is onboard with the project of creating a better America, while the Republican Party is hell-bent on dragging us back to a time when white men were at the top of the food chain, women stayed at home with the babies, blacks knew their place, and homosexuals were welcome to skulk in the shadows. Thanks, but no thanks.

Frankly, I voted for Bernie Sanders during the primary, seeing him as less corrupted and more idealistic than Hillary Clinton. But I am by no means Bernie-or-Bust. I’d much rather see Hillary in the White House than the fascist salesman she’s going to be running against. If Hillary is the lesser of two evils, it’s in a very unequal equation.

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Podcast #251 – (Almost) Live from Reason Rally 2016

David Driscoll offers his on-site observations from Reason Rally 2016, at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC. For more info on the event visit ReasonRally.com.

To listen to this episode click here.

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Podcast #250 – Mary Roach (Grunt)

gruntWhoo-hoo! It’s our 250th episode! We’ll celebrate by continuing to put out some more episodes.

Meanwhile, we interview Mary Roach, whose latest book is Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War (available in hardcover, audiobook and for Kindle). Roach is the author of other insightful and humorous nonfiction titles like Stiff (an exploration of the ethical issues associated with the use of cadavers), Spook (at look at scientific evidence for the afterlife), Bonk (the study of human sexuality) and Gulp (eating and digestion). We last spoke to Mary waaay back in episode #99 about her book Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void. For more about Mary Roach and her work visit MaryRoach.net.

Plus:

Look for David Driscoll at the Reason Rally, June 4th at the Lincoln Memorial.

To listen to this episode click here.

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Podcast #249 – The Faith of Christopher Hitchens

faithofhitchensWe discuss Larry Alex Taunton’s new book The Faith of Christopher Hitchens: The Restless Soul of the World’s Most Notorious Atheist (available in hardcover, as an audiobook, or for Kindle). In this memoir, Taunton (a Birmingham, Alabama based minister and founder of the Fixed Point Foundation) recounts the friendship that developed between himself and Christopher Hitchens. Considerable controversy has arisen over Taunton’s insinuation that Hitchens, while he had no deathbed conversion, may have re-evaluated religion (if not Christianity) during his final months.

To listen to this podcast click here.

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May 23 in freethought history…

carllinnaeusMay 23, 1707 – Biologist and zoologist Carl Linnaeus is born in Råshult, Sweden. Known as the father of modern taxonomy, he pioneered the system of organizing (and naming via binomial nomenclature) all living creatures. Linnaeus created some controversy by grouping human beings and monkeys in the same category because of their obvious similarities. In response to pious protests, Linnaeus responded that theologians “decree that man has a soul and that the animals are mere [automatons], but I believe they would be better advised that animals have a soul and that the difference is of nobility.” He died in 1778, aged 70.

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