Welcome to the Eleventh Carnival of the Godless. I’m your host, Timothy Sandefur, and this is my blog Freespace. If you’ve never seen it before, please hang around and check it out. I’m an Objectivist, free-market, godless heathen capitalist pig lawyer, but this is my personal blog, where I post about my personal life and my views on whatever strikes my fancy.
In that vein, unlike most Carnivals, this won’t just be a list of posts; instead, I’ll be commenting substantively on each Carnival Booth today. But of course, you should read them all!
So let’s get started.
Agitprop, which is written by “some sort of quasi-agnostic deist,” points out the spooky similarities between ex-Aryan Pope Nouveau Joseph Ratzinger, and the walking undead—Nosferatu—Das Wampyr...A vampire!
Radical Russ argues that the separation of Church and State is not some diabolical attempt to wash religion out of American culture, but just a recognition that the First Amendment put government and church out of reach of each other for good reasons: “The whole idea of religion is to accept on faith that there is an ultimate, unknowable higher authority responsible for human justice. As such, its authority can never be debated or checked by men, and its tenets must be dispensed by clergy, never questioned, with no checks and balances. Quite un-American, if you ask me.” Quite so. Faith is akin to physical coercion, in that it overcomes the will without convincing the judgment. As such, it is not amenable to rational argument. When people are unable to engage in rational argument, there are three possible outcomes: (1) people can decide to change their ways and engage in rational argument—whereupon the truth can be discovered, although there will be much contention and dispute; (2) religious folks can try to force dissenters to conform—which results in tyranny and misery; (3) they can ignore the dissenters and just say “you do your thing, I’ll do mine”—which might ultimately result in the ultimate unraveling of society.
Prrometheus offers this statement on the inhumanity of the Christian story. “To become a Christian, one must deaden one’s moral sense, overcome one’s queasiness, and come to terms with the ‘word of God.’”
The author of the blog Jesus Was Not A Republican explains why “Nature is wondrous in itself. It doesn’t need mythology attached to it to be miraculous.” I cannot resist adding a favorite quote from Richard Feynman:
Poets say science takes away from the beauty of the stars—mere globs of gas atoms. Nothing is “mere.” I, too, can see the stars on a desert night, and feel them. But do I see less or more? The vastness of the heavens stretches my imagination—stuck on this carousel, my little eye can catch one-million-year-old light. A vast pattern—of which I am a part—perhaps my stuff was belched from some forgotten star, as one is belching there. Or see them with the greater eye of Palomar, rushing all apart from some common starting point when they were perhaps all together. What is the pattern, or the meaning, or the why? It does not do harm to the mystery to know a little about it. For far more marvelous is the truth than any artist of the past imagined! Why do the poets of the present not speak of it? What men are poets who can speak of Jupiter if he were like a man, but if he is an immense spinning sphere of methane and ammonia must be silent?
Nick Barlow notes that conservatives have some blind spots in their alleged belief in small government.
Peter Fredson contributes this heated essay about
the fanatic evangelistic charismatic assumptionist bible-praisers [who] have successfully exerted great effort to install their ideology, slogans, icons, and dogma into the public domain and legislation…installed hundreds of Ten Commandment monuments in public places, commanded that all Americans acknowledge the Christian God in Pledges, allowed thousands of Christians to suck tax-money at the public teat, threatened all non-Christian judges with removal, interceded in the tragedy of Teri Schiavo, and…aggressively moved to install a theocracy in the U.S. with the complicity of Neoconservative white supremacists that wish to rule the world and make great fortunes at the expense of sheep-like citizens.
Seems to me just a little exaggerated—hundreds of Ten Commandment monuments? and the Christian God was added to the Pledge 50 years ago—but he’s right that the bottom line is that “there are still millions of religious votes and dollars available to them.” Whether it’s the welfare state or religion, the public choice effect works its wonders.
Ron at God Is For Suckers comments on the curious fact that Christian terrorist Eric Rudolph is not called a Christian terrorist in media reports. Well of course not: that would upset folks.
Steve Esser at Guide to Reality “cut[s] through centuries of debate and draw conclusions about the plausibility of God’s existence by looking at some of the evidence we see (or don’t see) in our world” here. He argues, not about the questions of burdens of proof or the argument from design, but rather, that, if we assume God is both benevolent and omnipotent, then the existence of widespread suffering among the innocent makes such a God implausible. As he notes, however, this does not necessarily mean that there mightn’t be some other type of supernatural Entity. A minor quibble might be that this argument would only make sense if we include omniscient along with omnipotent, because an alternative possibility would be that God is benevolent and omnipotent—but just doesn’t know that there’s suffering going on, for some reason. (He does have a lot of territory to monitor, after all.)
Jason Kuznicki at Positive Liberty has some notes on a rational accounting of the soul. “The most robust concept of the soul that I can imagine,” he writes, “is the Platonic: Our soul is the part of us that represents the best within us. It is the part of us that fully realizes its goals, and whose goals are perfectly good. It is every right answer or right action that we have ever thought or done.” This concept of soul, as “something we live up to—or not,” would mean that “the soul is...by no necessity eternal,” and “not...contiguous with the body: The best may dwell within us at times, but it also leaves us and moves on to greener pastures as soon as necessity demands.” This is intriguing, but I think, in the end, unhelpful. This concept of the soul seems to leave out the definitive characteristic of the soul, which is individuality; indeed, Kuznicki admits that it “is only imperfectly identified with the self.” But if we define “soul” as an aspect of personal behavior—like “sight” or “the sense of humor,” then, whatever else we might accomplish, we remove the most important aspect of the concept and render it rather useless as far as all relevant philosophical discourse on the subject is concerned. If the soul is not that part of me which is me—the “essence” (whatever that might mean in the wake of Darwin) of my self—then it is not an important concept for understanding humanity.
My own entry in the Carnival is this post: What atheists should learn from the Terri Schiavo case.
Steve Pavlina gives these very interesting details on how he has learned to control his dreams while staying asleep, and even to experiment within them:
I have a whole set of dream-world skills, and I improve at them year after year as I practice lucid dreaming. One of the most fun things to do in a lucid dream is to fly. For me this was a hard skill to master. The first few times I tried to fly in my dream world, it was like a scene from The Greatest American Hero. Anyone remember that show? I could barely get off the ground, I couldn’t go very fast (maybe 5 miles per hour), and I couldn’t turn easily. I was always crashing into stuff—fortunately crashing into a dream tree doesn’t hurt.
I only have one dream-world skill that I can think of, but I do enjoy it a lot....
Sean Carroll at Preposterous Universe explains why he refused to give a talk to a group funded by the Templeton Foundation. My favorite part of his post:
Religious belief is the Big Lie of our contemporary intellectual life, and scientists more than any other group should be intellectually rigorous about the absolutely real differences between science and faith. It might not be the most politically expedient stance to take, but those of us who fancy ourselves scholars rather than politicians have a duty to the truth more than anything else.
That’s a good point. There are, however, instances where association with even religiously-motivated groups is perfectly legitimate, even for scientists. For example, scientists do not detract from their intellectual honesty by opposing persecution of religious minorities, or praising religious organizations for liberalizing their dogmas with regard to religion. Most importantly, much of science is about communicating; refusing at the outset to speak to people, due to one’s disagreements with other participants, risks failing to reach those in the audience who simply haven’t heard the other side of the debate yet. The best route, I believe, is to speak to, and participate in, groups with whose principles one might have differences—but make sure not to hide those differences, or politely ignore them. Instead, insist on speaking out on them with at least as much force as you give to those issues on which you do agree.
The Nonist has a delightful activity book on the Old Testament that, um...might not be suitable for children.
Last, but definitely not least, Two Percent Company has an excellent post explaining that “[a]s atheists and skeptics, people seem to think that our lives must be devoid of all meaning, but that just isn’t the case. For our part, we have discovered profound meaning in many aspects of existence.” Indeed, as Two Percent Company says, it astonishes me sometimes that people could think that the life of an atheist is depressing or empty. Part of this is a myth created by religious authorities to scare people away from atheism, and part of it is fear of the unknown. But the fact is that life is every bit as sweet and rich and sad and full to us as it is to believers—and every bit as drab and superficial to some of us as it is to some believers. The lives of ordinary human beings are given the spark of specialness by their jobs; their hobbies; their families, friends, and loved ones; their favorites and their loathings and their phobias and their fascinations—not by the Eternal Plan of some Vast Unknowable Playwright. Moreover, we have the added incentive to savor life while we can, knowing that this is it.
Facing up to that challenge is something that one of my favorite philosophers, Friedrich Nietzsche, described as the ultimate psychological challenge of modern man. He put it in the form of a test that he called the “eternal recurrence.” He wrote,
What, if some day or night a demon were to steal after you in your loneliest loneliness and say to you: “This life as you now live it and have lived it, you will have to live once more and innumerable times more; and there will be nothing new in it, but every pain and every joy and every thought and sigh and everything unutterably small or great in your life will have to return to you, all in the same succession and sequence—even this spider and this moonlight between the trees, and even this moment and I myself. The eternal hourglass of existence is turned upside down again and again, and you with it, speck of dust!”
Would you not throw yourself down and gnash your teeth and curse the demon who spoke thus? Or have you once experienced a tremendous moment when you would have answered him: “You are a god and never have I heard anything more divine.” If this thought gained possession of you, it would change you as you are or perhaps crush you. The question in each and every thing, “Do you desire this once more, and innumerable times more?” would lie upon your actions as the greatest weight. Or how well disposed would you have to become to yourself and to life to crave nothing more fervently than this ultimate eternal confirmation and seal?
The Gay Science, § 341. Anyone who does not savor the joys and even the miseries of life so that he would praise the demon’s words, is missing out on the great—the only—human experience.
Update: So sorry, I forgot to mention that you can find more details on upcoming Carnivals here.